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Trump’s Syria withdrawal plan: Arab occupational force and Arabs will pay for it – report

RT | April 17, 2018

Washington reportedly wants Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar to replace the US in terms of troop deployments and funding in “stabilizing northeastern Syria,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The US currently has two major points of military presence on the ground in Syria: one on the border with Jordan in the south and one in northeastern Syria in an area controlled by the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Force (SDF). President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw American troops from Syria, apparently dismayed by the cost of the operation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration wants to shift the burden of occupying northeastern Syria – which is touted as an effort to stabilize the area by the newspaper – to Arab countries.

The WSJ says John Bolton, Trump’s new national security adviser, called Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, to see if the Arab nation with the largest standing army was willing to contribute to the planned changing of guard. Washington also asked Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to contribute billions of dollars into a buildup in northern Syria and asked to send troops as well.

“The mission of the regional force would be to work with the local Kurdish and Arab fighters the US has been supporting to ensure Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] cannot make a comeback and preclude Iranian-backed forces from moving into former Islamic State territory, US officials say,” according to the newspaper.

The plan is apparently meant as an easy way out for America, which found itself in a perilous situation in Syria, having troops there with no legal ground and balancing amid countering goals and interests. For instance, Washington’s NATO partner Turkey sees America’s Syrian Kurd allies as terrorists and a legitimate target for military action.

However, having the Americans replaced with other foreign troops would entail challenges, too. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are otherwise preoccupied with their stalled military involvement in Yemen and may find it politically awkward to deploy troops alongside Qatar, a nation they accuse of supporting terrorism and of being close to Iran.

Egypt’s troops are busy fighting against jihadist groups in the Sinai Peninsula in the east and securing the lengthy desert border with Libya in the west. Both regions became major security threats after the events of the Arab Spring, during which Libya was reduced with the help of NATO to a patchwork of warring militant groups. Egypt suffered several years of political turmoil and a military coup, after which the supporters of Muslim Brotherhood found themselves under government pressure again.

The willingness of the Kurds to accept foreign Arab troops is far from certain. With some Syrian Kurds already feeling betrayed by the US over Washington’s failure to protect them from Turkey, getting a foreign Arab force deployed near their lands may be too much to swallow. Especially since some of the Islamist groups that the Kurds fought against during the seven-year war were funded and armed by the same Arab countries.

The WSJ also points out that cost reduction expected by the replacement may not be as big as the Trump administration hopes. The Arab expeditionary force would still require air support, logistical supply and possibly at least some presence of US troops among their ranks.

April 17, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, War Crimes, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump opens a Pandora’s box in Middle East

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 15, 2018

There is no triumphalism in the US, Britain or France over the missile strike in Syria on Friday. The mood is rather defensive. Indeed, evidence is still lacking on the alleged chemical attacks in Douma, which was the alibi for the missile strike. There are no tall claims, either, as regards the effectiveness of the missile strike in military terms.

On the contrary, Damascus is in upbeat mood. April 14 has been declared a day of celebrations. After all, the Syrian forces single-handedly faced the Western assault. The Russian reports underscore that the Syrian air defence system was highly effective. The Defence Ministry said in Moscow on Saturday that there haven’t been any Syrian casualties. Moscow attests that the Syrians shot down as many as 71 missiles out of the total 103 fired by the US, UK and France. Neither Washington nor London or Paris has so far contradicted the Russian assessment.

President Donald Trump is the solitary voice crowing about the missile attack. He tweeted bombastically:

  • So proud of our great Military which will soon be, after the spending of fully approved dollars, the finest that our Country has ever had. There won’t be anything, or anyone, even close!

But Trump was grandstanding in front of the domestic audience and avoided making any specific claims about the success of the strike by his “smart” missiles. In sum, this has been a theatrical show.

The military balance in Syria now comes into play. For the Syrian regime, this is baptism under fire. Only recently, the Syrians had shot down an Israeli jet. Now they have scored a 70% hit on Friday.

The Syrians are equipped with Soviet-era air defence systems developed in the 1960s. What if the Russians upgrade the systems? This is exactly what the head of Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi hinted in Moscow on Saturday:

“A few years ago, taking into account a pressing request from some of our partners, we abandoned the supplies of the S-300 missile systems to Syria. Considering the latest developments, we deem it possible to get back to discussing this issue, not only in relation to Syria, but to other countries as well.”

No doubt, it will be a game changer if Russia equips the Syrian army with deterrent power to inflict unaffordable costs on potential aggressors. Iran has shown how such a strategy can work when it helped Hezbollah in Lebanon to acquire deterrence against Israel.

In fact, the Jerusalem Post newspaper has highlighted the Russian general’s remark. The paper notes that if Moscow carries out the threat, “Israel’s air superiority is at risk of being challenged in one of its most difficult arenas… And it could be just a matter of time before an Israeli pilot is killed.” The JP report adds,

  • Syrian air defenses are largely Soviet-era systems, comprised of SA-2s, SA-5s and SA-6s, as well as more sophisticated tactical surface-to-air missiles such as the SA-17 and SA-22 systems. The most up-to-date system that Moscow has supplied to the Syrian regime is the short range Pantsir S-1, which has shot down drones and missiles that have flown over Syria.
  • The advanced S-300 would be a major upgrade to Syrian air defenses and pose a threat to Israeli jets as the long-range missile defense system can track objects like aircraft and ballistic missiles over a range of 300 kilometers.
  • The system’s engagement radar, which can guide up to 12 missiles simultaneously, helps guide the missiles toward the target. With two missiles per target, each launcher vehicle can engage up to six targets at once.

