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.

***

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

Joint Chiefs Chairman Rejects Obama Plan to Share Syria Intel with Russia

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

Breitbart, by James Zumwalt, Sept. 26, 2016:

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford has just gone where no JCS chairman has ever gone before! Unsurprisingly, it took a Marine general to stand up to President Barack Obama in the wake of yet another of his dubious national security decisions.

The same mindless Obama/Kerry negotiating team that brought us an Iran deal undermining our national security, recently sought to bring us a similarly questionable deal with Russia. This one mandated the Pentagon’s participation in an intelligence-sharing agreement with the Russian Central Command in Syria—built upon a ceasefire paving the way for peace negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland.

But, unlike the Iran nuclear deal where the JCS Chairman did nothing, our current Chairman, General Dunford, publicly voiced his objection.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 22, Dunford made clear the military would refuse to execute what was the central element of Obama’s new Syria policy, i.e., intelligence-sharing with Russia—despite the president’s order it be done.

Calling it a bad idea, Dunford said, “The U.S. military role will not include intelligence sharing with the Russians.” Sitting at Dunford’s side during the testimony was his civilian boss, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who raised no objection.

The implication of his testimony was obvious—the president’s deal with Russia was undermining U.S. national security. Dunford, having freed himself from Obama’s vortex, was having none of it.

During his eight years in office, Obama has demonstrated an uncanny ability to endanger U.S. national security interests without ever being challenged by those responsible for doing so.

Congress completely abandoned its responsibility in this regard, most notably allowing Obama to end run the Senate to make a nuclear agreement with Iran effective. The deal—legally a treaty necessitating two-thirds approval by the Senate—was packaged as a non-treaty, i.e., an executive order, as Obama knew he could not muster such approval.

The agreement with Iran, after both presidential candidate Obama and President Obamapromised over two dozen times not to, paved the way for Tehran to get nukes—legally inten years; sooner if done illegally.

Unbeknownst to Congress was the fact the deal also included secret side deals—one of which allowed Tehran to conduct its own inspections with not even U.S. top negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry knowing the details. It also resulted in the lifting of sanctions against Iran and the transfer of billions of dollars, some of which cash transfers were hidden from Congress.

The Senate votes of those either knowing the details of the nuclear deal with Iran or, despite a responsibility to know them, failing to learn them, ultimately enabled Obama to subvert the U.S. Constitution and pass a treaty with less than the mandated two-thirds majority.

The agreement, which Obama promoted as opening the door to better relations between the U.S. and Iran, has resulted in that door being slammed in our face. Since the Senate passed the agreement, the number of naval confrontations with Iran has doubled, with Tehran now even threatening to shoot down our spy planes operating in international airspace.

But it was not the Senate alone that failed the American people in ensuring our national security interests were given top priority by killing the Iran nuclear deal.

Our Founding Fathers imposed limitations upon our military within the Constitution to ensure it always remained subordinate to civilian authority. For over two centuries now, the Constitution has worked effectively to ensure this.

Thus, last year, when the JCS reviewed the terms of an Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by civilian authority, and then JCS Chairman U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey gained full knowledge of its terms and secret side deals, it became incumbent upon him to act in our country’s national security interests as permitted within the Constitution’s guidelines.

There is no way a responsible military leader could have endorsed this deal, knowing secret side deals paved the way for a nuclear armed Iran. Dempsey had an obligation to advise Obama of such. And, when Obama disregarded his advice, Dempsey should have been driven by ethics to tender his resignation. This would have conveyed the message to the Senate it should reject the deal as well. Dempsey failed to do so, allowing the Senate to pass an unconscionable treaty.

It has become clear, as Obama manages to get Kerry and others in government, as well as in the military, to support his questionable national security initiatives, he wields a mesmerizing ability to lure others into his web of dangerous national security thinking.

Clearly, Obama has created a vortex in Washington spinning in a direction contrary to U.S. national security interests. That vortex has proven capable of sucking into it those in government responsible for ensuring a president’s questionable national security actions do not go unchallenged.

But hope may now lie on the horizon due to Dunford’s principled stance.

It is inconceivable to think our president sought to share intelligence with Russia for two reasons.

Firstly, as an ally of Iran, Moscow would obviously share what it learned with Tehran, compromising future U.S. collection efforts.

Secondly, Dunford, during his July 2015 confirmation hearings, had warned Congress that Russia posed “an existential threat to the United States… if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

Fourteen months later, Dunford’s assessment had not changed, testifying, “a combination of their behavior as well as their military capability would cause me to believe that they pose the most significant challenge, potentially the most significant threat, to our national interests.”

Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for the Syrians, the ceasefire failed after 300 violations negating, for the near-term at least, Obama’s intelligence-sharing scheme with Russia and thus sparing us any further compromise of our national security.

It is discomforting to know Obama still has four months remaining in office. It is comforting to know, however, that General Dunford, having successfully freed himself from Obama’s vortex, will be there to challenge any other dubious presidential decision seeking to undermine our national security.

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.

Russia and the West’s Insane Syrian War

gfFront Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, Sept. 26, 2016:

Russia and the West are fighting to decide whether Syria will be run by Sunni Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia or Shiite Islamists backed by Iran. This insane civil war has burned up countless lives, not to mention plenty of dollars, rubles, euros and pounds. The only certain winners of this war, once the dust has settled, will chant “Allahu Akbar” and call for the death of the infidels.

Sadly this is nothing new. Russia got the PLO started before Bill Clinton decided to become its sugar daddy. Smuggling weapons to the Mujahedeen to fight the Russians got us into Afghanistan. Except these days it’s the Russians who, through the Iranians, are funneling weapons to the locals to fight us. Between us and the Russians, we’ve put wagonloads of weapons into the hands of Jihadis in Iraq and Syria. The consequences will be felt in Moscow, New York, London and Paris.

The West and the Warsaw Pact countries used to fuel foreign wars. These days the war is at home.

Russia and the NATO countries suffer from low birth rates and rising Muslim demographics, but are in a senseless competition to determine which emergent Caliphate will be able to draw its borders in territories it can’t populate. It’s a battle over a pittance taking place in a burning building.

Moscow has around 2 million Muslims. London has over 1 million. Both sides are at risk of losing their own capital cities to real invasions. The EU and Putin’s Eurasian dreams are both built on the Roman notion that the barbarians can be integrated and will make good foot soldiers and laborers.

France’s President Hollande has called for the creation of an “Islam of France”. Putin suggests that the Russian Orthodox Church has more in common with Islam than Catholicism.  Obama preaches that, “Islam has always been part of America”. But such efforts at integration will always fail.

The popular European excuse is that Islamic terrorism represents a failure to integrate the terrorist. Islamic terrorism is indeed caused by a failure to integrate. The mistake is assuming that integration on a civilizational scale is possible. It’s not. You can integrate a few people. You can’t integrate a civilization.

There is a long history of Europeans using Islamic raiders and invaders as weapons against each other. Most of us know that our first international conflict was the First Barbary War against Muslim slavers and pirates. But it was the British who found it useful to use the Barbary pirates to clear rivals from the water.  Louis XIV of France played a similar role in the Battle of Vienna. For that matter the Muslim conquest of the Middle East heavily depended on their exploitation of Christian rivalries.

Our modern malaise is simply a failure to learn anything useful from history.

The Cold War has become reborn as a strange farce in which two failing power blocs are fighting an old war that no longer has any purpose or meaning. Russia has reinvented its brand, but not its ambitions. Its clumsy alliance with Iran will fall apart once the Shiite terror state has gotten what it wanted and boots the Russians out of its backyard. America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia may one day be described by historians as the cause of our downfall.

The West and Russia are reliant on Muslim demographics to power faltering empires whose ideological ends stand in sharp contrast to their Islamic means. Putin claims to want to protect Christendom with an army that is increasingly Muslim. The EU asserts that it is defending secular democracy, but it’s betting its future on a citizenry whose Islamic religion mandates theocratic Sharia jurisprudence.

A Muslim citizenry will not maintain secular democracy. A Muslim army will not protect Christians. The West used to be dependent on Muslim oil. It has since become addicted to the much more dangerous supply of Muslim demographics. Societies with low birth rates are relying on Muslims to make up the gap in manpower and maintain nations that are not expanding or even replacing their own numbers.

Oil dependency was dangerous. Demographic dependency is lethal.

Russia and the West can make jets that casually break the sound barrier. What they aren’t doing is making people. European welfare states and Russian expansionism are built on Muslim populations.

