Monday, February 19, 2018

Washington's objectives in bombing Russian contractors in Syria

On February 7, the US B-52 bombers and Apache helicopters struck a contingent of Syrian government troops and allied forces in Deir al-Zor that reportedly killed and wounded dozens of Russian military contractors working for the Russian private security firm, the Wagner group.

In order to understand the reason why the US brazenly attacked the Russian contractors, we need to keep the backdrop of seven-year-long Syrian conflict in mind. Washington has failed to topple the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

After the Russian intervention in Syria in September 2015, the momentum of battle has shifted in favor of Syrian government and Washington’s proxies are on the receiving end in the conflict. Washington’s policy of nurturing militants against the Syrian government has given birth to the Islamic State and myriads of jihadist groups that have carried out audacious terror attacks in Europe during the last couple of years.

Out of necessity, Washington had to make the Kurds the centerpiece of its policy in Syria. But on January 20, its NATO-ally Turkey mounted Operation Olive Branch against the Kurds in the northwestern Syrian canton of Afrin. In order to save its reputation as a global power, Washington could have confronted Turkey and pressured it to desist from invading Afrin. But it chose the easier path and vented its frustration on the Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor which led to the casualties of scores of Russian military contractors hired by the Syrian government.

Another reason why Washington struck Russian contractors working in Syria is that the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which is mainly comprised of Kurdish YPG militias – have reportedly handed over the control of some areas west of Euphrates River to Deir al-Zor Military Council (DMC), which is the Arab-led component of SDF, and have relocated several battalions of Kurdish YPG militias to Afrin and along Syria’s northern border with Turkey in order to defend the Kurdish-held areas against the onslaught of Turkish armed forces and allied Free Syria Army (FSA) militias.

More significantly, an understanding between the Syrian government and the Kurdish leadership has recently been reached, according to which the government will deploy Syrian troops in the northwestern Kurdish enclave of Afrin in order to augment the defenses of the canton against the Turkish-led offensive.

One of the main reasons why Washington bombed the pro-government forces, which included the Russian military contractors, on February 7 in Deir al-Zor was to preempt the likelihood of such an accord between the US-backed Kurdish forces and the Russia-backed Syrian government from materializing in the wake of Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch in Afrin on January 20.

It’s worth noting here that the ethnic and sectarian conflict in Syria and Iraq is actually a three-way conflict between the Sunni Arabs, the Shi’a Arabs and the Kurds. Although after the declaration of war against a faction of Sunni Arab militants, the Islamic State, the US has also lent its support to the Shi’a-led government in Iraq, the Shi’a Arabs of Iraq are not the trustworthy allies of Washington because they are under the influence of Iran.

Therefore, Washington was left with no other choice but to make the Kurds the centerpiece of its policy in Syria after a group of Sunni Arab jihadists overstepped their mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014, from where the United States had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

The so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are nothing more than Kurdish militias with a token presence of mercenary Arab tribesmen in order to make them appear more representative and inclusive in outlook.

Regarding the Kurdish factor in the Syrian civil war, it would be pertinent to mention here that unlike the pro-US Iraqi Kurds led by the Barzani family, the Syrian PYD/YPG Kurds as well as the Syrian government have been ideologically aligned because both are socialists and have traditionally been in the Russian sphere of influence.

Moreover, as I have already described that the Syrian civil war is a three-way conflict between the Sunni Arab militants, the Shi’a-led government and the Syrian Kurds, and the net beneficiaries of this conflict have been the Syrian Kurds who have expanded their areas of control by aligning themselves first with the Syrian government against the Sunni Arab militants since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to August 2014, when the US policy in Syria was “regime change” and the CIA was indiscriminately training and arming the Sunni Arab militants against the Shi’a-led government in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan with the help of Washington’s regional allies: Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, all of which belong to the Sunni denomination.

In August 2014, however, the US declared a war against one faction of the Sunni Arab militants, the Islamic State, when the latter overran Mosul and Anbar in early 2014, and Washington made a volte-face on its previous “regime change” policy and started conducting air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Thus, shifting the goalposts in Syria from the impossible objective of “regime change” to the realizable goal of defeating the Islamic State.

After that reversal of policy by Washington, the Syrian Kurds took advantage of the opportunity and struck an alliance with the US against the Islamic State at Masoud Barzani’s bidding, thus further buttressing their position against the Sunni Arab militants as well as the Syrian government.

More to the point, for the first three years of the Syrian civil war from August 2011 to August 2014, an informal pact existed between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds against the onslaught of the Sunni Arab militants until the Kurds broke off that arrangement to become the centerpiece of Washington’s policy in the region.

In accordance with the aforementioned pact, the Syrian government informally acknowledged Kurdish autonomy; and in return, the Kurdish militias jointly defended the areas in northeastern Syria, specifically al-Hasakah, alongside the Syrian government troops against the advancing Sunni Arab militant groups, particularly the Islamic State.

Finally, in order to understand Washington’s objective that why it dared to bomb pro-government forces in Deir al-Zor on February 7 that included private Russian military contractors, bear in mind that it would be a nightmare scenario for Washington in Syria if its only trust-worthy allies, the Syrian Kurds, broke off their arrangement with Washington and once again entered a mutually beneficial alliance with Russia-backed Syrian government – a scenario which is quite likely after Washington’s NATO-ally Turkey’s repeated invasions of Kurdish-held areas in Syria, first the invasion of Jarabulus and Azaz in northern Syria during the Operation Euphrates Shield that lasted from August 2016 to last March, and now the military intervention in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on January 20.

Washington’s primary objective of bombing the pro-government troops on February 7 that led to dozens of Russian casualties was to create divisions between the US-backed Kurds and Russia-backed Syrian government. Clearly, one can’t negotiate and reach a defensive accord with a party whose backers are bombing you at the same time. But Russia has sagaciously downplayed the brazen atrocity and moved on with its efforts to reconcile the divergent interests of competing forces in the Syrian proxy war.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Why the US struck Russian contractors in Syria?

On February 7, the US bombers and Apache helicopters struck a contingent of Syrian government troops and allied forces in Deir al-Zor that reportedly [1] killed and wounded dozens of Russian military contractors working for the private security firm, the Wagner group.

In order to understand the reason why the US brazenly attacked the Russian contractors, we need to keep the backdrop of seven-year-long Syrian conflict in mind. Washington has failed to topple the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

After the Russian intervention in Syria in September 2015, the momentum of battle has shifted in favor of Syrian government and Washington’s proxies are on the receiving end in the conflict. Washington’s policy of nurturing militants against the Syrian government has given birth to the Islamic State and myriads of jihadist groups that have carried out audacious terror attacks in Europe during the last couple of years.

Out of necessity, Washington had to make the Kurds the centerpiece of its policy in Syria. But on January 20, its NATO-ally Turkey mounted Operation Olive Branch against the Kurds in the northwestern Syrian canton of Afrin. In order to save its reputation as a global power, Washington could have confronted Turkey in Afrin. But it chose the easier path and vented its frustration on the Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor which led to the casualties of scores of Russian military contractors hired by the Syrian government.

It would be pertinent to note that regarding the Syria policy, there is a schism between the White House and the American deep state led by the Pentagon. After Donald Trump’s inauguration as the US president, he has delegated operational-level decisions in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to the Pentagon.

In Afghanistan, the “steady hands” of the American deep state, the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, advised the newly inaugurated Trump administration to further escalate the conflict by deploying thousands of additional troops to a contingent of 8,400 US troops already stationed there as “trainers and advisors.” The total number of US troops in Afghanistan has now risen to 15,000.

In Syria, the way the US officials are evading responsibility for the incident, it appears the decision to strike pro-government forces in Deir al-Zor that included Russian contractors was taken by the operational commander of the US forces in Syria and the White House was not informed until after the strike.

It bears mentioning that unlike dyed-in-the-wool politicians, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appears that Donald Trump not only follows news from conservative mainstream outlets, like the Fox News, but he has also been familiar with alternative news perspectives, such as Breitbart’s, no matter how racist and xenophobic.

Thus, Donald Trump is fully aware that the conflict in Syria is a proxy war initiated by the Western political establishments and their regional Middle Eastern allies against the Syrian government. He is also mindful of the fact that militants have been funded, trained and armed in the training camps located in Turkey’s border regions to the north of Syria and in Jordan’s border regions to the south of Syria.

As far as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq is concerned, the Trump administration is continuing with the policy of its predecessor. The Trump administration’s policy in Syria, however, has been markedly different from the regime change policy of the Obama administration.

Unlike Iraq where the US provided air and logistical support to Iraq’s armed forces and allied militias in their battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State militants, the conflict in Syria is much more complex that involves the Syrian government, the opposition-affiliated militant groups and the Kurds.

According to the last year’s March 31 article [2] for the New York Times by Michael Gordon, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated on the record that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is the top priority of the Trump administration and the fate of Bashar al-Assad is of least concern to the new administration.

Under the previous Obama administration, the evident policy in Syria was regime change and any collaboration with Syria’s backers against Islamic jihadists was simply not on the cards. The Trump administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective, a fact which is obvious from Donald Trump’s statements on Syria during the election campaign, and more recently by the statements of Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson.

Although expecting a radical departure from the six-year-long Obama administration’s policy of training and arming militants against the Syrian government by the Trump administration is unlikely, the latter regards Islamic jihadists a much bigger threat to the security of the US than the former. Therefore, some indirect support and a certain level of collaboration with Syria’s backer Russia against radical Islamists cannot be ruled out.

What has been different in the respective Syria policy of the two markedly different US administrations, however, is that while the Obama administration did avail itself of the opportunity to strike an alliance with the Kurds against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, it was simply not possible for it to come up with an out of the box solution to the Syrian crisis.

The Trump administration, however, is not hampered by the botched legacy of the Obama administration in Syria, and therefore it has been willing to some extent to cooperate with the Kurds as well as Syria’s backer Russia against Islamic jihadists in Syria.

Two obstacles to such a natural alignment of interests, however, are: first, Israel’s objections regarding the threat that Hezbollah poses to its regional security; and second, Turkey, which is a NATO member and has throughout nurtured several militant groups during the seven-year-long conflict, has serious reservations against the new US administration’s partnership not only with the Russians but also with the PYD/YPG Kurds in Syria, which Turkey regards as an offshoot of the separatist PKK Kurds in southeast Turkey.

Therefore, in order to allay the concerns of Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East, the Trump administration conducted a cruise missiles strike on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate on April 6 last year after the chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun. But that isolated incident was nothing more than a show of force to bring home the point that the newly elected President Donald Trump is an ‘assertive and powerful’ president, while behind the scenes he has been willing to cooperate with Russia in Syria in order to contain and eliminate the threat posed by Islamic jihadists to the security of the US and Europe.

Finally, Karen De Young and Liz Sly made a startling revelation in the last year’s March 4 article [3] for the Washington Post: “Trump has said repeatedly that the US and Russia should cooperate against the Islamic State, and he has indicated that the future of Russia-backed Assad is of less concern to him.”

Thus, the interests of all the major players in Syria have evidently converged on defeating the Islamic jihadists, and the Obama-era policy of regime change has been put on the back burner. The incident of bombing the pro-government forces that included Russian contractors was clearly a last-ditch attempt by the American deep state to sabotage the cooperation between the White House and Kremlin in Syria. But Russia has sagaciously downplayed the brazen atrocity and moved on with its efforts to bring peace to the war-ravaged region.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Al-Baghdadi incapacitated in Russian airstrike

In June last year, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that according to information, the leader of the Islamic State Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi had reportedly been killed as a result of airstrikes conducted by the Russian aircrafts on a southern suburb of Raqqa on May 28.

Similarly, Rami Abdul Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) told Reuters [1] in July last year the Observatory had “confirmed information” from activists working in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zor that Al-Baghdadi had been killed.

The so-called Observatory’s reports are generally taken at face value by the mainstream media, but in this particular case, the report was somehow overlooked, despite its “wide network of on-the-ground reporters in Syria and a high degree of credibility” (no pun intended).

According to Russian claims, the airstrikes targeted a meeting of high-ranking Islamic State leaders where al- Baghdadi was reportedly present. The meeting was gathered to plan exit routes for militants from Raqqa through the so-called “southern corridor.” Apart from Al-Baghdadi, 30 field commanders and up to 300 militants were also killed in the airstrike.

On Monday, Nick Paton Walsh reported for the CNN [2] “The Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was wounded in an airstrike in May last year and had to relinquish control of the terror group for up to five months because of his injuries, according to several US officials who spoke exclusively to CNN.”

Now, even the mainstream media is admitting the possibility the Russian airstrike might have incapacitated Al-Baghdadi. As the CNN report further states: “It's believed the airstrike occurred close to the date offered by the Russian military in June when they claimed to have killed or injured the Islamic State leader.”

According to another report [3] on Monday by Al-Jazeera, “Islamic State's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive and being treated at a medical facility in northeastern Syria after being severely wounded in an air raid, a senior Iraqi official said.”

“The head of Islamic State sustained serious wounds to his legs during air raids,” Abu Ali al-Basri, Iraq's intelligence and counterterrorism department chief, was quoted on Monday by the Iraqi government-run al-Sabah daily as saying. “Al-Baghdadi suffers from injuries, diabetes and fractures to the body and legs that prevent him from walking without assistance,” said al-Basri.

Although al-Baghdadi has not publicly appointed a successor, two of the closest aides who have emerged as his likely successors over the years are Iyad al-Obeidi, his defense minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, the in charge of security. The latter had already reportedly been killed in an airstrike in April last year in al-Qaim region on Iraq’s border with Syria.

Therefore, the most likely successor to al-Baghdadi would be al-Obaidi. Both al-Jumaili and al-Obeidi had previously served as security officers in Iraq’s Baathist army under Saddam Hussein, and al-Obeidi is known to be the de facto deputy of al-Baghdadi.

Excluding al-Baghdadi and some of his hardline Islamist aides, the rest of Islamic State’s top leadership is comprised of Saddam era military and intelligence officials. Hundreds of ex-Baathists reportedly constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of the Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.

Thus, apart from training and arms that have been provided to militants in the training camps located in the Turkish and Jordanian border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, the only other factor which has contributed to the astounding success of the Islamic State from early 2013 to August 2014 is that its top cadres are comprised of professional military and intelligence officers from the Saddam era.

Moreover, according to a recent AFP report [4] by Maya Gebeily, hundreds of Islamic State’s jihadists have joined the so-called ‘moderate rebels’ in Idlib in their battle against the advancing Syrian government troops backed by Russian airstrikes. The Islamic State already had a foothold in neighbouring Hama province and its infiltration in Idlib seems to be an extension of its outreach. On January 12, the Islamic State officially declared Idlib one of its ‘Islamic emirates.’ It has reportedly captured several villages and claims to have killed two dozen Syrian soldiers and taken 20 hostages.

In all likelihood, some of the Islamic State’s jihadists who have joined the battle in Idlib were part of the same contingent of militants that fled Raqqa in October last year under a deal brokered [5] by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In fact, one of the main objectives of the deal was to let the jihadists fight the Syrian government troops and to free up the Kurdish-led SDF in a scramble to capture oil and gas fields in Deir al-Zor and the border posts along Syria’s border with Iraq.

Islamic State’s foray into Idlib, which has firmly been under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) led by al-Nusra Front since 2015, isn’t the only instance of its kind. Remember when the Syrian government was on the verge of winning a resounding victory against the militants holed up in east Aleppo, Islamic State came to the rescue of so-called ‘moderate rebels’ by opening up a new front in Palmyra in December 2016.

Consequently, the Syrian government had to send reinforcements from Aleppo to Palmyra in order to defend the city. Although the Syrian government troops still managed to evict the militants holed up in the eastern enclave of Aleppo and they also retook Palmyra from Islamic State in March last year, the basic purpose of this tactical move by the Islamic State was to divert the attention and resources of the Syrian government away from Aleppo to Palmyra.

Fact of the matter is that the distinction between Islamic jihadists and purported ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria is more illusory than real. Before it turned rogue and overran Mosul in Iraq in June 2014, Islamic State used to be an integral part of the Syrian opposition and it still enjoys close ideological and operational ties with other militant groups in Syria.

It’s worth noting that although turf wars are common not just between the Islamic State and other militant groups operating in Syria but also among rebel groups themselves, the ultimate objective of the Islamic State and the rest of Sunni militant outfits operating in Syria is the same: to overthrow the Shi’a-led and Baathist-dominated government of Bashar al-Assad.

Regarding the Syrian opposition, a small fraction of it is comprised of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army, but the vast majority has been comprised of Sunni Arab jihadists and armed tribesmen who have been generously funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized by their regional and global patrons.

Islamic State is nothing more than one of numerous Syrian militant outfits, others being: al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid Brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. All the Sunni Arab militant groups that are operating in Syria are just as fanatical and brutal as the Islamic State. The only feature that differentiates the Islamic State from the rest is that it is more ideological and independent-minded.

The reason why the US has turned against the Islamic State is that all other Syrian militant outfits only have local ambitions that are limited to fighting the Syrian government, while the Islamic State has established a global network of transnational terrorists that includes hundreds of Western citizens who have become a national security risk to the Western countries.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Pakistan’s voiceless Pashtuns find voice

Is it not ironic that two very similar insurgencies have simultaneously been going on in Pakistan for the last several years: the Baloch insurgency in the Balochistan province and the insurgency of the Pashtun tribesmen in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering the US-occupied Afghanistan.

While the Pakistani neoliberal elites fully sympathize with the oppressed Baloch nationalists, when it comes to the Pashtun tribesmen, they are willing to give Pakistan’s security agencies a license to kill, why? It’s simply because the tribal Pashtun insurgents use the veneer of religion to justify their tribal instinct of retribution.

The name Islam, however, is such an anathema to the core neoliberal sensibilities that the elites don’t even bother to delve deeper into the causes of insurgency and summarily decide that since the Pashtun tribesmen are using the odious label of the Taliban, therefore they are not worthy of their sympathies, and as a result, the security establishment gets a carte blanche to indiscriminately bomb the towns and villages of the Pashtun tribesmen.

As well-informed readers must be aware that military operations have been going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan since 2009; but a military operation – unlike law enforcement or Rangers operation, as in Karachi – is a different kind of operation; it’s an all-out war.

The army surrounds the insurgency-wracked area from all sides and orders the villagers to vacate their homes. Then the army calls in air force and heavy artillery to carpet bomb the whole area; after which ground troops move in to look for dead and injured in the rubble of towns and villages.

Air force bombardment and heavy artillery shelling has been going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan for several years; Pashtun tribesmen have been taking fire; their homes, property and livelihoods have been destroyed; they have lost their families and children in this brutal war, which has displaced millions of tribesmen who have been rotting in the refugee camps in Peshawar, Mardan and Bannu districts since 2009, after the Swat and South Waziristan military operations.

I have knowingly used the word ‘Pashtun tribesmen’ instead of ‘Taliban’ here, because this phenomena of revenge has more to do with tribal culture than religion, per se. In the lawless tribal areas, the tribesmen don’t have courts and police to settle disputes and enforce justice; justice is dispensed by tribes themselves; the clans, families and relatives of slain victims seek revenge, which is the fundamental axiom of their tribal ‘jurisprudence.’

It’s worth noting here that there are three distinct categories of militants operating in Pakistan: the Afghanistan-focused Pashtun militants; the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants; and foreign transnational terrorists, including the Arab militants of al-Qaeda, the Uzbek insurgents of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Chinese Uighur jihadists of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Compared to tens of thousands of native Pashtun and Punjabi militants, the foreign transnational terrorists number only in a few hundred and are hence inconsequential.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is mainly comprised of Pashtun militants, carries out bombings against Pakistan’s state apparatus. The ethnic factor is critical here. Although the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) like to couch their rhetoric in religious terms, but it is the difference of ethnicity and language that enables them to recruit Pashtun tribesmen who are willing to carry out subversive activities against the Punjabi-dominated state apparatus, while the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants have by and large remained loyal to their patrons in the security agencies of Pakistan.

Although Pakistan’s security establishment has been willing to conduct military operations against the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which are regarded as a security threat to Pakistan’s state apparatus, as far as the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Afghanistan-focused Quetta Shura Taliban, including the Haqqani network, are concerned, they are still enjoying impunity because such militant groups are regarded as ‘strategic assets’ by Pakistan’s security agencies.

Notwithstanding, the Pashtuns are the most unfortunate nation on the planet nowadays, because nobody understands and represents them; not even their own leadership, whether religious or ethnic. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are represented by Washington’s stooges, like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, and in Pakistan, the Pashtun nationalist party, the Awami National Party (ANP), loves to play the victim card and finds solace in learned helplessness.

In Pakistan, however, the Pashtuns are no longer represented by a single political entity, a fact which became obvious after the 2013 parliamentary elections in which the Pashtun nationalist ANP was wiped out of its former strongholds.

Now, there are at least three distinct categories of Pashtuns: firstly, the Pashtun nationalists who follow Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy and have their strongholds in Charsadda and Mardan districts; secondly, the religiously inclined Islamist Pashtuns who vote for Islamist political parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and thirdly, the emerging new phenomena, the Pakistan nationalist Pashtuns, most of whom have joined Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in recent years, though some have also joined Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League.

It would be pertinent to mention here that the general elections of 2013 were contested on a single issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which has displaced millions of Pashtun tribesmen. The Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party was routed, because in keeping with its supposedly “liberal interventionist” ideology, it stood for military operations against Islamist Pashtun militants in tribal areas; and the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province gave a sweeping mandate to the newcomer in the Pakistani political landscape: Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, because the latter promised to deal with tribal militants through negotiations and political settlements.

Although both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif failed to keep their election pledge of using peaceful means for dealing with the menace of religious extremism and militancy, the public sentiment has been firmly against military operations in tribal areas. The 2013 parliamentary elections were, in a way, a referendum against Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror in the Af-Pak region, and the Pashtun electorate gave a sweeping mandate to pro-peace political parties against the pro-war Pakistan People’s Party and Awami National Party.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Do Syrian Jihadists have Anti-aircraft Weapons?

Syrian jihadists have reportedly shot down a Russian Sukhoi 25 aircraft in the northwestern Idlib province. Shooting down aircrafts is a rare occurrence in the Syrian theater of proxy wars because although Washington has openly provided small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and the US-made antitank (TOW) weapons to the Syrian militants, it strictly forbade its regional allies from providing anti-aircraft weapons (MANPADS) to the militants.

Israel frequently flies surveillance aircrafts and drones and occasionally carries out airstrikes in Syria, and had such weapons fallen into wrong hands, they could have become a long-term threat to Israel’s air force. Lately, some anti-aircraft weapons from Gaddafi’s looted arsenal in Libya have made their way into the hands of Syrian militants, but for the initial years of the proxy war, there was an absolute prohibition on providing MANPADS to the insurgents.

More significantly, however, a report by the Conflict Armament Research (CAR) on the Islamic State’s weapons found in Iraq and Syria has been doing the rounds on the media during the last month. Before the story was picked up by the mainstream media, it was first published [1] in the Wired news on December 12, which has a history of spreading dubious stories and working in close collaboration with the Pentagon and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) under its former reporters Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, both of whom are now the national security correspondents for the Daily Beast, though this particular report has been written by Brian Castner, who is a former US Air Force explosive ordnance disposal officer and a veteran of the Iraq War.

The Britain-based Conflict Armament Research (CAR) is a relatively unknown company of less than 20 employees. Its one-man Iraq and Syria division is headed by a 31-year-old Belgian researcher, Damien Spleeters. The main theme of Spleeters’ investigation was to discover the Islamic State’s homegrown armaments industry and how the jihadist group’s technicians have adapted the East European munitions to be used in the weapons available to the Islamic State. He has listed 1,832 weapons and 40,984 pieces of ammunition recovered in Iraq and Syria in the CAR’s database.

But Spleeters has only tangentially touched upon the subject of the Islamic State’s weapons supply chain, documenting only a single PG-9 rocket found at Tal Afar in Iraq bearing a lot number of 9,252 rocket-propelled grenades which were supplied by Romania to the US military, and mentioning only a single shipment of 12 tons of munitions which was diverted from Saudi Arabia to Jordan in his supposedly ‘comprehensive report.’

In fact, the CAR’s report is so misleading that of thousands of pieces of munitions investigated by Spleeters, less than 10% were found to be compatible with NATO’s weapons and more than 90% were found to have originated from Russia, China and the East European countries, Romania and Bulgaria in particular.

By comparison, a joint investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has uncovered [2] the Pentagon’s $2.2 billion arms pipeline to the Syrian militants. It bears mentioning, however, that $2.2 billion were earmarked only by Washington for training and arming the Syrian rebels, and tens of billions of dollars that Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states have pumped into the Syrian civil war have not been documented by anybody so far.

Moreover, a Bulgarian investigative reporter, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, authored a report [3] for Bulgaria’s national newspaper, Trud news, which found that an Azerbaijan state airline company, Silk Way Airlines, was regularly transporting weapons to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Turkey under diplomatic cover as part of the CIA covert program to supply militant groups in Syria. Gaytandzhieva documented 350 such ‘diplomatic flights’ and was subsequently fired from her job for uncovering the story. Unsurprisingly, both these well-researched and groundbreaking reports didn’t even merit a passing mention in any mainstream news outlet.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that the Syrian militant groups are no ordinary bands of ragtag jihadist outfits. They have been trained and armed to the teeth by their patrons in the security agencies of Washington, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the training camps located at Syria’s border regions with Turkey and Jordan.

Along with Saddam’s and Egypt’s armies, the Syrian Baathist armed forces are one of the most capable fighting forces in the Arab world. But the onslaught of militant groups during the first three years of the civil war was such that had it not been for the Russian intervention in September 2015, the Syrian defenses would have collapsed.

The only feature that distinguishes the Syrian militants from the rest of regional jihadist groups is not their ideology but their weapons arsenals that were bankrolled by the Gulf’s petro-dollars and provided by the CIA in collaboration with regional security agencies of Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East.

While we are on the subject of Islamic State’s weaponry, it is generally claimed by the mainstream media that Islamic State came into possession of state-of-the-art weapons when it overran Mosul in June 2014 and seized huge caches of weapons that were provided to Iraq’s armed forces by Washington.

Is this argument not a bit paradoxical, however, that Islamic State conquered large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq before it overran Mosul when it supposedly did not have those sophisticated weapons, and after allegedly coming into possession of those weapons, it lost ground?

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this fact is that Islamic State had those weapons, or equally deadly weapons, before it overran Mosul and that those weapons were provided to all the militant groups operating in Syria, including the Islamic State, by the intelligence agencies of none other than the Western powers, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf states.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Metrosexuality and Family Values

Bilawal Bhutto's selfie with Paris Hilton.
In the light of my limited experience with the Western culture, I have come to realize that a fully functional family is hard to find in the modern Western societies. Coming across a functioning family unit is more of an exception than a norm in the Western culture.

Most Western women with whom I have interacted are generally divorced, single mothers who are raising their children all by themselves; while the men folks either don’t get married at all, or even if they do get married under some momentary impulse or infatuation, they tend to leave their wives and kids behind them and either run away with their newfound girlfriends or they are otherwise non-committal in their relationships.

Although this behavioral infidelity can be found in both genders but it is much more prevalent in metrosexual men of modern societies. Since women are physiologically built to raise children and since they occupy a comparatively insecure position in male-dominated cultures, therefore they generally take their relationships seriously.

Unlike the traditional Eastern societies which are family-centric, the Western societies are mostly individual-centric. Reductive individualism and runaway hedonism might sound theoretically alluring but this unnatural state of affairs cannot last for long.

Birth rates all over the Western world are already dwindling, and in some countries, population growth rate is in negative. There was a time that population growth rate in Europe was so prolific that the Europeans had to colonize Americas and Australia to settle their surplus population. But now, the only thing sustaining their population growth rate is not their natural birth rates but the immigration of people from the developing world to the Western countries.

The institution of a fully functional family is the cornerstone of a healthy society and if the social environment is not conducive to the development of such a pivotal institution, then there is something fundamentally wrong with our social axioms.

Marriage is basically a civil contract meant for the purpose of raising children and family; and if one of the partners leaves the other midstream, it creates an unmanageable burden on the other partner (generally women) to raise children single-handedly. Sweeping such serious issues under the carpet that affect every individual and family on a personal level by taking an evasive approach of ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ will only exacerbate the problem.

Individualists generally posit that an individual holds a central position in society; the way I see it, however, being human is inextricably interlinked to the institution of family. The only things that separates human beings from the rest of species is their innate potential to acquire knowledge, but knowledge alone is not sufficient for our collective survival due to excessive and manifest intra-special violence in the form of conflicts and wars. Unless we have social cohesion -- which comes from love, compassion and empathy -- we are likely to self-destruct as specie.

The aforementioned empathy and altruism, however, are imparted by the institution of family, within which spouses love each other and their children, and in turn, children love their parents and siblings. This familial love then transcends the immediate environs of family and encompasses the entire humanity.

Thus, without the institution of family, there will be no humanity, or individual, in the long run. In order to reap the fruit of love, one first needs to sow the seeds of love. One cannot expect to raise loving and caring human beings with authority and teaching alone, only the institution of family has this unique gift of teaching love by practicing love.

Although family life in the Eastern societies isn’t as perfect as some of us would like to believe, but they are traditional societies based on agriculture-era value systems. Industrialization and consequent urbanization is the order of the day. These rural societies will eventually evolve into their urban counterparts.

My primary concern, however, is that the modern paradigm that we have conjured up is far from perfect in which divorce rates are very high and generally mothers are left alone to fend for themselves and raise their children single-handedly; consequently, giving rise to a dysfunctional familial and social arrangement.

Paradoxically, some social scientists draw our attention to the supposed ‘unnaturalness’ of the institution of family and the practice of polygamy and polyamory etc. in primitive tribal societies, but if we take a cursory look at the history of mankind, there have been two distinct phases of cultural development: the pre-Renaissance social evolution and the post-Renaissance social evolution.

Most of our cultural, scientific and technological accomplishments are attributed to the latter phase that has only lasted for a few centuries, and the institution of family has played a pivotal role in the social advancement of that era. Empirically speaking, we must base our scientific assumptions on proven and verifiable evidence and not some cock and bull stories peddled by self-styled anthropologists.

Regarding the erosion of the institution of family, I am of the opinion that it has mainly been the fault of the mass entertainment media that has caused an unnatural obsession with glamor and consequent sexualization of modern societies.

Regardless, modern liberals generally are educated and pacifist people. They abhor violence in all its forms and manifestations; so much so that they are appalled by the mere thought of murder, even if it is justifiable and legally sanctioned execution such as capital punishment. Some of the more ‘tender-hearted’ sorts go even a step further and give up eating meat by becoming vegetarians, whether as a matter of moral principle or for reducing weight is anybody’s guess.

I find it curiously intriguing, however, when some ‘bleeding heart’ liberals blatantly violate their own sacrosanct tenets by endorsing the practice of feticide in the form of abortion. What moral high-ground do they have despite their revulsion at capital punishment and animal slaughter when they endorse the gruesome practice of killing unborn babies?

Finally, it would be unfair to lay the blame squarely on the Western culture. The reason why people shy away from getting married and raising children has partly been the doing of modern economics. Industrialization and capitalism have created an unnecessary burden on the lives of individuals and families in modern times. The agriculture era used to be a labor-intensive epoch. Back then, a household with large number of children used to be a boon because the manpower was utilized for cultivation and farming.

After the industrial revolution and consequent urbanization, however, most of the physical labor is being performed by machines. Thus, the cost of raising and educating children in the post-industrial societies outweighs their utility and benefits, that’s why many middle-income families keep the number of children to a bare minimum to avoid financial burden.

Moreover, it has also been the preferred state policy of many Third World countries with large populations and meager resources to restrict the number of children to a minimum in order to reduce the burden on their developing economies, such as the one-child policy of China and the two-child policy of India and Pakistan.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Afrin Offensive: Erdogan’s Madness Continues

During the last 24 hours, 72 Turkish jets have reportedly struck 150 targets inside the Kurdish-controlled Afrin district in north-western Syria in which six civilians and three Kurdish militiamen have lost their lives. And today, Turkish ground troops in armoured vehicles have intruded five kilometres inside Afrin from Syria’s northern border with Turkey.

In addition, Turkey has also mobilised the Syrian militant groups under its tutelage in Azaz and Idlib in Syria, and in Kilis and Hatay provinces of Turkey, the latter of which has a substantial presence of Arabs and Syrian refugees, hence the Kurdish-controlled Afrin enclave has been surrounded from all sides by Turkey and its proxies.

Well-informed readers who have been keenly watching Erdogan’s behaviour since the failed July 2016 coup plot must have noticed that Erdogan has committed quite a few reckless and impulsive acts during the last couple of years.

Firstly, the Turkish air force shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet on the border between Syria and Turkey on 24 November 2015 that brought the Turkish and Russian armed forces on the brink of a full-scale confrontation in Syria.

Secondly, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated at an art exhibition in Ankara on the evening of 19 December 2016 by an off-duty Turkish police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, who was suspected of being a Muslim fundamentalist.

Thirdly, the Turkish military mounted the seven-month-long Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria immediately after the attempted coup plot from August 2016 to March 2017 that brought the Turkish military and its Syrian militant proxies head-to-head with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and their US bakers.

And lastly, before Turkey’s intrusion in Afrin, the Turkish military invaded Idlib in north-western Syria in October last year on the pretext of enforcing a de-escalation zone between the Syrian militants and the Syrian government, despite official protest from the latter that the Turkish armed forces are in violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Regarding the July 2016 coup plot, instead of a serious attempt at overthrowing the government, the coup plot was actually a large-scale mutiny within the ranks of the Turkish armed forces. Although Erdogan scapegoated the Gulenists to settle scores with his one-time ally, but according to credible reports, the coup was in fact attempted by the Kemalist liberals against the Islamist government of Turkey.

For the last several years of the Syrian civil war, the Kemalists had been looking with suspicion at Erdogan administration’s policy of deliberately training and arming Sunni militants against the Shi’a-dominated government of Bashar al-Assad in the training camps located on Turkey’s borders with Syria in collaboration with CIA’s MOM, which is a Turkish acronym for military operations centre.

As long as the US was on-board on the policy of nurturing Sunni Arab jihadists in Syria, the hands of Kemalists were tied. But after the US declared a war against one faction of Sunni militants, the Islamic State, in August 2014 and the consequent divergence between Washington’s policy of supporting the Kurds in Syria and the Islamist government of Turkey’s continued support to Sunni jihadists, it led to discord and adoption of contradictory policies.

Moreover, the spate of bombings in Turkey claimed by the Islamic State and separatist Kurds during the last couple of years, all of these factors contributed to widespread disaffection among the rank and file of Turkish armed forces, which regard themselves as the custodians of secular traditions and guarantors of peace and stability in Turkey.

The fact that one-third of 220 brigadiers and ten major generals were detained after the coup plot shows the level of frustration shown by the top and mid-ranking officers of the Turkish armed forces against Erdogan’s megalomaniac and self-destructive policies.

Regarding the split between Washington and Ankara, although the proximate cause of this confrontation seems to be the July 2016 coup plot against the Erdogan administration by the supporters of the US-based preacher, Fethullah Gulen, but this surprising development also sheds light on the deeper divisions between the United States and Turkey over their respective Syria policy.

After the United States reversal of ‘regime change’ policy in Syria in August 2014 when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014 and threatened the capital of another steadfast American ally Masoud Barzani’s Erbil in the oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan, Washington has made the Kurds the centrepiece of its policy in Syria and Iraq.

It would be pertinent to mention here that the conflict in Syria and Iraq is actually a three-way conflict between the Sunni Arab militants, the Shi’a-led governments and the Kurds. Although after the declaration of war against a faction of Sunni Arab militants, the Islamic State, Washington has also lent its support to the Shi’a-led government in Iraq, but the Shi’a Arabs of Iraq are not the trustworthy allies of the United States because they are under the influence of Iran.

Therefore, Washington was left with no other choice but to make the Kurds the centrepiece of its policy in Syria and Iraq after a group of Sunni Arab jihadists, the Islamic State, transgressed its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014 from where the United States had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are nothing more than the Kurdish militias with a symbolic presence of mercenary Arab tribesmen in order to make them appear more representative and inclusive in outlook. As far as the regional parties to the Syrian civil war are concerned, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the rest of the Gulf states may not have serious reservations against this close cooperation between the United States and the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, because the Gulf states tend to look at the regional conflicts from the lens of the Iranian Shi’a threat.

Turkey, on the other hand, has been more wary of the separatist Kurdish tendencies in its southeast than the Iranian Shi’a threat, as such. And the recent announcement by Washington of training and arming 30,000 Kurdish border guards to patrol Syria’s northern border with Turkey and prolonging the stay of 2000 US troops embedded with the Kurds in Syria indefinitely must have proven a tipping point for the Erdogan administration.