President Obama’s Cynical Refugee Ploy

The American Interest, by WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, Nov. 17, 2015:

The debate we are having over the acceptance of Syrian refugees is not the conversation the country needs.

The governors of 26 U.S. states signaled yesterday that they will not be willing to take in any Syrian refugees, following the lead of Michigan and Alabama, which announced similar objections this past Sunday. Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire became the first Democrat to voice opposition to President Obama’s plan to accept 10,000 refugees from the war in Syria in the next year. Governors of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Connecticut, on the other hand, came out in explicit support of the initiative.

Goodhearted liberals have reacted with handwringing to the avalanche of dissenting governors. Some have earnestly quoted relevant Bible verses about taking in the poor and the afflicted, while the usual righteous tut-tutters have engaged in their usual righteous tut-tutting. “Everybody who disagrees with my proposal is a bitter-clinging xenophobe, not to mention a racist,” is the clear implication of the President’s supporters.

That there are racist xenophobes in this country is clear to anybody who has ever perused the comments section of an internet news site, or has spent too much time on Facebook and Twitter. And many of these people are spewing ugly hate about Syrian refugees in ways that appall—or should appall—anybody with an open mind and a humane spirit. That said, the refugee issue is not, despite President Obama’s rhetoric, a simple morality play featuring Wise Liberals and Racist Jacksonians. It is something more complicated and, at least as far as President Obama’s own role in the debate, a bit uglier.
To see the full cynicism of the Obama approach to the refugee issue, one has only to ask President Obama’s least favorite question: Why is there a Syrian refugee crisis in the first place?
Obama’s own policy decisions—allowing Assad to convert peaceful demonstrations into an increasingly ugly civil war, refusing to declare safe havens and no fly zones—were instrumental in creating the Syrian refugee crisis. This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn. For him to try and use a derisory and symbolic program to allow 10,000 refugees into the United States in order to posture as more caring than those evil Jacksonian rednecks out in the benighted sticks is one of the most cynical, cold-blooded, and nastily divisive moves an American President has made in a long time.
Moreover, many of those “benighted” people were willing to sign up for the U.S. military and go to fight ISIS in Syria to protect the refugees. Many Americans who now oppose the President’s ill-considered refugee program have long supported the use of American power to create “safe zones” in Syria so the refugees could be sheltered and fed in their own country. If President Obama seriously cared about the fate of Syria’s millions of displaced people, he would have started to organize those safe havens years ago. And if he understood the nature of America’s role in Europe, he would have known that working with the Europeans to prevent a mass refugee and humanitarian disaster was something that had to be done.
Also see:

The Refugee Resettlement Process is Already Discriminatory

obama-600x315Center for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler, Nov. 17, 2015:

President Obama made headlines today in reaction to a question from the press regarding the possibility of taking in Syrian Christian and other religious minorities ahead or in place of Syrian Muslims (Syria is majority Sunni Muslim.) The President responded aggressively claiming such a policy was, “… not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

The reality however is that the Refugee Resettlement system already has “a religious test of their compassion”, to quote the president. And that’s a test which actively disfavors Christians, according to figures released by the State Department:

Of 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, only 53 (2.4 percent) have been Christians while 2098 (or 96 percent) have been Muslims, according to State Department statistics updated on Monday. The remaining 33 include 1 Yazidi, 8 Jehovah Witnesses, 2 Baha’i, 6 Zoroastrians, 6 of “other religion,” 7 of “no religion,” and 3 atheists.

The CIA Factbook for Syria gives the stated percentage of Christians in Syria at 10%. Estimates by Christian aid groups have suggested between half a million and 700,000 Syrian Christians have fled the country, making them between 16% to 23% of the estimated 3 million Syrian refugees who have fled the country. This seems reasonable, given that Christian groups in the Middle East face aggressive discrimination from a wide variety of the factions fighting across the Middle East, including especially the Islamic State, and so could reasonably be conceived to make up a disproportionate percentage of refugees.

So depending on calculation method Christian refugees could fairly be between 10% to 23% of the total refugee flow from Syria, ignoring any other questions of preference such as propensity to support groups like Islamic State.

But they are only 2.4%. That is heavily suggestive that there is a systematic bias against Christian refugees within the system.

One of the elements at play is the fact that for the most part, the United States does not get to select its own refugees. As Nina Shea highlights at National Review, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is typically the deciding agency, and recommends to the United States which refugees will be resettled. So the selection process hits several snags. Firstly, Christian refugees almost overwhelmingly avoid United Nations refugee camps out of legitimate fears of possible violence against them.Reports of attacks on Christians refugees by their Muslim counterparts have been reported, such as when Christian refugees on a boat in the Mediterranean were thrown overboard, and German police have openly urged publicly separating Christian and Muslim refugees, due to attacks. In one case a Christian convert was beaten unconscious by a metal baton.

Secondly, the United Nations itself is strongly beholden to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), it’s largest voting bloc, which has its own views on the refugee situation that are unlikely to conform with U.S. interests and equally unlikely to favor Christians, given that at the OIC’s home headquarters, in Saudi Arabia, the practice of Christianity is itself largely illegal.

Thirdly, and perhaps most largely problematic, is the appearance of overt anti-Christian bias by the State Department itself. As good friend of the Center, Institute for Religion and Democracy’s Faith McDonnell notes in her recent piece on the state of Christian refugees, the State Department has explicitly declared they, “would not support a special category to bring Assyrian Christians into the United States,” in response to a plan by a private aid group to fund, entirely free of taxpayer dollars, the transport of Assyrian Christians facing extermination by Islamic State.

In other words, even when its free, no cost to them, the State Department has preferred to snubbed Christians rather than save them.

So it’s true that there is a “religious test” for refugee admittance into the United States, but it is a deck stacked against Christians, not for them. President Obama is treating efforts to address this ongoing discrimination as if it, and not the original policy, is based in bias.

It is highly disingenuous that the President is treating any criticism of a discriminatory system of resettlement as itself discriminatory, in order to shut up debate about the plight of Middle Eastern Christians.

Russian Intel: ISIS Has 80,000 Jihadis in Iraq and Syria


Breitbart, by Jordan Schachtel, Nov. 12,2015:

Russian intelligence reports are claiming that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) terror group has amassed 80,000 soldiers in Iraq and Syria for its drive towards the goal of a global caliphate.

A senior Russian official told state-run TASS news agency that 30,000 ISIS jihadis are currently stationed in Iraq, and another 50,000 are fighting the jihad in Syria. Some 7,000 militants are originally from states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, according to the report.

“According to reports, militants now control around 40 percent of Iraqi territory and 50 percent of Syrian territory,” said Yevgeny Sysoyev, the deputy leader of Russia’s FSB security services, which was formerly the infamous KGB during the soviet-era.

“Among members of the group are citizens of 80 countries, including France, Great Britain, Germany, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the US, Canada, as well as Russia and other [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries. Among them are about 30,000 foreign terrorists. Most of them come from the Middle East and North Africa,” Sysoyev added from a conference in Sochi, Russia.

The estimates did not account for the members of ISIS affiliates throughout the region. The group now sustains terror cells of significant stature in Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Gaza, and in other countries and territories.

Russian forces are engaged in a campaign to support Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad against all forces that oppose his rule, including ISIS. Russian air power has also heavily-targeted rebel areas where ISIS does not retain a significant presence. Moscow’s military has also worked side-by-side in Syria with forces from the Iranian regime and its proxy, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah.

Russia denies that its forces have targeted groups besides ISIS. But the Pentagon has claimed that over 90% of Russian strikes in Syria have not targeted the Islamic State.

On late Tuesday, Assad-backed forces broke a two-year ISIS siege on Kwairis military airport, which is located near the hotly-contested city of Aleppo.

Assad’s troops killed “hundreds of ISIS terrorists and destroyed their dens and cells with all weapons inside,” Syria’s state-controlled SANA news reported.

“The regime has been fighting since the end of September to break the siege,” Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told CNN. “Taking this airport back from siege means they can advance to ISIS areas. They can use it to shell areas around Aleppo.”


Also see:

Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Begins to Stall-What Now?

