Israeli airstrikes target suspected chemical weapons facility in Syria

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Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, Sept. 7, 2017:

Israel struck a suspected chemical weapons facility maintained by Bashar al Assad’s regime near Masyaf, Syria earlier today. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), a propaganda arm for Assad’s regime, quickly confirmed the strikes, claiming that “Israeli warplanes fired several rockets from the Lebanese airspace.” SANA did not mention that Masyaf reportedly houses a chemical weapons facility, but claimed that “two army personnel” were killed and “material damage” was done “to the site.”

The airstrikes were launched less than a day after the United Nations released a report saying it has documented “25 incidents of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Arab Republic” between Mar. 2013 and Mar. 2017. Twenty of these “were perpetrated by government forces and used primarily against civilians.” The UN also held the Assad regime responsible for Apr. 4 sarin attack on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. At least 83 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the bombing. Both the Syrian and Russian governments have denied the regime’s culpability, but the UN found that their explanation was not credible.

The facility near Masyaf, which is located in the Hama province, is one of several suspected chemical weapons sites maintained by the Syrian regime. Both the UN and the US say that despite agreeing to give up its chemical weapons, the regime continues to operate a weapons of mass destruction program.

In January, the US Treasury Department sanctioned “18 senior regime officials connected to Syria’s weapons of mass destruction program.” The sanctions were announced after a UN body “found that the Syrian government, specifically the Syrian Arab Air Force, was responsible for three chlorine gas attacks” on Apr. 21, 2014 and Mar. 16, 2015.

Among those sanctioned were several officials who work for the regime’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which reportedly manages the sites in Masyaf and elsewhere.

In late April, just weeks after the Sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Treasury announced “one of the largest sanctions actions in” history. 271 SSRC employees were sanctioned. Treasury explained that they “have expertise in chemistry and related disciplines and/or have worked in support of SSRC’s chemical weapons program since at least 2012.”

Treasury’s designations did not specifically mention Masyaf as one of the SSRC’s chemical weapons facilities, but other reporting has pointed to the location.

In May, BBC News cited a document prepared by a “western intelligence agency” as indicating that Assad’s men were producing chemical weapons at three primary locations. In addition to Masyaf, two other facilities, Dummar and Barzeh, are reportedly located outside of Damascus. The same document “alleges that both Iran and Russia, the [Syrian] government’s allies, are aware” of the ongoing chemical weapons production, according to the BBC.

Israel has closely tracked the facilities in Masyaf and elsewhere for years, fearing that the Syrian military may transfer some of the know-how to Hezbollah or other Iranian-backed terrorists. This concern has only grown as Hezbollah has increased its footprint inside the country. In 2012, Spiegel Online reported that Masyaf was one of the locations being closely monitored by Israeli intelligence and Israel was “weighing whether to strike.”

Israel has repeatedly bombed other locations inside Syria since the beginning of the war.

In May, for example, the Israeli Air Force struck an apparent weapons shipment to Hezbollah at the T-4 military base near Palmyra. In Dec. 2015, the Israelis reportedly bombed a Hezbollah position, killing a long-wanted terrorist. These are just two of Israel’s suspected bombings in Syria. [See FDD’s Long War Journal reports: Israel’s airstrikes in Palmyra likely targeted Hezbollah weapons shipments
 and Israeli Air Force kills notorious Hezbollah commander in Syria.]

The facilities at Masyaf reportedly store not only chemical weapons, but also the means for delivering them. Jane’s Defence Weekly reported in 2014 that various Syrian regime development projects, including those related to “missile and rocket production,” were relocated to Masyaf as a result of the ongoing war. Projects related to manufacturing Scud missiles, armor, and surface-to-air missiles were already based in Masyaf, according to Jane’s.

In April, the US launched its own airstrikes on a Syrian airbase. The bombings were carried out after the sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

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

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Sending more troops to Afghanistan is a good start

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, Aug. 21, 2017:

Editors’ note: A version of this article was first published at The Weekly Standard

In a primetime speech Monday evening, President Trump is expected to announce the deployment of several thousand more American troops to Afghanistan. We doubt this will be enough to win the war, but it is better than the alternatives offered to the president. A complete withdrawal would have been disastrous.

The premature withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State, which evolved into an international menace after overrunning much of Iraq and Syria. A similar scenario could have unfolded in Central and South Asia. The Taliban-led insurgency currently contests or controls more territory today than in years. And a withdrawal would have cleared the jihadists’ path to take even more ground, possibly leading to dire ramifications throughout the region.

Therefore, President Trump deserves credit for making a decision that went against his gut instinct, which told him to get out. In the process, America and its Afghan allies avoided the near-certain catastrophe that would have followed.

