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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U.S.-Backed Kurds to Assad Forces: ‘Surrender or Die’

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/GETTY

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/GETTY

In a critical battle, Washington’s most effective allies in Syria turn their attention away from fighting ISIS and toward the militias of Bashar al-Assad.

The Daily Beast, by Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, Aug. 23, 2016:

HASAKAH, Syria – U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters have Syrian President Bashar Assad’s militias under siege in the northern Syrian city of Hasakah, and they are leaving them two options: “Surrender or die.”

In a conflict where alliances shift kaleidoscopically and the potential consequences of unwanted clashes are apocalyptic, this battle has raised the possibility Washington will be drawn into a direct conflict with the Syrian regime even as the Obama administration continues to focus its war effort on the forces of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS.

The Americans’ key allies in the Syrian theater, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, are now very clearly fighting both ISIS and Assad. The lines of demarcation are increasingly hard to draw in Hasakah — and above it.

On Thursday, U.S. planes scrambled over the region when Syrian Air Force SU-24 attack planes launched strikes near the city.

A Defense Department spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, suggested that “coalition personnel” were on the ground there. He did not get into specifics, but as we have reported previously, numerous American and European advisors are very close to the action in Syria.

“We view instances that place coalition personnel at risk with the utmost seriousness,” Davis added, “and we do have the inherent right of self-defense when U.S. forces are at risk.”

Davis said this is the first time U.S. planes have been scrambled in response to Syrian bombing, and pointed out that the coalition has never before seen the Assad regime take such action against the mainly Kurdish YPG.

Only a few days ago, these Kurdish forces—in alliance with some Arab contingents backed by U.S. airstrikes and supported by U.S. and other Western special forces—played a major role taking the strategic city of Manbij away from the fighters of the so-called Islamic State.

Now very confident, seasoned and well armed, the Kurds appear about to achieve a victory not just over Assad’s beleaguered partisans in Hasakah, but by extension against his strategic backers from Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah—and Russia.

All the parties understand what a crucial turning point this represents.

Previously, the Assad regime and its supporters had acquiesced in the Kurdish operations against ISIS. Damascus was aware that the Kurds’ goal is to establish a federal autonomous (if not indeed independent from Damascus) region called Rojava along the northern Syrian frontier. That’s no secret.

But Damascus clearly thought it could address other threats first, putting its priority on crushing any remotely credible opposition, then perhaps turning on ISIS, which it initially helped foster, then taking care of the Kurdish problem one way or the other.

The Hasakah fighting has brought that tacit agreement to an end.

Moscow, hoping a deal might yet be made for a truce, sent a delegation last week to try to broker a ceasefire, but there was none to be had.

The Kurds now reject any form of agreement and demand regime forces leave the province of Hasakah altogether, giving the YPG and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), complete control.

Note that Hasakah province is rich in oil and gas resources. Prior to the Syrian war, nearly half of Syria’s oil came from here. If Rojava is to survive, that oil and gas will be an important source of income, and the Kurds are not inclined to give it up.

The Assad regime “is increasingly weak and the regime’s external supporters have little ability to support the regime’s armed forces there,” Michael Stephens, the head of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Qatar, told The Daily Beast. And the events of the last couple of days would seem to bear that out.

When the Russian-brokered truce failed, even as the Syrian regime jets started to hit Kurdish positions and American or other coalition aircraft took to the air to warn them off, the Kurdish offensive continued.

Here in Hasakah, it’s clear the fighting between the YPG and the regime forces is much more intense than skirmishes in April. This time the battle has gone on for six days.

YPG officials say there are only a few pockets of Syrian government control left in a municipality that used to have a population of 200,000 people, and those holdouts are low on supplies.

“They used to say we are friends with the regime, but we are not a friend, we are supported by the people,” local commander Loqman told me before manning a heavy machine-gun on a pick-up truck and blasting away at government positions.

On television Sunday, the exhausted looking Syrian governor of Hasakah, Mohammad Za’al Ali, desperately pleaded with the Kurds to stop the fighting.

“Kurds in Hasakah are Syrians and cannot operate without the government,” he insisted on Kurdistan24, one of the few local TV stations operating in northern Syria. “Kurds cannot impose their control by force.”

But local commander Loqman said that the Kurds would not stop the fight. “What’s the job of the regime here? They have killed thousands of people, made millions of people homeless,” he said. “We should kick them out, that is my view.”

He also complained about the presence of foreign Shia militia fighters backed by Iran. These Syrian lands are his home, he said. “What is the work of Hezbollah here; what is the work of Russia here to kill civilians by airstrikes in Aleppo?”

In Hasakah’s dusty streets, local fighters wearing black scarves were keeping their heads down.

The town has a large Christian population, and one of the fighters, a Kurd with green eyes, wore a defiant white t-shirt: “Blasphemer,” it said. He also wore several crosses around his neck as he moved toward the front line. Christians fleeing the city center had given crucifixes to fighters, a local commander said.

Sniper fire is a major concern, and there’s a common belief the sharpshooters are foreigners.

“Iranian snipers hit civilians, no matter if they are Kurdish or Arabs,” says a 22-year-old Arab who goes by the pseudonym Adam. “There are Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis, Lebanese from Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” he said, although I was not able to confirm this on this ground.

Dozens of Arabs from Hasakah and other towns have joined the Kurdish forces, but often won’t talk on the record for fear of government reprisals against their families in areas still controlled by the regime.

“I joined to protect our honor, because the Syrian regime is oppressing the people, killing civilians, and hitting them with air strikes,” Adam said.

On Sunday afternoon there were no Syrian airstrikes and fighting slowed down, with occasional sniper and heavy machinegun fire. “From yesterday until now the airstrikes did not hit us,” said Loqman.

“The fighting stopped now because there are civilians; we most stop the war because there are civilians,” said Saydo, the other local commander, who speaks English. “But in the night the fight will begin again,” he said as we talked near the city’s central market.

Hussam Hassan, 50, a Kurdish civilian who was wearing a pink towel on his shoulders to deal with the sweat from the blazing heat, said he hoped to return to his house again soon.

“We flee because of the security,” he said near a Kurdish police checkpoint. “We are afraid, and I have children. There are airstrikes, artillery, and bullets.” He left by taxi to a village 15 kilometers away.

Sihanouk Dibo, a Kurdish official of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) accused the Syrian government of attacking the Kurds in agreement with Iran and Turkey, which opposes the declaration of a federal system for the Kurds and is hostile to the YPG/PYD, which is very closely allied with the insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) operating insider Turkey.

“They don’t want a democratic federal region from Qamisli until Afrin,” Dibo said, referring to two major towns in northern Syria. They don’t want us to cut all the roads for terrorists,” Dibo said, noting that many ISIS recruits from abroad initially came into Syria through Turkey.

On Sunday evening, as predicted, heavy fighting resumed again in the city center and continues now, with the Kurds steadily advancing against Syrian government fighters.

“The regime has only a few points left, and is running out of water and food,” Ismael Resho, a YPG commander told The Daily Beast.

The battle may be ending for now, but the kaleidoscope continues to turn, and the war goes on.

Meet Aleppo’s ‘Moderate,’ ‘Secular’ ‘Rebels’: Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood

aleppo-syria-moderate-rebels-muslim-brotherhood-al-qaeda

Let’s support moderate Muslims. But that means figuring out which ones are the real deal.

National Review, by Andrew C. McCarthy, Aug. 19, 2016:

As the invaluable David Pryce-Jones notes, Syria’s second-most important city, Aleppo, is the locus of heavy combat, pitting Russia and Iran, the forces propping up theBashar Assad, against anti-regime fighters, also known as the “rebels.” David refers to reports that, as he summarizes them, “secular rebels appear to have liberated most of [Aleppo], maybe all of it.” Meanwhile, the estimable Charles Krauthammer observes that Russia is operating out of an air base in Iran (probably yet another violation of Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with the mullahs). And who does Charles say Vladimir Putin’s air force is targeting? “It’s hitting a lot of the moderate rebels . . . in Aleppo.”