  • Putin Gives Assad mid-Nov. deadline for results with Aleppo offensive and that the Russian airstrikes weren’t “indefinite.”
  • Syrian Rebels gaining some ground and pro-Assad forces suffering supply shortages and taking casualties – most notably IRGC commander Hamedani causing low morale.
  • Lack of coordination and competition between IRGC-Qods Force, Hezbollah, SAA and Russian Army causing problems
  • In spite of ops in Ukraine and Syria causing logistical strain on Russia, no sign of opening another air base.
  • Russia’s plan to take Aleppo, forcing a negotiated settlement and then turning attention to hitting ISIS is not going well and the Sinai plane bombing has just made everything more complicated.
  • Russian propaganda aside, can you say “Quagmire”?

The ISIS Study Group, Nov. 7, 2015:

In late-OCT Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a surprise visit to Moscow. Although it was called a “working visit” and the Assad regime did confirm three meetings were held, most people in the international press were caught up with this being Assad’s first visit in a few years. However, something rather important occurred during this visit – Vlad put Assad on notice. Assad was informed by Vlad that he’s expecting results from the Aleppo offensive by mid-NOV since he has Russian military support. That’s mid-NOV as in starting next week. He also told Assad that the Russian airstrikes weren’t “indefinite.”

Syria’s Assad in surprise visit to Moscow

Source: ZB

Source: ZB

Indeed this is a bit of a departure from what Vlad told Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia (“No End in Sight in Fighting on the Arabian Peninsula Front”), but we see it as more of our favorite KGB officer beginning to feel a greater sense of urgency. Basil al-Asad Airbase is operating at full capacity and our sources in Syria have informed us that there are no plans to open up other airbases to expand Russia’s logistical footprint – which is going to come back to haunt them. The ongoing offensive in Aleppo that we discussed in “Pro-Assad Forces Experience Setbacks Despite Russian Military Intervention” has become the new priority for the pro-regime forces looking for a “big win.” The problem with this is it means resources and personnel involved in the operations occurring in Northwest Syria are being redirected. Despite the Russian military support and diverting of resources and personnel to the Aleppo front, the offensive has stalled.

No End in Sight in Fighting on the Arabian Peninsula Front

On Thursday the al-Qaida-flavored Jund al-Aqsa seized control of the Hama Province town of Morek. That town was the last SAA garrison along the main highway between Aleppo and Hama. This was a particularly important event since the anti-Assad factions now have control of a major line of communication from which reinforcements and supplies can be sent to support operations in Idlib and Aleppo. We’ve been covering this multi-pronged pro-regime offensive to retake Aleppo, Idlib, and Russia’s involvement in it from the start (“Russia Supports New Syrian Offensive and Begins Prepping For Russian Ground OPs” and “Pro-Assad Forces Experience Setbacks Despite Russian Military Intervention”). In those articles we discussed the first indicators of things not exactly going as well as Russian propagandists are spinning them out to be. Although its true that pro-regime forces retook multiple villages South of Aleppo, they sustained heavy losses in doing so.

Syria jihadists capture regime town along vital road

Russia Supports New Syrian Offensive and Begins Prepping For Russian Ground OPs

Pro-Assad Forces Experience Setbacks Despite Russian Military Intervention

BG Hamedani in his best pic yet Source: The ISIS Study Group

BG Hamedani in his best pic yet
Source: The ISIS Study Group

The IRGC continues to play a large role on the ground on the Aleppo front, although they haven’t been able to recover (yet) from the death of IRGC BG Hossein Hamedani (Reference – “Pro-Assad Forces Experience Setbacks Despite Russian Military Intervention”). The combined pro-regime forces were already having problems coordinating/prioritizing lines of effort, but BG Hamedani’s death made the situation worse. As of this writing the vast majority of the pro-regime forces are suffering from low-morale and supply shortages that are compounded by that failure to prioritize and coordinate operations – which is why the current Aleppo campaign is stalling. Such problems have watered down all the airstrikes and fire support, so it really shouldn’t surprise anybody that the ground forces are having a hard time seizing and holding territory.

A big indicator of these problems in coordination operations can be seen in the anti-Assad factions’ adapting to the Russian airstrikes that aren’t necessarily being reported up by the guys on the ground. The reason has more to do with personal pride and an overall pissing contest between the officers of the IRGC-Qods Force, Hezbollah, SAA and Russian Army. The establishment of joint-coordination centers have helped some, but thus far it appears to have been the most successful in better stream-lining logistical operations. The reason for the lackluster improvement has to do with the Russian military continuing to maintain their own C2 separate from the SAA, IRGC and Hezbollah. The Russians manage sorties and use embedded LNOs to process strike requests – which chews up a lot of time that the guys on the ground probably don’t have the luxury of wasting. As one would guess, this has only led to increased tensions between the Russians and the Qods Force – who don’t believe they need Vlad’s boys beat down the anti-Assad factions (Gee, that sure looks like a great opportunity for some IO messaging there, CENTCOM – HINT, HINT).

al-Nusra fighters in the Southern part of Aleppo Source: al-Nusra Media Office

al-Nusra fighters in the Southern part of Aleppo
Source: al-Nusra Media Office

The Islamic State (IS) had severed some of the primary supply lines (such as the Khanaser Road) linking support hubs to the Aleppo front. Although the Assad regime is trumpeting its “victory” in regaining control of the Khanaser Road, they had to reallocate units to reopen the line of communication (LOC) just to sustain the offensive. Unfortunately, that also meant losing considerable momentum in other, more critical areas on the front. Assad’s forces were stretched even further when they were forced to eject IS from an oilfield near Hama. Another issue the SAA is running into is the increasing reliance on militias such as the Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) as a result of manpower shortages. The problem with relying on the militias is that they’re very hit or miss. Not all of the militias are as capable as Hezbollah, Badr Organization, Kitaib Hezbollah (KH) or Asaib al-Haq (AAH). As a result, the Russian ground force mix of Spetsnaz and conventional troops are seeing more action. Most of their operations (the conventional guys anyways) are centered around convoy security in the Ghab Valley, although their Naval Infantry guys are conducting more small-unit operations at the company-level and lower. The Spetsnaz continue to due their counter-terror raids in conjunction with the Qods Force, although neither side appears to be particularly thrilled with having to “share” responsibilities. Those Russian ground troops have already sustained 10 KIA and another 24 WIA (again, a great opportunity for an IO campaign for the US to regain the initiative – assuming anybody in the Pentagon still has their balls).

Syrian Government Forces Regain Key Aleppo Supply Route

Syrian Regime Makes Gains For Aleppo Supply Lines, Uniting ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra, Syrian Rebels

Syrian army, allied Hezbollah militia expel ISIS from key oilfield near Hama

Hollow Victory: The pro-regime forces threw a great deal of time and personnel – their most precious resource – at retaking this piece of real estate Source: George Ourfalian (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Hollow Victory: The pro-regime forces threw a great deal of time and personnel – their most precious resource – at retaking this piece of real estate
Source: George Ourfalian (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

The big problem Vlad is going to face if this war extends beyond 6 months (which we don’t see any end in the foreseeable future) is the strain on the Russian military’s logisitical capabilities. Sure, the talking heads in the media point to Russia’s vast numbers, but what they fail to realize is that Russia’s military is a conscript force – and one that doesn’t have the highest morale. They also overlook the fact that despite the Russian military’s size, they have a hard time providing logistical support to it on campaigns. Russia was beginning to struggle with providing support to the limited presence it has in Ukraine, so what do you think is going to happen in Syria, or Iraq for that matter (should they expand there)? The biggest sign of strain to Russia’s airlift capabilities will be felt in the ordnance-area, in a few months we’ll know why the airstrikes will begin to decline. This is why we find Russia’s decision not to open up another airbase to alleviate the strain placed on Basil al-Assad Airbase (which is currently operating at full capacity) so interesting. The implied task, therefore, would be to use more sealift transport. The problem with that is the Russian Naval base in Tartus may not have the infrastructure to expand that capability. Ultimately, this will lead to a lag in support operations.

