Friday, September 30, 2016

Increased tensions


Going from bad to even worse: The very strident and harsh rhetoric coming out of Washington and directed towards Russia is unprecedented. Bilateral relations have reached a dangerous low. What happens now?
CrossTalking with Gilbert Doctorow, Brian Becker, and Daniel McAdams. https://www.rt.com/shows/crosstalk/361157-russia-us-tensions-syria/

Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo Posted By Mike Whitney

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Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo

“Syria is the summation of all the errors of a dysfunctional empire collapsing upon itself. History forgotten. Science ignored. Facts denied. Propaganda cannot hide that West is supporting and killing Islamists at the same time in a World War that risks escalating into a nuclear holocaust.” Vietnam Vet, comments-line,  Sic Semper Tyrannis
The attack on Deir Ezzor was a flagrant act of betrayal. For the first time in the five year-long war,  US warplanes targeted an SAA military outpost killing 62 Syrian regulars. The surprise attacks — which lasted for the better part of an hour and were followed by a coordinated ground assault by members of ISIS– were intended to torpedo the fragile ceasefire agreement and send a message to Moscow that the US was prepared to achieve its strategic objectives in Syria whether it had to launch direct attacks on defenders of the regime or not.
The attacks–for which the Pentagon eventually accepted responsibility–were followed by a callous and thoroughly-unprofessional tirade by the administration’s chief diplomat at the United Nations, Samantha Power. Power dispelled any doubt that either she or anyone else in the Obama administration cared at all about the people who lost their lives in the bombing raid.  She also made it clear that she didn’t care if the US had violated the terms of the ceasefire just two days before critical parts of the agreement were scheduled to be implemented.
Naturally, Moscow was taken aback by Washington’s reaction, it’s blatant disregard for the soldiers they killed, and its obvious determination to sabotage the ceasefire. Having reflected on Obama’s de facto rejection of the agreement, Putin pursued the only viable option left open to him;  more war.   As a result, he has intensified his efforts on the battlefield particularly around Aleppo where the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and crack-units from Hezbollah have launched a three-prong attack that will dispose of the US-backed jihadists that have destroyed much of Syria over the last half-decade  and displaced over 7 million civilians.
Bottom line: Having foreclosed the political option for reducing the violence, the Obama administration will now face the consequences for its rejection.
Here’s an excellent summary of developments on the ground around Aleppo from decorated veteran and retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (The Green Berets) Colonel W. Patrick Lang. The article was posted on September 24:
“As of today, forces have been massed at Aleppo for the purpose of eliminating the East Aleppo rebel pocket.  This pocket has now been without re-supply for an extended period.  This is true for both the jihadi rebels and the civilian population, many of whom are rebel supporters.
IMO (In my opinion) the main effort by R+6 is taking place at the SE side of the East Aleppo pocket.  That is now underway with massive CAS from Russian aerospace forces. At the same time Palestinian militia allies with CAS have attacked the fortified Handarat refugee camp at the NE corner of the pocket.  IMO this is a secondary attack intended to prevent the rebels moving forces south to oppose the main R+6 effort.
This is an excellent plan.
At the same time there is an unconfirmed report from SOHR in London (pro-rebel) that a Russian force with 3,000 men has been positioned at al-Safir about 12 km. SE of the main attacks on the Aleppo pocket.  If this report is correct this force is well positioned to reinforce the main attack or be used in a defensive move against a rebel effort elsewhere.  It would be in the Russian operational tradition to pass a reinforcing “wave” or echelon of forces through the initial assault forces when they become exhausted by combat….
The foreign policy establishment (Borg) in the West wants to believe that war is obsolete as a factor in the story of humanity….  They believe that they have inherited the earth and that their cleverness will always prevail over mere force.
We will now have a demonstration that this is not true.”  pl
(“Flash! Washpost discovers that Syria War may be “winnable.”, Sic Semper Tyrannis)
