Meet the New Authoritarian Masters of the Internet

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Breitbart, by John Hayward, Sept. 29, 2016:

President Barack Obama’s drive to hand off control of Internet domains to a foreign multi-national operation will give some very unpleasant regimes equal say over the future of online speech and commerce.

In fact, they are likely to have much more influence than America, because they will collectively push hard for a more tightly controlled Internet, and they are known for aggressively using political and economic pressure to get what they want.

Here’s a look at some of the regimes that will begin shaping the future of the Internet in just a few days, if President Obama gets his way.

China

China wrote the book on authoritarian control of online speech. The legendary “Great Firewall of China” prevents citizens of the communist state from accessing global content the Politburo disapproves of. Chinese technology companies are required by law to provide the regime with backdoor access to just about everything.

The Chinese government outright banned online news reporting in July, granting the government even tighter control over the spread of information. Websites are only permitted to post news from official government sources. Chinese online news wasn’t exactly a bastion of freedom before that, of course, but at least the government censors had to track down news stories they disliked and demand the site administrators take them down.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese Communists aren’t big fans of independent news analysis or blogging, either. Bloggers who criticize the government are liable to be charged with “inciting subversion,” even when the writer in question is a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Chinese citizens know better than to get cheeky on social media accounts, as well. Before online news websites were totally banned, they were forbidden from reporting news gathered from social media, without government approval. Spreading anything the government decides is “fake news” is a crime.

In a report labeling China one of the worst countries for Internet freedom in the world, Freedom House noted they’ve already been playing games with Internet registration and security verification:

The China Internet Network Information Center was found to be issuing false digital security certificates for a number of websites, including Google, exposing the sites’ users to “man in the middle” attacks.

The government strengthened its real-name registration laws for blogs, instant-messaging services, discussion forums, and comment sections of websites.

A key feature of China’s online censorship is that frightened citizens are not entirely certain what the rules are. Huge ministries work tirelessly to pump out content regulations and punish infractions. Not all of the rules are actually written down. As Foreign Policy explained:

Before posting, a Chinese web user is likely to consider basic questions about how likely a post is to travel, whether it runs counter to government priorities, and whether it calls for action or is likely to engender it. Those answers help determine whether a post can be published without incident — as it is somewhere around 84 percent or 87 percent of the time — or is instead likely to lead to a spectrum of negative consequences varying from censorship, to the deletion of a user’s account, to his or her detention, even arrest and conviction.

This was accompanied by a flowchart demonstrating “what gets you censored on the Chinese Internet.” It is not a simple flowchart.

Beijing is not even slightly self-conscious about its authoritarian control of the Internet. On the contrary, their censorship policies are trumpeted as “Internet sovereignty,” and they aggressively believe the entire world should follow their model, as the Washington Post reported in a May 2016 article entitled “China’s Scary Lesson to the World: Censoring the Internet Works.”

China already has a quarter of the planet’s Internet users locked up behind the Great Firewall. How can anyone doubt they won’t use the opportunity Obama is giving them, to pursue their openly stated desire to lock down the rest of the world?

Russia

Russia and China are already working together for a more heavily-censored Internet.Foreign Policy reported one of Russia’s main goals at an April forum was to “harness Chinese expertise in Internet management to gain further control over Russia’s internet, including foreign sites accessible there.”

Russia’s “top cop,” Alexander Bastrykin, explicitly stated Russia needs to stop “playing false democracy” and abandon “pseudo-liberal values” by following China’s lead on Internet censorship, instead of emulating the U.S. example. Like China’s censors, Russian authoritarians think “Internet freedom” is just coded language for the West imposing “cultural hegemony” on the rest of the world.

Just think what Russia and China will be able to do about troublesome foreign websites, once Obama surrenders American control of Internet domains!

Russian President Vladimir Putin has “chipped away at Internet freedom in Russia since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012,” as International Business Times put it in a 2014 article.

One of Putin’s new laws requires bloggers with over 3,000 readers to register with the government, providing their names and home addresses. As with China, Russia punishes online writers for “spreading false information,” and once the charge is leveled, it’s basically guilty-until-proven-innocent. For example, one of the “crimes” that can get a blogger prosecuted in Russia is alleging the corruption of a public official, without ironclad proof.

Human-rights group Agora estimates that Russian Internet censorship grew by 900% in 2015 alone, including both court orders and edicts from government agencies that don’t require court approval. Censorship was expected to intensify even further throughout 2016. Penalties include prison time, even for the crime of liking or sharing banned content on social media.

Putin, incidentally, has described the entire Internet as a CIA plot designed to subvert regimes like his. There will be quite a few people involved in the new multi-national Internet control agency who think purging the Web of American influence is a top priority.

The Russian government has prevailed upon Internet Service Providers to block opposition websites during times of political unrest, in addition to thousands of bans ostensibly issued for security, crime-fighting, and anti-pornography purposes.

Many governments follow the lead of Russia and China in asserting the right to shut down “extremist” or “subversive” websites. In the United States, we worry about law enforcement abusing its authority while battling outright terrorism online, arguing that privacy and freedom of speech must always be measured against security, no matter how dire the threat. In Russia, a rough majority of the population has no problem with the notion of censoring the Internet in the name of political stability, and will countenance absolutely draconian controls against perceived national security threats. This is a distressingly common view in other nations as well: stability justifies censorship and monitoring, not just physical security.

Turkey

Turkey’s crackdown on the Internet was alarming even before the aborted July coup attempt against authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey has banned social media sites, including temporary bans against even giants like Facebook and YouTube, for political reasons. Turkish dissidents are accustomed to such bans coming down on the eve of elections. The Turkish telecom authority can impose such bans without a court order, or a warning to offending websites.

Turkey is often seen as the world leader in blocking Twitter accounts, in addition to occasionally shutting the social media service down completely, and has over a 100,000 websites blacklisted. Criticizing the government online can result in anything from lost employment to criminal charges. And if you think social-media harassment from loyal supporters of the government in power can get pretty bad in the U.S., Turks sometimes discover that hassles from pro-regime trolls online are followed by visits from the police.

Turkish law infamously makes it a crime to insult the president, a law Erdogan has already attempted to impose beyond Turkey’s borders. One offender found himself hauled into court for creating a viral meme – the sort of thing manufactured by the thousands every hour in America – that noted Erdogan bore a certain resemblance to Gollum from Lord of the Rings. The judge in his case ordered expert testimony on whether Gollum was evil to conclusively determine whether the meme was an illegal insult to the president.

The Turkish example introduces another idea common to far too many of the countries Obama wants to give equal say over the future of the Internet: intimidation is a valid purpose for law enforcement. Many of Turkey’s censorship laws are understood to be mechanisms for intimidating dissidents, raising the cost of free speech enough to make people watch their words very carefully. “Think twice before you Tweet” might be good advice for some users, but regimes like Erdogan’s seek to impose that philosophy on everyone. This runs strongly contrary to the American understanding of the Internet as a powerful instrument that lowers the cost of speech to near-zero, the biggest quantum leap for free expression in human history. Zero-cost speech is seen as a big problem by many of the governments that will now place strong hands upon the global Internet rudder.

