Explosive accusations against Turkey are exposing a major problem for Obama

REUTERS/Jason Reed

REUTERS/Jason Reed

Business Insider, by NATASHA BERTRAND AND MICHAEL B KELLEY, Aug. 25, 2015:

US-trained rebels allege that Turkish intelligence tipped off Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front and orchestrated the kidnapping of US-trained rebels entering Syria, Mitchell Prothero of McClatchy reports.

Though experts immediately advised skepticism of the accusations, the situation typifies the contradictory priorities in the faltering partnership between the US and Turkey against ISIS in Syria.

“All of this speaks to a bigger issue of how Turkey is perceived to have been nurturing the Islamist side of the Syrian insurgency at the expense of Syrian nationalists,” Aaron Stein, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider.

The US began training a small group of Syrian rebels known as the New Syria Force, or NSF, in early May, on the condition that they focus solely on combating ISIS while refraining from going after forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and his allies.

The program was intended to graduate as many as 2,000 moderate Syrian opposition forces, but only 54 have completed the program so far. In July, the Pentagon’s sent the first NSF graduates, known as Division 30, into Syria to fight ISIS.

The initiative failed spectacularly when the group was attacked by al-Nusra Front, the branch of Al Qaeda operating in Syria, immediately after it entered the country. The Division 30 Syria headquarters was subsequently bombed by Assad’s warplanes.

Map of Syria showing control by cities and areas held as of August 3 as well as a safe zone that the US and Turkey are trying to implement.

Map of Syria showing control by cities and areas held as of August 3 as well as a safe zone that the US and Turkey are trying to implement.

The US-backed rebels now claim that Turkish intelligence leaked information about the NSF’s arrival plans in Syria to al-Nusra. And a Turkish official told McClatchy that the leak would humiliate the Obama administration and push the US to go after both ISIS and Assad’s regime.

But some analysts quickly noted that a leak wasn’t necessary.

“The group itself had advertised its entry into Syria on social media, and it was well known that they were entering through Turkey,” Stein said.

Nevertheless, the accusations underscore Turkey’s alliances with rebel groups — specifically Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra — that the US opposes.

A member of al Qaeda's Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015.

A member of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front carries his weapon as he squats in the town of the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015.

“Our research has long pointed to a closer Turkish relationship to Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra than to IS. In that sense, this is not surprising,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider by email.

Stein has previously written about how Turkey “eventually reached out directly to al-Nusra, believing that the rebel group would be useful in achieving its ultimate goal: the overthrow of Assad.”

“Turkey also believed that it could potentially moderate the group and that al-Nusra would be good to work with as a ‘Syrian group’ fighting against the regime for the future of all Syrians,” he added.

The country has even closer ties to Ahrar, which is one of Syria’s largest rebel groups and the one with the most Turkish citizens. And although Ahrar is linked to Nusra, its stated political project is focused on toppling the Assad regime and establishing an Islamic state in Syria.

Read more 

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FDD VP for Research Jonathan Schanzer discusses Turkey and the growing threat from ISIS. – The John Batchelor Show (Syndicated) – August 20, 2015

Russia’s Playing A Double Game With Islamic Terror

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast,Anadolu Agency

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast,Anadolu Agency

Daily Beast, by Michael Weiss, August 23, 2015:

Even as America touts its counterterrorism partnerships with Russia, evidence points to the FSB directly feeding Dagestanis to ISIS.
It is an article of faith among the many critics of the current Russian government that, however unpleasant Vladimir Putin may be, he is still a necessary partner in one crucial field of U.S. foreign policy: cooperation in the war on Islamic terrorism.

Proof, if it were needed, for how valued this cooperation is among U.S. policymakers came in the conspicuous absence of Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, from sanctions levied by the Treasury Department against Russian officials. The sanctions targeted bureaucrats involved in both the invasion and occupation of Crimea and the unacknowledged maskirovka war that Moscow is still waging in eastern Ukraine—a war that has drawn amply on the resources of the FSB and has included several “former” FSB officers in on the battlefield. Not only was Bortnikov not sanctioned, he was invited by the White House last February as a guest to President Obama’s three-day conference on “countering violent extremism,” whereas the current FBI director, James Comey, was not.

That conference was held principally because of the international threat posed byISIS and the coalition war against it in Syria and Iraq, not to mention the Chechen identity of the Tsarnaev brothers, perpetrators of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings. Bortnikov’s presence was a mutual recognition by the U.S. and Russia that fighting jihadism is a shared challenge between two countries now embroiled in a pitched stand-off over the fate of Europe and much else.

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Yet a recent investigation conducted by Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent newspapers left in Russia, complicates this cozy tale of counterterrorist cooperation. Based on extensive fieldwork in one village in the North Caucasus, reporter Elena Milashina has concluded that the “Russian special services have controlled” the flow of jihadists into Syria, where they have lately joined up not only with ISIS but other radical Islamist factions. In other words, Russian officials are added to the ranks of terrorists which the Russian government has deemed a collective threat to the security and longevity of its dictatorial ally on the Mediterranean, Bashar al-Assad.

It may sound paradoxical—helping the enemy of your friend—but the logic is actually straightforward: Better the terrorists go abroad and fight in Syria than blow things up in Russia. Penetrating and coopting terrorism also has a long, well-attested history in the annals of Chekist tradecraft.

Milashina makes her case study the village of Novosasitili in Dagestan’s Khasavyurt district. Since 2011, nearly one percent of the total population of Novosasitili has gone to Syria—22 out of 2,500 residents. Of that figure, five were killed and five have returned home. But they didn’t leave Russia, a country notoriously difficult to enter and exit, without outside help. The FSB established a “green corridor” to allow them to migrate first to Turkey, and then into Syria. (Russians, including those living in the North Caucasus, can catch any of the daily non-stop flights to Istanbul and visit Turkey without a visa.)

“I know someone who has been at war for 15 years,” Akhyad Abdullaev, head of the village, tells Milashina. “He fought in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now in Syria. He surely cannot live peacefully. If such people go off to war, it’s no loss. In our village there is a person, a negotiator. He, together with the FSB, brought several leaders out of the underground and sent them off abroad on jihad. The underground resistance has been weakened, we’re well off. They want to fight—let them fight, just not here.”

Milashina next interviews the “negotiator” Abdullaev mentions. He tells her of his role as an intermediary between the FSB and local militants in arranging the latter’s departure to the Levant. In 2012, for instance, he helped arrange for a man known as the “Emir of the northern sector”—a “very dangerous man,” believed by the FSB to have been behind several terrorist bombings—to go to Turkey if he agreed to quit jihadism in Dagestan. The FSB gave the Emir a passport and acted as his travel agent. The condition was that he’d deal exclusively with the FSB and not inform any of his confederates of his true sponsor. The Emir has since been killed in Syria, but the “negotiator” tells the journalist that he’s subsequently brought another five militants to the FSB who benefited from the same quid pro quo arrangement. “This was in 2012,” he says. “Just before the Syrian path opened up. More precisely, [the FSB] opened it.”

Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director and a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Beast that while she can neither confirm nor deny the allegations put forward in Novaya Gazeta, “It is also evident that [Russian] law enforcement and security agencies are proud of the fact that the number of casualties in armed clashes between insurgent forces and security has declined very significantly by some 50 percent. Officials attribute it to the success of the government in fighting the insurgency; in reality, it seems the drop derives from the fact that all the aggressive, competent fighters are no longer fighting in Dagestan but are in Syria as part of ISIS.”

Mike Rogers, a former U.S. representative and the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Daily Beast that the FSB might be turning a “blind eye” to jihadist outflow to Syria. “The only reason I say that is that they could alert Assad’s folks to get them once they’re in Syria,” Rogers said. “But for me, the idea of getting them out of town doesn’t make sense because they know they get combat training and come back home.”

However, a former CIA operative who has liaised with the FSB in Tajikistan told The Daily Beast that such concerns wouldn’t necessarily stop a clandestine conveyor belt of extremists out of Russia, which is hardly unique to Putin’s regime. “It’s perfectly conceivable that the FSB would take their most violent types and say, ‘Yeah, you want your caliphate? Go set it up in Raqqa.’ The Saudis did this in the 80s with the Afghans. It’s sort of tried and true. We could do the same thing. Of course, we’re not.”