But if America is really going to put the Afghan government on the path to victory, then the Trump administration will have to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors. In particular, the US government needs to drastically reassess America’s jihadist enemies and avoid the policy pitfalls of the past.

With that in mind, the Trump administration has the opportunity to make the following course corrections.

Stop underestimating al Qaeda

President Trump can explain to the American people that al Qaeda is still a significant problem in South Asia—a potentially big one. President Barack Obama frequently claimed that al Qaeda was “decimated” and a “shadow of its former self” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That wasn’t true. The Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign dealt significant blows to al Qaeda’s leadership, disrupting the organization’s chain-of-command and interrupting its communications. But al Qaeda took measures to outlast America’s drones and other tactics. The group survived the death of Osama bin Laden and, in many ways, grew.

Consider that from June 2010 until 2016—that is, most of the Obama administration—the US government repeatedly insisted that there were just 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives in all of Afghanistan. This was clearly false at the time, and US officials were eventually forced to admit that this figure was far off.

From October 2015 until the first week of December 2016, the US and its allies killed or captured 400 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan—four times the longstanding high-end estimate. In October 2015, American and Afghan forces raided two large training camps in the Shorabak district of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province. One of them was nearly 30 square miles in size. US officials described the camp as likely the largest al Qaeda training facility in the history of Afghanistan. Both of the Shorabak camps were supported by the Taliban.

Think about that: In October 2015—more than 14 years after the 9/11 hijackings —the US led a raid on what was probably the largest al Qaeda training camp in history. So much for being “decimated.”

Al Qaeda continues to fight under the Taliban’s banner as well. Its newest branch, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is deeply embedded in the Taliban-led insurgency. And just days before the 2016 presidential election, the US killed a veteran al Qaeda leader in eastern Afghanistan who was both planning attacks against the American homeland and supporting the Taliban’s insurgency. Incredibly, al Qaeda is still able to plot attacks against the US from inside Afghanistan.

Some of the Americans newly deployed to Afghanistan will be called upon to perform counterterrorism missions. Similar efforts have disrupted anti-American plots in the past. But al Qaeda has used its broader role in the insurgency to regenerate its threats against the West. The American mission needs to root out al Qaeda, much more so than in the recent past. Are there other Shorabak-type training camps? How many fighters does al Qaeda really have in Afghanistan— taking into account its ethnically diverse membership? The Trump administration needs to focus on these types of questions. Otherwise, al Qaeda will keep coming back.

Forget about a grand bargain with the Taliban’s senior leadership

Many officials in the US government think the only way the Afghan war ends is by negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban. There’s just one problem: The Taliban has never shown any real interest in peace.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton oversaw negotiations with the Taliban during the Obama administration. The talks were a fiasco. The Taliban extracted various concessions and the US never got anything in return, other than Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an accused deserter. The current Taliban honcho is Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, whose son carried out a suicide bombing in July. Akhundzada is a jihadist ideologue, not a prospective peace partner. Negotiating with him would be sheer folly. The Obama administration also pursued talks with the Taliban under the theory that the group could forswear al Qaeda. See the details above—that idea was always a dangerous fantasy.

The US and the Afghan government can and should attempt to peel away mid- to low-level Taliban fighters and commanders. But the idea that a grand bargain can be had with the Taliban has never been rooted in reality.

Stop treating the Haqqani Network as a separate group

The US has long operated under the delusion that the powerful Haqqani family and its loyalists are somehow distinct from the Taliban. It was always a curious assumption given that Jalaluddin Haqqani, the network’s eponymous founder, formally joined the Taliban in the mid-1990s. His son, Sirajuddin (a key al Qaeda ally), has been the Taliban’s No. 2 leader since 2015 and oversees much of the Taliban’s military operations. Sirajuddin’s ascent within the Taliban’s ranks means that no one can pretend that the Haqqani Network and the Taliban are distinct entities any longer. The Haqqani Network has long been designated a terrorist organization by the US government. The Trump administration should extend the designation to cover the entire Taliban, thereby making it clear to anyone who does business with the Taliban that they are backing a terrorist group.

The Islamic State is a threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not nearly as much of a threat as the Taliban-al Qaeda axis

The US has spent disproportionate resources fighting the Islamic State’s “province” in eastern Afghanistan. Earlier this year, for example, the US military dropped the “mother of all bombs” on the group’s stronghold in Nangarhar province. Several Americans have died during operations against Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists in country.