Turkey is very worried about “back doors” that allow citizens to circumvent official censorship, a concern they will likely bring to Internet control, along with like-minded authoritarian regimes. These governments will make the case that a free and open Internet is a direct threat to their “sovereign right” to control what their citizens read. As long as any part of the Internet remains completely free, no sector can be completely controlled.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudis aren’t too far behind China in the Internet rankings by Freedom House. Dissident online activity can bring jail sentences, plus the occasional public flogging.

This is particularly lamentable because Saudi Arabia is keenly interested in modernization, and sees the Internet as a valuable economic resource, along with a thriving social media presence. Freedom House notes the Internet “remains the least repressive space for expression in the country,” but “it is by no means free.”

“While the state focuses on combatting violent extremism and disrupting terrorist networks, it has clamped down on nonviolent liberal activists and human rights defenders with the same zeal, branding them a threat to the national order and prosecuting them in special terrorism tribunals,” Freedom House notes.

USA Today noted that as of 2014, Saudi Arabia had about 400,000 websites blocked, “including any that discuss political, social or religious topics incompatible with the Islamic beliefs of the monarchy.”

At one point the blacklist included the Huffington Post, which was banned for having the temerity to run an article suggesting the Saudi system might “implode” because of oil dependency and political repression. The best response to criticism that your government is too repressive is a blacklist!

The Saudis have a penchant for blocking messaging apps and voice-over-IP services, like Skype and Facetime. App blocking got so bad that Saudi users have been known to ask, “What’s the point of having the Internet?”

While some Saudis grumble about censorship, many others are active, enthusiastic participants in enforcement, filing hundreds of requests each day to have websites blocked. Religious figures supply many of these requests, and the government defends much of its censorship as the defense of Islamic values.

As with other censorious regimes, the Saudi monarchy worries about citizens using web services beyond its control to evade censorship, a concern that will surely be expressed loudly once America surrenders its command of Internet domains.

For the record, the Saudis’ rivals in Iran are heavy Internet censors too, with Stratfor listing them as one of the countries seeking Chinese assistance for “solutions on how best to monitor the Iranian population.”

North Korea

You can’t make a list of authoritarian nightmares without including the psychotic regime in Pyongyang, the most secretive government in the world.

North Korea is so repressive the BBC justly puts the word “Internet” in scare quotes, to describe the online environment. It doesn’t really interconnect with anything, except government propaganda and surveillance. Computers in the lone Internet cafe in Pyongyang actually boot up to a customized Linux operating system called “Red Star,” instead of Windows or Mac OS. The calendar software in Red Star measures the date from the birth of Communist founder Kim Il-sung, rather than the birth of Christ.

The “Internet” itself is a closed system called Kwangmyong, and citizens can only access it through a single state-run provider, with the exception of a few dozen privileged families that can punch into the real Internet.

Kwangmyong is often compared to the closed “intranet” system in a corporate office, with perhaps 5,000 websites available at most. Unsurprisingly, the content is mostly State-monitored messaging and State-supplied media. Contributors to these online services have reportedly been sent to re-education camps for typos. The North Koreans are so worried about outside contamination of their closed network that they banned wi-fi hotspots at foreign embassies, having noticed information-starved North Korean citizens clustering within range of those beautiful, uncensored wireless networks.

This doesn’t stop South Koreans from attempting cultural penetration of their squalid neighbor’s dismal little online network. Lately they’ve been doing it by loading banned information onto cheap memory sticks, tying them to balloons, and floating them across the border.

Sure, North Korea is the ultimate totalitarian nightmare, and since they have less than two thousand IP addresses registered in the entire country, the outlaw regime won’t be a big influence on Obama’s multi-national Internet authority, right?

Not so fast. As North Korea expert Scott Thomas Bruce told the BBC, authoritarian governments who are “looking at what is happening in the Middle East” see North Korea as a model to be emulated.

“They’re saying rather than let in Facebook, and rather than let in Twitter, what if the government created a Facebook that we could monitor and control?” Bruce explained.

Also, North Korea has expressed some interest in using the Internet as a tool for economic development, which means there would be more penetration of the actual global network into their society. They’ll be very interested in censoring and controlling that access, and they’ll need a lot more registered domains and IP addresses… the very resource Obama wants America to surrender control over.

Bottom line: contrary to left-wing cant, there is such a thing as American exceptionalism – areas in which the United States is demonstrably superior to every other nation, a leader to which the entire world should look for examples. Sadly, our society is losing its fervor for free expression, and growing more comfortable with suppressing “unacceptable” speech, but we’re still far better than anyone else in this regard.

The rest of the world, taken in total, is very interested in suppressing various forms of expression, for reasons ranging from security to political stability and religion. Those governments will never be comfortable, so long as parts of the Internet remain outside of their control. They have censorship demands they consider very reasonable, and absolutely vital. The website you are reading right now violates every single one of them, on a regular basis.

There may come a day we can safely remand control of Internet domains to an international body, but that day is most certainly not October 1, 2016.

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Technology CEOs Shamefully Lubricate Internet’s Surrender by Frank Gaffney

Congress has just showed why so many Americans are sick of their politicians and ready to throw the bums out. The Senate and House leadership have agreed to President Obama’s surrender of your Internet to freedom’s enemies.

The deed was done yesterday when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed through the Senate a funding bill without a prohibition on the Internet give-away.  The House is expected to rubber stamp it today.

Political cover came from something called the Technology CEO Council.  This group of interested parties, whose lobbyists give generously to politicians’ campaigns, blithely assured Congress: “Placing stewardship of these technical but important functions beyond the control of any one government or group of governments will best secure the principles of Internet freedom and de-politicization of technology.”

Shame on the CEOs for disseminating such transnational rubbish – and the Congress for swallowing it.

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Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda fights on

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn Sept. 11, 2016:

All appeared lost for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in December 2001. In the years leading up to the 9/11 hijackings, bin Laden believed that the US was a “paper tiger” and would retreat from the Muslim majority world if al Qaeda struck hard enough. The al Qaeda founder had good reasons to think this. American forces withdrew from Lebanon after a series of attacks in the early 1980s and from Somalia after the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993. The US also did not respond forcefully to al Qaeda’s August 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, or the USS Cole bombing in October 2000.

But bin Laden’s strategy looked like a gross miscalculation in late 2001. An American-led invasion quickly overthrew the Taliban’s regime just weeks after 19 of bin Laden’s men hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Some of al Qaeda’s most senior figures were killed in American airstrikes. With al Qaeda’s foes closing in, bin Laden ordered his men to retreat to the remote Tora Bora Mountains. Here, bin Laden must have thought, al Qaeda would make its last stand. The end was nigh.