Col.-Gen. Rudskoi chose his words carefully by hinting that Russia could also supply countries other than Syria (eg., Venezuela, North Korea, Lebanon, Iraq, etc.) The remark stems from President Vladimir Putin’s hugely significant statement on Saturday regarding US attack on Syria when he said, inter alia: “The current escalation around Syria is destructive for the entire system of international relations. History will set things right…”

Trump’s impetuosity to attack Syria is in defiance of the international system and it may open a Pandora’s box. Ironically, Israel, as “frontline state”, has the highest stakes if the unwritten understanding between the US and Russia unravels. (Moscow had collaborated with the Barack Obama administration and Israel to slow down the supply of S-300 missiles to Iran.) Equally, Turkey will have to think twice before venturing into further land grab in Syria if Damascus regains control of its air space.

The Israeli think tank The Institute for National Security Studies had done a very informative paper in 2013 entitled Syria, Russia, and the S-300: Military and Technical Background. Read it here.

April 15, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Winners and losers in Trump’s Syria attack

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 14, 2018

The US President Donald Trump’s mind took a fourth U-turn in almost as many days on Friday since he began speaking about his decision to withdraw the American forces from Syria and leave it to “others” to handle the endgame in the conflict. He swung to the extreme threatening a rain of missiles on Syria, only to back-track a day later to hint there might not be any attack at all, and finally to announce a joint US-UK-France attack on Friday.

If the former US Deputy Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, an experienced career diplomat, got the impression that POTUS was playing a video game, it comes as no surprise. Indeed, the most striking thing about the US strike on Syria is its futility of purpose beyond a symbolic value to impress the domestic constituency that POTUS is a forceful decision-maker, who unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, lays down ‘red lines’ and follows up.

Actually, it is a cowardly stance. Trump hastened to strike just hours before the investigation by the team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was due to begin in Douma – as if time was running out to act with impunity. Clearly, Trump felt the compulsion to be seen acting. He had no authorization from the Congress nor did he secure a mandate from the UN Security Council to launch aggression against a UN member country.

The indignation and outrage in the statement by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will be widely shared by the world community:

“There’s an obligation, particularly when dealing with matters of peace and security, to act consistently with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law in general. The UN Charter is very clear on these issues.

“The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. I call on the members of the Security Council to unite and exercise that responsibility. I urge all Member States to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people.”

Both the constitutionality of Trump’s decision and the legality of the US attack under international law is highly questionable. However, the extenuating fact is that historically, the domestic public opinion rallies behind the POTUS when the US is at war abroad. For Trump’s crumbling presidency, that is an over-riding consideration today.

On the other hand, the attack on Syria was carefully choreographed. Paris has disclosed that Moscow was informed in advance. Indeed, “deconfliction” procedures were under discussion between the Pentagon and Russian Defence Ministry for the past 2-3 days. The attack clinically targeted alleged chemical weapon [sic] sites in three cities in Syria – Damascus, Hom and Hama. No military bases or assets were attacked. The missiles scrupulously avoided locations where there could be Russian personnel. Care was taken to avoid “collateral damage”. In fact, there has been no reported casualty. On the whole, it is as if a riveting fireworks show has been conducted.

The Syrians claim they shot down a number of incoming missiles. But like in the Sherlock Holmes story, the dog didn’t bark – not a single move has been reported by Russia to intercept the incoming missiles. Moscow simply watched a brawl unfold between the US, UK and France on one side and the Syrian regime on the other. Moscow instead turned on its propaganda apparatus to take the maximum advantage of the senseless, almost bizarre missile attack. If the OPCW team turns in a ‘Nil’ report from Douma shortly, Russian propaganda can be trusted to go for Trump’s jugular veins.

The US attack will not create any new facts on the ground. The comprehensive victory of the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad in the 7-year conflict is becoming an irreversible reality. Arguably, this could be the last waltz of the western interventionist powers in Syria who had hoped to overthrow the regime and failed miserably. In the absence of a coherent US strategy toward Syria, this latest attack may even stoke the fires of Syrian nationalism.

Russia has spoken of “serious consequences”, without elaborating. Will Russia escalate the situation? Seems unlikely. It is hard to see a Russian reaction on the ground – although Moscow is watchful that the western strategy ultimately threatens the Russian presence in Syria. Much depends on the next western move. The NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is expected in Ankara on Monday.

In a strongly-worded statement, President Vladimir Putin has warned that the “escalation in Syria is destructive for the entire system of international relations. History will set things right, and Washington already bears the heavy responsibility for the bloody outrage in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Syria.” Russia proposes to convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council “to discuss the aggressive actions by the US and its allies,” Putin said.

Of course, new regional alignments will become inevitable. Turkey and Israel have backed the US attack. (here) The Turks’ bazaari instincts are legion and President Recep Erdogan senses an historic opportunity to project Turkish power into Syria and realize his “neo-Ottoman” dream. Trust him to overreach.

Israel is a bit down due to the messy confrontation at the Gaza border; or else, it would have jumped into the fray. Israel’s best bet will be that the US keeps an open-ended military presence in a Syria that is balkanized and weak and is in no position to reclaim the lost territory in the Golan Heights that are under Israeli occupation since 1967.

All eyes are on Iran. But Tehran will not speak its mind. Tehran’s eyes are cast on the May 12 deadline when Trump must decide on the sanctions waiver to the July 2015 nuclear deal. The big question now is whether Trump would tear up the Iran nuclear deal in the present circumstances when the US needs the support of its European allies.

