[The following photo is from the last "rocket attack" into Israel from Lebanon, using "wooden rocket launchers." The "launcher" turned-out to be a single 2" x 12" board. The "rocket" found had no warhead, meaning that it could not explode by launching it. No authority has yet confirmed that rockets were fired into Israel from Lebanon, except for the lying Zionist press. This was clearly intended to open the door to Israeli aggression against Southern Lebanon, meaning that this alleged attack, if there really was an attack,was by Sunni terrorists, looking to blame Hezbollah.]
Two missiles fired from southern Lebanon exploded Sunday in northern Israel, prompting the Israeli military to hit back with three artillery shells, an army spokesman said.
“The Israeli artillery responded to rocket attacks from Lebanon against Israel that left no victims, targeting the area where these projectiles were fired from,” an army spokesman told AFP.
The Katyusha-style rockets landed in a field west of the town of Kiryat Shmona, without causing any casualties or damage, Israeli military radio reported.
The National News Agency said that the Israeli army retaliated by firing over 20 shells at the region located between Rashaya, Rashaya al-Fakhar, al-Mariyeh, Ibl al-Saqi, al-Wazzani, Kfarshouba Hills, Wata al-Khiyam, and Sarda.
Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said that the Israeli army fired over 100 shells.
The Lebanese army has been conducting a sweep of the region where the rockets were fired from towards Israel and where the Israeli shells landed, reported LBCI television.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon also contacted the Lebanese and Israeli sides, urging them to exercise restraint and to cooperate with the respective armies to determine the details of Sunday’s incident, it added.
“This is a very serious incident… and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area,” UNIFIL chief Paolo Serra said in a statement.
“UNIFIL’s first imperative is to ensure that there is no further escalation of the situation.”
Lebanese army and UNIFIL forces were carrying out patrols in the area after the exchange of fire, an AFP correspondent said.
The Army Command later announced that the army discovered four wooden rocket launchers used in the attack in the Wadi al-Khraybeh region in the Hasbaya district.
Tension has spiked on the border between the two countries since Lebanese troops gunned down an Israeli soldier driving near the frontier on December 16.
Israel’s border with Lebanon has been largely quiet since the 2006 war with Hizbullah.
The last time a soldier was killed there was in August 2010, when two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist also died.
In August, four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an explosion some 400 meters (yards) inside Lebanese territory, in a blast claimed by Hizbullah.
Last week, Hizbullah said one of its top leaders was killed near Beirut and blamed Israel for his murder — a charge denied by Israel, which warned against any retaliation.
UNIFIL troops were deployed along the border following the 34-day war in 2006 which killed some 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
RIYADH – Analysts the world over are assessing the situation in the Middle East in 2012 by listing the region’s “winners” and “losers.” Hamas won. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi won, then lost. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won. Syria lost. Iraq lost. Iran had a draw (tougher sanctions, but closer to nuclear-weapons capability), as did Saudi Arabia (growing clout, but unable to stop the killings in Syria [LYING TURKI--order your al-qaeda fighters to stop the killing, you royal asshole, everything else will fall into place] or Gaza) and Israel (avoided massive bloodshed, but became even more isolated).
All of these lists, however, are merely the pastimes of policy wonks. In the bloody, hostile miasma of the Middle East, being a “winner” in any sense of the word is fallacious. The region continues to breed only losers. The victims of the conflicts in Syria, Iran, and Palestine; the friends and families of the victims; those who hope for peace: all lost. This is a grim reminder that when it comes to killing one another, repeatedly missing opportunities for peace, and botching all efforts at progress, no one can beat the Middle East. In 2012, the region proved once again that it is truly the best at perpetrating the worst.
When will these vital, eclectic, and prosperous (or potentially prosperous) countries stop their ravenous infighting and start nurturing, protecting, and sustaining their people? While there have been many prescriptions, I will provide my own 2012 Middle East roundup, with a look toward what must happen in 2013 if we want it to bring fewer losses.
The Israeli killing machine must be stopped by a determined United States using its leverage to bring about implementation of the land-for-peace principles of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the Madrid Conference, the Oslo Agreement, and the Abdullah Peace Initiative. This is the only way out of the current unworkable predicament.