So what’s next? With all the resources being thrown into this multi-pronged Syrian offensive with so little in results, Vlad is going to be forced to either invest even more in the regional war by expanding Russia’s military intervention, or lower the bar of what constitutes “success.” Vlad’s original plan was to push for a “big win” in Aleppo to use as a means of forcing the so-called “moderates” into a negotiated settlement on terms favorable to Assad. Once that happens, the combined pro-regime forces would turn their complete attention to IS. However, the bombing of a Russian airliner in Sinai changed all that (Check out “Sinai Plane Crash Update” and “Amplifying Details on the Sinai Plane Bombing and the Egypt-Libya Nexus” for more details). If anything, Vlad almost has to expand his military’s involvement in Syria if nothing else but to continue to push the narrative that he’s the “ironman” of the international community – and the “anti-Obama.” Thing is, by getting more involved in this regional war, Vlad will run the risk of falling into the same trap that his predecessors did in Afghanistan. Vlad may fill the leadership void left by the US government, but all its going to do is increase recruitment to Baghdadi’s cause. Jihadists may hate America, but they have a very special hatred for Russians. As much as the Rand Paul fanboys are excited about the possibility of somebody else carrying the load, region will become much more unstable because of it. This is going to affect both the West and the Russians. Keep in mind that although Russia prefers a more draconian strategy of laying waste to entire populations, that philosophy didn’t particularly work out in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Ingushtia or Dagestan. So welcome to the meat-grinder Vlad – sucks, don’t it?

Sinai Plane Crash Update

Amplifying Details on the Sinai Plane Bombing and the Egypt-Libya Nexus

Source: The ISIS Study Group

Source: The ISIS Study Group

Other Related Articles:

Vlad Uses Saudi Prince’s Thirst for Power to His Advantage Against US Influence

Islamic State Claims to Have Shot-Down Russian Plane in Sinai – But Did They?

Russia Providing Lethal Aid to Syria, Iran and Establishment of Intel Centers in Iraq

Russia Poised to Increase Military Presence in Middle East in Response to Islamic State’s Strength

The US Didn’t Create ISIS — Assad and Saddam Did

basharalassadonline-newsit2_1Frontpage, by Daniel Greenfield, Nov. 4, 2015:

The Russia-Iran-Assad axis and its useful idiots in the West claim that the United States created ISIS. Some of the loonier conspiracy sites that gleefully repost Russian propaganda allege that the Caliph of ISIS is a Jewish Mossad agent named Elliot Shimon or a CIA agent named Simon Elliot.

Elliot doesn’t exist, but ISIS’ Deputy Caliph Abu Ali al-Anbari, who was Saddam’s major general and a Baathist member, does. The Caliph’s right hand man, Abu Muslim al Turkmani, was also a Baathist and a lieutenant colonel in Saddam’s military intelligence organization before being killed by a drone strike.

Considering the history between Saddam and the USSR, it is likely that one or both of the Caliph’s deputies received training from Russian intelligence advisers during their careers. Turkmani’s DGMI in particular was closely entangled with the KGB. One of the reasons ISIS is much better than its Sunni Islamist opponents is that its top people had been trained by Soviet experts.

The ISIS blowback doesn’t lead to America, but in a completely different direction.

Before the Islamic State’s current incarnation, it was Al Qaeda in Iraq and its pipeline of suicide bombers ran through Syria with the cooperation of Assad’s government.

Assad and Al Qaeda in Iraq had a common enemy; the United States. Assad had a plan to kill two birds with one stone. Syrian Islamists, who might cause trouble at home, were instead pointed at Iraq. Al Qaeda got manpower and Assad disposed of Sunni Jihadists who might cause him trouble.

Meanwhile Al Qaeda openly operated out of Syria in alliance with the Baathists. While Syria’s regime was Shiite and Iraq’s Sunni, both governments were headed by Baathists.

The Al Nusrah Front, the current incarnation of Al Qaeda in the area ever since the terror group began feuding with ISIS, named one of its training camps, the ‘Abu Ghadiya Camp”. Abu Ghadiya had been chosen by Zarqawi, the former leader of the organization today known as ISIS, to move terroriststhrough Syria. This highway of terror killed more American soldiers than Saddam Hussein had.

The Al Qaeda presence in Syria was backed by Assad’s brother-in-lawAssef Shawkat, who had served as Director of Military Intelligence and Deputy Defense Minister.  His real job though was coordinating Islamic terrorist organizations. During the Iraq War, he added Al Qaeda to his portfolio.

Handling terrorists without being burned is a tricky business though and the blowback kicked in.

In 2008, a US raid into Syria finally took out Abu Ghadiya and some of his top people. A year later, General Petraeus warned that, “In time, these fighters will turn on their Syrian hosts and begin conducting attacks against Bashar al-Asad’s regime itself.”

Shawkat was killed by a suicide bomber three years later. Assad’s support for terrorists had hit home. Those Sunni Islamists he had sent on to Iraq who survived returned with training and skills that made them a grave danger to his regime.

Exactly as Petraeus had predicted.

Anti-American Leftists who claim that the US created ISIS were cheering on its early terror attacks as the work of a Baathist “Resistance”. ISIS these days is accompanied by top Baathists including General al-Douri, a close Saddam ally. The same outlets claiming that we created ISIS celebrated the “Resistance” campaign against NATO “neo-colonialism” when what they were really celebrating was ISIS.

Putin’s regime has claimed that it is fighting ISIS, but it was supporting Assad back when Syria was a conduit for ISIS to attack Americans. The Baathists in Syria and Iraq had both been Soviet clients and it was the USSR which turned international terrorism into a high art.

The United States has gotten plenty of the blame for supporting Mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the USSR, but the USSR had started the practice much earlier and had signed on to the Red-Green alliance. As Primakov, a top Soviet leader and KGB figure closely involved with the Muslim world, had said, the “Islamic movement” has a “radical trend which is strongly charged with anti-imperialism.”

It’s no coincidence that ISIS has thrived best in countries that were former Soviet clients whose governments attempted to fit Primakov’s definition by walking a fine line between Socialism and Islam. Nor is it a coincidence that in addition to its beheadings and sex slavery, ISIS plays up its free medicalcare and price controls. ISIS is still offering Socialism and Islam with a bigger emphasis on Islam.

While Baathism is often described as secular, it actually sought to blend Islam with its politics. It was a leftist Islamism that emphasized Socialism in contrast to the rightist Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood whose leaders were often businessmen and landowners with a more capitalistic bent.

These distinctions, which led the USSR to build ties with the Baathists while Western countries got involved with the Muslim Brotherhood, were more style than substance. The preference of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Turkish AKP for crony capitalism as the next best thing to a lost former feudalism did not make them friendly to the West. And the Baathists were tribal dictators who cloaked their clannish authoritarianism and familial feuds in a blend of hollow Socialist and Islamic platitudes.

Critics claim that there would be no ISIS if Saddam were still in power, but the Iraqi dictator helped create ISIS through his alliances with Islamists. ISIS did not suddenly rise out of the ruins of his regime. Instead it grew within Saddam’s regime as the dictator responded to his setbacks against Iran and Saudi Arabia, two Islamist states, by reinventing Iraq and Baathism as explicitly Islamist entities.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam had begun building ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, hoping to bridge the old split between Baathists and Brotherhood and meet Shiite Islamism with Sunni Islamism.

After the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein went in a blatantly Islamist direction. The man in charge of his “Return to Faith” campaign was General Al-Douri, who would be the key ally that Al Qaeda used to move its people through Syria and who would live long enough to fight alongside ISIS as it retook Tikrit.

Allah Akbar was added to the Iraqi flag and Islamic education was embedded into the system from elementary schools to Islamic universities. It is likely that the Caliph of ISIS owes his own Islamic education to Saddam’s newfound interest in the Koran.

By the mid 90s, Saddam endorsed a Caliphate and implemented Sharia punishments such as chopping off the hands of thieves.  When ISIS amputates hands, it’s just restoring one of Saddam’s Sharia policies.

Everyone knows about Saddam’s palaces, but fewer know about his campaign to build the world’s biggest mosques. One of the biggest of these had a Koran written in Saddam’s own blood. This mosque would become a major center for ISIS allied operations run by a Muslim Brotherhood organization.

The Caliph of ISIS was recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood by his uncle. And like so many Jihadist leaders, he moved on to Al Qaeda. His own Baathist-Islamist background made him the perfect man to take Saddam’s vision of a Pan-Islamic state with Sharia and Socialism for all to the next level.

Saddam’s outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood helped create ISIS, just as Assad’s backing for Al Qaeda did and much as Gaddafi’s LIFG deal with the Brotherhood paved the way for his own overthrow.

Barzan, Saddam’s brother and the leader of his secret police, had warned him that his alliance with Islamists would lead to the overthrow of his regime. And that is what likely would have happened. American intervention changed the timetable, but not the outcome.

