Turkish jets strike Kurdish fighters in Syria, Iraq’s Sinjar

A U.S. military commander (R) walks with a commander (C) from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as they inspect the damage at YPG headquarters after it was hit by Turkish airstrikes in Mount Karachok near Malikiya, Syria April 25, 2017. REUTERS/ Rodi Said

Reuters, by Isabel Coles and John Davison, April 25, 2017:

Turkish planes bombed Kurdish fighters in Iraq’s Sinjar region and northeast Syria on Tuesday, killing at least 20 in a widening campaign against groups linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.

A Turkish military statement said around 70 militants were killed in the operations inside the two neighboring states.

The air strikes in Syria targeted the YPG, a key component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are backed by the United States and have been closing in on the Islamic State bastion of Raqqa.

The Turkish raids showed the challenges facing U.S.-led attempts to defeat Islamic State in Syria and risk increasing tension between NATO allies Washington and Ankara over Kurdish combatants who have been crucial in driving back the jihadists.

In Washington, the State Department said it was deeply concerned by the air strikes, which were not authorized by the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is part of the coalition of more than 60 countries.

“We have expressed those concerns with the government of Turkey directly,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on a conference call. “These air strikes were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces,” he added.

Toner said the strikes hurt the coalition’s efforts to go after the militants. “We recognize their concerns about the PKK, but these kinds of actions frankly harm the coalition’s efforts to go after ISIS and frankly harm our partners on the ground who are conducting that fight.”

A U.S. military officer accompanied YPG commanders on a tour of the sites hit near Syria’s frontier with Turkey later on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said, demonstrating the close partnership.

The YPG said in a statement its headquarters in Mount Karachok near Syria’s frontier with Turkey had been hit, including a media center, a radio station, communications facilities and military institutions.

“As a result of the barbaric strikes by the Turkish warplanes at dawn today against the YPG center … 20 fighters were martyred and 18 others wounded, three of them critically,” said spokesman Redur Xelil.

Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish politician who co-chairs the political wing of the SDF, said they wanted the United States to provide aerial protection against Turkey.

The Turkish military said the two regions it struck around 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) had become “terror hubs” and the aim of the bombardment was to prevent the PKK sending weapons and explosives for attacks inside Turkey.

Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state for Kurdish autonomy. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, most of them Kurds.

Turkish security sources said 13 PKK militants had been killed on Tuesday in operations backed by the air force in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey. Two Turkish soldiers were also killed when a roadside bomb planted by the PKK blew up in Sirnak province.

“NEW QANDIL”

Turkey has regularly bombed the mountainous border area between Iraq and Turkey where PKK militants are based since a ceasefire broke down in July 2015. But Tuesday’s raid was the first time Turkish forces have targeted its affiliate in the northwestern Sinjar area.

The PKK established a presence in Sinjar, bordering Syria, after coming to the aid of its Yazidi population when Islamic State militants overran the area in the summer of 2014 and killed and captured thousands of members of the minority faith.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said he will not allow Sinjar, around 115 km (70 miles) from the Turkish border, to become a “new Qandil”, referring to a PKK stronghold in Iraq near the borders with Turkey and Iran.

The presence of a PKK affiliate in Sinjar is also rejected by Kurdish authorities who run their own autonomous region in northern Iraq and enjoy good relations with Turkey.

Five members of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, which are also deployed in Sinjar, were killed, and nine wounded in one of the Turkish air strikes, according to the peshmerga ministry, apparently by accident.

It called the attack “unacceptable” but blamed the PKK for being there and demanded the group withdraw from Sinjar.

Also see:

The Road to Defeating the Islamic State Runs through Kurdistan

American Thinker, by Sherkoh Abbas and Robert Sklaroff April 21, 2017:

Now that President Trump concluded that the Syrian gas attack “crossed many, many lines” and reacted accordingly, he must formulate a battle-plan to convert dynamic “talk” into ongoing “walk.”

In the process, he should recognize that it is in America’s best interest to recognize Kurdistan as a sovereign state and to deduce how to proceed thereafter based upon the historic, military, economic, religious and political implications of this overdue stance.

Its immediate impact would be felt in the Pentagon, as it plans how to defeat the Islamic State, but its long-term import can provide a template as to how to remodel the Middle East to maximize the interests of the United States, American allies, and long-suffering Middle Eastern peoples.

And it would serve as the culmination of regional battle plans we have proposed for almost a decade: in 2008, we focused upon how to confront the major source of global terrorism, and in 2015, we demonstrated why the United States cannot evade this trouble-spot.  In 2013, we simply concluded that the Kurds can lead a reborn Syria, at peace with all of her neighbors, and in 2014, we suggested thatNATO must help the Kurds now.