Borrowing a term from nuclear strategy, the situation between Israel and the Palestinians can be described only as “mutually assured destruction,” also known, fittingly, as MAD. It benefits no one, so why let it continue? Only the US has the ability to push the Israelis out of their MAD-ness, so I look forward to the Obama administration recognizing and acting on that moral obligation in the coming year.
The Assad killing machine must also be stopped. In this case, it is through the West agreeing with Saudi Arabia to arm the Free Syrian Army with the defensive weapons that it needs to ground Bashar al-Assad’s aircraft and immobilize his tanks and artillery. [LYING TURKI--pretending that the answer is to support the FSA, while his country's "Islamist Front" attacks the FSA in Syria, stealing their weapons, and now one of their bases. Saudi royal lies are coming back to haunt them in a blitzkrieg of outrage, whenever enough people realize that "al-Qaeda" has ALWAYS been an arm of the Saudi royal family.]
Unlike some conflicts in the region, this is a case with a clear and simple solution. Those being attacked merely need weapons to defend themselves; if they get them, the entire dynamic of the conflict will shift, in turn ending the bloodshed. [LYING TURKI--there is only ONE SOLUTION to the Syrian conflict, for foreign entities to stop all support operations. Stop arming and transporting Islamist terrorists into Syria. Stop Turkey and Jordan from allowing war materiel and fighters across their borders. Prevent covert Israeli and American supply of the Syrian foreigners. Failure to oppose the Saudi initiative will result in another Talibanized Muslim country, bought and paid for by Saudi Arabia and friends.]
By now, all of the actors in Syria are known. There are no hidden jihadis, terrorists, or gangsters. They are all well documented. So the moderates are the ones who should get the anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. Having them, their prestige among other fighters will soar, and so will support for their moderate stance. [LYING TURKI--by "moderates," the Saudi spokesperson means the least extremist of all of the extremist radicals, who fight under the "Islamist" banner. THERE ARE NO MODERATE EXTREMISTS!]
Iranian intervention in Iraq must stop. It is tearing Iraq apart and endangering the countries around it. Western and Iranian support for Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which is controlled by Iran’s Basij militia, must be withdrawn, enabling the Iraqi people to determine freely their own destiny. [TURKI YOU LYING BASTARD--Iraq has been brought to boil again by Sunni (al-Qaeda) terrorists, who are hell-bent to overthrow the Maliki democratically-elected govt. Turki is urging Obama to abandon Iraq to these Sunni terrorists and the second Iraqi civil war, which they intend to fight.]
Did the Americans defeat Saddam Hussein, and did more than 100,000 Iraqis die in the process, so that their country could become a puppet of the hostile Iranian regime? Iran’s meddling in Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, and other Gulf states must end as well. [LYING TURKI--Saudi money, tanks and planes have been used to upset the democratic process in all of the aforementioned countries, blaming popular expressions of discontent upon "Iranian spies and agents." More than anything else, the Saudis are at war with "Democracy" within all of the Middle East. The implication, hidden within the Saudi initiative, is the unspoken intention of Riyadh to use its fortune as a weapon, to conquer and to assimilate the entire region (SEE: Gulf union is inevitable: Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal). The Saudi royal family are a threat to the human race and should be stopped BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.] In addition to these major tasks, Palestine’s main political rivals, Hamas and Fatah, must reconcile and turn their united efforts toward improving the lives of the Palestinian people. Egypt must get over its post-revolutionary squabbling and reassume its leading role among the Arab states. And all Arab states must coordinate their efforts to realize common ambitions, rather than continuing to pursue only narrow national interests.
Central to all of these tasks is a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that is united into a confederation that can meet the challenges of Iran’s regional ambitions and bring major military deployments to bear on regional conflicts. [LYING TURKI--Saudis will not be satisfied until they have divided the Muslim Ummah into two warring halves in the Middle East. He should worry less about meeting "the challenges of Iran's regional ambitions" and worry instead about reforming the Middle Eastern Arab dictatorships, who have always lived fat while their people suffered.]