Except it wasn’t.

Bin Laden slithered away, eventually making his way to Abbottabad, Pakistan. When Navy SEALs came calling more than nine years later, in early May 2011, the world looked very different.

Documents recovered in bin Laden’s compound reveal that he and his lieutenants were managing a cohesive global network, with subordinates everywhere from West Africa to South Asia. Some US intelligence officials assumed that bin Laden was no longer really active. But Bin Laden’s files demonstrated that this view was wrong.

Writing in The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qa’ida to ISIS, former CIA official Mike Morell explains how the Abbottabad cache upended the US intelligence community’s assumptions regarding al Qaeda. “The one thing that surprised me was that the analysts made clear that our pre-raid understanding of Bin Laden’s role in the organization had been wrong,” Morell writes. “Before the raid we’d thought that Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, was running the organization on a day-to-day basis, essentially the CEO of al Qaeda, while Bin Laden was the group’s ideological leader, its chairman of the board. But the DOCEX showed something quite different. It showed that Bin Laden himself had not only been managing the organization from Abbottabad, he had been micromanaging it.”*

Consider some examples from the small set of documents released already.

During the last year and a half of his life, Osama bin Laden: oversaw al Qaeda’s “external work,” that is, its operations targeting the West; directed negotiations with the Pakistani state over a proposed ceasefire between the jihadists and parts of the government; ordered his men to evacuate northern Pakistan for safe havens in Afghanistan; instructed Shabaab to keep its role as an al Qaeda branch secret and offered advice concerning how its nascent emirate in East Africa should be run; received status reports on his fighters’ operations in at least eight different Afghan provinces; discussed al Qaeda’s war strategy in Yemen with the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other subordinates; received updates from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, including details on a proposed truce with the government of Mauritania; authorized the relocation of veteran jihadists to Libya, where they could take advantage of the uprising against Muammar al Qaddafi’s regime; corresponded with the Taliban’s leadership; and generally made decisions that impacted al Qaeda’s operations everywhere around the globe.

Again, these are just a handful of examples culled from the publicly-available files recovered in bin Laden’s compound. The overwhelming majority of these documents remain classified and, therefore, unavailable to the American public.

Al Qaeda has grown under Zawahiri’s tenure

The story of how bin Laden’s role was missed should raise a large red flag. Al Qaeda is still not well-understood and has been consistently misjudged. Not long after bin Laden was killed, a meme spread about his successor: Ayman al Zawahiri. Many ran with the idea that Zawahiri is an ineffectual and unpopular leader who lacked bin Laden’s charisma and was, therefore, incapable of guiding al Qaeda’s global network. This, too, was wrong.

There is no question that the Islamic State, which disobeyed Zawahiri’s orders and was disowned by al Qaeda’s “general command” in 2014, has cut into al Qaeda’s share of the jihadist market and undermined the group’s leadership position. But close observers will notice something interesting about al Qaeda’s response to the Islamic State’s challenge. Under Zawahiri’s stewardship, al Qaeda grew its largest paramilitary force ever.

Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, warned about the rise of Al Nusrah Front during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 28. “With direct ties to Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s successor, Nusra[h] is now al [Qaeda’s] largest formal affiliate in history,” McGurk said. US officials previously contacted by The Long War Journal said Nusrah could easily have 10,000 or more fighters in its ranks.

It is worth repeating that Nusrah grew in size and stature, while being openly loyal to Zawahiri, after the Islamic State became its own jihadist menace. Far from being irrelevant, Zawahiri ensured al Qaeda’s survival in the Levant and oversaw its growth.

image-posted-by-tilmidh-usamah-bin-ladin-1024x348

On July 28, Al Nusrah Front emir Abu Muhammad al Julani announced that his organization would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS, or the “Conquest of the Levant Front”) and would have no “no affiliation to any external [foreign] entity.” This was widely interpreted as Al Nusrah’s “break” from al Qaeda. But Julani never actually said that and al Qaeda itself isn’t an “external entity” with respect to Syria as the group moved much of its leadership to the country long ago. Al Nusrah’s rebranding was explicitly approved by Abu Khayr al Masri, one of Zawahiri’s top deputies, in an audio message released just hours prior to Julani’s announcement. Masri was likely inside Syria at the time.

Julani, who was dressed like Osama bin Laden during his appearance (as pictured above), heaped praise on bin Laden, Zawahiri and Masri. “Their blessed leadership has, and shall continue to be, an exemplar of putting the needs of the community and their higher interests before the interest of any individual group,” Julani said of Zawahiri and Masri.

Most importantly, Al Nusrah’s relaunch as JFS is entirely consistent with al Qaeda’s longstanding strategy in Syria and elsewhere. Al Qaeda never wanted to formally announce its role in the rebellion against Bashar al Assad’s regime, correctly calculating that clandestine influence is preferable to an overt presence for many reasons. This helps explain why Nusrah was never officially renamed as “Al Qaeda in the Levant” in the first place. However, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, there is such widespread ignorance of al Qaeda’s goals and strategy that Nusrah’s name change is enough to fool many.

Al Qaeda has grown in South Asia as well. In Sept. 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which brought together elements of several existing jihadist organizations. AQIS quickly got to work, attempting to execute an audacious plan that would have used Pakistani arms against American and Indian ships. The plot failed, but revealed that al Qaeda had infiltrated Pakistan’s military.

Pakistani officials recently told the Washington Post that they suspect AQIS has a few thousand members in the city of Karachi alone. And al Qaeda remains closely allied with the Taliban while maintaining a significant presence inside Afghanistan. In October 2015, for instance, Afghan and American forces conducted a massive operation against two large al Qaeda training camps in the southern part of the country. One of the camps was approximately 30 square miles in size. Gen. John F. Campbell, who oversaw the war effort in Afghanistan, explained that the camp was run by AQIS and is “probably the largest training camp-type facility that we have seen in 14 years of war.”

With Zawahiri as its emir, al Qaeda raised its “largest formal affiliate in history” in Syria and operated its “largest training” camp ever in Afghanistan. These two facts alone undermine the widely-held assumption that al Qaeda is on death’s door.

Elsewhere, al Qaeda’s other regional branches remain openly loyal to Zawahiri.

From April 2015 to April 2016, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controlled a large swath of territory along Yemen’s southern coast, including the key port city of Mukalla. An Arab-led coalition helped reclaim some of this turf earlier this year, but AQAP’s forces simply melted away, living to fight another day. AQAP continues to wage a prolific insurgency in the country, as does Shabaab across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia. Shabaab’s leaders announced their fealty to Zawahiri in February 2012 and remain faithful to him. They have taken a number of steps to stymie the growth of the Islamic State in Somalia and neighboring countries. Shabaab also exports terrorism throughout East Africa, executing a number of high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues to operate in West and North Africa, often working in conjunction with front groups. Like al Qaeda’s branches elsewhere, AQIM prefers to mask the extent of its influence, working through organizations such as Ansar al Sharia and Ansar Dine to achieve its goals. Late last year, Al Murabitoon rejoined AQIM’s ranks. Al Murabitoon is led by Mohktar Belmokhtar, who has been reportedly killed on several occasions. Al Qaeda claims that Belmokhtar is still alive and has praised him for rejoining AQIM after his contentious relations with AQIM’s hierarchy in the past. While Belmokhtar’s status cannot be confirmed, several statements have been released in his name in recent months. And Al Murabitoon’s merger with AQIM has led to an increase in high-profile attacks in West Africa.

