Russia is the Solution to ‘Bloody Stalemate’ That US Created in Syria

 

 Russian military aviation at Khmeimim airbase in Syria

   Having failed to resolve the devastating Syrian conflict by supporting radical armed groups intent on removing Assad, the United States should now disengage itself from the crisis and leave Russia in charge, foreign policy analyst Enea Gjoza wrote for the National Interest.

   “The choice is not a pleasant one. However, it is the outcome that best safeguards US interests within the harsh constraints of one of the world’s ugliest conflicts,” Gjoza, a fellow at Defense Priorities and Master in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, asserted.

   His logic is simple. The United States has employed a flawed strategy to resolve the crisis in Syria, a country that does not constitute one of the US’ core national interests. Instead of bringing peace to an embattled nation, Washington’s approach has been instrumental in protracting violence since it is based on an inherent flaw.

   “From the beginning, our policy in Syria has suffered from an inherent contradiction. The United States insists on Assad’s ouster as a condition of peace, but the groups that have proven most effective against his forces are hardline Islamic militias, which are themselves anti-American,” he explained.

   The United States “has ignored this fact” providing support to what policymakers in Washington refer to as “moderate” opposition in a bid to create a force capable of tackling radical groups. This strategy resulted in a major embarrassment for the Pentagon when the US Department of Defense had to admit that a $500 million program produced only “four or five” Syrian fighters ready to participate in anti-Daesh operations.

   In addition, “by continuing to arm and support the opposition, despite clear signs of the regime’s resilience, the United States ultimately helped transform the initial uprising into a bloody stalemate that destroyed the country and produced millions of refugees,” the analyst noted.

   For Gjoza, a large-scale military intervention into Syria is not an option that Washington should consider. Likewise, maintaining the existing status quo is also not a good idea since it will lock the country in an endless tug of war.

   This is why Gjoza has called on the White House to leave the resolution of the Syrian crisis to Russia.

   Moscow, he said, “has demonstrated an ironclad commitment to the survival of its client state. Instead of continuing on the current path, the United States should seize the opportunity to let Russia take up the Syrian millstone.” Russian Defense MinistryRussian Aerospace Forces aircraft leave Hmeimim airbase in Syria

   The analyst singled out three benefits of this decision for the US.

Firstly, Washington will receive an opportunity to disentangle itself from a conflict it cannot win. This could well be a smart decision considering that the US military is still active in Afghanistan and Iraq.

   “Second, it would force a major rival (Russia) to own the burden of restoring order to a ruined nation and bear the cost of failure,” he said. “Finally, the Assad government, which is hostile to Islamists and has repeatedly vowed to re-conquer the country, would have to do the fighting and dying necessary to defeat [Daesh] on the ground.”

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Washington’s Two Strategies in Syria Canceling Each Other Out

 

 US Troops Wearing YPG Kurdish Patches in Northern Syria

 

   The United States has pursued two strategies to resolve the Syrian crisis – one led by the CIA, the other devised by the Pentagon, but instead of reinforcing each other they are getting in each other’s way, with Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria serving as tangible evidence of this trend.

     Ankara launched its offensive, dubbed Operation Euphrates Shield, on August 24 to ostensibly push Daesh out of the border town of Jarablus and the surrounding areas. The Free Syrian Army backed by Turkish warplanes, tanks, artillery and special forces seized the town largely without any resistance from Daesh. The Turkish troops and the rebels then started fighting US-backed Kurdish militias in areas that have already been liberated from the terrorist group by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

   Both Turkey and the SDF, largely made up of fighters from People’s Protection Units (YPG), are key US allies in the region.

     “The origins of the conflict lie in the fact that the United States has two policies in Syria. Initially the US policy was designed to support the opposition to the Assad regime,” Jerusalem-based journalist Seth J. Frantzman wrote for the National Interest.

   As part of these efforts, the US was vetting rebel armed groups that could prop up the so-called moderate opposition. Both the CIA and the Pentagon were involved in this process.

   The Pentagon’s $500 program was meant to produce approximately 5,000 fighters. The initiative ended in a major embarrassment for the US Department of Defense (DoD) when General Lloyd Austin, commander of US Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that only “four or five” US-trained rebels were fighting against Daesh.