There’s no question that the Islamic State remains a serious problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it still doesn’t threaten the Afghan government to the same degree that the Taliban-al Qaeda axis does. The Islamic State controls parts of perhaps several Afghan districts. But the Taliban and its allies contest or control approximately 40 percent of the country. Therefore, the US has focused a lot of resources on a, relatively speaking, smaller threat. The Trump administration will need to devise a more offensive approach to dealing with the Taliban-al Qaeda alliance, an effort that has been hampered by restrictive rules of engagement in the past.

Pakistan continues to be a big problem

It is no secret that Pakistan harbors much of the Taliban’s senior leadership. But the US has only occasionally targeted these figures inside Pakistan proper. If Pakistan won’t turn on the Taliban—and it won’t—then the Trump administration should take more aggressive action against the group’s Pakistani safe havens.

The drone campaign can be expanded to target known Taliban leaders operating inside Pakistan. For example, the organization’s leader, Mullah Mansour, was killed in a May 2016 airstrike in Pakistan after he returned from a visit to Iran. Mansour’s death was intended to open the door to possible peace talks, which didn’t materialize.

If the Taliban is allowed to continue operating unencumbered, then the administration will be repeating the mistakes of the past. For too long, the Taliban’s leaders have been able to direct the insurgency in Afghanistan from their cozy confines in Pakistan. American aid to Pakistan can and should be withheld until the country’s military and intelligence establishment proves willing to make meaningful changes in its behavior. No one should hold their breath waiting for this happen, however, and the Trump administration can’t afford to wait.

Iran remains a problem, too

The Iranian government has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since 2001. Although this assistance is not as pronounced as Pakistan’s, it is meaningful. The US government has also repeatedly noted that Iran hosts al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” which moves fighters, funds, and communications to and from South Asia. Any successful strategy for turning the Afghan war around will have to deal with the Iranian government’s nefarious role.

The Russians are on the opposite side of the Afghan war. The Russians are, at a minimum, providing rhetorical support to the Taliban. There are reports that Russia has provided arms to Taliban insurgents as well. President Trump has made no secret of the fact that he seeks better relations with Vladimir Putin’s government. But Russia’s flirtations (and maybe more) with the Taliban are a stark reminder that this will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. In the meantime, the US will have to take steps to disrupt Putin’s relationship with his favorite jihadis in the Taliban.

The rural areas matter

US military officials often downplay the importance of rural areas, arguing that they need only bolster the Afghan government’s defenses in the more heavily populated areas. But this is a mistake. The Taliban’s insurgents have been using their advances in Afghanistan’s more rural territory to orchestrate sieges on several provincial capitals. If the US and Afghan forces don’t go on the offensive in these areas, then the jihadists will continue to squeeze the more populated terrain.

These are just some of the issues that confront the US on the road ahead.

With his decision, President Trump has ensured that the worst-case scenario won’t unfold. But that is a long way from victory. And to win, the US is going to have to get real about our jihadist enemies in Afghanistan.

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

The North Korean Crisis: Immediate Considerations

Real Clear Defense, By Michael J. Del Rosso, Brian Kennedy & Stephen Meyer, August 17, 2017: (H/T John Guandolo)

Whatever respite there may be between North Korea and the United States, make no mistake that the possibilities of a nuclear conflict with North Korea and, by extension, the People’s Republic of China, remain.  As our nation faces this threat, there are very few options to deter this perilous situation. This does not have to be the case. We have an opportunity to remedy long standing vulnerabilities.

Strategic nuclear affairs are poorly understood by the American public and their representatives in Congress. Few know that the condition of our nuclear arsenal is suspect, our missiles defenses are of uncertain effectiveness and coverage, the probability for nuclear deterrence failing is quite high, and our national civil defenses are severely atrophied.

The United States is at this point because members of Congress have relied upon military leaders and defense experts, who over time, seemed driven by political correctness and flawed nuclear deterrence theories. As a matter of policy, the United States has decided to leave the American people vulnerable to missile attack and to rely, instead, on the threat of nuclear retaliation. This policy was continued at the same time both the Russians and Chinese proliferated nuclear weapon and ballistic missile technology to the likes of Iran and North Korea and built or are building their own missile defenses.

Both Democratic and Republican administrations have presided over the systemic national security failure to address the threat of ballistic missile attack that now confronts President Trump. This failure presents an existential threat to the United States that must be immediately addressed.