In sum, AQAP, AQIM, AQIS and Shabaab are formal branches of al Qaeda and have made their allegiance to Zawahiri clear. Jabhat Fath al Sham, formerly known as Al Nusrah, is an obvious al Qaeda project in Syria. Other organizations continue to serve al Qaeda’s agenda as well.

Al Qaeda’s veterans and a “new generation” of jihadist leadership

As the brief summary above shows, Al Qaeda’s geographic footprint has expanded greatly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some US officials argue that al Qaeda has been “decimated” because of the drone campaign and counterterrorism raids. They narrowly focus on the leadership layer of al Qaeda, while ignoring the bigger picture. But even their analysis of al Qaeda’s managers is misleading.

Al Qaeda has lost dozens of key men, but there is no telling how many veterans remain active to this day. Experienced operatives continue to serve in key positions, often returning to the fight after being detained or only revealing their hidden hand when it becomes necessary. Moreover, al Qaeda knew it was going to lose personnel and took steps to groom a new generation of jihadists capable of filling in.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

Last year, several veterans were reportedly released from Iran, where they were held under murky circumstances. One of them was Abu Khayr al Masri, who paved the way for Al Nusrah’s rebranding in July. Another is Saif al Adel, who has long been wanted for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. At least two others freed by Iran, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Khalid al Aruri, returned to al Qaeda as well.

Masri, Al Adel, and Aruri may all be based inside Syria, or move back and forth to the country from Turkey, where other senior members are based. Mohammed Islambouli is an important leader within al Qaeda. After leaving Iran several years ago, Islambouli returned to Egypt and eventually made his way to Turkey, where he lives today.

Sitting to Julani’s right during his much ballyhooed announcement was one of Islambouli’s longtime compatriots, Ahmed Salama Mabrouk. The diminutive Mabrouk is another Zawahiri subordinate. He was freed from an Egyptian prison in the wake of the 2011 uprisings.

Al Qaeda moved some of its senior leadership to Syria and several others from this cadre are easy to identify. But al Qaeda has also relied on personnel in Yemen to guide its global network. One of Zawahiri’s lieutenants, Hossam Abdul Raouf, confirmed this in an audio message last October. Raouf explained that the “weight” of al Qaeda has been shifted to Syria and Yemen, because that is where its efforts are most needed.

The American drone campaign took out several key AQAP leaders in 2015, but they were quickly replaced. Qasim al Raymi, who was trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1990s, succeeded Nasir al Wuhayshi as AQAP’s emir last summer. Raymi quickly renewed his allegiance to Zawahiri, whom Raymi described as the “the eminent sheikh” and “the beloved father.” Another al Qaeda lifer, Ibrahim Abu Salih, emerged from the shadows last year. Salih was not public figure beforehand, but he has been working towards al Qaeda’s goals in Yemen since the early 1990s. Ibrahim al Qosi (an ex-Guantanamo detainee) and Khalid al Batarfi have stepped forward to lead AQAP and are probably also part of al Qaeda’s management team.

This old school talent has helped buttress al Qaeda’s leadership cadre. They’ve been joined by men who signed up for al Qaeda’s cause after the 9/11 attacks as well. In July, the US Treasury Department designated three jihadists who are based in Iran. One of them, known as Abu Hamza al Khalidi, was listed in bin Laden’s files as part of a “new generation” of al Qaeda leaders. Today, he plays a crucial role as the head of al Qaeda’s military commission, meaning he is the equivalent of al Qaeda’s defense minister. Treasury has repeatedly identified other al Qaeda members based in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Some members of the “new generation” are more famous than others. Such is the case with Osama’s son,Hamzah bin Laden, who is now regularly featured in propaganda.

This brief survey of al Qaeda is not intended to be exhaustive, yet it is still sufficient to demonstrate that the organization’s bench is far from empty. Moreover, many of the men who lead al Qaeda today are probably unknown to the public.

The threat to the West

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.” His statement underscored how the threats have become more geographically dispersed over time. With great success, the US worked for years to limit al Qaeda’s ability to strike the West from northern Pakistan. But today, al Qaeda’s “external operations” work is carried out across several countries.

During the past fifteen years, Al Qaeda has failed to execute another mass casualty attack in the US on the scale of the 9/11 hijackings. Its most recent attack in Europe came in January 2015, when a pair of brothers backed by AQAP conducted a military-style assault on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. AQAP made it clear that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was carried out according to Zawahiri’s orders.

Thanks to vigilance and luck, al Qaeda hasn’t been able to replicate a 9/11-style assault inside the US. Part of the reason is that America’s defenses, as well as those of its partner nations, have improved. Operations such as the 9/11 hijackings are also difficult to carry out in the first place. Even the 9/11 plan experienced interruptions despite a relatively lax security environment. (Most famously, for example, the would-be 20th hijacker was denied entry into the US at an Orlando airport in the summer of 2001.)

But there is another aspect to evaluating the al Qaeda threat that is seldom appreciated. It is widely assumed that al Qaeda is only interested in attacking the West. This is flat false. Most of the organization’s resources are devoted to waging insurgencies in Muslim majority countries.

The story in Syria has been telling. Although al Qaeda may have more resources in Syria than anywhere else, Zawahiri did not order his men to carry out a strike in the West. Al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group” laid the groundwork for such operations, but Zawahiri did not give this cadre the green light to actually carry them out. Zawahiri’s stand down order is well known. In an interview that aired in May 2015, for instance, Julani explained that the “directives that come to us from Dr. Ayman [al Zawahiri], may Allah protect him, are that Al Nusrah Front’s mission in Syria is to topple [Bashar al Assad’s] regime” and defeat its allies. “We have received guidance to not use Syria as a base for attacks against the West or Europe so that the real battle is not confused,” Julani said. However, he conceded that “maybe” the mother al Qaeda organization is plotting against the West, just “not from Syria.” Julani emphasized that this “directive” came from Zawahiri himself.