     According to Frantzman, the rise of Daesh prompted Washington to shift its focus from trying to depose Assad to counterterrorism.

   By late 2015, “Defense Department, CIA and State Department policies began to diverge, and the Defense Department began to see the Kurdish YPG and its effective fight against [Daesh] as the best partner for the anti-[Daesh] coalition forces,” he said.

   Turkey was not happy with this plan. As Kurdish forces moved further west and closer to the Euphrates, Ankara became increasingly insistent that the river was a red line that the Kurds were not allowed to cross. High-ranking Turkish officials have repeatedly said that if the Kurds decide to move further west, the Turkish military would launch a ground operation to stop them.

This is exactly what happened.

   On August 12, the SDF took control of Manbij, a city located west of the Euphrates, in an operation that was conducted in close cooperation with the Pentagon. Three days later the Kurdish forces said that the Daesh-held town of al-Bab, situated further to the west, was their next target, adding that the Manbij offensive would continue until the militants are pushed out of surrounding areas.

   Two weeks later Ankara sent its Armed Forces to northern Syria.

   On August 24, several hours after Operation Euphrates Shield was launched, US Vice President Joe Biden sent a strong message to the Kurds, saying that they must move back east of the Euphrates. Two days later John Kerry downplayed US support for the Kurds saying that there “has been some limited engagement with a component of Kurd fighters on a limited basis.”

     Washington’s response to Turkey’s incursion undoubtedly upset many Kurdish fighters since they, not Ankara, were instrumental in the US-led anti-Daesh efforts in northern Syria.

   “There is ample evidence that the DoD has been in competition with the CIA to find viable partners and that the DoD has been more successful in its relationship with the Kurds and SDF, who are far more effective than the plethora of Syrian rebel groups.”

   Moreover, the clashes between the Turkish military and the YPG appear to be pointing to Ankara’s true goals in this region.

   “The risk the United States faces is alienating the Kurds and seeing the SDF salient in Manbij collapse. This will set back US plans to launch a strike on Raqqa and cut off the head of the [Daesh] snake,” Frantzman observed.

‘Good Terrorist, Bad Terrorist’: Shifting Syrian Alliances Reveal US’ Hand Read

Jarablus
With Turkey’s recent unsanctioned intervention in the Syrian town of Jarablus, Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear spoke with journalists Alaa Ebrahim and Kevork Almassian, about the shifting alliances of Syria’s bloody five-year civil war.
  “This move from the Turkish part was not possible before the failed coup on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” Almassian tells Loud & Clear host Brian Becker.
     The coup attempt forced the Turkish government to reconsider its regional strategies. A new priority for the Erdogan Administration is preventing the creation of a separate state in northern Syria. But Ankara seems to still be acting at odds with the legitimate government of President Bashar al-Assad.
    “Erdogan today, by pushing his forces into Jarablus, backed by the so-called Free Syrian Army, which is also considered a terrorist organization by the Syrian government, tried to replace [Daesh] with different militants,” Almassian says.
    For Ebrahim, the retaking of Jarablus has less to do with the coup, and simply reflects plans made with the United States.
“We have to also bear in mind that the American administration blamed Turkey before, blamed Turkish President Erdogan, for failing to take action in Syria, for failing to commit to the Syrian cause…” he says.
           “The United States has always called for more regional involvement in the fight against the Syrian government and the government President Bashar al-Assad.”
     Alliances are also shifting between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces, who previously had an unspoken understanding that they shared a common enemy in Daesh. In the wake of a YPG attack on the Syrian Army, however, the government was forced to respond. “In my opinion, it was an American step to escalate the situation in the eastern part of Syria in order to reshuffle the realities on the ground there,” Almassian says. “It’s in the national security interests of the Syrians not to fight the YPG or any other groups at this moment, because the priority is ISIS, al-Nusra Front, and other terrorist organizations.”
         In the long-term, the YPG’s desire for an independent state could be a problem for the Syrian government. While Damascus and Ankara both have an interest in preventing this, Turkey’s unpredictable behavior could be a problem for Syria.
     “We have to bear in mind, the move that the Turks carried out today was not [done] in favor of the Syrian government,” Ebrahim says. “What the Turks are doing is invading Syrian territories, taking Jarablus down…
    “I don’t think the Syrian government is ecstatic to see Turkish forces inside Syrian territories, and I think the Turks will continue to support the rebels, I don’t think they will turn and change their positions. I think they’re still betting on toppling the government of Bashar al-Assad, they’re still betting on dividing Syria, they’re still betting on trying to create a situation where they can impose their control over the city of Aleppo.”
       While alliances continue to shift, one constant factor is the presence of the United States.
    “The Americans only try to focus on [Daesh] and saying that we are fighting terrorism, but on the other hand they support other groups that are also terrorist organizations, but because these people fight [Daesh] they are not terrorists,” Almassian says.
     “So it’s a ‘good terrorist, bad terrorist’ situation in Syria for the Americans.”

