American shock and awe versus Syria’s dentists, farmers and students

Robin Yassin-Kassab writes: Whatever the hearts-and-minds rhetoric at the United Nations, in Syria the Obama administration is feeding the flames of Sunni extremism, and proving once again the truism that the American state is an enemy of the Syrian people (as it’s an enemy, like all states, of all peoples, including the American).

We expected strikes on ISIS. Some of the strongest strikes (and the strikes are far stronger than in Iraq), however, have been aimed at Jabhat al-Nusra (the Victory Front), the organisation from which ISIS split. Nusra is certainly an extremist Salafist group, and is openly linked to al-Qa’ida. Because its ideology terrifies not only minorities but also huge swathes of the Sunni population, it’s also a strategic obstruction in the way of the Syrian revolution. In August 2013 it participated (with ISIS) in the only documented large-scale massacre of Alawi civilians in the conflict. On the other hand, Nusra (unlike ISIS) was until yesterday actually fighting the regime, not other rebel groups. From January, along with every rebel formation, it’s been fighting ISIS too. And its leadership is entirely Syrian. Many Syrians, not necessarily extremist Salafists themselves, admire Nusra’s victories against their most immediate enemy – the Assadist forces dropping barrel bombs on cities and raping and torturing at checkpoints. A sensible answer to Nusra would be to provide weapons and funds to Free Army forces who would then be in a position to gradually draw men from the organisation, slowly making it irrelevant (most men don’t care about the ideology of their militia’s leadership; they care about food and ammunition). But the Americans are allergic to working with the people on the ground most immediately concerned by the outcome, and bomb from the air instead. Nusra is now abandoning front line positions (in some areas the regime may be able to take immediate advantage). One Nusra leader has already spoken of an alliance with ISIS against the Americans.

Syria’s new daily routine: the Americans and Gulf Arabs bomb the Salafist extremists while Assad bombs the Free Army and Islamic Front (and of course civilians – as usual it isn’t being reported, especially not now the televisual US war is on, but about a hundred are being killed every day). The headline in regime newspaper al-Watan reads “America and its Allies in One Trench with the Syrian Army against Terrorism”. The opposition reads it this way too. Several demonstrations yesterday condemned the American strikes, called for America’s fall, and for solidarity with ISIS and Nusra. A sign at one protest read: “Yes, It’s an International Coalition Against Sunnis.” [Continue reading...]

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Assad and ISIS are two sides of the same coin

Fred Hof writes: The Assad regime and Iran have every reason to applaud strikes on the Islamic State in Raqqa and to the east: it costs them nothing, and airstrikes in the far east of Syria presumably can damage the ability of the Islamic State to sustain operations in Iraq from rear areas in Syria. Yet Tehran and its client will not want to see the US-led coalition hone-in on Islamic State targets in western Syria, where the forces of the self-proclaimed caliph work in tandem with the regime to kill off the nationalist rebels.

It may well be that engaging potential Islamic State targets around Aleppo and elsewhere is problematical in terms of target identification, collateral damage, and the like. Still, left to their own devices, the Islamic State and the Assad regime will work together — either tacitly or explicitly — to remove the anti-Islamic State military ground component identified by President Obama. This would presumably be unacceptable to the United States.

Helping the nationalist opposition survive the combined ministrations of the Assad regime and the Islamic State is table ante for engaging in the ultimate contest: overcoming state failure in Syria so that phenomena like the Islamic State will have no place to grow and prosper. Even as the world averts its gaze from regime barrel bombs, starvation sieges, and mass incarceration and torture, strikes against Islamic State forces in western Syria will hurt the Assad regime and disappoint Iran. In the end, however, what can they say in terms of objection?

If overcoming state failure in Syria is the end game, moving against the Assad regime is unavoidable. Bashar al-Assad is the caliph’s recruiting sergeant. Iran knows this, but thinks it needs Assad in western Syria to keep Hezbollah fit to fight in Lebanon. Russia knows it too, but apparently, President Vladimir Putin has a larger point to make about the survival of Moscow’s clients, no matter how unattractive they are. The West has been feckless with respect to Assad, and regional powers have — in the absence of US leadership — pursued policies of narrow self-interest. All of that must change, and perhaps the requisite change has begun. [Continue reading...]