As imperial strategies go, that’s a suicide pact.

But instead of addressing this core civilizational threat, the West and Russia are squandering blood and treasure to decide whether Sunnis or Shiites should dominate Syria. Billions of dollars are being spent to lend an air force, weapons and some measure of ground troops to Iran and the Saudis in their spat.

Russian S-300 missiles now protect Iran’s Fordow nuclear fuel plant. Fordow is located near the Shiite holy city of Qom because Iran’s nuclear plans are inextricably tied to its theology. Last year, Putin offered Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Khamenei a copy of the Koran that had been gifted by Lenin to Uzbekistan. Putin might have done better to keep it and read it before looking at a map of Greater Iran.

The United States has been dragged into several wars by Saudi Arabia. We have spent trillions of dollars defending the Saudis, Kuwaitis, Qataris and their assorted brethren from their enemies while fighting Sunni terror spread by them. The tentacles of Sunni terror now regularly reach deep inside our homeland while we continue defending the homelands of the financiers of Sunni Islamic terror.

Syria is an imperialist war. But it’s not our imperialism. It’s barely even Russia’s imperialism.

Russia and the West are there as pawns of their Islamic allies. Putin and NATO aren’t protecting their influence because the influence goes entirely the other way. The West does not dictate anything to the Saudis nor does Russia get to tell Iran what to do. Instead the old empires are called in when the wannabe caliphates want a power with a big military machine to do their dirty work for them.

Russia and the West are obsessed with a factional struggle in the face of a civilizational struggle. Their failure to recognize the civilizational threat of the caliphate is the greatest threat to their future.

Familiar wars and familiar enemies are easier to fight. It is easier to recreate the Cold War as farce than to recognize that a far older war has come around again. Russia and the West are replaying the tragic history of the Byzantine–Sassanid wars whose ultimate victors were the Mohammedan invaders.

The only thing that the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire accomplished was to weaken them enough to allow Islam to conquer both of the proud empires. Both sides courted the Arab tribes and made use of them in their conflict with each other. They did not consider the possibility that the prolonged conflict would not end with either a Persian or Byzantine victory, but that the barbarians they had been using as pawns would end up claiming everything. It’s a familiar story replaying today.

Civilizations that fail to learn from history become the object lessons of history. It would be a tragedy if Europe went the way of the Byzantine Empire and a shame if Russia went the way of Persia.

It might be time to rethink what there is to be gained in Syria and lost in the besieged cities of the West.

Also see:

Terror plots in Germany, France were ‘remote-controlled’ by Islamic State operatives

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, Sept. 24, 2016:

On July 18, an Afghan refugee named Riaz Khan (also known as “Muhammad Riyad”) assaulted passengers on a train in Würzburg, Germany with an ax and a knife. Nearly one week later, on July 24, a Syrian refugee identified as Mohammad Daleel blew himself up outside of a music festival in the German city of Ansbach. Approximately 20 people were wounded in the incidents.

Amaq News Agency, a propaganda arm of the Islamic State, quickly issued claims of responsibility for the operations. Amaq also released videos from Khan and Daleel in which they swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

As The Long War Journal reported at the time, the fact that Amaq was able to release the videos so soon after the attacks suggested that both were in touch with the Islamic State’s media operatives, or at least knew someone in the Islamic State’s network who could send the clips to Amaq. Therefore, they each had at least one tie to the Islamic State, even if it was only digital. [See LWJ reports: Teenager who terrorized German train appears in Islamic State video and Attacks in France and Germany claimed by Islamic State propaganda arm.]

German authorities discovered that there was much more to the story. Islamic State operatives provided specific direction to both Khan and Daleel via messaging applications. The jihadists did the same for a teenage girl who stabbed a police officer at the train station in Hannover, Germany in February. After the bombing in Ansbach, Bavaria’s Interior Minister, Joachim Herrmann, said that Daleel had been involved in an “intensive chat” that ended “immediately before the attack.”

“There was apparently an immediate contact with someone who had a significant influence on this attack,” Herrmann said, according to the Associated Press.

The evidence that has been uncovered in Germany and elsewhere in Europe shows that the Islamic State’s external operations arm has devised a new method for orchestrating terror. The group’s assistance goes far beyond mere inspiration in at least some cases.

In both Würzburg and Ansbach, the Islamic State’s external operations network guided the terrorists through their day of terror. The electronic fingerprints uncovered in these cases recently prompted Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, to say that the jihadists were guided by “remote control.” French prosecutor Francois Molins has used the same phrase, “remote-controlled,” to describe a group of women who were plotting terrorism in Paris.

Transcripts published by German press

On Sept. 14, Süddeutsche Zeitung, a newspaper based in Munich, published transcripts of the conversations Khan and Daleel had with their Islamic State handlers. The Long War Journal has obtained a translation of Süddeutsche Zeitung’s report. (Another translation has been published at Worldcrunch, a website that aggregates and translates news stories from around the globe.)

The Islamic State operatives tasked with directing Khan and Daleel are not identified and it is not clear if the same man chatted with both of them.

The details revealed in the transcripts are chilling. Khan and Daleel may have acted alone, in the sense that no other terrorist was physically with them when they struck. But they were certainly not “lone wolves” in any meaningful sense.

During a digital chat with Khan, the Islamic State’s man asked: “What kind of weapons do you intend to use to kill people?”

“My knife and ax are ready for use,” Khan replied.

“Brother, would it not be better to do it with a car?” the Islamic State plotter asked, before suggesting that Khan learn how to operate an automobile. “The damage would be much greater,” he told Khan.

But Khan was impatient, saying he “cannot drive” and “learning takes time.”

“I want to enter paradise tonight,” Khan explained.

16-07-19-muhammad-riyad-768x432As Khan inched closer to assaulting the train’s passengers, he had an “important thing” to tell the jihadist on the other end of the conversation. “Brother, I am sending you my video,” Khan typed. “I will carry out an attack with an ax in Germany today.” (A screen shot from the video, which was released by Amaq, can be seen on the right.) [above]

The handler was pleased, but insisted that Khan should use his ax, not a knife. “If you’re going to commit the attack, Allah willing, the Islamic State will claim responsibility for it.”

Khan said he was sending his video. The man on the other end told Khan to make sure he had created a backup.

“Pray that I become a martyr,” Khan wrote. “I am now waiting for the train.” Not long after, according to the transcript published by Süddeutsche Zeitung, Khan added: “I am starting now.”

“Now you will attain paradise,” Khan’s guide responded.

Süddeutsche Zeitung has also published a partial transcript of Mohammad Daleel’s chats with his Islamic State instructor as he scoped out the prospective target, as well as their discussions on the day of the bombing. The Islamic State’s Naba magazine subsequently identified Daleel as a veteran of the jihad in Syria, meaning he likely developed a rolodex of contacts.

“This area will be full of people,” Daleel wrote as he sent a photo of the venue where the music festival was to be held. “Kill them all in a wide open space,” the Islamic State’s man replied, “where they will lie on the ground.”

screen-shot-2016-07-26-at-12-57-52-pm-768x430The unnamed operative told Daleel (seen on the right) [above] to look for an appropriate place to put his bomb and then try to “disappear into the crowd.” The jihadist egged Daleel on, saying the asylum-seeker should “break through police cordons,” run away and “do it.”

“Pray for me,” Daleel wrote at one point. “You do not know what is happening with me right now,” Daleel typed, in an apparent moment of doubt.

“Forget the festival and go over to the restaurant,” the handler responded. “Hey man, what is going on with you? Even if just two people were killed, I would do it. Trust in Allah and walk straight up to the restaurant.”

It appears that Daleel may not have intended to detonate his explosives at that time. Der Spiegel previously reported that he intended to remotely detonate his backpack bomb, but it went off accidentally. Daleel may have also been planning additional attacks.

The German press has reported on a third instance of “remote-controlled” terror that took place on Feb. 26 at the train station in Hannover. A German-Moroccan girl in her teens, identified as “Safia S.,” assaulted a police officer with a knife. Authorities found that Safia had been in contact via a messaging app with an instructor known only as “Leyla,” who coached Safia as she planned the stabbing.