To date, al Qaeda has not lashed out at the West from inside Syria, even though it is certainly capable of doing so. Al Qaeda’s calculation has been that such an attack would be too costly for its strategic interests. It might get in the way of al Qaeda’s top priority in Syria, which is toppling the Assad regime. This calculation could easily change overnight and al Qaeda could use Syria as a launching pad against the West soon. But they haven’t thus far. It helps explain why there hasn’t been another 9/11-style plot by al Qaeda against the US in recent years. It also partially explains why al Qaeda hasn’t launched another large-scale operation in Europe for some time. Al Qaeda has more resources at its disposal today than ever, so the group doesn’t lack the capability. If Zawahiri and his advisors decided to make anti-Western attack planning more of a priority, then the probability of another 9/11-style event would go up. Even in that scenario, al Qaeda would have to successfully evade the West’s defenses. But the point is that al Qaeda hasn’t been attempting to hit the West nearly as much as some in the West assume.

In the meantime, it is easy to see how the al Qaeda threat has become more diverse, just as Clapper testified. AQAP has launched several thwarted plots aimed at the US, including the failed Christmas Day 2009 bombing. In 2009, al Qaeda also plotted to strike trains in the New York City area. In 2010, a Mumbai-style assault in Europe was unraveled by security services. It is not hard to imagine al Qaeda trying something along those lines once again. Other organizations tied to al Qaeda, such as the Pakistani Taliban, have plotted against the US as well.

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda lives. Fortunately, Zawahiri’s men have not replicated the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. But the al Qaeda threat looms. It would be a mistake to assume that al Qaeda won’t try a large-scale operation again.

*The spellings of al Qaeda and bin Laden are changed in this quote from Morell to make them consistent with the rest of the text.

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

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Listen to John Batchelor interview Thomas Joscelyn:

watching-bin-laden-raid

Fifteen Years Later, Al Qaeda Grows

“What A Mess!” – Pentagon At War With CIA In Syria

20160906_syriaZero Hedge, by Tyler Durden, Sept. 6, 2016:

What a mess! In the crazy Syrian war, US-backed and armed groups are fighting other US-backed rebel groups. How can this be?

It is so because the Obama White House had stirred up war in Syria but then lost control of the process.When the US has a strong president, he can usually keep the military and intelligence agencies on a tight leash.

But the Obama administration has had a weak secretary of defense and a bunch of lady strategists who are the worst military commanders since Louis XV, who put his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, in charge of French military forces during the Seven Year’s War. The French were routed by the Prussians. France’s foe, Frederick the Great of Prussia, named one of his dogs, ‘la Pompadour.’

As a result, the two arms of offensive US strategic power, the Pentagon and CIA, went separate ways in Syria. Growing competition between the US military and militarized CIA broke into the open in Syria.

Fed up with the astounding incompetence of the White House, the US military launched and supported its own rebel groups in Syria, while CIA did the same.

Fighting soon after erupted in Syria and Iraq between the US-backed groups. US Special Forces joined the fighting in Syria, Iraq and most lately, Libya.

The well-publicized atrocities, like mass murders and decapitations, greatly embarrassed Washington, making it harder to portray their jihadi wildmen as liberators. The only thing exceptional about US policy in Syria was its astounding incompetence.

Few can keep track of the 1,000 groups of jihadis that keep changing their names and shifting alliances. Throw in Turkomans, Yzidis, Armenians, Nestorians, Druze, Circassians, Alawis, Assyrians and Palestinians. Oh yes, and the Alevis.

Meanwhile, ISIS was inflicting mayhem on Syria and Iraq. But who really is ISIS? A few thousand twenty-something hooligans with little knowledge of Islam but a burning desire to dynamite the existing order and a sharp media sense. The leadership of these turbaned anarchists appears to have formed in US prison camps in Afghanistan.

The US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey armed and financed ISIS as a weapon to unleash on Syria, which was an ally of Iran that refused to take orders from the Western powers. The west bears heavy responsibility for the deaths of 450,000 Syrians, at least half the nation of 23 million becoming refugees, and destruction of this once lovely country.

At some point, ISIS shook off its western tutors and literally ran amok. But the US has not yet made a concerted attempt to crush ISIS because of its continuing usefulness in Syria and in the US, where ISIS has become the favorite whipping boy of politicians.

Next come the Kurds, an ancient Indo-European stateless people spread across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They have been denied a national state by the western powers since WWI. Kurdish rebels in Iraq have been armed and financed by Israel since the 1970’s.

When America’s Arab jihadists proved militarily feeble, the US turned to the Kurds, who are renowned fighters, arming and financing the Kurdish Syrian YPG which is part of the well-known PKK rebel group that fights Turkey.

I covered the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in eastern Anatolia in the 1980’s in which some 40,000 died.

Turkey is now again battling a rising wave of Kurdish attacks that caused the Turks to probe into northern Syria to prevent a link-up of advancing Kurdish rebel forces.

So, Turkey, a key American ally, is now battling CIA-backed Kurdish groups in Syria. Eighty percent of Turks believe the recent failed coup in Turkey was mounted by the US – not the White House, but by the Pentagon which has always been joined at the hip to Turkey’s military.

This major Turkish-Kurdish crisis was perfectly predictable, but the obtuse junior warriors of the Obama administration failed to grasp this point.

Now the Russians have entered the fray in an effort to prevent their ally, Bashar Assad, from being overthrow by western powers. Also perfectly predictable. Russia claimed to be bombing ISIS but in fact is targeting US-backed groups. Washington is outraged that the wicked Russians are doing in the Mideast what the US has done for decades.

The US and Russia now both claim to have killed a senior ISIS commander in an air strike. Their warplanes are dodging one another, creating a perfect scenario for a head-on clash at a time when neocons in the US are agitating for war with Russia.

Does anyone think poor, demolished Syria is worth the price? Hatred for the US is now seething in Turkey and across the Mideast. Hundreds of millions of US tax dollars have been wasted in this cruel, pointless war.

Time for the US to stop stirring this witch’s brew.

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And if that didn’t 1) drive you crazy, and/or 2) confuse you, here is UK’s Channel 4 to explain in pictures…

Islamic State: From nation-state to terror group

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

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

 , August 31, 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Also see:

State Dept. Confirms PJ Media Reporting on American Journalist Arrested in Turkey

Lindsey-Snell-Turkey.sized-770x415xt

PJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, AUGUST 31, 2016:

On August 8, I reported here at PJ Media on American journalist Lindsey Snell, who had reportedly escaped from Jabhat al-Nusra/Jabhat Fateh al-Sham custody in Syria only to be arrested when she arrived back in Turkey earlier this month. No other American media outlet reported on this story — until now.

Snell’s biography notes she has worked for MSNBC, VICE News, ABC News, the Discovery Channel, and Amnesty International, among others.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed her arrest during his daily briefing today, stating that she is being held on charges of “violating a military zone”:

QUESTION: Do you have any information about a U.S. citizen who was arrested in Turkey?MR KIRBY: Who was arrested in Turkey? Yes. I can confirm that U.S. citizen Lindsey Snell was detained in Turkey on the 7th of August, 2016. She is currently being held in a prison facility in Hatay Province. I believe that’s how you say it. Consular officers from the consulate in Adana visited Ms. Snell most recently on the 26th of this month and are providing all possible consular assistance. The embassy and the department are following this case closely. State Department officials have been in contact with Turkish Government officials regarding this case.