Historically, the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres was one of 35 treaties addressing the disposition of the former Ottoman Empire following World War I.  It was signed by the Ottomans, French, British, Italians, and Armenians.

Unfortunately, the Turks reneged after initially having accepted it, leading to its being supplanted by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that officially settled the conflict.  It was signed by Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, and Great Britain.

The former advocated for a Kurdish referendum to decide its fate, which was to include the Mosul Province, per Section III, Articles 62-64.  The latter defined the borders of the modern Turkish Republic.

Thus, the unfinished business created by the former should yield re-establishment of an independent Kurdistan in the Syrian-Iraqi region.  To accommodate the latter, acknowledged, would be a regional diaspora in Eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, thereby resolving presumed vague territorial claims.

Yet, following defeat of the Islamic State, the only superpower that could subsequently protect the Kurds (and Kurdish Yazidis) from Turkish, Iranian, Russian, and Syrian attack is America.

And the only way to prompt Moscow to act to oust Iran from Syria is for America to ante up and – functioning as a player who no longer is following from behind – to encourage implementation of a Grand Plan to end this half-decade civil war by creating key spheres of influence:

Russia would legitimize its military presence along the Mediterranean, while America would both provide a buffer between Damascus and the Golan Heights (in southern Syria) and protect the Kurdistan region of Syria (currently and historically heavily populated by Kurds) south of Turkey from the Mediterranean Sea to the Tigris River (in northern Syria).

Indeed, it may be the pendency of this Grand Plan that explains both why President Trump had avoided criticizing President Putin and why relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been delayed.

In any case, militarily, by introducing troops into Syria in conjunction withOperation Inherent Resolve, America would help create safe zones to which Syrian refugees could be relocated (from Europe, Turkey, and Jordan), within which they could be able to work with non-Islamists to found a country led by freedom-loving Kurds and to defend it against barbaric terrorists.

Two constituencies would have to become convinced of the wisdom of assuming this limited leadership role: myriad Kurdish factions and American public opinion.

The former would have to adopt a unified structure that maximizes its independence from foreign influences, and the latter would have to be educated as to how the United States would benefit from achieving stability in this volatile region.

Pivotal would be creation of a coalition government composed solely of Kurds who share Western values, thereby precluding inter-Kurdish conflict as occurred in the 1990s in Iraq.

Under American leadership – respecting “facts on the ground” – the pro-Assad YPG (“People’s Protection Units”) in the northeast would join with the pro-American KurdNAS (“Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria”) in the northwest to create a solitary administrative unit.

Positive public opinion could be mustered from Europeans (and their governments) to gain support from the NATO alliance, for they are increasingly recognizing that many restless refugees may be “overstaying their welcome.”

It would then be easier to muster domestic support for this limited incursion – already presaged by the presence of  about 5,000 special forces in the arena – behaviorally answering Iran’s “slap America in the face” threat.

This region would be contiguous with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq – that some feel should have become an independent entity after the Gulf War – and, thus, could subsequently become the Kurdish homeland envisioned a century ago.

Re-establishing Kurdistan would resolve the agitation of the PKK (“Kurdistan Workers’ Party”) in eastern Turkey, for the Turkish Kurds would constitute a diaspora that would no longer rebel against Ankara.

Sensitivity to this concern were reflected by delay in American provision ofheavy armaments to the Kurds, who are leading the assault on Rakka, until after the upcoming Turkish referendum, a posture that perhaps was enhanced by recapitulation of the demand that Ankara release an American pastor.

American’s military and diplomatic moves during the past fortnight – as also detailed at the DebkaFile – are consistent with these strategic goals, including U.S. helicopters having dropped Kurdish and Arab fighters west of Raqqa, and Secretary of State Tillerson having met with embattled Russians and Islamist Turks.

Thereafter, absent Iranian involvement, Turkey suddenly ended its “Euphrates Shield” invasion of Syria, and the Syrian army and rebel groups signed an agreement that will allow an estimated 60,000 people to depart from four besieged areas of the country.

Any residual Turkish resistance to this negotiated outcome would be resolved by providing President Erdoğan the corner of Syria that encompasses the Tomb of Suleyman Shah – who was the grandfather of Osman I (d. 1323/4), the founder of the Ottoman Empire – that arguably triggered his military to invade.  He would no longer feel compelled to purchase missiles from the Russians.

The exit strategy could, unfortunately, allow secular President Assad to remain in power if elected in a referendum conducted within a shrunken country, for myriad governmental and non-governmental militias would be left to determine the character of the resulting entity, including Christian forces.