Part of the Islamic State’s external operations strategy

It is not a coincidence that both Khan and Daleel were “remote-controlled.” This is a deliberate part of the Islamic State external operation arm’s strategy, which aims to both direct and inspire smaller-scale attacks in Western nations. These operations are in addition to larger plots, such as the assault on Paris in November 2015.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Bridget Moreng provided a comprehensive look at the role played by Rachid Kassim, who is one of the Islamic State’s “most dangerous virtual planners.” Kassim has been tied to a web of terror plots. For instance, as Moreng explains, investigators have found ties between Kassim and the two young jihadists who murdered a priest in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy in July.

screen-shot-2016-07-27-at-2-16-06-pmAs The Long War Journal reported at the time, Amaq News released a video from the two terrorists in which they swore allegiance to Baghdadi. A screen shot can be seen on the right. [above] The video was produced in the same format and style as Amaq’s releases after the attacks in Würzburg and Ansbach. [See LWJ report, Terrorists in Normandy swore allegiance to Baghdadi before attacking church.]

As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr explained in a piece at War on the Rocks, the Islamic State’s virtual planning network has digital tentacles around the globe.

This network extends into the US. Earlier this year, Munir Abdulkader pleaded guilty to terrorism charges after he admitted to communicating with Junaid Hussain, an Islamic State operative based in Syria who played a key role in the group’s digital strategy. According to the Department of Justice, Hussain “directed and encouraged Abdulkader,” who lived in Ohio, “to plan and execute a violent attack within the United States.” It is likely that Hussain was also in contact with the two gunmen who opened fire at an event dedicated to drawing images of the Prophet Mohammed in Garland, Texas on May 3, 2015. Hussain was killed in an American airstrike in Raqqa on Aug. 24, 2015.

[For more on Hussain, see LWJ reports: Ohio man conspired with Islamic State recruiter, Justice Department says and Prime Minister says 2 British nationals killed in airstrikes were plotting attacks.]

There is a debate in counterterrorism circles over how much credibility should be given to the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, including the Amaq News Agency. Each claim should be subjected to scrutiny. Some statements will be false and others exaggerated. But as the attacks in Würzburg, Ansbach and Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray show, Amaq’s claims cannot be dismissed out of hand. There is often at least some truth to Amaq’s claims. And, on multiple occasions, the terrorists acting in the Islamic State’s name have been anything but “lone wolves.” Instead, a virtual network guides them along away.

Notes:

*There have been conflicting reports concerning Riaz Khan’s country of origin. But most accounts agree that he was originally from Afghanistan.

**Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Nathaniel Barr, and Bridget Moreng are all colleagues of the author.

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

Also see:

Syria’s military says the U.S.-led coalition carried out an airstrike on an eastern base that is surrounded by Islamic State militants

USAF/Getty

USAF/Getty

 BREITBART JERUSALEM, Sept. 17, 2016:

A U.S. military official in Baghdad said he was looking into the report, which could not be independently corroborated. If true, the strike would mark the first known time the United States had targeted Syrian government forces since the start of the five-year-old conflict. It was unclear why coalition air forces would be mounting attacks during a cease-fire that the U.S has worked to put in place. However, the cease-fire does not apply to attacks on the Islamic State group.

A Russian Defense Ministry official said Syria has informed them that 62 of its soldiers were killed in the airstrike. Russia has been waging a year-old air campaign on behalf of Assad’s forces and closely coordinates with them.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the airstrike near Deir el-Zour airport was conducted by two F-16s and two A-10s. He did not identify the planes’ country affiliation, but said they were part of the international coalition.

Konashenkov said Syrian authorities reported another 100 wounded. The planes came from the direction of the border with Iraq, he added.

He said IS militants surrounding the air base launched an attack on the Syrian army positions after the air strike. He added that if the coalition attack was launched by mistake, the reason for it was a “stubborn reluctance by the American side to coordinate its action against terrorist groups in Syria with Russia.”

IS has repeatedly attacked the government-held air base, which is an isolated enclave deep in extremist-held territory. The Syrian military said the airstrikes enabled an IS advance on a hill overlooking the air base.

It called the strike a “serious and blatant attack on Syria and its military,” and “firm proof of the U.S. support of Daesh and other terrorist groups,” using the Arabic acronym for IS. President Bashar Assad’s government views all those fighting against it as “terrorists,” and has long accused the U.S. and other rebel supporters of backing extremists.

The U.S.-led coalition has carried out thousands of airstrikes against IS in Syria and Iraq over the past two years, allowing allied forces on the ground to liberate several towns and cities from the extremist group. Russia also carries out attacks against IS targets, in Deir el-Zour and other parts of Syria.

The cease-fire took effect on Monday, and despite reports of violations, it has largely held. However, aid convoys have been unable to enter rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo — a key component of the deal.

Earlier on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned the U.S. commitment to the fragile cease-fire, suggesting that Washington wasn’t prepared to break with “terrorist elements” battling Assad’s forces.

Russia has accused Washington of failing to rein in the rebels, and on Saturday Putin asked why the United States has insisted on not releasing a written copy of the agreement. Officials have provided details of the agreement in press conferences, but have not released an official document, fueling suspicions on both sides.

“This comes from the problems the U.S. is facing on the Syrian track — they still cannot separate the so-called healthy part of the opposition from the half-criminal and terrorist elements,” Putin said during a trip to Kyrgyzstan.

“In my opinion, this comes from the desire to keep the combat potential in fighting the legitimate government of Bashar Assad. But this is a very dangerous route.”

He appeared to be referring to the Fatah al-Sham Front, an al-Qaida-linked group previously known as the Nusra Front, which is deeply embedded in rebel-held areas and fights alongside more moderate groups.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov echoed Putin’s remarks during a phone call with Secretary of State John Kerry. Lavrov noted the “refusal by an array of illegal armed groups to join the cease-fire,” and Washington’s obligation to “separate units of the moderate opposition from terrorist groupings,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

Under the cease-fire agreement, the U.S. and Russia would work together to target the Fatah al-Sham Front, as well as the Islamic State group, while Assad’s forces refrain from striking opposition-held areas.

But Washington has warned Russia that unless aid is delivered to Aleppo, it will not move ahead with the formation of the joint coordination center.

The U.N. has accused Assad’s government of obstructing aid access to the contested city. The Russian military says insurgents have held up the delivery by firing on government positions along the main route leading into besieged, rebel-held districts, in violation of the cease-fire.

The Syrian government said it has done all that is necessary to facilitate the entry of aid convoys to Aleppo, but that armed groups have failed to withdraw from the supply routes and are committing “dangerous, provocative acts.”

Russia’s military said Syrian rebels violated the cease-fire dozens of times over the past day, including with strikes on military and civilian targets in Aleppo.

The Interfax news agency quoted Col. Sergei Kopytsin as saying Saturday that mortar fire and homemade rockets struck Aleppo 26 times. Russian news agencies cited another official, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Savchenko, as saying there had been 55 violations throughout the country. Syria’s state news agency SANA said insurgents have violated the cease-fire 12 times in the last 12 hours. No casualties were reported.

Syrian activists said government forces have meanwhile killed five civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a woman and child were killed Saturday in Talbiseh, in the central Homs province. It says two men were killed outside Damascus and a child was killed in Aleppo province.

Syria’s conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced half the country’s population since March 2011.

***

Syria, Russia: Coalition airstrike kills regime forces

SHOCK VIDEO: U.S.-Backed, ‘Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Threatens To Kill U.S. Special Forces

moderate-syrian-rebels-threaten-to-kill-us-special-forces-sized-770x415xc

PJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, SEPTEMBER 16, 2016:

Disturbing video emerged today of U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels threatening to kill arriving U.S. special operations forces in the town of Al-Rai near Aleppo. The city was just seized weeks ago from the Islamic State after a push by Turkish troops aided by U.S. air power.

Here is some video from the incident from BBC producer Riam Dalati:

Others shout in Turkish, “Death to America! We will behead you!”

Here is some of the video with translated subtitles:

The Telegraph reports:

The fighters scream anti-American chants as a column of pick-up trucks carrying US commandos drives away from them.“Christians and Americans have no place among us,” shouts one man in the video. “They want to wage a crusader war to occupy Syria.”

Another man calls out: “The collaborators of America are dogs and pigs. They wage a crusader war against Syria and Islam. ”

The US troops are not wearing traditional uniform but they carry American weapons and are wearing the distinctive round helmets favoured by US special forces.