A factual threat analysis will show that the United States should:

  1. Introduce a robust and more certain, multi-tier, national missile defense capability that includes introducing both Space-Based and Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV)-based Boost Phase Interceptors (BPI) which can be rapidly developed using existing, mature technologies. Unlike existing ballistic missile defense systems, BPIs are less expensive and have a higher kill probability, targeting missiles in the most vulnerable phases of flight. Why deploy both basing schemes? Because we have committed adversaries who threaten the further existence of the Republic and it is about time America respond proportionately.
  2. Harden our critical infrastructure to the effects of a nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack.
  3. Modernize our nuclear triad for enhance deterrence.
  4. Reintroduce national civil defense down to the community, household, and individual level. This initiative should be instituted immediately no matter what other courses of action are decided upon. It is immoral not to alert the U.S. population of the probability and severity of the risks they face and educate them on how to mitigate that risk. A prepared population adds to our overall deterrence.
  5. Re-evaluate the responsible executive branch agencies’ decision-making processes and methodologies by which risks from threats and hazards are rank-prioritized and recommendations for risk-proportionate mitigation and response activities generated.

The Threat

Russia and the People’s Republic of China both possess large arsenals of intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. According to defectors, these warheads are currently targeting the major cities of the United States and that of our allies in Europe, Asia, and Israel. The revolution in precision guidance gives these weapons decapitating, first-strike thermonuclear capabilities against our nuclear forces. For more than 20 years both the Russians and the Chinese have been modernizing the lethality of their warheads and expanding their arsenals.

Of concern are nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NEMP) devices that detonate at 100 to 150 km altitude.  Indeed, Kim Jong-un’s threat of final doom is likely based on a single NEMP.  A single NEMP permanently destroys power and communication infrastructures over many hundreds of miles and does not require either re-entry or precision guidance.

We must assume that North Korea possesses NEMP devices.

In 1995 the Russian military think tank that serves the Russian General Staff, known as INOBIS, issued a paper recommending that Russia deliberately proliferate missile and nuclear weapon technology to nations hostile to the United States.  The rationale was that nuclear proliferation would balance growing U.S. power, and thwart Washington’s efforts to establish a New World Order dominated by America.

In 2004 Russian flag officers gave testimony to the U.S. Congressional EMP Commission that super EMP weapon technology in fact “leaked” to North Korea; and it is being developed with help from Russia, China, Pakistan and elsewhere.

In 2013 South Korea’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), said in a report to parliament that North Korea was using Russian technology to develop electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons aimed at destroying military electronic equipment south of the border.

We also must assume that North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile is now capable of attacking the United States with an NEMP device.

Additionally, North Korea has two satellites, KMS 3-2 and KMS 4, which are presently orbiting at an altitude of 300 miles. Their trajectories put them over the continental U.S. daily. Their payloads may be NEMP devices waiting to be used. Erring on the side of caution, consideration should be given to shoot them down preemptively so that the debris field falls upon a benign area of the earth, with WC-135C Constant Phoenix “sniffer” aircraft on the ready to sample the debris paths for radiological indications of the payloads.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, despite the flawed agreement with the Obama administration, continues to pursue the building of nuclear warhead technology.  It is very likely that they already possess a handful of nuclear warheads acquired from Russia, China, North Korea or Pakistan.  The quality and reliability of these warheads are questionable, and their numbers are insufficient for power projection. For this reason, Iran is seeking to build nuclear warheads. It is believed every nuclear test conducted in North Korea has included Iranian scientists.

Iranian nuclear war fighting doctrine scenarios include the use of their Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile launched from a freighter ship. Twice during the 1990s, the Iranians conducted successful tests from a barge in the Caspian Sea where they launched such a missile. In both tests, the warheads exploded in the high atmosphere simulating an electromagnetic pulse attack.

If the Iranians can deploy the right kind of nuclear warhead on such a missile, and if they are able to detonate one over a region of the United States, they could destroy some or all of the electric and electronic infrastructure of the United States.  Such a nuclear explosion in the high atmosphere destroys both critical microelectronics and the large transformers that distribute electric power through the three major electric grids of the United States.

A highly successful EMP attack could result in a sovereignty ending event. A less successful attack could mean the destruction of the U.S. economy. Because the missile was launched from a ship, attribution of the culprit may not be immediately possible.  If an adversary were to launch an EMP weaponized missile from a vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, not only are there no missile defense assets in place to defend against it, we even lack southern-facing radar to detect such a launch.

Finally, the Russians and the Chinese, in addition to their own nuclear ballistic missile arsenals, have spent decades developing their surrogates, Iran and North Korea, into existential, nuclear threats to the United States and the West. They have given them material and technical support and may have even transferred nuclear warheads to them directly.

The purpose of these actors’ nuclear arsenals is to destroy the civilian population of the United States, exert influence over a U.S. President with nuclear blackmail, and check the strategic capabilities of the United States.

Re-introduce Civil Defense

It should be something of a scandal that we have left the people of the United States undefended from a nuclear attack. Even more so because the Russians have their own national missile defense, however crude, it may be, and the Chinese are building their own missile defense as well. Both Russia and China believe that if war comes, they should be able to win. In October 2016, Russia performed a three-day nuclear war training exercise in which 40 million people engaged in civil defense drills. China also maintains extensive public shelters for nuclear war protection.