Syria constitutes Iran’s defence line. Significantly, even as Trump was ratcheting up rhetoric against Syria, the powerful Iranian statesman Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei landed in Damascus on Wednesday, met President Assad and toured Douma, the alleged site of the chemical attack. It was a defiant gesture and act of solidarity with Assad.

Tehran has hinted at “regional consequences.” But Iran’s style will be to avoid direct conflict with the US and opt instead to intensify its political work and consolidate its wide networking with various groups on the ground, which systematically keep undermining the US presence in Syria and Iraq. No doubt, Iran will intensify the politics of “resistance” against Israel.

The Russia-Iran partnership in Syria is steadily morphing into an alliance, which is in mutual interests. The defeat of the US-Israeli-Saudi containment strategy against Iran may turn out to be the most significant and enduring outcome of this US attack on Syria.

April 14, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Turkey: France’s buildup in Syria will amount to ‘invasion’

Press TV – April 8, 2018

Turkey which has deployed troops to northern Syria says if France steps up its military presence in the Arab country, it will amount to an “invasion.”

“If France takes any steps regarding its military presence in northern Syria, this would be an illegitimate step that would go against international law and in fact, it would be an invasion,” Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said Saturday.

Turkey sent troops to the northern Syrian region of Afrin on January 20 to force out Kurdish militants, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it suspects of having ties with anti-Ankara separatists.

France, which has criticized Ankara over the offensive, operates in Syria as part of the so-called US coalition.

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a delegation of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has the YPG as its backbone, at the Elysee Palace on March 29.

On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against Paris. “France, you are abetting terrorism, supporting it by then hosting them at the Elysee Palace,” he said.

“Especially, if they intend to support terror group elements or give direct or indirect protection with armed forces, this would be a really calamitous step,” Canikli said during a visit to the northeastern province of Giresun.

After the Paris meeting, Kurdish officials said France was planning to send new troops to the city of Manbij, also in northern Syria.

Paris has also threatened to attack Syria if it was established that Damascus had deployed chemical weapons in its military operation, an accusation strongly rejected by the Syrian government.

Turkey, which has pushed the YPG out of Afrin, has also threatened to extend its operation to Manbij, which hosts American forces.

Ankara has further locked horns with Washington on several occasions over the latter’s providing arms, training, and logistical support to the Kurds.

April 8, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

France Joins Syria Fight: Goals and Consequences

French Armed Forces, armed with FAMAS F1 assault rifles, participate in the Memorial Day ceremony at the LaFayette Escadrille Monument in Paris, France.
By Peter KORZUN | Strategic Culture Foundation | 05.04.2018

French President Emmanuel Macron kept his word. On April 1-2, French troops moved into northern Syria. This is the first time France deployed substantial forces there to turn Paris into a new actor actively involved in the war. The troops advanced toward Manbij and Remelin to join American allies and did it hastily.

The move was made at the time Ankara warned about the plans to control this territory with Russia, Turkey and Iran working together to define Syria’s future. It significantly changes the situation and makes one ask questions about the goals pursued by the US and France and the prospects for war and peace in the conflict-torn country. Summing up the recent events leads to the conclusion that the US and France have a hidden agenda to expand the conflict, wreak havoc and stymie the Russia-led peace efforts.

The news about French deployment came just before the April 4 Russia-Turkey-Iran summit in Ankara stated the goal to “speed up their efforts to ensure calm on the ground” in Syria. On April 3, US President Donald Trump said he would “decide very quickly” to remove forces from that country. The statement was made right after about 300 US Marines accompanied by armored vehicles and engineering equipment were moving toward Manbij as reinforcements to repel possible Turkish inroads. The construction of two bases in Syria’s northern Manbij region is underway.

The Marines have already launched daily patrols along the Sajur River, a tributary that feeds the Euphrates River from sources in Turkey, with observation posts built to monitor the area. This is unheard of – two leading states of the North Atlantic Alliance blocked the other NATO member’s land access to Manbij! On April 3, CNN reported that plans to send reinforcements have been discussed for several days before Trump’s remarks on leaving Syria soon.

The US also wasted no time to press Iraq into sending its 5th Army Division to Sinjar province and line the forces on the Iraqi-Syrian border to obstruct the possible advance of Turkish army from Syria into Iraq.

Obviously, the US is trying to partition Syria while creating a quasi-state on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and up to the Iraqi border. In Deir-ez-Zor, the US-led coalition resists the restoration of Syrian government institutions. It makes one think that the words about “leaving soon” may be nothing more than wishful thinking or an attempt to baffle those who are trying to predict further steps America will take.

The list of goals includes controlling the oil fields and chunks of the territory. Donald Trump wants Saudi Arabia to pay for US operations in Syria and it probably will. If the decision to leave were taken, he wouldn’t raise the question. According to the president, Saudi Arabia is interested in America staying in Syria.

That’s what the US “rocking from side to side” foreign policy is like. Rex Tillerson is fired to make the world know about it from tweets. The US wants to leave Syria but will stay if Saudi Arabia pays. Donald Trump invited the Russian leader to visit him in Washington against the background of Russia diplomats expelled and the consulate office in Seattle closed. Is it being short-sighted or far-sighted? Is this swinging back and forth a well-thought over policy or no policy at all? Is it done on purpose to keep everyone guessing with no predictions possible? You never know. Donald Trump once denounced Saudi Arabia as extremist and then sold a huge package of weapons while calling the kingdom a great friend and close ally against Iran.