Other video shows the U.S. troops leaving the city as the “moderate” rebels shout threats to “slaughter” them:

The Pentagon just announced that the U.S. troops were entering the area to assist our Turkish NATO allies:

But just yesterday, the U.S. troops came under fire reportedly by our Turkish NATO allies in Tal Abyad:

According to Barbara Starr at CNN, the problem grew so bad that that U.S. fighters had to put up American flags to show they were friendlies:

One problem in Al-Rai, where the U.S. troops were threatened, is the presence of “al-Qaeda-lite” Ahrar al-Sham fighters — the darlings of the Washington, D.C. think tanks:

Those who have been critical of the U.S. misadventure in Syria took time to note the obvious:

But Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and one of the chief think tank cheerleaders of the Syrian “rebels,” assures us that all is well after the incident in Al-Rai:

Perhaps some clarification from Lister on what “discharged” actually means is in order.

The incidents in Al-Rai and Tal Abyad demonstrate the ongoing collapse of the Obama administration’s Syria policy (though GOP congressional leaders have embraced the administration’s slow-motion disaster).

For more than two years I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media on the ongoing follies of the so-called “moderates” in Syria:

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

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

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

If only there had been some warning that things were going badly in Syria?

Why Aleppo Matters: Syrian Army Just Broke Islamist Stronghold

syria-guide-mapDaily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept 8, 2016:

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is tightening the noose around the jihadi stronghold city of Aleppo, possibly his greatest victory in the Syrian civil war.

Assad’s move in Aleppo could reverse all the gains a jihadi-led coalition made last month when it broke the regime’s siege. Aleppo has become a focal point of the broader Syrian opposition and involves almost every major player except the U.S. “Pro-regime forces reinstated the siege of Eastern Aleppo City” Sept. 4, the Institute for the Study of War noted Wednesday, explaining that, “new advances demonstrated the critical role played by Russia.”

Russia is pounding opposition-held areas of Aleppo in daily airstrikes. Iran just dispatched its favorite general to help coordinate the ground offensive, and earlier this month Hezbollah sent thousands of fresh troops to fight alongside the Assad regime. The Syrian regime even flouted the international community Wednesday when it likely dropped chlorine gas on civilians.

The only realistic chance of an end to hostilities in Aleppo is a potential deal between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reports indicate that Obama was considering signing a deal with Putin for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo, in exchange for military cooperation between the two countries. After months of haranguing over the details, the deal is now unlikely to come to fruition amid continued tensions between the two countries.

Syrian rebel opposition held positions inside Aleppo for nearly five years, but are unlikely to overcome Assad, Iran, and overwhelming Russian firepower. A rebel coalition led by al-Qaida-linked elements broke a government siege of Aleppo in early August, but the effort likely exhausted the military supplies of the groups. The reinstitution of a siege will deprive the group of supplies, and allow the regime and its allies to revert back to the original strategy of attrition warfare.

Despite a devastating five years of civil war, 300,000 civilians remain inside Aleppo. One humanitarian activist told Al Jazeera there are now only two bakeries in Aleppo to serve the remaining 300,000 customers.

Assad, Iran, and Russia have undertaken a concerted campaign to make the rebel position as untenable as possible, by bombing hospitals and cutting off any access to humanitarian assistance. The regime and its allies have tried to bomb as many hospitals as possible within Aleppo to cut off Rebel access to healthcare.

Cutting access to healthcare and food also makes life as miserable as possible for civilians living under rebel occupation.

The Assad regime’s strategy is to maintain control over as much of the civilian populace as possible to ensure perception of legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and bargain with the rebel opposition for peace from a position of strength.

“It is a shame that the world in the 21st century is watching an 8,000-year-old city destroyed on the heads of its inhabitants and bombed with 200 air raids and dozens of barrel bombs daily without doing anything,” President of the Opposition Council Anas Alabdah told The Daily Beast.

***

Iran’s Secret War in Syria

iran-nuclear-deal.sized-770x415xtPJ MEDIA, BY P. DAVID HORNIK, SEPTEMBER 3, 2016

Since the signing of the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015—now, it turns out, with major secret exemptions for Iran—Iran’s brazenness has only grown. The Obama administration, in its ongoing efforts to coddle and appease, has gone so far as to offer to buy Iran’s heavy water and sell Iran Boeings.

But the reason appeasement doesn’t work is that Iran harbors an intense enmity toward the West and particularly its (still) reigning superpower, America, which it wants to destroy. Anyone still not convinced of that should watch this propaganda video of young Iranians sinking American aircraft carriers.

Lately, with the lame-duck President Obama headed for the finish line as he tightly clutches his “legacy”—the nuclear deal—Iran has further stepped up the brazenness. It has harassed U.S. ships in international waters of the Persian Gulf, forcing one of them to fire warning shots. It has deployed the Russian-made S-300 missile-defense system—one of the most advanced in the world—at its Fordo uranium-enrichment site. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an address to Defense Ministry staff in Tehran, has said Iran must continue its offensive military buildup and “avoid negotiating with the U.S., [as] experience has proven that instead of understanding, the Americans are seeking to impose their will in negotiations.”

The Obama administration, for which the nuclear deal plays a role like the speed of light in Einsteinian relativity—an absolute, immutable principle—reacts to all this solely by expressing “concern.”

A major exposé in the Daily Mail now reveals that, for years, Iran’s military involvement in Syria has been much more extensive and dangerous than many believed.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, has passed information to MailOnline that was apparently leaked by senior figures in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Among other things, the activists say Iran now commands about 60,000 Shiite troops in Syria—vastly more than the 16,000 that Western analysts had estimated.

The NCRI, which in 2002 exposed Iran’s then-secret nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak, also says Iran operates a major headquarters near Damascus airport, nicknamed the Glasshouse. About a thousand people work there including Iran’s feared intelligence agencies, and there is also a basement for holding millions of dollars in cash.

The NCRI claims that the total amount Iran has spent on the Syrian war comes to an astounding $100 billion, much of it during years when Tehran was complaining loudly about the ravages of economic sanctions. Western analysts had gauged the sum at only $15 billion.

Most ominously, the activists say Iran is

putting down military roots in 18 locations from northern to southern Syria…, showing how it intends to control large swathes of the country even if Assad is defeated.

Iranian military planners…are said to have divided Syria into “five fronts,” comprising the Northern Front, Eastern Front, Southern Front, Central Command Front and Coastal Front, the NCRI claims.

Revolutionary Guard bases have been established in each of the sectors, which the NCRI says can accommodate up to 6,000 troops, as well as heavy weapons, air power and anti-aircraft missiles.

A situation where, even if the Assad regime falls, Iran would retain effective military control of the country, bristling with offensive and defensive capabilities, would be—as a security source told the Daily Mail—“exactly what many of the region are afraid of. It’s their biggest nightmare.”

All this does not mean Iran is having an easy time in Syria. Of the 60,000-strong Shiite force it is apparently deploying there, only about one-fourth seem to be Iranians. The rest are Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Lebanon (in addition to about 10,000 Hizballah troops with a separate command structure).

One reason there are relatively few Iranians is “growing levels of public unease in Iran at the level of casualties sustained.” As historian Michael Burleigh comments, “[T]he Iranian public has had a bellyful of costly wars, with hundreds of thousands of dead from the 1980-88 war against Iraq.”

Throughout his tenure, however, President Obama has passed up opportunities—starting, most egregiously, with the 2009 Green Revolution that he adamantly refused to support—to leverage domestic discontent to put pressure on Tehran. Even his grudging imposition of sanctions led eventually to the nuclear deal—according to which Iran pockets concessions and cash, at most postpones some aspects of its nuclear development, and continues building a military dominion that could become Obama’s true “legacy,” namely, a 21st-century nightmare fostering conflict on a much more massive scale than what we already see.

Also see:

British Journo: Syrian Kidnapper Who Shot Me Twice Is Now a CIA-Vetted ‘Moderate’

CIA-kidnapper-turned-CIA-moderate.sized-770x415xtPJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, SEPTEMBER 3, 2016:

British reporter Anthony Loyd recounts in The Times (UK) today his reaction when he saw his former Syrian “rebel” kidnapper Hakim Abu Jamal, aka Abdel Hakim al-Yaseen and Hakim Anza, celebrating a victory in northern Syria two weeks ago as part of a supposedly CIA-vetted “moderate” rebel group.

Loyd reports (The Times article is behind a paywall; link is to same article in The Australian):

It was with some surprise watching a video of a victorious band of western-backed rebels that I noticed the face of America’s newest ally in the war against Isis in Syria.

It was the face of a man I last saw in May 2014 when he leant forward to shoot me twice in the left ankle at almost point-blank range while my hands were tied. It was punishment for having attempted to escape his gang of kidnappers in northern Syria who had hoped to sell me on.He shot me in the middle of a crowd of onlookers, after a savage preliminary beating, denouncing me as “a CIA spy”. Now, it seems, he works with them.