Obama’s de facto rejection of the ceasefire  has created the conditions for a decisive military defeat in Aleppo.   The fate of the CIA-trained “moderate” terrorists hunkered down in East Aleppo is not that different from that of General George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn who was surrounded by a superior military force and summarily slaughtered to the man. This is the option Pentagon warlord, Ash Carter chose when he decided to sabotage the joint military implementation agreement and go rogue. Carter opposed the ceasefire deal and in doing so signed the death warrant for hundreds of US-backed extremists who chances for survival are growing slimmer by the day.
According to recent reports, pro-government forces are advancing on a number of fronts.  At the same time, the Syrian and Russian air forces have intensified their bombing campaign reducing large swathes of the city to rubble and killing several hundred Sunni militants.  While the jihadists have performed better than many had expected, their fate is no longer in doubt. The cauldron is encircled, their front lines are collapsing, their supply lines have been severed, and the end is in sight.
Aleppo will fall and the US-backed effort to topple the Assad government using a proxy army of Islamic extremists will fail.
A few things need to be said about the ceasefire to set the record straight.
First, there was never any chance that the US was going to abide by the terms of the agreement. The US has no way of separating the “moderates” from the extremists which was one of the main requirements of the deal. That was never going to happen. But, more importantly, the Pentagon –which opposed the agreement from the get-go –had no intention of complying with its demands.
Why?
Well, for one thing, as  Syrian President Bashar al Assad said himself:
“…the United States doesn’t have the will to work against al-Nusra or  ISIS, because they believe that this is a card they can use for their own agenda. If they attack al-Nusra or ISIS, they will lose a very important card regarding the situation in Syria. So, I don’t believe the United States will be ready to join Russia in fighting terrorists in Syria.”
Bingo. Assad is not suggesting that al-Nusra or ISIS are controlled by Langley. He’s merely saying that– inasmuch as the goals of these groups coincide with US strategic objectives (which they certainly do in Syria) Washington will continue to support their activities. In other words, Obama would rather see a “Salafist principality” emerge in Syria then allow an independent, secular government to remain in place. Everyone who has followed events closely in Syria for the last five years, knows this is true.
The other reason the Pentagon opposed the agreement was because  they didn’t want to comply with the military-to-military coordination plan. The western media has been particularly opaque on this issue. For example, according to the New York Times deal would be  “an extraordinary collaboration between the United States and Russia that calls for the American military to share information with Moscow on Islamic State targets in Syria.” (“Details of Syria Pact Widen Rift Between John Kerry and Pentagon“, New York Times)
Okay, but why is that a problem? Wouldn’t that be the most effective way to defeat ISIS and Al Qaida? Of course, it would. So, what’s the rub? Here’s more from the NYT:
“Chief among Pentagon concerns is whether sharing targeting information with Russia could reveal how the United States uses intelligence to conduct airstrikes, not just in Syria but in other places, which Moscow could then use for its own advantage in the growing confrontations undersea and in the air around the Baltics and Europe.”(NYT)
This is complete baloney. The fact is the Pentagon doesn’t want to have to get approval for its target-list  (identify and verify) from the Russian military. That’s what’s really going on. And the reason for this is obvious, the strategic objectives of the US are exact opposite of Moscow’s. Washington has no interest in defeating terrorism in Syria, in fact, as we pointed out earlier, Washington is just fine with terrorism as long it helps them move the ball closer to the goalpost. What the US wants is to topple the regime, replace Assad with a US-stooge, splinter the country into multiple parts, and control vital pipeline corridors. These goals cannot be achieved if the Pentagon has to get a green-light from Moscow every time they go on a bombing raid.  How are they going to assist their jihadist assets on the ground if they have to follow that rule?
They won’t be able to, which is why it’s no surprise that SECDEF Ash Carter put the kibosh on the deal by bombing the SAA positions at Deir Ezzor. The massacre effectively ended all talk about “coordination” with the Russians. Mission accomplished.
