The German defence ministry is considering providing military assistance to some eastern European members of the NATO defence alliance, in order to assuage fears of further Russian aggression following their actions in Crimea, reported Der Spiegel over the weekend.
The defence ministry in Berlin could send up to six air force planes to patrol the Baltic region, the news magazine said, adding that the number of NATO aircraft could be doubled at least.
A decision will be announced during a NATO meeting in Brussels on the Ukraine crisis on Tuesday, Der Spiegel said.
Other NATO members have also begun increasing their military presence in Eastern Europe, particularly in former Soviet states.
Denmark will send six F16 fighters to the Baltic countries to help patrol their airspace, Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said on Thursday; while according to Reuters, France might send four planes to Lithuania if NATO decided to boost air defences.
Nevertheless German military missions overseas remain a sensitive topic due to their Nazi past. In response to the Der Spiegel report, a defence ministry spokeswoman told Reuters that any army mission still remained in the hands of politicians.
[A “moderate” individual, by definition, is ABSOLUTELY NOT someone who would take-up arms against their fellow countrymen, intending to kill all men, women and children who get in their way. Obama and Bush could never have started, or maintained, these wars of terror without first destroying and rearranging all known human vocabulary. By Western re-definition, “terrorists” can only exist in the camp of the opposition, “democrats” can only be applied to “our guys.”
We are the generation, sent by Destiny Itself, to destroy human civilization. Whatever rises up out of the ashes of our world war will NOT be anything that we would call “civilized.” Thank your government for the suffering that is coming to your household in the very near future.]
The United States and its allies sound like a broken record when they claim to only “support moderate rebels” in Syria. This support, however, requires finding these moderate rebels first, a difficult if not impossible mission.
Syria: If the nature of the Free Syrian Army’s name was ambiguous since its inception in 2011, it is clear today that it is nothing but a label for media consumption. In fact, it never constituted an umbrella group and it did not succeed in creating real leadership that would direct the activities of armed groups present on the ground. Hundreds of groups claimed to be part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Announcing their FSA affiliation was a mere pathway to receiving foreign support. Funders – most notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait’s Salafis – were keen on the Islamist identity of the groups receiving support without requiring them to announce it publicly.
In 2013, the picture became clearer. The Islamist discourse became public and most groups organized under the rubric of new fronts that are predominantly jihadist in nature. Groups that used to claim affiliation with the FSA united with hardline groups that never once raised the FSA flag. An example would be the Tawhid Brigade joining ranks with Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham Movement in creating the Islamic Front which became the third part in a tripartite alliance of opposition forces along with al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). If al-Nusra Front and ISIS’s extremist credentials are well-known, the Islamic Front is no less extreme, especially the Ahrar al-Sham Movement which can be described as the Syrian al-Qaeda.
The FSA’s general staff divides the Syrian battlefield into five battle fronts. The southern front in Damascus, its countryside, Daraa and Suwaida. The eastern front in Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Hasaka. The western front in Latakia and Tartous. The central front in Homs and Hama and the northern front in Aleppo and Idlib. We will now place these fronts under a more critical lens to look for the moderate groups.
The southern front
In addition to al-Nusra Front and Jaysh al-Islam, who are affiliated with the Islamic Front, the southern front of the FSA’s offensive is teaming up with small jihadist groups such as the Green Battalion which is believed to be al-Qaeda-affiliated even though it is not well-known in the media. Saudi jihadists have a very strong presence within the group. It has pledged allegiance to the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and its leaders boast that they were the first to use “immersion” operations, i.e. immersing oneself into the enemy – in Syria.
There is also the al-Baraa Brigade which claimed the kidnapping of Iranian pilgrims “because they are Shia” and the Glories of Islam Gathering which consists of five Islamist groups that allied together last October. The statement announcing their formation said that the gathering was established “for the sake of closing ranks and developing jihadist activities.” In the same month, four groups created what they called Jaysh al-Sunna wa al-Jamaa which vowed to “keep on fighting to uphold the word of God and overthrow the Iranian sponsored regime.”
All the organizations adopt the same discourse, including ones that have remained independent in the Damascus countryside such as Suquour al-Sham Battalion, Ansar al-Islam Gathering, Sham al-Rasoul Brigade and Sheikh al-Islam ibn Taymiyyah Battalion.