Read more

ISIS Chemical Warfare Attack on Kurds in Iraq Raises Questions

kurd

Kurdish dead from Saddam Hussein Gas attack, Halabja, Iraq March 1988

New English Review, by Jerry Gordon, August 14, 2015:

The reports about prohibited mustard gas attacks by ISIS against Kurdish peshmerga near Erbil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq indicate that ISIS has acquired the capabilities either from caches of the Assad regime in Syria or in Iraq. They are similar to reports of similar chemical attacks on Syrian YPG  forces  during the Kobani siege in  2014 and eerily familiar to Iraqi Kurds given the thousands killed in Saddam Hussein gas attacks in March 1988 at Halabja.  The Wall Street Journal reported in today’s edition on the significance of what American  military believe that the efforts by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons  (OPCW)  had not secured these unconventional weapons during operations in 2013, “US Believes ISIS Used Chemical Weapons on Kurds:”

Islamic State fighters likely used mustard agent against Kurdish forces in Iraq this week, senior U.S. officials said Thursday, in the first indication the militant group has obtained banned chemicals.

The officials said Islamic State could have obtained the mustard agent in Syria, whose government admitted to having large quantities in 2013 when it agreed to give up its chemical-weapons arsenal.

The use of mustard agent would mark an upgrade in Islamic State’s battlefield capabilities, and a worrisome one given U.S. intelligence fears about hidden caches of chemical weapons in Syria, where Islamic State controls wide swaths of territory.

It raises new questions about the evolving threat posed by Islamic State and the ability of U.S. allies on the ground to combat it. Frontline Kurdish, Iraqi and moderate Syrian forces say they aren’t getting enough U.S. support now to counter Islamic State’s conventional capabilities.

Officials say these forces may need specialized equipment and training to help protect them against unconventional weapons if they become a fixture on the battlefield.

[…]

The attack in question took place late Wednesday, about 40 miles southwest of Erbil in northern Iraq. A German Defense Ministry spokesman said about 60 Peshmerga fighters, who help protect Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, were reported to have suffered injuries to their throats consistent with a chemical attack while fighting Islamic State.

map 3Not all suspected sites in Assad’s Syria were cleared by the OPCW and chemical weapons may have been transferred to Iraq:

“These were apparently chemical weapons. What it was exactly we don’t know,” the German ministry spokesman said, adding that experts were on their way to the scene to conduct a fuller analysis. He said German personnel weren’t present at the scene of the attack.

The possibility that Islamic State obtained the agent in Syria “makes the most sense,” said one senior U.S. official. It is also possible that Islamic State obtained the mustard agent in Iraq, officials said, possibly from old stockpiles that belonged to Saddam Hussein and weren’t destroyed.

U.S. intelligence agencies are still investigating the source and how it could have been delivered this week on the battlefield, officials said.

Islamic State has taken control of territory in Syria close to where President Bashar al-Assad’s forces stored chemical weapons, including mustard agent. The regime said in 2013 that all of its mustard stockpiles had been destroyed, either by Syrian forces themselves or by international inspectors.

Inspectors, however, have subsequently said they weren’t able to verify claims by the Syrian government that it had burned hundreds of tons of mustard agent in earthen pits. U.S. intelligence agencies now say they believe Damascus hid some caches of deadly chemicals from the West, possibly including mustard.

Intelligence officials and chemical-weapons experts have expressed concerns in recent months that some of those banned chemicals could fall into the hands of Islamic State or other extremist groups.

U.S. intelligence agencies have also warned the White House that the Assad regime could use chemical agents it still has to defend its remaining strongholds if they come under siege.

In addition to mustard, the Assad regime admitted to having deadlier nerve agents, such as sarin and VX. But officials said U.S. intelligence agencies don’t have any evidence to suggest Islamic State has either sarin or VX, which would be far more lethal on the battlefield.

ypg kurdish

 

Dead YPG Kurdish woman fighter in Avdiko, Syria July 2014

Source: MERIA

For Kurds, whether in Iraq or Syria, chemical warfare by ISIS has bitter memories of lethal gas attacks by Saddam Hussein’s regime at Halabja, Iraq in 1988 and in July 2014 at Kobani, Syria.  We wrote about these in an October 2014 NER/Iconoclast post on a MERIA investigation by Jonathan Spyer.

The MERIA special report contradicts the observations of Ms. Psaki and other military experts. Clearly, ISIS has former Hussein Ba’athist commanders who knew about Al Muthanna and what it contained. These same commanders may have even been involved in the infamous genocidal CW attack that killed 5,000 Kurds in Halabja, Iraq in March 16, 1988 in the final year of the Iran-Iraq War.  In a September 2013 Iconoclast post about a previous Spyer essay advocating establishment of an independent Kurdistan, we wrote:

Fast forward to the mid-1970’s when the Iraqi Kurds were a pawn in an unsuccessful covert war for autonomy against Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein which ended in 1975 when the late Shah of Iran inked a treaty with Hussein in Algiers. Effectively the Kurds were abandoned and covert Israeli military and technical assistance to Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani was shut down at the request of Dr. Kissinger as national security advisor to President Ford. That set the stage for retaliation by Saddam Hussein, when he undertook punitive action against the Kurds who had joined up with the Islamic Republic in Tehran. In 1985, Saddam Hussein launched chemical warfare attacks against Kurdish villages in northwestern Iraq, the ancient Kurdish homeland. An estimated 5,000 Kurds were killed in the village of Halabja. This was part of the genocidal 1988 Al-Anfal Campaign that slaughtered in excess of 50,000 Iraqi Kurds.

Spyer notes the circumstances behind this latest CW attack on Kurdish fighters in the vicinity of Kobani in July2014:

Prior to the current campaign, the most serious (but unsuccessful) attempt to conquer Kobani came in July 2014; shortly following the dramatic IS advance into Iraq.

It was during this assault on Kobani that evidence emerged which appeared to point to the use by the Islamic State on at least one occasion of some kind of chemical agent against the Kurdish fighters of the YPG (Peoples’ Protection Units).

The July offensive commenced on July 2nd.  According to Kurdish activists, the use of the chemical agent took place on July 12th, in the village of Avdiko, in the eastern part of the Kobani enclave (now in IS hands.)

Nisan Ahmed, health minister of the Kurdish authority in Kobani, established a medical team to examine the incident.  According to Ahmed, the bodies of three Kurdish fighters showed no signs of damage from bullets.  Rather “burns and white spots on the bodies of the dead indicated the use of chemicals, which led to death without any visible wounds or external bleeding.”

According to expert Israeli sources who have seen the pictures, they appear to indicate the use of some form of chemical agent, probably mustard (blister agent), but it is not possible to conclusively confirm this without further investigation.

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Proposed buffer zone leads al Qaeda to withdraw fighters from northern Aleppo province

An Al Nusrah Front fighter on the lookout in Aleppo.

An Al Nusrah Front fighter on the lookout in Aleppo.

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, Aug. 10, 2015:

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has released a statement saying its fighters have been ordered to withdraw from their frontline positions north of Aleppo. Al Nusrah’s jihadists had been fighting against the Islamic State in the area. The move comes in response to Turkey’s attempt to establish a buffer zone for forces fighting Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization.

The statement, which was released via Twitter on August 9, does not indicate that Al Nusrah is siding with the Islamic State in the multi-sided conflict. The group makes it clear that it will continue to fight Baghdadi’s men elsewhere. Instead, Turkey’s cooperation with the US-led coalition, which has targeted veteran al Qaeda leaders in northern Syria, has forced Al Nusrah to change tactics.

The al Qaeda arm says it is relinquishing control of its territory in the northern part of the Aleppo province. Other rebel groups will step into the void.

Al Nusrah criticizes the proposed buffer zone in its statement, saying it is intended to serve Turkey’s national security interests and is not part of a real effort to aid the mujahdeen’s cause. The Turkish government fears a Kurdish state on its southern border, according to Al Nusrah, and that is the real impetus behind its decision. The Kurds are one of the Islamic State’s main opponents and have gained territory at the expense of Baghdadi’s jihadists in recent months.

The al Qaeda branch also says it cannot find religious justifications for cooperating with the joint US-Turkey initiative.

There is an even simpler explanation for Al Nusrah’s rejection of Turkey’s buffer zone: the US has been striking select al Qaeda operatives in Al Nusrah’s ranks.