QUESTION: Can you spell her name?

MR KIRBY: Lindsey. L-i-n-d-s-e-y. Snell. S-n-e-l-l.

Did you have more?

QUESTION: Yeah. Is – was the arrest at all related to her profession as a journalist or in any case – any way associated with that?

MR KIRBY: What I – what we understand is that she has been charged with violating a military zone, but I can’t speak to her reasons for being in Syria, for traveling there. I can’t speak to that. What I can tell you is that we’ve been informed she was charged with violating a military zone.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that she entered a military zone that she wasn’t supposed to, or —

MR KIRBY: That would be my interpretation of that, Arshad. But that’s a better question for Turkish authorities since they’re the ones that issued the charges.

QUESTION: Did you say she was arrested in Syria and is held in Turkey? I’m sorry, I just didn’t hear the details exactly.

MR KIRBY: She was —

QUESTION: I thought you said she was —

MR KIRBY: She’s been – she was arrested – detained in Turkey —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: — and has been charged with violating a military zone.

QUESTION: I thought the word “Syria” came out of your mouth, and I just wanted to make sure that there wasn’t —

MR KIRBY: Yes. Yes, I did. As I understand it, she journeyed to Turkey from Syria, and I – what my answer was, I couldn’t speak for why she was in Syria in the first place. The question was was she doing the business of journalism, and I don’t know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

As I noted, PJ Media was the only U.S. media outlet to report on her detention by Turkish authorities.

***

This strange situation comes at a low ebb in U.S. relations with its NATO ally. Undoubtedly Snell’s detention, along with that of a NASA employee also detained in Turkey earlier this month, will come up when President Obama meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the Group of 20 meetings in China this week.

PJ Media will continue to report on this situation as developments unfold.

Read more

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

5DEBKAfile, Aug. 29, 2016:

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

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

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

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Also see:

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

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

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

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

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

But he wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also see:

John Bolton: Iran Deal ‘Worst Appeasement in American History’

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Breitbart, by Adelle Nazarian, Aug. 25, 2016:

LOS ANGELES, California — Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton declared Sunday that the Iranian nuclear deal is the “worst act of appeasement in American history.” Bolton was speaking at the Luxe Hotel on Sunday for the American Freedom Alliance‘s conference, titled “Islam and Western Civilization: Can They Coexist?”

Bolton, who is also a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, elaborated on the threat that radical Islam and political Islam pose to the United States of America, Europe and the whole of Western civilization. In doing so, he explained the propaganda inherent in the term “Islamphobia,” and dismissed the “lone-wolf” concept of radical Islamic terrorism.

Bolton said there is plenty of evidence from western intelligence, among other sources, that the Iranian regime is violating the terms of the deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “I don’t think they ever intended to comply with its central provisions. They made minimal concessions to begin with and in exchange they got over $100 billion.”

Pressing further, Bolton criticized the recent ransom paid for American captives.He joked: “The good news is: each and every one of you is worth $100 million to the Obama Administration. The bad news is: Iran understands this.”

On a serious note, Bolton said: “All of our adversaries, and even our friends, are appalled by what they’ve seen. And the abandonment of our decades-long, bipartisan policy of not negotiating with terrorists. But it was all part of the nuclear deal.” He predicted there are many more surprises that will come up.

Bolton also explained that the “nature of the threat here is extraordinarily broad” and that “it has  been growing” because in the last eight years it has faced “no effective American opposition whatsoever.” That unfettered dynamic has resulted in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. “Turkey and the Saudis and Egyptians, and likely other governments throughout the region, have also embarked on their own nuclear programs missions,” he said.

Regarding the threat of radical Islam, Bolton told the audience,  “I think it’s important to say, at the outset every time the subject comes up, that we are talking about politics and ideology here. This is not a question about religion. And those who say that ‘when you talk about radical Islam you are insulting Muslims all over the world,’ are simply engaged in propaganda.” Bolton added that these are “exactly Muslims, themselves, who have felt the worst effects of Islamic terrorism and who suffer under its rule in places as diverse as Iran and the caliphate that ISIS now holds.”

Bolton explained that individuals who do not wish to have a clear understanding of the true nature of radical Islam are “quick to obscure” it. “It’s a struggle for how the religion is perceived around the world,” Bolton noted.

He pointed out that Muslim leaders like King Abdullah of Jordan and Egypt’s President and former military general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have called for a transformation within Islam, going so far as pointing out that this is a civil war that must be embraced and led by the people themselves.

He also lauded al-Sisi for being “courageous enough a couple of years ago to join the Coptic Christians in their celebration of Christmas and say ‘we are all Egyptians together,’ and thus putting a target on his own back with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Bolton said that to suggest phrases like “lone-wolf terrorists and self-radicalized terrorists” when explaining these attacks is like comparing them with “spontaneous combustion: they were normal people one day and then the next day they became terrorists.” The West, he said, had failed “to understand the ideological nature of this war.”

Turning the spotlight onto President Barack Obama, Bolton said “the president says his objective is to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. The problem with his strategy is his first three words: ‘degrade and ultimately’. The answer to ISIS is to destroy it as rapidly as possible. The reason you want to do that is because every day that we delay allows ISIS to implement strategies in Europe.”

Bolton added: “Innocent civilians are at risk because of our unwillingness to take appropriate military action.”

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz

From Vlad Tepes:

What’s the Plan for Winning the War?

iranian-nuclear-weaponDoes anyone in the administration recognize that we’re in one?

CounterJihad, Aug. 25, 2016:

Michael Ledeen makes a clever observation:

Everyone’s talking about “ransom,” but it’s virtually impossible to find anyone who’s trying to figure out how to win the world war we’re facing.  The two keystones of the enemy alliance are Iran and Russia, and the Obama administration, as always, has no will to resist their sorties, whether the Russians’ menacing moves against Ukraine, or the Iranians’ moves against us.

The moves are on the chessboard, sometimes kinetic and sometimes psychological warfare.  Like a chess game, we are in the early stages in which maneuver establishes the array of forces that will govern the rest of the game.  Russia’s deployment of air and naval forces to Syria stole a march on the Obama administration.  Its swaying of Turkey, which last year was downing Russian aircraft, is stealing another.  Its deployment of bombers and advanced strike aircraft to Iran is another.  That last appears to be in a state of renegotiation, as Ledeen notes, but that too is probably for show.  The Iranians have too much to gain in terms of security for their nuclear program, at least until they’ve had time to build their own air force.