I have been arguing for years (and as recently as last weekend) that there are simply not enough moderate, secular rebels in Syria to overthrow the regime, much less to defeat both Assad and ISIS simultaneously. Suggestions to the contrary are wishful thinking. More important, such suggestions are counterproductive: The illusion of a vibrant secular, pro-Western opposition in Syria is the basis for urging that America throw its weight behind the “rebels,” on the theory that we would be undermining radical Islam.

In truth, we’d simply be empowering one set of anti-American Islamists against another.

At The Long War Journal, Tom Joscelyn, who for my money does the best job in America of analyzing the factions involved in the global jihad, takes a careful look at who is fighting against Assad in Syria. To what should be no one’s surprise — but will apparently be very surprising to many — the bulk of the opposition consists of Islamists.

As Tom explains, two coalitions are spearheading the campaign that has enjoyed recent success against the regime in Aleppo. The first is headed up by al-Qaeda and goes by the name Jaysh al-Fath (Army of Conquest). The al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, until recently known as al-Nusrah, has rebranded itself as Jabhat Fath al-Sham (JFS). It has a close alliance with a group called Ahrar al-Sham (Ahrar), which includes many al-Qaeda veterans and (as Tom notes) models itself after the Taliban (al-Qaeda’s close ally in Afghanistan). JFS and Ahrar run the Jaysh al-Fath coalition, which includes sundry other jihadist militias long affiliated with the al-Qaeda terror network.

Al-Qaeda is well aware of the West’s myopic focus on ISIS (the Islamic State — the al-Qaeda splinter group that began as al-Qaeda in Iraq). This myopia has the U.S. government and much of the commentariat turning a blind eye to other anti-American Islamists, even absurdly labeling them “moderates,” as long as they are not part of ISIS. The leaders of al-Qaeda realize that a great deal of financial and materiel support is to be had in the “moderate rebel” business but that the al-Qaeda brand could be problematic in maintaining the façade. So they have encouraged their franchises to obscure and soft-peddle their al-Qaeda connections — particularly by not brandishing “al-Qaeda” in their names.

It’s working.

To their credit, the Wall Street Journal’s editors concede that “the Army of Conquest coalition . . . includes al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.” Yet this is still an understatement, just as the Journal’s follow-up observation — that this al-Qaeda affiliate “fights alongside more moderate and secular forces” — overstates the case. In reality, al-Qaeda is the Army of Conquest; and the forces they are fighting alongside are a different coalition — and one whose moderation and secularity are exaggerated.

As Tom Joscelyn elaborates, the other coalition in Aleppo is known as Fatah Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”). To be sure, it has some secular, moderate elements; but it also features deep Islamist ties.

The “secular, moderate” veneer is built on the fiction, heavily promoted in the U.S. from the first stages of the uprising, that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a gaggle of secular factions seeking to replace Assad with a Western-style democracy. In reality, the FSA has long been coopted by the Muslim Brotherhood — as has the Syrian National Council, which was set up early on to pose as the overarching framework of the opposition.

As I have pointed out any number of times over the past several years, enthusiasts for American intervention in the civil wars of Muslim-majority countries bend over backward to avoid mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood. They say “moderate” and “rebel,” hoping no one will try to pin them down about who these “moderate rebels” are. But way too many of them are members of the international sharia-supremacist organization whose motto remains: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!”

The Brotherhood has been designated a terrorist organization in recent years by Egypt (which ousted a government led by the Brotherhood), and by its former allies, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (See Daniel Pipes’s 2014 piece in National Review on how perceptions of the Brotherhood have changed.) In the U.S., legislation to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization has been proposed by Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and was approved by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year. Nevertheless, it remains progressive Beltway wisdom that the Brotherhood is better thought of as a moderate Islamist organization — even a “firewall against violent extremism,” as Marc Lynch of George Washington University put it in a Washington Post opinion piece in March.

But the Brotherhood, which has a history of violence and boasts as its Palestinian branch the Hamas terrorist organization, is hardly opposed to “violent extremism” (the Washington euphemism for “jihadist terror”). It is true that its methods differ from those of al-Qaeda and ISIS. For the Brothers, jihad has its place but is just one form of aggression in a broad arsenal that includes political activism, vexatious lawsuits, media propaganda, etc. Nevertheless, the Brothers’ objective is exactly the same as that of the more brutal jihadist networks: the imposition of the totalitarian sharia system of governance. And given the geography of the conflict in Syria, it is worth emphasizing that the Brothers have no more coveted short-term objective than the destruction of Israel.

Just as the al-Qaeda affiliates pretend to be “moderates” by stressing their opposition to ISIS, the Brotherhood affiliates pose as “secularists” — with no small amount of help from the Obama administration — by stressing their differentiation from al-Qaeda. This pose is also helped along by the fact that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has taken to mocking the Brotherhood as overly cozy with secular regimes and insufficiently zealous for transition to sharia. (See Tom Joscelyn’s report, here.) Consistent with this strategy, the Fatah Halab coalition in Aleppo made a point of claiming that al-Qaeda groups would be excluded. But this, again, is mainly a feint to project the illusion of secular moderation, which triggers Western and other support. In reality, as Tom documents, key Fatah Halab constituents have been working with al-Qaeda affiliates all along.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to belittle the magnitude of the Russia–Iran alliance. Not only is Putin leveraging his increasingly close relations with the mullahs to project power; Tehran reportedly has dispatched hundreds (perhaps thousands) more fighters to bolster Assad’s forces in Aleppo (to say nothing of the 80,000 to 100,000 militia fighters whom Iran controls in Iraq). My point is that we need a strategy that recognizes all of our enemies for what they are, not one that imagines enemies into potential allies for no better reason than that other enemies seem worse.

I am far from an isolationist, but I strenuously opposed foolish interventions. I am not unsympathetic to the cause of supporting secularists and moderate Muslims — meaningnon-Islamists. But that means figuring out which ones are the real deal. We should be analyzing “rebels” in the exacting way Tom Joscelyn does, so that we can grasp what realistically can be accomplished. In Syria, that may be no more than creating safe space for refugees, promoting pro-Western groups, attacking jihadist hubs, and awaiting an American president who understands that both Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood are our enemies, not our prospective “regional partners.”

Until then, the lesson of Libya ought to teach us that it is no advancement of American interests if al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood win in Aleppo, even if that means that Assad, Iran, and Russia lose.

Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Who should rule Syria? Nobody

Aleppo, Syria (Photo: Getty)

Aleppo, Syria (Photo: Getty)

Or at least not all of it. Grasp that and you can see a clear strategy for the West

The Spectator, by Jonathan Spyer, Aug. 18, 2016:

The long civil war in Syria is still far from conclusion. Any real possibility of rebel victory ended with the entry of Russian forces last autumn — but while the initiative is now with the Assad regime, the government’s forces are also far from a decisive breakthrough. So who, if anyone, should the UK be backing in the Syrian slaughterhouse, and what might constitute progress in this broken and burning land?

It ought to be fairly obvious why a victory for the Assad regime would be a disaster for the West. Assad, an enthusiastic user of chemical weapons against his own people, is aligned with the most powerful anti–western coalition in the Middle East. This is the alliance dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran. It includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shia militias of Iraq, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. If Assad won, the Iranian alliance would consolidate its domination of the entire land area between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean Sea — a major step towards regional hegemony for Iran. So an Assad victory would be good for Islamism — at least of the Shia variety — and bad for world peace. It should be prevented.

The controversy begins when one starts to look at the alternative to an Assad victory.

