Russia’s intervention in Syria may help ISIS advance in Iraq

Hassan Hassan writes: Nearly two weeks after the Russian intervention began in Syria, one could say it has not got off to a good start. Last week, the Syrian regime launched its first ground offensive against the rebels under Russian air support.

The assault, in Hama’s northern countryside, failed spectacularly – rebels affiliated to the Free Syrian Army destroyed at least 18 tanks and held their ground. The anti-government forces had advanced last month towards Al Masasnah, where the battles took place on Monday, and one of the villages that would lead the rebels further into the regime’s heartlands. The offensive was thus an important operation for the government and at the heart of the Russian forces’ role in Syria.

The following day, US officials claimed cruise missiles fired by Russian warships in the Caspian Sea crashed in Iran. And over the weekend, the Syrian army also lost control of “the UN hill” in Quneitra.

But the most significant development happened on Wednesday, when ISIL swept through several rebel-held villages and reached the doorsteps of Aleppo. The advances, made possible by the disruptive targeting of opposition forces committed to fighting ISIL, were the most important gains for the organisation in Aleppo since the rebels expelled it from much of the north in early 2014.

Of course, it is hard to judge the Russian intervention based on last week’s performance. But the developments so far serve as a reality check for early speculation about the scope of the Russian role, such as a ground offensive to expel ISIL from Palmyra. Moscow will be forced to focus its mission on the daunting task of securing the regime’s vital areas. [Continue reading…]


Russia airstrikes help push Syria rebels closer, for now

The Wall Street Journal reports: Moscow’s intervention in Syria’s multisided civil war has spurred some of the country’s fractious rebels to fight together, offering another shot at a more unified front against the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies.

Since Russian warplanes entered the conflict two weeks ago, three local rebel alliances have emerged across the provinces where President Bashar al-Assad aims to regain ground and consolidate control. Although such alliances have been short-lived in the past, rebels said more were expected in the coming weeks.

Opposition factions including U.S.-backed rebels and Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, have come together to counter a regime offensive across several fronts in the northwest, while others continue to fight Islamic State militants.

On Monday, regime forces briefly retook part of Kafar Nabouda, a rebel-held town in Hama province, which it has been attacking for a week. More than 700 rockets were fired on rebels and Russian planes launched numerous airstrikes, said Abu al-Majid al-Homsi, a commander in Hama with Suqoor al-Ghab, a rebel group that has received training by the Central Intelligence Agency.

But hours later, rebels were able to push them back as a result of tight coordination through a joint command post they established last week, he said.

“Any coalition will benefit the rebels,” said Maj. Yasser Abdolraheem, a commander with Faylaq al-Sham, a moderate group that has fighters in several provinces. “But time and time again problems and differences emerge and they don’t survive.”

Rebel coalitions have formed and disbanded regularly over the 4½-year war, and their ideological and strategic differences remain profound. Rivalries among rebel leaders have also endured, and scores are sometimes settled violently among the rank-and-file.

“You have those kinds of local-unity projects and ad hoc alliances forming all the time, and it’s usually in preparation for when they are going to attack something or for a certain goal or a certain offensive,” said Aron Lund, editor of Syria in Crisis, a website run by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank. “Most of these unity experiments tend to either fade away after that goal is achieved or they fade away without that goal being achieved.”

Amid the latest fighting, Islamic State militants also have seized the opportunity to advance against the rebels in some areas. [Continue reading…]

Aymenn al-Tamimi writes: In a joint statement released on 5 October, 41 Syrian rebel factions condemned the “Russian military aggression against the Syrian people,” describing it as a “genuine occupation of the land even if some sides claim that it was done on official request from the Assad regime.” The statement added that the Russian airstrikes in Homs province, which left “approximately 50 martyrs from the civilians,” should be considered Russia’s first war crime in Syria. The statement went on to describe “any forces occupying the land of our beloved homeland” as “legitimate targets,” and repeated the standard mantra of commitment to Syria’s territorial unity, opposing any sort of “partition project,” while concluding with a call on “all armed revolutionary factions” to “unite ranks” and put aside differences.