ISIS is a Baathist-Islamist hybrid that devours its creators, turning on Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, and at times even threatening its Baathist allies. Its hybrid of Socialism and an Islam so medieval and brutal that it even frightens Al Qaeda and the Brotherhood has its roots in Saddam’s Iraq. Televising new and more extreme tortures was a tactic that was more Saddam than Osama.

Even ISIS’ most revolutionary step, declaring its leader the Caliph, echoes Saddam’s effort to don the vestiges of the Abbasid Caliphate by linking himself to Caliph Al-Mansur. The difference between Saddam and ISIS is that it is willing to follow through on the symbolism.

For Saddam, Islam was a means. For ISIS it is an end. ISIS is Saddam’s Islamized Iraq without Saddam. It uses Saddam’s tactics and infrastructure for purely Islamic ends.

ISIS is blowback, but not against America. It’s the outcome of two Russian client states that climbed into bed with terrorists only to see the terrorists take over their countries. Saddam and Assad were both warned about the consequences of their alliance with Islamists.

Saddam aided the Muslim Brotherhood in trying to topple Assad’s father, yet learned no lessons from it. Assad aided the Al Qaeda attacks on Americans, but didn’t consider what would happen when Al Qaeda turned its attention to him. Both regimes sowed the Islamist seeds of their own destruction and made inevitable their transformation into Islamic terror states.

Russia’s “Strategic Ambiguity”

US Soldiers Will Fight on the Ground in Iraq, Just Don’t Call It That


If the guy in the White House had an R after his name, the media would be losing its mind over this. Late night comedians would be working it over. And Michael Moore would have a documentary out.

But it’s just Obama Inc. swooping from one crazy Orwellian language distorting lie to another. So the good news is that the Iraq War is over. We’re not fighting in Iraq. American soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq will be at the center of Obama’s new strategy.

But don’t call it a war or combat or boots on the ground.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday that raids such as the one that killed Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler will be at the center of a new strategy in Iraq and Syria.

Carter told a Senate panel that U.S.-backed raids will be accompanied by increased military pressure on Ramadi and Raqqa, two of the front lines in the stymied war against the Islamic State.

More ground raids mean higher risk for American servicemembers and will no doubt raise questions over mission creep more than one year into the new war in the Middle East.

But of course it’s not combat. Or boots on the ground. We’re just sending in American troops to “advise” with their guns.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter today revealed that the U.S. will openly begin “direct action on the ground” against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee on Tuesday, Carter said “we won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL…or conducting such mission directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.”

American soldiers will be going in and engaging in firefights with ISIS to achieve military objectives. This will cost lives. But it’s “supportive” and don’t call it “combat.”

At the time Carter and Pentagon officials refused to characterize the operation as U.S. boots on the ground. However, Carter said that the military expects “more raids of this kind” and that the rescue mission “represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission.”

This may mean some American soldiers “will be in harm’s way, no question about it,” Carter said last week.

Remember the time we “advised and assisted” our way through WW2, supporting our French and British allies with direct action. It wasn’t a war though. It was just advising.

“U.S. forces are not in Iraq on a combat mission and do not have boots on the ground,” said Lt. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve.

We’re just shooting people to achieve a military objective. It’s not a combat mission. It’s “Direct Action” in Operation Inherent Euphemism.


Also see:

US military confirms it killed senior al Qaeda strategist Sanafi al Nasr in airstrike in Syria

Sanafi al Nasr, sitting on the far left in the picture above, has been killed in a US airstrike.

Sanafi al Nasr, sitting on the far left in the picture above, has been killed in a US airstrike.

The Long War Journal, by  BILL ROGGIO AND THOMAS JOSCELYN | October 18, 2015:

The US military confirmed that it killed Sanafi al Nasr, a senior al Qaeda strategist who was dispatched by the jihadist group years ago to Syria, in an airstrike in the war torn country on Oct. 15. Nasr’s death, and that of two other jihadists, was first reported by al Qaeda members late last week.

The US Department of Defense confirmed that Nasr was killed in “an airstrike in northwest Syria.” The US military described Nasr as “a Saudi national and the highest ranking leader of the network of veteran al Qaeda operatives sometimes called the ‘Khorasan Group.’”

“Al Nasr was a long-time jihadist experienced in funneling money and fighters for al Qaeda. He moved funds from donors in the Gulf region into Iraq and then to alQaeda leaders from Pakistan to Syria,” the press release announcing his death stated. “He organized and maintained routes for new recruits to travel from Pakistan to Syria through Turkey in addition to helping al Qaeda’s external operations in the West. Al Nasr previously worked for al Qaeda’s Iran-based facilitation network. In 2012 he took charge of al-Qaeda’s core finances before relocating to Syria in 2013.”

The US military claimed that Nasr “is the fifth senior Khorasan Group leader killed in the last four months.” Among those senior al Qaeda leaders killed by the US in Syria killed is Muhsin al Fadhli, a Kuwaiti who served alongside Nasr in al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group.”

Jihadists on Twitter first reported Nasr’s death on Oct. 17 and claimed that two other al Qaeda members, Abdul Malik al Jazrawi (a Saudi) and Abu Yasir al Maghrebi (a Moroccan), were killed alongside the strategist. Additionally, the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, posted a picture purportedly showing a car struck by the “Crusader coalition” in Al Dana, a town in northern Syria west of Aleppo. [See Threat Matrix report, Jihadists claim senior al Qaeda strategist killed in Syria.]

Nasr’s death has deprived al Qaeda of an important leader. In addition to serving as a senior strategist, Nasr, a Saudi whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh, was long known for his active role in promulgating propaganda and messages online.

The Long War Journal first reported in March 2014 that he had risen through al Qaeda’s ranks to become a senior leader and that he had relocated to Syria from the Khorasan, an area that encompasses Afghanistan and Pakistan. As The Long War Journal reported at the time, Nasr, a third cousin of Osama bin Laden, led the “Victory Committee,” which is responsible for developing and implementing al Qaeda’s strategy and policies. Declassified files recovered in bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound show that the al Qaeda master had ordered the creation of a committee to serve that function. [For more information on Nasr’s biography and al Qaeda role, see LWJ report: Head of al Qaeda ‘Victory Committee’ in Syria.]

The US Treasury Department later confirmed Nasr’s relocation to Syria and his role as an al Qaeda strategist in an official terrorist designation. [See LWJ report, Treasury designates 2 ‘key’ al Qaeda financiers.]

In September 2014, the US government said that it had bombed the so-called “Khorasan Group” in Syria. The government’s claims caused widespread confusion, but the “Khorasan Group” is really just an elite cadre of al Qaeda operatives from around the globe. The Long War Journal reported shortly after the airstrikes were launched that Nasr was a leading figure in the “Khorasan Group.” [See LWJ report,Senior al Qaeda strategist part of so-called ‘Khorasan group.’]

Nasr is or was a well-known critic of the Islamic State, al Qaeda’s jihadist rival. In July, for instance, he was one of more than a dozen signatories on a statement vowing to continue to oppose the Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s self-declared “caliphate.” The statement was authored by leading Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham leaders, as well as a handful of other allied jihadists. [See LWJ report, Officials from Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham vow to continue fight against Islamic State.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

Tags: , , , , ,

Thousands of Iranian Forces Deploy in Syria


Iran Truth, Oct. 15, 2015:

According to Reuters, the “hundreds” of Iranian troops that have been arriving in Syria since the Russian deployment of air support assets have grown to “thousands” on the verge of a major offensive.  This offensive is being led by Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and one of America’s most dangerous enemies.  IranTruth reported on his trip to Moscow in violation of international travel bans in August, when we warned that planning a military offensive was the reason Suleimani himself would need to go.

Quds Force has apparently been put in the lead of Iran’s overall effort in Syria, aligning the deployment of conventional regular forces with the networks of proxy forces that Iran has erected in Syria.  Two more top Iranian military officers,including a former head of Quds Force, were killed in Iran in recent days.  The first was General Farshad Hasounizad, described as a “defender of the Sayyeda Zeinab Shrine.”  This shrine features heavily in Iranian recruitment efforts pointed at forming new Shia militias across Syria and Iraq, as it is a specifically Shi’ite shrine that is said to be in danger of destruction by both ISIS and non-Islamic forces.  The other officer killed was Hassan Shemshadi, a regular from Iran’s 1st Brigade, 92nd Armored Division, considered the top armored unit in Iran’s regular forces.  Their deaths follow the loss of the IRGC’s Hussein Hamdani earlier in the conflict.  He was killed while in the role of military adviser to the Syrian army preparing to retake Aleppo.