In November last year, David Cameron claimed to have identified 70,000 ‘moderate’ rebels ready to challenge Islamic State in the east of Syria. That figure was a myth. Yours truly was among the very first western journalists to spend time in Syria with the rebels. I recently returned from a trip to southern Turkey, where I interviewed fighters and commanders of the main rebel coalitions. With no particular joy but a good deal of confidence, I can report that the Syrian rebellion today is dominated in its entirety by Sunni Islamist forces. And the most powerful of these are the most radical.

The most potent rebel coalition in Syria today is called Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest). It has three main component parts: Ahrar al-Sham (Free Men of the Levant), a Salafist jihadi group; Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the official franchise of al–Qaeda in Syria, now renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham; and Faylaq al-Sham (Legion of the Levant), whose ideology derives from the Muslim Brotherhood branch of Sunni political Islam.

Jaish al-Fatah dominates the main rebel-controlled area in Aleppo, Idleb, Latakia and northern Hama. Its various components seek the establishment of a state dominated by Islamic sharia law. There is no reason to suppose that Nusra’s recent renunciation of its al-Qaeda affiliation was anything more than tactical. When one speaks of the Syrian rebellion today, one is speaking of Jaish al-Fatah. The small ‘Free Syrian Army’ groups that still exist do so only with Jaish al-Fatah’s permission, and only for as long as they serve some useful purpose for it. In the now extremely unlikely event of the Islamist rebels defeating the Assad regime and reuniting Syria under their rule, the country would become a Sunni Islamist dictatorship.

So if there is no British or western interest in a victory for either the regime or the rebels, what should be done with regard to Syria?

First of all, it is important to understand that ‘Syria’ as a unitary state no longer exists. A rebel commander whom I interviewed in the border town of Kilis in June told me: ‘Syria today is divided into four projects, none of which is strong enough to defeat all the others. These are the Assad regime, the rebellion, the Kurds and the Islamic State.’ This is accurate.

So the beginning of a coherent Syria policy requires understanding that the country has fragmented into enclaves, and is not going to be reunited in the near future, if at all.

Various external powers have elected to back one or another element in this landscape. The Russians and Iranians are backing the regime. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting the Islamist rebels.

The West, too, has established a successful and effective patron-client relationship — with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Dominated by the Kurdish YPG, but including also Arab tribal forces such as the Sanadid militia, this is the force which is reducing the dominions of the Islamic State in eastern Syria, in partnership with western air power and special forces.

In contrast to the sometimes farcical attempts to identify partners among the Syrian Sunni rebels, the partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces works. Weaponry does not get passed on to or taken by radical jihadi groups, because the SDF is at war with such groups. Training and assistance produces a united force with a single chain of command. And this force captures ground and frees Syrians living under the vicious rule of Isis.

On the commonsense principle that success should be built on, it is clear that the alliance with the SDF ought to be strengthened and grown. The West is committed, correctly, to the destruction of the Islamic State. The pace of the war against Isis needs to be stepped up. As witnessed in Nice, Würz-burg, Normandy and elsewhere in recent weeks, Isis is an entity that will make war on the West until it is destroyed.

The destruction of the Islamic State by a strengthened SDF would lead to control of Syria east of the Euphrates by a western client of proven anti-terrorist credentials. Further west, the truncated enclaves of Assad and of the Sunni Arab rebels would remain. It is possible that, over time, the fragmentation of Syria would be formalised. But it’s equally likely that the various component parts would remain in de facto existence for the foreseeable future.

What matters is that three outcomes be avoided: the Assad regime should not be permitted to reunite Syria under its rule, the Islamist rebels should similarly not be allowed to establish a jihadi state in the country, and the Islamic State should not be permitted to remain in existence. By strengthening the alliance with the SDF, utilising it and its allies to take Raqqa and destroy Isis in the east, and then allowing its component parts to establish their rule in eastern and northern Syria, these objectives can be attained. For a change, the US and its allies have found an unambiguously anti-Islamist and anti-jihadi force in the Middle East which has a habit of winning its battles. This is a success which should be reinforced.

Also see:

Syrian Kurds look west after Manbij victory

0,,19325228_303,00DW, by Chase Winter, Aug. 14, 2016: (h/t Jonathan Spyer)

Thousands of civilians started to pour back into the northern Syrian city of Manbij on Saturday, a day after the US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) recaptured the strategic transit point.

The sight of grateful civilians welcoming the SDF as liberators set a new tone in the fight against “Islamic State” (IS).

The Arab and Kurdish umbrella group liberated Manbij after a nearly two months of fighting that brought them over the Euphrates and deep into IS-controlled territory. The strategy was to cut off the Sunni extremist group’s supply lines running from the Turkish border to IS’s self-declared capital in Raqqa.

The success of the SDF offensive, backed by US airstrikes and Special Forces on the ground, gives new momentum to the anti-IS coalition. It also, again, enshrines the SDF as Washington’s most capable partner on the ground.

“The partnership between US and SDF has reached a new milestone with the capture of Manbij,” Mutlu Civiroglu, a Kurdish affairs analyst who is in regular contact with the SDF’s military and political leadership, told DW.

Facts on the ground

Formed last year at US prodding, the bulk of the SDF is composed of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, but also includes Arab, Christian and Turkmen rebel factions that provide the force with greater legitimacy as it advances out of heavily Kurdish populated areas.

Parallel to its battlefield successes, the YPG’s political wing, the PYD, has laid the groundwork for a Kurdish-dominated autonomous region. The Syrian Kurds have over the course of the five-year civil war bought their time and created facts on the ground.

Though no friends of the regime in Damascus, the Kurds have taken a so-called “third-position,” taking sides neither with Assad nor Islamist rebel factions seeking his ouster. They are now in the unique position of being the only actors on the ground with relations with the regime, Russia and the United States. The combined military, political and territorial strengths gives the SDF a major bargaining chip in any political solution in the country.

Crossing redlines

The SDF’s growing political and military clout is likely to further enrage neighboring Turkey, which views the YPG as a terrorist group because of its close relations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey.

Ankara has repeatedly had its redlines crossed by the Syrian Kurds and the United States. The latest iteration is in Manbij, where first the SDF crossed the Euphrates, thereby crossing one “redline,” then again when the YPG led the recapture of the city. This appears to have broken a reported understanding between Ankara and Washington that Arab forces would take the lead in Manbij.

Uniting the cantons

The Syrian Kurds’ ultimate goal is to clear IS-controlled ground to the west of Manbij in order to unite their territories in the northeast, the so-called cantons of Kobani and Jazira, with Afrin.

“The SDF desires to go west to Afrin, which has been under political and economic embargo by the al Nusra Front and other Turkey supported groups for over two years,” Civiroglu said.

Uniting the cantons would give the Kurds an uninterrupted stretch of territory along the Turkish border, a prospect that the Syrian regime and Russia could welcome, as it would also weaken the rebel groups they are fighting.

The question remains whether the United States will go along with an SDF offensive to unite the cantons and equally important, Turkey’s response to the prospect of a contiguous Kurdish mini state on its border and what that would mean for any future political solution in the country.

Russia Deploys Jets, Heavy Bombers to Iran

russia-airstrikesCounterJihad, by Bruce Cornibe, Aug. 16, 2016:

Russia has deployed long-range Tupolev 22M3 heavy bombers to a military airfield in Iran.  These bombers, already in use against opposition and Islamic State (ISIS) targets in Syria, will have a shorter deployment to target and thus a quicker turnaround time from the Iranian airfield.  The base, Hamedan Airfield, is located in Western Iran near the Iraqi border.