Unfortunately, the Alawite-Russian bond has strengthened following ex-President Obama’s initial failure to honor his “red line” pledge and his ongoing blind neo-isolationism.

Kurdistan’s oil reserves and ingenuity – born of its sustained ancient culture – would allow her to continue to flourish economically, American support for this entity would undermine claims of anti-Muslim religious posturing, and the outcome could help resolve longstanding political conflicts such as friction between Baghdad and Erbil and conflict among myriad Kurdish factions.

Thus, at long last, America must recognize Kurdistan and, by serving as midwife for a new country, would defeat the Islamic State and obtain both immediate and long-term dividends.

Kurds would become the buffer for Europe and America’s allies in the region by interdicting Iran’s dream of creating a Shia Crescent to the Sea and Turkey’s aspiration to recreate an Ottoman Empire.  American inactivity would constitute a lost opportunity that might become irretrievable.

Sherkoh Abbas is president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria.  Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist.

U.S. missile strikes, rebel training in Syria re-energize a refined army against Assad

The author of a study calls the Free Syrian Army “the cornerstone of Syria’s moderate opposition component.

The Washington Times, by Jacob Wirtschafter and Gilgamesh Nabeel, April 24, 2017:

CAIRO — In the ramshackle town of Atareb, a Free Syrian Army bastion 15 miles north of Aleppo, Maj. Anas Abu Zaid said he has looted Russian rockets, American-supplied anti-tank missiles and other firepower to hold off the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

He says it’s time to move on.

“We were facing airstrikes on a daily basis, but now some civilians are coming back to Atareb,” said Maj. Abu Zaid. “We are working to put in place civil governance for the town and even rebuilding some houses.”

His optimism reflects an energy that has infused the once-faltering rebel force in the wake of missile attacks that President Trump ordered on a Syrian air force base this month following Mr. Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons on civilians.

Analysts say it doesn’t take a lot to tip the balance from one side or another in Syria’s grinding conflict, which is why the U.S. missile strike, limited as it was, had such an impact, said Alberto Fernandez, a retired State Department counterterrorism officer who is the go-to authority on capabilities and limitations of the multiple rebel groups in Syria.

Add to that the fact that the much-derided U.S. effort to train the Free Syrian Army fighters is starting to pay dividends on the battlefield, boosted by substantial financial aid from wealthy Persian Gulf emirates, Mr. Fernandez said, “A war that has been going on so long is basically a war of attrition and exhaustion, and all parties are being worn down.”

Mr. Fernandez, now president of the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, said, “Those that remain from each part, unit or entity are the fittest, the most clever, the most savage and the most capable. So the question is: Who is going to be the last man standing?”

“Too often, [the FSA has] been written off, and they shouldn’t be,” he said. “On the other hand, they have been limited — like everyone else — in what they have been able to do, so far.”

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, wrote in a lengthy study that the Brookings Institution released in November that the FSA was far better than its reputation suggests and has evolved into an effective fighting force while retaining a base of popular support that few of its rivals can match.

“By late 2016, the FSA had come to represent an expansive, socially and symbolically powerful but complex umbrella movement, composed of dozens of semi-autonomous armed opposition groups that are united by the original moderate ideals of Syria’s revolution,” Mr. Lister concluded.

He called the FSA “the cornerstone of Syria’s moderate opposition component.”

“For the U.S. and allied countries seeking an eventual solution to the crisis in Syria, the FSA’s military preeminence does not necessarily have to be the sole objective, but sustaining its ability to represent opposition communities is of crucial importance given its mainstream positions,” Mr. Lister said.

Maj. Abu Zaid was one of the Free Syrian Army officers selected by the Pentagon in 2015 for a U.S. program to boost moderate forces after previous training programs faltered.

In February, that effort reaped results when, with help from the Turks, Free Syrian Army forces took over almost 1,250 miles of territory from the Islamic State group on Syria’s northern border.

“The Americans made it clear that the regime was not the world’s priority, and the issue was defined as terrorism,” said the major, who added that Mr. Assad’s behavior since then has proved that the U.S. training was worth the cost. “With the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, Assad reminded them he was the biggest terrorist.”

Mr. Assad’s forces were responsible for more than 90 percent of the 207,000 civilian casualties in Syria from March 2001 through February 2017, according to the Violations Documentation Center, a monitoring group working with human rights activists inside and outside Syria.

Assad’s weaknesses

Free Syrian Army fighters insisted that the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun revealed Mr. Assad’s fundamental weaknesses while highlighting their own stamina as a fighting force.