The language of the statement, especially in referring to Syria as watanina al-habib (Arabic for “our beloved homeland”), excludes groups with transnational jihadist agendas. The signatories include familiar mainstream groups whose vision is confined to the national framework, such as Jaish al-Islam (based primarily in Damascus), Ahrar al-Sham (arguably the single most powerful rebel group in Syria), the Saudi-backed quietist Salafi coalition known as the Authenticity and Development Front and the southern FSA Yarmouk Army. But does this statement actually represent greater unity among these factions? Or will the Russian intervention push rebels toward jihadi factions like Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra – as is widely feared?

The answer is that the prospect for real mergers among these signatories is marginal. Whatever impressions of political unity dealings in Turkey and joint online statements might convey, groups on the ground are localized and tend to be divided. The case of Jabhat al-Shamiyya, one of the signatories to the statement, is emblematic of the problem. [Continue reading…]


Ankara suicide bombings cast long shadow over Turkey’s Syria policy

The National reports: The deadly suicide bombings in Ankara have heightened fears that Turkey’s troubled Syria policy may be experiencing blowback.

The twin attacks – Turkey’s most devastating in recent history – killed at least 97 civilians and wounded 246 more on Saturday during a predominantly Kurdish peace rally in the capital.

ISIL is the prime suspect in the suicide bombings, and investigators are close to identifying one of the perpetrators, prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish broadcaster NTV on Monday.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dangerously supported hardline militant groups – such as the Army of Conquest, a coalition that includes Al Qaeda’s Syria branch Jabhat Al Nusra and the Salafist group Ahrar Al Sham – to topple Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.

His contentious policy in Syria was already under strain before this, with Russia directly intervening in the war and the US forging close ties with Turkey’s other nemesis on the ground – the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The growing tussle of superpowers in the Syrian war is edging Turkey out of the equation, according to analysts. [Continue reading…]


Turkey warns U.S., Russia against backing Kurdish militia in Syria

Reuters reports: Turkey has warned the United States and Russia it will not tolerate Kurdish territorial gains by Kurdish militia close to its frontiers in north-western Syria, two senior officials said.

“This is clear cut for us and there is no joking about it,” one official said of the possibility of Syrian Kurdish militia crossing the Euphrates to extend control along Turkish borders from Iraq’s Kurdistan region towards the Mediterranean coast.

Turkey fears advances by Kurdish YPG militia, backed by its PYD political wing, on the Syrian side of its 900 km (560-mile) border will fuel separatist ambitions among Kurds in its own southeastern territories. But Washington has supported YPG fighters as an effective force in combating Islamic State.

“The PYD has been getting closer with both the United States and Russia of late. We view the PYD as a terrorist group and we want all countries to consider the consequences of their cooperation,” one of the Turkish officials said.

Turkey suspects Russia, which launched air strikes in Syria two weeks ago, has also been lending support to the YPG and PYD.

“With support from Russia, the PYD is trying to capture land between Jarablus and Azaz, going west of the Euphrates. We will never accept this,” the official said. [Continue reading…]


Amnesty: U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels may have committed war crimes in Syria

The Washington Post reports: A new report from human rights group Amnesty International suggests that Kurdish forces in northern Syria, among the most significant U.S. ground partners in the fight against the Islamic State, may have committed war crimes with a campaign of displacement and home demolitions aimed mostly at the local Arab population.

In the report released on Monday, Amnesty says it has found evidence that the local armed group known as the People’s Protection Units – better known by the acronym “YPG” – forced Arabs and Turkmen in northern Syria from their homes on behalf of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish political organization that has held de facto control of northern Syria’s so-called “Autonomous Administration” since January 2014.

“By deliberately demolishing civilian homes, in some cases razing and burning entire villages, displacing their inhabitants with no justifiable military grounds, the Autonomous Administration is abusing its authority and brazenly flouting international humanitarian law, in attacks that amount to war crimes,” Lama Fakih, a senior crisis adviser at Amnesty, said in a statement. [Continue reading…]


Putin’s model of success

Jackson Diehl writes: Western officials who pronounce themselves puzzled about Vladi­mir Putin’s intentions in Syria are missing some big clues. There is a clear model for the campaign Russia is pursuing on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a legacy that is Putin’s pride: Chechnya.

The Muslim republic in the North Caucasus and the decade-long war that Putin launched there in September 1999 have mostly been forgotten by the outside world since the dictator installed there by Putin, Ramzan Kadyrov, consolidated control in the late 2000s. But the Kremlin regards it as a “good, unique example in history of [the] combat of terrorism,” as Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s prime minister, put it. Chechnya, Medvedev said last year, is “one of the business cards of Russia.”