If anything has become clear in the last year, it is that states like Israel, Iran, and Syria will act with impunity if no one is ready, willing, and able to stand up to them. It is time for the GCC, anchored on Saudi Arabia’s power, to take up that role.
The Middle East has been losing for too long, because its national leaders have been seeking to win in their own way, for their own purposes, and at everyone’s cost but their own. Such unilateralism is impossible in today’s globalized world. We must join together, or else we will rip each other to shreds. The choice is simple: Do we want to be winners or losers?
[The CIA has helped the ISI to "disappear" one of the pesky “Adiala 11″ (SEE: The “Adiala 11″ Disappeared Were Suspects in GHQ Bombing and Musharraf Assassination Attempt). All of the suspects in the GHQ assault were members of the “Amjad Farooqi Cell," (SEE: Paramilitary Pretense, Who Controls the Predators? ), named after the top dog in Lashkar e-Jhangvi, the Punjabi root of the terrorist vine which leads back to the Army and to Special Forces commando Ilyas Kashmiri (who was allegedly killed near the site of this latest drone attack). The reported victims of CIA murders have a way of reappearing again, whenever the agency needs them in new hot spots. We have no ability to determine who dies in these drone attacks, or even if anybody dies at all. If there are no recognizable photos to document a celebrated terrorist leader's demise, then it is wise to question the validity of first press reports.
The Pak Army's publicity apparatus and "iron fist" are very effective at dominating public opinion. Wake-up, Imran Kahn! The culprits behind CIA drone deaths work from offices in Rawalpindi, as well as in Kabul. The first step towards ending drone deaths is to put an end to the official lie which denies Army complicity in drone deaths.]
Militant involved in GHQ attack injured in drone attack
PESHAWAR: Two militants, including an accused linked with attack on Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi, were also injured in the US drone attack that targeted a compound in Miranshah town of North Waziristan.According to sources, Aslam alias Yaseen is linked with attacks on General Headquarters (GHQ) and another attack on the naval base in Karachi.The sources further said that three militants were killed in the drone strike. Two militants were from Punjab.
They said that the injured militants have been taken to hospital. The militants were fighting in Afghanistan, the sources claimed.
The militants were living in the attacked compound for four months, the sources added.
[Shame on you, Gen. McRaven...all of your predecessors were smarter than that! These guys are just practicing the deadly skills that your boys taught to them, and you want us to believe that the problem is that you need to train them better?
Hell, you guys backed the head of an al-Qaeda terrorist group as Libyan military chieftain, after your men murdered the President of Libya Your Islamist proxies have murdered the entire legitimate Libyan govt. Now that their terrorism is making Africom look bad, you beg for the privilege of making them even better terrorists, only you call them "Freedom Fighters" when you try to sell them to the American people. I hope that you burn in Hell for what you guys have done to this world.
You should be congratulating your terrorist proxies for a job well done, every time that they carry-out another massacre, even if they massacre the trainers that you intend to send them.]
WHAT A WHOPPER! This guy, just like ALL U.S. officers and American politicians, lies to us so often that he must think that he has some kind of weird diplomatic immunity. After the recent public stink which was spontaneously generated around Obama's intention to enter the war against Syria, one would think that they would be reluctant to try it again, so soon. Pentagon warmongers will have to play catch-up with the politicians, who have slowly come to realize that the American people are waking-up. There will be a great electoral correction of America's course to the Nazi shoals, since most politicians don't want to be swept aside in the anticipated great house-cleaning. The American people have started sobering-up, after having drunk deeply from the poisoned chalice of the plastic patriotism that has been dispensed so freely by Bush/Cheney and the neocon traitors. More Americans are coming to understand that the Pentagon and the CIA have been taken over by a bunch of Nazis.
By all means, allow the Pentagon to complete the Nazification process among the nascent little national militaries that it is raising-up all over the Africom mischief zone. If no one besides a handful of "conspiracy theorists" opposes this rising-up of the new "Fourth Reich," an American global "Reich," then we all might as well start practicing our goose-stepping and stiff-armed salutes to our tall, thin, dark-skinned "Fuhrer."]