“The big battle preparations in that area are clear,” said one of the officials. “There is a large mobilization of the Syrian army … elite Hezbollah fighters, and thousands of Iranians who arrived in stages in recent days,” said the official.

The second official, who is close to the Syrian government, said: “The decision to launch the battle of Aleppo has been taken … It is no longer hidden that thousands of Iranians are now in Syria and their role is fundamental.”

According to the Institute for the Study of War, initial gains have been limited.  It will take some time to organize an effective system for unifying the command of the numerous proxy forces with regular troops.  Russian airstrikes are intensifying, however, in what is likely battlespace preparation for a ground push.  ISW predicts that the campaign will go on much longer than the “three or four months” that Russian command has publicly predicted.

Russian propaganda tells a different story.  Russia Today is proclaiming that Russian airstrikes have destroyed “most” of the vehicles and ammunition stores of the Islamic State in their first weeks of operation. They cited Defence Ministry statements and provided published gun tape from bombing runs that allegedly show hits upon ISIS bunkers and other targets.  However, a review of these tapes does not show evidence of secondary explosions, which would indicate a hit upon ammunition stores.  It is unclear just how good Russian intelligence could be on ISIS’s stores and bunkers this early into their deployment.  Unless Russia has prepared with a solid human intelligence campaign within ISIS- and rebel-held areas of Syria, it will be dependent on locally-provided information.  American experience with such information in the Iraq war showed that it was often of questionable value until proper intelligence networks, including proper chains of custody and the services of analytical officers familiar with the sources and history of the conflict, were in place.

Given that ISIS was set up by a collection of former Ba’athist intelligence officers, it is unlikely that Russia will inherit a strong Syrian intelligence capacity.  ISIS has a robust counterintelligence plan, and made a careful study of ties of loyalty in their areas of operation before openly seizing control of those areas.  Purges of suspected enemies have been characteristic of ISIS operations.  It is unlikely that Syria can therefore provide Russia with adequate intelligence for an effective air campaign.

Unless Russia deploys significant intelligence operators to the region, it will thus be dependent on aerial surveillance and the limited intelligence provided by its partners for the success of its operations.  Of these, Quds Force proxies may provide the best information as they will be directly operating against ISIS and rebel forces.  Quds Force certainly has practice generating proper intelligence from battlefield information, but it will leave the Russians dependent on Iran in this critical capacity.  Iran will also control the overarching alignment of ground forces in these campaigns.  It is thus Iran, and not the apparently more powerful Russia, that is in the driver’s seat in Syria.

Also see:

Obama and Putin Agreed To Screw Erdogan?

!cid_image006_jpg@01D103C7Moon of Alabama, Oct. 13, 2015: h/t @pulpark

It’s official! The New York Times finally admits that the “CIA rebels” in Syria who received tons of TOW anti-tank missiles are working under the field command of al-Qaeda/Jabhat al Nusra:

Rebel commanders scoffed when asked about reports of the delivery of 500 TOWs from Saudi Arabia, saying it was an insignificant number compared with what is available. Saudi Arabia in 2013 ordered more than 13,000 of them. Given that American weapons contracts require disclosure of the “end user,” insurgents said they were being delivered with Washington’s approval.

But, be assured, because these “CIA rebels” feel bad about it, they are still “moderate” or somewhat “relative moderate”.

Advancing alongside the Islamist groups, and sometimes aiding them, have been several of the relatively secular groups, like the Free Syrian Army, which have gained new prominence and status because of their access to the TOWs.

It is a tactical alliance that Free Syrian Army commanders describe as an uncomfortable marriage of necessity, because they cannot operate without the consent of the larger and stronger Nusra Front. But Mr. Assad and his allies cite the arrangement as proof that there is little difference between insurgent groups, calling them all terrorists that are legitimate targets.

That these “relative secular” al-Qaeda auxiliaries are threatening suicide attacks against Russians only confirms their secularism. Judging from the reader comments to that NYT piece the U.S. people are pretty aghast about this now openly admitted cooperation. They, and a realist op-ed in the NYT, call for cooperation with Russia and the Syrian government.

There may already be more cooperation between Russia and the U.S. than we can see. At least that is what the Turkish President Erdogan perceives.

Yesterday the U.S. dropped 50 tons of small weapons and munition to Kurdish fighters in north east Syria. According the U.S. justification for this those Kurds along with some Arab Syrian tribals are supposed to attack the Islamic State in Raqqa. (Those Arab tribals are by the way just a bunch of worthless thieves. This according to the Voice of America(!).) But the Kurds do not seem to know about those Raqqa plans anyway. They have different aims:

U.S. officials hope the YPG will now turn its attention to Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the defacto capital of the Islamic State, which lies just 60 miles south of Tal Abyad, a border town the YPG seized from the Islamic State in June, with U.S. help.

But PYD spokesman Can said the Kurdish group’s first priority is to link the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, northwest of the Syrian city of Aleppo, with Kobani, the Kurdish enclave northeast of Aleppo. That would mean clearing the Islamic State from villages along 60 miles of the Turkey-Syria border, in particular the border town of Jarablus.“Our prime and most important goal is to liberate Jarablus and to connect Kobani with Afrin,” Can told McClatchy. Capturing Raqqa, a mostly Arab city, is “not really” a PYD objective, he said. “Not for now,” he said.

That is just as I suspected the Kurds to react. But why did the U.S. officials claim that these Kurds and the collection of thieves would attack Raqqa? Did they not coordinate with them or was that Raqqa story a ruse?

The Turks seem to assume such and they accuse the U.S. as well as Russia of coordinating with the Kurds to seal the border with Turkey: Turkey warns U.S., Russia against backing Kurdish militia in Syria

Turkey has warned the United States and Russia it will not tolerate Kurdish territorial gains by Kurdish militia close to its frontiers in north-western Syria, two senior officials said.”This is clear cut for us and there is no joking about it,” one official said of the possibility of Syrian Kurdish militia crossing the Euphrates to extend control along Turkish borders from Iraq’s Kurdistan region towards the Mediterranean coast.

The PYD has been getting closer with both the United States and Russia of late. We view the PYD as a terrorist group and we want all countries to consider the consequences of their cooperation,” one of the Turkish officials said.

Turkey suspects Russia, which launched air strikes in Syria two weeks ago, has also been lending support to the YPG and PYD.

“With support from Russia, the PYD is trying to capture land between Jarablus and Azaz, going west of the Euphrates. We will never accept this,” the official said.

Is there now really coordination between Russia and the U.S. to seal the Syrian-Turkish border witch would cut off the Islamic State but also the al-Qaeda “CIA rebels” from their supplies? This would destroy all Turkish plans for Syria: a “safe zone” in Syria under Turkman control, a Sunni ruled pipeline corridor from Qatar to Europe, the Turkish-Ottoman annexation of Aleppo. Turkey would be pushed back into a secondary role.

Do Russia and the U.S. now really make common cause and decided to screw Erdogan? This would make sense if the destruction of the Islamic State and all other terrorists in Syria is the common aim. That would be a change in the Obama administration’s policy. Up to now it only helped the “salafist principality” to grow and never seriously attacked it.

And if there is such cooperation why does the U.S still deliver thousands of TOWs to al-Qaeda which only kill more Syrians and prolong the fighting?

Also see:

Turkey is the Next Failed State in the Middle East

From left to right: A Marxist terrorist holds hostage Turkish prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz (who died in the ensuing shootout) in March 2015; crowds protesting the government's failure to stop ISIS terror attacks are tear-gassed in October 2015; the June 8-14, 2013 cover of the Economist.

From left to right: A Marxist terrorist holds hostage Turkish prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz (who died in the ensuing shootout) in March 2015; crowds protesting the government’s failure to stop ISIS terror attacks are tear-gassed in October 2015; the June 8-14, 2013 cover of the Economist.

ME Forum, by David P. Goldman
Asia Times Online
October 10, 2015

We do not know just who detonated the two bombs that killed 95 Kurdish and allied activists in Ankara Saturday, but the least likely conjecture is that President Erdogan’s government is guiltless in the matter. As Turkish member of parliament Lutfu Turkkan tweeted after the bombing, the attack “was either a failure by the intelligence service, or it was done by the intelligence service.”