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Nick Turse: American ‘success’ and the rise of West African piracy

As American hysteria over events in the Middle East rises, news about whatever grim video the Islamic State (IS) has just released jostles for attention with U.S. bombing runs in Iraq, prospective ones in Syria, and endless confusing statements out of Washington about what the next seat-of-the-pants version of its strategy might be.  These days, such things are endlessly on the American radar screen.  On the other hand, the U.S. military has been moving into Africa big time for years and just about nobody seems to notice.  The Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) now annually engages in one kind of activity or another with 49 of that continent’s 54 countries.  Yet Americans know next to nothing about Washington’s “pivot” to a continent significant parts of which seem to be in a slow-motion process of destabilization that may be linked, at least in part, to U.S. military moves there.

Nearly everywhere in Africa, the U.S. military is in action.  However, except in rare cases, like the recent announcement of an “Ebola surge” in Liberia, you would never know it.  At the moment, for instance, according to the Associated Press, AFRICOM is “preparing to launch a ‘major’ border security program to help Nigeria and its neighbors combat the increasing number and scope of attacks by Islamic extremists.”  We’re talking, of course, about the other “caliphate,” the one in northern Nigeria announced by Boko Haram, an outfit that makes the militants of IS look moderate.  But that’s news you’re unlikely to read in this country, not at least until, at some future moment, things start to go really, really wrong. Similarly, U.S. drone bases are slowly spreading in Africa, but you’d have to have an eagle eye to notice it.  Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the “Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth.”  Tucked away, far from prying eyes, in the middle of the Sahara desert, the U.S. will now be cleared to fly drones out of “the mud-walled desert city of Agadez.”

It was typically incisive coverage of the shadowy doings of AFRICOM by Craig Whitlock, the one mainstream reporter who seems to keep an eye on American military moves there.  Other media outlets from Reuters to Air Force Times followed up with versions of the same story, but it all passed like a blip in the night.  If it caught your attention, I’d be surprised.

Still, if you’re a TomDispatch reader, Washington’s pivot to Africa and the expansion of U.S. air operations there won’t surprise you greatly.  After all, back in April, this site’s managing editor, Nick Turse, who’s had his eye on U.S. military operations in Africa for years, reported that, during a meeting for defense contractors, AFRICOM’s Rick Cook spoke about a future U.S. facility in Niger.  That country, Cook said, “is in a nice strategic location that allows us to get to many other places reasonably quickly, so we are working very hard with the Nigeriens to come up with, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a base, but a place we can operate out of on a frequent basis.”  Cook offered no information on the possible location of the facility, but Turse reported that contracting documents he had examined indicated that “the U.S. Air Force is seeking to purchase large quantities of jet fuel to be delivered to Niger’s Mano Dayak International Airport.”  And just where is Mano Dayak International Airport located? You guessed it: Agadez, Niger.

By the way, it’s not just boots on the continent and drones over it these days.  For the U.S. military, it’s also ships off the coast. But let Nick Turse tell you the rest. Tom Engelhardt 

Pirates of the Gulf of Guinea
In the face of rising maritime insecurity, AFRICOM claims success and Obama embraces a strongman
By Nick Turse

[This story was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Additional funding was provided through the generosity of Adelaide Gomer.]

“The Gulf of Guinea is the most insecure waterway, globally,” says Loic Moudouma.  And he should know.  Trained at the U.S. Naval War College, the lead maritime security expert of the Economic Community of Central African States, and a Gabonese Navy commander, his focus has been piracy and maritime crime in the region for the better part of a decade.  

Moudouma is hardly alone in his assessment. 

From 2012 to 2013, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence found a 25% jump in incidents, including vessels being fired upon, boarded, and hijacked, in the Gulf of Guinea, a vast maritime zone that curves along the west coast of Africa from Gabon to Liberia.  Kidnappings are up, too.  Earlier this year, Stephen Starr, writing for the CTC Sentinel, the official publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, asserted that, in 2014, the number of attacks would rise again. 