Simi Valley, Calif. — The U.S. military is preparing to conduct military and special operations training for Libya’s military and the training will risk including Islamist terrorists among the trainees, according to the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Adm. William McRaven said in a brief interview Saturday that the counterterrorism training operation has not begun. “We’re in the early stages,” he told the Free Beacon.
McRaven said a major gun battle erupted in Tripoli last week among opposing militias, a sign of instability in the North African country. The training is needed to stabilize Libya, an oil-rich country beset by mounting terrorism and Islamist militias.
During a panel discussion on the war on terrorism at the Reagan National Defense Forum, McRaven disclosed that the Libyan military training would include both conventional forces training and special operations training and that there will be risks.
“We are going to have to assume some risks,” McRaven said. “Right now we have the authorities to do that training, and I think as a country we have to say there is probably some risk that some of the people we will be training with do not have the most clean records, but at the end of the day it is the best solution we can find to train them to deal with their own problems.”
McRaven disclosed the plans for Libyan training when asked about problems encountered in training foreign special operations forces.
McRaven said the training would include a “very, very thorough review” of the Libyans who will take part.
Since the ouster of Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has had a weak government in a region dominated by Islamist militias ranging from al Qaeda affiliates to Islamists that do not support al Qaeda.
A weak central government has resulted in the spread of militias throughout the country. Weak border controls also have made the country a safe haven for jihadists.
Intelligence reports from earlier this year said some of the Islamists are engaged in training jihadists fighters who are then dispatched to Syria to join Islamist rebels there fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashir Assad.
The four-star admiral said the risks have been explained to senior leaders, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and the regional combatant commanders.
The U.S. covert raid to capture al Qaeda leader Anas al Libi also has led to a backlash by Islamist militias operating in Libya.
The terrorists who attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans, were linked to al Qaeda.
The group, Ansar al Sharia, continues to operate openly, despite promises by President Barack Obama to bring those who carried out the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks to justice.
Additionally, Ansar al Sharia has grown more belligerent in recent months, apparently abandoning propaganda efforts to rebrand itself as a nonviolent militia.
Libyan militias also have seized some oil production facilities and have been selling oil to fund their activities.
Recently, al Qaeda terrorists reportedly infiltrated into Libya through the poorly protected southern border, according to a U.S. official.
McRaven said the military and special forces training will be carried out through the U.S. Africa Command, the military command in charge of Africa, and that negotiations with the Libyans are still underway.
Between 5,000 and 7,000 Libyans will receive conventional military training from the United States.
“And we have a complementary effort on the special operations side to train a certain number of their forces to do counterterrorism,” McRaven said.
Special operations training for the Libyans raises the prospect that some of the most advanced military tactics and operations could be compromised to Islamists.
Both training programs are being developed with Africom and supported by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
[They used the same process in Bosnia and in Iraq. The Pak Army is very efficient. The Saudis called upon them during the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Their disciplined trainers are very efficient at transmitting that training to rebel groups.
It is laughable that the media is trying to make us believe that the Saudis would attempt to revive the trans-national network of Islamist recruitment and supply necessary for such a "shadow war," without help from both the Pentagon and the CIA. The name of the game is deniability. The CIA has been very methodical in using first Qatari, then Saudi funds to reestablish the Islamist recruitment network in Syria. First, the Qatari project brought in the most violent, radical Islamist militants....let's call them "al-Qaeda," When the uproar began over the barbarity of these thugs, then the Saudis created the Nusra nexis, to impersonate "good Islamists," even though they too have been called "al-Qaeda." The Saudis demand international support, on the grounds that failure to assist their good Islamists, would be tantamount to surrendering Syria to the "bad al-Qaeda," even though the Gulf monarchs are financing both sides. It is all a grand show for our benefit.
It is long past time that we helped Bashar al-Asad to eliminate ALL of these vermin "Islamist" scum from his country. The question then becomes, do we then clean-out the huge nest of "Islamist" vipers in Riyadh? That will all depend upon the Saudis themselves. Will they also admit the error of their ways and seek to help the international effort to repair the unimaginable desolation that they have wrought in Syria? Would such a change of heart make amends for the war crimes committed by both the US and the Saudis in creating this war?]
BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia, having largely abandoned hope that the United States will spearhead international efforts to topple the Assad regime, is embarking on a major new effort to train Syrian rebel forces. And according to three sources with knowledge of the program, Riyadh has enlisted the help of Pakistani instructors to do it.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, along with the CIA, also supported the Afghan rebels against the Soviet-backed government during the 1980s. That collaboration contains a cautionary note for the current day: The fractured Afghan rebels were unable to govern after the old regime fell, paving the way for chaos and the rise of the Taliban. Some of the insurgents, meanwhile, transformed into al Qaeda and eventually turned their weapons against their former patrons.
While the risk of blowback has been discussed in Riyadh, Saudis with knowledge of the training program describe it as an antidote to extremism, not a potential cause of it. They have described the kingdom’s effort as having two goals — toppling the Assad regime, and weakening al Qaeda-linked groups in the country. Prince Turki, the former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy to Washington, said in a recent interview that the mainstream opposition must be strengthened so that it could protect itself “these extremists who are coming from all over the place” to impose their own ideologies on Syria.
The ramped up Saudi effort has been spurred by the kingdom’s disillusionment with the United States. A Saudi insider with knowledge of the program described how Riyadh had determined to move ahead with its plans after coming to the conclusion that President Barack Obama was simply not prepared to move aggressively to oust Assad. “We didn’t know if the Americans would give [support] or not, but nothing ever came through,” the source said. “Now we know the president just didn’t want it.”
Pakistan’s role is so far relatively small, though another source with knowledge of Saudi thinking said that a plan was currently being debated to give Pakistan responsibility for training two rebel brigades, or around 5,000 to 10,000 fighters. Carnegie Middle East Center fellow Yezid Sayigh first noted the use of Pakistani instructors, writing that the Saudis were planning to build a Syrian rebel army of roughly 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers.
“The only way Assad will think about giving up power is if he’s faced with the threat of a credible, armed force,” said the Saudi insider.
A State Department official declined to comment on the Saudi training program.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to move forward with training the Syrian rebels independent of the United States is the latest sign of a split between the two longtime allies. In Syria, Saudi officials were aggrieved by Washington’s decision to cancel a strike on the Assad regime in reprisal for its chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburbs this summer. A top Saudi official told the Washington Post that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan was unaware of the cancelation of the strike. “We found about it from CNN,” he said.
As a result, Saudi Arabia has given up on hopes that the United States would spearhead efforts to topple Assad and decided to press forward with its own plans to bolster rebel forces. That effort relies on a network of Saudi allies in addition to Pakistan, such as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and France.
As Sayigh laid out in his Carnegie paper, Saudi Arabia is attempting to build “a new national army” for the rebels — a force with an “avowedly Sunni ideology” that could seize influence from mainstream Syrian opposition groups. In addition to its training program in Jordan, Saudi Arabia also helped organize the unification of roughly 50 rebel brigades into “the Army of Islam” under the leadership of Zahran Alloush, a Salafist commander whose father is a cleric based in the kingdom.
Given the increased Islamization of rebel forces on the ground, analysts say, it only makes sense that Saudi Arabia would throw its support behind Salafist groups. These militias “happen to be the most strategically powerful organizations on the ground,” said Charles Lister, an analyst with IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre. “If Saudi Arabia does indeed follow such a strategy… it could well stand to become a major power player in the conflict.”
In calling on Pakistan to assist in toppling Assad, Saudi Arabia can draw on its deep alliance with Islamabad. The two countries have long shared defense ties: Saudi Arabia has given more aid to Pakistani than to any non-Arab country, according to former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, and also allegedly helped fund Islamabad’s nuclear program. In return, Pakistan based troops in Saudi Arabia multiple times over three decades to protect the royals’ grip on power.
The current Pakistani government, in particular, is closely tied to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power in 1999 by a military coup – the Saudis allegedly brokered a deal that kept him from prison. Sharif would spend the next seven years in exile, mainly in Saudi Arabia. “For the Saudis, Sharif is a key partner in a key allied state,” said Arif Rafiq, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute.