The Pentagon announced earlier this month that it had begun flying drones out of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Some of the air missions are reportedly backing up US-trained rebel forces on the ground. Those very same fighters have battled Al Nusrah, which has killed or captured a number of the “moderate” rebels.

In late July, for instance, Al Nusrah claimed that it had captured members of a group called Division 30, which has reportedly received American assistance. Other members of Division 30 were killed during clashes with Al Nusrah after the al Qaeda arm raided the group’s headquarters north of Aleppo. Subsequently, a statement attributed to Division 30 disavowed any role in the US-led coalition’s campaign. The statement also said that Division 30 would “not be dragged [into] any side battle with any faction, as it did not, and will not, fight against Al Nusrah Front or any other faction.”

Regardless, the Defense Department is providing air support to US-backed rebels, who have been dubbed the New Syrian Force. And Al Nusrah has made it clear that any American effort to influence the anti-Assad and anti-Islamic State insurgency will be treated as a hostile act.

Separately, the US has also repeatedly targeted senior al Qaeda leaders in Al Nusrah’s ranks. Labeled the “Khorasan Group,” this cadre of al Qaeda veterans has been plotting attacks in the West.

Al Qaeda’s view of cooperation with Turkey, independent from US-led coalition

From al Qaeda’s perspective, tactical cooperation with Turkey, or elements of the Turkish government, is one matter. Working with the US-backed coalition, which Turkey supports in some ways, is another issue altogether.

Consider what Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) official who alsoserved as al Qaeda’s deputy general manager until his death in April, said about Turkey earlier this year. In a question and answer session that was released online, al Ansi was asked how the jihadists should deal “with countries like Qatar and Turkey, whose policies tend to benefit the mujahideen.” Al Ansi replied that there “is no harm in benefiting from intersecting interests, as long as we do not have to sacrifice anything in our faith or doctrine.” However, al Ansi warned, this “does not alleviate their burden for collaborating with the Americans in their war against the mujahideen.” The jihadists “need to be attentive to this detail,” al Ansi explained.

In other words, al Qaeda’s members and like-minded jihadists can benefit from working with Turkey and Qatar, as long as those nations do not cross the line by advancing America’s “war against the mujahideen.” Given the circumstances described above, this is exactly how Al Nusrah now views Turkey’s proposed buffer zone.

However, as Al Ansi made clear, this does not preclude the possibility of tacit cooperation between al Qaeda’s Syrian branch and parts of the Turkish government on other matters. Indeed, because of their “intersecting interests” in Syria — namely, both want to see Bashar al Assad’s regime toppled — Turkey has been slow to recognize Al Nusrah as a threat in its own right.

In September 2014, Francis Ricciardone, the former US ambassador to Turkey, accused the Turks of working with Al Nusrah. “We ultimately had no choice but to agree to disagree,” Ricciardone said of his discussion with Turkish officials. “The Turks frankly worked with groups for a period, including Al Nusrah, whom we finally designated as we’re not willing to work with.”

Since early on the rebellion against the Assad regime, Turkey has permitted large numbers of foreign jihadists to travel into Syria. At various points, this benefitted not only Al Nusrah, but also al Qaeda’s rivals in the Islamic State, which Turkey now opposes.

For instance, in October 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported on meetings between US officials, Turkish authorities and others. “Turkish officials said the threat posed by [Al Nusrah], the anti-Assad group, could be dealt with later,” according to US officials and Syrian opposition leaders who spoke with the newspaper. Officials also told the publication that the US government’s decision to designate Al Nusrah as a terrorist group in December 2012 was intended “in part to send a message to Ankara about the need to more tightly control the arms flow.”

Eventually, in 2014, Turkey also designated Al Nusrah as a terrorist organization. Turkish authorities have also reportedly launched sporadic raids on al Qaeda-affiliated sites inside their country.

Still, al Qaeda has found Turkey to be a hospitable environment in the past. According to the US Treasury Department, al Qaeda has funneled cash and fighters through Turkish soil to Al Nusrah.

In October 2012, Treasury said that a network headed by al Qaeda operative Muhsin al Fadhli was moving “fighters and money through Turkey to support al Qaeda-affiliated elements in Syria.” In addition, al Fadhli leveraged “his extensive network of Kuwaiti jihadist donors to send money to Syria via Turkey.” (The Defense Department believes that al Fadhli was killed in an airstrike on July 8.)

It remains to be seen how Al Nusrah will react to Turkey’s latest moves, beyond rejecting the proposed buffer zone. In the meantime, groups allied with Al Nusrah will likely take over its turf.

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

Also see:

IS U.S. Going to Be Backed into Airstrikes Against Assad?

Center for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler, August 3, 2015:

The U.S. is now redefining it’s support relationship with “Division 30″, following its embarrassing launch last week.  Several of the U.S. trained Syrian rebels and their commanders were captured by Al Qaeda’s Al Nusra Front just days after the group’s entry into Syria. The U.S. has allocated $500 million for the training effort, which has so far produced approximately 60 fighters.

The attack by Nusra apparently took the U.S. completely by surprise, according to current and former officials interviewed by the New York Times:

While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments. The Nusra Front said in a statement on Friday that its aim was to eliminate Division 30 before it could gain a deeper foothold in Syria.

That the attack was not anticipated is a particularly egregious failure, seeing as Al-Nusra has undertaken to co-opt or eliminate every militia in Syria which the U.S. supported. Yet somehow U.S. planners failed to foresee the obvious. Following the attack, the U.S has now announced that it will use airstrikes against any force attacking Division 30, including the Assad regime’s forces. This is a relaxation of a previous more restrictive policy, which was formed under concerns that the rebels would attempt to direct U.S. ordinance against Assad instead of the Islamic State.

The U.S.’s policy towards Islamic State in Syria fails to address the reality that Islamic State is simply not a priority for any other force operating in the Syria except the U.S., its Western allies, and perhaps the Kurdish PKK/YPG. Turkey’s entry into the conflict, celebrated by U.S. policy makers, is almost entirely directed towards damaging the Kurdish PKK and preventing an autonomous or independent Kurdistan in Syria. The Syrian rebel forces, the vast majority of whom are Islamist in orientation, if not, like al Nusra, overtly jihadist, and are focused on Assad, not Islamic State.

What does the U.S. intend to do if, as seems likely, Division 30 forces engage Assad’s forces, either alone, or in coordination with other rebels? Will the U.S. provide airstrikes if Assad’s forces launch a counter offensive? Will it provide air cover to defend Division 30 against Assad’s Air Force? As Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin noted in January, this was not an unforeseen problem.

DOES UNCLE SAM HAVE HIS BACK? PHOTOGRAPHER: KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

DOES UNCLE SAM HAVE HIS BACK? PHOTOGRAPHER: KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Then consider the deal for the use of Incirlik Airbase, which reportedly required the U.S. agreeing to Turkish effort to establish a “safe zone”,  along the border for Syrian rebels and refugees.

That agreement has been a long time desire of Turkey, Syrian rebels and pro-intervention U.S. lawmakers, and efforts to agitate for a no-fly zone have stepped up again in recent days.And while U.S. sources seek to emphasize the space is intended as an “anti-ISIS” safe zone, the real goal of the Turks and their rebel allies is, and has been since at least 2012,  a zone to shield forces from  Assad, and especially his air assets. In 2013, U.S. officials reportedly could not find a compelling national interest in establishing a no-fly zone over Northern Syria, and it 2014, National Security Advisor Susan Rice described a No Fly Zone or safe zone as “premature” or “a diversion”.

Yet it appears Turkey may now achieve this long-time objective. , thanks in part to the Islamic State.

***

Former Defense Department spokesman, JD Gordon, joins former U.S. Congressman Michael Flanagan, to discuss President Obama’s approval of airstrikes in Syria that could lead to the U.S. taking sides in the Syrian civil war:

Also see:

The funny thing is the Kurds have the numbers, capability and the tenacity needed to defeat IS. So why is it we’re not doing more to support them and why are we still trying to convince ourselves that Turkey is a legitimate “ally?”

#BringBackOurRebels: Statement Confirms Arrest of U.S.-Trained Syrian Rebels By Al-Qaeda After Pentagon Denial

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, July 30, 2015:

Earlier this week I reported here at PJ Media that the first class of Obama’s U.S.-trained “vetted moderate” Syrian rebels – 50 in all – had left Turkey for Syria and had not been heard from since, based on a McClatchy report.