Though openly intended for combat against ISIS and the Syrian opposition, the Russian deployment represents a further cementing of both the growing alliance between Russia and Iran, and of Iran’s strategic defense-in-depth for its nuclear program.  Russia has been securing Iran against a military option should it walk away from its promises on the so-called ‘nuclear deal.’  The reason this is significant is that the deal front-loads Western payments and other benefits for Iran, but becomes less and less sweet as the deal progresses in time.  Iran will obtain large cash payments and assistance in building new fission plants in the first years of the deal, for example.  However, its incentive to continue to abide by the deal is reduced as these benefits are paid off.

Russia’s major contribution to Iran’s strategic defense so far has come in missile sales and protection of Iran’s internal development of ballistic missiles.  The air defense missiles sold by Russia to Iran, the S-300, are thought capable of defeating all fourth generation fighters.  That means Iran should be able to protect itself against all American fighter-bombers except the F-22 and F-35, and the B-2.  It should also be able to protect itself against air strikes by the entire Israeli Air Force fleet.

Their ballistic missiles are wildly inaccurate and carry a small payload, making them ideal only for nuclear weapons use.  Iran however denies any intent to develop nuclear weapons, even though the missiles it is developing are really not sensible for use with any other weapons.  Thus, the frequently-stated claim that these ballistic missiles will provide an offsetting counter-strike capability to Iran is not true.  They are not accurate enough for that.  What would provide a convincing counter-strike capability are Russian heavy bombers operating from Iran in alliance with Iran.

Iran and Russia are using the war against ISIS to reshape control of the northern Middle East in their joint interest.  The failure of the United States strategy has been clear for some time, and this new move only tightens their control.

The news comes a week after it was announced that Iran’s Qassem Suliemani, commander of the elite Quds Force, would be guiding the assault on ISIS positions in Mosul.  Suleimani is under an international travel ban due to his leadership of an Iranian plot to assassinate diplomats worldwide.  His presence in Iraq shows that the Iraqi government is willing to allow Iran to violate international law in order to receive its support.  Syria and Russia have also allowed Suleimani to travel to their countries.

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From Russian outlet, RT:

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Jihadi jumble: Syria’s endless war begins on the Turkish border

The rubble following an airstrike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Kalasa in Aleppo. Picture: Yasser Ibrahim

The rubble following an airstrike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Kalasa in Aleppo. Picture: Yasser Ibrahim

So where is all this heading? Bassam Haji Mustafa, an ethnic Kurd and a senior member of the Islamist Nour al-Din al-Zenki militia group in Aleppo, in conversation with Inquirer, accurately notes the presence of four “projects” in fragmented Syria today — “the Assad regime and its allies; the (Kurdish-led, US-supported) Syrian Democratic Forces; Islamic State; and the rebellion”.

The Australian, by Jonathan Spyer, August 13, 2016:

The town of Gaziantep is located 30km from Turkey’s border with Syria. Over the past five years it has become an epicentre for the unfinished business of the Syrian civil war.

When the history of this most savage of wars is written, there will be a chapter on these dusty border towns and how they came to form way stations for so much of the traffic travelling to or escaping from the killing zones.

I recently visited Gaziantep and the town of Kilis on the border. My purpose was to try to ascertain the current state of the Syrian rebellion against the Assad regime.

Gaziantep in high summer is shimmering in the heat, its many minarets pouring forth the call to prayer. Syrian refugees gather in the evenings to smoke nargileh (hookah) and talk and argue about where things are heading. Deeper down, outside of unaided vision, the complicated politics and logistics of the Syrian war are playing out all around.

Kilis, a short drive south, is the last stop before the war. It feels more Syrian than Turkish. Arabic is spoken everywhere. The apartment blocks with their stone stairs and peeling paint and the tiny shops make it look like a northern Syrian town. The offices of the rebel groups are to be found among them. The shooting begins 5km to the south.

At the beginning of the Syrian war, Gaziantep’s small international airport was one of the main entry points for jihadis from all over the world looking to cross the border to join the fight against Bashar al-Assad. They would arrive in the town, put up in one if its many shabby hotels and await the call from this or that organisation to take the road to Kilis and then across the border. Now the Turkish authorities, pressured by the West, have cracked down on this particular traffic. The airport attack in Istanbul in June cemented the process whereby Islamic State went from tolerated presence in Turkey to deadly enemy.

Islamic State, in invisible form, is in Gaziantep too. Every so often, its presence becomes manifest. In late December, it murdered Naji Jerf, a prominent journalist and critic of the movement, in downtown Gaziantep. Two more people were killed in a suicide bombing in May. “You should be careful here. Its less normal than it feels,” the receptionist tells me with a smile.

Five years since the start of the uprising against the Assad regime, the world’s attention has largely moved on. The war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has sidelined the fight against Assad. What remains of the rebellion is boxed up, frustrated and exhausted, deployed in northwest and southwest Syria, or waiting in these towns across the border in Turkey.

“Of course, if we thought logically, we’d never have begun the revolution,” Yasser Ibrahim of Nour al-Din al-Zenki, one of the Islamist rebel militias, tells Inquirer. “We went out bare-chested in front of the regime. We lost a lot — but we’re continuing.”

They surely are. The Syrian rebels have in recent days broken a government siege on rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo. The rebellion’s entry into Syria’s second city in late 2012 represented perhaps its single most significant advance. The government strangle­hold on the city threatened to reverse this. It lasted a week. So the rebellion is far from broken and remains, despite it all, a potent force.

Where all this is heading, however, is far less clear.

Tangled lines of support
The first and most immediately noticeable element of the Syrian rebellion in northwest Syria is its bewildering variety. An enormous number of rebel groups, all with ringing and grandiose names in Arabic but varying greatly in size and orientation, are engaged. Unity has remained elusive.

The networks of foreign support for the rebels — from the US, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia — are equally confused and confusing. The US maintains a Military Operations Command centre in southern Turkey through which weaponry is supplied to certain vetted rebel militias. There are about 40 such groups. Representatives of Arab and other western countries are also present in the MOC centre.

In a covert operation headed by the CIA, these vetted groups are the beneficiaries of the BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles that have exacted a heavy toll on regime armour in Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo provinces. There are additional lines of support from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to the powerful Salafi jihadist forces that Washington does not support. ­Finally, there are groups that receive support from the US as well as one or another of these regional players.

But there is no tidy distinction between US-supported and non-US-supported groups, as one might expect. There is a continuum. The groups have the same hierarchy of enemies (Assad at the top, then Islamic State). And they co-operate at ground level. Weaponry finds its way into the hands of the strongest.

The guns and assistance provided by the US and the regional backers have been sufficient to prevent the rebellion from facing defeat at the hands of Assad. But since the Russian intervention, which began in September last year, an outright rebel military victory appears beyond reach.

In the meantime, people on the ground are dying. “The MOC supports us, but the world isn’t seeing the shelling of the schools and children and public buildings by the Russian planes,” says Ezadin al-Salem of the Jabhat al-Shamiya rebel alliance as we sit in his office in Gaziantep.

The rebels, in all their multifarious and confusing variety, are at present locked into two grinding wars of attrition — against Assad and against Islamic State — with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel.

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Jonathan Spyer is a journalist, author and Middle East analyst. Based in Jerusalem, he is director of the Rubin Centre for Research in International Affairs and a fellow at the Middle East Forum

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Fact Check: Were Obama and Hillary Founders of ISIS? You Bet

AFP

AFP

Breitbart, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Aug. 12, 2016:

Even the left-stream media is now acknowledging that Donald Trump “has a point” when he blasts Hilary and Obama for creating ISIS.

“Hillary Clinton is vulnerable. ISIS did gain strength during her time as Secretary of State,” said ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz.

Conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt tried to give Mr. Trump an out. “I know what you meant,” he suggested. “You meant that he [Obama] created the vacuum, he lost the peace.”

“No,” Trump replied. “I meant, he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”

Trump is correct – and quite literally, so.

First, a document. Then some history.