What are the components of this winning formula? First, define all opposition to the prevailing regime as terrorist, indistinguishable from the most extreme jihadists. That enables a fundamental political aim: to eliminate alternatives. In Syria today, moderate and secular opposition forces arguably are getting harder to find. That wasn’t the case in Chechnya in 1999. The country’s nationalist president, Aslan Maskhadov, had won a democratic election, defeating an Islamist opponent by 59 to 23 percent. His predecessor, Dzhokhar Dudayev, was so secularized that he was unaware how many times a day Muslims pray. [Continue reading…]


Russian airstrikes allow ISIS to advance

The Guardian reports: Bunkered down in his base just north of Hama, Captain Mustafa of the Free Syria Army (FSA) is getting used to the Russian airstrikes. And he is growing just as accustomed to the assurances of his American backers: “We can have most of the weapons we want,” he says. “But nothing to shoot down the planes.”

More than a week since the Russian strikes began targeting them, and days after the US announced an end to its efforts to train forces to fight Isis, the original anti-Assad rebels of Syria’s north-west remain entrenched, though battered, in the towns and villages of their heartland.

Nearby, Syrian forces, which had barely moved for the past year, are trying to advance from the south, said Mustafa, the military spokesman of an FSA unit, Tajamul Ala’Azza. Further away in the north-east, Isis has made its strongest gains in many months, advancing across the top of Aleppo, while a mix of opposition groups clash nearby with Russian jets and artillery.

“The Russians have given them a boost, which is what they wanted to do by attacking the Syrian people,” said Mustafa. “The biggest disaster for them would be to acknowledge that a real opposition remains defiant and strong.

“Well, we say to the Russian bear that we will chase you to your grave. You don’t know what you’ve got yourself into.”

Among the rebel groups, of northern and western Syria, a reckoning has been taking place ever since Moscow ramped up its efforts to defend Bashar al-Assad’s regime earlier this month. The opposition has been gaming whether its allies would follow suit, giving them the firepower it had long withheld to combat the threat from the skies.

So far the answer is no. “It’s the same as it’s always been,” said Mustafa. “Our supply lines are still open, but we still can’t get any anti-aircraft missiles. The Americans have never changed their position on that.” he sighed. “That’s politics.”

Rebels in the vicinity of the regime strongholds of Tartous and Latakia, and the nearby Alawite hinterland, have been hit especially hard in the Russian offensive which was touted as a campaign against Isis, but which the US, Nato, and rebel groups claim has almost exclusively targeted non-jihadi opposition groups.

Other rebel groups in Idlib province have also been pounded and fear that Russia’s strategy is to destroy the opposition, leaving only the regime army and Isis standing. The Russian offensive west of Aleppo has stymied an opposition squeeze on the city. Meanwhile, Isis’s moves since Thursday have seen the terror group gain more ground than it had in many months. [Continue reading…]


How pro-Kremlin tweeps are framing the Syrian debate

RFE/RL reports: Support among Russians for military intervention in Syria has more than doubled, to 31 percent in early October from 14 percent in September, according to independent pollster Levada Center.

The increase comes with coverage of air strikes filling Russian state airwaves, press, and the Internet, and social-media salvoes fired from both sides of the debate.

On social networks like Twitter, expressions of support for Moscow’s air raids appear to fit into three distinct categories: perceived cultural and historical affinities between Syria and Russia; purported Western helplessness in the face of the continuing Syrian crisis; and the conflation of any armed forces opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime under the “terrorist” banner. [Continue reading…]


Losing control in the Caucasus

Politico reports: Nagorno-Karabakh, the former Soviet Union’s oldest and most dangerous conflict, is waking up again. The 1994 ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan is under severe strain. Where there was occasional sniper fire two years ago, mortars are now being fired. Rockets are raining down on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and the ceasefire line east of Karabakh itself. There have been around a dozen casualties in the last week.

It is still premature to talk about a return to the kind of full-scale war that raged here for three years in the 1990s. But the leaders in both Baku and Yerevan are digging themselves into warlike positions that they will find hard to give up.