Then yesterday I posted a follow-up report that 18 of the newly trained U.S. rebels, including some of its leaders, had been arrested/kidnapped by Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria.

In response to that report, Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Elissa Smith denied the claim:

daily sabah

Reports have claimed that the al-Qaida linked Al-Nusra Front has detained 18 opposition members, including Syrian Turkmen Colonel Nedim Hassan, -who is the leader of the U.S train-and-equip program-, and field commander Farhan Jasim near the Syrian city of Aleppo on Wednesday, which was refuted by the Pentagon.

“While we will not disclose the names of specific groups involved with the Syria Train and Equip program I can confirm that there have been no New Syrian Force personnel captured or detained.” Pentagon spokeswoman or Cmdr. Elissa Smith told Daily Sabah.

It was claimed that the opposition members who were returning from the train-and-equip program from Turkey were cut in by the Nusra militants, and were allegedly detained on the grounds that they are cooperating with the U.S.

But that flat-out denial by the Pentagon on the matter is refuted this morning in a report by Reuters and a statement issued by the group itself:

reuters tweet

From the Reuters report:

The al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front has abducted the leader of a U.S.-backed rebel group in north Syria, opposition sources and a monitoring group said, in a blow to Washington’s efforts to train and equip fighters to combat Islamic State.

A statement issued in the name of the group, “Division 30″, accused the Nusra Front of abducting Nadim al-Hassan and a number of his companions in a rural area north of Aleppo. It urged Nusra to release them.

A Syrian activist and a second opposition source said most of the 54 fighters who have so far completed a U.S.-led train and equip programmed in neighboring Turkey were from Division 30.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that reports on the war, said the men were abducted while returning from a meeting in Azaz, north of Aleppo, to coordinate efforts with other factions. The opposition source said they were abducted on Tuesday night.

The Telegraph is also reporting:

Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists kidnapped the commanders of a US-trained rebel faction operating in northern Syria on Wednesday, sources said, in another blow for the Pentagon’s train-and-equip program for Syrian rebels.

A statement issued Wednesday by the Division 30 Infantry group accused the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, of taking the Division’s commander, Colonel Nadim Al-Hassan, and his companions in the northern countryside of Aleppo province.

“[The Division] demands that the brothers in the Nusra Front release the colonel… and his companions with the utmost speed so as to preserve the blood of the Muslims and… so as not to weaken the frontlines with side disputes between the brothers of one side,” said the statement, which was released on Division 30′s official page on social media.

Lister tweet2

Lister3

So now the Obama administration and the GOP leadership that pushed thru the $500 million in funding for the program are now embarrassed on multiple levels:

  • The program was supposed to train 5,000 rebels to fight the Islamic State this year, but Defense Secretary Ashton Carter admitted to Congress earlier this month that only 60 had completed the program.
  • To train those 60 fighters, the Pentagon has burned one half of the funds allocated for the training, with $4 million spent per fighter so far.
  • No sooner had that first class of 54 been sent off to Syria on July 12, the Pentagon reportedly lost contact with them.
  • Then yesterday the initial reports were that 18 of those members had been arrested by Jabhat al-Nusra, prompting the Pentagon denial.
  • Now the Division 30 statement and the Reuters report flatly contradict the Pentagon denial yesterday, meaning they did not know or they lied about the embarrassing report.

As I stated in concluding yesterday’s report, does anyone still want to talk about a JV team?

***

Also see:

How Turkey Border Zone Could Help Syrian Rebels Obtain Weapons, Cash To Fight Assad

A Free Syrian Army soldier gestures atop a tank after capturing the Assad regime's Brigade 52 base in Daraa, southern Syria, June 9, 2015. Reuters/Alaa Al-Faqir

A Free Syrian Army soldier gestures atop a tank after capturing the Assad regime’s Brigade 52 base in Daraa, southern Syria, June 9, 2015. Reuters/Alaa Al-Faqir

IB Times, By Erin Banco, July 28 2015:

Rebels in Syria are counting their stockpiles of ammunition, weapons and tanks in the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city and one of the largest battlegrounds in the fight against the Islamic State group and President Bashar Assad’s forces. As usual, the rebels are running low this month on supplies needed to defeat their enemies. Even for some of the strongest and best-connected units in northern Syria, finding and obtaining simple resources like bullets and Kalashnikovs can take weeks.

That could all change in the coming days when the United States and its NATO allies move forward with a proposed offensive to create a “safe zone” aimed at pushing back Islamic State group militants from the Syrian-Turkish border. For rebel groups, the promised campaign represents an unprecedented opportunity to obtain much needed-cash and weapons. But for the U.S. and Turkey, the countries spearheading the operation, there is a risk that the weapons they supply will end up in the hands of rebels who have a different goal — fighting Assad first, not ISIS.

Under the plan, Turkish troops and Syrian rebel fighters are to clear a 60-mile strip of land along the border to create a haven for Syrian refugees, who have flooded Turkey’s borders during the four-year civil war. The U.S. and Turkey will rely on rebels on the ground to secure the buffer zone. The rebels are supposed to get regular shipments of ammunition and heavy weaponry to ensure that the Sunni militants known as ISIS stay out of the area.

tank

That process, though, could go awry quickly. The rebels receiving the arms for securing the buffer zone will undergo no formal training and will not be bound to any official or binding agreement with the U.S. and Turkey. Rebels in Aleppo say that while they are willing to join the buffer zone monitoring force, they fully intend on using the weapons they receive from the U.S. and Turkey for their fight against Assad first and foremost, before the fight against ISIS.

“This is what we have been asking for for years. This is what we wanted,” a member of one of the largest rebel umbrella organizations in the country said on condition of anonymity. “We have been asking for weapons for years, and we finally have a good chance of getting them.”

Taking out Assad is not an immediate concern for the U.S. It wants to defeat ISIS first. Turkey, on the other hand, supports the rebel groups that see Assad as the real enemy.

In recent years, Turkey has funded groups like Ahrar al-Sham, a Sunni Muslim extremist group with ties to al Qaeda, and has pushed for the ousting of Assad before ISIS. The Turkish government has also taken part in the shipment of arms to rebels in Syria, Reuters reported earlier this year.

In contrast, the U.S. has rejected cooperation with Ahrar al-Sham and other extremists, instead preferring to work with so-called “moderate rebels.” The U.S. has also promoted an ISIS-first strategy, which has angered some rebels who argue that Assad is the true enemy and must be taken out of power before the Islamic State can be toppled.

Rebel groups in Syria, especially in the north, are split in their allegiances to Turkey and the U.S., and finding a rebel force with a common ideology and strategy to carry out the monitoring of the buffer zone will be difficult, rebels in Aleppo told International Business Times Monday. The weapons, they said, will end up falling into the hands of groups that have different ideologies and ultimate goals.

While many rebel leaders used to fall under one umbrella group, the Free Syrian Army, they have recently split and are now duking it out for land and power. There are the hardline Islamist fighters with known battlefield strength, but an extremist Muslim ideology. Then there’s the more moderate groups known for their popularity among the people of Aleppo, who while still devoutly Muslim, do not want the implementation of Shariah law in the post-war era.

In an effort to get the U.S. weapons for the buffer zone mission, extremist fighters who make up Ahrar al-Sham, one of the main Islamist rebel groups, say they have tried to promote themselves as a more moderate organization, one willing to work with other groups toward a peace process. But in the end, they say, the weapons they receive will be used for one goal.

“Ahrar al-Sham wants to see the end to Assad’s reign,” wrote Labib Al Nahhas, foreign affairs director for Ahrar al-Sham, in the Telegraph this week. “Assad and his cabal of murderous generals must go.”

Al Nahhas also warned the U.S. against attempting to bring Western values to Syria. “Political systems and models of government cannot be imported into the Middle East and expected to flourish where historical experiences, political cultures and social structures are so radically different. There needs to be a major role for religion and local custom in any political arrangement that emerges,” he said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad admitted during a speech in Damascus that the Syrian Army no longer has enough troops to defend the entire country.  Reuters/Sana Sana

Syrian President Bashar Assad admitted during a speech in Damascus that the Syrian Army no longer has enough troops to defend the entire country. Reuters/Sana Sana

Other rebel leaders, including some who were once trained and given weapons under a CIA covert operation against Assad in 2013, have called the safe zone operation a “sham.” In the spring of 2013, the U.S. selected groups within the Free Syrian Army for a program that allowed for the transfer of U.S.-made weapons to Turkey via other countries’ aircraft.