The Syrian forces are preparing an offensive in the Daraa – Quneira – Suweida area in the south while denuding other fronts. The territory is huge and the terrain is hard to cross. There are at least 25 heights to fire at advancing forces from. The Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups are much more numerous than the ones being defeated in Eastern Ghuta. Their defenses are strong. Unlike in other places, the rebel forces can easily get logistical support from Jordan. That’s where the US and Saudi Arabia can contribute greatly. Israel has been involved in such activities since 2015. It took roughly six months to liberate Eastern Ghuta, with an active phase to dislodge rebel fighters launched in mid-March. It’s easy to surmise that it will take at least a year, may be much more, to liberate the area in question.

A conflict is easy to provoke. The operations of Syria’s government forces aimed at cutting off supplies coming from Jordan could be presented as an act of aggression against the Hashemite Kingdom. Chemical substances could be transported from Jordan to stage another provocation used as a pretext to attack Syria.

The operation could become a war of attrition to make Syria concentrate more and more of its forces in one place at the expense of other battlefields. They will be stuck there for a considerable period of time. That’s when the US-coalition will be in good position to attack anywhere it wants using the base of Al-Tanf as a springboard. Manbij as well as the Al-Tabka air base located to the south of Raqqa are perfect places for launching an offensive to drive Syria out from Aleppo. Then the country will plunge again into an “all-against-all” fight.

The efforts applied so far by Russia, Turkey and Syria will go down the drain. This time the US will not be alone to have substantial presence on the ground. It’s hard to imagine that the French forces arrived in Syria could be anything but the start of broader NATO presence with other members of the bloc to follow the French example. Russian military personnel and NATO soldiers will be looking at each other through the sights of guns. This scenario will be fraught with a great risk of international military conflict and a real tragedy for Syrian people but those who are provoking it don’t care.

April 5, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump challenges the Russian-Turkish-Iranian alliance

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | April 5, 2018

Three is company. But if the trilateral dialogue format in international diplomacy seldom produces concrete results, that is because it cannot be sequestered from external influences. Besides, the three participants are bound to have specific interests and priorities. The long-awaited Turkey-Russia-Iran trilateral summit in Ankara on April 4 has been no exception.

The summit didn’t end as a damp squib but its outcome has been measly. Three reasons can be attributed to this. First and foremost, the US President Donald Trump might have been responsible.

The Ankara summit’s main agenda was Syria, but Trump’s “very-soon” remark in Ohio last Thursday introduced a strategic ambiguity into the Syrian situation. And he deepened the ambiguity further on the eve of the summit by stating on Tuesday at a meeting at the White House that he wanted to immediately withdraw US forces from the war-torn country, arguing that the US had already won the battle against the Islamic State.

Trump said, “I want to get out — I want to bring our troops back home. It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS.” Trump literally barged into the Istanbul tent and hijacked the mind of the three presidents.

What is the Syria that Erdogan, Putin and Rouhani would discuss – a Syria with open-ended US military presence or a Syria denuded of the Americans? That is now the big question.

Pentagon and White House split on what to do?

Even then, it is very unclear whether Trump himself is free to make up his mind. A former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford framed the paradigm this way: “I have a feeling that there are divided counsels within the Pentagon, definitely in the White House (regarding US troop removal from Syria). Trump sincerely wants to get out since it’s what he campaigned on, but whether he’ll be allowed to by elements of the ‘deep state’ is the question.”

The good thing is that there could be elements within the Pentagon who too aren’t necessarily happy about an open-ended military presence in Syria without a clear-cut objective. The military mind cannot focus well when there are gnawing doubts.

Second, the disclosure (by the Kremlin first) that Trump has invited Putin to the White House has opened a vista of new possibilities. What if a joint Russian-American peace initiative in Syria gets revived? Trump now becomes a “stakeholder” in a Syrian settlement.

On the contrary, if the trilateral Russian-Turkish-Iranian dialogue on Syria (known as the Astana process) has gravitas today, it is mainly due to the Trump administration’s retrenchment from the Syrian peace process. The dalliance that the Obama administration (secretary of state John Kelly) kept going with the Kremlin (foreign minister Sergey Lavrov) has petered out and what remains today is the military-to-military “deconfliction” mechanism between the US and Russia to ensure that they don’t shoot at each other in Syria.

But, if Trump and Putin breathe new life into a Russian-American joint enterprise to choreograph a Syrian settlement, the Astana process gets relegated to the backburner. Participants at the Ankara summit agreed to hold the next meeting in Astana in mid-May, but much water might flow under the bridge by then.

Decision on Iran deal due by May 12

Third and finally, the fate of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remains the “known unknown.” Trump is due to make a decision on the Iran nuclear deal by May 12. And the geopolitics of the Middle East could change dramatically, depending on what he decides to do – especially if Trump were to pull the US out of the JCPOA.

The conventional wisdom is that changes at the US State Department and the National Security Council presage a more hawkish US foreign policy toward Iran. But there are weighty arguments too as to why Trump may not sound the death knell of the JCPOA and opt instead to simply give the nuclear deal a fresh lease of life, as he has done twice already.

To be sure, depending on the state of play in US-Iranian relations, the geopolitics of the Middle East could change and Syria is the theatre where this could see visible impacts in the near-term. So it was notable that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t go for Trump’s jugular at the Ankara summit. Iran also refrained from pushing any fresh initiatives and seemed more or less happy with a passive role – biding its time and brooding, as it were.

Given the above, what did the summit actually achieve? For a start, trilateral dialogue is always primarily a statement. What emerges from yesterday’s summit on the Bosporus is that the western influence in Syria (and the Levant) is inexorably on the wane. The summit underscored that the three countries intend to reinforce their influence in Syria.