US, Allies Likely to See Return of Daesh Fighters Allowed to Flee Manbij

An Islamic State (IS) group flag is seen on a road in the jihadist's group bastion of Manbij, in northern Syria (File)

 

The United States and its allies in Syria are likely going to face the hundreds of Daesh fighters freed during the recapture of Manbij on a different battlefield in the future, US State Senator from Virginia and former Marine pilot Richard Black told Sputnik.

WASHINGTON , Leandra Bernstein — On Tuesday, US Defense Department spokesman Col. Chris Garver confirmed that an Daesh convoy of several hundred fighters was allowed to flee the city of Manbij after US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) recaptured the city.

The Defense Department reported that the decision to give the disarmed Daesh convoy safe passage was made by the SDF because of the large number of civilians intermixed in the convoy. The convoy was reported to be heading further west into Daesh-controlled territory.

“From a military standpoint, as someone who has dropped well over a thousand bombs myself, I would have taken it out. I would have destroyed the [Daesh] convoy and avoided having to fight them in another place at another time,” Black said in an interview on Wednesday.

Black, who earned a Purple Heart serving as a pilot in the Vietnam War, stated he was “uneasy” about “letting your enemy out the back door so they can go fight another day.”

The battle to retake Manbij, a critical Daesh transportation and smuggling hub, began three months ago. Black anticipated that in the next six months or so, the United States and its Syrian allies will refocus on another Daesh transportation hub, al-Bab, to the west of Manbij.

“So the people who escaped, we will fight once again in al-Bab,” Black said.

Manbij had served as a critical hub where the Daesh was able to smuggle fighters and supplies into its territory, and direct foreign fighters out of Syria across the nearby Turkish border.

Richard Black is the elected representative for Loudoun County, Virginia and personally met with Syrian President Bashar Assad during an April visit to the country.

War Crime? Iraqi Defense Video Shows Use of Incendiary Weapons in US-Led Fight

Alleged Use of Incendiary Weapons in Qayyarah by US-led Coalition or Iraqi Air Force

 

A disturbing new video released by the Iraqi Defense Ministry celebrating the liberation of Qayyarah by Iraqi Air Force and the US-led Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve shows the airborne drop of incendiary munitions in potential violation of international law.

Troubling video issued by the Iraqi Defense Ministry show the country’s air force dropping incendiary munitions from an airplane on the villages of South Qayyarah as part of the campaign to liberate the territory from the control of Daesh terrorists.

Initial reports from on the ground freelance reporters indicate that the munitions were dropped by either the Iraqi Air Force or by the US-led Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve planes although the former seems more likely with video footage appearing on the Iraqi Defense Ministry’s YouTube page.

The town, only 35 miles (56km) from Mosul, has long been a Daesh stronghold until recently when Iraqi forces have made major gains against the Jihadists taking back the strategic Qayyarah Air Force Base in July. Once a booming oil town, Qayyarah has become the epicenter of some of the most violent fights against the Daesh jihadists serving as a critical staging point for the offensive to retake Mosul.

Freelance combat reporters Aldin Abazović said that the incendiary munitions appear consistent with white phosphorus. The use of white phosphorus is prohibited under international law and is considered a war crime if dropped from an warplane into an inhabited area.