Iran is making strategic moves as well.  Ledeen notes the “Shi’ite Freedom Army,” a kind of Iranian Foreign Legion that intends to field five divisions of between twenty and twenty-five thousand men each.  Overall command will belong to Quds Force commander Qassem Suliemani, currently a major figure in the assault on Mosul, having recovered from his injury in Syria commanding Iranian-backed militia in the war there.  The fact of his freedom of movement is itself a Russian-Iranian demonstration that they will not be governed by international law:  Suliemani is under international travel bans for his assassination plot against world diplomats, but was received in Moscow and now travels freely throughout the northern Middle East.

Turkey, meanwhile, has been effectively cut off by Iran’s and Russia’s success in the opening game of this global chess match.  As late as the Ottoman Empire, the Turks looked south through Iran and Iraq to power bases as far away as Arabia.  Now the Ayatollahs are going to control a crescent of territory from Afghanistan’s borders to the Levant, leaving the Turks locked out.  One might have expected the Turks to respond by doubling their sense of connection to Europe and NATO.  Instead, the purge following the alleged coup attempt is cementing an Islamist control that leaves the Turks looking toward a world from which they are largely separated by the power of this new Russian-Iranian alliance.  The Turks seem to be drifting toward joining that alliance because being a part of that alliance will preserve their ties to the Islamic world.

For now, the Obama administration seems blind to the fact that these moves are closing off America’s position in the Middle East.  This is not a new policy.  Eli Lake reports that the Obama administration told the CIA to sever its ties to Iranian opposition groups in order to avoid giving aid to the Green revolution.  Their negotiation of last year’s disastrous “Iran deal” has led to Iran testing new ballistic missiles and receiving major arms shipments from Russia.  Yet while all these moves keep being made around them, the Obama administration proceeds as if this were still just an attempt to crush the Islamic State (ISIS).  The commander of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps has been given a task that amounts to helping the Iranians win.  Our incoherent policy has left us on both sides in Syria.  Our only real ally in the conflict, the Kurds, stand abandoned by America.

Who is even thinking about how to win the war?  Will the legacy of the Obama administration be a shattered NATO, a Turkey drawn into Russia’s orbit, an Iranian hegemony over the northern Middle East, and a resurgent Russia?  It certainly looks to be shaping up that way.  Russia is playing chess while the US is playing whack-a-mole.  The absence of a coherent governing strategy is glaring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. position eroded beyond recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more

Also see:

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

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/GETTY

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/GETTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Turkey-Russia-Iran Axis

fr

Dramatic developments alter the strategic balance in the Middle East.

Front Page Magazine, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Aug. 22, 2016:

A techtonic shift has occurred in the balance of power in the Middle East since the failed Turkish coup of mid-July, and virtually no one in Washington is paying attention to it.

Turkey and Iran are simultaneously moving toward Russia, while Russia is expanding its global military and strategic reach, all to the detriment of the United States and our allies. This will have a major impact across the region, potentially leaving U.S. ally Israel isolated to face a massive hostile alliance armed with nuclear weapons.

Believers in Bible prophecy see this new alignment as a step closer to the alliance mentioned in Ezekiel 37-38, which Israel ultimately defeated on the plains of Megiddo.

Today’s Israel, however, is doing its best to soften the blow by patching up relations with Turkey and through cooperation with Russia.

Here are some of the moves and countermoves that have been taking place in recent weeks on a giant three-dimensional chessboard with multiple players and opponents.

Russia-Turkey: It now appears that Russian intelligence tipped off Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan just hours before the planned coup against his regime. When the coup plotters got wind of the Russian communications with Erdogan loyalists at the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), they moved up the coup from the dead of night to 9 PM, when the streets were packed.

For Erdogan, the Russian warning came just in the nick of time, allowing him to flee his hotel in Marmaris minutes before twenty-five special forces troops loyal to the coup-plotters roped down from the roof of his hotel to seize him.

With streets in Istanbul full of people, Erdogan’s text and video messages calling on supporters to oppose the coup had maximum impact.

After purging the military and government of suspected enemies, Erdogan’s first foreign trip was to Russia, where on August 8 he thanked Putin for his help. “The Moscow-Ankara friendship axis will be restored,” he proclaimed.

Two days later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted NATO for its “evasive fashion” of responding to Turkish requests for military technology transfers, and opened the door to joint military production with Russia.

Cavosoglu accused NATO of considering Turkey and Russia “to be second class countries,” and pointed out that Turkey was the only NATO country that was refusing to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has also been in talks with Turkey to base Russian warplanes at the NATO air base in Incirlik, Turkey, where some 2400 U.S. personnel have been quarantined since the failed July 15 coup attempt as Turkey continues to demand that the U.S. extradite alleged coup-plotter Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

These talks have alarmed the Pentagon, which on Thursday reportedly ordered the emergency evacuation to Romania of the estimated 50-70 nuclear B-61 “dial-a-yield” gravity bombs stockpiled at the base.

If confirmed, the nuclear withdrawal from Turkey constitutes a major strategic setback for the United States, with Russia poised to replace the United States as Turkey’s main military partner after 60 years of NATO cooperation.

Russia-Iran: The warming of the Russia-Turkey relationship comes as Russia simultaneously is making advances in Iran.

The two countries have a long and often troubled history. The 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty, which ended long-standing tsarist concessions in Iran, also included a mutual defense pact. Triggered briefly during World War II, the Soviets seized the opportunity to foment a Communist coup in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1948 and only withdrew after President Truman threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Successive Iranian regimes remained suspicious of Soviet intentions for the rest of the Cold War.

In recent years, Iran and Russia have joined together to evade international sanctions, with Russian banks clearing payments for Iranian oil purchases and serving as a conduit for Iranian government purchases abroad.

Last week, the specter of the 1921 defense treaty suddenly came alive when the Russia and Iran announced they had signed a new military agreement to allow Russian jets to use the Nojeh airbase in western Iran for attacks on Syrian rebels.

This is the first time that the Islamic regime in Iran has allowed a foreign power to use Iranian territory as a base for offensive military operations against another country in the region, and the move lead to tensions in the Iranian parliament.

For Russia, the move dramatically reduced flight times for the Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers it had been flying against ISIS targets in Syria from Mozdok airbase in Ossetia, 2000 km away. Iran’s Nojeh air base, outside Hamadan, is less than 900 km from the war zone.

The shorter flight times also meant shorter warning for the Syrian rebels. Russian media reports have alleged that the United States has been providing “satellite surveillance data” to the Syrian rebels of the Russian bombing runs, allowing them to disperse “suspiciously too often” before the heavy bombers arrived on target from Mozdok.

The shorter distance cuts the flight time – and thus the warning time – by 60%, according to former Pentagon official Stephen D. Bryen. “The flight from Iran is between 30 to 45 minutes tops. If, therefore, the US is warning the rebels of impending Russian air strikes, the time to get the message to them and to actually be able to move their forces out of harms way, is far less and maybe too short for finding effective cover,” Bryen wrote in a recent blogpost.

Conclusion: Russia is on the verge of realizing a multi-generational dream of reaching the “warm waters” of the Persian Gulf through Iran.