This is not about the “hand of Russia” — although Russia’s behavior is not helping. The danger of the Caucasus is that no one is fully in charge and that Karabakh is becoming another link in a chain of disorder stretching from Ukraine to Syria, in which Russia meddles but is not fully in charge. [Continue reading…]


A peace prize for Tunisia and lessons for everyone else

Rami G Khouri writes: On Oct. 9, Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for shepherding the only successful transition to democracy in the Arab world since uprisings began in the region in 2010. The quartet’s importance goes far beyond its pivotal role in brokering a democratic transition in 2013 and 2014: It can provide important lessons for other Arab countries as well as foreign powers that remain perplexed about how to respond to continuing Arab struggles for freedom, dignity and democracy.

The quartet’s composition was the crucial starting point of its successes. It consisted of the country’s largest labor union (UGTT), its employers’ federation (UTICA), its lawyers’ association and the Tunisian Human Rights Association. The first two represented Tunisian workers and business owners, critical poles of the economy; the lawyers and human rights activists represented the rule of law, constitutionalism and citizen rights in the pluralistic democracy that would replace the old dictatorship.

These four organizations had the moral authority and political credibility required to achieve constitutional democracy, but they also took three practical steps to enable their success. They made regular compromises among those in authority, including rotating power and voluntarily relinquishing the premiership; ensured that major decisions reflected inclusive consultations among all political actors and the public; and patiently phased in all major steps toward their democracy. [Continue reading…]


Iran lawmakers vote to implement nuclear deal

The New York Times reports: Iran’s parliament voted Tuesday to support implementing a landmark nuclear deal struck with world powers despite hard-line attempts to derail the bill, suggesting the historic accord will be carried out.

The bill will be reviewed by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, a group of senior clerics who could return it to lawmakers for further discussion. However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on key policies, has said it is up to the 290-seat parliament to approve or reject the deal.

Signaling the nuclear deal’s likely success, a spokesman for moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s administration welcomed the parliament’s vote and called it a “historic decision.”

“Members of parliament made a well-considered decision today showing they have a good understanding of the country’s situation,” Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said. “We hope to see acceleration in progress and development of the country from now on.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who helped facilitate the nuclear talks, also praised the vote as “good news” in a message on Twitter.

In the parliamentary session carried live by state radio, 161 lawmakers voted for implementing the nuclear deal, while 59 voted against it and 13 abstained. Another 17 did not vote at all, while 40 lawmakers did not attend the session.

A preliminary parliamentary vote Sunday saw 139 lawmakers out of the 253 present support the outline of the bill. But despite getting more support Tuesday, hard-liners still tried to disrupt the parliament’s session, shouting that Khamenei himself did not support the bill while trying to raise numerous proposals on its details. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Tensions between the U.S. and Iran, rather than easing as a result of July’s nuclear accord, are increasing over a wide spectrum of issues tied to the broader Middle East security landscape and to domestic Iranian politics, current and former U.S. officials say.

Just in the past two days, Iran has test-fired a ballistic missile and announced the conviction of American journalist Jason Rezaian, fueling suspicions the historic nuclear agreement has allowed Tehran’s Islamist clerics to step up their long-held anti-U.S. agenda.

Washington’s closest Mideast allies, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, are more broadly concerned about Iran’s ability to use the diplomatic cover provided by the nuclear accord—and the promised release of tens of billions of dollars of frozen oil revenues—to strengthen its regional position and that of its allies. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday banned any further negotiations between Iran and the United States, putting the brakes on moderates hoping to end Iran’s isolation after reaching a nuclear deal with world powers in July.

Khamenei, the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, already said last month there would be no more talks with the United States after the nuclear deal, but has not previously declared an outright ban. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The Washington Post said on Monday that its correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has been jailed for 14 months in Iran on espionage charges, had been convicted after a trial that ended two months ago.

While the conviction could not be independently confirmed — a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said on Sunday that a verdict had been handed down, but he did not disclose specifics — Iran appeared to be moving on Monday to position Mr. Rezaian’s case as part of a broader effort to get the release of Iranians detained in the United States.

On Monday, a state television news channel accused Mr. Rezaian, a dual American-Iranian citizen, of providing information to the United States about individuals and companies who were helping Iran circumvent international economic sanctions.

Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani, have raised the idea of a prisoner swap, suggesting that Mr. Rezaian, 39, could be exchanged for people who Tehran says are being held by or on the orders of the United States for violating sanctions. [Continue reading…]


Peace process over, it’s Year Zero for Israelis and Palestinians

Lisa Goldman writes: A month from now, Israel will mark 20 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who signed the Oslo Accord. The night he was shot by a Jewish nationalist, Yigal Amir, Rabin appeared onstage at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, where he joined singer Miri Aloni, delivering an off-key and embarrassed rendition of the famous 1960s anti-war song “Shir LaShalom” (“Song to Peace”). A blood-spattered leaflet bearing the song’s lyrics was found in his suit pocket and became an enduring metaphor for the tragedy.

Worse was to come: Thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis have been killed in the two decades of violence that followed — a cycle once again on the uptick. Today Aloni makes her living as a busker. Twice a week, she cradles her guitar on a stool outside Tel Aviv’s squalid Carmel Market and performs her golden oldies for spare change, yelling at people who try to take her photograph. Thus the fortunes of what was once known as Israel’s peace camp.

Two decades after Rabin’s assassination, the occupation that was supposed to be ended by the Oslo process has been deepened and widened. The physical restrictions under which Palestinians live are far more onerous today than they were in 1987, when the first intifada broke out. Back then, Palestinian residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem could still travel freely throughout the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And there were several hundred thousand fewer settlers living in those occupied territories. Still, back then Palestinians were also jailed for involvement in any kind of political activity, even for waving a Palestinian flag. And, as today, those living under occupation had no democratic rights in the state that ruled over them and were denied civil liberties. One difference, of course, is that today there’s a willing Palestinian participant in that repression, in the form of the Palestinian Authority’s security services. [Continue reading…]


Sheldon Adelson warms to Marco Rubio

Politico reports: Sheldon Adelson, one of the Republican Party’s most sought-after contributors, is leaning increasingly toward supporting Marco Rubio — and the Florida senator is racing to win the backing of other uncommitted megadonors who have the potential to direct tens of millions of dollars his way and alter the contours of the Republican primary fight.

Last week, during a campaign swing through Las Vegas, Rubio held a meeting in Adelson’s offices at the Venetian Las Vegas, one of a number of five-star luxury casinos the billionaire mogul owns around the world. Adelson, seated at the head of his conference table, heaped praise on Rubio’s performance while he discussed the dynamics of the 2016 race. Those briefed on the meeting described it as short but said it had an air of importance, with the two joined by Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, and a pair of senior Adelson advisers, Rob Goldstein and Patrick Dumont.

Those close to Adelson — who spent more than $100 million on Republican candidates and causes during the 2012 campaign and has been aggressively courted by most would-be Republican nominees — stressed that the 82-year-old gambling magnate had made no final decision on whom he’d support but said that momentum had strongly shifted to the Florida senator. A formal endorsement, they said, could come as soon as the end of the month — and with it, the potential for a multimillion dollar contribution. With a net worth of $25.7 billion, according to Forbes, Adelson can afford to spend freely. [Continue reading…]


Oil unlikely to ever be fully exploited because of climate concerns, says BP

The Guardian reports: The world’s oil resources are unlikely to ever be fully exploited, BP has admitted, due to international concern about climate change.

The statement, by the group’s chief economist, is the clearest acknowledgement yet by a major fossil fuel company that some coal, oil and gas will have to remain in the ground if dangerous global warming is to be avoided.

“Oil is not likely to be exhausted,” said Spencer Dale in a speech in London. Dale, who chief economist at the Bank of England until 2014, said: “What has changed in recent years is the growing recognition [of] concerns about carbon emissions and climate change.”

Scientists have warned that most existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic global warming and Dale accepted this explicitly. [Continue reading…]


If you’re not paranoid, you’re crazy

Walter Kirn writes: I knew we’d bought walnuts at the store that week, and I wanted to add some to my oatmeal. I called to my wife and asked her where she’d put them. She was washing her face in the bathroom, running the faucet, and must not have heard me—she didn’t answer. I found the bag of nuts without her help and stirred a handful into my bowl. My phone was charging on the counter. Bored, I picked it up to check the app that wirelessly grabs data from the fitness band I’d started wearing a month earlier. I saw that I’d slept for almost eight hours the night before but had gotten a mere two hours of “deep sleep.” I saw that I’d reached exactly 30 percent of my day’s goal of 13,000 steps. And then I noticed a message in a small window reserved for miscellaneous health tips. “Walnuts,” it read. It told me to eat more walnuts.