“His only way to defeat the people is by punishing civilians with these weapons to put pressure on them to make local truces, forcing them to leave,” said Maj. Issam Al Reis, a 41-year-old spokesman of the Free Syrian Army’s southern front near the Jordanian border. Pro-Assad forces “don’t have enough manpower to defend their front lines.”

Despite reports in the second half of last year that Mr. Assad’s forces, backed by Russian and Iranian support, had scored some major victories, facts on the ground support the rebels’ confidence.

Analysts at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, an independent think tank in the United Arab Emirates, said that despite Russian and Iranian backing, the Free Syrian Army controls almost 17,700 square miles inside the country, compared with less than 14,000 square miles in 2015.

Northeast of Damascus, Free Syrian Army forces briefly occupied the towns of Qaboun and Barzeh. The wins were ultimately reversed by the regime and Russian airstrikes, but they were a surprise to those who had written off the rebel group as irrelevant to Syria’s future after their defeat in Aleppo late last year.

“Thanks to the Russian brutality, we tended to think a month or two ago that Assad had prevailed and that he can do whatever he likes,” said Mordechai Kedar, a Syria specialist at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. “I would not repeat that assessment today.”

As the civil war continues, the insurgents’ success should help them garner more aid from the West, said Fahad Almarsy, a former Free Army spokesman who now leads a loosely affiliated political organization in Paris called the National Salvation Front.

“The United States and Israel can target [Lebanese] Hezbollah and Iranian forces propping up Assad in and around Damascus and help the Free Army advance and clear Syrian territory of foreign fighters,” he said.

While most of the Islamic State’s losses in its Syrian base stem from Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, who now control 20 percent of Syria, the group’s links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey bar them from becoming close U.S. allies, said Ayman Abdul Nour, an early opponent of Mr. Assad and a leader of Syria’s exiled Christian community.

“The Free Syrian Army is now positioned as America’s best bet if Washington wants to see a unified or at least a federal Syria,” Mr. Abdul Nour said in a telephone interview from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The rebels said they intend to keep up the pressure on Mr. Assad. Their “Victory Army” in west-central Syria recently turned their guns on the regime’s Hama Military Airport, using Russian missiles to destroy a Russian-made fighter jet. Like the American missile strike, which destroyed six Mig-23s at the Al-Shayrat Air Force base, the attack was designed to downgrade the size and shorten the reach of Mr. Assad’s air force.

Refugees from regime-controlled areas, meanwhile, are joining rebel enclaves committed to Mr. Assad’s downfall.

“The people suffer exhaustion from the war, but they are still loyal to the Free Army,” said Kamal Bahbough, a 36-year-old physician in the besieged town of Al Rastan, about 14 miles north of Homs. “The Free Syrian Army soldiers are the sons of this region.”

Gilgamesh Nabeel reported from Istanbul.

Ayman al Zawahiri warns against ‘nationalist’ agenda in Syria

LONG WAR JOURNAL, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN,  April 23, 2017:

Al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, As Sahab, released an audio message from emir Ayman al Zawahiri earlier today. The audio file, which was spliced together with images from the Sunni jihad in Syria, is just over six minutes long. It was released via social media, including on As Sahab’s Telegram channel.

Zawahiri warns that the Syrian war shouldn’t be considered an exclusively “nationalist” effort, because this is what the Sunni jihadists’ enemies want. Instead, he says the Syrian conflict should be viewed as the “cause of the entire Ummah,” or worldwide community of Muslims.

Zawahiri’s comments are potentially interesting in light of Al Nusrah Front’s rebranding last year, and then the group’s merger with several others to form Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (“Assembly for the Liberation of the Levant”) in January. Various al Qaeda actors and other jihadists inside Syria have debated how to best portray themselves to the world. Al Nusrah’s relaunch in July 2016 was blessed beforehand by Zawahiri’s deputy, but some al Qaeda figures rejected it.

Zawahiri does not specifically mention Hay’at Tahrir al Sham or any other group in Syria, so we can only speculate if he is commenting on some specific debate within jihadist circles. But that appears likely.

Zawahiri does explicitly endorse the insurgency in Syria, saying that it is a “guerrilla” war and the jihadists should not focus on holding territory at this time. Instead, Zawahiri says, they must focus on weakening their enemies.

“To begin with, I would like to tell our beloved people in Sham [the Levant] that your wounds are the wounds of the entire Ummah, and your pain is the pain of the entire Ummah. You are in our prayers at every moment, and we wish to sacrifice our souls for you,” Zawahiri begins his message, which was released with an English transcript.

“If anything stands in our way,” Zawahiri continues, “it is the fact that we are engaged in fighting the same Crusader enemy which you are up against, though on a different front.”