Protocol III of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons defines an incendiary weapon as any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target. These are distinguished from more benign weapons that have secondary incendiary properties such as tracers. The video shows the use of the alleged incendiary weapons at 1:50.

Additionally, even a village overwrought by Daesh jihadists would still be considered to fit within the protocol’s “concentration of civilians” definition which extends to any reasonable number of non-combatants including even “a group of nomads.” It has been argued by the United States under the Bush administration that these conventions lack full weight because the enemy is not fighting in accordance with international law, but scholars contest that the protections are for the civilians, not the combatants, thus defeating that argument.

Both the United States and Iraq are signatories to protocol III of the Convention Against the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons and are bound against using these weapons in the field of fight by force of treaty and by censure of the United Nations.

What Are US Strategic Bombers Doing Snooping Around Russia’s Arctic Borders?

US B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber

 

In early August, US Strategic Command confirmed that several USAF B-52 bombers had performed long-range drills over the North Pole and Alaska into the North Sea, from where they skimmed along Russia’s maritime Arctic borders. For their part, Russian military analysts have been pondering exactly what to make of the US moves.

On August 1, Stratcom announced that five US strategic bombers had recently carried out long-range exercises, several of the planes flying over Russia’s Artic borders.

According to the US military, two B-52s flew from the US mainland to the North Pole, after which they turned in the direction of the Norwegian archipelago at Svalbard, before going on to skirt along the border area of Russian Artic territories, including the Franz Josef Land archipelago, Severnaya Zemlya, the New Siberian Islands, and Wrangel Island. Commenting on the exercises, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency pointed out that the US bombers’ trajectory coincided with areas where the Russian military has been engaged in a defensive buildup recently.

Another B-52 taking part in the exercise took off from the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and flew flying to the Baltic Sea to take part in a NATO exercise simulating the interception of enemy bombers. Meanwhile, two B-2 Spirit ‘stealth’ bombers, taking off from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, flew over the Pacific Ocean, conducting simulated bombing exercises at a coastal range in Alaska before returning to their bases.RIA Novosti defense analyst Alexander Khrolenko confirmed that the bombers operating in the Arctic flew within 70-150 km of the Russian border, “that is, within the air space over the Russian economic zone in the Artic.”

At the same time, the journalist noted, “the US did not exactly advertise” their moves, “officially informing Moscow only of the flight of the B-52s from North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base to the North Pole, and then to Alaska and then back to base.” In fact, he pointed out, the bombers spent up to 20 hours in the air, refueling 26 times, using fifteen KC-135 and ten KC-10 tankers to do so.

Pondering the strategic implications of this quiet “global demonstration” of US capabilities in the Russian Arctic, Khrolenko began by making clear that the move wasn’t exactly target practice. “For its long-distance global strike, the B-52 does not need to come within 150 km of the Russian border. After all, the launch distance of the cruise missiles onboard the planes allow them to remain at least 800 km away from the Russian border.”

An airman secures an Air Launch Cruise Missile (ALCM) during a maintenance inspection aboard a B-52H Stratofortress, at RAF Fairford, UK. File photo.
© AFP 2016/ Jim HOWARD/HO
An airman secures an Air Launch Cruise Missile (ALCM) during a maintenance inspection aboard a B-52H Stratofortress, at RAF Fairford, UK. File photo.

Accordingly, the journalist suggested, “it’s likely that this was a move meant to study the capabilities of the new military bases in the Russian Arctic. However, that too was not the only reason.”

The expert recalled that during the Cold War, US military strategists had developed a plan called ‘Giant Spear’, according to which B-52 bombers were meant to fly up to Russia’s Artic borders and launch nuclear-tipped cruise-missiles at targets from Murmansk to Moscow. “In response, our General Staff proposed to place a defensive echelon of frontline fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft missile systems on Franz Josef Land.” Now, three decades later, “history is repeating itself,” but not quite in the same way.Today, Khrolenko noted, “the views of the US military leadership regarding the role of strategic bombers in modern warfare are changing. While continuing to serve as one of the main elements of US nuclear deterrence, strategists are also looking at the B-52s capabilities in conflicts of a more limited scale.”