Betrayed by both the United States and Russia, and faced with the emergence of a Kurdish state on its borders and the rise of Kurdish parties in the parliamentary opposition, Erdogan is cornered. At risk in the short-term is the ability of his AKP party to govern after the upcoming November elections. At risk in the medium term is the cohesion of the Turkish state itself.

In public, Western leaders have hailed Turkey as “a great Islamic democracy,” as President Obama characterized it in a 2010 interview. That was the view of the George W. Bush administration before Obama, which invited Erdogan to the White House before his selection as prime minister in 2003.

Erdogan’s ability to govern, and cohesion of the Turkish state itself, is at risk.

A minority of military and intelligence analysts, though, has warned that Turkey may not be viable within its present borders in the medium term. The trouble is that its Kurdish minority, now at 20% of the overall population, has twice as many children as ethnic Turks, so many that half of Turkey’s military-age population will speak Kurdish as a first language in fewer than twenty years.

An existential crisis for Turkey has been in the making for years, as I reported in my 2011 book, How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too). During the past week, a perfect storm has overtaken Turkish policy, and threatens to provoke deep political instability. Turkey may become the region’s next failed state.

Erdogan has suffered public humiliation by both Washington and Moscow.

There has to be a fall guy in the Middle East’s film noir, and that unenviable role has fallen to Turkey. Prior to the bombings, the worst terrorist incident in modern Turkish history, Erdogan suffered public humiliation by Washington as well as Moscow. As Laura Rozen reported October 9 in Al-Monitor, Washington announced a 180-degree turn in its Syrian intervention, abandoning the Sunni opposition in favor of Syrian Kurds.

The United States will supply arms, equipment and air support to Syrian Arab and Kurdish groups already fighting the so-called Islamic State (IS) on the ground in Syria, the White House and Pentagon announced Oct. 9.

The decision to refocus the beleaguered, $500 million Pentagon program from training and equipping a new force to fight IS in Syria to “equip and enable” rebel groups already fighting on the ground came after an interagency review of the train and equip program, US officials said.

“A key part of our strategy is to try to work with capable, indigenous forces on the ground … to provide them with equipment to make them more effective, in combination with our air strikes,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth told journalists on a call on the new strategy Oct. 9.

Until last Friday, America and Turkey both supported the Sunni opposition to the Assad government with a view to eliminating Assad and installing a Sunni regime. That policy has been in shambles for months, but it allowed the Turks leeway to provide covert support to ISIS, the one Sunni force that shows effectiveness in the field. Russian intervention exposed the fecklessness of America’s attempts to find a “moderate” Syrian opposition to back. As the veteran strategist Edward Luttwak wrote last week in Tablet magazine:

Putin must certainly be innocent of the accusation that his air force has bombed the U.S.-trained “pro-democracy” freedom fighters, because the trainers themselves have admitted that the first lot on which one-tenth of the budget has been spent, i.e., $50 million, are exactly five in number, the rest having deserted after receiving their big family-support signing bonus and first paycheck, or after they were first issued with weapons (which they sold), or after first entering Syria in groups, when they promptly joined the anti-American Jabhat an-Nuṣrah, whose Sunni Islam they understand, unlike talk of democracy.

The Russians forced Washington to find something credible on the ground to support, and Washington turned to the Kurds, the only effective fighting force not linked to ISIS or al-Qaeda. That was precisely the result Turkey had wanted to avoid; the Kurdish military zone in northern Syria links up with Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Iraq, and the two zones form the core of a prospective Kurdish state.

Russia humiliated Turkey, meanwhile, by challenging Turkish fighters inside Turkish airspace, leaving NATO to protest loudly. Nonetheless the US and Germany have deactivated Patriot missile batteries–the only weapon system that represents a threat to Russian fighters–despite urgent Turkish requests to leave them in place. Russian fighters over Syria prevent the Turks from providing air cover for ISIS and other Islamist groups in Syria, as I noted Oct. 6 in our Chatham House Rules blog. M.K. Bhadrakumar observed in Asia Times Oct. 9, “Turkey’s scope for maneuvering vis-à-vis Russia is actually very limited and it has no option but to reach an understanding with Russia over Syria.”

Less obvious but no less ominous is the deterioration of Sino-Turkish relations due to Ankara’s covert support for the East Turkestan Independence Movement, a terrorist organization active among the Uyghurs of Western China. Despite official assurances, Turkey continues to provide safe passage to Turkey to thousands of Chinese Uyghurs via Southeast Asia, some of whom are fighting with ISIS in Syria. Thailand claims that Uyghur militants carried out the Aug. 17 bombing at Bangkok’s Erawan shrine after Thailand sent 109 Chinese Uyghurs back to China.

Erdogan has suffered not merely a collapse of his foreign policy, but a public humiliation by countries that backed his regime in the interests of regional stability–and this just before November’s parliamentary elections. After the Kurdish-backed HDP party took 13% of the national vote in last June’s elections and removed Erdogan’s majority in parliament, Erdogan called new elections rather than accept a coalition government. Erdogan also revived military operations against Turkish Kurds in order to elicit support from Turkish nationalists, a transparent maneuver widely reported in the major media.

As the New York Times reported August 5,

Having already delayed the formation of a coalition government, analysts say, Mr. Erdogan is now buttressing his party’s chances of winning new elections by appealing to Turkish nationalists opposed to self-determination for the Kurdish minority. Parallel to the military operations against the Kurds has been an effort to undermine the political side of the Kurdish movement by associating it with the violence of the P.K.K., which has also seemed eager to return to fighting.

Instead of responding to Erdogan’s provocation, the Kurds have shelved military operations in order to concentrate on winning votes in the November elections. After the Saturday bomb attacks, Thomas Seibert noted in the Daily Beast:

Observers agreed that the Ankara blast was probably linked to a decision by the PKK rebels to suspend hostilities with Ankara. The PKK had hinted in recent days that it would declare a new ceasefire in order to boost the HDP’s election chances. The people behind the attack wanted to “prevent the ceasefire” from coming into effect, respected journalist Kadri Gursel tweeted. The PKK’s ceasefire announcement became public shortly after the attack, but the decision by the rebels had probably been taken before.

In short, Erdogan now contemplates American heavy weapons in the hands of Syrian Kurds; the end of Turkey’s ability to provide air support for Sunni rebels in Syria; a Russian campaign to roll up the Sunni opposition, including Turkey’s assets in the field; and a collapse of his parliamentary majority due to an expanding Kurdish vote at home.

Whether the AKP government itself ordered the Ankara bombing, or simply looked the other way while ISIS conducted the bombing, both Turkey and global opinion will assume that the ghastly events in Ankara on Saturday reflect the desperation of the Erdogan regime. Regimes that resort to this sort of atrocity do not last very long.

The best thing that Turkey could do under the circumstances would be to ask the United Nations to supervise a plebiscite to allow Kurdish-majority areas to secede if they so chose. The mountains of southeastern Turkey with the highest concentration of Kurds are a drain on the national budget and of no strategic importance. Neither Erdogan nor his nationalist opposition, though, will consider such action; that would undermine both Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism as well as the old secular nationalism. The pressures under the tectonic plates will only get worse. Saturday’s bombing may have demarcated the end of the Turkish state that arose out of the First World War.

David P. Goldman is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the Wax Family Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

How America can counter Putin’s moves in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/AP)

Washington Post, by Condoleezza Rice and  October 8, 2015:

Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state from 2005 to 2009. Robert M. Gates was defense secretary from 2006 to 2011.

One can hear the disbelief in capitals from Washington to London to Berlin to Ankara and beyond. How can Vladimir Putin, with a sinking economy and a second-rate military, continually dictate the course of geopolitical events? Whether it’s in Ukraine or Syria, the Russian president seems always to have the upper hand.

Sometimes the reaction is derision: This is a sign of weakness. Or smugness: He will regret the decision to intervene. Russia cannot possibly succeed. Or alarm: This will make an already bad situation worse. And, finally, resignation: Perhaps the Russians can be brought along to help stabilize the situation, and we could use help fighting the Islamic State.

The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well because he knows exactly what he wants to do. He is not stabilizing the situation according to our definition of stability. He is defending Russia’s interests by keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. This is not about the Islamic State. Any insurgent group that opposes Russian interests is a terrorist organization to Moscow. We saw this behavior in Ukraine, and now we’re seeing it even more aggressively — with bombing runs and cruise missile strikes — in Syria.