Having said that, while the summit flagged the intention of the three countries to deepen cooperation, they also have divergent goals. For instance, the Turkish priority was that Russia and Iran continued to acquiesce with its military operation. Erdogan stated at the joint press conference, “Turkey will not stop until all regions under PYD/PKK (Kurdish militia) control, including Manbij, are secured… Turkey values Russia and Iran’s solidarity with its Afrin operation, we will establish grounds for peace in Afrin.” Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin neither nodded agreement nor dissented.

The single most important outcome of the summit where all three countries have shared interest is in their forceful affirmation of the unity and territorial integrity of Syria and their rejection of “all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combatting terrorism.”

The bottom line is that Russia, Turkey and Iran have a strong convergence of interests in the termination of the US military presence in Syria. Paradoxically, here again the Trump factor comes in. Their brittle alliance faces an existential threat if Trump somehow realizes his dream of bringing the US troops in Syria back home “where they belong.”

April 5, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Raqqa’s Militia Attacks US Coalition Base in Northern Syria

Sputnik | April 2, 2018

DAMASCUS – The militia of the Syrian city of Raqqa fired mortars on the US-led coalition base in the town of Ayn Issa, the press service of the movement said on Monday.

“Following the intelligence activities, the militia of Raqqa waged a special operation targeting the US Staff located at the former base of the 93rd Brigade in the district of Ayn Issa, 43 miles north of Raqqa. Several mortar shells were fired on individual targets without any casualties on our side,” the statement said.

The militia noted that they do not tolerate “the occupational forces” of the United States, Turkey, and their allies in northern Syria.

The statement read: “Do not relax night and day, wherever you are.”

On March 25, the indigenous Arab population launched an uprising against armed groups supported by the United States in the town of Al-Mansura in the suburbs of Syria’s Raqqa, opposing a forced mobilization conducted by the Syrian Democratic Forces and local self-governing bodies appointed by the United States. The uprising came as result of a 4-year-long military campaign, carried out by the United States and its allies against Daesh in Syria, without the approval of either the Syrian official government, nor the United Nations.

Last October, the coalition drove Daesh out of Raqqa that had been previously served as the de facto capital of the terrorist group’s self-declared caliphate. According to the United Nations, the humanitarian situation in the city is disastrous and the infrastructure is completely destroyed.

READ MORE: 

Violent Clashes Between US-Backed Kurds and Locals Reported in Raqqa

April 2, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | 1 Comment

‘NATO Member is at War With Another One’ – Analyst on Turkey-France Relations

Sputnik – March 31, 2018

According to the French media, French president Emmanuel Macron is planning to deploy troops to Syria’s Manbij to help local Kurds in resisting Turkish forces. The move has reportedly been coordinated with Washington. Sputnik discussed relations between France and Turkey with Gearóid Ó Colmáin, Paris-based geopolitical analyst and journalist.

Sputnik: What can you say about the conversation between the Turkish and the French presidents? It seems that there is quite a bit of disagreement. Do you think that there are issues other than cooperation with the SDF that they are in disagreement about when it comes to Syria?

Gearóid Ó Colmáin: If you look at the history of French-Turkish relations even going back to the sixteenth century, France generally used the Ottoman Empire as a stick with which to beat the central European powers, the Habsburgs in the sixteenth century and later — Austria. I think French policy towards Turkey in the current context is similar with important differences in sense that France sees Turkey as an emerging imperial power and as a rival. It is probably one of the reasons for France’s hostility towards Turkey’s entry into European Union, because the Turkish military is extremely powerful, it’s reputed to be even more powerful than the French military and the French want military dominance in the European Union context.

That’s one tension between France and Turkey, and with respect to the Kurdish problem, the US is supporting the YPG forces, which are linked to the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] in Turkey, so, from the Turkish perspective, it is a national security threat to have a buffer state, develop in northern Syria, which will have access to the eastern Mediterranean. But the western side of the NATO coalition clearly wants that to happen. That has been the case throughout the war. The have supported the Kurds and that has been to the chagrin of the Turks. We now have a situation whereby Turkey is at war with France, effectively over the Kurdish issue. It is a proxy war. The French recently, in the mold of Francois Hollande, the former French president, accused Russia of allowing Turkey to enter Northern Syria in order to weaken and divide NATO. The French and the Americans are clearly concerned about Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia, its recent agreement to cooperate with Russia.

So Turkey is kind of in a difficult position right now — on the one hand it’s cooperating with Russia, on the other hand it’s NATO member who is effectively at war with another NATO member, i.e. France and possibly the US. We don’t know what the United States really means, what Trump really means, when he says the US is going to pull out of Syria. They reportedly have 20 military bases in the country right now. […] It looks like the French are taking over, or at least offering to take over, where the Americans are leaving off.

Sputnik: So that was the gist perhaps of Trump’s statement saying that “We’re going to be leaving Syria very very soon and let the other people take care of it.” Do you think France was intended as “the other people”?

Gearóid Ó Colmáin: It looks to me to be the case. The French are clearly pursuing US policy in Syria and have been from the very start of the war. They don’t have an independent policy in the Middle East and haven’t had an independent policy since Chirac. France is clearly working on behalf of the United States and I think that will be my reading of it right now.

Sputnik: Does France have any of its own interests in the Syrian conflict? Other than what is dictated by American policy.