In US planners’ minds, “the benefits of strategic aviation include high combat readiness, the ability to hit targets anywhere in the world from bases in the continental United States, a large and multivariate combat load, the possibility to correct combat missions inflight, and the ability to operate in all weather conditions.”

As for the bombers’ targets, these “include groups of enemy troops, command posts, air defense points, ammunition depots, industrial facilities, energy and transportation hubs. In addition to attacking the enemy, strategic aviation also handles the tasks of anti-electronic warfare, aerial reconnaissance and setting minefields at sea.”

At present, Khrolenko recalled, the US has a fleet of 70 B-52H Stratofortresses at its disposal, four of them engaged in testing and R&D, and 13 in storage. Switching the planes’ armament from conventional to nuclear “does not require modifications or design changes…B-52s can carry up to 20 air-launched long-distance cruise missiles, both nuclear and non-nuclear.”In the analyst’s view, in a situation where Ukrainian, German and Swedish military observers are flying over Russia in accordance with the Open Skies Treaty, “the Europeans [nonetheless] continue to prepare for war with Russia.” Against this background, Khrolenko warned, “US preparations, with the flights of their B-52s, look much more noticeable.”

In his own commentary, Zvezda contributor Viktor Sokyrko took note of the fact that Moscow, for its part, has reacted with remarkable calm to the US planes’ presence near Russia’s Arctic borders. The journalist sarcastically noted that “not only did Russia not destroy these planes – they didn’t even ‘express concern’, as Washington so fondly does whenever Russian military aircraft conduct flights outside Russian territory.”

Nevertheless, the military analyst noted, the US strategic bombers’ flight remains significant, precisely because “this is the first move of this kind by US aviation near Russia’s Arctic borders” in recent history.

“Previously, the US Air Force did not allow themselves to take such liberties. Or perhaps they simply did not see the need to do so; after all, after 1991 they did not have any specific strategic interests in the area, while the military facilities of the Soviet and then Russian army gradually withdrew from the area. Now, the situation has changed dramatically, and the [renewed] US interest is understandable.”

According to Sokyrko, it is notable that the US planes entered Russia’s exclusive economic zone, the existence of which the US has refused to recognize. “Today, Western countries also do not recognize Russia’s claim to much of the Artic shelf, and are trying to mark their presence in the region in every way possible — if only by flybys using long-range aircraft.”

Commenting on the presence of US bomber aircraft in the region last week, the Russian General Staff made it no secret that the appearance of any foreign aircraft over the skies of the Arctic, whether civilian or military, is being monitored by Russia’s air defense forces.

It goes beyond monitoring, Sokyrko noted. “In this area, we have enough forces and resources to monitor the entirety of the airspace in the region. Last year, two separate anti-aircraft missile regiments, equipped with the S-400 Triumf, were deployed in the area, headquartered at Novaya Zemlya and in the Tiksi settlement in Yatukia.”

S-400 Triumph (SA-21 Growler) air defense system setting up for launch. File photo.
© Sputnik/ Valeriy Melnikov
S-400 Triumph (SA-21 Growler) air defense system setting up for launch. File photo.

And there are other air defense systems in place, including the Pantsir-S1 combined SAM and anti-aircraft artillery system and the Bastion coastal missile system. “Missile-based coastal defenses, SAMs and rocket-artillery units and subunits are on combat duty in other Artic islands, as well as in some continental areas of the Russian Arctic,” the journalist emphasized.

Speaking to Zvezda, military aviation expert Yuri Gavrilov pointed out that “the entire coast of the Russian Arctic…from the Kola Peninsula to Anadyr, is equipped with aviation control points, radio, radar and space reconnaissance units. Artic airbases are equipped with MiG-31 fighter-interceptors, which remain the most high-speed and high-altitude capable aircraft in their class. Now, these are being replaced by the new MiG-31BM, which has no problems against US B-52 strategic bombers, and even the more modern B-2s.”