Putin is not a sentimental man, and if Assad becomes a liability, Putin will gladly move on to a substitute acceptable to Moscow. But for now, the Russians believe that they (and the Iranians) can save Assad. President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry say that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. That is true, but Moscow understands that diplomacy follows the facts on the ground, not the other way around. Russia and Iran are creating favorable facts. Once this military intervention has run its course, expect a peace proposal from Moscow that reflects its interests, including securing the Russian military base at Tartus.

We should not forget that Moscow’s definition of success is not the same as ours. The Russians have shown a willingness to accept and even encourage the creation of so-called failed states and frozen conflicts from Georgia to Moldova to Ukraine. Why should Syria be any different? If Moscow’s “people” can govern only a part of the state but make it impossible for anyone else to govern the rest of it — so be it.

And the well-being of the population is not the issue either. The Russian definition of success contains no element of concern for the dismal situation of the Syrian people. Refugees — that’s Europe’s problem. Greater sectarianism — well, it’s the Middle East! Populations attacked with barrel bombs and Assad’s chemicals, supposedly banned in the deal that Moscow itself negotiated — too bad!

Putin’s move into Syria is old-fashioned great-power politics. (Yes, people do that in the 21st century.) There is a domestic benefit to him, but he is not externalizing his problems at home. Russian domestic and international policies have always been inextricably linked. Russia feels strong at home when it is strong abroad — this is Putin’s plea to his propagandized population — and the Russian people buy it, at least for now. Russia is a great power and derives its self-worth from that. What else is there? When is the last time you bought a Russian product that wasn’t petroleum? Moscow matters again in international politics, and Russian armed forces are on the move.

Let us also realize that hectoring Putin about the bad choice he has made sounds weak. The last time the Russians regretted a foreign adventure was Afghanistan. But that didn’t happen until Ronald Reagan armed the Afghan mujahideen with Stinger missiles that started blowing Russian warplanes and helicopters out of the sky. Only then did an exhausted Soviet Union led by Mikhail Gorbachev, anxious to make accommodation with the West, decide that the Afghan adventure wasn’t worth it.

So what can we do?

First, we must reject the argument that Putin is simply reacting to world disorder. Putin, this argument would suggest, is just trying to hold together the Middle East state system in response to the chaos engendered by U.S. overreach in Iraq, Libya and beyond.

Putin is indeed reacting to circumstances in the Middle East. He sees a vacuum created by our hesitancy to fully engage in places such as Libya and to stay the course in Iraq. But Putin as the defender of international stability? Don’t go there.

Second, we have to create our own facts on the ground. No-fly zones and safe harbors for populations are not “half-baked” ideas. They worked before (protecting the Kurds for 12 years under Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror) and warrant serious consideration. We will continue to have refugees until people are safe. Moreover, providing robust support for Kurdish forces, Sunni tribes and what’s left of the Iraqi special forces is not “mumbo-jumbo.” It might just salvage our current, failing strategy. A serious commitment to these steps would also solidify our relationship with Turkey, which is reeling from the implications of Moscow’s intervention. In short, we must create a better military balance of power on the ground if we are to seek a political solution acceptable to us and to our allies.

Third, we must “de-conflict” our military activities with those of the Russians. This is distasteful, and we should never have gotten to a place where the Russians are warning us to stay out of their way. But we must do all that we can to prevent an incident between us. Presumably, even Putin shares this concern.

Finally, we need to see Putin for who he is. Stop saying that we want to better understand Russian motives. The Russians know their objective very well: Secure their interests in the Middle East by any means necessary. What’s not clear about that?


Also see:

How America Should Respond to Russia’s Syria Venture: A Guide

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Breitbart, by  ADMIRAL JAMES A. “ACE” LYONS, Oct. 8, 2015:

To respond to Russia’s military campaign in Syria, first, we have to be realistic about the facts on the ground. Iraq and Syria, for all practical purposes, are failed states.

There is no chance that either Iraq or Syria will ever be reconstituted as mandated by theSykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, which basically divided up control or influence over the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire between France and England.

Since the combined remaining military forces of Hezbollah, the Iranian Quds Force and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have not been sufficient to assure Assad’s survival, Russia’s deployment of its air and marine ground forces to an airbase at Latakia, Syria should have come as no surprise. The preparations for this deployment clearly have gone on for some time. Our intelligence community certainly must have detected these preparations as well as the pre-deployment of surface-to-air missile batteries to the Latakia airbase about two months ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objectives are very clear. Notwithstanding his statements that his main objective is to defeat the Islamic State, he intends to support the retention of Syrian President Assad in power at all costs. In that sense, he will confront all the Sunni militias, including Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, as well as ISIS, which threaten the Assad regime. The announcement by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that Iraq intends to share intelligence with Syria and Russia, plus his statement that he would welcome Russian air strikes against ISIS in Iraq, clearly adds a new dimension to Russia’s involvement. Should Putin expand Russian involvement into Iraq, it would certainly provide some balance to the theory of an emerging Damascus-Baghdad-Beirut-Tehran-Moscow axis. Another complicating factor is the deployment of the Russian cruiser, Moskva, armed with 64 advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles. This is one of Russia’s most advanced air defense systems and may indicate that Russia is taking over air defense responsibilities for Syria.

The survival of both the Syrian and Iraqi regimes are key elements in the “unwritten plan” for Iranian regional hegemony.  However, President Obama’s apparent complicity with the Russian deployment of military forces and suggestion that they could be even a stabilizing factor fits right in with his “leading from behind” strategy. Our enemies clearly view this strategy as weakness and will continue to exploit the power vacuum created by our lack of leadership. It will provide further substance to a Tehran-Baghdad-Beirut-Damascus-Moscow axis for Iranian regional dominance.

Such a strategy certainly will not be welcomed by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, UAE, Jordan, or for that matter, our ally Israel.  Clearly, Sunni opposition to Shiite domination will ensure that a chaotic situation will remain for the foreseeable future. Other complicating factors will be how long Israel decides to wait before launching a strike to destroy Iran’s key nuclear infrastructure, and how long it will be before Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies obtain their own nuclear weapons capability.

In the current complicated and dangerous situation, what is the most sensible course for the U.S. to follow to protect our interests and regional allies, given our lack of leadership, which is clearly evident? We have nothing to gain by further involving U.S. forces in what should be recognized as failed states – Syria and Iraq. In this sense, our principal objectives remain the prevention of Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability and the removal of the corrupt jihadist Iranian theocracy. Let’s not forget, the removal of Bashar al-Assad from Syria is a principal objective pushed by the Muslim Brotherhood and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Leaders in the Middle East will follow the “strong horse.” With President Obama’s “leading from behind” strategy, Putin has become the strong horse!

There have been recent calls for the establishment of a “no-fly zone” over so-called moderate rebel areas. The window for such action was closed once Russia completed its military force deployment and commenced air strikes. It makes no sense to create a situation that elevates this classic Sunni-Shiite conflict into a potential direct U.S.-Russian conflict. With our current weak and inept leadership, the current chaotic situation needs to be kept at the lowest possible conflict level. Therefore, steps that the United Stated could take that would require no further commitment of U.S forces, but would complicate Russia’s and Iran’s ability to achieve their objectives, would be the following:

  1. To counter recent Russian and Chinese naval deployments off Syria, we should deploy a Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean. This would send a very positive signal to our NATO allies as well as to Egypt and Israel.
  2. We should establish a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Kurdistan by redistribution of in-theater air resources to include F-16’s, A-10’s, C-130 gunships and AH-1 attack helicopters.
  3. Provide direct military equipment to Kurdistan’s Peshmerga military forces.  With Baghdad clearly aligned with Tehran, Damascus and Moscow, it makes no sense to continue sending military equipment for the Peshmerga through Baghdad, from which it is never passed on.
  4. Support the establishment of a sovereign Kurdistan. They have been a loyal, reliable ally along with Israel. Such action would clearly complicate the situation for Iran, but also for Turkey, which should be manageable.
  5. We should be providing direct defensive military equipment to Ukraine to counter Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. We should also provide more direct support in terms of NATO forces to the Baltic States to preempt potential Russian aggressive moves.

The above actions are what we should be doing to protect our interests in the region, as well as those of our allies. Such action would complicate and make it more costly for Russia and Iran to achieve their objectives and possibly prevent a nuclear arms race in this most unstable region.