Gearóid Ó Colmáin: France was traditionally the protector of Christians in the Middle East. That was the case in Lebanon, but it hasn’t been the case for a long time. France hasn’t protected anyone in this war. They have been supporting terrorism from the very start. Now not only have they been supporting terrorism against the Syrian state. […] But now they are being accused by their cohorts in terrorism, i.e. Turkey of supporting terrorism against them. France has really been in a mess since this war began. […]

Sputnik: The proposal was already declined by Ankara. They said that those who cooperate with terror groups against Turkey will become a target for Turkey. How is that going to impact Turkey’s relations with France and the EU in general?

Gearóid Ó Colmáin: Turkey has already threatened the EU on several occasions — last year, year before Turkey threatened to unleash an avalanche of migrants on Europe, to intensify the migrant crisis in Europe, if the EU would not concede to their demands, regarding funding and accession conditions [to the EU]. Turkey has already basically threatened Europe with coercive engineered migration, as a form of warfare, if the European Union doesn’t fully cooperate with Turkey’s demands. That is something that you could see escalating.

READ MORE:

France Deploys Military Forces to Assist Kurdish Militants in Manbij — Reports

Erdogan ‘Saddened’ by Macron’s ‘Wrong Stance’ as France Deploys Forces to Manbij

March 31, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , | Leave a comment

Is the Patriot system good enough for missile defense?

A recent failure in Saudi Arabia has led to questions over the reliability of the US-made system with some countries opting for a Russian alternative

By Stephen Bryen | Asia Times | March 28, 2018

The Patriot missile system seems to have failed to do its job in Saudi Arabia. Instead of knocking out seven Houthi-fired ballistic missiles, reports from many sources cast doubt on the assessment made by Saudi government authorities.

Video shows that at least one missile not only missed its target, but shortly after launch veered hard right and with its nose pointed down crashed into a Riyadh neighborhood, killing at least one person.

But the errant missile is not the main concern. There is no missile system that is 100% reliable. Sometimes a technical glitch or mechanical malfunction leads to failure.

In the case of the errant Saudi missile, it looks like either the rocket motor performed improperly, pushing the missile off to the right and downward, or the guidance gyro failed. We have seen other rockets, even really big ones like the Long March from China, crash immediately after launch. A spectacular crash in a town adjacent to the launch site occurred on July 2, 2017, when a Long March 5 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site crashed shortly after launch.

Back in 1996 another Long March 3B smacked into a town near its launch site at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan killing a number of people and destroying property. Again in January, 2018, another Long March 3B crashed shortly after takeoff at Xichang.

Updated and modified Scud missiles

In the case of the Long March, with controversial US help from Space Systems Loral and Hughes Electronics Corporation, China determined that the main gyro of the rocket failed because of a bad solder joint.  The controversy stemmed from alleged violations of US export controls and the fact that the Long March is the same rocket used for China’s ICBMs.

The Patriot is an evolved missile system, constantly updated to take account of new threats. But the rockets fired by the Houthis, which came from Iran [sold to the previous regime well before the current conflict] where they were built following designs from North Korea, are an updated Scud missile but with some notable modifications and improvements. The two most important were removing the rocket fins, which are big radar reflectors, and implementing a separating warhead, making the task of an air defense system far more difficult.

The Houthi missile is called the Burkan H2 (“Volcano”) that is, in fact, an Iranian-made Qiam missile, a licensed design from North Korea based on the Hwasong-6. All of these are variants of the Russian SCUD-C. This class of SCUD has a range of about 750 kilometers, or 470 miles, and a 750 kilogram (1,650 pounds) high explosive fragmentation warhead.

Last November a Houthi Burkhan-2 missile was aimed at the King Khalid International Airport about 35km north of Riyadh. The missile warhead exploded adjacent to the end of the airport runway. Experts think the missile came close to hitting its target consistent with the Burkan CEP (circular error of probability), which is about 500 meters. While no one was injured, the blast shook up people inside the airport terminal.

While claims were made, even by President Trump, that a Patriot missile destroyed the Houthi missile, that claim is dubious because the missile warhead fell within its prescribed target area.

Only 25% hit their target in the 1991 Gulf War

The latest news of attacks on Riyadh and two other locations and videos taken in Riyadh suggests that along with one missile failing and turning hard right and into the city, another missile clearly failed in flight. No one can now say for sure that any of the Patriots actually hit their targets.

Patriot effectiveness has long been an issue. In the 1991 Gulf War, analysis showed that at best 25% of the Patriots hit their target, but hitting a target does not always mean killing a target. In that same war, with Scuds fired at Israel by Saddam Hussein, the incoming rockets were hit, but not always destroyed. Sometimes they were knocked off course or tumbled toward the earth. Evaluations of the Patriot suggested the warhead needed to create a stronger explosion to knock out a ballistic missile.

According to the Times of Israel: “The Patriot air defense system, during the winter of 1991, faced 39 al-Hussein Scud missiles, launched in 19 salvos. The commander of the Israel Air Force at the time, Maj. Gen. (ret) Avihu Ben-Nun, told former IAF pilot and military analyst Reuven Pedatzur after the war that, according to Pedatzur’s testimony before the US Congress, ‘only one al-Hussein warhead was evidently hit by Patriot missiles’.”

But Patriot has “evolved” more toward a hit to kill solution, notably in the PAC-3 version, and away from a warhead blast spewing out metal fragments aimed at tearing up an incoming missile.

The two main problems with the Patriot

It isn’t clear which version of the Patriot the Saudis fired in the most recent engagement, in three locations with a total of seven incoming missiles. The fact that one of the missiles in Riyadh exploded when it hit the ground suggests the missile was a PAC-2 version with an exploding warhead.

Whichever version – and the Patriot has some of the latest radar technology both on the ground and on board the missile – there seems to be two significant problems with it.