In contrast, national Civil Defense capabilities no longer exist in the United States. The logic behind abandoning Civil Defense, explained in declassified Presidential Decision Memoranda from the Kennedy administration, might best be described as immoral; politicians thought it would be “destabilizing” for Americans to be stronger and more survivable than the Soviets.  In the early decades of the Cold War, billions of dollars were spent understanding how to mitigate nuclear weapons effects. For the past several months the state of Hawaii has started to reintroduce this knowledge. The rest of the nation should follow suit, immediately, including community, household, and individual resiliency and preparedness. Leadership and informed citizens are primarily all that is needed. Civil Defense is a very cost-effective means of mitigating nuclear weapons effects and saving millions of American lives. It also contributes to America’s overall deterrence.

Read more


Michael Del Rosso is Vice President of the American Strategy Group

Brian T. Kennedy is President of the American Strategy Group

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute

Forget about Trump and the Russians. The real action is with the Awan brothers and Fusion GPS.

Photo: Dulles International Airport (Joe Ravi CC-BY-SA 3.0 / Creative Commons)

The American Spectator, by Scott McKay July 28, 2017:

From a press release that hit on Thursday…

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Judiciary Committee Republicans today sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein calling for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate unaddressed matters, some connected to the 2016 election and others, including many actions taken by Obama Administration officials like Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The letter follows yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee approval of H. Res. 446, as amended, to request documents pertaining to the FBI’s investigation of former Secretary Clinton.

In their letter, the Judiciary Committee members express concern that the directive given to Special Counsel Robert Mueller is narrow in scope and many concerns arising out of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath are not being investigated. The members call for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate grave concerns such as former Attorney General Lynch’s directive to former FBI Director Comey to mislead the American people on the nature of the investigation into former Secretary Clinton; the FBI and Justice Department’s investigative decisions related to the Clinton email investigation, including the immunity deals given to potential co-conspirators; selected leaks of classified information that unmasked U.S. persons incidentally collected upon by the intelligence community; and the FBI’s reliance on “Fusion GPS” in its investigation of the Trump campaign, among many others issues.

If you’re sick and tired of the never-ending “Trump And The Russians” scandal, which for all its hype has produced scant little actual evidence of anything other than desultory cooperation on the part of the president’s camp with an investigation it quite reasonably believes is a kangaroo court, this letter from Goodlatte’s committee might just be what the doctor ordered.

Because as Washington scandals go, Trump And The Russians doesn’t even make it out of Double-A ball. What Goodlatte and the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee want is a special counsel to take us up to the Triple-A or major league scandal level, because there are opportunities for playing time available.

The unmasking issue still has a lot of undiscovered meat on its bones; we’ve already seen a little evidence of that. The Lynch-Comey-Phoenix Airport nexus deserves a lot more scrutiny than it’s received, as do those immunity grants. And the leaks without a doubt deserve a full investigation, and some smug SOB’s from the Deep State surely deserve lengthy prison terms.

But the Fusion GPS business — and the long-simmering and now-burgeoning Awan brothers scandal — are monsters hiding in D.C.’s closet. Here’s to both those scandals continuing to crackle and spark over the next several months, on the way to full explosions the legacy media can no longer contain.

Readers of this column already have an understanding of the Awan brothers scandal, as this space covered a substantial amount of the background of it back in February when things first started happening. Click here to see that background; we’ll give a very short summary of it now.

The central figure in this scandal is a Pakistani national named Imran Awan, who appears to be connected in some way to his country’s intelligence service. Awan is an IT professional who was hired in 2004 to handle computer equipment for Florida Democrat congressman Robert Wexler, and he then picked up a job as a shared staffer to work for Wexler’s colleague Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Awan rode along with Wasserman Schultz as she ascended to the top of the Democratic Party structure, and soon not only was his boss the chair of the Democratic National Committee but Awan’s relationship with her led to his building a client list of some 80 Democrat House members who were using either Imran or other members of his family (a pair of brothers, one of their wives, his own wife) in a sizable little empire he’d built.

And in the meantime, the Awan family was engaging in a pattern of financial activities that looked a whole lot like a mafia operation — questionable real estate deals, bank fraud, kidnapping and extortion, a used-car dealership that might well have been a front for moving stolen cars to Pakistan for sale, and so on. Awan was arrested at Dulles International Airport on Monday as he tried to flee the country while the FBI and Capitol Hill Police were closing in on a bank fraud indictment. In January he had wired some $283,000 from the Congressional Federal Credit Union to two individuals in Pakistan; he was trying to board a flight to Lahore when he had the cuffs put on him.