The al Qaeda chieftain claims that the “only reason” Sunni Muslims in Syria “are being targeted” is that they “want Islam to rule over the land of Sham.” The “International Satanic Alliance will never accept this, and it will spare no effort to stop this Islamic tide,” Zawahiri says.

Consistent with al Qaeda’s messaging in the past, Zawahiri portrays the US and the West as being in league with Iran and Bashar al Assad’s regime. Indeed, he advises the people of Syria to “prepare” themselves “for a protracted war against the Crusaders and their Rafidhi [derogatory term for Shiites and Iran] and Nusayri [meaning the Assad regime] allies.”

Zawahiri praises the people for having “taken up the path of jihad in the way of Allah to raise the flag of Islam and jihad on the land of Sham, and to liberate it from oppression, tyranny and corruption.”

“So do not backtrack,” he says. “Know no wavering or compromise. Die honorably, but never accept a life of humiliation.”

The al Qaeda head reiterates his organization’s call for unity within the insurgency. Since the beginning of the war, with a few exceptions, al Qaeda’s men have attempted to remain as closely allied with other rebel groups as possible. This strategy was upset by the rise of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State in 2013 and 2014, but al Qaeda’s arm continued to cooperate with other Islamist, jihadist and Free Syrian Army-branded outfits.

“Unite and close your ranks with your Muslim brothers and mujahideen not just in Sham, but the entire world, for it is a single Crusader campaign being waged against Muslims the world over,” Zawahiri says.

He then pivots to a critique of anyone who thinks the Syrian war can be separated from the jihad elsewhere around the globe.

Speaking to the jihadists in Syria, Zawahiri says that some “wish to deceive you into buying the myth that only if you were to change your jihad to an exclusively nationalist Syrian struggle, [then] the leading international criminals would be pleased with you.”

“My people and my brothers in Sham,” Zawahiri says, “I would like to offer here a few words of advice as a reminder to you and myself.” Then, somewhat cryptically, he adds: “We must constantly review our actions, and retract ourselves from everything which is capable of hindering victory. For we can never be better than the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), who were denied victory when they disobeyed. Critical reassessment and correction of mistakes is the first step in the patch to victory.”

Zawahiri does not say which “mistakes” he has mind.

“In my humble opinion,” the al Qaeda head continues, “the strategy for jihad in Sham must focus on a guerrilla war aimed at wearing down the enemy and bleeding it to death.” This “has been the weapon of choice of the oppressed against arrogant transgressors in every age,” Zawahiri says. “Do not occupy yourselves with holding on to territory, instead focus on destroying the morale of your enemy. Take the enemy to the point of abysmal despair by inflicting unrelenting blows and unbearable losses on its forces.”

For the second time in his short message, Zawahiri again warns against treating the Syrian conflict as a “nationalist” struggle. The “cause of Sham is the cause of the entire Ummah,” he says. “We must not present it as merely a cause of the people of Sham, and then further narrow it down to a cause of Syrians alone, for this is precisely the enemy’s plan and his much sought after objective.”

“The enemy seeks to transform the jihad in Sham from a cause of the Muslim Ummah to an exclusively nationalist Syrian cause, then turn the nationalist cause to an issue of specific regions and localities, and finally reduce this to an issue of a few cities, villages and neighborhoods,” Zawahiri argues. Therefore, it “is incumbent upon us to confront this evil strategy by declaring that the jihad in Sham is the jihad of the Muslim Ummah aimed at establishing the rule of Allah in the land of Allah. This must coincide with encouraging the entire Ummah to participate in the jihad of Sham with its sons, wealth, efforts, and energies.”

Zawahiri provides a short list of Muslims who have “defended Sham earlier in history,” including Salahuddin and the Ottoman Turks. He points out that “none” of the people on his list “were Syrians, but were Muslims and mujahids before anything else.” This is likely a reminder to jihadists to treat the many foreign fighters in Syria who have joined the anti-Assad insurgency as equals.

The al Qaeda leader closes by saying that the jihadists should not seek to placate the West, or any others. “We must not submit therefore to the dictations of the leading criminals, who seek to intimidate us with accusations of ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism,’” Zawahiri says. He warns that this will lead to the same fate as that suffered by Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who briefly served as president of Egypt.

“These are the same forces that did not even spare Mohamed Morsi, inspite of the fact that he had given them all they had asked for,” Zawahiri says. He adds: “I ask Allah to give our people in Sham steadfastness. May Allah bless them with His victory and support, and guide them to take a common stance alongside their Mujahideen brethren the world over against a common united enemy.”