Today, what most Americans know about piracy likely centers on an attraction at Walt Disney World and the Johnny Depp movies it inspired.  If the Gulf of Guinea rings any bells at all, it’s probably because of the Ebola outbreak in, and upcoming U.S. military “surge” into, Liberia, the nation on the northern edge of that body of water.  But for those in the know, the Gulf itself is an intractable hotspot on a vast continent filled with them and yet another area where U.S. military efforts have fallen short.

[Read more...]

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Syrians afraid ‘the West doesn’t want to finish this’

Mike Giglio reports: Ahmed Saoud was sitting in the restaurant of a four-star hotel in the Turkish city of Antakya, a short drive from the border with Syria, when he got an alarming call on his cell phone. An American voice was on the line. He said something that seemed to rile Saoud, a colonel who defected from the Syrian army and now commands a battalion of moderate rebels based in the country’s turbulent north.

Saoud’s group gets covert U.S. military support as part of a small CIA program to arm and train moderate rebels. Called the 13th Division, the battalion boasts a number of military defectors like Saoud, a common trait in the select club of rebel groups that America has decided it can trust in the murky war. One U.S. official involved in Syria policy, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 13th Division gets strong reviews in Washington: “They sit at the rare intersection of combat-effective and responsible.”

Such groups are rare in Syria — and all are weak compared to the Islamist battalions that now dominate the war. The U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army has been reduced to a shadow of the force that once aspired to be the revolution’s standard-bearer.

Yet these same groups are a key component of the U.S. campaign against extremist groups in the country that saw sweeping airstrikes this week — even as their role in U.S. intervention in Syria puts them in an increasingly precarious place. One consequence of the U.S. strikes may be that its allies face their toughest fight for survival to date. [Continue reading...]

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Doubts cast over U.S. strike on ‘Khorasan’ group

AFP reports: The US says it has hit a little-known group called “Khorasan” in Syria, but experts and activists argue it actually struck Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which fights alongside Syrian rebels.

In announcing its raids in the northern province of Aleppo on Tuesday, Washington described the group it targeted as Khorasan, a cell of Al-Qaeda veterans planning attacks against the West.

But experts and activists cast doubt on the distinction between Khorasan and Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.

“In Syria, no one had ever heard talk of Khorasan until the US media brought it up,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Rebels, activists and the whole world knows that these positions (hit Tuesday) were Al-Nusra positions, and the fighters killed were Al-Nusra fighters,” added Abdel Rahman, who has tracked the Syrian conflict since it erupted in 2011.

Experts were similarly dubious about the distinction.

“The name refers to Al-Qaeda fighters previously based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran who have travelled to Syria to fight with… Al-Nusra,” said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.

“They… should not be considered a new or distinct group as such.” [Continue reading...]

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Syrian Kurds call for more targeted strikes

The Wall Street Journal reports: The chaos in a town near Turkey’s Syrian border intensified after U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets Tuesday, prompting Kurdish leaders to call on Washington to give them a role in coordinating the fight against the jihadists.

Kurdish leaders said that after U.S. warplanes hit Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State, the insurgents redeployed men and heavy weaponry closer to Kurdish areas. The officials said the jihadist onslaught around the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, known in Kurdish as Kobani, continued through Tuesday, as shells fell on the city and surrounding villages were seized.

Turkey’s government said on Tuesday that the number of refugees fleeing the jihadist advance rose to 150,000, while the United Nations relief agency warned the number could reach 400,000.

Panic over Islamic State’s advance led to fresh clashes at the border between Turkish security forces and angry Kurdish protesters who cursed the absence of Turkey—a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member with a major U.S. air base—from the Washington-led coalition. Speaking to reporters in New York, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could give military or logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition, but stopped short of offering any firm commitments.

The Syrian Kurdish militia, which fights under the banner of the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, on Tuesday asked to join President Barack Obama’s coalition.

“We welcome the airstrikes but they didn’t help Kobani. The U.S. should coordinate with us,” said Redur Xelil, a YPG spokesman. “We fear that the airstrikes may even push their fighters to concentrate on Kobani, endangering the city even more.” [Continue reading...]

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U.S., allies risk benefiting Syria’s Assad by striking militants

Stars and Stripes reports: One year ago, the Obama administration considered a cruise missile strike on Syria, but the target was not the Islamic State or al-Qaida.

The president accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of murdering over 1,000 citizens with poison gas. But U.S. air strikes never came. Instead, the U.S. opted to negotiate the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, and Assad continued a bloody war against his opponents that has killed an estimated 200,000 Syrians over more than three years.

Administration officials said again this week that Assad must relinquish power. But the new U.S.-led air war there against the Islamic State and al-Qaida offshoots Khorasan and the Nusra Front puts the administration in a precarious position – it is counting on Assad’s ouster while pounding some of his most dangerous enemies from the air.

Islamic State and Nusra Front fighters in Syria are among the most effective opposition forces battling a regime that Washington opposes. The U.S. plan to arm and train moderate rebels is still in its infancy. Aircraft and missile strikes against Islamist fighters and facilities in the north runs the risk of strengthening Assad in his fight to hold on to power. [Continue reading...]

The Wall Street Journal adds: “The only beneficiary of foreign intervention in Syria is the Assad regime, in the absence of any real strategy to topple it,” said Hamza al-Shamali, the commander of moderate rebel group Harakat Hazm, which is close to Qatar.

The group opposed the airstrikes, calling them a breach of Syria’s national sovereignty.

Reactions of Syrian rebel groups reflected the rifts and competing loyalties and agendas that have plagued the opposition fighters since the start of the conflict more than three years ago.

Rebels of all stripes have been battling both the Islamic State and Mr. Assad. And while regime forces and the Islamic State have largely avoided direct confrontation, this changed after the group grabbed significant territory in eastern Syria and neighboring Iraq starting in June.

There were differences and confusion even among the relatively moderate groups that have been the beneficiaries of U.S. and Western arms, training and other forms of support.

The head of the rebel umbrella group known as the Fifth Legion of the Free Syrian Army welcomed the airstrikes but said they had to also extend to “the source of terrorism: the Assad regime.” The Western-backed group said greater coordination with rebels on the ground was needed to avert civilian casualties.

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Syrian rebels angry that strikes hit al Qaida ally but not Assad

McClatchy reports: Anti-government media activists and rebel commanders gave a mixed assessment of U.S.-led airstrikes in northern Syria on Tuesday, saying that some of the Islamic State encampments hit had been evacuated and one building that was struck had been filled with displaced civilians, even as at least one major Islamic State base was seriously damaged and many fighters were killed.

But the greatest damage, they said, may be to the Free Syrian Army, the moderate rebel faction that enjoyed U.S. support for years.

By focusing exclusively on Islamic State insurgents and al Qaida figures associated with the Khorasan unit of the Nusra Front, and bypassing installations associated with the government of President Bashar Assad, the airstrikes infuriated anti-regime Syrians and hurt the standing of moderate rebel groups that are receiving arms and cash as part of a covert CIA operation based in the Turkish border city of Reyhanli.

Rebel fighters argue that they constitute the only friendly ground force available to the international coalition to fill the security vacuum in places that Islamic State fighters are forced to abandon. But rebel commanders said they’d played no role in selecting the targets or planning for the aftermath.

The U.S. informed the Syrian government of the impending airstrikes Monday, the official Syrian news agency reported, but no one dropped a hint to the inner circle of rebel commanders. They learned about it from the news. [Continue reading...]

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Is this Iraqi official Washington’s intermediary to Assad?

Foreign Policy: Immediately after the United States began its bombing campaign in President Bashar al-Assad’s backyard, the Syrian leader received a conspicuous visitor: Iraqi National Security Advisor Faleh al-Fayyad. The two men discussed the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants and, according to the Syrian state media summary of the meeting, Assad told the Iraqi official “that Syria supports any international counterterrorism effort.” It was at least their second meeting in as many weeks.

While the report contained no specific mention of U.S. bombing in Syria, Assad’s comment walks that fine line where it can be easily interpreted as a signal to Washington that Damascus will not stand the way of — and indeed welcomes — U.S. efforts to strike the Islamic State, which Assad sees as a mortal enemy.

The Syrian civil war and the subsequent rise of radical jihadist groups in the country have made strange bedfellows of the United States and its erstwhile enemies. Inside Iraq, U.S. airstrikes have at times come in support of Iranian-backed Shiite militias, putting Washington in the odd position of serving as Tehran’s air force in Iraq. As for Syria, President Barack Obama has called for Assad’s ouster but has now found common cause with the brutal strongman in launching an air war against the Islamic State militants fighting to overthrow him.

While U.S. officials maintain that they are not cooperating with Iranian forces in Iraq, privately they concede that they are coordinating airstrikes with Iranian militias by using Iraqi security forces as intermediaries. With the U.S. air war now expanding to Syria, Fayyad’s repeated trips to Damascus raise the possibility that Iraqi officials are reprising that coordination during another alliance of convenience between the United States and an ostensible enemy. [Continue reading...]

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If the U.S. wants to destroy ISIS, why did it just attack the group’s arch rival?

“We don’t have any specific, credible information about specific plans that they [the "Khorasan Group"] had. On the other hand, the intelligence did lead us to believe that they were in the process of getting very close to the execution phase of general plans that we know that they were interested in,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in an interview today with Yahoo’s Katie Couric.

“So for some time now we’ve been tracking plots to conduct attacks in the United States or Europe. We believe that that attack plotting was imminent, in that they had plans to conduct attacks external to Syria,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser at the White House.

Close to the execution phase of general plans? Imminent plotting for an attack somewhere outside Syria?

The New York Times reports:

[O]ne senior counterterrorism official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the group might not have chosen the target, method or even the timing for a strike. An intelligence official said separately that the group was “reaching a stage where they might be able to do something.”

When government officials make vacuous statements like these and warn about the “imminent” threat posed by America’s latest diabolical foe, is it any wonder that conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones find it so easy to capture a mass audience?

Those Americans less inclined to question official statements and willing to accept that airstrikes against a terrorist group they never heard of must nevertheless be a good thing if that group was about to attack the U.S., would be well advised to ask this question: does an administration that just presented its strategy for degrading and destroying ISIS, actually have a clear strategy if its war against ISIS is now also targeting one of ISIS’s principal adversaries?

Aron Lund writes:

What is being discussed is not a “new terrorist group,” but rather a specialized cell that has gradually been established within, or on, the fringes of an already existing al-Qaeda franchise, the so-called Nusra Front. What this seems to be about is a jihadi cell consisting of veteran al-Qaeda members who have arrived to the Nusra Front in Syria from abroad, mainly via Iran, and who are in direct contact with al-Qaeda’s international leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, himself believed to be based in Pakistan.

Lund continues:

Whatever one decides to call it, this is not likely to be an independent organization, but rather a network-within-the-network, assigned to deal with specific tasks. Most likely it has no fixed name at all, and the “Khorasan Group” label has simply been invented for convenience by U.S. intelligence or adopted from informal references within the Nusra Front to these men as being, for example, “our brothers from Khorasan.”

The issue of the name is significant because it appears that from the vantage point of most Syrians, the U.S. strikes were simply strikes on Nusra and the implications are clear:


U.S. officials have repeatedly said that a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS will not accomplish its ultimate goal of destroying the organization without a ground operation involving Syrian opposition fighters. How will those fighters be recruited if the U.S. is seen as having already further undermined the war against Assad?


Whatever the U.S. might claim about imminent plots being hatched by the Khorasan Group, its leader is apparently viewed as having played a crucial role in the fight against Assad. Indeed, it seems somewhat more plausible that a guy who trains snipers would be focused on the war in Syria rather than some vague plot directed elsewhere.

Whether attacking Jabhat al Nusra has made America any safer is highly debatable but it seems much more likely this will help ISIS — and Assad.

And lastly there’s this footnote: New evidence that Twitter obediently takes directions from the U.S. government:

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How the U.S. fragmented Syria’s rebels

Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl writes: American failure to take early, decisive action to prevent a power vacuum in Syria was a significant factor in the rise of ISIS. Such action could have been taken far earlier. One of the main sources of U.S. reluctance to do so has been the fragmentation and radicalization of the armed Syrian opposition. But this concern over acting in Syria mistakenly identifies the character of the opposition as the source of that fragmentation and radicalization.

In fact, dynamics within the war itself and not the inherent nature of the opposition have contributed significantly to the current disarray. In an ongoing research project on alliances and infighting between Syrian armed groups, I show how infighting among the opposition’s military formations increases when and where the fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has become stalemated or indecisive. The implications are two-fold. Fragmentation and radicalization in Syria were driven by factors that allowed the proliferation of armed opposition groups and by the absence of military support designed to bolster their offensive capabilities.

When the sources of the state of the armed opposition are weighed against U.S. policy on Syria since the war’s outset, the picture is clear: A hesitant U.S. role was central to the fragmentation and radicalization of the opposition. Particularly to blame are the combined failures to coordinate the actions of other pro-opposition states, to provide timely financial and military support to the opposition, and to use military support to produce qualitative changes in the opposition’s capabilities vis-à-vis the regime.

Such a causal story offers a different reading of ISIS’s swift organization of a militarily effective force, its barbaric violence and its consolidation of territory from Syria into northern Iraq. While the rise of ISIS might appear to confirm the worst fears of those who argued that the United States should not support the armed Syrian opposition, in fact it shows the opposite. [Continue reading...]

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Why U.S. airstrikes in Syria may be bad for the planet

The Washington Post reports: The United States and its partners expanded its war against Islamic State on Tuesday, with airstrikes against the extremist group striking within Syria for the first time. It’s a dramatic escalation: Strikes in Syria have been a subject of heated debate for months, and a lesser-known but widely feared group linked to al-Qaeda, known as Khorasan, is being targeted for the first time.

The strikes in Syria are clearly a big deal. It’s also possible, however, that they may overshadow an issue with an even wider importance.

On Tuesday, more than 120 world leaders were gathering at the United Nations General Assembly in New York for an unusual one-day summit on climate change. While there have been some notable absences, the scale of the event is hard to ignore: It’s one of the largest one-day meetings of world leaders in history, and it’s certainly the largest-ever summit on climate change.

However, despite a push for publicity from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a huge climate change march in New York City on Sunday, it’s hard not to feel like attention is elsewhere at the United Nations.

In the U.N. Correspondents Lounge, much of the talk focuses on the strikes in Syria, and while President Obama is due to speak at the summit later, his comments on the Syria strikes were dominating the news during the mid-morning.

Online data seem to confirm that the strikes in Syria are winning the war for attention: According to social analytics firm Topsy, the number of people tweeting about “Syria” on Tuesday morning was twice the number tweeting about “climate change.” Google Trends shows a spike of search traffic for Syria, but topics related to climate change are not mentioned. [Continue reading...]

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Obama’s ill-conceived coalition against ISIS

Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.

While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).

The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:

If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.

In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.

And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading...]

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Iran slams U.S.-led attacks on ISIS while Syria supports ‘any international counterterrorism effort’

Press TV: A senior Iranian diplomat has censured the recent US-led airstrikes in Syria as violation of the Arab country’s sovereignty and the international law, emphasizing that they will create a pretext for fresh interference in the Middle East.

“From Tehran’s view, any military action in Syria’s territory, without the request of the Damascus government and respect for the international law, is not acceptable since the fight against terrorism cannot serve as logic for violating the national sovereignty of countries,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Tuesday.

SANA (Syrian state media) reports: President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday met Faleh Fayyad, the Iraqi National Security Advisor and the envoy of Russian Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Talks during the meeting tackled counterterrorism efforts, with the Iraqi envoy briefing President al-Assad on the latest steps taken in this regard, as well as discussing upcoming steps and possible measures to ensure the success of these efforts and eliminate terrorists organizations in all their forms.

President al-Assad affirmed to Fayyad that Russia is proceeding resolutely in its war against all forms of takfiri terrorism which it has been waging for years, asserting that Syria supports any international counterterrorism effort.

SANA also reports: In a press statement on Tuesday, the Ministry added “Yesterday, Minister of Foreign and Expatriates Affairs Walid al-Moallem received a letter from his American counterpart delivered by the Iraqi Foreign Minister in which he informed him that “The US will target the positions of the ISIS terrorist organization, some of which are in Syria.”

The Ministry continued “The Syrian Arab Republic affirms that it has been and it is still fighting the ISIS in Raqqa and Deir Ezzour and other areas, and it will not stop fighting it in cooperation with the countries which are directly or indirectly affected by it, on top of which the brotherly country of Iraq…In this framework, Syria affirms that coordination between the two countries is ongoing and on highest levels to fight terrorism in implementation of the international resolution No. 2170 which was unanimously passed by the UN Security Council.”

The Ministry concluded the statement by saying “Announcing for the second time that it is standing with any international efforts in the framework of combating and fighting terrorism regardless of its names such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the ISIS, the Syrian Arab Republic asserts that this must be done with completely preserving the lives of innocent civilians and in the framework of the national sovereignty and according to the international pacts.”

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State Dept: Syria given advance notice of strikes

The Hill reports: The Obama administration informed Syria’s government it intended to hit Islamic State in Iraq and Syria positions before launching airstrikes on Monday, but did not provide advance warning on a military level, a State Department spokeswoman said Tuesday.

State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the adminsitration also warned Syria not to engage U.S. aircraft and that the U.S. did not request Syria’s permission for the strike.

Syria’s government was informed that the U.S. strikes were coming by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who spoke to Syria’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Psaki said the U.S. did not “coordinate our actions with the Syrian government” and Secretary of State John Kerry “did not send a letter to the Syrian regime.”

Earlier this month, Kerry raised eyebrows when, in an interview with CBS News, he equivocated when asked if the U.S. would coordinate the airstrikes with Assad.

“No, we’re not going to coordinate with Syria,” Kerry said. “We will certainly want to deconflict to make certain that they’re not about to do something that they might regret even more seriously. But we’re not going to coordinate.”

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Map of U.S. airstrikes across Syria

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Obama refers to Khorasan threat for the first time

ABC News reports: Today is the first time President Obama has uttered the word “Khorasan” in public.

Indeed, we can find no example of any White House official ever mentioning this al Qaeda cell by name in public. The group has never even been mentioned in any of the White House background briefings on the terrorist threat emanating from Syria (and there have been several such briefings).

It’s quite extraordinary to see military action against a group the White House has never talked about.

There is one official outside the White House who did talk about Khorasan, briefly, last week. James Clapper had this to say Thursday at an intelligence conference in Washington: “In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”

Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, may have revealed more than the administration wanted to reveal. The White House was trying to keep this quiet to avoid tipping the group off that it might be targeted.

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Al Qaeda groups and ISIS both targeted in Syria by U.S. strikes

The Wall Street Journal reports: The first U.S. airstrikes inside Syria, announced by the Pentagon on Monday night, went beyond hitting the Islamic State militant group, also targeting a second extremist group that U.S. officials say represents a more direct threat to the U.S. homeland.

The U.S. targeted camps and other buildings in Syria used by the Khorasan group, whose members have plotted attacks against Western airliners, officials said.

The strikes appear to represent an expansion of the U.S. mission beyond the goals outlined by President Barack Obama earlier this month, when he said U.S. military action would be designed to roll back the territorial gains made by Islamic State militants.

U.S. officials have viewed Khorasan with growing alarm in recent weeks and some have said it would be irresponsible to strike in Syria and not take aim at an al Qaeda affiliate long considered to be dangerous to the U.S. and its allies.

Islamic State militants are seen as primarily focused on taking and holding territory in Iraq and Syria, with attacks on the U.S. representing a secondary goal. It severed its ties with al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan.

Khorasan, on the other hand, has followed the direction of al Qaeda leadership and made strikes on U.S. targets its prime focus. Khorasan’s plotting against airliners to target the U.S. prompted the U.S. to step up airline security over the summer, a U.S. official said.

The U.S. military said Tuesday that it conducted eight strikes against the Khorasan group. Unlike overnight strikes conducted against Islamic State targets, which involved Arab countries, the operations against Khorasan were conducted only by U.S. forces. A Pentagon announcement said the Khorasan group was using Syria as a safe haven to develop “external attacks” construct improvised bombs and recruit westerners and was in the advanced stages of planning. [Continue reading...]

Reuters adds: Fifty Al Qaida-linked Nusra Front fighters were killed in strikes over the course of the morning in the northwestern province of Syria. Eight civilians, including three children, were also among the fatalities in the strikes on Aleppo.

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