A MiG-31 from the Primorye Air Regiment lands at the Centralnaya Uglovaya airfield near Vladivostok.
© Sputnik/ Vitaliy Ankov
A MiG-31 from the Primorye Air Regiment lands at the Centralnaya Uglovaya airfield near Vladivostok.

Accordingly, with US planners well-aware of the Russian military’s ability to rebuff them in the Arctic, Sokyrko suggested that it was only logical to ask just what it was they were doing there.

Speaking to Zvezda, respected military analyst Leonid Ivashov offered a simple answer to this question. “The United States, traditionally considering virtually the entire planet to be within its zone of interest, has looked at the Artic in exactly the same way. After [the Russian military] left the area in the 1990s – abandoning airfields, navigation and radar systems, the Americans were not particularly concerned over these areas, considering that they could come in and enjoy the area’s wealth of natural resources at any moment. The US divided the Artic into zones of responsibility of its military commands, and formed the Arctic Council, which included Canada, Denmark, Norway and the UK.”

As for Russia, “they rashly dropped them from their calculations. And here it suddenly turns out that the Artic has a real owner, and one who is well-armed, and ready to defend its territory. The US can’t just send an aircraft carrier to the Barents Sea without icebreakers, which the US does not have – the carrier will just freeze into the ice. And the Navy SEALS aren’t going to have an easy time swimming there. What’s left is to somehow demonstrate themselves in the skies.”Ultimately, Sokyrko suggested, the US strategic bombers flying over the Arctic near the Russian border are something akin to “flies that, sensing something sweet, flock to the area in a swarm. And they will continue to do so so long as they do not feel the force of a flyswatter, capable of convincing them to lose their appetite and go look for their ‘food’ in more familiar surroundings.”

Boots on the Ground? US Forces Active in Libya, Fighting Near Sirte

 

United States forces are fighting on the ground in Libya, providing support for local troops battling Daesh near the city of Sirte, according to an anonymous US official. Why should US troops keep a low profile, and why does the Pentagon continue to deny their presence?

The existence of US troops fighting on Libyan ground around Sirte has been denied by the US command. Small US Special Operations groups are operating around the Libyan city of Sirte, providing intelligence information and direct support for local Libyan fighters, and coordinating US airstrikes in the region.

According to sources cited by AntiWar.com, US special ops teams are working out of a joint operations center on the city outskirts. Their role is said to currently be limited to supporting forces loyal to the country’s government.

The troops have established outposts, and built ties to various militant groups in attempts to identify potential allies, indicating that US intelligence assets, at a loss for clarity, are seeking additional information through the use of the military.

The US Special Forces are operating in a so-called low-visibility mode, to avoid being targeted as another Western intervention. Military incursions into Libya by foreign actors, notably those of the West, are highly unwelcome, both by people and the fragile government in Libya, as indicated by recent protests against French intervention in July.

Last month, French troops revealed their presence in Libya after several French soldiers were found dead near the city of Benghazi. The Libyan government demanded an official explanation from France following the incident, stating that they “completely reject this violation of Libyan soil.”

The “low visibility” mode has apparently failed Western soldiers, as some US and British forces have reportedly been spotted earlier this week in Sirte. Local armed forces officials said they identified Western military personnel carrying radios and wearing black body armor and tan uniforms. The US Department of Defense subsequently denied the involvement of US Special Forces or other military personnel in Libya.

The likelihood of a Western military presence on Libyan soil is reflected in the words of Mattia Toaldo, a Libya expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. According to Toaldo, the US mission in Sirte is “different” from the French presence in the eastern city of Benghazi, as Libya’s rival political factions are unlikely to object to attempts to defeat Daesh.

“As long as they keep this low profile… the risks both for the US and for the Libyan government are quite low,” he suggested.

Libyan militia officials believe that the arrival of Americans and British near the front line signals preparations for a significant push into Daesh territory. The official US position says that Western involvement in the fight against Daesh-affiliated Islamic State in Libya will solidify the foundation of the current UN-backed government, following a period of political instability caused by the Western invasion of Libya and the assassination of its then-leader Moammar Gaddafi, which, according to the officials, “opened the door to the expansion of the Islamic State.”