But despite close collaboration in the past, Saudi Arabia may find its old allies chafing at the sheer scope of its ambitions in Syria. One Pakistani source with close ties to military circles confirmed that Saudi Arabia had requested assistance on Syria over the summer — but argued that Pakistani capabilities and interests were not conducive to a sweeping effort to train the rebels.
Pakistan is already grappling with its own sectarian bloodshed and must mind its relationship with Iran, while its foreign policy is focused on negotiations with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan and its longtime rivalry with India. “They have their hands full,” the source said. “And even if they want to, I don’t think they’ll be able to give much concrete help.”
Jordan is also reportedly leery about fielding a large Syrian rebel army on its soil. The ambitious Saudi plan would require a level of support from Amman “that is opposed within the security and military establishment and is unlikely to be implemented,” according to Sayigh.
As the Saudis expand their effort to topple Assad, analysts say the central challenge is not to inflict tactical losses on the Syrian army, but to organize a coherent force that can coordinate its actions across the country. In other words, if Riyadh hopes to succeed where others have failed, it needs to get the politics right — convincing the fragmented rebel groups, and their squabbling foreign patrons, to work together in pursuit of a shared goal.
It’s easier said than done. “The biggest problem facing the Saudis now is the same one facing the U.S., France, and anyone else interested in helping the rebels: the fragmentation of the rebels into groups fighting each other for local and regional dominance rather than cooperating to overthrow Assad,” said David Ottaway, a scholar at the Wilson Center who wrote a biography of Prince Bandar. “Could the Saudis force [the rebel groups] to cooperate? I have my doubts.”
It appears that the much-hyped “Great Battle of Qalamoun” will only take place in the media. While the Syrian army does not deny that it has been mobilizing troops in the vicinity of the Qalamoun district, a Qusayr-like battle is not inevitable. Instead, gradual advances are taking place to spare Qalamoun large-scale devastation.
There are daily battles in Qalamoun, the western Syrian mountain range that extends from the Dreij area in the south to Homs. The mountain range may be seen as part of the Eastern Lebanon Mountains, which link Mount Hermon in the south to the plains of Homs.
In truth, this could be a time when Damascus is most reassured to the movements on the battlefield ever since the Syrian army began its counterattack in November 2012. The plan to establish a safe zone around Damascus by securing eastern and western Ghouta is making headway, and also in Homs, where the Syrian army now controls up to 80 percent of the city, according to Syrian military sources.
In Daraa, which the army considers to be a weak link in its security plans as arms and fighters continue to flow through it to the Damascus countryside, efforts are underway to cut supply routes and secure the city. The fierce shelling sustained throughout the past week against the strongholds of al-Nusra Front and the Army of Islam there can be seen in this context. The situation in Idlib is similar to that of Daraa.
But sources say that the situation in Aleppo and its countryside is quite different from the rest of the battlefronts. Those in charge in Damascus are convinced that the battle of Aleppo cannot be settled by tanks and warplanes, but only by a political agreement, which the sources say “will come sooner or later, compelling Turkey to close the borders and isolate the militants regardless of their affiliations, before the Syrian army begins pursuing them in the vast areas of the north.”
“The Army will keep its hold on the liberated neighborhoods in [Aleppo] and access routes, and attempt to expand the safe zone as much as possible, while continuing military operations and precision targeting of militant weapons caches and command centers.”
What About Qalamoun?
Sources say that the army prioritizes its operations, especially in a vast and complex area like Qalamoun. For instance, the army proceeds to first secure the areas that “pose a threat to the army’s main weapons caches, airstrips, or bases, and also the areas that compromise strategic routes, followed by areas that constitute a direct threat to Damascus.”
No doubt, Qalamoun, and its Lebanese extensions in Ersal and the wilderness around it, has become a haven for a large number of Syrian opposition fighters from various affiliations, starting with the Army of Islam, al-Furqan Brigades, and Suqur al-Sham Brigades, and not ending with al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and other militants fleeing the battles in Ghouta. The area also poses a direct risk to the international expressway between Damascus and the governorates of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Tartous, and Latakia.