The grainy footage of the video – posted last month on Facebook – showed Hakim Abu Jamal waving his Kalashnikov in the air to proclaim a small victory, courtesy of US air power, on a dusty street in the border town of al-Rai.

I remember him well from across the years. Now, Hakim, forage cap on his head, was standing in the middle of a group of ten other Syrian rebel fighters all belonging to a CIA-vetted group.

The group was backed by Turkish artillery and US airstrikes to oust Isis fighters from a key stretch of road before the capture of the town of Jarabulus last month. Hakim Abu Jamal, who also goes by the names Abdel Hakim al-Yaseen and Hakim Anza, was among the hundreds of other Syrian rebels who crossed from Turkey into Syria two weeks ago to purge ISIS.

And it seems that U.S. authorities aren’t eager to respond to questions about their newly minted “moderate” rebels:

Last month, however, video surfaced of Hakim Anza proving that he was not only free, but was also serving in a CIA-vetted Syrian rebel group, First Regiment (al-Fawj al-Awwal), which was receiving US weaponry, including Tow missiles, as well as air strikes in support of their operations. In between times he appears to be based in southern Turkey, where he takes orders from the Hawar Kilis Operations room.Four US hostages were murdered in Syria in 2014. Two British hostages were also beheaded there. The memories of Britain and America must be short, for on Friday sources in the Free Syrian Army and US confirmed Hakim Anza’s membership of the CIA-backed group, in which he is sub-commander.

Centcom, the US Central Command, did not respond to Times requests over three days this week to explain how such a well-known hostage taker with family connections to extremists could have passed US vetting procedures.

However, a Pentagon official, who preferred not to be named, described repeated US air support for a recent mission conducted by vetted Syrian rebel groups, where Hakim Anza was filmed with his men on August 17. He has apparently transformed effortlessly from criminal pariah to a worthy foot soldier allied to Operation Inherent Resolve, the 60-nation coalition, motto “One Mission, Many Nations”, in the Middle East to fight ISIS.

Remarkably, the New York Times reported four years ago from Hakim’s camp, where he was observed engaging in war crimes, namely, sending a Syrian regime prisoner to a Syrian Army checkpoint under the ruse of a prisoner exchange, but wiring the vehicle to remotely explode once it arrived at the checkpoint. In a video accompanying the NYT article, Hakim appears dejected when informed the bomb did not detonate.

This is hardly the first time that U.S.-backed “rebels” have been responsible for kidnapping Western journalists.

As I reported here at PJ Media more than a year ago, several U.S. reporters taken captive by U.S.-backed “moderate” rebel groups have ended up in the hands of Al-Qaeda, and even ISIS.

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

In October 2014, American journalist Theo Padnos — who was captured by the U.S.-backed FSA and then given over to — 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.

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.

For more than two years I’ve reported extensively on the extensive vetting failures related to the U.S. support of the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels:

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

And yet the Obama administration continues on a reckless course of backing these rebels well knowing that any actual moderates have become few and far between in Syria, and that some of these CIA-“vetted” groups have been directly involved in the abduction and killing of U.S. citizens.

And a larger question looms: as the mountain of evidence continues to grow about the extremism of U.S.-backed rebel groups, at what point does the U.S. become complicit in their crimes?

Islamic State: From nation-state to terror group

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group's capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group’s capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

 , August 31, 2016:

Battlefield successes against the Islamic State could force the group to shift away from nation-state status to a less visible terror threat, the commander of the U.S. Central Command said this week.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group’s capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters.

“As you look across the full battle space, you see that [Islamic State] is under more pressure now than at any other time in the campaign,” Gen. Votel said Tuesday. “We are causing the enemy to have to look in multiple directions and they are struggling to respond under this pressure.”

The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, remains a threat and is adapting to the attacks on its strongholds and the loss of territory. Also, external operations outside Iraq and Syria also are a concern, the general added.

In Iraq, Iraqi government forces are on track to retake the key northern city of Mosul by the end of the year or sooner, while the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria also may soon fall, Gen. Votel said.

“Certainly in both Iraq and Syria, in a lot of locations, we are continuing to target their leadership or continuing to target their revenue-generation sources in both Mosul and northern Iraq and certainly in Syria, so I think we continue to keep them on the horns of a dilemma here,” he said.

Two key setbacks for the Islamic State took place in northern Syria at the towns of Manbij and Jarabulus, forcing Islamic State forces to retreat quickly from those areas. The retreats took place despite calls by Islamic State leaders for the fighters to “fight to the death,” Gen. Votel said, adding that the group is being forced to choose to fortify other locations.

Once Mosul and Raqqa are taken, Gen. Votel said, the Islamic State could evolve away from being a nation-state and revert to being a more of covert terrorist organization without a geographic base.

“And so we should expect that as we come out of the big operations like Mosul and Raqqa and others here, that they will continue to adapt and we will continue to deal with the next evolution of ISIL, whether they become more of a terrorist organization and return to more of their terrorist-like roots,” he said, adding that U.S. and allied forces are anticipating a long fight against whatever emerges after the shift.

“I know I’m giving the impression that when we finish with Mosul or Raqqa that we’re done. We’re not. We will continue to deal with them,” he said.

***

NATO News: Aug. 30, 2016. CentralCom Commander, Gen. Votel Briefs Reporters at the Pentagon.

Also see:

How Donald Trump could fix Middle East

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks onstage during a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, U.S., August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks onstage during a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, U.S., August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Asia Times, by  David P. Goldman, Aug. 22, 2016:

The first step to finding a solution is to know that there’s a problem. Donald Trump understands that the Washington foreign-policy establishment caused the whole Middle Eastern mess. I will review the problem and speculate about what a Trump administration might do about it.

For the thousand years before 2007, when the Bush administration hand-picked Nouri al-Maliki to head Iraq’s first Shia-dominated government, Sunni Muslims had ruled Iraq. Maliki was vetted both by the CIA and by the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

With Iraq in the hands of an Iranian ally, the Sunnis–disarmed and marginalized by the dismissal of the Iraqi army–were caught between pro-Iranian regimes in both Iraq and Syria. Maliki, as Ken Silverstein reports in the New Republic, ran one of history’s most corrupt regimes, demanding among other things a 45% cut in foreign investment in Iraq. The Sunnis had no state to protect them, and it was a matter of simple logic that a Sunni leader eventually would propose a new state including the Sunni regions of Syria as well as Iraq. Sadly, the mantle of Sunni statehood fell on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who projected not only an Islamic State but a new Caliphate as well. America had a dozen opportunities to preempt this but failed to do so.

From a fascinating defector’s account in the Foreign Policy website, we learn that the region’s jihadists debated the merits of remaining non-state actors on the al-Qaeda model versus attempting to form a state prior to the launch of ISIS. The defector reports a 2013 meeting in which al-Baghdadi demanded the allegiance of al-Qaeda (that is, al-Nusra Front) fighters in Syria:

Baghdadi also spoke about the creation of an Islamic state in Syria. It was important, he said, because Muslims needed to have a dawla, or state. Baghdadi wanted Muslims to have their own territory, from where they could work and eventually conquer the world….The participants differed greatly about the idea of creating a state in Syria. Throughout its existence, al-Qaeda had worked in the shadows as a non-state actor. It did not openly control any territory, instead committed acts of violence from undisclosed locations. Remaining a clandestine organization had a huge advantage: It was very difficult for the enemy to find, attack, or destroy them. But by creating a state, the jihadi leaders argued during the meeting, it would be extremely easy for the enemy to find and attack them….

Despite the hesitation of many, Baghdadi persisted. Creating and running a state was of paramount importance to him. Up to this point, jihadis ran around without controlling their own territory. Baghdadi argued for borders, a citizenry, institutions, and a functioning bureaucracy. Abu Ahmad summed up Baghdadi’s pitch: “If such an Islamic state could survive its initial phase, it was there to stay forever.”

Baghdadi prevailed, however, not only because he persuaded the al-Qaeda ragtag of his project, but because he won over a large number of officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army. America had the opportunity to “de-Ba’athify” the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army after the 2003 invasion, the way it de-Nazified the German Army after World War II. Instead, it hung them out to dry. Gen. Petraeus’ “surge” policy of 2007-2008 bought the Sunni’s temporary forbearance with hundreds of millions of dollars in handouts, but set the stage for a future Sunni insurgency, as I warned in 2010.

Trump is right to accuse the Bush administration of creating the mess, and also right to blame Obama for withdrawing American forces in 2011. Once the mess was made, the worst possible response was to do nothing about it (except, of course, to covertly arm “moderate Syrian rebels” with weapons from Libyan stockpiles, most of which found their way to al-Qaeda or ISIS).

Now the region is a self-perpetuating war of each against all. Iraq’s Shia militias, which replaced the feckless Iraqi army in fighting ISIS, are in reorganization under Iranian command on the model of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Kurds are fighting both ISIS and the Syrian government. ISIS is attacking both the Kurds, who field the most effective force opposing them in Syria, as well as the Turks, who are trying to limit the power of the Kurds. Saudi Arabia and Qatar continue to support the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria, which means in effect funding either ISIS or the al-Nusra Front.

Russia, meanwhile, is flying bombing missions in Syria from Iranian air bases. Apart from its inclination to bedevil the floundering United States, Russia has a dog in the fight: as a number of foreign officials who have spoken with the Russian president have told me, Putin has told anyone who asks that he backs the Iranian Shi’ites because all of Russia’s Muslims are Sunni. Russia fears that a jihadist regime in Iraq or Syria would metastasize into a strategic threat to Russia. That is just what al-Baghdadi had in mind, as the Foreign Policy defector story made clear:

Baghdadi had another persuasive argument: A state would offer a home to Muslims from all over the world. Because al-Qaeda had always lurked in the shadows, it was difficult for ordinary Muslims to sign up. But an Islamic state, Baghdadi argued, could attract thousands, even millions, of like-minded jihadis. It would be a magnet.

What Trump might do

What’s needed is a deal, and a deal-maker. I have no information about Trump’s thinking other than news reports, but here is a rough sketch of what he might do:

Read the rest

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All-out Turkish-Kurd war. Barazani goes to Tehran

5DEBKAfile, Aug. 29, 2016:

An all-out Turkish-Kurdish war has boiled over in northern Syria since the Turkish army crossed the border last Wednesday, Aug. 24 for the avowed aim of fighting the Islamic State and pushing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia back. Instead of falling back, the Kurds went on the offensive and are taking a hammering. This raging confrontation has stalled the US-led coalition offensive against ISIS and put on indefinite hold any US plans for campaigns to drive the jihadists out of their Syrian and Iraqi capitals of Raqqa and Mosul.
The Kurdish militia ground troops, who were backed by the US and assigned the star role in these campaigns, are now fully engaged in fighting Turkey. And, in another radical turnaround, Iraqi Kurdish leaders (of the Kurdish Regional Republic) have responded by welcoming Iran to their capital, in retaliation for the US decision to join forces with Turkey at the expense of Kurdish aspirations.
The KRG’s Peshmerga are moreover pitching in to fight with their Syrian brothers. Together, they plan to expel American presence and influence from both northern Syria and northern Iraq in response to what they perceive as a US sellout of the Kurds.

DEBKAfile’s military analysts trace the evolving steps of this escalating complication of the Syrian war and its wider impact:

  • Since cleansing Jarablus of ISIS, Turkey has thrown large, additional armored and air force into the battle against the 35.000-strong YPG Kurdish fighters. This is no longer just a sizeable military raid, as Ankara has claimed, but a full-fledged war operation. Turkish forces are continuing to advancing in three directions and by Sunday, Aug. 28 had struck 15-17km deep inside northern Syria across a 100km wide strip.
    Their targets are clearly defined: the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria and the Kurdish enclave of Qamishli and Hassaka in the east, in order to block the merger of Kurdish enclaves into a contiguous Syrian Kurdish state.
    Another goal was Al-Bab north of and within range of Aleppo for a role in a major theater of the Syrian conflict. To reach Al-Bab, the Turkish force would have to fight its way through Kurdish-controlled territory.
  • The Turks are also using a proxy to fight the Syrian Kurds. Thousands of Syrian Democratic Army (SDF) rebels, whom they trained and supplied to fight Syria’s Bashar Assad army and the Islamic State, have been diverted to targeting the Kurds under the command of Turkish officers, to which Turkish elite forces are attached.
  • A Turkish Engineering Corps combat unit is equipped for crossing the Euphrates River and heading east to push the Kurds further back. Contrary to reports, the Turkish have not yet crossed the river itself or pushed the Kurds back – only forded a small stream just east of Jarablus. The main Kurdish force is deployed to the south not the east of the former ISIS stronghold.
  • Neither have Turkish-backed Syrian forces captured Manbij, the town 35km south of Jarablus which the Kurds with US support captured from ISIS earlier this month. Contrary to claims by Ankara’s spokesmen, those forces are still only 10-15km on the road to Mabij.
  • Sunday, heavy fighting raged around a cluster of Kurdish villages, Beir Khoussa and Amarneh, where the Turks were forced repeatedly to retreat under Kurdish counter attacks. Some of the villages were razed to the ground by the Turkish air force and tanks. At least 35 villagers were reported killed.
  • In four days of fierce battles, the Kurds suffered 150 dead and the Turkish side, 60.
  • DEBKAfile military sources also report preparations Sunday to evacuate US Special Operations Forces and helicopter units from the Rmeilan air base near the Syrian-Kurdish town of Hassaka. If the fighting around the base intensifies, they will be relocated in northern Iraq.
  • Fighters of the Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga were seen removing their uniforms and donning Syrian YPG gear before crossing the border Sunday and heading west to join their Syrian brothers in the battle against Turkey.
  • The KRG President Masoud Barazani expects to travel to Tehran in the next few days with an SOS for Iranian help against the US and the Turks. On the table for a deal is permission from Irbil for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to win their first military bases in the Iraqi Kurdish republic, as well as transit for Iranian military forces to reach Syria through Kurdish territory..

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Rebranding Terror

 (Photo: Representational Image/AFP)

(Photo: Representational Image/AFP)

Foreign Affairs, By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Thomas Jocelyn, Aug. 29, 2016:

July 28, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, heretofore the emir of al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, delivered what seemed to be a major announcement. Although Julani lavished praise on both al Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri and his predecessor Osama bin Laden, he noted two apparent organizational changes. The first was that Jabhat al-Nusra was no more: Julani’s organization would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS, or, in English, Conquest of the Levant Front). Second, Julani said that the renamed organization would have “no affiliation to any external entity.”

Arab and Western media buzzed with news that Julani had announced his organization’s “split” or “break” from al Qaeda. Yet Julani never actually said that such a break was occurring, and a careful reading of his statement reveals numerous problems with this interpretation (though some JFS figures have more definitively affirmed a split in interviews). More significantly, this reading ignores what we know of al Qaeda’s long-standing strategy. In fact, al Qaeda produced its own analysis of Julani’s message to the world—in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Arabic-language newsletter Al-Masra.

Taken together, the evidence is clear: Nusra’s rebranding as JFS does not represent a genuine split from al Qaeda. Instead, it signals a return to al Qaeda’s original game plan for Syria.

RETURNING TO SQUARE ONE

To understand Nusra’s recent moves, it is important to recognize that al Qaeda never wanted to tell the world about its role in Syria’s civil war. The group’s leadership judged that accomplishing their long-term goal—replacing Bashar al-Assad’s regime with an Islamist emirate—would require strategic patience. During the first two years of the war, therefore, al Qaeda sought to minimize international scrutiny by embedding senior operatives in the ranks of Nusra and other jihadist organizations. Zawahiri and his lieutenants wanted to clandestinely guide these groups and foster their alliances with other rebels, without officially announcing al Qaeda’s involvement. Growing such alliances, Zawahiri and his cohorts believed, would be more difficult if al Qaeda had an official presence in Syria.

It was only the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State (ISIS) that led Nusra’s leader, Julani, to announce his fealty to Zawahiri. Previously—and despite Nusra’s 2012 designation by the State Department as an “alias” for Baghdadi’s organization—Julani’s group had succeeded in making itself appear to Syrians to be an organic part of their struggle. Following the State Department’s designation, for instance, TheNew York Times reported that demonstrators in various Syrian cities hefted banners with slogans such as “No to American intervention, for we are all Jabhat al-Nusra.” Put simply, Nusra had gained the respect of Syrians due to its ability to take the fight to Assad.

But on April 8, 2013, Baghdadi released an audio message demanding that the name Jabhat al-Nusra be abolished, because Nusra was “but an extension of the Islamic State of Iraq” (as his group was then known). Baghdadi said that Julani was merely “one of our soldiers,” and that Nusra owed its very existence to Baghdadi’s men and financial support. From that day forward, Baghdadi decreed, the Islamic State of Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra would be a single entity known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Two days later, on April 10, Julani refused Baghdadi’s order. In an audio message of his own, Julani said that Nusra would continue to fight under its own banner. More important, Julani explained that he and his men owed their fealty directly to Zawahiri, thereby bypassing Baghdadi in the chain of command. “This is a pledge of allegiance from the sons of Jabhat al-Nusra and their supervisor general that we renew to the Sheikh of Jihad, Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, may Allah preserve him,” Julani said, indicating by his use of the word “renew” that he had already privately pledged his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri. This was Nusra’s first public acknowledgement that it was a part of al Qaeda. In the months that followed, it became clear that al Qaeda had sent some of its most seasoned operatives, including veteran jihadists such as Abu Firas al-Suri, to Syria to lead Nusra.

A few weeks later, Zawahiri ruled on the dispute between Baghdadi and Julani in a letter dated May 23, 2013, and subsequently posted online by Al Jazeera. Zawahiri held that ISIS should be “dissolved” and that Baghdadi’s men should return to Iraq, where they would again operate as the Islamic State of Iraq. Jabhat al-Nusra was to be “an independent entity,” meaning its own regional branch of al Qaeda in Syria, and would answer to al Qaeda’s general command. Though Zawahiri’s decision was mainly a rebuke of Baghdadi, he also chastised Julani for “showing his links to al Qaeda without having our permission or advice, even without notifying us.” That is, Julani was not supposed to reveal his relationship to al Qaeda.

Baghdadi, of course, disobeyed Zawahiri’s order, and ISIS seized control of Raqqa from Nusra and other rebel groups in the summer of 2013. This led to the greatest jihadi rivalry in history, as ISIS went on to conquer territory in Iraq and Syria and win adherents elsewhere around the globe. For al Qaeda, ISIS’ success caused problems everywhere from West Africa to South Asia, as the self-proclaimed caliphate wooed fighters, and occasionally whole affiliates, away from its erstwhile parent organization. But the worst damage to al Qaeda’s strategic interests was arguably in Syria. Instead of covert influence, al Qaeda now had an official branch—Nusra—as well as a rogue jihadist rival in ISIS that was committed to al Qaeda’s destruction. This was the opposite of what Zawahiri and his fellow strategists had wanted.

Nusra fighters release prisoners in Lebanon, December 2015.  Stringer/Reuters

Nusra fighters release prisoners in Lebanon, December 2015. Stringer/Reuters

PART OF THE PLAN

Al Qaeda’s strategy, then, has long been to maintain public distance from Nusra when possible. That this strategy is behind Nusra’s rebrand is further suggested by a recent article in Al-Masra, a weekly newsletter published by AQAP that is a key source for understanding the group’s thinking. The August 9 edition of Al-Masra includes a lengthy article entitled “A Letter Regarding Jabhat al-Nusra Disassociating From al Qaeda.” The piece’s author is identified as Osama bin Saleh (likely a pseudonym), who uses statements made by al Qaeda’s senior leaders, as well as al Qaeda documents, to explain the group’s designs on Syria.

In a section of his letter aptly titled “Not Standing Out,” Saleh reiterates that al Qaeda never wanted a formal entity in Syria. He includes a passage from a May 2014 video in which Zawahiri said that the “general leadership’s direction is that we should not declare any open presence” in Syria, and that this “matter was agreed upon even with the brothers in Iraq,” meaning Baghdadi’s group. “We were surprised,” Zawahiri continued, “by the declaration that gave the Syrian regime and the United States an opportunity they were hoping for.” The declaration he is referring to is Baghdadi’s formation of ISIS, which Zawahiri claimed made Syrians wonder: “Why is al Qaeda bringing disasters upon us? Isn’t Bashar enough? They also want to bring in America against us?”

Bin Saleh also points to an August 2010 letter (previously released by the U.S. government) from bin Laden to Ahmed Godane, the emir of the Somali jihadist group al Shabab. Bin Laden told Godane that Shabab’s “unity” with al Qaeda “should be carried out … through unannounced secret messaging.” Godane and his men could spread the news of Shabab’s unification with al Qaeda “among the people of Somalia,” but they should not make “any official declaration” of their allegiance. If asked about their “relationship with al Qaeda,” Shabab’s leaders were to say it was “simply a brotherly Islamic connection and nothing more, which would neither deny nor prove” the connection.

As the letter to Godane made clear, Shabab was already part of al Qaeda at the time. But bin Laden believed ambiguity was a strategic advantage. Saleh quotes at length from bin Laden’s letter to Godane to illustrate why. “If the matter becomes declared and out in the open, it would have the enemies escalate their anger and mobilize against you,” bin Laden wrote. Although bin Laden conceded that “enemies will find out inevitably” because “this matter cannot be hidden,” he argued that “an official declaration remains to be the master of all proof,” and it would be easier for “Muslims in the region” to support Shabab without it.

Shabab and al Qaeda did not announce their formal union until 18 months later, in February 2012—after bin Laden had been killed. But al Qaeda’s secretive handling of its arm in East Africa set a clear precedent for how it would groom its newer branch in the Levant. Bin Saleh underlines the point: “Notice that the leadership of the organization [al Qaeda] was not passionate about declaring their relationship with other factions, in order to avoid confrontation with the enemies and … denying them excuses.”

Nusra’s relaunch as JFS should be viewed in this light. Al Qaeda does not expect the U.S. government to remove JFS from its terrorism list or to stop bombing its members. Rather, the rebranding is intended to eliminate America’s “excuse” for bombing the group by removing its formal link to al Qaeda. This message is aimed primarily at Syrians, and secondarily at the broader Middle East. According to bin Saleh, Nusra’s “disassociation” will further unification and cooperation between militants in Syria, as other groups will no longer have the excuse that they do not want be seen as supportive of all of al Qaeda’s actions.

Bin Saleh’s letter provides other insights into al Qaeda’s thinking as well. He suggests Julani’s move was stage-managed by al Qaeda’s senior leaders, writing that the group’s “leadership paved the way before Nusra declared disassociation.” He also points to the message Nusra released from Zawahiri’s deputy, a veteran jihadist known as Abu Khayr al-Masri, just hours before announcing the relaunch. Masri gave his blessing to Nusra “to proceed with that which safeguards the interests of Islam and Muslims, and protects the jihad of the people of the Levant.” JFS’ goals are no different from Jabhat al-Nusra’s, which were no different from al Qaeda’s.

Perhaps most important, Saleh stresses that JFS’ goals are no different from Jabhat al-Nusra’s, which were no different from al Qaeda’s. As Julani himself said at a press conference last year, “we, whether we are with al Qaeda or not, will not abandon our principles and stances. We will continue to say that we want to establish the sharia and … continue in jihad.”

EYES WIDE SHUT

It is vital for Western governments, especially the United States, to expose al Qaeda’s strategy. This, however, is unlikely to happen—the United States has, for years, been exceedingly slow to recognize al Qaeda’s intentions, let alone respond to them. In the past, the U.S. government overlooked al Qaeda’s maneuvering because it believed the organization was on the verge of “strategic defeat”; today, the perception that al Qaeda does not threaten the West has led to a more generalized disinterest.

Yet the danger is growing. In addition to the additional leverage al Qaeda could gain over other militant groups in Syria, JFS may be positioned to receive even more outside support. Before renaming itself, Nusra had received support from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, despite its open affiliation with al Qaeda. (Among other concerns, these Sunni countries are all eager to unseat Bashar al-Assad, a staunch ally of their Shiite rival Iran.) Now that JFS has shed the al Qaeda label, these states may begin to scale up support for the group with little objection from Western governments.

Most important, Nusra’s rebranding should be understood in light of al Qaeda’s history of trying to obscure its role in Syria. The group’s senior leaders are now attempting to return to their original Syria strategy. If the West and its allies do not actively oppose them, they may get away with it.

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Joe Biden Humiliated In Turkish “Appeasement” As Erdogan Bombs US Allies In Syria

erdogan biden_0Zero Hedge, by Tyler Durden, Aug 27, 2016:

The last time U.S. Vice President Joe Biden flew to Turkey, in January, he had a stern message for President Erdogan: his model of Islamic democracy was setting a bad example by intimidating media and threatening academics. However, his tone was markedly different when he arrived in Ankara on Wednesday, just weeks after a failed coup in Turkey that has strained relations between the two countries, and on the same day that Turkey launched a full-blown incursion into northern Syria “to halt ISIS.” With Turkey making very clear, and very open overtures toward Russia, Biden was in full blown diplomatic damage-limitation mode.

The dramatic shift in dplomatic posture by Biden comes as the U.S.-Turkish alliance has been dealt several blows in recent weeks, to the point where the US vice president’s arrival in Ankara shows just how concerned the US, which is counting on continued support from Turkey – NATO’s second-biggest military – has become.  American worries have been compounded by Erdogan restoring ties with Russia – the Turkish president’s first diplomatic meeting after the failed coup was with Putin in St. Petersburg, as a result of which Turkey has been discussing military cooperation with the Kremlin.

Meeting with Erdogan and Turkey’s prime minister in Ankara on Wednesday, Biden delivered a message of alliance and conciliation.   “Let me say it for one last time: The American people stand with you … Barack Obama was one of the first people you called. But I do apologize. I wish I could have been here earlier,” Biden said.

But he wasn’t.

And while Biden’s pathetic attempt at appeasement may have come and gone, reinforcing just how much the American people stand with a person whose pre-arranged purge of political opponents has resulted in over 100,000 Turkish citizens fired or arrested, Turkey’s diplomatic humiliation of the US continued, when far from attacking ISIS in Syria, the stated objective behind the invasion, Turkish forces and rebels supported by Erdogan continued their deadly attacks on Kurdish-backed forces in north Syria on Saturday. The same Kurdish-backed forces which are also backed by the US.

And it’s not as if Turkey is even hiding it: Turkey’s government, which is fighting a Kurdish insurgency at home, has said the Syrian campaign it opened this week is as much about targeting Islamic State as it is about preventing Kurdish forces filling the vacuum left when Islamists withdraw. Turkey wants to stop Kurdish forces gaining control of a continuous stretch of Syrian territory on its frontier, which Ankara fears could be used to support the Kurdish militant group PKK as it wages its three-decade insurgency on Turkish soil.

According to Reuters, Turkish security sources said two F-16 jets bombed a site controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia, which is part of the broader U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition.

Meanwhile, the US-backed Kurds are fighting back,  and according to military sources, one Turkish soldier was killed and three others wounded when a tank was hit by a rocket that they said was fired from territory held by the Kurdish YPG. The sources said the army shelled the area in response.

At that point the chaos that is the Syrian conflict, with so many competing elements, many of whom supported by the US, was on full display.  Case in point: Syrian rebels opposed to Ankara’s incursion said Turkish forces had targeted forces allied to the YPG and no Kurdish forces were in the area. On the ground, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels fought forces aligned with the SDF near the frontier town of Jarablus. Forces opposed to Ankara said Turkish tanks were deployed, a charge denied by Turkey’s rebel allies.

As a result, the narrative is now split in two: one “confirming” the Turkish explanation, the other justifying the actions of the YPG, just in case the US decides to flip after all, and support its “lesser” allies:

the Jarablus Military Council, part of the SDF, had said earlier on Saturday that Turkish planes hit the village of al-Amarna south of Jarablus, causing civilian casualties. It called the action “a dangerous escalation”.

The Kurdish-led administration that controls parts of northern Syria said Turkish tanks advanced on al-Amarna and clashed with forces of the Jarablus Military Council. But the Kurdish administration said no Kurdish forces were involved.

However, the leader of one Turkey-backed rebel group gave a rival account. He told Reuters the rebels battled the Kurdish YPG around al-Amarna and denied any Turkish tanks took part.

Turkish security forces simply said Turkish-backed forces had extended their control to five villages beyond Jarablus.

In short, chaos and a full-blown media propaganda war; however, as Reuters notes, one thing is clear: any action against Kurdish forces in Syria puts Turkey further at odds with its NATO ally the United States,which backs the SDF and YPG, “seeing them as the most reliable and effective ally in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.”

However, just like Biden’s arrival in Ankara was a tacit admission that the US will fully ignore Erdogan’s unprecedented crackdown on human righs in post-coup Turkey as the president purges even the remotest political opponent, so the YPG, which has been “backed” by the US, is about to realize just how little such backing really means when the US has bigger fish to fry, in this case desperately trying to keep Turkey on its good side, and away from Putin’s circle of influence, all the while providing countless concessions to Turkey as the country continues to openly defy western norms and put away dissidents, while arresting members of the press, and education system, as Erdogan nationalizes private corporations alleged to have ties with the notorious “coup plotter” Fethulah Gullen.

In doing so, the Obama administration has once again revealed the true extent of its hypocricy, as it turns a blind eye toward the trampling of human rights in Turkey, while screaming bloody murder when something similar takes place in any other part of the world.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s humiliation of its “partner”, the US, will continue, and much to the amusement of Vladimir Putin, there is absolutely nothing Obama will do about it.

Also see:

Sea change: Turkey enters Syrian conflict – as an enemy of the U.S.’s closest partner

Turkish tanks assembled on the Syrian border in 2015. (Image: Screen grab of RT video, YouTube)

Turkish tanks assembled on the Syrian border in 2015. (Image: Screen grab of RT video, YouTube)

Liberty Unyielding, by J. E. Dyer, Aug. 24, 2016: (h/t/ Tundra Tabloids)

Turkey has done cross-border shelling for a long time now, and has used her air force to bomb Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria.  There was even evidence in November 2015 that Turkey had troops deployed just across the Syrian border in northeastern Latakia Province.

But for the first time, on Tuesday, 23 August, Turkey has ordered an entire town on the Turkish border with Syria to evacuate, in preparation for an overt cross-border military operation, complete with an armored invasion force.  The objective is to take the Syrian town of Jarablus from Islamic State.

That may sound superficially like it serves America’s goals.  (Indeed, the operation is reportedly being supported by NATO air power.  That could get messy, if it continues.)

But Turkey has actually been content to have ISIS in control of Jarablus for many months now.  The timing and context of this latest move are the key: Turkey’s real objective is to prevent theKurds from wresting Jarablus from ISIS.

And the Turkish entry into the Syrian conflict looks to be part of a joint effort – with Russia, Assad, and Iran – to neutralize the Kurds, as part of the campaign to take all of Syrian territory back from the factions now holding it.

The Kurds have been the major U.S. partner in fighting ISIS in both Syria and northern Iraq.  Until the Iran-sponsored Shia militias in Iraq ejected ISIS from Tikrit, Ramadi, and Fallujah – under the military direction of Iran’s Qods Force commander, Qassem Soleimani – the Kurds were by far the most effective ground force against ISIS.

But Erdogan has been uneasy with the Kurds’ success in consolidating territory.  Now Turkey wants to roll them up in this sensitive border area.

There are reasons why Iran is satisfied to be part of that effort, at least for now.  And for Russia, dealing with or protecting the Kurds is always a calculation, not a cause.  Don’t look for Russia to be solidly on one side of this thing; the Russians will maneuver simply to be at the center of it, so everyone has to come to them for solutions.

Remember, Moscow isn’t trying to get out of Syria, or leave Syria in good hands.  The whole point for Putin’s Russia is to stay there.

U.S. position eroded beyond recovery

The U.S has been the Kurds’ main patron for a long time now.  I very much fear Obama is about to abandon them – because he’d get so much bad press if any Americans got hurt, in the Syrian war realignment that now looks inevitable.

Obama has no intention of strengthening our forces’ posture against that realignment.

More importantly, he has absolutely no policy for what to do other than watch that realignment happen.  From a policy standpoint, he’s an inert quantity, a leadership void, tethered to a bunch of SOF, intel assets, and strike-fighters still wandering through the battle space burning gas and bullets.

It’s only with extraordinary pain that I say this, but it would be better for America – because of who’s in the Oval Office – if we did simply pull out.  Our forces on scene are in an increasingly impossible situation.  They should not be left there, exposed and unsupported.  Moreover, there’s nothing they can achieve there.  It’s not worth their lives to try to hang on to a situation that’s slipping away, for no positive good.  The next president will just have to deal with whatever reality has become, five months from now.

But pulling out – even quietly – and abandoning all pretense of having a policy or a plan would signal a definitive end to the last vestige of U.S leadership in the Middle East.  It would be a severe blow to the Kurds, who don’t deserve to be treated that way.  It would be a signal of faithlessness that our other long-time partners and allies could not ignore.

It’s difficult to preview comprehensively everything that might be unleashed; it could be very, very bad, or there could be random factors that keep it from getting too bad between now and next January.

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