In 2013, the picture became clearer and their Islamist discourse became public.
In Daraa too, the Islamist groups are dominant. Such as the Muthanna bin Haritha Battalion, which defines itself as defeater of the Safavid Persians, al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar Brigade which includes foreign jihadists, the Yarmouk Band which was formed last month gathering under its Islamic banner 14 groups that pledged to “liberate Daraa from the clutches of the Alawi occupation,” under the slogan “And God is predominant over His affairs but most of the people do not know.” There are also brigades and battalions in the region that have pledged allegiance to al-Nusra Front such as al-Musayfira Martyrs’ Brigade.
In Quneitra, there is Ahfad al-Rasul (the Prophet’s Grandchildren) Brigade which is fighting under the banner of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front. The group, which the FSA’s general staff touted its moderate Islamist credentials, is the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade formed in August 2012 under the leadership of Bashar al-Zoubi upon merging seven smaller groups. In March 2013, this brigade held members of an international peacekeeping force captive as they were passing in the demilitarized zone “because they are crusaders.”
The eastern front
The most prominent groups on this front are the Islamic Front and ISIS, who exercise exclusive control over Raqqa, while al-Nusra Front challenges their control in Deir al-Zour and the oil fields and is trying to control al-Khabur Basin in Hasaka. There is also the Kurdish Islamist Front which includes a 1,000 fighters and is primarily interested in fighting “infidel” Kurdish groups.
The western front
The front with the least amount of armed groups. These groups are confined to the northern Latakia countryside and they are all jihadist groups such as al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Ansar al-Sham and Junoud al-Sham. The latter is a group whose fighters are predominantly Chechen and is not related to the organization Jund al-Sham. There is also Sham al-Islam Movement, a jihadist movement whose fighters are mostly Moroccan.
The northern front
This front, chronologically speaking, came in second in terms of the influx of immigrant jihadists and is still number one in terms of numbers. There, the opposition power is divided between ISIS, al-Nusra Front, Jaysh al-Mujahideen and the Islamic Front. The main components of the Islamic Front in this area are al-Tawhid Brigade and Ahrar al-Sham Movement. There was a recent announcement about new groups joining the Islamic Front in Aleppo such as Aasifat al-Shamal Brigade and Ahrar Surya Brigade. Both groups are accused of stealing, making the Islamic Front in that area a bizarre mix of hardliners and thieves.
Jaysh al-Mujahideen also takes the same hardline approach. It is the one that declared in communique number two that “the jihadists of al-Nusra Front are our brothers.” It also called on “the immigrants in ISIS to defect and join the ranks of their brothers, the honest mujahideen garrisoned at the Syrian border against the Alawi Assad regime.” One of this group’s most recent accomplishments is detaining Christian opposition activist Marcell Shehwaro and forcing her to sign a pledge promising to wear a veil. When it was formed, Jaysh al-Mujahideen included the biggest group in the region that hid behind a mask of secularism, namely, the Nineteenth Band in the Free Syrian Army.
In Idlib, Jaysh al-Sham al-Islami enjoys a strong presence. It was formed from the union of several groups last February and it upholds the slogan “Towards a Rashidun (righteously guided) Islamic Caliphate.”
The central front
It was one of the first areas in Syria to welcome jihadists through Lebanese territories. Al-Haq Brigade, affiliated with the Syrian Islamic Front, and al-Nusra Front are the two most prominent groups in the area. There is also Mujahideen al-Sham Brigade that is affiliated with the Islamic Front. While Jund al-Sham, which was the strongest group in al-Husn region collapsed, al-Faruq Brigades are still present. The group was initially known as al-Faruq Battalions and it achieved great fame through the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its “Saudi brothers.” Al-Faruq Brigades fought with such sectarian spirit arguing that the shedding of Alawi blood is permissible. The group is now divided into Faruq al-Shamal, Faruq al-Islami, the Independent Omar al-Faruq Brigade and Hama Faruq Battalion. None of them however have abandoned the motto of shedding Alawi blood.