One senior rebel leader in Idlib, a major rebel stronghold in the southwest of Aleppo, insisted the West had failed them before and “will fail us again.” The United States is “sitting on its heels” in seriously attacking Assad because it does not want to engage in armed conflict with the dictator’s allies, Iran and Russia, he added.

Still, the appeal of helping the United States and Turkey fight ISIS is clear to many rebel leaders, who expect the offensive to bring in loads of cash and weapons, resources they have needed desperately amid a four-year battle to unseat Assad.

“We think that President Obama threw the Syrian opposition under the bus,” Mohammed Ghanem, a senior political adviser in Washington at the Syrian American Council, a grassroots organization based in Chicago, told IBTimes in November. “Given how abysmal the situation is in Syria, that seems like a bad joke.”

Also see:

U.S.-Funded Free Syrian Army Unit Shows Off Its Kidnapping Skills in New Training Video

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, July 23, 2015:

A training video released today by Liwa Fursan al-Haqq (Knights of Justice Brigade) of the “vetted moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA) opens with the group’s special forces practicing their abduction and kidnapping skills. And yet FSA units, funded, supported and armed by the U.S., have been repeatedly implicated in the abduction and kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Syria.

Here you can see them putting their U.S.-funded training to practice:

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Also shown are critical military skills, such as standing on the back of a motorcycle while shooting two U.S.-funded AK-47s one-handed:

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Of course no jihadist training video would be complete without the requisite traversing of the monkey bars:

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Or the “Fiery Ring of Death”:

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Delta Force and the Navy SEALs have nothing on Liwa Fursan al-Haqq. Yet all three elite units are funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars!

You can watch the whole 10 minute video in all of its glory:

What makes the video of U.S.-funded FSA units being trained in kidnapping and abduction so important to note is that FSA units have repeatedly been implicated in the abduction of American citizens who were later traded to Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, as well as the Islamic State.

That would include American journalist James Foley, beheaded by the Islamic State last year in its first such grisly video, who reportedly came into ISIS custody when the FSA-aligned Dawud Brigade that kidnapped and held Foley pledged allegiance to ISIS and delivered him to ISIS as a token of their submission.

That, however, is not the only such documented incident of FSA units abducting Americans.

In late October, American journalist Theo Padnos — who was captured by the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and then given over to Jabhat al-Nusra — told the story of his two-year captivity in the New York Times Magazine.

At one point, Padnos says he escaped from his Al-Qaeda captors and found himself back in the hands of the FSA, who then, again, promptly turned him back over to the terror group.

Padnos also relates this exchange with some U.S.-trained FSA fighters that exposes the glaring weaknesses of the CIA’s vetting system:

I returned to the FSA troops. One told me that his unit had recently traveled to Jordan to receive training from American forces in fighting groups like the Nusra Front.

“Really?” I said. “The Americans? I hope it was good training.”

“Certainly, very,” he replied.

The fighters stared at me. I stared at them.

After a few moments, I asked, “About this business of fighting Jebhat al Nusra?”

“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”

An NBC News crew taken captive in Syria in December 2012, and who later repeatedly claimed they had been held by an Assad regime militia, later admitted – following a New York Times investigation – that they were in fact held by an FSA criminal network.

Also, there is evidence that NBC News executives knew from the time of the crew’s capture that they were held by U.S. allies, but allowed the blame to fall on Assad since that didn’t conflict with the Obama administration’s position at the time.

The chief Washington D.C. cheerleader for the Syrian rebels, Charles Lister of the Brookings Institution, happily announced the Liwa Fursan Al-Qaqq video release earlier today:

Lister tweet

As I noted back in April here at PJ Media, Lister finally admitted what he and most of the other Western supporters of the Syrian rebels have well known for a long time — that vast majority of Syrian rebel groups have been associated with Jabhat al-Nusra, a fact mostly concealed by the D.C. “smart set”:

This latter alliance with Jabhat al-Nusra has been a consistent facet of insurgent dynamics in Syria, but not only in terms of conservative Salafist groups like Ahrar al-Sham. In fact, while rarely acknowledged explicitly in public, the vast majority of the Syrian insurgency has coordinated closely with Al-Qaeda since mid-2012 – and to great effect on the battlefield. But while this pragmatic management of relationships may have secured opposition military victories against the regime, it has also come at an extraordinary cost. The assimilation of Al-Qaeda into the broader insurgency has discouraged the U.S. and its European allies from more definitively backing the ‘moderate’ opposition. That, by extension, has encouraged the intractability of the conflict we see today and the rise of jihadist factions like Jabhat al-Nusra, IS, and many others.

In fact, it was just a year ago yesterday that Liwa Fursan Al-Haqq announced they were separating from Jabhat al-Nusra. Nusra had been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. in December 2012.

As a result of that separation, that gave the U.S. the go-ahead to begin supplying them with heavy weaponry, such as TOW anti-tank missiles, which you can see them using in the video below:

So the next time that an American citizen finds himself kidnapped by a FSA unit, possibly ending up starring in the Islamic State’s latest beheading video, he can take comfort that his captors have received the best training and received the most advanced weaponry courtesy of his own country’s support.

Your U.S. taxpayer dollars hard at work!

Brookings Goes to Bat for Al Qaeda-linked Group…Again

1720491514 (1)Center for Security Policy, by Kyle Shideler, July 15, 2015:

Fresh off their annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum that proved to be a who’s who meeting of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, The Qatari-funded Brookings Institute is once again going to bat for an Al Qaeda-linked group of militants known as Ahrar Al Sham. Author Charles Lister takes the occasion of the publication of an Op-Ed in the Washington Post by Ahrar Al-Sham’s “head of foreign political relations” Labib  al-Nahhas to laud recent Ahrar Al Sham statements of “moderation”:

While clearly being sharply critical of current U.S. policy, Nahhas’ most powerful message was a genuine call for political engagement—“we remain committed to dialogue,” he said. Coming from an armed Islamist group that came close to being designated and whose facilities have been targeted by U.S. aircraft at least once, this call does show an extent of political pragmatism. Ahrar al-Sham has not called for American support one key Ahrar al-Sham decision-maker told me, but instead desires “the chance for a new start, in which we acknowledge the mistakes of the past and make it clear that a political track is possible, but with the right players and the right principles.”

Such engagement in any form does not have to be a prerequisite for the provision of support, but can be merely of value in and of itself. In the case of Ahrar al-Sham specifically, such engagement would not come without its inherent risks, but it may also prove practical in ensuring at the very least that al-Qaida does not come out on top in Syria.

For this reason and others, Ahrar al-Sham’s senior leadership has been managing a gradual process of external political moderation—or some might say maturity—for at least the last 18 months.

That Ahrar Al-Sham is some how moderating, maturing, or distancing itself from Al Qaeda is a bag of goods that Brookings authors have been attempting to sell for some time. In January of last year, Brookings authors Michael Doran and William McCants, together with co-author Clint Watts, published an article calling Ahrar al Sham the “Al Qaeda-linked Group Worth Befriending”.

Lister denigrates evidence that Ahrar Al-Sham was led by an Al Qaeda leader and confidante of Ayman Al-Zawahiri as “a popular claim”, and attempts to pass along the claim by Ahrar Al Sham and other Islamist groups that they only fight alongside the Al Qaeda linked group in order to provide a “subtle counterbalance”.

Lister also quotes one local Syrian rebel describing Ahrar Al Sham  as “too “intellectually close” to the Muslim Brotherhood”, a description which ironically seems to fit Brookings Institute just as well.

Yet even while reminding us that “actions speak louder than words,” Lister doesn’t find fit to mention that Ahrar Al Sham has recently joined yet another coalition together with Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra and other AQ-linked outfits in Syria in order to form Ansar Al Sharia, coincidentally (or not) the same cover name used by Al Qaeda in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.

Perhaps the last word on whether or not to take Ahrar Al Sham’s statements of moderation seriously comes from the Al-Qaeda linked group themselves. The group’s military commander Abu Saleh Tahhan recently tweeted in reference to their association with Al Nusra,

“Anyone who thinks we would sell out those close to us in exchange for the approval of strangers is an idiot, anyone who imagines that we would privilege a neighbor over someone from our own home is a fool…”

Exclusive: The Arming of Benghazi

062615_web_arms_0Fox Business, by Catherine Herridge and Pamela Browne, June 27, 2015:

The United States supported the secret supply of weapons to Libyan rebels while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State according to federal court documents obtained by Fox News.

In a sworn declaration to the District Court of Arizona May 5th 2015, a career CIA officer David Manners said, “It was then, and remains now, my opinion that the United States did participate, directly or indirectly, in the supply of weapons to the Libyan Transitional National Council.”   The timing matters because in the Spring of 2011 the Libyan opposition was not formally recognized, and the direct supply of arms was not authorized. At that time, the CIA Director was David Petraeus. (DAVID MANNERS DOCUMENT HERE)

Manners testified before a grand jury investigating American defense contractor Marc Turi who faces trial this September on two counts that he allegedly violated the arms control export act by making false statements.

Turi and his company Turi Defense Group are at the center of an ongoing federal investigation over the source and user of weapons defined in court documents as “end user” or “end use”  flowing into Libya as Moammar Qaddafi’s regime was collapsing in 2011.

In “United States of America v. Marc Turi and Turi Defense Group,”  Manners identifies himself as having 18 years experience as an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA, with foreign postings as Chief of Station in Prague, Czechoslovakia and in Amman, Jordan.  Manners also stated he was “the executive assistant to the Deputy Director of the National Security Agency.”

Manners’ declaration supports statements made exclusively to FOX News by Turi about what President Obama’s team and members of Congress knew about weapons flowing into the region  during the chaotic Arab Spring of 2011.

“When this equipment landed in Libya, half went one way, and the half went the other way,”  Turi said, emphasizing that poor oversight, allowed individuals hostile to the United States to get arms.  “The half that went the other way is the half that ended up in Syria.”

As part of Fox’s ongoing investigation of the 2012 terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, as well as former Navy Seals Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, Turi spoke exclusively to FOX Senior Executive Producer Pamela Browne.   The investigation premiered on “FOX Files” on the FOX BUSINESS NETWORK.

Turi was one of several thousand US arms contractors licensed by the State Department to sell and move weapons around the world.  He’s been a go to guy for the US government, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I got involved in this business in the 1990s,”  Turi explained. “I’ve been involved in all type of operations, regarding transportation, logistics, and liaising with those foreign governments.”

Turi admits to a criminal history.  He told Fox that in the late 1980’s, he stole a computer, his roommate’s car, and wrote bad checks including one for $100,000 dollars.  Through court records, Fox News verified he was arrested, convicted, and served time in an Arizona jail.

“In my youth, I made some very very bad mistakes…I was discharged from the United States Navy other under than honorable conditions…and I’ve been fighting ever since to get that honor back.”   (TURI DISCHARGE DOCUMENT HERE)

Licensed arms contractors require painstaking compliance in order to obtain the necessary approvals set by strict US government regulations. While Hillary Clinton served as President Obama’s Secretary of State, American arms dealers were awarded a record number of export licenses to sell sophisticated weapons, military parts and technology internationally.

“That’s actually been a huge, policy position, of the Obama Administration,”  Celina Realuyo, a professor of national security at the Perry Center at the National Defense University explained to FOX. Realuyo has served two presidents with expertise in tracking down money and weaponry used in what are called “dark networks” that can channel weapons to criminal and designated foreign terrorist organizations.

More than 86-thousand licenses with a value of $44.3 billion dollars were granted in 2011… a surge of more than $10 billion dollars from the previous year.

In the spring of 2011, Turi says his high level contacts both inside and outside of the US government, encouraged him to explore options to arm the Libyan opposition as they tried to overthrow then Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi.  He says his associates included David Manners, a former intelligence officer with the CIA who stated his expertise to the court as an expert with knowledge of “authorized covert arms transfers.”

Turi provided documents and email exchanges with high level members of Congress as well as military, and State Department employees which are currently being reviewed by Fox News.

Turi said, “That’s where I came up with this “zero footprint” Arab supply chain whereby, our foreign ally supplies another, Arab country.”  In this case, the US would supply conventional weapons to a US ally-Qatar, who would inturn supply them to Libya, as a kind of workaround.

“If you want to  limit the exposure to the US government, what you simply do is outsource it to your allies,”  Turi said, describing the practice. “The partners-the Qataris, and the Emiratis did exactly what they were contracted to do.”  Turi told Fox he never supplied any weapons to Qatar, and it was in the hands of the US government and the State Department’s Bureau of Political and Military Affairs which was headed by a key Clinton aide, Andrew Shapiro.  Mr. Shapiro was responsible to oversee the export control process at the State Department.

March 2011 was a busy time for Hillary Clinton.  Even today, congressional investigators doubt they have all of the emails from her personal server when she was Secretary of State.   On the 14th, along with Chris Stevens, who was then the number two man in Libya serving as the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Clinton met with Libya’s Mustafa Jibril in Paris– a senior member of the TNC.  The next day, Secretary Clinton met with Egypt’s new foreign minister Nabil el Arabi in Cairo and walked through Tahrir Square with her senior adviser Huma Abedin.  At the same time, Turi’s proposal, a 267-million dollar contract, was working its way through US government channels.

“My application was submitted on the 12th,”  Turi said his contacts gave the proposal to the then Secretary of State.  “…through their relationship with the TNC, then provided that application information to Mrs. Clinton via the TNC council when she was in Cairo. That’s what was told to me…and emailed. ”

Turi provided  Fox News with emails he exchanged – in early April 2011 – with Chris Stevens to alert him  to the proposed weapons deal.  The emails were previously cited by the New York Times, but Fox News is now making the message traffic public. (CHRIS STEVENS EMAIL DOCUMENT HERE)

Stevens replied with a “thank you ” and wrote  “I’ll keep it in mind and share it with my colleagues in Washington.”

As FOX Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge first reported, it was a heavily redacted email released to the Benghazi Committee last month that clearly states that on April 8, 2011, a day after the Turi/Stevens exchange, Secretary Clinton was interested in arming the rebels using contractors:

“FYI. The idea of using private security experts to arm the opposition should be considered,” Clinton wrote.  Significantly, the State Department released emails blacked out this line, but the version given to the Benghazi Select Committee was complete. (CLINTON EMAIL DOCUMENT HERE)

In May 2011, Turi got a brokering approval from the State Department for Qatar.  In July, his Arizona home was raided by federal agents.

“They came in  the full body armor, and weapons and, they take my computers and my cell phones and that was it. That was the last time I saw them. And they’ve been chasing me all over the world for the past three years, speaking to associates of mine all over the United States and looking into my records and my past.”

His attorney Jean-Jacques Cabou told Fox in a series of emails that his client had a track record working for the “US government through the Central Intelligence Agency” and the government case is an “epic fishing expedition.”  Adding his client”…neither lied on any application nor did he do anything other than support U.S. foreign policy and interests in the Middle East.”

Turi believes his “zero footprint” idea was stolen out from under him, and now he is being blamed for a program that went off the rails.

Such are the stakes in this case, that the Justice Department National Security Division is involved, and recently requested that some proceedings remain secret under CIPA, the Classified Information Procedures Act.   The Federal Judge wrote on June 16 “the government can seek protection under CIPA 4 in this case only by complying with Ninth Circuit law by making a formal claim of privilege, lodged by the head of the department which has actual control over the discoverable information.”

In his sworn declaration to the court, Manners said his grand jury testimony on covert arms transfers was cut off by the government lawyer. “As a result of the Assistant United States Attorney’s actions, I believe that (a) the grand jury never received a full and complete picture of authorized covert arms transfers and their relevance to the present case. ”

“At some point, I may be that internet video excuse,”  Turi said, referring to statements where then Secretary of Clinton and members of the Obama Administration wrongly blamed an obscure anti-Islam video for the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four Americans.    “I don’t know.  But, it’s really strange that the US government would invest three years, a multi-year investigation, fly all over the world interviewing people, for an application.”