But the real juice with the Awans isn’t the bank fraud or the possible stolen cars. The real scandal here is the stolen computers — and the stolen information. It’s alleged that the Awans illegally downloaded documents from their clients, some of whom were on the House Intelligence Committee and other sensitive committees, and even walked off with congressional computers. The FBI, in fact, seized a number of CPU’s and hard drives found at a house owned by Imran that he was renting to a military couple after the tenants had found the equipment partially destroyed in the garage and called the authorities. We don’t know what was on those hard drives.

There are even allegations the Awans were blackmailing their clients with information they’d found in their e-mails. Your imagination can likely conjure up all kinds of entertaining scenarios around that theme.

But the piece de resistance with the Awan brothers scandal is the revelation that Imran Awan, with his foreign intelligence connections, his criminal appearance and his persistent financial problems despite apparently not lacking in the ability to make a buck, had the password to Wasserman Schultz’ iPad from which she answered her e-mail… as DNC chair.

Forget about the Russians and their supposed hacking of the DNC e-mails. If you’re really curious about who got to that information and would have been in a position to shop it to the highest bidder, Imran Awan is the most likely culprit in the room.

Things are moving very quickly on this case, and it’s somewhat telling that Awan was released on bond after being caught trying to flee the country. He has a tracking bracelet on his ankle, but what makes more sense is that he may have turned states’ evidence in exchange for being let out of jail. Awan’s attorney is former Bill Clinton go-fer Chris Gowen, and the lawyer’s statement after he’d been arrested reads like a press release from a campaign operative rather than a criminal attorney; bizarrely so, one might say. It might be that Awan is rolling on Wasserman Schultz and the Clintons have decided to hang her out to dry in order to insulate themselves from whatever blowback the DNC e-mails might generate for them.

Or maybe that isn’t possible anymore. Former Washington police detective Rod Wheeler, who you’ve probably seen on Fox News from time to time and who most recently was in the news as having done some private snooping in the Seth Rich case, has intimated there is a connection between that case and that of the Awan brothers. We’re not going to try to connect those dots without more information, but one’s imagination might run riot with those.

Meanwhile, Republicans in both the House and the Senate are exceptionally curious about Fusion GPS, and with good reason. In case you’re not familiar with this outfit, it’s the “opposition research and strategic communications” firm co-founded by former Wall Street Journal reporters Peter Fritsch and Glenn Simpson which played a significant role in the 2016 election. It was Fusion GPS which commissioned the infamous and debunked “pee pee dossier,” written by former British spy Christopher Steele, sourced largely from Steele’s Russian contacts and containing a mountain of scurrilous and implausible allegations about Donald Trump’s misbehaviors. Fusion GPS was initially contracted by anti-Trump Republican donors, but after Trump got the GOP nomination it was Democrats paying the freight for their work product… and before it was over it looks like James Comey’s FBI, amazingly, was picking up the tab.

That last part is of special interest to Sen. Charles Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has made a priority out of Fusion GPS, and had called Simpson to testify. He did, but only in private, and only after threatening to take the Fifth. That’s his right, but what does an oppo researcher need the Fifth Amendment for?

But there’s more with Fusion GPS. On Wednesday Tucker Carlson had as a guest on his show one Thor Halvorssen, a Venezuelan native of Norwegian descent who runs a watchdog outfit called the Human Rights Foundation, and Halvorssen told a harrowing story of Fusion GPS attempting to destroy his life with a smear campaign because he’d blown the whistle on a crooked contract one of Fusion’s clients had with the Venezuelan government to build power plants. That story also got told in a letter Halvorssen sent to Grassley’s committee. And then there is Fusion’s other client, Natalia Veselnitskaya, the “Russian lawyer” whose meeting with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Paul Manafort has been bandied about as some sort of smoking gun proving collusion with the Russians. It turns out that Veselnitskaya had hired Fusion to help her push to overturn the Magnitsky Act, a sanctions bill targeting crooked Russian oligarchs and human rights abusers. In none of these cases did Fusion bother to register under FARA, the Foreign Agent Registry Act, which would put them on the wrong side of the law.

Grassley’s committee, and Goodlatte’s committee, would like to know if this entire Russian business was a setup cooked-up by Fusion’s dirty-tricks shop with the collusion of a few actors in the Obama administration. It’s hard to blame them.

There’s a lot of debate about Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra these days, but nobody is really denying the swamp exists. And nobody can — not with Fusion GPS and the Awan brothers skulking around in the muck.