James A. Lyons, U.S. Navy retired Admiral, has served as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior
U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

Russia’s endgame in Syria: Follow the Money

3300795117Center for Security Policy, by John Cordero, Oct. 6, 2015:

As Vladimir Putin orders airstrikes against rebels of all stripes fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, there are important strategic economic goals behind Russia’s actions in Syria.  The short term goal is easy to discern: prevent Assad’s collapse as no alternative suitable to Russian interests exists, preserve Russia’s only naval base in the Middle East at Tartus, and promote Russia both at home and abroad as a world power that counterbalances American hegemony.

Much of the media has focused on Putin as a personal driver of Russian behavior.  While forays into Georgia and Ukraine have accomplished the tactical goals of preventing increased European Union presence in Russia’s sphere of influence, these have come at a high cost both politically and economically in the form of isolation and sanctions. Putin seems to have concluded that intervening in Syria in the name of fighting terrorism can only help repair Russia’s battered image.

It is important to at least try to understand Putin’s motivation without delving too much into psychoanalysis.  He is on record as lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”  In power since 2000, the former KGB officer is an ardent Russian nationalist, a promoter of a personality cult concerned with his country’s standing and perception in the world.  With his career spent in the service of the state, he is not one to take a background role in world affairs. Putin has effectively used Russia’s alliance with Iran as an effective tool to undermine the US, both regionally in the Gulf and globally with the nuclear deal.

The current buildup at Tartus and Latakia is nothing new: since Hafez al-Assad’s rise to power in 1970, the Former Soviet Union and then Russia was and is a stalwart ally, long attempting to position Syria as a counterbalance to American and Israeli military superiority in the Middle East.

Russia’s actions are also a message to the world: unlike the US, which abandoned long-time ally Hosni Mubarak during his time of need in Egypt, Russia is prepared to intervene, militarily if necessary, to preserve a friendly regime in danger.  Therefore, it pays for autocrats to court Moscow, especially if they possess valuable resources or are in prime strategic locations.

While Vladimir Putin ostensibly espouses the acceptable goal of a global alliance against IS, the strategic context is that he has entered into a sectarian alliance with Shia Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the proxy army Hezbollah (The P4+1) against the American-backed Sunni alliance of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the UAE, all of whom insist that Assad has no future in Syria.

Through its airstrikes, Russia continues to advance the prior Syrian strategy of focusing efforts against pro-Western rebels, with the recognition that, while dangerous, the Islamic State is the one party in the conflict the West will never support.

The Islamic State will take advantage of both the respite, and the propaganda value of being the recognized number one enemy of the infidel coalition, which it uses to rally supporters simply by pointing out that its enemies are gathering to destroy the renewed Caliphate.

The one strategic motivation for Russia that has been widely ignored is the economic one.  Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita and also owner of the world’s largest natural gas field, proposed in 2009 to jointly construct a gas pipeline running through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and into Europe.  Assad, not wanting to provoke Moscow, refused to sign on.  Instead, he floated an alternative: an Iran-Iraq-Syria and possibly Lebanon pipeline, to then follow under the Mediterranean to Europe. The Qatar-Turkey pipeline would run through majority Sunni countries with the exception of Syria’s Alawite regime. Assad’s counter proposal follows the Shia crescent.

Russia, not wanting to lose its primary market in Europe, is adamantly opposed to a prospective Qatari project.  A military presence in Syria will guarantee that even if Assad is removed from power, the pipeline will not be built.  It will look on favorably to the Iranian proposal, provided Gazprom and other state-owned companies get their share of the pie.

Pipeline politics in the region have a long and varied history of Russian involvement.  TheBaku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was built only after Moscow’s demand for an alternative pipeline for Azeri oil to Russia was met.  During the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, US intelligence officials determined that an explosion on the pipeline near the Turkish-Georgian border was carried out via Russian government cyber warfare.  Days after the explosion, Russian fighter jets bombed positions in Georgia close to the pipeline. Although the BTC pipeline was built precisely to avoid Russian interference, the Kremlin has never let that stop them.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have also begun construction on a joint natural gas pipeline, theTANAP. This project’s stated goal is to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian natural gas, a prospect that cannot please Moscow.   Both the BTC and TANAP bypass Armenia, a Russian ally and wary of its neighbors in the Caucasus.

As the endpoint for the Qatari project, Turkey is adamant in calling for Assad to step down or be removed, which dovetails with the proposed Sunni pipeline.  By clearing the way through Syria, Qatar and Saudi Arabia can receive a handsome return on their investment in backing jihadis fighting Assad.  On the other hand, Iran will not sit idly by and leave potential billions of dollars in the hands of its ideological and regional enemies.

Russian intervention in Syria is just beginning. There is every possibility that it will expand as more targets are found, perhaps those that are in the way of the proposed Iranian pipeline, directly threatening Damascus and by extension, the Russian monopoly of gas exports to Europe.  For the time being, Putin has the world’s attention.


EXCLUSIVE: Russian jets ‘intercept’ US predator drones over Syria, officials say

Also see:

Obama, Putin and Syria: A bullet point update

20151003_obamaputinsyriaFamily Security Matters, by LAWRENCE SELLIN, PHD, Oct. 3, 2015:

  • Vladimir Putin’s overall strategy is to prop up Russia’s long-time regional ally, Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
  • Russia has bombed targets in northwestern Syria, an area mainly held by non-ISIS rebel groups such as the Free Syrian Army and an Islamist coalition, Jaysh al-Fatah.
  • The aim is to eliminate non-ISIS groups first. Then the Syrian, Russian, Iranian, Hezbollah alliance can turn its attention to ISIS and, thereby, force the United States to support or, at least, do nothing to hinder their operations.
  • Controlling northwest Syria also safeguards Assad’s Shia-Alawite home region and his base of support, as well as securing the strategically critical coastal area containing the Latakia airbase used by Russian forces and the important port of Tartus.
  • With Russia filling the power vacuum left by Obama’s feckless foreign policy, the big losers in the region are the United States, Turkey and, to some extent, the nations that have supported the Sunni rebels, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a Sunni Islamist, an opponent of Syria’s Assad and a fervent supporter of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Like Erdogan, Obama also demonstrated ardent support for the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt.
  • Some have argued that the Muslim Brotherhood exerts undue influence on the Obama Administration.
  • Together with another strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, which acted as an intermediary, Erdogan and Obama were likely shipping arms from Libya through Turkey to the Syrian rebels, which led, at least in part, to the death of Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
  • Obama, having outsourced the Syrian rebel supply effort to Turkey and Qatar, not unexpectedly, lost control of the funding, the weapons distribution and any significant influence in the region with Turkey and Qatar pursuing their own interests.
  • Russia and the Shia-axis of Assad, Iran and Hezbollah are now positioned to drive events in the region, all of which will only to be strengthened by Obama’s incompetent lead-from-behind foreign policy and his perilous Iran nuclear deal.

New information about the Russian disinformation campaign added October 4, 2015 from the Institute for the Study of War website – Russian airstrikes continue to primarily target Syrian opposition groups in areas far from ISIS’s core terrain. These strikes are concentrated in northwestern Syria, particularly in rebel-held areas of Idlib Province and the northern countryside of Hama Province. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed only three airstrikes targeting positions in known ISIS-held terrain between October 1 and October 3. However, local reporting only confirmed two of these strikes. The Russian air campaign in Syria appears to be largely focused on supporting the Syrian regime and its fight against the Syrian opposition, rather than combating ISIS.


Russian countermoves in Syria taking shape (

With Russian TV forecasting today’s weather as ‘sunny with a chance of airstrikes,’ the Kremlin is clearly unapologetic regarding its aggressive strategy of anti-Assad forces in Syria.  Parliament Defense Committee chairman Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov said that the Russian Navy is studying the possibility of initiating a blockade on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, in order to shorten its logistical supply times from Crimea, as well as carrying out artillery strikes on rebel positions.  He also raised the possibility of Russian volunteers from Ukraine heading to Syria to fight the Islamic State, with Russia reusing the “Little Green Men” strategy of deniable volunteers it used in the invasion of Ukraine.

The US has announced that strikes against IS targets will continue, raising the possibility of a proxy war reminiscent of Afghanistan in the 80’s.  In the event of a full-blown conflict, the Pentagon is revising its contingency war plans, which have not been updated since the collapse of the Soviet Union.


5 Top Victories for Putin in Syria (


John  Batchelor interviews Claudia Rosett:


Also see: