A slippery slope in Iraq and Syria

Unanswered Questions in the Mideast Conflicts Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

The Washington Times, by Shoshana Bryen, March 21, 2017:

The good news is various forces are attacking ISIS (the Islamic State) and its control of territory is weakening. But as it does, historical adversaries are converging on the battlefield and American troops are standing between them in ever-increasing numbers. What began as limited airstrikes has become an American ground presence. Changes begun in the previous administration continue in the current one.

This is not Vietnam. But as the numbers increase, it is worth noting that GIs are in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan without the United States being at war with any of these countries or necessarily supporting any of their governments. But neither President Obama nor President Trump has talked to the American people about three essential things here: America’s allies, America’s adversaries, and American military and political goals.

Five thousand American troops are near Mosul, along with Kurds, Iraqi troops, Shiite Iraqi militias and up to 80,000 Iranian-sponsored Shiite militiamen under the control of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Gen. Soleimani, banned by the United Nations from international travel for his terrorism ties, is still moving.

With him come allies. One, Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has called on Shiite troops to kill Americans. The Institute for the Study of War reported that another has been responsible for more than 6,000 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq since 2006. Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (“Band of the Righteous”) considers Americans an occupying army and continues to fight them.

The war President Obama claimed to have ended in 2011 did not stop for these people. Now we are back in their space, working toward the same goal in Mosul, but with incompatible longer-term aims.

The latest American troop increase is in Syria, where the war against ISIS has moved to recapturing territory in Manbij and soon Raqqa, the Syrian capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State “caliphate.” Along with airstrikes, the most recent report says that hundreds of U.S. Marines with heavy artillery have been deployed near Raqqa, adding to several hundred Americans already there. Another group of approximately 1,000 American soldiers is planned for Kuwait to “provide options” for commanders in Syria.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met last week in Kazakhstan with his Russian and Turkish counterparts to solidify deconfliction plans. But the potential for miscalculation or malicious attack rises exponentially as American, Iranian and Iranian-sponsored multinational Shiite militias, Kurdish, Syrian government, Syrian rebel, Turkish, Hezbollah (“Party of God”) and Russian air and a few ground forces converge.

Manbij, a city of Arabs, Yazidis and Kurds about 70 miles from Raqqa, is a flash point. In mid-August, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) routed ISIS gunmen and claimed the city. In late August, Turkish forces entered Syria and announced their own liberation of Manbij — from the SDF. Turkish planes bombed Kurdish forces before pulling back.

The secular SDF, opposed to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad as well as ISIS, is primarily Kurdish with other Sunni Arab elements; the SDF’s primary Kurdish element is the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an ally of the United States and of Turkey’s nemesis, the People’s Workers Party (the Kurdish PKK). So SDF through YPG is an enemy of America’s NATO ally, Turkey. A U.S. Army spokesman told reporters that after Manbij’s liberation, U.S. Special Forces continued to assist the SDF-organized Manbij Military Council forces.

A few weeks ago, Turkey indicated that it would re-enter Manbij to eliminate “terrorist forces” in the city — meaning Kurds the Turks believe are associated with the PKK. Washington objected. “We have made visible actions in deploying U.S. forces as a part of the coalition in and around Manbij to reassure and deter,” said a Defense Department spokesman. “That’s to deter parties from attacking any other parties other than ISIS itself.”

When did U.S. forces receive the mission of keeping historic enemies from killing each other?

The SDF claims to have sufficient forces, with American support, to liberate Raqqa, 70 miles away. This has caused the Turks again to protest loudly. The Russians have thrown their political support behind the Kurds, aligning American interests with Russia against Turkey.

Has the United States decided to oppose Turkey, which controls access to the NATO air base at Incirlik, with its American contingent and nuclear weapons? Has the United States decided to side with Russia, which is the chief supporter of war criminal Mr. Assad, against Turkey? Side with the Russians who, themselves, have bombed aid convoys headed for rebel Syrian cities? Is it possible to support our allies, the Kurds, without doing both other things?

America’s allies and adversaries — and most of all, our troops — need to some answers as we appear to travel a well-worn and slippery slope.

• Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Washington-based Jewish Policy Center.

The US May Get Drawn Into War With Syria, And ISIS Has Nothing To Do With It

Four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters provide air support for Soldiers conducting an air assault exercise as part of the Full Spectrum Training Event in Hohenfels, Germany, Oct. 14, 2011. The UH-60 crews are assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade-Europe. U.S. Army photo by Richard Bumgardner

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, March 22, 2017:

Tensions between U.S. ally Israel and the Syrian regime are flaring up after a series of military confrontations, which could escalate into a larger military surge in the already crowded war zone.

Tensions reached their highest level Friday when Syria launched a series of anti-aircraft missiles intended for Israeli jets engaging Hezbollah supply lines. One of the Syrian missiles was destroyed by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system. The incident marked the first known time Syria has fired on Israeli aircraft since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, and prompted a fierce Israeli response.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared to Israeli media “The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added Friday, “When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah and we have intelligence and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it.”

Russia, the Syrian regime’s main sponsor, also summoned the Israeli Ambassador Friday for an explanation of the strike.

Russia’s concern underscores the interwoven role of multiple global powers in Syria. Other countries involved directly in Syria include the U.S., Turkey, Iran, Russia, multiple rebel groups, al-Qaida, and the Islamic State. Many of these rebel groups have international sponsors including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other gulf countries.

Any military confrontation between Damascus and Jerusalem would almost certainly draw U.S. support, which could in turn endanger U.S. troops inside Syria. Military confrontation could threaten conventional escalation between Israel and Syria, the U.S. and Moscow, the U.S. and Iran, and deepen the already ongoing conflict.

Israel defiantly followed up on Netanyahu and Lieberman’s pledges when it carried out a series of airstrikes against Hezbollah and the Syrian regime Sunday and Monday. The Sunday strike, carried out by an Israeli drone, killed a pro-regime soldier with reported deep ties to Assad.

Israel appears likely to continue its air campaign and Assad increasingly appears emboldened after his victory in the city of Aleppo. This stance could put the two, and their global allies at war.

Follow Saagar Enjeti on Twitter

The ISIS Endgame

A convoy of U.S. armored vehicles near the northern Syrian city of Manbij / Getty Images

Washington Free Beacon, by Matthew Continetti, March 10, 2017:

The Islamic Caliphate announced in 2014 by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, is approaching the end of its short and terrible life. Iraqi forces, supported by Americans, have reclaimed the eastern half of Mosul and are retaking the western one. Kurdish militias in Syria, also backed by the United States, are homing in on the ISIS capital of Raqqa. Word came this week that a contingent of Marines has been deployed in Syria to position heavy artillery for the fight ahead. “We expect that within a few weeks there will be a siege of the city,” a militia spokesman tells Reuters.

ISIS doesn’t have a chance. American air and ground forces, working with local proxies, are about to terminate its existence as a state. “Crushed,” to paraphrase President Trump. A just—and popular—cause.

But that won’t be the end. Recent events suggest that the military defeat of ISIS is just the beginning of a renewed American involvement in Iraq and Syria. And whether the American public and president are prepared for or willing to accept the probable costs of such involvement is unknown. That is reason for concern.

To glimpse the future, look at the city of Manbij in northeast Syria. Humvees and Strykers flying the American flag have appeared there in recent days. The mission? Not to defeat ISIS. Our proxies kicked them out last year. What we are doing in Manbij is something altogether different from a military assault: a “deterrence and reassurance” operation meant to dissuade rival factions from massacring one another. If you can’t remember when President Obama or President Trump called for such an operation, that’s because they never did.

And there’s a twist. One of the factions we are trying to intimidate is none other than the army of Turkey, a NATO member and purported ally. Turkey moved in on Manbij not because of ISIS but because of the Kurds. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish autocrat, opposes one of our Kurdish proxies. He says the YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which has conducted an insurgency against his government for decades. Yet the YPG is also the most effective indigenous anti-ISIS force on the ground. We need it to take Raqqa.

Things get even more complicated. Also in Manbij are the Russians, who are helping units of the Syrian army police a group of villages. The Kurds invited them, too, presumably as a separate hedge against Turkey. To keep score: The Americans, the Russians, the Turks, the Kurds, and the Syrians are all converging on an impoverished city in the middle of nowhere that has no strategic importance to the United States.

One needn’t have read The Guns of August to fret about the risks of miscalculation and misinterpretation. Which is why, on Tuesday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, met with his Russian and Turkish counterparts. “One American official described the situation around Manbij as a potential tinderbox,” reports the New York Times. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about.

U.S. intervention in Syria is following a pattern that has ended in regret. Having entered the conflict to pursue the narrow aim of destroying ISIS, we are likely to assume much more abstract and open-ended responsibilities once our immediate goal has been achieved. Similar vague and unspecific policies led to Americans being killed in Lebanon in 1983 and in Somalia a decade later. Where peacekeeping has been successful, as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the mission was clear from the beginning, authorized by all parties by treaty, and adequately resourced—tens of thousands of troops, most of them American. None of these conditions apply today.

It is one thing to maintain a presence in Iraq, a country whose fate seems to be entangled with our own. It is another to expand our involvement in Syria with little public rationale or debate. At the very least Congress deserves an opportunity to take up the issue. But don’t get your hopes up. The GOP Congress resisted taking ownership of the war in Syria when the president was a Democrat. There is little reason to think it will do so now when the president is a Republican.

What happens the day after Raqqa falls? Should American troops remain in Syria once ISIS has been defeated, and if so for what purpose? Will there be clear lines of authority between CENTCOM and SOCOM? Just what is America’s position on the Kurds—are we for an independent Kurdistan, and if so are we prepared to resist Turkish and Iraqi attempts to quash it? Who is making key military and diplomatic decisions: the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, or the combatant commanders?

The president is charged with answering such questions. And he must be ready to defend his answers. To do otherwise risks complacency and drift. This is an unstable and murky situation. And it could end, as so often happens, in lost lives, reduced credibility, and an even wider conflict.

A contributor to The Weekly Standard likes to tell the following story: Covering the Lebanese civil war in 1983, he visited an outpost of U.S. Marines. They came under sniper fire from one militia. Then another militia started shooting. Then the Syrians joined in. At which point a lance corporal turned to him and said, “Sir, never get involved in a five-sided argument.”

Islamic State Leader Baghdadi ‘Flees Mosul’ as Iraqi Forces Advance

AP Photo/Militant video, File

Breitbart Jerusalem, March 9, 2017:

(AFP) — Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is reported to have abandoned Mosul, leaving local commanders behind to lead the battle against Iraqi forces advancing in the city.

With Iraqi troops making steady progress in their assault to retake Mosul from the jihadists, a US defence official said Baghdadi had fled to avoid being trapped inside.

It was the latest sign that IS is feeling the pressure from twin US-backed offensives that have seen it lose much of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, the defence official said Baghdadi had left Mosul before Iraqi forces seized control of a key road at the beginning of this month, isolating the jihadists in the city.

“He was in Mosul at some point before the offensive…. He left before we isolated Mosul and Tal Afar,” a town to the west, the official said.

“He probably gave broad strategic guidance and has left it to battlefield commanders.”

Baghdadi, who declared IS’s cross-border “caliphate” at a Mosul mosque in 2014, in an audio message in November urged supporters to make a stand in the city rather than “retreating in shame”.

Iraq launched the offensive to retake Mosul — which involves tens of thousands of soldiers, police and allied militia fighters — in October.

After recapturing its eastern side, the forces set their sights on the city’s smaller but more densely populated west.

– ‘Ran away like chickens’ –

In recent days Iraqi forces have retaken a series of neighbourhoods in west Mosul as well as the provincial government headquarters and a museum where IS militants filmed themselves destroying priceless artefacts.

The military said Wednesday they had also taken the infamous Badush prison northwest of Mosul where IS reportedly executed hundreds of people and held captured Yazidi women.

On Thursday Iraqi forces were “combing the city centre area to defuse (bombs in) homes and shops and buildings,” Lieutenant Colonel Abdulamir al-Mohammedawi of Iraq’s elite Rapid Response Division told AFP.

Forces were also “searching for snipers in the city centre,” Mohammedawi said.

The area is located on the edge of Mosul’s Old City, a warren of narrow streets and closely spaced houses that could see some of the toughest fighting of the battle.

“Currently there is no order from the operations command to advance toward the Old City. We will advance when this order is issued,” Mohammedawi said.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under IS rule in Mosul.

Those who did manage to escape the city said the jihadists were growing increasingly desperate.

Abdulrazzaq Ahmed, a 25-year-old civil servant, was seized by jihadist fighters as they retreated from the neighbourhood of Al-Mansur.

“We were used as human shields” said Ahmed, who managed to escape along with hundreds of other civilians to Iraqi police waiting outside the city.

Rayan Mohammed, a frail 18-year-old who was once given 60 lashes for missing prayers, said the jihadists were scrambling in the face of the Iraqi offensive.

“They ran away like chickens,” he said.

– Marines deployed to Syria –

West Mosul is the most heavily populated area under IS control and along with Raqa in Syria the last major urban centres it holds.

In Syria, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been advancing on Raqa. Earlier this week its forces reached the Euphrates River, cutting the main road to the partly IS-held city of Deir Ezzor downstream.

A US official said Wednesday that a Marine Corps artillery battery had been sent into Syria to support the battle for Raqa — joining some 500 American special operations fighters who have been training and assisting the SDF.

The United States has been leading a coalition since mid-2014 carrying out air strikes against the jihadists in both Syria and Iraq.

Elsewhere in Syria, Turkish troops and their rebel allies have pushed south from the Turkish border and driven IS out of the northern town of Al-Bab.

Russian-backed government troops have meanwhile swept eastwards from Syria’s second city Aleppo and seized a swathe of countryside from the jihadists.

The US defence official said IS was now looking beyond the seemingly inevitable losses of Mosul and Raqa.

“I don’t think they have given up on their vision of their caliphate yet,” the official said.

“They… are still making plans to continue to function as a pseudo-state centred in the Euphrates River valley.”

About 15,000 IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, including some 2,500 in Mosul and Tal Afar and as many as 4,000 still in Raqa, the official said.

***

Exclusive video: Iraqi forces near Mosul mosque where IS group leader declared ‘caliphate’

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Also see:

Trump’s Plan To Eradicate ISIS Caught Between Warring Allies

Fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) carry the coffins of their fellow fighters, who were killed when Islamic State militants attacked the town of Tel Abyad on the Turkish border at the weekend, during their funeral procession at Ras al-Ain city, in Hasakah province, Syria March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS90VM

Fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) carry the coffins of their fellow fighters, who were killed when Islamic State militants attacked the town of Tel Abyad on the Turkish border at the weekend, during their funeral procession at Ras al-Ain city, in Hasakah province, Syria March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTS90VM

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjetti, March 1, 2017:

Turkey, U.S. ally and member of NATO, is likely to launch an all-out assault on the main anti-Islamic State U.S. proxy force, the Institute for the Study of War warns in a new assessment.

Current U.S. strategy against ISIS relies on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Syrian rebel group largely composed of Kurdish militias. The problem is, Turkey regards these groups as existential threats to its existence, and believes they are deeply tied to the PKK. The U.S. has special operators embedded within the SDF’s ranks, and believes it is the only group capable of retaking the ISIS-held capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Turkey attacked SDF-controlled villages Wednesday, according to SDF spokesmen. Turkey’s operations appear geared towards taking the SDF controlled city of Manbij, which is right along its border. “The fight for Manbij will derail the U.S.-backed campaign against ISIS and create opportunities for al Qaeda to expand further in Syria,” ISW’s assessment declares.

The SDF is likely to play a key role in President Donald Trump’s plan to defeat ISIS. The Pentagon delivered several options to Trump earlier this week, all of which will likely bolster U.S. support to ground forces capable of taking on ISIS.

Trump and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis have already quietly escalated the U.S. ground war against ISIS, which includes additional assistance to the SDF. “There are signs of full support from the new American leadership — more than before — for our forces,” an SDF spokesman told Reuters Feb. 1.  Trump also indicated in July he was a “big fan” of the Kurdish forces, and wanted to balance his strategy with Turkey. “It would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together,” he told The New York Times.

“Further escalation between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds would severely jeopardize – and likely halt indefinitely – the campaign against ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City,” ISW declares.
Also see:

Syrian ‘Moderate’ Rebels Flocking to Al-Qaeda After CIA Halts Weapons Pipeline

jihadists-cheer-pentagon-counter-narrative-failure-1-sized-770x415xtPJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, FEBRUARY 23, 2017:

A few of us have been predicting for several years now that the so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria backed by the CIA would inevitably collapse into the surging camp of Sunni extremists.

And now that is exactly what has happened, thus signaling the beginning of the end of any pretension of a “moderate opposition” to back in Syria.

In September 2013, the belief that the “moderates” vastly outnumbered the extremists of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra was taken as gospel by the Obama administration, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the D.C. foreign policy establishment. Those of us challenging that conventional wisdom were a pretty small circle.

Now, the so-called “vetted moderates” are flocking to the banner of the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as the CIA halts their weapons pipeline while the smaller “moderate” groups fall willingly or unwillingly into the extremist camp.

So much for all that “vetting” by the CIA.

Reuters reported earlier this week:

CIA-coordinated military aid for rebels in northwest Syria has been frozen since they came under major Islamist attack last month, rebel sources said, raising doubts about foreign support key to their war against President Bashar al-Assad.

Rebel officials said that no official explanation had been given for the move this month following the jihadist assault, though several said they believed the main objective was to prevent arms and cash falling into Islamist militant hands. But they said they expected the aid freeze to be temporary.

The halt in assistance, which has included salaries, training, ammunition and in some cases guided anti-tank missiles, is a response to jihadist attacks and has nothing to do with U.S. President Donald Trump replacing Barack Obama in January, two U.S. officials familiar with the CIA-led program said.

As I have reported extensively here at PJ Media for several years, the “vetted moderates” have always played a double-game with jihadists groups. And now the Washington Post reports today that it has finally caught up with them.

The biggest surviving rebel stronghold in northern Syria is falling under the control of al-Qaeda-linked extremists amid a surge of rebel infighting that threatens to vanquish what is left of the moderate rebellion.

The ascent of the extremists in the northwestern province of Idlib coincides with a suspension of aid to moderate rebel groups by their international allies.

The commanders of five of the groups say they were told earlier this month by representatives of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey that they would receive no further arms or ammunition until they unite to form a coherent front against the jihadists, a goal that has eluded the fractious rebels throughout the six years of fighting.

The freeze on supplies is unrelated to the change of power in Washington, where the Trump administration is engaged in a review of U.S. policy on Syria, U.S. officials say. It also does not signal a complete rupture of support for the rebels, who are continuing to receive salaries, say diplomats and rebel commanders.

Rather, the goal is to ensure supplies do not fall into extremist hands, by putting pressure on the rebels to form a more efficient force, the rebel commanders say they have been told.

Instead it is the extremists who have closed ranks and turned against the U.S.-backed rebels, putting the al-Qaeda-linked groups with whom the moderates once uneasily coexisted effectively in charge of key swaths of territory in Idlib, the most important stronghold from which the rebels could have hoped to sustain a challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Concerns about U.S.-supplied weapons falling into the hands of jihadist groups are grounded in a long history of defections of U.S.-backed “moderates,” longstanding cooperation between “moderates” and extremists, and losses to extremist groups on the battlefield.

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The Trump Administration and the Kurds — A Conversation with Sherkoh Abbas

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President of the Kurdish National Assembly of Syria talks chaos in Turkey and hopes for Kurdish statehood.

Front Page Magazine, by Joseph Puder, November 16, 2016:

Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) in both Iraq and Syria have exhibited courage, determination, and a unique pro-American attitude in the Arabic speaking world.  In Syria, however, the Kurdish forces combating the Islamic State bravely and successfully are being attacked by the Turkish army as ordered by President ErdoganHuman rights activist Dilovan Mirkhan told ARA News (November 13, 2016) that “The Turkish army stationed on the borderline with Syria, bombed residential buildings in the Mosako town in Afrin, adding that the bombardment led to massive destruction in the area.” Mirkhan reported that “Dead bodies of eight civilian victims were collected subsequent to the attack, and many others remained stranded under the rubble.”

It should be unacceptable for the incoming Trump administration to allow Turkey’s dictatorial president Erdogan to attack the very forces (the Kurds) who are liberating portions of Syria from the IS. Moreover, it is also high time for the U.N. and the U.S. to recognize the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination.  The U.N. has held endless sessions in support of Palestinian rights and requests for statehood. The Kurds, numbering tens-of-millions, deserve much more from the international community.  There are 22 Arab states but no Kurdish state.  Given the critical role the Kurds are playing in liberating Iraq and Syria from the barbarism of the IS, the time has come to reward the Kurds with a state of their own.

Kurds have been oppressed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and gassed in Halabja. Hafez Assad, the dictator of Syria expelled hundreds of thousands of Kurds from the Al-Hasakeh region, with similar numbers becoming stateless.  The Islamic Republic of Iran has equally oppressed its largely Sunni-Muslim Kurds. It has denied political and cultural rights to its Kurdish citizens.  Turkey, where the Kurds count for almost 20% of the population, is currently bombing the Kurds at the Kurdish-majority region of southeastern Turkey, and in Syria.

This reporter asked Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdish National Assembly of Syria (KNA-S), to respond to the current situation in Syria.

Joseph Puder (JP): With Donald Trump becoming the new occupant of the White House, and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, what would you like the new administration to do in Syria?

Sherkoh Abbas (SA): I hope to see the Trump administration abandon the outdated policy of maintaining the unjust legacy of the colonial Sykes-Picot agreement. Similarly, Trump should reverse the previous U.S. administration’s investment in cozying up to ruthless Middle East regimes at the expense of its existing allies.  Instead, the new administration should support its natural allies such as the Kurds in the Middle East and the Amazigh people (Berbers) in North Africa.

Supporting an independent Kurdistan would help finish the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and reduce Iran’s influence in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria.  Working with the Kurds would also sever the Shiite Crescent.  Moreover, open support for the Kurds would check Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ambitious Neo-Ottoman Empire.

The U.S. under the Trump presidency, should provide full and direct support to the Kurds on all levels, including the delivery of arms, unlike the Obama administration.  Arms to the Kurds should bypass Baghdad, and go directly to the Kurds.

During the primaries, Trump expressed support for the Kurds.  We will call on him to do just that.  The Kurds share the same values with the U.S. and they are eager to work with America.

JP: What do you expect from the Trump administration with regards to an independent Kurdish state in Syria?

SA: Syrian Kurds are currently fighting on behalf of humanity in their struggle with the Islamic State.  As quid-pro-quo, the Kurds would like U.S. help in creating a federal system in Syria to start with, and ultimately supporting outright Kurdish independence in Syria. Israel, Russia, and some European nations are promoting a federal state for the failed states of Iraq and Syria.

JP: Are the leaders of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) ready for an independent Kurdish state in Syria?

SA: The YPG needs to distance itself from the Assad regime as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and work with all the Kurds, including over 5,000 Syrian Peshmerga forces currently fighting to take Mosul.  It must become inclusive instead of a dictatorial regime.  The YPG does not enjoy the overwhelming support of the Syrian Kurds.  The majority of Syrian Kurds want democracy and independence.

The YPG is vacillating between its work with the U.S., Russia, and the Assad regime.  The YPG has to face the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and IS, as well as other terror groups. The Arab Gulf states, particularly Qatar, is supporting the FSA, which is ideologically close to the Muslim Brotherhood.  Turkey, a NATO-member, is too close to the IS and al-Qaeda, and their agenda is to get rid of the Assad regime and the Kurds.

JP: What influence can you and the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNA-S) exert on the powers that be in your home town of al-Qamishli and Kurdish Syria?

SA: Most of the Syrian Kurds are loyal to Kurdish tribal and civic leaders, and have strong alliances with Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The YPG opposes such relationships, and thus is not a consensus organization.  The Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNA-S) is aligned with tribal and civic leaders and the KRG in Iraq.  We could deliver the “Kurdish street,” and additional soldiers to finish IS.

This year KNA-S has assembled a wide-ranging delegation of Syrian Kurds, including YPG officials, to come to Washington for talks with U.S. administration officials.  Unfortunately, the State Department did not furnish visas to the delegates from Syria to enter the U.S.  Hopefully, the Trump administration will invite the KNA-S to re-assemble the same delegation for talks in Washington.

JP: Given Erdogan’s dictatorial behavior toward the opposition in Turkey, and especially toward the Kurds in Southeastern Turkey, what would you advise the incoming President Donald Trump to do with regards to Erdogan and Turkey?

SA: Turkey ruled by Erdogan is a lost case, and it is not a friend of the U.S.  Turkey’s intimate relationship with radical Islamic groups requires explanation.  Erdogan’s regime has its eyes focused on Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, ostensibly to prevent the formation of an independent and contiguous Kurdistan, comprised of Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan.

The Trump administration should prevent the Turkish army forces from entering Syrian territory under the guise of fighting IS.  The reality is that Turkey is only interested in fighting the Kurds, and preventing the creation of an independent Kurdish state, or an autonomous Kurdish region in northeastern Syria.

Behind the lines: Syria’s interlocking conflicts

SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES commanders announce an offensive to take the ISIS-held city of Raqqa last week.. (photo credit:RODI SAID / REUTERS)

SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES commanders announce an offensive to take the ISIS-held city of Raqqa last week.. (photo credit:RODI SAID / REUTERS)

Jerusalem Post, by Jonathan Spyer, November 11, 2016:

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces last Friday announced the commencement of an operation to conquer the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.  The operation was designated ‘Euphrates Wrath.’

Raqqa is the capital of the ‘Caliphate’ maintained by the Islamic State organization.  In tandem with the effort currently under way to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from IS, the loss of Raqqa would represent the final eclipse of the Islamic State as a quasi-sovereign entity.  At this point, it would revert back to the guerrilla/insurgent/terrorist force which it constituted prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

Conquering the city is likely to be a slow business.  However, the final outcome is not in doubt.  The Islamic State, whose main slogan in Arabic is ‘Baqiya watatamadad’ (remaining and expanding) has been in reality contracting since the high point of its advance in the autumn of 2014.  Its eventual demise, at least as a quasi-state entity, is assured.

But Syria is host not only to the war against IS, but to a series of other, interlocking conflicts.  And one of these additional conflicts pits the two main candidates for the leading role in the fight against IS in Raqqa against one another.

Observe: there is in Syria today no less than five identifiable conflicts taking place.

These are: Turkish-backed Sunni Arab rebel and Islamist organizations against the Assad dictatorship, western backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces, dominated by the Kurdish YPG) against IS, Kurdish YPG against the Assad regime, the aforementioned Sunni rebels against IS and, lastly, the Sunni rebels against the SDF.

The problem for those seeking to cobble together a force to take Raqqa city and by so doing destroy the Islamic State, is that the two eligible forces to carry out this action are the mainly Kurdish SDF and the Turkish-backed, mainly Islamist Sunni rebels – but these forces are at war with one another.

After the SDF announced the commencement of the Raqqa campaign this week, Turkish President Recep Tayepp Erdogan expressed his opposition to the decision, repeating his assertion that the Kurdish YPG are merely ‘another terror organization…a side branch’ of the PKK.

Following the SDF’s announcement, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford met with Turkish Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar in Ankara. After the meeting, Dunford said that the US would work together with Turkey to develop a long term plan for ‘seizing, holding and governing’ the city.

Dunford stated that the US considered the largely non-Arab SDF ‘wasn’t the solution’ for ‘holding and governing’ largely Sunni Arab Raqqa.

A judicious reader will notice that Dunford’s statement doesn’t say that the SDF is unsuitable for the job of capturing the city, only for holding it afterwards.

The root of the deep differences between the SDF and the Turkish supported rebels are to be found not only in the soil of northern Syria. Rather, they are inextricably linked to the long insurgency fought by Turkey’s Kurds against a succession of governments in Ankara since 1984.

The fragmenting of Syria formed a historic opportunity for the Syrian Kurds, which they have seized.  The PYD, the Syrian Kurdish franchise of the PKK organization, established three self-governing cantons along the Syrian-Turkish border in 2012.  In 2015, against the background of the fight against IS, they managed to unite two of these  – Jazeera and Kobani.  On March 17, 2016, the ruling coalition in these areas announced the formation of the ‘Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava.’

The US has since October 2015 found the Kurdish YPG to be a formidable and useful ground partner to coalition air power against IS.  But the Kurds themselves, while welcoming the alliance with the US, have long sought another objective – namely to unite the three cantons, connecting Jazira/Kobani with Afrin in the far north west of the country.

From a Turkish point of view, the prospect of a PKK-linked party controlling the entirety of the 800 km border between Syria and Turkey is entirely unacceptable.  Since mid-2015, a Kurdish insurgency is once again under way against the Turkish government.  As part of the general post-coup crackdown, Erdogan this week arrested Turkey’s most prominent Kurdish politician, Salahattin Demirtas of the HDP.

Since 2012, the instruments Turkey chose to use to contain the Syrian Kurds were the mainly Islamist rebel movements of northern Syria, from the more moderate elements across to Jabhat al Nusra and possibly at one time also ISIS.

By mid-2016, supporting ISIS was no longer an option, and the rebels by themselves were too weak for purpose.  So in August, Turkey boldly launched a direct intervention into northern Syria.  ISIS were the ostensible target.  But the clear purpose was to bisect Syria’s north, rendering a sufficient area impassable that the danger of the Kurds linking up their cantons would disappear.

This process is not yet complete.  The Kurds are still west of the Euphrates, in the town of Manbij. And the crucial IS-held town of Al-Bab remains unconquered.  The Turks would like to help their rebel clients take the town and end any further possibility of Kurdish unification.  But here, in the usual labyrinthine way, other players enter the picture.  Al-Bab is close to Aleppo.  It is possible that the Russians have warned Erdogan that the town remains out of bounds.

But the point to bear in mind is that the process of coalition building against IS in Syria is complicated by the fact that two potential members of the coalition – the US-backed SDF and the Turkish army with their Sunni Arab allies, are currently engaged in a direct conflict with one another.

In this regard,  it is worth noting the yawning gap between the military achievements of the Syrian Kurds and their dearth of similar successes in the diplomatic and political fields.  While YPG commanders call in US airstrikes against IS, no country has recognized the Federation of Northern Syria, and it has received little media coverage.

Dunford’s hurried visit to Ankara reflects the diplomatic state of play.  Namely, that the agenda of a Turkish government, even one that openly supports Sunni jihadis, must be indulged. That of a Kurdish ally can be dismissed.  The Kurds may have little choice in the matter. But they should be careful not to find themselves quickly abandoned once Operation ‘Euphrates Wrath’ is done.

Also see:

General: Raqqa Op Needed ASAP as ISIS Plotting ‘Significant External Operations’

(ISIS photo)

(ISIS photo)

PJ Media, by Bridget Johnson, October 26, 2016:

ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander for U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria said that, with Iraqi forces still yet to plunge inside Mosul, the coalition is moving forward with urgency on taking the battle to the Islamic State’s capital in Syria — particularly as “an external plot” for a terror attack is being fomented in Raqqa.

Speaking with reporters via video from Baghdad today, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend stressed that Syria is a “complicated battle space” as “our Syrian partners in Turkey continue advancing and push ISIL farther from Turkey’s border.”

“We’re working with our allies, our partners, coalition members to refine the military plan for the isolation and eventual liberation of Raqqa. While that planning effort is ongoing, we will continue conducting precision strikes to reduce the enemy’s freedom of movement, attack their leaders and command and control,” Townsend said.

Seeing greater willingness from local populations to rise up against ISIS after having endured their brutal rule, he said, “gives us confidence that ISIL will also be driven from Raqqa.”

One of the challenges with Raqqa will be using “a partnered force rather than the partner being a nation-state’s armed forces like the Iraqi armed forces” and will be “done with a lot lighter coalition footprint.”

“We’ll have fewer coalition troops there, less combat capability there. We’ll have to apply coalition combat support in a different way than we’re doing here in Iraq,” Townsend said. “…There are a lot of regional security concerns that are in competition there. And the Syrian regime’s involved, the Russians are involved, Turkey’s involved, it’s hard. And there’s — oh by the way, there’s a civil war going on right next door.”

“So it’s gonna be a tough — very tough political environment and a security environment, I think, for our effort there.”

Raqqa is a smaller city than Mosul, but because of the complicating factors Townsend guessed “the ultimate liberation of Raqqa will probably take longer than Mosul.”

“I believe that there are sufficient local forces already available for that operation. However, we have a plan to… recruit and equip and train more local forces for that operation. So that’s part of our campaign plan, to generate additional combat power for that future operation,” he said.

The Raqqa effort will rely heavily on the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. “They have an Arab wing which we refer to as the Syrian Arab Corp. That force is fairly robust, over 30,000. And a good portion of them are Kurdish forces, Syrian Kurds. But also, another part of that force is — a significant part of that force is Arabs and other ethnic groups that are from that region,” the general explained.

“So we will train the forces that we need. And specifically, we’re going to try to recruit and train a force that’s from the local area of Raqqa. So that’s what’s made our — one of the factors that’s made our efforts in Northern Syria successful to date, is we have recruited, in each case — and Manbij is a good example of this — we’ve recruited forces from the local area that were part of the assault force to liberate that area. And they form the core of the whole force that will stay.”

Townsend clarified that “most the recruiting will be done not by us, but it will be done by our local partners,” and noted “we haven’t found a shortage of volunteers who want to go fight ISIL or Daesh, as we refer to them.”

“There’s no shortage of folks who want to do that, especially if they’re going back to liberate their own hometown,” he said.

U.S. forces may assist “with specialty courses, weapons, leadership courses, those kind of things — and I don’t think that training will be done in the vicinity of Raqqa.”

Townsend said “there’s an imperative to get isolation in place around Raqqa because our intelligence feeds tell us that there is significant external operations attacks planning going on, emanating central in — centralized in Raqqa.”

“So, we think it’s very important to get isolation in place around Raqqa to start controlling that environment on a pretty short timeline. So, we’re gonna take the force that we have and it will — we will go to Raqqa soon with that force. And I think that the Syrian Democratic Forces, to include the Kurdish YPG and the Arab — Syrian Arab Corps, will all be part of that force to go and place isolation at Raqqa,” he said.

Pressed on what that external threat could entail, Townsend said he didn’t want to discuss specific intelligence but “we actually aren’t sure how pressing it is, and that’s what’s worrying us.”

“So we’re not sure, we know they’re up to something. And it’s an external plot, we don’t know exactly where, we don’t know exactly when. You can understand this because you’ve been following these kinds of terrorist plots for a number of years, and we’re gonna try to hit if off,” he continued.

“So what we’re doing right now is a pretty much continuous watch and strikes in the Raqqa area when targets emerge that we can strike. And so we’re gonna do those kinds of suppressive fires until we’re ready.”

After the city of Manbij was liberated from ISIS, “we found links to individuals and plot streams to France, the United States, other European countries.”

“So we know that this is going on in Raqqa, as well. And so I think that’s why its necessary to get down there to Raqqa. We know that it’s a focal point of ISIL external operations, planning, plotting.”

On the prospects of the Turks and the Kurds both wanting to join the fight, Townsend said, “We’re willing to march south with anybody — to Raqqa — with anybody who’s willing to join the coalition, follow the direction that the coalition’s taking and to go defeat Daesh in Raqqa and start that pretty soon.”

The general said that the U.S. plan has been “to pressure Mosul and Raqqa simultaneously, or nearly so.”

“We want to pressure Raqqa so that the enemy doesn’t have a convenient place to go,” he said. “He’s got other places to go but he’s gotta make some choices that maybe weren’t his first or second choices.”

Also see:

Syrian Rebel U.S ‘Vetted Moderate’ Brigade Defects to Rebranded Al-Qaeda Affiliate

war-on-terror-jihad1-sized-770x415xtPJ Media, by Patrick Poole, October 20, 2016:

Reports are emerging this morning that a battalion of Faylaq al-Sham fighters that had previously been vetted as “moderates” by the U.S. has defected to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the recently re-branded Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

This is yet one more episode of U.S.-vetted Syrian rebel groups defecting to U.S.-designated terrorist groups in recent years. Just a few weeks ago I reported here at PJ Media on U.S.-supported Free Syrian Army troops that were openly allied with a group that the State Department had designated a terrorist organization just the week before.

News of the defection of the Muhammad Rasoolullah Brigade of Faylaq al-Sham operating around Idlib initially appeared on Twitter:

Faylaq al-Sham, backed by Turkey, is currently involved in the push against the Islamic State.

Faylaq al-Sham has its roots in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and have been branded “Syria’s Moderate Islamists,” so undoubtedly the “experts” will lament this defection as a shock brought about by military necessities on the ground.

But if the so-called “vetted moderate” groups that receive U.S. weapons later turn terrorist, what is the point of the so-called U.S. “vetting” anyway?

The “experts” may also downplay this defection claiming that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cut ties with Al-Qaeda; but nothing could be further from the truth. All the group did was rebrand, with permission from Al-Qaeda.

In fact, one of the top Jabhat Fateh al-Sham leaders present at the rebranding announcement was Abu Faraj al-Masri, a longtime lieutenant of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Masri was killed in a U.S. drone strike earlier this month.

But the myth of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s separation from Al-Qaeda continues to circulate.

Read more

Town of Dabiq falls to Turkish-backed forces

16-10-15-operation-euphrates-shield-1-1024x759LONG WAR JOURNAL, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN, October 17th, 2016:

Dabiq, a town in northern Syria that has been central to the Islamic State’s apocalyptic messaging, has fallen to rebel groups backed by Turkey. The so-called caliphate’s opposition had been closing in on Dabiq for weeks, capturing nearby towns and villages. Yesterday, Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield posted images from inside the town, thereby demonstrating that the Islamic State’s enemies are now in control.

“I welcome today’s news that Syrian opposition forces liberated the Syrian town of Dabiq from ISIL [Islamic State] control, aided by strong support from our ally Turkey and our international coalition,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement on Oct. 16.

“This is more than just the latest military result against this barbaric group,” Carter continued, as Dabiq “held symbolic importance” for Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men.

Indeed, the Islamic State’s propagandists have repeatedly told ‎their followers that Dabiq would be the site of an apocalyptic showdown between the true believers and the “Crusaders.” The group’s English-language magazine was named after Dabiq in a deliberate attempt to play up this imagery. Each issue of “Dabiq” contained a line from Al Qaeda in Iraq’s founder, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who drew on preexisting Islamic beliefs. “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the Crusader armies in Dabiq,” Zarqawi was quoted as saying.

This passage was referenced throughout the Islamic State’s propaganda. For instance, in Nov. 2014, Mohammed Emwazi (also known as “Jihadi John” in the West) appeared in a video in which he and other jihadis beheaded a number of pilots and officers in Bashar al Assad’s military. Toward the end of the gruesome video, Emwazi stood over the severed head of American aid worker Peter Kassig and repeated Zarqawi’s line. Emwazi then added, “And here we are, burying the first American Crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies.” One year later, in Nov. 2015, Emwazi was killed in a drone strike in Raqqa, Syria.

Instead of burying the “Crusaders,” however, the Islamic State was forced to retreat from the town. By itself, Dabiq is not a very significant piece of real estate. It was sparsely populated and more important locations have been seized from the Islamic State’s grip over the course of the past year. But because the self-declared caliphate made such a big deal out of the Dabiq prophesy, the town is more significant than its size would normally indicate. However, like other organizations inspired in part by apocalyptic imagery, the true believers will likely cling to ad hoc explanations for why the loss of Dabiq is not really that damaging to the jihadists’ cause.

The Islamic State has likely known for months that Dabiq would fall. Earlier this year, for example, the group produced a new English-language magazine titled “Rumiyah.” By publishing the magazine under this name, the Islamic State shifted its emphasis from the Syrian town of Dabiq to Rome. Each issue of Rumiyah opens with a line attributed to Abu Hamza al Muhajir, who cofounded the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2006. The ISI is the direct predecessor to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State. “O muwahhidin, rejoice, for by Allah, we will not rest from our jihad except beneath the olive trees of Rumiyah (Rome),” Abu Hamza is quoted as saying in the magazine.

In the Islamic State’s English-language mythology, therefore, the imagined fall of Rome replaced an end-times battle for Dabiq. Neither are remotely close to being a reality. It remains to be seen if Dabiq is reintroduced as the title for an English-language jihadi publication. And it is likely that Dabiq will still be referenced in the group’s propaganda, albeit with less emphasis in the near-term.

In addition to announcing the capture of Dabiq, Turkey’s Euphrates Shield produced a map demonstrating that more than 1,300 square kilometers of territory along the Syrian border has been seized from the Islamic State since August. The official Twitter feed for Euphrates Shield also published the images below of Turkish-backed forces fighting in Dabiq.

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

ACTUALLY, THEY ARE ALL WRONG ON SYRIA

Uncredited | AP Photo

Uncredited | AP Photo

Conservative Review, by Daniel Horowitz, October 11, 2016:

One of the frustrating things about not having a conservative on stage during a major policy debate is that nobody starts from the right premise on any given issue. Nowhere was this more evident than with the discussion about U.S. involvement in Syria during Sunday night’s debate.

As I noted in my foreign policy piece on Friday marking the 15th anniversary of the failed Afghanistan war, nobody in politics seems to understand the lesson of the Middle East, even when it smacks them in the face. There is no positive outcome of an Islamic civil war and no reason for us to get involved in tipping the scales to one side. Undoubtedly, innocent people get killed in the civil war, but that is not our fault nor is it our responsibility to solve these conflicts — especially when there is no recourse other than getting our soldiers killed fighting for one or multiple enemy factions. In fact, strategically speaking on a geo-political level — without factoring in the human suffering — there is actually no better outcome than to have all of our enemies marred in an endless and unsolvable civil war. Why should we share in the misery?

In this vain, it is easy to understand how vacuous the question from Martha Raddatz was with regards to Syria:

what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?

She later asked a follow up of Trump: “What do you think will happen if Aleppo falls?”

This assertion from Raddatz is outrageous and reflects weapons-grade stupidity, the very sort of ignorance that has gotten our soldiers killed for years to no end. During the Holocaust, there was one regime led by one man who seized power in a western country. By intervening and getting rid of the Hitler regime, that territory was able to be secured and preserved for a liberal democracy that would no longer kill its citizens. Indeed, that is what happened. In Syria, there is a fight between Assad/ Hezbollah/Russia/Iran vs. Al Qaeda splinter groups, Ahrar al Sham, and the Islamic State — with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia funding a number of the Islamic fundamentalist rebels.

Moreover, those various factions merely reflect the fractious nature of the people in the region. This is a Muslim country that is engaged in an Islamic civil war steeped in theological and tactical differences and exacerbated by irreconcilable sectarian differences. It is also a country that was never a country. It was cobbled together after WWI. There is no way to put that genie back in the bottle now that it has exploded.

Other than holding land for the Kurds, there is no other reliable partner with whom to hold ground. And in fact, once we have all our enemies engaged in a death-match, why should we join in their misery instead of letting them kill each other? Our involvement will do nothing but bring misery to our military without saving a single life. We will make the situation worse and tip the balance of power to a specific sworn enemy, as we have done in each of these insufferable theaters in recent years.

“What if Aleppo falls?”

Hillary’s plan: Support Al Qaeda and continue Obama’s ground war

What an ignorant question! Falls to whom? To Assad? It’s already controlled by Islamists.

Not surprisingly, Clinton’s “solution” posited at the debate was to double down on Obama’s policy of arming the lovely “rebels.” In other words, arm Al Qaeda-affiliates who swear to chop our heads off. Clinton is smart enough to understand that the public has grown weary with U.S. involvement in these Islamic civil wars, so she emphatically said she’s opposed to sending ground troops to Syria. But then she immediately offered the Obama artifice strategy of sending “special ops.” As we’ve noted before, Obama has used the special operations troops as his private mercenary army. He has misused them to operate like a conventional force just so he can declare there are no troops on the ground. But these men are ground troops like everyone else and their lives matter just as much as conventional forces. In fact, it’s even more tragic to lose such highly trained soldiers, as has been happening in recent months (shhh, don’t tell anyone), to prop up Islamic rebels who will never succeed in their mission and hate us just as much as the Islamic State and Assad. In short, Hillary’s plan is to make Al Qaeda strong again while giving the illusion that we don’t have troops on the line.

Also, isn’t it interesting how Hillary orchestrated the Obama administration’s alliance with Iran, with the biggest beneficiary of that deal being Russia, yet she suddenly become zealously anti-Iran and Russia in order to involve our troops in a civil war with the Salafists in Syria?

Hillary did offer one new idea supported by conservatives — to directly arm the Kurds. This is farcical coming from her because almost every Democrat has already voted against such a proposal.

Mike Pence’s incoherent GOP establishment intervention to nowhere

At the debate on Sunday, Trump said he disagreed with his vice presidential candidate’s call for attacking Assad. During the vice presidential debate, Mike Pence expressed support for more robust military action in Syria on behalf of ….i don’t know whom…but some of our many enemies. “If Russia chooses to continue to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime,” said the Indiana governor in last week’s debate with Tim Kaine. This is the general position of the GOP establishment and the bankrupt conservative foreign policy mindset. It defies any logic and cannot even be articulated in a way that even makes sense on paper. Who would be the beneficiary of such military force? The Islamic State? The Islamist rebels? The mythical moderate rebels?

Mike Pence has already expressed support for military action against ISIS. Do these people even follow what is going on? Do they get briefings from advisors?

Donald Trump is closer to the mark but still misses the point

Trump came the closest to the truth on Syria during the debate, noting that it was our interventions in the region that exacerbated the problems to begin with and that it is dumb to fight against Assad and Russia when they are fighting the Islamic State. The AP got ensnared in a phony fact check attempting to claim Assad is not fighting ISIS. It turns out Trump was right on that point.

However, he is wrong on two other points.

  1. Just because we shouldn’t fight against the Russians doesn’t mean we should cheer them on. We should cheer their misery in the Syria dumpster fire that will become their second Afghanistan. This is about putting America first, not being servile to Russia.
  2. Trump keeps mentioning ISIS as if that is the consummate threat. And it’s understandable why a candidate would direct his messaging towards ISIS because the public perception is that ISIS is the threat of all threats. However, the reality is that ISIS is on the decline in Syria and Iraq, whereas Al Qaeda affiliates, splinter groups, and alumni, led by Jabhat Fath al Sham (formerly Al Nusrah before breaking from Al Qaeda) are on the ascendency. Trump correctly stated that ISIS is a threat in over a dozen other countries. But they should not be our primary focus in Syria at this point, which is why there is no reason for us to back up Assad and Russia. A pox upon all their houses!

Is it too hard to let Allah sort it out?

***

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

“Putin’s regime is acting as if it is already at war with the West”

Also see:

Obama’s Syria Catastrophe

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How a cascading series of blunders by the Obama administration helped lead to the present humanitarian crisis.

Front Page Magazine, by Joseph Kleinn, October 10, 2016:

The humanitarian situation in Syria worsens day by day. The Assad regime and Russia are carrying out intense lethal bombings over the rebel-held eastern Aleppo, where about 250,000 people are effectively trapped under siege by Syrian military forces. They claim they are targeting terrorists, not civilians. The United States and its allies retort that the savage aerial bombing campaign against civilian targets such as hospitals and shelters has nothing to do with counter-terrorism. The United Nations Security Council has met numerous times to address the tragedy, to no avail. This past weekend’s emergency session of the Security Council was no exception.

On October 8th, France and Spain, with the strong backing of the Obama administration, introduced a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council demanding a full cessation of all hostilities, including an end to all aerial bombardments over Aleppo, as well as the provision of immediate, safe and unhindered humanitarian access. Russia introduced its own competing draft.  While there was a fair amount of overlap between the two drafts, the Russian draft omitted any reference to the cessation of aerial bombings and revived the idea of modest weekly 48 hour humanitarian pauses in fighting. It also insisted on the need to verifiably separate “moderate opposition forces from ‘Jabhut Al-Nusra’ as a key priority,” which Russia has accused the United States of failing to accomplish.

Russia vetoed the French-Spanish draft resolution. The Russian draft failed to get the necessary majority of Security Council members to go along with it. Acrimony filled the air with charges and counter-charges assigning blame for the Syrian tragedy and the failure once again of the Security Council to take any decisive action. Meanwhile, civilians continue to die in Aleppo.

Russia’s military intervention on the side of the Syrian regime has surely tipped the balance in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favor at a horrendous price suffered by thousands of innocent victims, including little children. However, it was President Obama who allowed the situation in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa to spiral out of control in the first place, without even a trace of self-reflection on what he might have done wrong.

The disaster in Syria will likely top Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy, even though Obama so badly wants the Paris Agreement on climate change to be his most long-lasting foreign policy legacy achievement. Indeed, Obama is so hung up on climate change as his number one foreign policy initiative that he actually blames climate change, which he is resolved to begin reversing, as having “contributed to the unrest and the Syrian civil war.” This is an example, according to former U.S. Army Gen. Robert Scales, of “politically-correct imaginings” and “politically-correct theories inserted into a battle plan” that “might well extend war needlessly and get soldiers killed.”

Obama’s solution to the refugee crisis resulting from the Syrian catastrophe is also a politically-correct plan with a potentially dangerous outcome. Obama is allowing thousands of Syrian refugees into the country without proper vetting to determine first who they are and what they believe. And he is not doing so to help save persecuted religious minorities such as Christians and Yazidis from genocide. Out of a total of 12,587 Syrian refugees the Obama administration admitted to the United States during the just-ended fiscal year for resettlement in communities throughout the country, 98.2 percent (12,363) are Sunni Muslims. Only 0.5 percent (68) are Christians and 0.19 percent (24) are Yazidis. Considering that ISIS and al Qaeda members are Sunni Muslims themselves, such an exceedingly high proportion of Sunni Muslim refugees admitted into the country, versus the truly persecuted religious minorities, almost guarantees that some Islamist terrorists will slip through the cracks.

Obama’s fundamental error all along has been to empower the Islamists he believes the United States could work with. He paved the way for enriching Syria’s principal ally in the region, Iran. Very shortly after his apology speech in Cairo to the Muslim world on June 4, 2009, Obama backed the mullahs in Iran, ignoring the pleas for American moral support from millions of dissidents marching peacefully in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities. They were being beaten and worse as they protested the rigged “election” of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama then proceeded to acquiesce to virtually every demand the Islamic theocracy made to secure his nuclear deal with Iran. Thousands of Iranian-backed fighters, likely paid for in part by funds made available to Iran’s government as a result of Obama’s appeasement nuclear pact, have been converging on Aleppo to help the Syrian regime in its all-out assault on rebel-controlled portions of the city.

Obama also supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. To try and topple secular dictators, he helped arm so-called “moderate” rebels in Libya and Syria without careful vetting. Many of them either willingly, or were forced, to join the jihadist terrorist groups ISIS and al Nusra. ISIS gained strength in Syria and Iraq after Obama’s precipitous withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2011. Obama’s disastrous decision that same year to intervene militarily in Libya to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi, without any concrete plan for the day after, resulted in a failed state and Islamist strongholds from which the Libyan-based Islamists sent jihadists and arms to their jihadist brethren in Syria.

While Obama’s series of disastrous mistakes helped strengthen the Islamists in Syria on both sides of the conflict, he allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to get the upper hand in Syria, which is playing out today in Aleppo and elsewhere.

It was not always this way. When Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, he did not display an intent to deploy Russian troops or warplanes in or around Syria immediately to help Assad against the rebel forces trying to overthrow him. Obama had decided against any major military intervention in Syria to help the rebels, who, indeed, were almost impossible to vet properly and were saturated with jihadist elements, but allowed the provision of some covert aid to the so-called “moderate” rebels without any apparent interference by Russia. More significantly, in his infamous declaration of a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in 2012, the Obama risked the credibility of the U.S. if he did not follow through. And that is exactly what happened: Obama had warned the Syrian regime that the U.S. would take direct military action if it used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. Yet, when it appeared a year later that Assad had crossed Obama’s red line with the Syrian military force’s use of sarin gas that took the lives of nearly 1500 people, Obama drew back from his threat. Obama allowed Putin to bail him out of enforcing the red line with a face-saving agreement stipulating the removal and destruction of the Assad regime’s designated stockpiles of chemical weapons. The Obama administration opted to use the UN Security Council to unanimously endorse the agreement worked out, with Assad’s consent, between the United States and Russia. The agreement was to be implemented on an accelerated timetable, with monitoring by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Removal and destruction of the Assad regime’s designated stockpiles of chemical weapons were used as cover for the Assad regime to step up its attacks on civilians with conventional weapons, and jihadist terrorists gained control over swathes of territory. Moreover, Assad still has some chemical weapons, which he has allegedly used against civilians since the passage of the UN Security Council chemical weapons resolution.

Putin in the meantime used a variety of tactics, including bait and switch negotiations and the cynical use of the UN, to buy time in order to build up Russia’s own military forces in the region. President Obama, in turn, played right into Putin’s hands. Obama gave up the military leverage he had in 2013 to target specifically and destroy Assad’s warplanes and airfields when Assad crossed Obama’s red line.  Russia was not then in a position to run interference for Assad militarily. Russia’s strong military build-up since that time has changed the military equation – and, by extension, the balance of diplomatic leverage — to Assad’s and Russia’s advantage. Russia bought the time necessary to become the Syrian regime’s full partner in relentless air attacks leading up to the horrors now unfolding daily in eastern Aleppo.

Sadly, any real viable diplomatic solution to the five-year-plus Syrian conflict, which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, displaced millions of people, and precipitated a refugee crisis of historic proportions, is further away than ever. In short, President Obama’s legacy in the Middle East consists of a revitalized Iran, a Russian presence at a level not seen for over four decades and an unstable environment in which jihadist terrorists have thrived. Obama has risked importing the ensuing chaos into this country by admitting thousands of unvetted refugees.

Joseph Klein is a Harvard-trained lawyer and the author of Global Deception: The UN’s Stealth Assault on America’s Freedom and Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations & Radical Islam.

***

Kredo: Obama Administration All Words, No Action in Syria

Also see:

Brutal ISIS Executions, Military Weakness, and A New Refugee Crisis

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America’s policy in Syria and Iraq has been “cool, rational, and wrong.” Is it already too late to fix it?

CounterJihad, Oct. 4, 2016:

The Islamic State (ISIS) has delivered a new propaganda video showing another gruesome mass execution of fellow Muslims.  The group proclaims that the video should serve as a warning to any Muslims thinking of coming to join any of the rebel armies fighting against them in the conflict.  Amid Nazi salutes, ISIS soldiers clad in stolen American-made 3 color DCU uniforms promised to fight the “apostates” whom they painted as being on the same side as the Americans.

Yet the Americans have done but little to support any allies in the region.  As the Economist notes, US President Barack Obama has kept American forces largely out of the conflict except in an advisory role.  This is because, they explain, he views an American intervention as likely to cause more harm than good.  His policy has been throughout “cool,” “rational,” and “wrong.”

As America has pulled back, others have stepped in—geopolitics abhors a vacuum. Islamic State (IS) has taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq. A new generation of jihadists has been inspired to fight in Syria or attack the West. Turkey, rocked by Kurdish and jihadist violence (and a failed coup), has joined the fight in Syria. Jordan and Lebanon, bursting with refugees, fear they will be sucked in. The exodus of Syrians strengthens Europe’s xenophobic populists and endangers the European Union. A belligerent Russia feels emboldened….