Report: Trump Ending Obama’s Covert CIA Program to Arm and Train Syrian Rebels

AP Photo/Virginie Nguyen Huang

Breitbart, by John Hayward, July 19, 2017:

President Donald Trump is reportedly ending a covert CIA program to arm and train Syrian rebel forces that dates back to 2013.

According to a report by the Washington Postthe president made the decision almost a month ago in an Oval Office meeting with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

The Post frames this as a huge victory for Russia, citing the decision as an aspect of “Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests.” The Post notes that Russia targeted some of these Syrian fighters with airstrikes when it intervened in the Syrian civil war and quotes an unnamed “current official” who bluntly declared, “Putin won in Syria.”

However, the same report notes that even supporters of the CIA program have “questioned its efficacy,” admits U.S. leverage against the Assad regime has grown “limited,” concedes that ending the program was not a condition for the cease-fire agreement Trump reached with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and notes that Jordan supports Trump’s decision.

Even a former Obama administration official, Ilan Goldenberg, described Trump’s decision as “probably a nod to reality.” However, he added that ending all support for the Syrian rebels would be a “huge strategic mistake.” Pentagon programs to assist rebel forces are said to remain in effect, including a plan Trump approved in May to arm the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Washington Post piece quotes some American intelligence officials who say it was President Barack Obama’s failure to respond to Russian intervention against increasingly successful rebel forces in 2015 that set the stage for Assad’s eventual triumph.

The Obama administration also gave up on some high-profile efforts to train and equip a proxy force in Syria, most notably a $500 million effort that ended in absolute disaster and became a laughingstock across the Middle East.

The Washington Post also fails to mention that a distressing number of the weapons shipped by the CIA to Syrian rebels under Obama ended up in the hands of black marketeers and terrorists. Some of those weapons were used to kill Americans. The ability of the U.S. government to “vet” Syrian rebels and keep American equipment away from terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, has long been questioned.

Sometimes the rebels Obama provided with weapons openly threw in their lot with al-Qaeda and its Nusra Front franchise because they had the best chance of defeating the Syrian military and its allies.

Spicing up reports of this decision with dark insinuations about Trump’s ties with Russia does not conceal the cold truth that regime change in Syria is very unlikely, and it was President Barack Obama who made it that way – not that much enthusiasm for plunging the United States into Syria’s civil war, and possibly ending up in combat against Russian and Iranian forces, could be found in any corner of the political spectrum.

Even the cynical notion of arming unsavory Syrian insurgents against Assad and letting them bleed each other out proved to be a disaster because it led to a humanitarian horror show and a flood of refugees that may have changed Europe forever. Those who insinuate Trump is doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding by ending the CIA program to arm Syrian rebels should be prepared to explain their strategy for achieving something other than a bloody stalemate, civilian slaughter, and an endless flow of refugees. Clearly, no one associated with Barack Obama had any such strategy.

Trump floats possibility of second Syrian ceasefire

CNN

CNN, by Jeremy Diamond, July 13, 2017:

(CNN) – President Donald Trump signaled Thursday that he is working with Russia to establish a second regional ceasefire in Syria, nearly a week after the US, Russia and Jordan brokered a first ceasefire in southwestern Syria.

Trump said the next ceasefire agreement would cover a “very rough part of Syria,” but offered no additional details on the potential agreement or which countries were involved in the negotiations.

“By having some commutations and dialogue, we are able to have a ceasefire and it is going to go on for a while and frankly, we are working on a second ceasefire in a very rough part of Syria,” Trump said Thursday during a news conference in Paris after fielding a question on the US’ dialogue with Russia.

“And if we get that and a few more, all of the sudden you are going to have no bullets being fired in Syria. And that would be a wonderful thing,” Trump added.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment seeking more details on the potential ceasefire agreement.

Trump’s comments came as the US-Russia brokered ceasefire in southwestern Syria entered its fifth day, a hopeful development in a country where numerous ceasefires have been brokered and quickly fallen apart.

Trump expressed optimism that the ceasefire would continue to hold, noting that the days-old ceasefire had already last a “very long period of time” relative to past ceasefires.

The ceasefire was touted as the first tangible sign of agreement between the US and Russia in Syria, where the two countries support opposing factions. The US has backed moderate anti-government rebels in the country while Russia continues to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump’s comments came amid his meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, talks that were set to focus in large part on the conflict in Syria, with the longtime allies aiming to partner to develop a road map for the country’s future.

“We agreed to continue to work together, in particular in order to be able to launch together some diplomatic initiatives in order to put in place a road map for what will come after the war,” Macron said, adding the US and France hope to help establish a “political road map in particular for Syria after the war.”

Macron also touted the need to maintain an open dialogue with Russia to advance peace in Syria.

