Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Why is Israel desperate to escalate Syrian conflict?


After seven years of utter devastation and bloodletting, a consensus has emerged among all the belligerents of the Syrian war to de-escalate the conflict, except Israel which wants to further escalate the conflict because it has been the only beneficiary of the carnage in Syria.

Over the years, Israel has not only provided medical aid and material support to the militant groups battling the Syrian government – particularly to various factions of the Free Syria Army (FSA) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front in Daraa and Quneitra bordering the Israel-occupied Golan Heights – but Israel’s air force has virtually played the role of the air force of the Syrian jihadists and has conducted more than 100 airstrikes in Syria and Lebanon during the seven-year conflict.

Washington’s interest in the Syrian proxy war is mainly about ensuring Israel’s regional security. The United States Defense Intelligence Agency’s declassified report [1] of 2012 clearly spelled out the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in northeastern Syria (Raqqa and Deir al-Zor) in the event of an outbreak of a civil war in Syria.

Under pressure from the Zionist lobby in Washington, however, the Obama administration deliberately suppressed the report and also overlooked the view in general that a proxy war in Syria will give birth to radical Islamic jihadists.

The hawks in Washington were fully aware of the consequences of their actions in Syria, but they kept pursuing the ill-fated policy of nurturing militants in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to weaken the anti-Zionist Syrian government.

The single biggest threat to Israel’s regional security was posed by the Shi’a resistance axis, which is comprised of Iran, the Assad administration in Syria and their Lebanon-based surrogate, Hezbollah. During the course of 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel and Israel’s defense community realized for the first time the nature of threat that Hezbollah and its patrons posed to Israel’s regional security.

Those were only unguided rockets but it was a wakeup call for Israel’s military strategists that what will happen if Iran passed the guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel.

In a momentous announcement at an event in Ohio on March 29, however, 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 has recently sacked 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 infuriated the Erdogan administration to the 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.

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 [2] 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 than Barack Obama.

In order to allay the concerns of Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East, the Trump administration conducted a cruise missile strike on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate on April 6 last year after the alleged chemical weapons attack 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.

More significantly, Karen De Young and Liz Sly made another 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.”

Mindful of the Trump administration’s lack of commitment in the Syrian proxy war, Israel’s air force conducted an airstrike on Tiyas (T4) airbase in Homs on April 9 in which seven Iranian military personnel were killed. The Israeli airstrike took place after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma on April 7 in order to convince the reluctant Trump administration that it can order another strike in Syria without the fear of reprisal from Assad’s backer Russia.

Despite scant evidence as to the use of chemical weapons or the party responsible for it, Donald Trump, under pressure from Israel’s lobby in Washington, eventually ordered another cruise missiles strike in Syria on April 14 in collaboration with Theresa May’s government in the UK and Emmanuel Macron’s administration in France.

What defies explanation for the April 14 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 had already announced 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.

The fact that out of 105 total cruise missiles deployed in the April 14 strikes in Syria, 85 were launched by the US, 12 by France and 8 by the UK aircrafts shows that the strikes were once again 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.

Finally, the Trump administration will eventually realize at its own risk that placating the Zionist lobby is unlikely if not impossible because Israel has conducted another missile strike in Aleppo and Hama on Sunday (April 29) in which 26 people, including many Iranians, have been killed and 60 others wounded.

According to NBC [4], the blast at the Brigade 47 base in Hama which serves as a warehouse for surface-to-air missiles was so severe that it caused 2.6 magnitude earthquake and shockwaves were felt as far away as Lebanon and Turkey. This seems like a last-ditch attempt by Israel to further escalate the conflict and to force the Trump administration to abandon its plans of withdrawing US troops from Syria.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The spillover of Taliban-Hazara conflict in Pakistan


The Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region is essentially a political conflict between the Gulf Arab autocrats and Iran for regional dominance which is being presented to lay Muslims in the veneer of religiosity.

Saudi Arabia, which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-led Iran in the regional geopolitics, was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.

The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab world. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently when elections were held in Iraq which were swept by Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast.

Moreover, during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush Administration took advantage of the ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq and used the Kurds and Shi’as against the Sunni-led Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. And during the occupation years from 2003 to 2011, the once dominant Sunni minority was politically marginalized which further exacerbated the ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iran’s encroachment on the traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Shi’a-led Syrian government in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf states along with their regional Sunni allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian resistance axis.

Reportedly, Syria's pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as Shi’a foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even the Hazara Shi’as from as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan. And similarly, Sunni jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield for the last seven years.

A full-scale Sunni-Shi’a war has been going on in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which will obviously have its repercussions all over the Islamic world where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted in relative peace for centuries.