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

Also see:

Putin Applies MH17 False-Flag Template To Syria’s Gas Attack To Convince Russian Public

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 12: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley attends a United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East where the ongoing conflict in Syria was discussed on April 12, 2017 in New York City. It is expected that the Security Council will vote later on Wednesday on a draft resolution demanding that the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of the suspected chemical attack last week. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Forbes, by Paul Roderick Gregory, April 13, 2017:

It should be a piece of cake for the Kremlin to convince the Russian people that the massacre of civilians by sarin gas in Idlibe, Syria was a false-flag operation undertaken to discredit Putin and his client, Bashar al-Assad. The rest of the world will believe the findings of international investigators that Syrian jets dropped bombs on the Syrian town, killing some 80 men, women and children with chemical poison gas. Putin’s job, however, is not to convince the world– but the Russian people — that client Assad is a victim of a vast conspiracy mounted by a combination of agents from the U.S., ISIS, Turkey and hostile Sunni states.

The Kremlin has already demonstrated its ability to convince the Russian people that an open-and-shut case, backed by an air-tight international investigation, was in fact a sinister U.S., CIA, NATO, Ukrainian false-flag operation to blame the Kremlin for the murder of 298 innocent passengers aboard Malaysian Airlines 17 flight over occupied Donetsk territory on July 17, 2014. This Syrian business should be easy to defuse compared to MH17.

Consider the MH17 evidence: Minutes after MH17 was downed, the rebel commander boasted on social media that his missiles had shot down a Ukrainian military plane. Insurgents on the crash scene reported with shock that it was a civilian plane. Phone intercepts captured communications as the missile crew was directed to the field from which it fired the missile. Social media posted pictures of the missile system fleeing back into Russia. Forensic evidence proved that the plane was downed by a missile (and not a trailing Ukrainian jet).

Within hours of MH17, the Kremlin mounted an incessant campaign to cast doubt on the overwhelming evidence. The Russian military staged a press conference with photoshopped images, false radar readings, reports of a Ukrainian pilot admitting he had shot down the plane, and fables that MH17 was loaded with dead bodies or that the attack was an assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin. As Russian denials mounted, the Dutch-based international investigations team appealed to the UN to create an international MH17 criminal tribunal to charge those Russians and rebels responsible for crimes against humanity. Russia vetoed the proposal in the Security Council, thereby indirectly admitting its guilt.

Russia’s campaign to deny the obvious paid off. Per the latest opinion poll, only 5% of Russians blame Russia and its separatist allies for MH17. Half believe MH17 was downed by Ukrainian forces, and 14% say it was Western special services. On the other hand, 80% of Americans believe that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile and 84% hold Russia directly or indirectly responsible.

Fast forward to the Syrian gas attack: Within hours, Putin’s press secretary floated the false-flag theory (backed by the Russian defense ministry) that the Syrian air force unwittingly exploded a local chemical weapons depot as it dropped conventional bombs. The chemical weapons, per the Russian spokesman, had been brought into Idlibe from Iraq. The Assad government took up this line of argument stating the poison gas was released after its military planes dropped conventional bombs on a local terrorist arms depot, which happened to contain chemical weapons.

An investigation of these competing claims could be conducted rather quickly. A storage facility full of sarin gas could presumably be identified and detected by technical experts, and the facility would have to be in a crater caused by a Syrian bomb. If there is no evidence of a local chemical weapons storage depot, then the Russian-Syrian false flag story falls apart. Although Syria has offered international inspectors access to its Shayrat air force base, presumably they have had time to remove traces of poison gas.

Despite this simple procedure for assigning responsibility, Putin will clearly be able to convince his people that his client is being framed and that Russia is not backing a monster. Putin can cite the support of the “Bush lied about Iraq’s WMD” crowd, who argue that President Trump acted too hastily without adequate evidence. “Manchurian candidate Trump” adherents will argue that the bombing was a diversion arranged between soul mates Trump and Putin to divert attention from their conspiracies. Putin will even find allies among U.S. isolationists upset by Trump’s intervention in a foreign war.

The Kremlin had to fight the entire international community in convincing the Russian people that Russia was blameless in the shooting down of MH17. In the case of the Idlibe chemical weapons attack, Putin has a formidable army of Western skeptics on his side. Few understand that in such cases Putin’s primary objective is to keep the Russian people on his side. If he can convince the international community, so much the better. With anti-Trump supporters the world over potentially on his side, Putin has a chance of winning not only Russian minds but Western minds as well.

In their April 12 meeting, the foreign ministers of Russia and the United States agreed to a UN investigation of the Idlibe bombing. Russia will pressure its allies into a long and inconclusive exercise and will ignore results that point to blame of the Assad regime.