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Confronting the current Middle East alignment

Illustration on a coming Middle East alignment by Linas Garsys/The Washington Times

Washington Times by James A. Middle EastLyons, July 2, 2017:

With the imminent defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq and in Raqqa, its declared capital in Syria, one of the Trump administration’s key objectives is about to be achieved.

With the collapse of the Islamic State as a functioning entity, however, there are clearly new dynamics coming into play which will complicate the post-Islamic State period. What is actually taking place is a realignment of the regional balance of power between Shiite and Sunni power brokers. How it eventually evolves will have a major impact on U.S. security interests, and those of our allies, Israel in particular. The problem is that we have no clear strategy to deal with the evolving dynamic situation or its long term impact.

Clearly, an immediate problem is that Iran, backed by Russia, seeks to further expand its influence by solidifying a land bridge from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the eastern Mediterranean. Such a move would put a jihadi Shiite regime on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Iran’s domination of regimes in Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus along with its play for Yemen puts it in position to surround the Arabian Peninsula and threaten strategic waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab. Backed by Iran and Russia, Bashar Assad’s control of Aleppo and the anticipated fall of Raqqa will likely embolden him to retake eastern Syria, too.

Preventing expansion of the Shiite Crescent must be a top U.S. objective, fundamental to restoring not only credibility with our key allies, but critical to restoring stability to the region as well. Key to achieving this objective without a massive influx of U.S. ground forces is maintaining the viability of pro-Western Kurdish and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It is also possible that elements of the Syrian Free Army (SFA) can be reconstituted.

The recent downing by a U.S. Navy F-18 fighter aircraft of a Syrian bomber that had been attacking a pro-Western Kurdish force and an SDF unit highlighted Mr. Assad’s recognition of the importance of these forces in preventing reassertion of his control in eastern Syria. Perhaps just as important was Russian President Vladimir Putin likely using Syrian resources to test the Trump administration to see if it would support our allies on the ground if attacked. Fortunately, we did, which sent a clear message to both Russia and Syria as well as our allies that there are lines that cannot be crossed. The “strong horse” is back.

The Russian threat to target with surface-to-air missiles any U.S. aircraft flying west of the Euphrates is a further test of the Trump administration. While both Russia and the U.S. want to avoid a direct confrontation, we need to make it very clear we will not be intimidated.

Developing a strategy to address the current regional realignment should be based on U.S. core vital strategic interests. Further, the strategy should be based on the underlying principle that it makes no sense for the United States to inject itself into a 1,300+-year old Shi’ite-Sunni sectarian war. It is actually what the current realignment is all about.

The al Qaeda/Muslim Brotherhood militias rose up against Syria’s Bashar Assad, who was then defended by Iran, Hezbollah plus assorted Shiite militias and now Russia. Turkey is also an increasing problem: President Erdogan and his AK Party are jihadis trying to reestablish some form of the power and glory of the old Ottoman Empire. Dead set against any sort of autonomous Kurdish entity, they are aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas — and now also with Iran and Qatar. At this point, Turkey must be viewed as a questionable Western ally.

Fundamental U.S. strategy must be based on preventing Iran from establishing a Shiite land bridge from Tehran to Lebanon. Therefore, a key element of our strategy should be to support the binding independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan to be held on Sept. 25, 2017. U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, officially opposes it because of a misguided objective to keep Iraq intact. But Iraq is already fractured as is Syria, and neither one will be reconstituted in its pre-WWI artificial geographic boundaries. Clearly, the 1916 Sykes-Picot nation-state arrangement has collapsed.

Our strategy should also support Syrian Kurds carving out their own sphere of influence (Rojava) which could eventually unite with Iraqi Kurdistan. Control of the vast Syrian Sunni interior that spans the border into the former Iraq remains unresolved. Damascus cannot control a federalized Syria even with Iranian and Russian support. Therefore, our strategic plan must back Sunni forces that have shown themselves to be both anti-Damascus and non-jihadist. The only group that falls into that category is the Free Syrian Army, which will need to be reinforced. U.S. policy should concede that Damascus will hold the Alawite heartland that includes the Russian bases at Latakia and Tartus.

With the 8 years the Obama administration squandered plus the transfer of over one hundred billion dollars to Iran (which it is now using to finance Shiite militias fighting to secure a land bridge across the IraqSyria border), we must shift from a reactive defensive strategy to a pro-active one.

Accordingly, the Trump team must first define a national security strategy for the region. Such a strategy must be predicated on reconstitution of U.S. military capability and demonstration of the will to project power and influence, specifically by supporting Kurdish-FSA-SDF forces and, together with our allies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the GCC, block further Iranian expansionism. Elimination of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will also be an imperative at some point.

Bottom line: there is no substitute for American leadership.

• James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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