Subsequently, it is of paramount importance for the Syrian army to retake Qalamoun. But the sources explained how the methods used in the battle of Qusayr and its countryside are not appropriate in Qalamoun’s case, not only because of the different geography, but also because of current political circumstances.
The sources said: “Settling the war in Qusayr was the beginning of a political transformation and the reversal of international attitudes in favor of the regime and its allies.”
“Any battle in Qalamoun in the current political climate could damage political cards ahead of Geneva II, if it convenes, rather than being a point of strength, if settling the battle is delayed and the army is unable to achieve quick results, which is to be expected given the size of the area and its harsh topography.”
The sources added, “The military leadership and allies are convinced that things on the battlefield are going well after learning the lessons from the battles over the past two years, and exposing the tactics of the militants and those who back them.”
Carrot and Stick
A few sandbags are all that separate the towns of Qalamoun from the areas now under the Syrian army’s control. Each town has one entrance guarded by the Syrian army, which prevents wanted fugitives and militants from leaving these areas, and only civilians can enter or leave through the checkpoints. Only Deir Attiya appears confident and comfortable with its security situation, compared to its “explosive” surroundings in Qalamoun, beginning with Rankous opposite the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, all the way to Zabadani in the south, in addition to the towns located near Damascus’s northern approaches in the direction of Homs.
The Syrian army is operating on the basis that a major battle will take place here, massing troops prepared for alpine combat in more than one area, whether all the way to the Lebanese border to the west, or the south in the direction of the Barada Valley and Rankous, or the center in al-Nabak. Despite this heavy deployment, well-placed sources concerned with the battles in Qalamoun say that the army does not intend to carry out a large-scale assault on an area of this size with extensive supply lines running from places like Ersal.
The sources said, “The army has other plans, such as disjointing the area and besieging heavy militant concentrations, as well as the carrot-and-stick policy, for example.”
In a few weeks, snow will cover all mountainous roads. According to the sources, “The weather begins to intensify in late November in this high-altitude area. Snow will cut off more than 70 percent of the militants’ supply routes, mainly those extending from Ersal. In parallel, the Syrian air force, artillery emplacements, and rocket batteries will cut off the rest, placing the militants under siege from both the snow and the army.”
The Talfita Model
Those who saw the village of Talfita’s residents throwing rice at Syrian army soldiers and receiving them with songs and Syrian flags, will understand the Syrian army’s course of action. An informed Syrian military source said, “People everywhere are tired of the actions of the militants, their violations, and their infighting, especially in Qalamoun. The areas hosting the militants have started to come to their senses, asking foreign fighters to leave the villages, and urging their compatriots to turn themselves in and find a solution with the government. This is what happened in Talfita, where militants handed themselves over to the army, while foreign fighters were expelled.”
The Syrian army is thus relying on dismantling the “nurturing environments” of the militants. The source did not deny that the residents have provided intelligence to the army, “because they are sick of the militants’ occupation of their villages.”
The source then explained why the tactic of gradually snatching territory, which proved its worth in areas like Ghouta and Homs, could be the ideal solution for an area the size of Qalamoun, saying that this would reduce the army’s casualties, while sustaining pressure enables concluding local deals that prevent a lot of bloodshed and devastation.”
The latest battles unfolded in the town of Saddad before the army retook it on Monday, October 28. Sources indicated that the goal of the armed opposition in entering Saddad was to bog down the Syrian army ahead of any major battle, adding that the militants were surprised by the army’s capacity to quickly settle the confrontation. As for Maaloula, the sources said that the situation in the town is now stable and secure to a large extent.
The battle in Qalamoun will not be like the battle of Qusayr. Instead, it will be a systematic attempt to gradually seize the villages controlled by the militants, some through deals, others through force. No bell will ring to signal the start of the battle because the battle never stopped in the first place.
Hezbollah Will Not Participate
The presence of militants in Qalamoun does not only affect Syria, especially after evidence emerged that this region and its Lebanese extension in Ersal have become a staging ground for attacks in Beirut’s southern suburbs and rocket attacks in the Bekaa. Despite the media hype regarding the possibility of Hezbollah participating alongside the Syrian army in any upcoming battles along the Eastern Mountain Range, Al-Akhbar has learned that Hezbollah is not considering taking part in any military activities there, except in the event militants move on Bekaa villages, where Hezbollah is under pressure from the Syrian army’s attacks.