The first is that the Patriot is fired when the incoming missile is in the terminal phase of its trajectory, so the Patriot is aiming to hit it only a few thousand feet above the ground and near its target. It would be better to destroy incoming missiles before they can release a separate, and much smaller, warhead which may not show up on radar. In addition, even simple decoys packaged with the warhead could confuse radar detection of the real warhead. It is unlikely the Burkan-2 has any decoys.

Point defense instead of area defense?

PAC 3 is claimed to have a range of 35km, but as the videos of Saudi Patriot launches, and others like those in Israel demonstrate, the intercepts are far closer, at best only a few miles from the end-point target, and only at most a few thousand feet above the surface. Most would agree this is too close for comfort and puts at risk urban populations and high value targets.

Is it the case that despite the sophistication of the Patriot’s radars, it only picks up the missiles when they are very close to the targeted area? Or, alternatively, is the range highly overstated? Or is using the Patriot for point defense instead of area defense not a good idea?

The second problem is target discrimination. From the debris of the King Khalid Airport attack, which has been put on display at Joint Base Anacostia Bolling near Washington DC, what remains of the warhead is mostly twisted metal. But the main rocket body appears in two large chunks, both pieces mostly intact. There is no evidence that even the main body was hit by Patriot shrapnel if struck by a PAC-2 missile; but maybe it was sliced in half by a PAC-3 missile.

But just as easily the missile could have cracked in half when it hit the earth after a free fall. If the PAC-3 “worked,” then it hit the main rocket but failed to hit the separated warhead. This means that the discrimination capability of the Patriot – whichever version – needs improvement, if it can be improved.

None of the Patriot results, at least so far, can be said to be encouraging, despite the fact that the Patriot remains the backbone tactical ballistic missile and air defense system for the United States and for many allies in Europe, the Middle East and in Asia – South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Perhaps it is time for a serious review of the Patriot to see whether it makes sense even in its evolved form, or whether a new system is needed. In the past the Pentagon has backed the Patriot even while sponsoring improvements that, at least so far, don’t seem adequate. And while Raytheon, the Patriot prime contractor, has been immensely successful in marketing the system abroad, the company may see its market shrivel unless the Patriot performs better.

What are the alternatives?

Unless a truly objective review is done, and with it recommendations proposed and implemented, more and more countries will look elsewhere for solutions. Saudi Arabia has already indicated it has signed an MOU to buy the Russian S-400, as has Turkey. South Korea is developing the M-SAM Cheolmae-2 system in an unusual deal.

The air defense system’s prime contractor is the Samsung Group partnered with French electronics firm Thales. But the M-SAM technology is coming in part from the Almaz Joint Stock company in Russia, based on S-400 technology including its X-band radar and missile guidance systems. Others strongly interested in the S-400 are India, Egypt, Iraq and Qatar.

Missile defenses are part of a package of defense assets that help bind friendly countries to the United States. If American defense systems are not up to the job, will countries trust America in future or look elsewhere? Will Russia grab the market and the influence that comes with it?

March 28, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scramble for Syria opens up disturbing scenarios

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 20, 2018

The US State Department issued a strong statement on March 19 following the fall of Afrin, the Kurdish city in northwestern Syria to the Turkish forces. The statement is highly critical of Turkey’s military operation in Afrin. It expresses concern over the humanitarian situation and of looting in Afrin by the occupation forces. Importantly, it alleges once again that the Turkish operation “has distracted from the ‘Defeat ISIS’ campaign and provided opportunity for ISIS to begin reconstituting in some areas. This is a serious and growing concern.”

The statement can be seen as an expression of sympathy toward the Kurds who suffered a crushing defeat in Afrin. This is the least that Washington could do to salvage its reputation among the Kurds. The US claims that it “does not operate in the area of northwest Syria, where Afrin is located. We remain committed to our NATO ally Turkey, to include their legitimate security concerns.” But Turkish President Recep Erdogan has contradicted the US stance of non-involvement in Afrin. He now alleges that the US tried to “deceive” Turkey. Erdogan said today in Ankara at a meeting of the ruling party,

  • “If we are strategic partners, you (US) will have to respect us and move along with us. You tried to deceive us. You sent 5,000 trucks of weapons there. You sent more than 2,000 trucks of ammunition there. We wanted weapons from you to buy with our money, but you did not give any to us. What kind of a strategic partnership or solidarity is this?”
  • “The U.S. spokesperson makes a comment and says, ‘We are concerned about the situation in Afrin.’ Where were you when we transmitted our concerns to you? Where were you when we said ‘let’s clean the terrorist organization from there?”

It is apparent that Washington is indulging in doublespeak. At any rate, Washington’s priority at the moment will be to pile pressure on Turkey over the chaotic situation in Afrin (which was captured by Turkish forces on March 18) and, in reality, to somehow dissuade Erdogan from extending the military operation to the northeastern region (east of Afrin), which are under the control of the Kurdish militia and the US forces.

Erdogan is keeping the Americans on tenterhooks as regards his next move. He asserted on Monday that Turkish troops would indeed press eastward, targeting territory where US forces are stationed, all the way into Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains. There is no reason to disbelieve him. The point is, there is massive popular support in Turkey for Erdogan’s muscular policy towards the Kurds – and for standing up to the US. In political terms, Erdogan can hope to exploit the wave of nationalism sweeping Turkey. The parliamentary and presidential elections are due next year in Turkey.

Unsurprisingly, Moscow and Tehran have kept quiet and left the field to Turkey and the US to throw brickbats at each other. They have reason to be pleased that the US is unable to protect the Kurdish militia, its key ally in Syria, from the Turkish assault. Besides, they are able to press ahead with their own operations against the extremist forces (that used to be previously aligned with the US and Turkey) in Ghouta in eastern Damascus and Idlib province in the extreme northwest.