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Also see:

Trump drew his gas-attack red line 6 months ago

Tomahawk missile fired at a Syrian air base from the USS Porter April 6, 2017

WND, by Garth Kant, April 13, 2017:

WASHINGTON – Many of President Trump’s supporters are wary, some even critical, of the cruise-missile strikes against Syria because he had so severely criticized previous U.S. foreign interventions, particularly in the Mideast.

However, candidate Trump actually gave a warning half-a-year ago that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line for him.

In an interview with Sara Carter of Circa News in September, the candidate said an ISIS mustard-gas attack on U.S. troops at a training facility in northern Iraq that had just happened was intolerable.

“When you look at [the fact that] they’re starting to hit us with gas now on top of everything else, that’s a total lack of respect and you cannot let them get away with it,” candidate Trump told her. “You have to go after them big league.”

Carter wrote that Trump said anyone who uses chemical weapons should expect military action.

“You have to hit them so hard and the people that did it,” said Trump. “Don’t forget they’re out there looking to do it again.”

Still, some voters and pundits seem to feel double-crossed by the president after he ordered 59 cruise missiles to hit a Syrian airbase on Thursday in retaliation for the gruesome and deadly gassing of Syrians.

As WND reported, perhaps the president’s biggest supporter in the 2016 campaign, columnist Ann Coulter, tweeted, “Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates.”

Talk-show giant Michael Savage declared, “This beating of the war drums with Russia has to stop.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said, “Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different.”

On Tuesday, the Washington Times’ Byron York cited a Washington Post poll showing only 35 percent of the public would support another round of airstrikes, and 54 percent opposed that.

York asserted, “[L]eaders don’t surprise the voters with an out-of-the-blue act of war. In the case of Syria, Trump moved so quickly, and with such little effort at public persuasion beforehand, that he maintained the element of surprise on his own voters. That’s not a good idea.”

York cited comments made by radio host Laura Ingraham on Fox News Tuesday morning that Trump’s campaign had “focused on America first. Jobs, the economy, wages going up – that’s it.”

She also quipped, “I’m not sure getting rid of Bashar al-Assad was at the top of the list of the people in Pennsylvania.”

But, also on Tuesday, the president’s top military man sought to reassure the public that America was not heading into another war.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was confident that “it will not spiral out of control,” and that the cruise-missile strikes were a one-off mission to deter any more chemical attacks by the Assad regime.

However, he did add that any more such attacks would cause Assad to “pay a very, very stiff price.”

WND spoke with one of the nation’s top Middle East experts, who, like the president, is opposed to expanding U.S. intervention in the region but considers the missile strikes the right thing to have done.

Clare Lopez, vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy

Clare Lopez is vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy and has an impressive array of credentials. In addition to spending two decades in the field as a CIA operations officer, Lopez was an instructor for military intelligence and special forces students; has been a consultant, intelligence analyst and researcher within the defense sector; and has published two books on Iran. She also served as a foreign-policy adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Lopez said: “I’ve long opposed U.S. intervention in the middle of an intra-Islamic sectarian fight between Sunnis and Shiites, now much muddled by all kinds of external actors and powers. I still do.”

But, she looks at President Trump’s strike on Syria “in a couple of ways,” detailed in comments emailed to WND:

  • “Iran, Russia, Syria and the U.S. are all signatories to the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, which obligate us to enforcement of its provisions. President Trump accepted and fulfilled that obligation, not so much in opposition to Assad or in support of any opposing force(s), but in defense of whatever international order still exists.
  • “I believe in so doing, the president not only reasserted U.S. power and influence in the region and put other international leaders on notice, but, in a way, reshuffled the deck in the Middle East to set the stage for what will come next.
  • “Al-Sham (a historic name for Syria) is splintering and will not be put back together again. The best we can salvage out of all that are some autonomous, and perhaps more stable, regions: a Kurdish one (but one that does not touch Turkey’s borders); an Alawite one under the control of a leader in Damascus, but not necessarily current President Assad; and a Sunni-controlled territory to replace the Islamic State – but one that is not, and must not be allowed to be, jihadi.
  • “I think Russia could be a constructive partner in achieving something like this. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not personally wedded to al-Assad remaining in power, and he does not seek to empower Hezbollah to destroy Israel (like Iran does). Moscow wants an arms client in Damascus; its two military bases in Latakia and Tartus; a foothold in the southeastern Mediterranean and influence in the region. It will have those anyway, with or without the involvement of the U.S. government. It’s better, I say, that we are involved than not involved.
  • “At the February 2017 talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, Russian officials already openly and explicitly expressed a willingness to see Assad go. They even suggested, as a temporary placeholder, retired Brigadier General of the Syrian Republican Guard Manaf Tlass (from the regime of Assad’s father) who defected and went into exile in 2011. Why aren’t we jumping all over that, especially as I know for a fact that a number of Free Syrian Army rebel commanders (officers who defected from the Syrian Armed Forces) would also accept such an arrangement? As an interim replacement, Tlass would only serve a while, but he’d keep the Damascus regime in Alawite hands, and not ones from an Assad clan. The Sunnis will fight from now until Armageddon unless the Assads go.
  • “The Islamic State is not now and never has been an existential threat to the USA. Let the regional forces take care of them. But Iran is an existential threat to us and to Israel. It is a nation state, has nuclear programs plus ICBMs (inter-continental ballistic missiles), chemical and biological weapons, and has been enabled to solidify a Shiite crescent around the region (including Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Tehran and maybe Yemen). And it projects power via terror militias like Hezbollah all over the world, including the Western Hemisphere and right here in America.
  • “The Trump team needs to focus on a broad strategic vision for region that prioritizes core, compelling U.S. national security objectives. It must first establish a strategic policy, then react only within that when events demand and exigencies arise – not the other way around. No knee-jerk responses in response to everything that happens but without the framework of a national strategy to guide us.
  • “We can only hope the National Security Council, Pentagon and White House will be able to develop such a plan with some good advice from knowledgeable experts. And at all costs, avoid any more U.S. troop deployments over there. As Caroline Glick wrote in the Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago, ISIS is a vanguard for Iran, which is why neither Damascus nor the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its foreign-specialist Qods Force, nor Hezbollah, nor the Russians ever really went after it in a serious way. ISIS served their purpose, which was to advance and expand Iranian power. Wherever ISIS is, or even recedes from, Iran and Shiites fill in. Is that what the American military is for?! To clear the decks for a Shiite crescent across the Middle East? I don’t think so.”

Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports: Gas Attack Intended To Save Iranian/Syrian Frontline In Khan Sheikhoun Region From Breakdown

MEMRI, April 13, 2017:

Introduction

The April 4 Sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, just one day after the U.S. administration changed its position vis-à-vis Syrian President Al-Assad, declaring that his removal from power was no longer a priority, raised questions regarding the underlying motive for the attack. Indeed, the initial Russian claim that the attack had been fabricated by opponents of the Syrian regime was based on its being so clearly against Syrian interests.

While it is now largely accepted that the Syrian regime carried out the attack, the motivation underlying it remains enigmatic, giving rise to conspiracy theories.

Iranian Website Specializing In Syrian War Reports Provides The Explanation: To Prevent Breakdown Of Iranian/Syrian Frontline

On April 7, 2017, WarReports, an Iranian research group dedicated to monitoring and covering Iran’s role in the war in Syria and Iraq,[1] published a report on its Facebook page, explaining why the Syrian regime had carried out the gas attack.[2] It claimed that the attack had been “in support of the Iranian-affiliated ground forces, Hizbullah, and the Syrian army, all of which were stationed several kilometers behind the frontline.” According to the report, in the past three weeks there had been 21 casualties from among the IRGC forces and the Fatimiyun Afghani Shi’ite militia located in Hama.[3] The report included a map of the region, showing the retreat southward of the Iranian-backed forces from the Khan Sheikhoun region, a retreat that threatened to turn into a complete breakdown of the front. The attack, therefore, was intended to curb the rebel thrust in Khan Sheikhoun, thus preventing this breakdown.

The report further stated that hitting the civilian population in the rebel-held areas was a known tactic of the Syrian regime, intended to crush the fighting spirit of the forces and to stop their operations. This was the case in the August 2013 gas attack on Ghouta, Damascus, and the October 2015 cluster-bomb attack on the civilization population of eastern Aleppo.

It should be noted that in a recent White House intelligence briefing, officials gave the same rationale for the Syrian regime attack, without providing further details: “They were losing in a particularly important area. That’s what drove [the attack].”[4]

Map legend:

Red areas:              territory held by Iranian/Syrian-regime forces

Green areas:          territory held by the Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (formerly JNS) armed rebels

Red circle:              Khan Sheikhoun

Red arrows:           distance from Khan Sheikhoun to the Iranian-backed forces

Black dotted line: opposition frontline prior to March 21 operations and Iranian forces retreat

Red dotted line:     current opposition frontline following the Iranian forces retreat

 

[1] https://warreports.org/about-us/; Twitter: @warreports. Facebook: Persian.war.news.

[2] https://www.facebook.com/persian.war.news/posts/1905690939688134.

[3] The website provided a link to the image of one of the IRGC members killed there. https://goo.gl/iunWwn

[4] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/11/white-house-offers-more-proof-syrian-gas-attack-ci/.

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