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

House Subcommittee Hearing on “Intelligence Void” involved in admitting Syrian Refugees

3927540564CSP, by Alessandra Gennarelli, June 24, 2015:

Wednesday, June 24th, the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security held a hearing titled “Admitting Syrian refugees: The Intelligence Void and the Emerging Homeland Security Threat.” This hearing addressed the issue of the FBI’s inability to vet incoming Syrian and Iraqi refugees that could have terrorist ties.

Chairman Representative Peter King (R-NY) started by stating that “Americans opening doors to those who flee violence is a part of who we are” giving examples to past refugee success stories such as Albert Einstein, before summarizing the security threat in Iraq and Syria and the “vulnerabilities in the screening process.”

Rep. King went on to highlight the threat of “refugees who take advantage of the safe haven,” stating that the “savagery of ISIS” has caused the “worlds biggest refugee crisis.” He stated that the area has a “lack of stable foreign governments” and the “information and intelligence we are able to acquire is limited and often times unverifiable.”

Rep. King ended his opening statement by saying that while America “should not close [it’s] doors” it should be “thoughtful and intuitive with the most assurance that we are not importing terrorists” and that the panel testifying should “solicit recommendations on additional measures that should be taken.”

In his opening statement, Dr. Seth Jones, the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, warned that a “growing number of attacks in the US are linked back to this region” and that there are “4 million refugees based in the Syrian province.” He went on to say that Syria has the “highest number of foreign fighters, several [terrorist] groups in the region have planned to put operatives in the west including Europe, and the US intelligence understanding [in the area] is worse.” He summarized by saying that the “US does have a long standing tradition of offering asylum … however an integral part is insuring that those refugees including those in jihadist battlefields do not present a risk to safety and security in the west.”

Thomas Fuentes, former FBI Assistant Director, followed by stating that the International Police Cooperation or Interpol, is “essential in everything we do” and that lack of working partners in Syria, specifically the lack of police and government in the region, is a large reason the FBI does not have the capabilities to vet incoming refugees from the area. Thomas Fuentes stated that he has served as a member of the Executive Committee of Interpol and opened an FBI office in Baghdad, which was a crucial resource for intelligence on the area. He continued to state that a lack of government in Syria deeply affects America’s ability to gain information concerning refugees in the area.

Daveed Gartenstein- Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense Democracies, began his opening statement discussing the interest the country should have in “alleviating the situation in Syria.” He added that if a terrorist group should decide to pose a terrorist as a refugee they would have to “land in a refugee camp and get picked up in the lottery process by the UN” to be chosen to come here. He continued in saying that the radicalization process of those already in the United States is the bigger problem. He gave the example of someone in the United States who has an interest in Syria and looks at the terrorist group al- Nusra as cooperative as having an alleviated risk of radicalization than imported refugees. He also stated that the declining domestic product causes a risk in handling these problems, and that a reevaluation of the US migration policy is in order. He ended by stating that the US has a bad reputation of “not standing by those who help us” and that we need to “focus on our obligation to Iraqis and Afghans who assisted U.S. efforts in these countries.”

Rep. King then asked the panel whether Jordan could be relied upon to help in the vetting process. Fuentes answered by stating that the United States has an excellent relationship with the Jordanians and their intelligence is excellent. Dr. Jones agreed in saying that Jordan does have the best handle on the problem but that there should be a layered system in which our intelligence program follows the Jordanian vetting process, and that we should not rely on anyone else to do this process for us.

Congressman Lou Barletta (R- PA) asked, “How would you access the intelligence communities to properly vet refugees for admission?” Dr. Jones commented that Syria has far fewer human collectors, intelligence capabilities and has a much weaker ability to collect information useful for the vetting process.”

Fuentes then went on to point out that since “refugees are enemies of the state, we cannot rely on that state to vet them properly.”

The witnesses were then asked about helping these refugees in ways other than bringing them into the country. Daveed answered saying that the American public has a strong duty and that “actually addressing the situation over there is important.” He commented that we could “improve the situation in camps and provide job and educational opportunities.” He supported thinking about helping the issue in the area of origin and that it would be “the best use of money.” Fuentes agreed with providing resources “that would make camps more livable” but warned that the length of time that this aid would be provided would determine the timing of terrorism, because these groups would wait until the program ends to send their men through refugee camps.

Rep. Keating (D- MA) asked about the internal intelligence found on the ground with limited people there. Dr. Jones answered that while “capabilities are better today than a few years ago … better doesn’t mean good.”

Chairman King asked about maintaining surveillance on those entering the United States as Syrian refugees. Fuentes quickly answered saying the FBI cannot track these people “unless there is a predication or indication that the person is involved in criminal activity” and that tracking a large population such as all Syrian refugees is not plausible as the amount observed has to be narrowed down before it can be initiated. Daveed followed by saying that the US vetting system is “very antiquated.”

Chairman King concluded the hearing by saying there is currently “no real answer” to the problem, and “there is still going to be risks there no matter what process we follow.” However, it is “in our national interest that something be done and we are going to have to find a way to do it…

Is Kurdistan Rising?

The State of the Kurds  WSJ 6-20-15

NER, by Jerry Gordon, June 21, 2015:

In the Wall Street Journal Weekend edition, June 20-21, 2015, Yaroslav Trofimov writes of the possible rise of an independent Kurdistan, “The State of The Kurds”.  An independent Kurdistan was promised by the WWI Allies in the Treaty of Sevres that ended the Ottoman Empire in 1920. That commitment was dashed by the rise of Turkish Republic under the secularist Kemal Atatürk confirmed in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne denying an independent Kurdistan in what is now Eastern Turkey. Combined a future Kurdistan encompassing eastern Turkey, Northern Syria, northwest Iran and northern Iraq might comprise a landlocked republic of 30 million with significant energy and agricultural resources.  The rise of Kurdistan is reflected in these comments in the Trofimov WSJ review article:

Selahattin Demirtas, Chairman of the HDP party in Turkey:

The Kurds’ existence was not recognized; they were hidden behind a veil. But now, after being invisible for a century, they are taking their place on the international stage. Today, international powers can no longer resolve any issue in the Middle East without taking into account the interests of the Kurds.

Tahir Elçi, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and chairman of the bar in Diyarbakir, Turkey:

In the past, when the Kurds sought self-rule, the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs were all united against it. Today that’s not true anymore—it’s not possible for the Shiite government in Iraq and Shiite Iran to work together against the Kurds with the Sunni Turkey and the Sunni ISIS. In this environment, the Kurds have become a political and a military power in the Middle East.

Elçi, amplifies a concern that Sherkoh Abbas, leader of the Kurdish National Syria Assembly (KURDNAS) has expressed in several NER interviews an articles with him:

The PKK has made important steps to adopt more democratic ways. But you cannot find the same climate of political diversity in [Kurdish] Syria as you find in [northern Iraq], and this is because of PKK’s authoritarian and Marxist background. This is a big problem.

As effective as the KRG government and peshmerga have been in pushing back at ISIS forces threatening the capital of Erbil, the real problem is the divisiveness in the political leadership. That is reflected in the comment of  Erbil province’s governor, Nawaf Hadi cited by Trofimov:

For 80 years, the Arab Sunni people led Iraq—and they destroyed Kurdistan. Now we’ve been for 10 years with the Shiite people [dominant in Baghdad], and they’ve cut the funding and the salaries—how can we count on them as our partner in Iraq?” All the facts on the ground encourage the Kurds to be independent.

That renewed prospect reflects the constellation of  events in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Supporters cheer Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, HDP, in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2015. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP

Supporters cheer Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP, in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2015. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP

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Also see:

Clinton Silent as Number of Worldwide Refugees Reaches Record Level

AP

AP

Washington Free Beacon, by Daniel Wiser, June 23, 2015:

Hillary Clinton’s policies as secretary of state failed to address several crises that have produced a record number of displaced persons worldwide, according to a Republican group that also noted her lack of a commemoration for World Refugee Day.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a report last week that there were 59.5 million people who were forcibly displaced at the end of 2014, the largest number ever recorded. More than half of the displaced persons were children. Refugee levels spiked in the Middle East, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa, all regions where Clinton’s policies faced criticism during her tenure as secretary of state.

America Rising PAC, a GOP opposition research firm, pointed out that Clinton—the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president—did not make a statement on World Refugee Day, this past Saturday.