None of this is in America’s interest. Being cool and calculating is not much use if everybody else thinks you are being weak. Even if America cannot fix Syria, it could have helped limit the damage, alleviate suffering and reduce the appeal of jihadism…. Mr Obama says that Mr Assad eventually must go, but has never willed the means to achieve that end. (Some rebel groups receive CIA weapons, but that is about it.)… [J]ihadism is fed by war and state failure: without a broader power-sharing agreement in Syria and Iraq any victory against IS will be short-lived; other jihadists will take its place.

Russia has been building pressure on the Obama administration in other ways.  Since the suspending of talks between the US and Russia, the Putin administration has announced major nuclear war games that will move tens of millions of people to civil defense shelters on very short notice.  They have suspended nuclear arms deals with the United States involving plutonium cleanup, suggesting that they fear the US will cheat.  The Russians have also deployed one of their advanced missile systems outside of their homeland for the first time.  The deployment was made without comment, but as one American official noted wryly, ““Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?”  Al Nusra Front is an al Qaeda linked organization that has been sometimes allied with, but more often at war with, the Islamic State.

All of this means that America’s window to take a more aggressive approach may be closing, if it has not already closed.  Increasingly Russia and their Iranian allies are looking likely to dominate the northern Middle East from Afghanistan to the Levant.  This President has been badly outmaneuvered.  The next President will have to decide how much he or she is willing to risk in order to try to deal with the feeding of “jihadism… by war and state failure.”

The threat is very real, as estimates are that the assault on Mosul might produce another million refugees headed for Europe and America, or perhaps half again that many.  The failure to take a more aggressive approach may end up bringing a flood tide of human suffering and terror.

U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Allies With Terror Group That State Dept. Designated LAST WEEK

moderate-syrian-rebels-threaten-to-kill-us-special-forces-sized-770x415xtPJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Sept. 29, 2016:

U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups are coordinating with al-Qaeda fronts in defending Aleppo, and other FSA groups — armed with CIA-provided TOW anti-tank missiles — are working together with a terror group designated by the State Department just last week.

That’s from a report filed today by Reuters about the rapidly changing situation in Syria:

In Aleppo, rebels in the Free Syrian Army are sharing operational planning with Jaish al-Fatah, an alliance of Islamist groups that includes the former Syrian wing of al-Qaeda.Meanwhile, in nearby Hama province, FSA groups armed with U.S.-made anti-tank missiles are taking part in a major offensive with the al-Qaeda-inspired Jund al-Aqsa group.

The FSA rebels have deep ideological differences with the jihadists, and have even fought them at times, but say survival is the main consideration.

“At a time when we are dying, it is not logical to first check if a group is classified as terrorist or not before cooperating with it,” said a senior official in one of the Aleppo-based rebel factions. “The only option you have is to go in this direction.”

A top jihadist leader killed in an airstrike on a Jaish al-Fatah meeting earlier this month was Abu Omar Saraqeb, who played an active role in al-Qaeda in Iraq’s campaign against the U.S. in Iraq. Presumably, U.S.-backed FSA leaders were also present at the Jaish al-Fatah meeting.

The alliance between the FSA and Jund al-Aqsa in Hama is particularly noteworthy, since the State Department designated Jund al-Aqsa a terrorist organization just last week.

In its September 20 designation, the State Department identified Jund al-Aqsa as a direct threat to U.S. national security:

The Department of State has designated Jund al-Aqsa (JAA) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which imposes sanctions on foreign persons determined to have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.As a result of this designation, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which JAA has any interest is blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with JAA.Jund al-Aqsa is a terrorist group in Northern Syria that primarily operates in Idlib and Hama provinces. Formed in 2012 as a subunit of al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusrah Front (ANF) – a State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group – JAA has since split and now carries out operations independently. However, despite the split it is still openly aligned with ANF. In March 2015, JAA launched two suicide bombings at checkpoints on the outskirts of Idlib. JAA also carried out the February 2014 massacre in the village of Maan in central Hama province, killing 40 civilians.

Two weeks ago I reported here at PJ Media about FSA units threatening to kill U.S. Special Forces operating in northern Syria, eventually chasing them out of the town of Al-Rai near Aleppo.

Interestingly, President Obama said — at least sixteen times — that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground in Syria.

What exactly is the point of supporting “vetted moderates” if they have no problem with working with al-Qaeda — or even, in some cases, the Islamic State — whenever they feel its in their interest to do so?

We provide these “vetted moderate” FSA groups with U.S. heavy weaponry when FSA units themselves are threatening to use those weapons against American troops.

Now there is a very real possibility of those weapons being shared with designated terror groups.

For more than two years I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media on the escalating catastrophe of the Obama administration’s Syria policy:

July 7, 2014: U.S. ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Brigades Surrender Weapons, Pledge Allegiance to Islamic StateSept. 3, 2014: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Operating Openly with ISIS, Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra

Sept. 9, 2014: Fighter With ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Tells L.A. Times They Fight Alongside Al-Qaeda

Sept. 10, 2014: ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Commander Admits Alliance with ISIS, Confirms PJ Media Reporting

Sept. 13, 2014: Yet Another U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Makes Peace with ISIS

Sept. 24, 2014: U.S.-Backed Syrian Group Harakat al-Hazm Condemns U.S. Strikes on ISIS as ‘Attack on the Revolution’

Nov. 2, 2014: U.S.-Armed ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Groups Surrender, Defect to Al-Qaeda

Nov. 3, 2014: How Obama Walked Boehner and GOP Leadership Off the Syrian Rebel Cliff

Nov. 24, 2014: More Defections of ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Rebels to ISIS

Dec. 2, 2014: US-Backed Syrian Rebels Ally with al-Qaeda in South, Surrender CIA-Supplied Weapons in the North

Dec. 14, 2014: Report: Al-Qaeda Using CIA-Supplied TOW Anti-Tank Missiles in Northern Syria

Dec. 28, 2014: NY Times Admits: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Under Effective al-Qaeda Control

March 3, 2015: U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Collapses, U.S.-Supplied Weapons End Up in Al-Qaeda Hands

March 24, 2015: Video Shows Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra Using U.S.-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missiles in Syria

April 16, 2015: U.S. Analyst Admits ‘Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Have Been Working with Al-Qaeda All Along

May 8, 2015: CIA-Backed, “Vetted Moderate” Rebels Now Working Openly With Al-Qaeda

June 27, 2015: ISIS Using U.S. TOW Antitank Missiles In Latest Syrian Offensive

July 9, 2015: Report: ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Fighting Alongside Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Against Assad Regime

July 23, 2015: U.S.-Funded Free Syrian Army Unit Shows Off Its Kidnapping Skills in New Training Video

July 27, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels: Obama’s 50-Man ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Army Vanishes After Training in Turkey

July 29, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels Part 2: Al-Qaeda Arrests 18 U.S.-Trained Rebels On Their First Day in Syria

July 30, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels: Despite Pentagon Denial, Reports Confirm That U.S.-Trained Syrian Rebels Were Kidnapped By Al-Qaeda Almost Immediately

July 31, 2015: Report: Al-Qaeda Kills Five Members of Obama’s 54-Man Syrian Rebel Army

July 31, 2015: Chechen Terrorists In Syria Have Obtained U.S.-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missiles

Sept. 22, 2015: Report: U.S.-Trained, ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Leader Defects to Al-Qaeda, Turns Weapons Over to Terror Group

Oct. 27, 2016: New Video Shows Al-Qaeda Using Weapons U.S. Gave to ‘Vetted Moderates’

Nov. 24, 2015: U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Destroy Russian Helicopter with CIA-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missile

July 20, 2016: CIA-Vetted, “Moderate” Syrian Rebels Behead Child Soldier

Sept. 3, 2016: British Journo: Syrian Kidnapper Who Shot Me Twice is Now a CIA-vetted ‘Moderate’

Sept. 6, 2016: New ISIS Commander Was Trained by State Department as Recently as 2014

Sept. 16, 2016: SHOCK VIDEO: U.S.-Backed, “Moderate” Free Syrian Army Threatens to Kill U.S. Special Forces

The ability to affect any positive change in Syria is compromised by the fact that we have no reliable partner in the country — notwithstanding the so-called “vetted moderates” — and a growing likelihood that American troops may be killed without any national strategic purpose.

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An Al Qaeda terrorist tells a reporter, “The Americans are on our side.”