But even this does not completely explain why the Pentagon launched this unprecedented attack that killed 62 Syrian soldiers and moved the two superpowers closer to a direct confrontation. To grasp what’s really going on behind the endless recriminations, we need to understand that the Obama administration has abandoned its original plan to oust Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and moved on to Plan B; partitioning the country in a way that establishes a separate Sunni state where US troops will be based and where vital pipelines will be built to transfer natural gas from Qatar to the EU.
This ambitious plan is more than a redrawing of the Middle East and a pivot to Asia. It is a critical lifeline to a country (USA) whose economic prospects are progressively dimming, whose credit card is maxed out, and who is counting on a Hail Mary pass in Syria to save itself from cataclysmic economic collapse and ruination. Washington must succeed in Syria because, well, because it must, because the red ink has finally penetrated the pinewood hull and is fast filling the galley. A defeat in the Middle East could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, the tipping point in the agonizingly-protracted unipolar-new-world-order experiment.  In other words, it’s Syria or bust. Here’s a little background that will help to clarify what’s going on:
“Washington has previously made it clear that if it cannot achieve its plan A; regime change, it will go for its plan B; to balkanize the country and help to create a Kurdish and/or Sunni state in eastern Syria…
Attacking the Syrian Army, and allowing ISIL to capture the city will make Deir Ezzor a probable target for the US-backed proxies to attack and annex.” (“The Ceasefire Failed; What happens now?“, The Vineyard of the Saker)
So, Washington wants to control Syria’s eastern quadrant (where Deir Ezzor is located) for military bases, pipeline routes, and a Sunni homeland, which is more-or-less the pretext for continued military occupation. Here’s more from an article by Christina Lin:
“Writing in Armed Forces Journal4, Major Rob Taylor joined numerous other pundits in observing that the Syrian civil war is actually a pipeline war over control of energy supply, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey needing to remove Assad “so they can control Syria and run their own pipeline through Turkey.”….
…if the Saudi/Qatar/Turkey backed Army of Conquest can control just enough land in Syria for a salafist statelet (aka–Sunnistan) to build the Qatar-Turkey pipeline, then these sunni states can finally realize their pipeline dream. Indeed, the 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report6 corroborates their desire to carve out a salafist statelet in Syria east of Assad-controlled territory in order to put pressure on his regime.” (“Chinese stratagems and Syrian buffer zone for Turkey-Qatar pipeline“, Christina Lin, Times of Israel)
The idea of splintering Syria into numerous fragments (and controlling the eastern portion of the state) has been promoted by western elites across the board, from neocon John Bolton  who said:
“Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone…..Washington should recognize the new geopolitics. The best alternative to the Islamic State in northeastern Syria and western Iraq is a new, independent Sunni state.
This “Sunni-stan” has economic potential as an oil producer….and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad.” (“To Defeat ISIS, Create a Sunni State“, New York Times)
Liberal interventionists at the Brookings Institute are pushing for the same balkanization remedy. Here’s a clip from an article at Brookings titled “Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America’s most hopeless war” by chief military analyst, Michael O’ Hanlon:
“…the only realistic path forward may be a plan that in effect deconstructs Syria….the international community should work to create pockets with more viable security and governance within Syria over time… Creation of these sanctuaries would produce autonomous zones that would never again have to face the prospect of rule by either Assad or ISIL….”
(“Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America’s most hopeless war“, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Brookings Institute)
So, there you have it; divide and conquer. Split up the country, install new leaders, and let the plundering begin. Sound familiar?
But the Russian’s will have none of it, in fact, Putin has responded to Carter’s escalation by escalating himself. The circle around Aleppo has closed, supply lines have been cut, the airstrikes have intensified, and the three-pronged ground assault has already begun. So while Washington may have big plans for Syria, they appear to be failing where it counts most…..on the battlefield.
Article printed from www.counterpunch.org: http://www.counterpunch.org
URL to article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/27/putin-ups-the-ante-ceasefire-sabotage-triggers-major-offensive-in-aleppo/