Notwithstanding, in order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policymakers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on their present policy, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside.

In the case of the creation of the Islamic State, for instance, the US policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated sectarian divisions and gave birth to an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against the heavy-handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-led Iraqi government.

Similarly, the war on terror era political commentators also “generously” accept the fact that the Cold War-era policy of nurturing al-Qaeda and myriads of Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.

The mainstream media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the creation of the Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the Republican Bush administration as it has been the legacy of the Democratic Obama administration that funded, armed, trained and internationally legitimized the Sunni militants against the Shi’a-led Syrian government since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and numerous other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has been the Obama administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

The border between Syria and Iraq is highly porous and poorly guarded. The Obama administration’s policy of nurturing militants against the Syrian government was bound to have its blowback in Iraq sooner or later. Therefore, as soon as the Islamic State consolidated its gains in Syria, it overran 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.

Apart from Syria and Iraq, two other flashpoints of Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region are Bahrain and Yemen. When peaceful protests broke out against the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain by the Shi’a majority population in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Saudi Arabia sent thousands of troops across the border to quell the uprising.

Similarly, when the Iran-backed Houthis, which is also an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, overran Sana’a in September 2014, Saudi Arabia and UAE mounted another ill-conceived Sunni-led offensive against the Houthi militia in Yemen in March 2015.

The nature of the conflict in Yemen is sectarian to an extent that recently the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda’s leader Qasim al-Raymi claimed that al-Qaeda has been fighting hand in hand with the Saudi-led alliance against the Iran-backed rebels for the last three years.

The revelation does not come as a surprise, however, because after all al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, al-Nusra Front, has also been fighting hand in glove with the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition against the Syrian government for the last seven years of the Syrian proxy war.

Furthermore, according to Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights, 509 Shi’a Muslims belonging to the Hazara ethnic group have been killed in Pakistan’s western city of Quetta since 2013. Although a South Punjab-based sectarian militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi frequently claims responsibility for the massacre of Hazaras in Quetta, such claims are often misleading.

The hub of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s power mostly lies in Punjab while the Balochistan province’s provincial metropolis Quetta, which is almost three-hour drive from the Af-Pak border at Chaman, is regarded as the center of Taliban’s activities.

After the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 with the help of the Northern Alliance, the top leadership of the Taliban has mostly settled in Quetta and its adjoining rural areas and Afghan refugee camps, hence it is called the Quetta Shura Taliban.

In order to understand the casus belli of the Taliban-Hazara conflict, it’s worth noting that the leadership of the Hazara ethnic group has always taken the side of the Tajik and Uzbek-led Northern Alliance against the Pashtun-led Taliban.

The Taliban has committed several massacres of the Hazara people in Afghanistan, particularly following the 1997 massacre of 3,000 Taliban prisoners by the Uzbek warlord Abdul Malik Pahlawan in Mazar-i-Sharif, thousands of Hazaras were massacred by the Taliban in the same city in August 1998 for betraying the Taliban.

The Hazara people are an ethnically Uzbek, Dari (Afghan Persian)-speaking ethnic group native to the Hazarajat region in central Afghanistan but roughly 600,000 Hazaras also live in Quetta, Pakistan. Although the conflict between the Taliban and Hazaras might appear religious and sectarian, as I have already described the real reasons of the conflict are political in nature.

Now, when the fire of inter-sectarian strife is burning on several different fronts in the Middle East and the Sunni and Shi’a communities are witnessing a merciless slaughter of their brethren in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and the Af-Pak region, then it would be unfair to look for the causes of the conflict in theology and medieval history. If the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims were so thirsty for each other’s blood since the founding of Islam, then how come they managed to survive as distinct sectarian groups for 1400 years?

Fact of the matter is that in modern times, the phenomena of Islamic radicalism, jihadism and consequent Sunni-Shi’a conflict are only as old as the Soviet-Afghan jihad during the 1980s when the Western powers with the help of their regional allies trained and armed Afghan jihadists to battle the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

More significantly, however, the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988 between the Sunni and Baathist-led Iraq and the Shi’a-led Iran after the 1979 Khomeini revolution engendered acrimony and hostility between the Sunni and Shi’a communities of the region for the first time in modern history.

And finally, the conflict has been further exacerbated in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 when the Western powers and their regional client states once again took advantage of the opportunity and nurtured militants against the Arab nationalist Gaddafi government in Libya and the Baathist-led Assad administration in Syria.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Appropriation of Pashtun Rights Movement


Historically speaking, from the massacres in Bangladesh in 1971 to the training and arming of Afghan jihadists during the Soviet-Afghan war throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and then launching ill-conceived military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas under American pressure, leading to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, the single biggest issue in Pakistan has been the interference of army in politics. Unless Pakistanis are able to establish civilian supremacy in Pakistan, it would become a rogue state which will pose a threat to regional peace and its own citizenry.