Evidently, from the Russian and Iranian perspective, Erdogan is doing a magnificent job by undermining the US strategy in Syria to maintain an open-ended military presence. The Kurdish militia who are having an existential fight on their hands with the Turkish military are not going to be in a position to be the US’ proxies for very long.

On the other hand, Russia and Iran also remain wary of Turkey’s intentions, especially a Turkish attempt to create a ‘buffer zone’ in northern Syria. As it is, the US has carved out a huge swathe of land in northern Syria east of Euphrates, which comprises some of Syria’s best agricultural lands and water resources and over half of Syria’s entire oil and gas fields. (A trilateral Turkish-Russian-Iranian presidential summit is due to take place in Istanbul on April 4.)

Another complicating factor is that Russia has its own interests to pursue vis-à-vis Turkey and the Kurds. Then, there is also the overarching US-Russia competition to placate Turkey. All in all, the Syrian war is not ending as many observers had earlier envisaged, but is actually mutating into new forms. Read an insightful interview, here, with a leading expert on Syria, Professor Joshua Landis, Director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

March 20, 2018 Posted by | Deception | , , , , | 1 Comment

US Senate Warns Russia of Sanctions if S-400 Sold to Any Foreign Nations

Sputnik – 17.03.2018

WASHINGTON – A group of US lawmakers led by Senator Bob Menendez told the State Department in a letter that any sale of Russian S-400 air defense system should lead to new punitive measures as stipulated in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

“We are writing today to specifically inquire about reported negotiations between Russia and certain countries over sales of the Russian government’s S-400 air defense system and whether these reported deals could trigger mandatory CAATSA sanctions,” the letter said on Friday. “Under any circumstance, a S-400 sale would be considered a ‘significant transaction’ and we expect that any sale would result in designations.”

The lawmakers also requested that the State Department provide detailed analysis on the current status of Russian S-400 talks with China, Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and any other country.

The senators based their letter on a report produced by the Congressional Research Service, which showed that Russia has been working on potential defense deals with different countries.

Menendez and co-signers demanded information on how the State Department is trying to prevent the sales of S-400 being finalized and reiterated Washington’s accusations of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and meddling in democratic process in foreign states.

The request comes just a day after the Treasury Department used the CAATSA legislation, along with an Executive Order that was amended by CAATSA, to impose sanctions on five entities and 19 individuals.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Main Intelligence Directorate and six Russian individuals were sanctioned under the CAATSA legislation.

The US Congress passed CAATSA last summer in response to allegations that Russia sought to influence the 2016 US presidential election. Trump signed it into law on August 2.

Russia has repeatedly denied all allegations of interference in the US election, calling the accusations “absurd.”

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Same Old: Notorious White Helmets Report a Chemical Attack, Blame Damascus Again

Sputnik – February 26, 2108

An infamous NGO that was repeatedly accused of falsifying information about its operations and essentially working as a propaganda outlet for anti-government militants in Syria, now claims that Damascus deployed chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta.

The notorious White Helmets group claims that the Syrian government deployed chlorine gas against the town of Al-Shifoniya town in Eastern Ghouta, killing one child and causing “widespread suffocation” among the local civilians, Anadolu Agency reports.

The White Helmets, a group that styles itself as an NGO seeking to ease the plight of civilians in Syria suffering from the ongoing conflict in the country, has previously been accused of falsifying information about its work in Syria and staging “rescue” attempts in its propaganda videos.

Earlier the Russian Defense Ministry warned that militant groups in Eastern Ghouta were preparing a false flag attack in an attempt to blame Damascus for using chemical weapons against civilians.

“Evidence has shown that the leaders of illegal armed formations in Eastern Ghouta are preparing a provocation using poisonous agents in order to accuse the government forces of using chemical weapons against its civilians,” a statement issued by the ministry said.

The Arabic-language news channel al-Manar, citing al-Ikhbariya, has also reported that White Helmets were distributing protective masks in Eastern Ghouta in preparation for a new plot to blame another chemical attack on the Syrian government, while the Russian center for Syrian Reconciliation’s  representative said they were tipped by a resident of Idlib province about Nusra Front militants delivering “more than 20 bottles of chlorine and personal protective equipment in three cars” for an upcoming provocation.

As Syria’s Information Minister Imad Sarah told Sputnik, while Syrian armed forces and their allies battle terrorist groups in the field, it is equally important to counter the efforts of groups seeking to distort facts and to mislead the international community about the real state of affairs in the country — “to refute endless fake reports that mangle the actual state of affairs in the country and play with terms,” as he put it.

The minister also remarked that members of the White Helmets have been awarded for their exceptional action, which says a lot about the scale of the conspiracy against Syria and its people.

Syria has repeatedly denied allegations of chemical weapons use, underscoring that it had no weapons of mass destruction, which was confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

On April 4, 2017, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, supported by the United States, accused Damascus of the Khan Sheikhoun incident in Idlib province, which that  left 80 people dead and 200 injured. Western governments blamed Bashar al-Assad for being responsible for the use of Sarin gas, an allegation he has firmly denied.

Moscow, in turn, also demanded a thorough investigation of the incident.

READ MORE:

French President Macron Threatens to Strike Syria if Chemical Attacks Proven

UN Can’t Verify Claims of Chemical Attacks in Syria ‘Independently’ – De Mistura

February 26, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, False Flag Terrorism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | Leave a comment