A somewhat weak group in the area is the Revolution Shields which was formed in August 2012 with the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its fighters do not exceed a thousand and until recently, the Brotherhood had promoted the group as a moderate Islamist alliance, and had pinned hopes on it. But placing the Muslim Brotherhood on the Saudi terrorist list ousted the Revolution Shields from the game.
The same did not happen to the National Unity Battalions, a group that has not actually fought since its inception in August 2012 and the number of its fighters range between 1,500 and 2,000 deployed on a number of fronts within battalions that have non-Islamic names such as Yusuf al-Azmi and Abdul Rahman al-Shahbandar. The National Unity Battalions is not an effective group and it does not have strong foreign ties or a prominent face to lead it, unlike the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, which is under the leadership of Jamal Maarouf, and is expected to absorb the National Unity Battalions into its own ranks soon.
An informed Saudi source confirmed the report to Al Arabiya News.
“This is without doubt bad news for Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah, particularly that anti-Saudi media has been propagating false information for the past two months that Prince Bandar’s absence has been due to his dismissal and due to a Saudi decision to back away from its policies regarding the regional conflict,” said the source in Riyadh.
The source confirms that Prince Bandar has actually been away due to medical reasons, however, he has resumed his activities this week from the Moroccan city of Marrakesh; where he has been recovering and where he has met with former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed.
“Prince Bandar will be in Riyadh in a week’s time, as soon as his sick leave is over. He has been recovering of a delicate surgery that he underwent to treat a shoulder injury at a hospital in the United States and has been recovering in Marrakesh,” said the source adding that “He (Prince Bandar) will return to work from his office to manage all the important tasks he was assigned by Saudi King Abdullah as of July 2012.”
On top of the issues Prince Bandar spearheads is Saudi Arabia’s support of the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council in their fight against the regime massacres.
The return of the Saudi head of intelligence will certainly contradict what has been reported in the past few weeks in various media outlets, including some leading Western agencies and newspapers.
Various media reports had revealed his illness and some concluded on their own that he was dismissed from his role as head of intelligence. Some analysts mistakenly said that this was due to his opposition to regional U.S. policy and his public criticism for the current U.S. administration which has upset the White House.
KABUL (Pajhwok): International election observers are preparing to leave Kabul following a string of deadly Taliban attacks in the heart of the central capital, a source said on Sunday.
Brazen assaults on Serena Hotel, frequented by foreigners, and the Independent Election Commission headquarters have prompted international monitors to pull out of Kabul.
Coming a week ahead of the landmark presidential vote, slated for April 5, the attack on the IEC headquarters ended on Saturday evening with the killing of five assailants.
The burqa-clad assailants fired at the commission’s office from a nearby building and clashed with security personnel for hours. Two policemen were slightly injured in the gunbattle.
Earlier in the month, two major international election observation missions left Afghanistan in the wake of the March 20 attack on the luxury Hotel.
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) withdrew staff, leaving the European Union’s international monitoring mission the only major one to remain.
An NDI observer, Luis Maria Duarte, was among the nine people killed after four teenager attackers opened fire at the restaurant, where mostly foreigners were staying at the time.
One international observer, requesting not to be named, told Pajhwok Afghan News many of the missions, including the Bangkok-based Asian Foundation for Free Elections (ANFREL), had decided to leave.
“Many of them are expected to return home in the next couple of days,” he said, voicing concern at the growing insecurity.
But the EU election assessment team will stay in Afghanistan to observe the vote. “The team is here on the invitation of Afghan authorities and will carry out its work as planned,” EU chief observer Thijs Berman.
[If this was a replay of Mehran, then why no casualties, why withdraw alive? Nothing was accomplished by the alleged terrorists, so why bother? Pasni radar is the only non-Iranian radar in that area, so, if the attack actually took place, then it could only have been intended to mask something landing or taking-off from Iran. Either that, or the press coverage passing through government censors are hiding a much bigger attack.]
Another Pak news report revealed an American base going in next to Jinnah Naval Base in Ormorra (also marked). A thorough search of the Baloch coastline reveals no deepwater facilities, nor any portage of any sort between Ormorra and Gwadar, however, some creative layering by the Google specialists has resulted in several strange views, as seen here:
TEHRAN (FNA)- Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is angry at his Spy Chief Bandar Bin Sultan for his failure in controlling the situation in Syria, specially in preventing the death of the Saudi terrorists in the crisis-hit country, sources revealed on Wednesday.