For the half of its 70-year-long history, Pakistan was directly ruled by the army, and for the remaining half, the security establishment kept dictating Pakistan’s defense and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of Ayub Khan’s first decade-long martial law from 1958 to 1969 was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971.

During General Zia’s second decade-long martial law from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan’s military trained and armed its own worst nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists. And during General Musharraf’s third martial law from 1999 to 2008, Pakistan’s security establishment made a volte-face under American pressure and declared a war against the Pashtun militants that ignited the fire of insurgency in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Although most political commentators in Pakistan nowadays hold an Islamist General Zia-ul-Haq responsible for the jihadist militancy in the tribal areas, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia. All the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination in 1988, including Generals Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

A strategic rethink in the Pakistan Army’s top-brass took place only after the 9/11 terror attack, when Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State during the Bush administration, threatened General Musharraf in so many words: “We will send you back to the Stone Age unless you stop supporting the Taliban.” Thus, deliberate promotion of Islamic radicalism and militancy in the region was not the doing of an individual general; rather, it was a well-thought-out military doctrine of a rogue institution.

The military mindset, training and institutional logic dictates a militarist and aggressive approach to foreign affairs and security-related matters. Therefore, as a matter of principle, military must be kept miles away from the top decision-making organs of the state.

The rule of law, more than anything, implies the supremacy of law: that all the institutions must work within the ambit of the constitution. The first casualty of the martial law, however, is the constitution itself, because it abrogates the supreme law of the land. All other laws derive their authority from the constitution, and when the constitution itself has been abrogated, then the only law that prevails is the law of jungle.

If the armed forces of a country are entitled to abrogate “a piece of paper” – the phrase used by General Zia to describe Pakistan’s Constitution – under the barrel of a gun, then by the same logic, thieves and robbers are also entitled to question the legitimacy of civil and criminal codes, which derive their authority from the constitution. To bring home the point with another apt analogy, consent is the only element that differentiates rape from consensual sex. Thus, ruling a country without the consent and participation of the masses is nothing short of the rape of a nation.

Notwithstanding, 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 American-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 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 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 had to live for many years in the refugee camps in Peshawar, Mardan and Bannu districts after the Swat and South Waziristan military operations in 2009 and then the North Waziristan operation in 2014.

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 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: 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 province; 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 Pakistan Muslim League.

It is worth noting 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 (ANP) was routed, because in keeping with its so-called “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 (PTI), 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 an overwhelming mandate to pro-peace political parties against the pro-war Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP).

After the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) was completely routed at the hands of Imran Khan’s PTI during the last general elections, it has come up with a new electoral gimmick in the form of Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement for the parliamentary elections slated for July. Excluding Manzoor Pashteen and some of his close associates, the rest of Pashtun Protection Movement’s leadership is comprised of ANP’s political activists.

But is it not ironic that the very same political forces that cheerled military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas, leading to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, are now championing Pashtun rights? When Pakistan’s military was indiscriminately bombing the towns and villages of Pashtun tribesmen, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) lent their unequivocal support to Pakistan’s so-called war on terror under American pressure, but now they are demanding that Pashtun tribesmen held by security agencies should be released, the area should be cleared of mines and security check posts in tribal areas should be removed in order to placate Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Pashtun majority electorate.

Finally, in Pakistan’s socio-political milieu, there are three important political forces: the dominant Islamic nationalists; the ethno-linguistic nationalists; and the neoliberal elites. The Islamic nationalists are culturally much closer to the traditional ethno-linguistic nationalists, but politically, due to frequent interruptions of democratic process and martial law administrators’ suspicion towards the centrifugal ethno-linguistic nationalists, the latter were politically marginalized.

As we know that politics is mostly about forming alliances, therefore the shrewd neoliberal elites lured the leadership of gullible ethno-linguistic nationalists and struck a political alliance with them. But this alliance is only a marriage of convenience, because culturally, both these camps don’t have anything in common with each other. The Islamic nationalists and the ethno-linguistic nationalists belong to the same social stratum and go through thick and thin together; while the comprador bourgeois are beholden to foreign powers.

Leadership is a two-way street, a judicious leader is supposed to guide the masses, but at the same time, he is also supposed to represent the interests and aspirations of the disenfranchised masses. The detached and insular leadership that lives in a fantasy world of outlandish theories and fails to understand the mindsets and inclinations of the masses tends to lose its mass appeal sooner or later.

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.