“Secretary Clinton’s silence on World Refugee Day was extremely telling,” Colin Reed, executive director of America Rising, said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. “Under her failed leadership at the State Department, the world became less stable and more dangerous, and her policies led to the global unrest that has contributed to the number of refugees reaching record levels.”

The UNHCR said one of the main contributors to the burgeoning refugee total is the four-year civil war in Syria, where an average of 42,500 people were displaced each day of last year. Syria has the world’s most internally displaced people (7.6 million) as well as refugees that have fled to other countries (3.88 million).

In March 2011, Clinton said the United States did not intervene in Syria because of the perception that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a “reformer.” Critics later derided Clinton for the comment when Assad escalated his crack down on the country’s opposition and began to kill his own people, including with chemical weapons. The civil war has claimed more than 200,000 lives.

Clinton reportedly supported efforts to arm more moderate rebels early in the civil war but failed to persuade President Obama to do so.

Terrorist groups, including al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS), capitalized on the chaos in the Syrian war to expand their territory. In June 2014, IS launched an offensive across the Syrian border into western and northern Iraq, seizing the key city of Mosul and eventually other cities in Iraq’s Anbar province. More than 3.3 million Iraqis have been displaced by IS.

Last June, Clinton said she “could not have predicted the extent to which [IS] could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq and trying to erase boundaries to create an Islamist state.” Intelligence officials have said their efforts to monitor IS were made more difficult by the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011. Clinton largely supported the removal of U.S. forces from Iraq and dismissed criticism of the Obama administration, which was unable to secure a status of forces agreement permitting a residual troop presence.

In Ukraine, the conflict between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists has displaced1.2 million people in the country and resulted in more than 6,000 deaths since last April. Clinton infamously presented a “reset” button to Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, in 2009 to promote more cooperation between the two countries, though the Russian word on the button actually translated into “overcharged.” Amid Russia’s ongoing destabilization of Ukraine and continued support for Assad, the reset policy is now widely regarded as a misguided move. Nonetheless, Clinton said last year that the reset “worked” on issues such as nuclear nonproliferation and the transport of supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Additionally, the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram has forced more than 1.5 million people, including 800,000 children, to abandon their homes. Hundreds of Nigerian teachers and schoolchildren were killed last year. Despite pressure from some U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Clinton declined to name Boko Haram a terrorist group while she was secretary of state. Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) has speculated that Clinton’s decision might be related to Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian construction magnate and Clinton Foundation donor with substantial business interests in the country.

A Clinton spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on World Refugee Day and her policies as secretary of state.

Also see:

A new strategy for Iraq and Syria

Iraq forcesWashington Post, by Charles Krauthammer, June 18, 2015:

It’s time to rethink Iraq and Syria. It begins by admitting that the old borders are gone, that a unified Syria or Iraq will never be reconstituted, that the Sykes-Picot map is defunct.

We may not want to enunciate that policy officially. After all, it does contradict the principle that colonial borders be maintained no matter how insanely drawn, the alternative being almost universally worse. Nonetheless, in Mesopotamia, balkanization is the only way to go.

Because it has already happened and will not be reversed. In Iraq, for example, we are reaping one disaster after another by pretending that the Baghdad government — deeply sectarian, divisive and beholden to Iran — should be the center of our policy and the conduit for all military aid.

Look at Fallujah, Mosul, Ramadi. The Iraqi army is a farce. It sees the enemy and flees, leaving its weapons behind. “The ISF was not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi,” said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our own secretary of defense admitted that “the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.”

We can train them forever. The problem is one of will. They don’t want to fight. And why should they? They are led by commanders who are corrupt, sectarian and incompetent.

What to do? Redirect our efforts to friendly forces deeply committed to the fight, beginning with the Kurds, who have the will, the skill and have demonstrated considerable success. This year alone, they have taken back more than 500 Christian and Kurdish towns from the Islamic State. Unlike the Iraqi army, however, they are starved for weapons because, absurdly, we send them through Baghdad, which sends along only a trickle.

This week, more Kurdish success. With U.S. air support, Syrian Kurds captured the strategic town of Tal Abyad from the Islamic State. Which is important for two reasons. Tal Abyad controls the road connecting the terror group’s capital of Raqqa to Turkey, from which it receives fighters, weapons and supplies. Tal Abyad is “a lung through which [the Islamic State] breathed and connected to the outside world,” said Kurdish commander Haqi Kobane.

Moreover, Tal Abyad helps link isolated Kurdish areas in the Syrian north into a contiguous territory, like Iraqi Kurdistan. Which suggests that this territory could function as precisely the kind of long-advocated Syrian “safe zone” from which to operate against both the Islamic State and the Bashar al-Assad regime.

More good news comes from another battle line. Last week, the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front, backed by and trained in Jordan, drove the Syrian government out of its last major base in eastern Daraa province, less than 60 miles from Damascus.

These successes suggest a new U.S. strategy. Abandon our anachronistic fealty to the central Iraqi government (now largely under Iran’s sway anyway) and begin supplying the Iraqi Kurds in a direct, 24-hour, Berlin-style airlift. And in Syria, intensify our training, equipping and air support for the now-developing Kurdish safe zone. Similarly, through Jordan, for the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front. Such a serious and relentless strategy would not only roll back Islamic State territorial gains, it would puncture the myth of Islamic State invincibility.

In theory, we should also be giving direct aid to friendly Sunni tribesmen in Iraq whose Anbar Awakening, brilliantly joined by Gen. David Petraeus’ surge, utterly defeated the Islamic State progenitor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006-2007. The problem is, having been abandoned by us once, when President Obama liquidated our presence in 2011, why should the Sunnis ever trust us again?

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A Plan to Defeat ISIS

Published on Jun 18, 2015 by securefreedom

Center for Security Policy Exec. VP Jim Hanson announced CSP’s plan to topple that Caliphate and Defeat ISIS at the National Security Luncheon held at the Capitol Visitor’s Center 17 July 2015

Also see:

Egypt helping organize anti-Muslim Brotherhood Syrian opposition

640x392_65997_224309-190x150CSP, by Ashley Davies, June 8, 2015:

A two-day conference of Syrian opposition leaders in Cairo is set to wrap up today, June 9th. The conference, a continuation of meetings in January, intended to develop a political solution to Syrian turmoil and form a new coalition called the Syrian National Opposition. In January, over 150 representatives of 40 Syrian political parties and organizations gathered and drafted a 10 point document on the new coalition’s goals. These points included backing a political solution in Syria, rejecting foreign military presence in Syria, releasing all hostages and detainees in Syria, and following the Geneva I communiqué.

The meetings on Monday and Tuesday, organized by Haytham Manna, were also set to elect a political committee and establish a policy charter. The political committee, the Syrian National Opposition, is said to be in favor of separation of state and religion, equality of all Syrian citizens, and seeks to criminalize political sectarianism and terrorism. Manna claimed the conferences have taken place in Cairo because the “Egyptian Foreign Ministry has always maintained good relations with all the currents of the Syrian opposition.”

Amongst those attending the most recent conference included 75 members of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, of whom Manna says approximately 20 of the democratic members are with him.

Attendees included Haytham Manna and Ahmad Jarba. Manna, one of the main organizers of the conferences, is well known for being highly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in the Syrian opposition. Manna has accused the Brotherhood of being the cause of Syrian turmoil and forcing Syria to embrace “Islamism”. In response, the Muslim Brotherhood have accused Manna of aiding the Assad regime’s interests. Jarba was elected president of the Syrian National Coalition in March 2014, assisting Mustafa al-Sabbagh’s faction, in an attempt to oust the Brotherhood out of the opposition, take over all other positions in the Coalition. The undermining of the Brotherhood’s presence in the Coalition resulted in substantial ill will between many of the Brotherhood’s members towards Jarba.

The presence of these high-ranking Syrian leaders at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood highlights the fact that Egypt’s motives for hosting the conference may extend to a desire to help form Syrian coalition with a strongly anti-Brotherhood stance. Tensions between Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood have been high since Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood, was forced out of office in a coup in 2013. Most recently, Egypt has expressed in intense displeasure with the United States meeting with Muslim Brotherhood members. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s  administration playing host the Syrian opposition conferences, we can expect Egypt to attempt to encourage an outcome that best undermines the Brotherhood.