‘Best gift to terrorists’ would be US boycott of Syria peace effort – Moscow


The US’ refusal to cooperate with Russia would be a real “gift” to terrorists in Syria, on a par with its failure to separate “moderates” from jihadists and the recent airstrike against Syrian army, Moscow said in response to a barrage of criticism from Washington.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accused the Syrian and Russian governments of carrying out a “soul-shattering” air campaign in Aleppo, saying that their anti-terror efforts would only lead to more “radicalization” and a greater refugee flow out of Syria.
“What they are doing is a gift to [Islamic State] and [al-Nusra Front], the groups that they claim that they want to stop,”Power said Thursday.
This outburst by the US led Moscow to express puzzlement, with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova saying that it is the US who is offering “gifts” to terrorists. Commenting on the diplomatic deadlock, Zakharova recalled how Washington denied the existence of terrorists in Syria until the fact became too obvious, and the US had to switch the narrative to accusing Russia and Damascus of bombing so-called “moderates.”
“If we discuss ‘gifts to terrorists’, then those of course are the merger of al-Nusra Front and 'moderate opposition', the deliveries of humanitarian aid to the militants and the bombing of the Syrian army fighting against ISIS,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook. “However, the best gift [to jihadists] would be Washington’s refusal to cooperate with Russia on Syria's settlement."
“If Washington’s threat to terminate interaction is formalized, then there will be no doubt left that White House has taken militants under its wing, and the sun shines down the terrorist street,” Zakharova added.
The latest seven-day truce in Syria brokered by US and Russia expired on September 19 – two days after a US-led coalition airstrike on Syrian army positions near the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) frontline at Deir Ezzor killed over 60 soldiers. On Thursday, Moscow offered to impose 48-hour ‘breaks’ in military operations in Aleppo instead of week-long ceasefires, and once again voiced hope that Washington would finally honor their obligations and separate the so-called “moderate rebels” which they support from terrorist units on the ground.
“In general, we express regret at the rather non-constructive nature of the rhetoric voiced by Washington in the past days,”Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Russia will “continue the operations of its air force in support of the anti-terrorist activity of Syria’s armed forces.”
Speaking at a public policy conference in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry told the crowd that the US was “on the verge of suspending the discussion because it is irrational in the context of the kind of bombing taking place to be sitting there trying to take things seriously.”
“It is one of those moments where we are going to have to pursue other alternatives,” he added. No suspension of work has yet been announced by either Moscow or Washington, but Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the phone on Wednesday and Thursday about salvaging the diplomatic effort in Syria, according to Russia’s foreign ministry.
“Mr Lavrov again emphasized that quite a few anti-government units that Washington calls ‘moderate’ have not merely refused to carry out the September 9 Russian-US agreement on consolidating the truce and providing humanitarian access, but are merging with Jabhat al-Nusra and continue fighting against the Syrian army side by side with this Al-Qaeda affiliate,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the subject of Wednesday call. “Mr. Lavrov drew Mr. Kerry’s attention to the revelations of Jabhat al-Nusra field commanders in the media about the external support they receive, including US arms supplies, and the claim of the Western-backed Syrian opposition leader Riad Hijab that Jabhat al-Nusra is not a terrorist organization.” 
Meanwhile, the US is seriously considering a non-diplomatic solution to the crisis, with Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that President Barack Obama had asked staff to look at how Washington might respond.
“The president has asked all of the agencies to put forward options, some familiar, some new, that we are very actively reviewing,” Blinken said, adding that officials would “work through these in the days ahead.”
Blinken echoed the words of US State Department spokesman John Kirby who said on Wednesday that US policy makers are discussing options “that don’t revolve around diplomacy” in Syria.
Commenting on Washington’s rhetoric, a former Pentagon official, Michael Maloof, told RT that US diplomats have been voicing “frustration” over their inability “to do [their] job” under the US-Russian agreement and “control the moderates.”While a concrete “Plan B” is yet to be announced by Washington, Maloof believes that the US will simply expand its aid to the rebels.
“There won’t be a direct US action but there will be continued efforts, particularly by the Saudis and Qataris to continue providing a surface to air missiles, for example, to the rebels, as they have been doing and provide other armored type of military assistance to the rebels,” he said.

The expert’s assessment is in line with other analyses offered by US officials to Reuters, who claimed that the US might now allow the Gulf states to supply rebels with more sophisticated weapons. Another alternative is for the US to strike Syrian government airbases. Supporting rebel counter-attacks with weapons and air strikes is also on the table. Such a reverse in policy, one official noted, “might not reverse the tide of battle, but might cause the Russians to stop and think.”
As the US threatens to quit diplomacy, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a telephone call with Lavrov called on Moscow and Washington to resume ceasefire discussions and produce at least a temporary truce.
https://www.rt.com/news/361136-syria-peace-gift-terrorists/