Thanks to Judicial Watch, we now have an August 2012 defense intelligence report on the civil war in Syria and the situation in Iraq that openly states that the policy of the United States and its allies was to support the Salafist opposition to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

That opposition, at the time spearheaded by Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), soon morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS.

The report appears to have originated from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Iraq, well before their intelligence product was tarnished by political interference from top commanders in 2014 aimed at diminishing the threat from ISIS.

Here’s what the report, originally stamped SECRET, actually says:

 AQI, through the spokesman of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Abu Muhammad al- Adnani… is calling on the Sunnis in Iraq, especially the tribes in the border regions (between Iraq and Syria), to wage war against the Syrian regime…

Opposition forces are trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor) adjacent to the Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar), in addition to neighboring Turkish borders. Western countries, the Gulf States and Turkey are supporting these efforts… [emphasis mine]

There is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasak and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want…

It is no secret that the United States was supporting the Syrian opposition in 2012 and even until very recently. In December 2012, thanks in large measure to the active lobbying of Mrs. Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Obama declared that the United States considered the opposition as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

What was secret until the release of this August 2012 defense intelligence report is that the United States knew that the Syrian opposition was dominated by al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq, groups that merged and morphed into what today we call ISIS.

So Donald Trump is literally correct. Obama and Hillary created ISIS. They figure among the founding fathers of the world’s most brutal terrorist organization. They deserve ISIS Most Valuable Player awards for their efforts.

Some of America’s enemies, such as Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran, have also accused the United States of creating ISIS – but as a tool for encroaching on Iran’s efforts to dominate the Muslim world. In fact, Obama and Hillary’s policies have simultaneously favored Iran and its rise to regional dominance, standing aside as Iran filled the vacuum in Iraq with its own militias and allowing Iranian troops and weapons to flow onto battlefields in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and beyond.

Other documents obtained by Judicial Watch show that the United States was also complicit with arms shipments from Benghazi to the jihadi rebel groups in Syria.

These particular shipments were distinct from the more publicized case of al Entisar, a Libyan fishing vessel that arrived in Iskanderiyah, Turkey, crammed with weapons in late August 2012.

The shipments described in this recently declassified document were sent directly to small Syrian ports under rebel control and included RPG grenade-launchers, sniper rifles, and ammunition for 125mm and 155mm howitzers.

As I revealed two years ago, the U.S. backed arms shipments to ISIS and its allies in Syria appear to have been run out of the White House by then-counterterrorism advisor (and current CIA director) John Brennan. Running the clandestine arms shipments outside official channels allowed Obama and his allies – including Mrs. Clinton, who supported the arms shipments – to withhold that information from Congress.

Deflecting attention from these arms shipments is precisely why Obama and Hillary hatched their “blame-it-on-a-YouTube-video” narrative as the cause of the Benghazi attacks. It was a deliberate deception to trick the American people and cover-up their misdeeds.

Obama’s disastrous withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq in December 2011 clearly enhanced the ability of AQI and ISI to seize control of large portions of Iraqi territory and certainly contributed to the birth of ISIS. It also opened the door for Iran to fill the vacuum.

But as the August 2012 defense intelligence report states, that was the plan all along. Obama and Hillary wanted to create an ISIS-controlled enclave in Syria, “in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

Donald Trump was right. Again.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of Deception: the Making of the YouTube Video Hillary and Obama Blamed for Benghazi, released on July 19 and is now in its 4thprinting.

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Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Debacle: Arming Jihadists in Libya . . . and Syria

hillary-clinton-benghazi-scandal-arm-syrian-rebels-isis_0National Review, By Andrew C. McCarthy — August 2, 2016

As U.S. armed forces attack ISIS in Libya, WikiLeaks is poised to remind us that ISIS is in Libya — indeed, that ISIS is ISIS — thanks to disastrous policies championed by Hillary Clinton as President Obama’s secretary of state. Also raised, yet again, is the specter of Mrs. Clinton’s lying to Congress and the American people — this time regarding a matter some of us have been trying for years to get answers about: What mission was so important the United States kept personnel in the jihadist hellhole of Benghazi in 2012?

Specifically, did that mission involve arming the Syrian “rebels” — including al-Qaeda and forces that became ISIS — just as, at Mrs. Clinton’s urging, our government had armed Libyan “rebels” (again, jihadists) to catastrophic effect?

It has been less than two weeks since WikiLeaks rocked the Clinton campaign on the eve of the Democratic convention by leaking hacked e-mails illuminating DNC efforts to rig the nomination chase in Clinton’s favor. Now the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, has announced that WikiLeaks is soon to publish highly sensitive government e-mails that demonstrate Hillary Clinton’s key participation in efforts to arm jihadists in Syria. Just as in Libya, where Mrs. Clinton championed the strategy of arming Islamist “rebels,” the Syrian “rebels” who ultimately received weapons included the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and ISIS.

The Daily Wire and other outlets are reporting on Assange’s comments, published by Democracy Now. Clearly, we should not take Assange’s word for what is to be gleaned from the hacked records, which he says include some 17,000 e-mails “about Libya alone.” Let’s see if he has what he says he has. But it is worth setting the stage, because what is known is outrageous and has not been given nearly enough attention — largely because Beltway Republicans were complicit in the Obama-Clinton policy of allying with Islamists, and thus have shown no interest in probing the inevitably disastrous fallout.

As I have been pointing out for years, for example, we have never gotten to the bottom of why the State Department, under Mrs. Clinton’s direction, had an installation in Benghazi, one of the world’s most dangerous places for Americans.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration, had touted Qaddafi as a key counterterrorism ally against rabidly anti-American jihadists in eastern Libya. Nevertheless, Secretary Clinton led the policy shift in which our government changed sides in Libya — shifting support to the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, just as Mrs. Clinton had urged shifting U.S. support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In Libya, this included arming “rebels,” who naturally included a heavy concentration of jihadists.

EDITORIAL: What We Know about the Benghazi Attack Demands a Reckoning 

As I’ve recounted, to topple Qaddafi on behalf of the Islamists, the Obama administration — which did not seek congressional authorization for its offensive war (and preposterously maintained that bombing another country’s government was not really “war” anyway) — had to flout a United Nations resolution. The U.N. had agreed only to military operations for the purpose of protecting civilians, not offensive operations against the regime. Besides arming jihadists, the administration took no meaningful steps to make sure that Qaddafi’s military arsenals did not fall into terrorist hands. The regime was toppled and Qaddafi was brutally murdered — prompting Secretary Clinton’s bizarrely giddy quip, “We came, we saw, he died.” As some of us not-so-giddy types had warned would happen, Libya then became a safe haven for terrorists who turned on the American and Western forces that had cleared the path for them.

In small compass, this is the story of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in the Benghazi massacre. As Business Insider’s Michael B. Kelley recounts, before becoming ambassador, Stevens was the Obama administration’s official liaison to Qaddafi’s Islamist opposition in Libya, including its al-Qaeda-linked groups. The latter included the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Stevens worked directly with a top LIFG leader, Abdelhakim Belhadj.

When the Qaddafi regime was ousted, Belhadj took control of the Tripoli Military Council. In 2011, Belhadj met with anti-Assad “rebels” in Turkey to plan weapons shipments from Libya to Syria. As Mr. Kelley explains, in September 2012 the Times of London reported that “a Libyan ship ‘carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria . . . has docked in Turkey.’” According to that report:

The shipment reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Those heavy weapons are most likely from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock of about 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles — the bulk of them SA-7s — that the Libyan leader obtained from the former Eastern bloc. Reuters reports that Syrian rebels have been using those heavy weapons to shoot down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets. The ship’s captain was “a Libyan from Benghazi and the head of an organization called the Libyan National Council for Relief and Support,” which was presumably established by the new government.

Fox News subsequently reported that the ship, a Libyan-flagged vessel, Al-Entisar (The Victory), docked in the Turkish port of Iskenderun, only 35 miles from the Syrian border, on September 6, 2012. That was just five days before jihadists conducted the patently coordinated terrorist attack on the mysterious State Department and CIA compounds in Benghazi, killing four Americans including Stevens — who had been promoted to ambassador in May.

It is incontestable that the Obama administration has worked closely with the Islamist government of Turkey in efforts to arm and train “rebels” in Syria. Stevens’s last meeting on the night of September 11, 2012, right before the State Department’s Benghazi compound was attacked, was with Turkey’s consul general, Ali Sait Akin.

RELATED: Why Doesn’t the Buck Stop with Hillary?

In the months leading up to the attack on the State Department facility, and on the even more shadowy CIA outpost a little over a mile away, jihadists in eastern Libyaconducted a series of attacks against Western targets — including, on June 6, 2012, a bomb detonated just outside the State Department compound. The British government and the International Red Cross pulled their personnel out; yet the Obama administration left U.S. government personnel in, despite grossly inadequate security precautions.

Why? I believe that one significant mission was the coordination of weapons transfers from Libya to Syrian jihadists.

Remember the state of play in mid 2012. Obama was locked in a tight reelection race. He was falsely claiming that he had “decimated” al-Qaeda (which was actually thriving); that he was ending American wars (which were actually intensifying as he drew troops down despite ground conditions); and that his pro-Islamist policies were helping forge democracy in places like Egypt (then under Muslim Brotherhood rule) and Libya (which had disintegrated into a failed state under domination by Islamist militias). Prior to the November election, if Obama had openly announced that his administration was arming Syrian Islamists, it would have been highly controversial. It would have spotlighted how that same policy had failed in Libya, a fact to which neither the media nor Republicans had called public attention. This, no doubt, is why reports that Obama was “launching a covert operation to send weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time” (as the Times of London’s Christina Lamb put it) did not appear untilimmediately after Obama had won a second term.

Were Obama, Clinton, and others in the administration steering arms to Syrian jihadists before that time?

RELATED: The Benghazi Debacle Should Have Ended Hillary Clinton’s Career

Recall that in mid 2012, Obama was also feeling heat — from the Islamist regimes he was appeasing, from Beltway Republicans, and even from some in his own administration, apparently including Secretary Clinton — for not doing enough to help the “rebels” drive Assad from power in Syria. There was a good explanation for this reluctance: Our government knew that the Syrian “rebels,” like the Libyan “rebels,” teemed with jihadists. Not only has this fact long been notorious; Judicial Watch managed to wangle from the government an August 2012 Defense Department memo that flatly states, “The Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [i.e., al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The memo elaborates that its reference to AQI incorporates both Jaish al-Nusra (which is al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Syria) and the Islamic State (the breakaway “caliphate” spawned by AQI).

There was no defensible security arrangement or diplomatic need for the State Department facility in Benghazi (U.S. diplomatic functions were handled in Tripoli). Was its real purpose to give diplomatic cover to covert intelligence operations (such as those at the nearby CIA compound)? If so, did those operations include aiding and abetting the arming of the Syrian rebels?

Unnamed U.S. government sources furtively described the CIA facility as, according to Reuters, “a base for, among other things, collecting information on the proliferation of weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals, including surface-to-air missiles” (my italics). Putting aside the administration’s recklessness in failing to keep Qaddafi’s arsenals out of jihadist hands, what are the “other things” that the State Department and the CIA were up to?

We know, as detailed above, that Ambassador Stevens’s jihadist contact, Belhadj, moved an enormous shipment of weapons from Benghazi to the Syrian “rebels” in Turkey. And we know that, while claiming not to be directly arming those “rebels,” the Obama administration was working with Turkey, the Saudis, and other Islamist governments to determine which Syrian “rebels” should be armed. As the New York Times reported in June 2012, some three months before the Benghazi massacre:

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers. The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

The Times elaborated that “the Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.” To repeat, however: Soon after Obama’s reelection, the Times was explaining that “with help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment.” And by June 2013, the Times reported that the administration had begundirectly supplying the Syrian “rebels” with “small arms and ammunition.”

Right after Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi, the U.K.’s Telegraph reported that the CIA’s facility there was an operation “to supply missiles from Libyan armouries to Syrian rebels.” Simultaneously, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that enormous pressure was being brought to bear on CIA operatives not to reveal what the agency had been doing in Benghazi.

When Mrs. Clinton testified about the Benghazi massacre before a Senate committee in early 2013, she claimed to have no knowledge of any transfers of weapons from Libya to Turkey, Syria, or any other countries. As the The Daily Signal report details, Clinton was pointedly asked by Senator Rand Paul (R., Ken.) whether the U.S. had been “involved in any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya.” She initially tried to deflect the question, claiming that “nobody’s ever raised that with me.” But Senator Paul kept pressing:

It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons. And what Id’ like to know is, that [CIA] annex that was close by [the State Department facility], were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries? Any countries, Turkey included?

When Mrs. Clinton again tried to deflect, suggesting that he instead put the question “to the agency that ran the annex” — as if the State Department had had no knowledge of what the CIA was doing next door — Senator Paul countered that he was asking about what Clinton herself knew. Mrs. Clinton answered, “I don’t know. I don’t have any information on that.”

Was she telling the truth? Were U.S. personnel stationed as sitting ducks in Benghazi in order to help supply weapons to Syria, where it was inevitable they would fall into the hands of America’s enemies? Perhaps we’ll soon find out.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is as senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Obama Admin ALREADY Discriminates Against Syrian Refugees on Basis of Religion, They’re Just Christians

Hundreds of Assyrian families, some of them recently arrived from Islamic State controlled areas of Syria, attend Easter Sunday service at St. Georges Assyrian Church of The East in Sed El Baouchrieh, a working class suburb of Beirut.

Hundreds of Assyrian families, some of them recently arrived from Islamic State controlled areas of Syria, attend Easter Sunday service at St. Georges Assyrian Church of The East in Sed El Baouchrieh, a working class suburb of Beirut.

PJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE. AUGUST 1, 2016

Non-Muslim Syrian refugees have been virtually locked out by the Obama administration, according to current data from the State Department.

According to the Refugee Processing Center, of the 6,877 Syrian refugees that have arrived in 2016 through July 31st, 6,834 of those are identified as Sunni, Shia, or generic Muslim, meaning only 43 (0.7 percent) of refugees admitted have been non-Muslim.

That 0.7 percent of arrived refugees this year represents a statistically insignificant fraction of more than 2. 6 million Catholic, Syriac, Assyrian, and Greek Orthodox Christians, as well as Yazidis, other religions and atheists living in Syria, all of whom are being targeted by Islamic extremists.

This is odd since House Speaker Paul Ryan just yesterday announced that he was opposed to any religious test for entering the United States:

And yet the State Department’s own numbers show there is active discrimination going on targeting non-Muslim Syrian refugees.

According to The Gulf/2000 Project at Columbia University, the religious breakdown of the Syrian population 2008-2009 shows that Sunnis account for 15.98 million, or 73 percent of the population, while Shiites are 3.29 million, or 14.7 percent of the population. Those estimates show that Christians account for 2.04 million, or 9.3 percent of the population, while other religions account for 590,000, or 2.7 percent of the population.

This past March, Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that these minority religious communities in Syria were being targeted for genocide, as he announced at a press conference at the State Department:

My purpose here today is to assert in my judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims.

So where has been Speaker Ryan’s outrage over this active religious discrimination of non-Muslim minority Syrian refugees?

And why is Secretary of State Kerry overseeing a system of systematic religious discrimination of Syrian refugees by his own State Department against the very religious minority communities being targeted for genocide?

I’ve seen this discrimination by the State Department against Middle East Christians first-hand.

Two years ago I was introduced to an Egyptian Coptic Christian man who had fled Egypt and come to the U.S. after he was threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The introduction was made by my friend, Father Anthony Hanna of the St. Mary and St. Mina Coptic Church in Concord, California, who has escorted me into Upper Egypt to survey the destruction by the Muslim Brotherhood of the churches and monasteries in August 2013.

The problem was that this man’s wife and children had been attacked in their village near Minya, where attacks against Christians continue until this day, and were in hiding with family members elsewhere in Egypt. They had hoped to visit their husband and father in the U.S.

With the assistance of several members of Congress who had given the family members letters of support, the family applied to visas with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

And yet, the State Department denied their visa requests – a common complaint I’ve heard from Christians in Egypt and regularly from Coptic Church authorities.

So when Democrats and Republicans alike virtue-signal that they would NEVER countenance religious discrimination for refugees, it would be helpful for constituents and the media to remind them that the numbers clearly show there is ALREADY systematic religious discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities among Syrian refugees arriving in the U.S.

And despite the virtue-signaling, they have remained silent.

U.S.-Backed Syrian Forces Seize Documents and Data from Islamic State

REUTERS/STRINGER

REUTERS/STRINGER

Breitbart, by John Hayward, July 29, 2016:

On Wednesday, American military officials announced that U.S.-backed Arab and Kurdish fighters in Syria have seized an enormous trove of data from various Islamic State strongholds, weighing in at over four terabytes in size. The data is now being analyzed by the United States and other anti-ISIS coalition nations.

“The material, gathered as fighters moved from village to village surrounding the town of Manbij, includes notebooks, laptops, USB drives, and even advanced math and science textbooks rewritten with pro-Islamic State word problems,” Reuters reports, citing U.S. military spokesman Col. Chris Garver.

Garver said it would “take a lot” to review all of the material and begin “connecting the dots and trying to figure where we can start dismantling ISIS.”

He said Arab and Kurdish fighters had been told to keep an eye out for useful intelligence materials because Manbij was known to be a “strategic hub for the Islamic State” and also played an important role in processing new ISIS recruits when they arrived in Syria.

Garver said that no “specific lines of connection” had thus far been established between the Manbij training area and recent ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe.

According to Stars and Stripesabout 10,000 individual items of interest to intelligence analysts, from thumb drives to notebooks, have been seized in the Manbij area. About half of the city’s territory has been recaptured from ISIS, a process complicated by the large number of booby traps and snipers deployed by the terror state.

Newsweek identifies the fighters who have been capturing this material as members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a “coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters,” supported by airstrikes and special forces operations from the U.S.-led coalition.

The Defense Department’s report on the Manbij seizures includes the interesting and creepy detail that ISIS has been rewriting school textbooks to express “high-end math and science” lessons with their preferred ideological language.

“These are textbooks on how to control the lives of everybody that’s inside it, how everyone should live their lives, and how if you don’t live your life that way, you’re an enemy of the state – of the so-called, self-proclaimed state,” Garber explained.

“This is unlike any other organization that we’ve fought before, and with this sort of totalitarian attempt to control everything, it poses a significant threat not just to the people inside, but everybody that they want to expand out to, as well,” he added.

Syria’s Nusra Front Breaks from Al-Qaeda

AFP

AFP

Breitbart, by John Hayward, July 29, 2016:

The Nusra Front, formally known as Jabhat al-Nusra, has been al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria since late 2011. The Syrian group’s leader has announced it will now cut its ties with al-Qaeda and become independent, with al-Qaeda’s blessing.

The announcement came from Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani in his first video statement. As the BBC reports, Julani announced that his group would be renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which translates to “Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant,” and will have “no affiliation to any external entity.”

The reason for the split, and the reason al-Qaeda endorsed it, was to “remove the pretext used by powers, including the U.S. and Russia, to bomb Syrians.” In other words, Julani thinks his group has been unfairly targeted because it was linked to al-Qaeda, and now that it has been formally rebranded as an independent entity, foreign powers will no longer have an excuse to bomb them.

Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr said Nusra’s leadership had been instructed to “go ahead with what protects the interests of Islam and Muslims and what protects jihad.”

“The brotherhood of Islam is stronger than any organisational links that change and go away,” declared al-Qaeda’s number one, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The Russians do not need much of a pretext to bomb enemies of the Assad regime, and the U.S. clearly is not buying this “rebranding” strategy.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, not even troubling himself to use the Nusra Front’s new name, said:

The United States continues to assess that Nusra Front leaders maintain the intent to conduct eventual attacks in and against the West and there continues to be increasing concern about Nusra Front’s growing capacity for external operations that could threaten both the United States and Europe.

In fact, a report earlier this year from the Institute for the Study of War, and American Enterprise Institute, portrayed the Nusra Front as “much more dangerous to the U.S. than the ISIS model in the long run.”

“We judge any organization, including this one, much more by its actions, its ideology, its goals,” added State Department spokesman John Kirby. “Thus far, there’s no change to our views about this particular group. We certainly see no reasons to believe that their actions or their objectives are any different. And they are still considered a foreign terrorist organization.”

Perhaps it would have been more crafty for the al-Qaeda bosses to avoid admitting they ordered the “breakaway” as a propaganda ploy to “protect jihad.” Also, they are making the charade much less convincing by actively seeking closer ties with other Islamist groups in Syria.

CNN notes that just two weeks ago, the United States announced closer cooperation with Russia against the Nusra Front to “restore the cessation of hostilities, significantly reduce the violence and help create the space for a genuine and credible political transition” in Syria. Nusra is one of the groups excluded from the cessation of hostilities agreement, along with ISIS.

Of course, it is unlikely that anyone in the Nusra Front or al-Qaeda expected the Western world to accept this “rebranding” effort and let them go on their merry way. The goal is to create propaganda opportunities with other Islamist groups, who can be nudged into the al-Qaeda umbrella by Nusra leaders who are supposedly no longer al-Qaeda operatives, but share their “core ideology.” There will be much caterwauling about how the Americans and Russians are still unfairly bombing “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.”

CNN quoted analysts who also made an interesting case that the Nusra “rebranding” and the involvement of al-Qaeda second-in-command Masri are an indication Masri – supposedly “under arrest” in Iran, with the details rather murky, until recently – is actually in Syria, and may be preparing to take charge of al-Qaeda from Zawahiri.

This would enable Masri to continue Zawahiri’s strategy of spreading jihadi ideology without explicit connections to al-Qaeda at present, with an eye toward reasserting al-Qaeda as the Wal-Mart of jihad once ISIS has been defeated.

The report by the Institute for the Study of War/AEI, mentioned above, made the case that Nusra was “quietly entwining itself with the Syrian population and Syrian opposition,” and was “waiting in the wings to pick up the mantle of global jihad once ISIS falls,” as ISW president Kim Kagan put it.

This would make Nusra much more difficult to target than ISIS, which is not exactly easy to target, once it sinks roots into urban conquests, lines up human shields, and positions them to keep Syria in a state of war for years to come, no matter what political deals might be struck with other insurgent factions. From that constant turmoil, they could supply al-Qaeda with weapons and trained fighters to strike targets across the world.

Speaking in January, Kagan observed that the Nusra Front chose not to overtly attack the West “because the al-Qaeda leadership’s priority is preserving success in Syria and avoiding being targeted by the U.S.” This “rebranding” maneuver fits neatly into the strategy she described.

Also see:

CIA-Vetted ‘Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Who Received U.S. TOW Missiles Behead Palestinian Child

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PJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, JULY 20, 2016:

Should U.S. taxpayers take comfort in the fact that the CIA-supported “vetted moderate” rebels are only moderately beheading children?

That’s the question after shocking video emerged yesterday of fighters of Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki beheading a wounded Palestinian child near Aleppo.