Iran-Iraq: Adding to these dramatic developments was the announcement last week by a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Chris Garver, that Iran now controls a military force of 100,000 armed fighters in neighboring Iraq. While the United States has allowed this Iranian expansion under the pretext Iran was helping in the fight against ISIS, clearly Iran can use this massive organized force to exercise its control over Iraq as well.

While none of these events was directly caused by the United States, clearly the lack of U.S. leadership emboldened our enemies, whose leaders have a much clearer strategic vision than ours of where they want the region to go.

Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to pursue the massive ten-year, $650 billion military modernization program that Putin announced in December 2010, despite reduced oil revenues. Those plans include eight new nuclear submarines, 600 new fighter jets, 1000 helicopters, as well as new tanks and other ground equipment.

Most of the new equipment is based on new designs incorporating advanced technologies, not existing weapons systems.

Just this week, U.S. intelligence officials reported ongoing construction of “dozens’ of underground nuclear command bunkers in Moscow and around the country apparently for use in the event of a nuclear wear. General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, called Russia’s evolving doctrine on the first use of nuclear weapons “alarming.”

All of this does not mean that the United States and Russia are headed toward a direct confrontation. The more likely consequence, given the sweeping Russian powerplay with Turkey and Iran, is that the United States will simply abandon the region to Putin’s Russia and his Turkish and Iranian allies.

The consequence of that abandon will undoubtedly motivate Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Iran.

Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Obama plays golf. Both leaders will leave ashes in their wake.

Also see:

Turkey vows to cleanse Islamic State from its border after wedding attack kills 54

AFP, Getty Images

AFP, Getty Images

Reuters, by Orhan Coskun and Daren ButlerAug. 22, 2016:

Turkey vowed on Monday to “completely cleanse” Islamic State militants from its border region, after a suspected suicide bomber with links to the group killed 54 people, including 22 children, at a Kurdish wedding.

Saturday’s attack in the southeastern city of Gaziantep is the deadliest in Turkey this year. It was carried out by a suicide bomber aged between 12 and 14, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, adding that initial evidence pointed to Islamic State.

A senior security official told Reuters the device used was the same type as those employed in the July 2015 suicide attack in the border town of Suruc and the October 2015 suicide bombing of a rally of pro-Kurdish activists in Ankara.

Both of those attacks were blamed on Islamic State. The group has targeted Kurdish gatherings in an apparent effort to further inflame ethnic tensions strained by a long Kurdish insurgency. The Ankara bombing was the deadliest of its kind in Turkey, killing more than 100 people.

“Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders and we are ready to do what it takes for that,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference in Ankara, using an Arabic name for the group.

A senior rebel official said Turkish-backed Syrian rebels were preparing to launch an attack to seize the Syrian town of Jarablus from Islamic State on the border with Turkey, a move that would deny control to advancing Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Turkish authorities have said a destroyed suicide vest was found at the scene of the bombing.

A second security official told Reuters that they were investigating the possibility militants could have placed the explosives on the child without his or her knowledge and detonated them remotely, or that a mentally disabled child was duped into carrying the device, a tactic seen elsewhere in the region.

“It could be that someone was loaded with explosives without even being aware of it and it may have been detonated remotely,” the official said, adding a search was underway for suspected militants who may have played a reconnaissance role.

In the latest southeast violence, two Turkish security force members and five PKK militants were killed in clashes and attacks in three areas of eastern Turkey over the last 24 hours, officials said.

Some in Turkey, particularly in the Kurdish southeast, feel the government has not done enough to protect its citizens from Islamic State.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the wedding party was for one of its members. The groom was among those injured, but the bride was not hurt.

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Jeanine Pirro interviews Brooke Goldstein on the inhumanity of using child suicide bombers:

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Also see:

Syrian Kurds look west after Manbij victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facts on the ground

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

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

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

Crossing redlines

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

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

Uniting the cantons

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

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

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

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

US nukes at Turkey base at risk of seizure: report

US Air Force tanker planes sit on the tarmac of Incirlik Airbase in southern Turkey (AFP Photo/Tarik Tinazay)

US Air Force tanker planes sit on the tarmac of Incirlik Airbase in southern Turkey (AFP Photo/Tarik Tinazay)

Yahoo News, by Thomas Watkins, Aug. 15, 2016:

Washington (AFP) – Dozens of US nuclear weapons stored at a Turkish air base near Syria are at risk of being captured by “terrorists or other hostile forces,” a Washington think tank claimed Monday.

Critics have long been alarmed by America’s estimated stockpile of about 50 nuclear bombs at Incirlik in southern Turkey, just 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the border with war-torn Syria.

The issue took on fresh urgency last month following the attempted coup in Turkey, in which the base’s Turkish commander was arrested on suspicion of complicity in the plot.

“Whether the US could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question,” said Monday’s report from the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank working to promote peace.

Incirlik is a vital base for the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, with the strategically located facility affording drones and warplanes fast access to IS targets.

But the Pentagon in March ordered families of US troops and civilian personnel stationed in southern Turkey to quit the region due to security fears.

“From a security point of view, it’s a roll of the dice to continue to have approximately 50 of America’s nuclear weapons stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey,” report co-author Laicie Heeley said.

“There are significant safeguards in place. … But safeguards are just that, they don’t eliminate risk. In the event of a coup, we can’t say for certain that we would have been able to maintain control,” she told AFP.

– ‘Avoided disaster so far’ –

While the Pentagon does not discuss where it stores nuclear assets, the bombs are believed to be kept at Incirlik as a deterrent to Russia and to demonstrate America’s commitment to NATO, the 28-member military alliance that includes Turkey.

The Incirlik nuke issue has been the subject of renewed debate in the United States since the coup attempt.

“While we’ve avoided disaster so far, we have ample evidence that the security of US nuclear weapons stored in Turkey can change literally overnight,” Steve Andreasen, director for defense policy and arms control on the White House National Security Council staff from 1993 to 2001, wrote in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times last week.

Kori Schake, a fellow at the California-based Hoover Institution, noted in a written debate in the New York Times that “American nuclear forces cannot be used without codes, making the weapons impossible to set off without authorization.”

“The fact that nuclear weapons are stationed in Turkey does not make them vulnerable to capture and use, even if the country were to turn hostile to the United States,” she argued.

The Pentagon declined to comment on questions arising from the Stimson study.

“We do not discuss the location of strategic assets. The (Department of Defense) has taken appropriate steps to maintain the safety and security of our personnel, their families, and our facilities, and we will continue to do so,” it said in a statement.

The Incirlik concerns were highlighted as part of a broader paper into the Pentagon’s nuclear modernization program, through which the United States would spend hundreds of billions of dollars to update its atomic arsenal.

The authors argue that a particular type of bomb — the B61 gravity bomb — should be immediately removed from Europe, where 180 of the weapons are kept in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey.