Sunday, April 15, 2018

Skripals Poisoning and Syria Strikes


On April 11, one of the “smartest” US presidents ever tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

When Donald Trump’s advisers drew his attention to the fact that he might have telegraphed his intentions of bombing Syria to Moscow, the imbecile came up with an even more childish tweet the next day, saying: “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our Thank you America?”

Fact of the matter is that during the last week, Donald Trump has been so distracted by the FBI’s raid on the office of his attorney Michael Cohen and the release of former FBI director James Comey’s new, tell-all book that he has paid scant attention to what has happened in Syria. He kept fulminating about these two issues throughout the last week on his Twitter timeline and mentioned the alleged Douma chemical attack in Syria on April 7 only in the passing.

Even though Trump’s babysitter Defense Secretary James Mattis admitted on the record that though he was sure chlorine was used in the attack in Douma, Syria, he was not sure who carried out the attack and whether any other toxic chemical agent, particularly sarin, was used in the attack. If chlorine can be classified as a chemical weapon, then how is one supposed to categorize white phosphorous which was used by the US military in large quantities in its battle against the Islamic State in Raqqa?

Despite scant evidence as to the use of chemical weapons or the party responsible for it, Donald Trump ordered another cruise missiles strike in Syria on Saturday in collaboration with Theresa May’s government in the UK and Emmanuel Macron’s administration in France. The strike took place a little over a year after a similar cruise missiles strikes on al-Shayrat airfield on April 6 last year, after an alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, that accomplished nothing.

Both these strikes in Syria were not only illegal under international law but also under American laws. While striking the Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, Washington availed itself of the war on terror provisions in the US laws, known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), but those laws do not give the president the power to order strikes against the Syrian government targets without the approval of the US Congress which has the sole authority to declare war.

The Intercept has recently reported [1] that the Trump administration has derived the authority to strike the Syrian government targets based on a “Top Secret” memorandum of the Office of Legal Counsel that even the US Congress can’t see. Complying with the norms of transparency and rule of law have never been the strong points of American democracy but the new US administration has done away with even the pretense of accountability and checks and balances.

What further defies explanation for the Saturday’s strikes against a scientific research facility in the Barzeh district of Damascus and two alleged chemical weapons storage facilities in Homs is the fact that Donald Trump has already announced [2] that the process of withdrawal of US troops from Syria must begin before the midterm US elections slated for November. If the Trump administration is to retain the Republican majority in the Congress, it will have to show something tangible to its voters, particularly in Syria.

Thus, it appears that the “one-off strike in Syria,” as articulated by James Mattis, was nothing more than a diversionary tactic to distract attention from Trump’s domestic troubles. Rather than deterring the Syrian government from its alleged use of chemical weapons, the Saturday’s cruise missiles strikes were meant as a show of force against Moscow.

On March 4, Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent working for the British foreign intelligence service, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench outside a shopping center in Salisbury. A week later, another Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov was found dead in his London home and police has launched a murder investigation into his death.

Skripal was recruited by the British MI6 in 1995, and before his arrest in Russia in December 2004, he was alleged to have blown the cover of scores of Russian secret agents. He was released in a spy swap deal in 2010 and was allowed to settle in Salisbury. Theresa May’s government has concluded that Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Moscow-made, military-grade nerve agent, Novichok.

On April 9, Yulia Skripal was discharged from hospital and reportedly the condition of Sergei Skripal is also improving rapidly, which means they might not have been poisoned by Novichok. In fact, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shared the results [3] of a Swiss laboratory on Saturday that “BZ toxin” was used in the Salisbury poisoning which was never produced in Russia, but was in service in the US, UK and other NATO states.

Nevertheless, the US, UK and European nations expelled scores of Russian diplomats and the Trump administration ordered the closure of Russian consulate in Seattle. In a retaliatory move, Kremlin also expelled a similar number of American, British and European diplomats, and ordered the closure of American consulate in Saint Petersburg. The relations between Moscow and Western powers have reached their lowest ebb since the break-up of Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in December 1991.

The fact that out of 105 total cruise missiles deployed in the Saturday’s strikes in Syria, 85 were launched by the US, 12 by France and 8 by the UK aircrafts shows that the strikes were nothing more than a show of force by a “powerful and assertive” US president who regards the interests of his European allies as his own, particularly when he has given a May 12 deadline to his European allies to “improve and strengthen” the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise he has threatened to walk out of the pact in order to please Israel’s lobby in Washington.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Endgame in Syria: Trump Signals Withdrawal of US Troops


In a momentous announcement at an event in Ohio on Thursday, Donald Trump said, “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

What lends credence to the statement that the Trump administration will soon be pulling 2,000 US troops out of Syria – mostly Special Forces assisting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces – is that President Trump had recently announced to sack the National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.

McMaster represented the institutional logic of the deep state in the Trump administration and was instrumental in advising Donald Trump to escalate the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. He had advised President Trump to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 8,400 to 15,000. And in Syria, he was in favor of the Pentagon’s policy of training and arming 30,000 Kurdish border guards to patrol Syria’s northern border with Turkey.

Both the decisions have spectacularly backfired on the Trump administration. The decision to train and arm 30,000 Kurdish border guards had annoyed the Erdogan administration to an extent that Turkey mounted Operation Olive Branch in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in Syria’s northwest on January 20.

After capturing Afrin on March 18, the Turkish armed forces and their Free Syria Army proxies have now cast their eyes further east on Manbij where the US Special Forces are closely cooperating with the Kurdish YPG militia, in line with the long-held Turkish military doctrine of denying the Kurds any Syrian territory west of River Euphrates.

More significantly, however, the US bombers and Apache helicopters struck a contingent of Syrian government troops and allied forces in Deir al-Zor on February 7 that reportedly 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 September 2015, the momentum of the battle has shifted in favor of the 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 three 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 was that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which are mainly comprised of Kurdish YPG militias – had reportedly handed over the control of some areas east of Euphrates River to Deir al-Zor Military Council (DMC), which is the Arab-led component of SDF, and had 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.

Syrian forces with the backing of Russian contractors took advantage of the opportunity and crossed the Euphrates River to capture an oil refinery located east of Euphrates River in the Kurdish-held area of Deir al-Zor. The US Air Force responded with full force, knowing well the ragtag Arab component of SDF – mainly comprised of local Arab tribesmen and mercenaries to make the Kurdish-led SDF appear more representative and inclusive – was simply not a match for the superior training and arms of Syrian troops and Russian military contractors, consequently causing a massacre in which scores of Russian citizens lost their lives.

It would be pertinent to note here 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.

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.

Notwithstanding, it bears mentioning that unlike dyed-in-the-wool globalists and “liberal interventionists,” like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appears that the protectionist 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.

According to the last year’s March 31 article [1] for the New York Times by Michael Gordon, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the recently sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had stated on the record that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was the top priority of the Trump administration and the fate of Bashar al-Assad was of least concern to the new administration.

Under the previous Obama administration, the evident policy in Syria was regime change. The Trump administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective because Donald Trump regards Islamic jihadists as a much bigger threat to the security of the US.

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 Donald Trump is an assertive and powerful president.

Finally, Karen De Young and Liz Sly made another startling revelation in the last year’s March 4 article [2] 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 Islamic jihadists, and the Obama-era policy of regime change has been put on the back burner. And after the recent announcement of complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria by President Trump, it appears that we are approaching the endgame in Syria, an event as momentous as the Fall of Saigon in 1975, which will mark a stellar military victory for Vladimir Putin.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Does Washington Provide Support to Pakistani Taliban?


It has recently transpired during the trial of the widow of Orlando nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in a mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016 that his father, Seddique Mateen, was an FBI informant for eleven years.

In an email, the prosecution revealed to the defense attorney of Noor Salman, the widow of Omar Mateen, that Seddique Mateen was an FBI informant from January 2005 to June 2016 and that he had been sending money to Afghanistan and Turkey, possibly to fund violent insurrection against the government of Pakistan.

Although the allegation that Washington provides money and arms to its arch-foe in Afghanistan, the Taliban, to mount an insurrection against the government of Pakistan might sound far-fetched, we need to keep the background of the Taliban insurgency in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in mind.

In Pakistan, there are three distinct categories of militants: 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, 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.

Therefore, the allegation that Washington has provided material support to the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) as a tit-for-tat response to Pakistan’s security agencies double game of providing support to the Afghan Taliban to mount attacks against the Afghan security forces and their American backers cannot be ruled out.

Notwithstanding, 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 the metropolitan city of 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 the 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 the Swat and South Waziristan military operations in 2009 and then the ongoing North Waziristan operation which began in June 2014.

Therefore, the public opinion in Pakistan is vehemently against military operations in the Pashtun tribal areas. In fact, 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 (ANP) and the neoliberal Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were routed, because in keeping with their “liberal interventionist” ideology, they stood for military operations against Islamist Pashtun militants in tribal areas; and the people of Pashtun-majority Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province gave a sweeping mandate to the newcomer in the Pakistani political landscape: Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), because the latter promised to deal with tribal militants through negotiations and political settlements.

Although both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif had 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 Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and the Pashtun electorate gave a sweeping mandate to pro-peace political forces against the pro-war political parties.

Regarding Washington’s conflicted relationship with Islamic jihadists, it is an irrefutable fact that the United States sponsors militants but only for a limited period of time in order to achieve certain policy objectives. For instance, Washington nurtured the Afghan jihadists during the Cold War against the former Soviet Union from 1979 to 1988, but after the signing of the Geneva Accords and consequent withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the United States withdrew its support from the Afghan jihadists.

Similarly, the United States lent its support to militants during the Libyan and Syrian proxy wars, but after achieving the policy objectives of toppling the Arab nationalist Gaddafi regime in Libya and weakening the anti-Israel Syrian government, the United States relinquished its blanket support from the militants and eventually declared a war against a faction of militants battling the Syrian government, the Islamic State, when the latter transgressed its mandate in Syria and dared to occupy Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014 from where the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

The United States regional allies in the Middle East, however, are not as subtle and experienced in Machiavellian geopolitics. Under the misconception that alliances and enmities in international politics are permanent, the Middle Eastern autocrats keep on pursuing the same belligerent policy indefinitely as laid down by the hawks in Washington for a brief period of time in order to achieve certain strategic objectives.

Keeping up appearances in order to maintain the façade of justice and morality is indispensable in international politics and Washington strictly abides by this code of conduct. Its medieval client states in the Middle East, however, often keep on pursuing the same militarist and belligerent policies of nurturing militants against their regional rivals, which are untenable in the long run in a world where pacifism has generally been accepted as one of the fundamental axioms of the modern worldview.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Islamic State’s Leadership and Arms Pipeline


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.

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. Apart from Al-Baghdadi, 30 field commanders and up to 300 militants were also killed in the airstrike.

Last month, Nick Paton Walsh reported for the CNN [1], “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 [2] last month 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 last month 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 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 of 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.

Apart from training and arms that have been provided to militants in the training camps located in Turkey’s and Jordan’s border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, the only other factor which 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, it is an indisputable fact that morale and ideology play an important role in the battle, and well-informed readers must also be aware that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has directly been inspired by the puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is not sufficient to succeed in the battle.

Looking at the Islamic State’s spectacular gains in Syria and Iraq from early 2013 to August 2014, a question naturally arises that where did its recruits get all the training and state-of-the-art weapons that are imperative not only for hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding large swathes of territory?

The Syria experts of foreign policy think tanks also appeared to be quite ‘worried’ when the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014 that where did the Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy Toyota pickup trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as the ‘Technicals’ among the jihadists?

According to a revelatory December 2013 news report [3] from a newspaper affiliated with the UAE government which supports the Syrian opposition, it is clearly mentioned that along with Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades and other military gear, the Saudi regime also provided machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who had completed their training in the training camps located in the border regions of Jordan.

Once those militants crossed over to Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria from the Jordan-Syria border, then those Toyota pickup trucks could have easily traveled to the Islamic State’s former strongholds in Syria and Iraq. Furthermore, it is clearly spelled out in the report that Syrian militants got arms and training through a secret command center known as the Military Operations Center (MOC) based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan, that was staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

More recently, 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 few months. Before the story was picked up by the mainstream media, it was first published [4] 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).

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 [5] 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 Syria’s proxy war have not been documented by anybody so far.

More significantly, a Bulgarian investigative reporter, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, authored a report [6] 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 proxy 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 their regional and global patrons.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

How Syrian Conflict Sparked New Cold War?


On March 4, Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent working for the British foreign intelligence service, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench outside a shopping center in Salisbury. A week later, another Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov was found dead in his London home and police has launched a murder investigation into his death.

Skripal was recruited by the British MI6 in 1995, and before his arrest in Russia in December 2004, he was alleged to have blown the cover of scores of Russian secret agents. He was released in a spy swap deal in 2010 and was allowed to settle in Salisbury.

Theresa May’s government has concluded that Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Moscow-made, military-grade nerve agent, Novichok, and has recently expelled 23 Russian diplomats. In a tit-for-tat move, Kremlin has also expelled a similar number of British diplomats.

Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump have assured their full support to Theresa May and the relations between Kremlin and Western powers have reached their lowest ebb since the break-up of Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in December 1991.

Although Kremlin might appear as an aggressor in these instances, in order to understand the real casus belli of the new Cold War between Russia and the Western powers, we must recall another momentous event that took place in Deir al-Zor province of Syria last month.

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 scores of Russian military contractors working for the Russian private security firm, the Wagner group.

The survivors described the bombing as an absolute “massacre” and Kremlin lost more Russian citizens in one day than it had lost throughout its more than two-year-long military campaign in support of the Syrian government since September 2015.

The reason why Washington struck Russian contractors working in Syria was that the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which is mainly comprised of Kurdish YPG militias – had reportedly handed over the control of some areas east of Euphrates River to Deir al-Zor Military Council (DMC), which is the Arab-led component of SDF, and had 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 in their “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria’s northwest.

Syrian forces with the backing of Russian contractors took advantage of the opportunity and crossed the Euphrates River to capture an oil refinery located east of Euphrates River in the Kurdish-held area of Deir al-Zor.

The US Air Force responded with full force knowing well the ragtag Arab component of SDF – mainly comprised of local Arab tribesmen and mercenaries to make the Kurdish-led SDF appear more representative and inclusive – was simply not a match for the superior training and arms of Syrian troops and Russian military contractors. Consequently, causing a carnage in which scores of Russian citizens lost their lives, an incident which became a trigger for the beginning of a new Cold War as is obvious from the subsequent events.

Regarding the conflict in Syria, General Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, recently accused Russia of playing as both “arsonist and firefighter.” This projection is farthest from truth because in fact it was Washington which kindled the fires of militancy in Syria and now it appears desperate to douse those fires.

First, Washington nurtured militants against the Syrian government for the first three years of Syria’s proxy war from 2011 to 2014, and then it declared a war against one faction of the militants, the Islamic State, when the latter transgressed its mandate in Syria and dared to occupy Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014.

Since the beginning of Syria’s proxy war in August 2011 to early 2014 when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional Middle Eastern allies and the Syrian militants against the Iranian resistance axis comprising Iran, Syria and their Lebanon-based surrogate, Hezbollah. In accordance with the pact, Syrian militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Syrian government.

This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the Syrian militants against the Iranian resistance axis worked well up to August 2014, when the Obama administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against one group of militants battling the Syrian government, the Islamic State, after the latter overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq from where the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

After this reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Syrian government in September 2015, the momentum of Sunni jihadists’ expansion in Syria and Iraq stalled, and they felt that their Western patrons had committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause.

If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the spate of terror attacks in Europe during the last three years was critical: the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, the Obama administration began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014, and after a lull of almost a decade since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the first such incident of terrorism took place in Europe at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and then the Islamic State carried out the audacious November 2015 Paris attacks, the March 2016 Brussels bombings, the June 2016 truck-ramming incident in Nice, and last year, three horrific terror attacks took place in the United Kingdom within a span of less than three months, and after that the Islamic State carried out the Barcelona attack in August last year.

Fully aware of their complicity and the role of “arsonists and firefighters” they had played in Syria’s proxy war, if the Western powers can overlook the blowback of their ill-fated Syria policy in the form of spate of Islamic State-inspired atrocities in Europe during the last three years, then heavens won’t fall if they could show a similar level of understanding regarding the recent assassination attempts on the Russian exiles in the United Kingdom and avert a new Cold War with Russia.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Was Russian spy poisoned to avert Brexit?

Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia.

In July 2003, Dr. David Kelly, a British weapons inspector who disclosed to the media that Tony Blair’s government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was “sexed up,” was found dead in a public park a mile away from his home.

The inquiry into his death concluded Kelly had committed suicide by slitting his left wrist but the mystery surrounding his death has remained unresolved to date, though the obvious beneficiary of his propitious “suicide” was the British intelligence itself.

More recently, Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent working for the British foreign intelligence service, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench outside a shopping center in Salisbury on March 4. Eight days later, another Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov was found dead in his London home and the cause of his death has not been ascertained yet.

In the case of Skripal, Theresa May promptly accused Kremlin of attempted assassination. There are a couple of caveats, however. Firstly, though Skripal was a double agent working for MI6, he was released in a spy swap deal in 2010. Had he been a person of importance, Kremlin would not have released him and let him settle in the UK in the first place.

Secondly, British government has concluded that Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Moscow-made, military-grade nerve agent, novichok. A question naturally arises why would Kremlin leave a smoking gun evidence behind that would lead prosecutors straight to Moscow when their assassins could have used a gun or a knife to accomplish the task?

Leaving mainstream media’s conspiracy theories aside, these assassination attempts should be viewed in the wider backdrop of the Brexit debate. Both NATO and European Union were conceived during the Cold War to offset the influence of former Soviet Union in Europe. It is not a coincidence that the Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991 and the Maastricht Treaty that consolidated the European Community and laid the foundations of the European Union was signed in February 1992.

The basic purpose of the EU has been nothing more than to lure the formerly communist states of the Eastern and Central Europe into the folds of the Western capitalist bloc by offering incentives and inducements, particularly in the form of agreements to abolish internal border checks between the EU member states, thus allowing the free movement of labor from the impoverished Eastern Europe to the prosperous countries of the Western Europe.

Reportedly, 79,000 US troops have currently been deployed in Europe out of 275,000 total US troops stationed all over the world, including 47,000 in Germany, 15,000 in Italy and 8,000 in the UK. By comparison, the number of US troops stationed in Afghanistan is only 15,000 which is regarded as an occupied country. Thus, Europe is nothing more than a client of corporate America.

No wonder then the Western political establishments, and particularly the deep states of the US and EU, are as freaked out about the outcome of Brexit as they were during the Ukrainian Crisis in November 2013 when Viktor Yanukovych suspended the preparations for the implementation of an association agreement with the European Union and tried to take Ukraine back into the folds of the Russian sphere of influence by accepting billions of dollars of loan package offered by Vladimir Putin.

In this regard, the founding of the EU has been similar to the case of Japan and South Korea in the Far East where 45,000 and 28,500 US troops have currently been deployed, respectively. After the Second World War, when Japan was about to fall in the hands of geographically-adjacent Soviet Union, the Truman administration authorized the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to subjugate Japan and also to send a signal to the leaders of the Soviet Union, which had not developed their nuclear program at the time, to desist from encroaching upon Japan in the east and West Germany in Europe.

Then, during the Cold War, American entrepreneurs invested heavily in the economies of Japan and South Korea and made them model industrialized nations to forestall the expansion of communism in the Far East. Similarly, after the Second World War, Washington embarked on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe with an economic assistance of $13 billion, equivalent to hundreds of billions of dollars in the current dollar value. Since then, Washington has maintained its military and economic dominance over Western Europe.

There is an essential stipulation in the European Union’s charter of union, according to which the developing economies of Europe that joined the EU allowed free movement of goods (free trade) only on the reciprocal condition that the developed countries would allow free movement of labor. What’s obvious in this stipulation is the fact that the free movement of goods, services and capital only benefits the countries that have a strong manufacturing base, and the free movement of people only favors the developing economies where labor is cheap.

Now, when the international financial institutions, like the IMF and WTO, promote free trade by exhorting the developing countries all over the world to reduce tariffs and subsidies without the reciprocal free movement of labor, whose interests do such institutions try to protect? Obviously, they try to protect the interests of their biggest donors by shares, the developed economies.

Regardless, while joining the EU, Britain compromised on the rights of its working class in order to protect the interests of its bankers and industrialists, because free trade with the rest of the EU countries spurred British exports. The British working classes overwhelmingly voted in the favor of Brexit because after Britain’s entry into the EU and when the agreements on abolishing internal border checks between the EU member states became effective, the cheaper labor force from the Eastern and Central Europe flooded the markets of Western Europe, and consequently the wages of native British workers dropped and it also became difficult for them to find jobs, because foreigners were willing to do the same job for lesser pays, hence raising the level of unemployment among the British workers and consequent discontentment with the EU.

The subsequent lifting of restrictions on the Romanians and Bulgarians to work in the European Union in January 2014 further exacerbated the problem, and consequently the majority of the British electorate voted in a June 2016 referendum to opt out of the EU. The biggest incentive for the British working class to vote for Brexit is that the East European workers will have to leave Britain after its exit from the EU, and the jobs will once again become available with better wages to the native British workforce.

The developed economies of the Western Europe would never have acceded to the condition of free movement of labor that goes against their economic interests; but the political establishment of the US, which is the hub of corporate power and wields enormous influence in the Western capitalist bloc, persuaded the unwilling states of the Western Europe to yield to the condition against their national interests in order to wean away the formerly communist states of the Eastern and Central Europe from the Russian influence.

Thus, all the grandstanding and moral posturing of unity and equality aside, the hopelessly neoliberal institution, the EU, in effect, is nothing more than the civilian counterpart of the Western military alliance against the erstwhile Soviet Union, the NATO, that employs a much more subtle and insidious tactic of economic warfare to win over political allies and to isolate the adversaries that dare to sidestep from the global trade and economic policy as laid down by the Western capitalist bloc.

It would be pertinent to mention that though Theresa May’s Conservatives-led government is in favor of Brexit, the neoliberal British deep state and European establishments led by France and Germany are fiercely opposed to Britain’s exit from the EU. They could have hired any rogue agent for the attempted assassinations on the Russian exiles that draws suspicions toward Kremlin.

Since the referendum, the British deep state and European establishments have created numerous hurdles in the way of Brexit. The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon is demanding more autonomy and control over Scotland’s vast oil and gas reserves and a debate is raging on over a “soft border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which will remain in EU post-Brexit. Instead of a smooth transition to an independent state, Britain is more likely to disintegrate in its effort to leave the EU.

Finally, a New Cold War has begun. 25 out of 28 EU member states have recently signed an enhanced security cooperation agreement known as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) whose aim is to structurally integrate the armed forces of EU members. Britain along with Denmark and Malta are being left out. The main objective of the recent assassination attempts on the Russian exiles is to intimidate the Conservatives-led government that Britain will be left to fend for itself post-Brexit.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Machiavellian intrigues of Pakistan’s ‘establishment’

General Kayani and Nawaz Sharif.

In Pakistan’s context, the national security establishment originally meant civil-military bureaucracy. Though over the years, civil bureaucracy has taken a backseat and now “the establishment” is defined as military’s top brass that has dictated Pakistan’s security and defense policy since its inception.

Paradoxically, security establishments do not have ideologies, they simply have interests. For instance, the General Ayub-led administration in the sixties was regarded as a liberal establishment. Then, the General Zia-led administration during the eighties was manifestly a conservative Islamist establishment. And lastly, the General Musharraf-led administration from 1999 to 2008 was once again deemed a liberal establishment.

Similarly, the Egyptian and Turkish military establishments also have a liberal outlook but they are equally capable of forming alliances with conservatives if and when it suits their institutional interests. In fact, since military’s top brass is mostly groomed in urban milieus, therefore its high-ranking officers are more likely to have liberal temperaments.

The establishment does not judge on the basis of ideology, it simply looks for weakness. If a liberal political party is unassailable in a political system, it will join forces with conservatives; and if conservatives cannot be beaten in a system, it will form an alliance with liberals to perpetuate the stranglehold of “the deep state” on policymaking organs of state.

The biggest threat to nascent democracies all over the world does not come from external enemies but from their internal enemies, the national security establishments, because military generals always have a chauvinistic mindset and an undemocratic temperament. An additional aggravating factor that increases the likelihood of military coups in developing democracies is that they lack firm traditions of democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism which act as bars against martial laws.

For the last several years, two very similar insurgencies have simultaneously been going on in Pakistan: the Baloch insurgency in the Balochistan province and the insurgency of the Pashtun tribesmen in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering the American-occupied Afghanistan.

The Pakistani neoliberals fully sympathize with the oppressed Baloch nationalists, but when it comes to the Pashtun tribesmen, they are willing to give the security establishment a license to kill, why? It’s only 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 core neoliberal sensibilities that they 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 Pashtun tribesmen using air-force and heavy artillery.

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 the Western stooges, like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani; and in Pakistan, the Pashtun nationalist 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 has become 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: first, the Pashtun nationalists who follow Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy and have their strongholds in Charsadda and Mardan districts; second, the religiously inclined Pashtuns who vote for Islamist political parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-F in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and finally, the emerging new phenomena, the Pakistani nationalist Pashtuns, most of whom have joined Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in recent years, though some of 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 major issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has displaced millions of Pashtun tribesmen who have been rotting in refugee camps in Mardan, Peshawar and Bannu districts since the Swat and South Waziristan military operations in 2009.

The Pashtun nationalist ANP was routed because in keeping with its supposedly “liberal” 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 PTI because the latter promised to deal with tribal militants through negotiations and political settlements.

Though Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif both have failed to keep their election pledge of using peaceful means for dealing with the menace of religious extremism and militancy after they endorsed another military operation in North Waziristan in 2014, the public sentiment was, and still is, firmly against military operations in the Pashtun 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 (PPP) and the Pashtun nationalist ANP.

As I mentioned earlier that security establishment does not have an ideology, it simply has interests. If a liberal political party is unassailable in a political system, it will join forces with conservatives; and if conservatives cannot be beaten in a system, it will strike an alliance with liberals to weaken civilian political forces and maintain its grip on its traditional domain, the security and defense policy of a country.

All political parties in Pakistan at some point in time in history were groomed by the security establishment. The founder of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was groomed by General Ayub’s establishment as a counterweight to Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League during the sixties.

Nawaz Sharif was nurtured by General Zia’s administration during the eighties to offset the influence of People’s Party. And then, Imran Khan was groomed by General Musharraf’s establishment to counterbalance the ascendancy of Nawaz Sharif.

In order to obtain permission for the North Waziristan military operation in 2014, the security establishment executed its divide and rule strategy to perfection by instigating Imran Khan to stage street demonstrations and mass protests and Nawaz Sharif’s government was eventually subdued to an extent that it once again ceded Pakistan’s defense and security policy to the establishment.