Al-Akhbar has also learned that the Syrian opposition in Lebanon has begun to prepare, “so that the battle in Qalamoun does not pass like the battle in Qusayr without major tension in Lebanon.” This tension would reportedly take on the form of engineered unrest in the north, the Bekaa, and the southern coastline, to distract Hezbollah and Syria’s allies. As for Tripoli, sources said that it would also be part of the unrest.
Mutasem Agha Jan, the head of Taliban Political Committee, said on Tuesday that peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban would recommence soon, signaling the first major sign of hope for a process that has been stalled since June.
With President Hamid Karzai away in London to participate in trilateral talks with Britain and Pakistan launched for the purpose of getting peace negotiations with the Taliban back on track, Agha Jan’s statement on Tuesday came as a welcomed surprise.
Many experts have grown doubtful of any reconciliation deal being struck between the militants and Kabul before the spring elections or the withdraw of foreign troops in 2014. However, Agha Jan leant credence to his claims by asserting that his authority to move the peace talks forward came on behalf of the Taliban’s supreme leader, the reclusive Mullah Omar.
The High Peace Council (HPC) was highly positive about the announcement, suggesting it was reliable signal that tangible gains in the peace process were soon to come.
“He doesn’t only speak for himself, he talks on behalf of the Taliban’s top commander Mullah Omar, and Omar is the leader of the Taliban group, so it’s really positive and we support it,” said HPC spokesman Maulavi Shahzada Shahid.
Agha Jan said the Taliban’s renewed willingness to come to the negotiating table was based on their desire to bring the country out of crisis and establish longstanding peace in Afghanistan.
“Taliban are ready for a ceasefire, we don’t support war,” he said. “All, including the Taliban, have paid a major price in the war.”
The Taliban political leader’s comments fly in the face of the fears of many Afghan and foreign officials and experts who have suggested the insurgent group is looking to derail the upcoming elections. Nevertheless, those fears are based on the observation of action, like the recent assassination of the Kunduz IEC Chief and abduction of five IEC officials in Faryab province. For now, the Taliban’s commitment to peace remains rhetorical.
That does not mean Agha Jan’s announcement on Tuesday was not a major break for the process that has been stagnant since an attempts at talks floundered in Qatar nearly five months ago. As the HPC’s remarks indicate, a statement of willingness and expectation that talks will begin soon is a major step.
Over the past months, the Afghan government has been focusing on making inroads with Pakistan in hopes of getting it to help get the peace process rolling. Those efforts have not seen much success, as Karzai’s request to have Taliban leader Mullah Baradar released from prison was agreed to by Islamabad, but then never carried through.
That issue was expected to be an item of discussion this week between Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London.
Members of the Afghan government and their unofficial delegates have reportedly been engaged in backroom communication with the Taliban in hopes of kick-starting the peace process. Whether or not that behind-the-scenes dialogue played a part in Agha Jan speaking up on Tuesday is uncertain.
One of the major reasons Karzai government officials have been so eager to make progress on the peace process, other than the fact that Karzai will not be in a position to do so after the election in April, is that the NATO combat mission ends in December of 2014. The departure of coalition troops from Afghanistan has led to a significant amount of hand-wringing about a potential security vacuum that could mean a death blow to the still fledgling Kabul regime that has been in place since 2003.
Although not likely in favor of a continued presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, Agha Jan also expressed concerns about the stability of the country in the coming years.
“We have major concerns, and history shouldn’t be repeated,” he said. “Afghanistan should not slide back into a chaotic era as we witnessed following the collapse of President Najbullah when various groups engaged in bloody wars and Afghanistan was devastated.”
Incidentally, the Taliban was the group that brought that era of “blood wars” to an end.
Agha Jan served as the Minister of Finance during the Taliban regime. He was blacklisted by the U.S. two years ago. Around that time he was injured and left Afghanistan for Turkey to seek medical treatment. He has been residing there ever since.