It was probably a coincidence, a fluke. Still, it caused me to glance down at my wristband and then at my phone, a brand-new model with many unknown, untested capabilities. Had my phone picked up my words through its mic and somehow relayed them to my wristband, which then signaled the app?

The devices spoke to each other behind my back—I’d known they would when I “paired” them—but suddenly I was wary of their relationship. Who else did they talk to, and about what? And what happened to their conversations? Were they temporarily archived, promptly scrubbed, or forever incorporated into the “cloud,” that ghostly entity with the too-disarming name?

It was the winter of 2013, and these “walnut moments” had been multiplying—jarring little nudges from beyond that occurred whenever I went online. One night the previous summer, I’d driven to meet a friend at an art gallery in Hollywood, my first visit to a gallery in years. The next morning, in my inbox, several spam e-mails urged me to invest in art. That was an easy one to figure out: I’d typed the name of the gallery into Google Maps. Another simple one to trace was the stream of invitations to drug and alcohol rehab centers that I’d been getting ever since I’d consulted an online calendar of Los Angeles–area Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Since membership in AA is supposed to be confidential, these e‑mails irked me. Their presumptuous, heart-to-heart tone bugged me too. Was I tired of my misery and hopelessness? Hadn’t I caused my loved ones enough pain? [Continue reading…]


Music: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — ‘Fault Lines’


Russia doubles number of daily airstrikes in Syria as rebels intensify their attacks

The New York Times reports: Russian warplanes are carrying out more airstrikes in support of Syrian government ground troops as rebels are firing more American antitank weapons, deepening the impression that a proxy war between the United States and Russia is joining the list of interlocking conflicts in Syria.

Russia doubled the number of its airstrikes over the weekend to more than 60 a day, Russian state news media said, helping government troops take two villages on Monday.

Videos posted online by pro-Russian outlets, from an area above the village of Tal Skayk, in Hama Province, showed Syrian troops and allied militias watching as heavy barrages sent smoke towering from clusters of houses, while a narrator enthusiastically described progress in fighting “terrorists.”

At the same time, the handful of insurgent groups that received covert assistance from the United States have intensified their use of TOW antitank guided missiles, posting more than two dozen videos in the past few days of the missiles weaving over open fields before hitting their targets. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: It is unclear whether the TOWs will be able to change the course of the war, as did the Stinger antiaircraft missiles introduced in the 1980s by the CIA in Afghanistan, where they were used by the mujahideen to shoot down Russian helicopters and paralyze the Soviet army.

Now that the Russians have introduced more intensive and heavier airstrikes and, for the first time, combat helicopters have been seen in videos strafing villages in the Hama area, the TOW missiles may only be able to slow, but not block, government advances.

The rebels have appealed for the delivery of Stinger missiles or their equivalents to counter the new threat from the air, but U.S. officials say that is unlikely. The Obama administration has repeatedly vetoed past requests from the rebels, as well as their Turkish and Saudi allies, for the delivery of antiaircraft missiles, out of concerns that they could fall into extremist hands.

But the TOW missile program is already in progress, and all the indications are that it will continue. Saudi Arabia, the chief supplier, has pledged a “military” response to the Russian incursion, and rebel commanders say they have been assured more will arrive imminently.

Under the terms of the program, the missiles are delivered in limited quantities, and the rebel groups must return the used canisters to secure more, to avoid stockpiling or resale.

The supplies of the missiles, manufactured by Raytheon, are sourced mainly from stocks owned by the Saudi government, which purchased 13,795 of them in 2013, for expected delivery this year, according to Defense Department documents informing Congress of the sale. Because end-user agreements require that the buyer inform the United States of their ultimate destination, U.S. approval is implicit, said [Oubai ] Shahbandar, a former Pentagon adviser. [Continue reading…]


Ankara bombs: Turkey is being torn apart by bad leaders and bad neighbours

By Alpaslan Ozerdem, Coventry University

It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another bloody massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.

It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history, and the culmination of a dreadful wave of violence. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey nowadays without some incident of lethal political violence.

Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.

[Read more…]