What is most interesting is that Zinki had been promoted by the D.C. foreign policy “smart set” as an alternative to ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria.

The Daily Beast reports:

Members of an American-backed rebel group in Syria beheaded a young child in a grisly execution video.

The footage surfaced early Tuesday of members of Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki and a captured child in Handarat, near Aleppo. The young boy, who appears to be prepubescent, is then executed on the back of a pickup truck.

The gruesome videotaped murder of a child drew outrage on social media and the promise of an inquiry from the group’s leadership, which has previously received U.S.-made weapons and American funding. The group no longer gets such backing. But it’s also renewed questions about which rebels the American government has supported in Syria’s ongoing civil war […]

There are two clips from the unsavory events. One shows five militants surrounding the boy. In the second, one of them stands over him on the truck and cuts the boy’s head off with a dull knife, raising it over his head.

The wounded child can be seen with an IV in his right arm. The video, shown here with the beheading blurred out, is disturbing. [WARNING: GRAPHIC VIDEO]

Video of Zinki fighters using CIA-provided TOW ATGM missiles continued to be posted:

But as news of the beheading video began to spread yesterday, the “experts” who had openly supported Zinki as moderates were quick to backtrack, saying the CIA had stopped supporting the group, including:

But when State Department spokesman Mark Toner doesn’t seem as committal to permanently banning support to the group when asked about it yesterday:

In fact, Lister had been representing Zinki as US-vetted as recently as last month:

When someone noted that CIA support for Zinki had been withdrawn, Lister reported the situation was “blurry” and that US support, namely TOW missiles, had resumed:

This raises a serious question about the nature of the CIA’s vetting of these Syrian rebel groups. Here it is represented as a magical status that can be granted, removed, and then restored. But for most outside the D.C. foreign policy “smart set” vetting would seem to be a consideration of whether they were, in fact, actually moderate and worthy of U.S. support.

But it appears that U.S. “vetting” can involve determining that a group is “vetted” one moment, unvetted the next, and again deemed “vetted” all within the span of a few months. This process seems antithetical to “vetting.”

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Islamic State Preparing for Loss of Caliphate

ISIS soldiers. (Photo: © Screenshot from video)

ISIS soldiers. (Photo: © Screenshot from video)

Clarion Project,  July 14, 2016:

The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)  is ordering potential recruits to remain in their countries of origin and wait to carry out attacks there, in preparation for the loss of territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

The world’s most notorious terrorist group has been steadily losing territory in Iraq to the Iraqi army, bolstered by Iranian backed Shiite militias, and in Syria to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Western-backed coalition of militia groups dominated by Kurdish YPG forces.

“While we see our core structure in Iraq and Syria under attack, we have been able to expand and have shifted some of our command, media and wealth structure to different countries,” a longtime Islamic State operative told the Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“We do have, every day, people reaching out and telling us they want to come to the caliphate. But we tell them to stay in their countries and rather wait to do something there.”

Islamic State’s supporters will not be deterred by a lack of organizational infrastructure, former CIA head and retired air force general Michael Hayden told the Washington Post.

“Where al-Qaeda was hierarchical and somewhat controlled, these guys are not,” he said. “They have all the energy and unpredictability of a populist movement.”

IHS senior analyst Columb Strack concurred, telling CNN that “as the Islamic State’s caliphate shrinks and it becomes increasingly clear that its governance project is failing, the group is re-prioritizing insurgency.”

“As a result, we unfortunately expect an increase in mass casualty attacks and sabotage of economic infrastructure, across Iraq and Syria, and further afield, including Europe.”

Experts see this trend as already happening. The recent attacks against Saudi Arabia “bear the hallmarks of ISIL” CIA Director John Brennan announced Wednesday.

The Islamic State successfully carried out an attack against the United States in Orlando Florida, when the Pulse gay nightclub was attacked on June 12 by Omar Mateen, and 49 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in recent American history.

Yet there are many more attempts which are prevented by security services. On Sunday July 10 a Virginia man was arrested in a sting operation after helping an FBI informant make videos of landmarks in Washington DC in preparation for an ISIS terrorist attack.

Last year the FBI investigated terrorism in all 50 states.

C.I.A. Arms for Syrian Rebels Supplied Black Market, Officials Say

The funeral in Rimoun, Jordan, for Anwar Abu Zaid, a police captain who was killed after he attacked a police training center in November. American and Jordanian officials said they believed that the weapons he used had been meant for a program to train Syrian rebels. CreditNasser Nasser/Associated Press

The funeral in Rimoun, Jordan, for Anwar Abu Zaid, a police captain who was killed after he attacked a police training center in November. American and Jordanian officials said they believed that the weapons he used had been meant for a program to train Syrian rebels. CreditNasser Nasser/Associated Press

 

NYT, by MARK MAZZETTI and ALI YOUNES, JUNE 26, 2016

AMMAN, Jordan — Weapons shipped into Jordan by the Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia intended for Syrian rebels have been systematically stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold to arms merchants on the black market, according to American and Jordanian officials.

Some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting in November that killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman, F.B.I. officials believe after months of investigating the attack, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The existence of the weapons theft, which ended only months ago after complaints by the American and Saudi governments, is being reported for the first time after a joint investigation by The New York Times and Al Jazeera. The theft, involving millions of dollars of weapons, highlights the messy, unplanned consequences of programs to arm and train rebels — the kind of program the C.I.A. and Pentagon have conducted for decades — even after the Obama administration had hoped to keep the training program in Jordan under tight control.

The Jordanian officers who were part of the scheme reaped a windfall from the weapons sales, using the money to buy expensive SUVs, iPhones and other luxury items, Jordanian officials said.

The theft and resale of the arms — including Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades — have led to a flood of new weapons available on the black arms market. Investigators do not know what became of most of them, but a disparate collection of groups, including criminal networks and rural Jordanian tribes, use the arms bazaars to build their arsenals. Weapons smugglers also buy weapons in the arms bazaars to ship outside the country.

The F.B.I. investigation into the Amman shooting, run by the bureau’s Washington field office, is continuing. But American and Jordanian officials said the investigators believed that the weapons a Jordanian police captain, Anwar Abu Zaid, used to gun down two American contractors, two Jordanians and one South African had originally arrived in Jordan intended for the Syrian rebel-training program.

The officials said this finding had come from tracing the serial numbers of the weapons.

Mohammad H. al-Momani, Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs, said allegations that Jordanian intelligence officers had been involved in any weapons thefts were “absolutely incorrect.”

“Weapons of our security institutions are concretely tracked, with the highest discipline,” he said. He called the powerful Jordanian intelligence service, known as the General Intelligence Directorate, or G.I.D., “a world-class, reputable institution known for its professional conduct and high degree of cooperation among security agencies.” In Jordan, the head of the G.I.D. is considered the second most important man after the king.

Representatives of the C.I.A. and F.B.I. declined to comment.

The State Department did not address the allegations directly, but a spokesman said America’s relationship with Jordan remained solid.

“The United States deeply values the long history of cooperation and friendship with Jordan,” said John Kirby, the spokesman. “We are committed to the security of Jordan and to partnering closely with Jordan to meet common security challenges.”

The training program, which in 2013 began directly arming the rebels under the code name Timber Sycamore, is run by the C.I.A. and several Arab intelligence services and aimed at building up forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The United States and Saudi Arabia are the biggest contributors, with the Saudis contributing both weapons and large sums of money, and with C.I.A. paramilitary operatives taking the lead in training the rebels to use Kalashnikovs, mortars, antitank guided missiles and other weapons.

The existence of the program is classified, as are all details about its budget. American officials say that the C.I.A. has trained thousands of rebels in the past three years, and that the fighters made substantial advances on the battlefield against Syrian government forces until Russian military forces — launched last year in support of Mr. Assad — compelled them to retreat.

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