“The Saudi King’s anger at Bandar increased after Interior Minister Mohammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud reported that over 3,000 Saudi nationals have been killed in the three-year-long crisis in Syria,” an informed source close to the Saudi monarch who called for anonymity for fear of his life told FNA.
“After hearing the report, the Saudi King summoned Bandar and addressed him with ferocious remarks. “I was not optimistic about your handling of the regional issues since the beginning and the death of such a high number of Saudi nationals (terrorists in Syria) is regretable,” the king told Bandar, according to the source.
Earlier reports said that Saudi Arabia has sent between 20,000 to 30,000 fighters to Syria since 2011 headed by Bandar bin Sultan.
But recently it was revealed that Bandar has gone under ‘sensitive’ medical operations and is now recovering and not able to lead the Saudi fighters in Syria directly.
Saudi sources said that Bandar’s obligatory absence from the political scene has surrendered the Syrian case to Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faissal.
In relevant remarks on Monday, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford ordered the foreign-backed opposition figures to take part in the Geneva II conference, noting that there are many changes in the Saudi policy regarding the Syrian crisis.
An official in the executive committee of the so-called ‘Syrian National Coalition’, Nidal Hamade, said that Ford had called for an urgent meeting with SNC figures in Turkey’s Istanbul, noting that the US envoy had threatened to cut funds for anyone who will not attend the meeting.
“In addition to Ford, all SNC figures opposing participation in the Geneva 2 conference were at the meeting, namely Loay Safi, Anass al-Abdeh, Haitham al-Maleh, Burhan Ghalioun, Najeeb al-Ghadban and Maher Noaimi,” Hamade said.
During the meeting, Ford told the SNC figures that Saudi prince Bandar Bin Sultan is on long vacation in the United States, “because of sickness and psychological fatigue”, Hamade added, citing a Syrian opposition official close to former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.
“We would like to inform you that there are some changes that will take place in Saudi Arabia next March,” Ford said, noting that these changes will reach Bandar Bin Sultan and Saud al-Faissal.
The US ambassador added that the Saudi committee for Lebanon and Syria (which compromises Abdulaziz Khoja, Abdulaziz Bin Abdullah Al Saud and Muqren Bin Abdullah Al Saud) is to be activated and will take over the Lebanese and Syrian file from Bandar.
Ford told the Syrian opposition figures that “Bandar’s plan for the Syrian conflict, put in 2012, had catastrophic repercussions on Syria and the region. It had made of Syria a powerful hub for al-Qaeda that the US cannot confront. For that, you have to stop objecting and to go to Geneva 2, this is the US’ interest.”
The Obama administration is considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to Syrian rebels, a U.S. official said Friday.
President Barack Obama’s possible shift would likely be welcomed by Saudi Arabia, which has been pressing the White House to allow the man-portable air-defense systems, known as “manpads,” into Syria. Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday evening for meetings with King Abdullah.
Allowing manpads to be delivered to Syrian rebels would mark a shift in strategy for the U.S., which until this point has limited its lethal assistance to small weapons and ammunition, as well as humanitarian aid. The U.S. has been grappling for ways to boost the rebels, who have lost ground in recent months, allowing Syrian President Bashar Assad to regain a tighter grip on the war-torn nation.
The actual manpad shipments could come from the Saudis, who have so far held off sending in the equipment because of U.S. opposition.
The president is not expected to announce a final decision on the matter during his overnight trip to the Gulf kingdom. U.S. and Saudi intelligence officials have been discussing the possibility of injecting manpads into the crisis for some time, including during a meeting in Washington earlier this year.
As recently as February, the administration had said Obama remained opposed to any shipments of manpads to the Syrian opposition. The U.S. has been concerned that the weaponry could fall into the wrong hands and possibly be used to shoot down a commercial airliner.
Among the reasons for Obama’s shift in thinking is the greater understanding the U.S. now has about the composition of the Syrian rebels, the official said. However, the official added, the president continues to have concerns about escalating the fire power on the ground in Syria, which has been torn apart by more than three years of civil war.
The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the internal deliberations by name and insisted on anonymity.