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American Resistance To Empire

Syrian Jets Carry Out Rare Airstrikes Against Terrorists Nested In East Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley

BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:45 A.M.) – The Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) carried out a rare series of airstrikes over the eastern countryside of Lebanon’s Beqa’a Governorate, Tuesday, targeting the positions of Al-Qaeda linked rebels in the ‘Arsal Barrens.

Beginning at dawn on Tuesday, Syrian jets were seen carrying out airstrikes over the western slopes of the Qalamoun Mountains, inflicting heavy damage on a Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham hideout near the town of ‘Arsal.

Syrian jets would continue to cross over into Lebanese airspace during the day, as their forces prepare for a massive offensive in the Qalamoun Mountains.

According to a military source in Damascus, the Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Mechanized Division and Hezbollah are amassing a large force in western Damascus to launch the third and final phase of the Qalamoun Mountains offensive, which will target the Qarah and Faleeta barrens.

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Fall of Mosul Points to Future Free-For-All in Syria Between Saudis, Israelis, Iranians and Assad

Members of the Counter Terrorism Service pose for a picture with an Iraqi flag in front of the ruins of Grand al-Nuri Mosque at the Old City in Mosul, Iraq, June 30, 2017
© REUTERS/ Alaa Al-Marjani

Fall of Mosul Points to Future Iran

Showdown with Saudis, Israelis in Syria

 

The liberation of Mosul from Daesh terror group (outlawed in Russia) opens the way to a potentially dangerous collision between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah against Saudi Arabia, Israel and their allies backed by the United States, analysts told Sputnik.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Mosul fell under control of terrorists in 2014 and was since then Daesh key stronghold in Iraq. The operation to recapture the city was launched in October 2016 by the Iraqi troops backed by the US-led international coalition.

The eastern part of the city was liberated in January, and on Sunday, the Iraqi armed forces regained control over the rest of the city.On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew to a military base near Mosul to proclaim the capture of the city. However, airstrikes, shelling and other heavy clashes continued to erupt in western Mosul on Tuesday in renewed fighting, despite Abadi’s claim of victory in Iraq’s second-largest city.

Amnesty International said the battle to liberate Mosul had already proved to be e a “civilian catastrophe” and estimated more than 5,800 noncombatants had been killed in the western part of the city. Amnesty also accused US-led coalition forces of violating international law, but the US commander of those forces rejected the charge.

CLASHES LOOM

Foreign affairs analyst and political commentator Dan Lazare told Sputnik on Tuesday that the fall of Mosul would not lead to rapid peace and stability in the region, but would open the way to a potentially very serious clash between Syria and Iran against the Saudis and their allies instead.

“The liberation of Mosul is obviously a triumph for the Abadi government. But now that the Islamic State is fading, the upshot is likely to be a stepped-up international showdown in Syria,” Lazare said.

However, the resurgence of the Syrian government and the important role played by Shia militias in Iraq in rolling back Daesh offer Iran and Syria the chance to link up on a continual secure corridor through Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon all the way to the Mediterranean, Lazare pointed out

“Iran’s goal [is] to open a supply corridor through Iraq and on to western Syria and southern Lebanon,” he said.

However, Saudi Arabia and Israel were both enemies of Syria and both countries feared such a westward extension of Iranian influence, Lazare remarked.

“The Saudis and Israelis are both opposed, one because it would strengthen the ‘Shi’ite crescent’ and the other because it would reinforce its arch-enemy Hezbollah. Both are therefore determined to stop it, which means the United States is too,” he said.

If Iran and Syria could succeed in establishing such a coherent corridor across their territories and northern Iraq over the next few months, then Saudi Arabia and Israel backed by the United States could face different possible responses, but most of them involved high risk deployments in Syria and Iraq that could rapidly lead to military clashes, Lazare warned.Lazare said the geography of the region limited the military options that the United States and its allies could pursue in Syria to try and prevent establishment of firm Syrian government control over the disputed territories, supported by Hezbollah and Iran.

“So what will they do? Try to head off a Shi’ite advance at Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria on the Euphrates? Step up bombing of Syrian government forces in Daraa province in the extreme southwest? Or channel aid to Al Qaeda-led forces in Idlib province in the north?” he suggested.

Trump has vowed to contain Tehran even while he is under intense political attack at home for his efforts to seek improved relations with Russia, Lazare acknowledged.

“It is hard to believe that Washington will do nothing as Iran extends its security umbrella all the way to the Mediterranean,” he said.

Trump’s enemies on both left and right in the United States were openly opposed to Iran and try and force him into taking military actions against it, Lazare cautioned.

“If [the US government] does nothing, the Democrats and neocons… will have a field day accusing Trump of doing Putin’s bidding while the CIA will no doubt dig up yet another email pointing to the Trump campaign’s ‘collusion’ with Russia,” he said.

However, Trump’s options to counter the growth of Iranian influence through Syria were very limited short of war, Lazare noted. He had already exercised the option of firing cruise missiles against a Syria airfield and any attack by the United States or allied aircraft against Syrian or Iranian aircraft risked provoking a full-scale war with either of those countries.

“Trump will be under intense pressure to respond. But how — by shooting down another Syrian jet or bombing another Syrian air field? World wars have started over less,” he recalled.

Lazare compared the growing tensions between the two major strategic alignments in the Middle East as comparable to the confrontations between huge international alliances that set off World War I after the assassination of the Austrian Hapsburg heir Franz-Ferdinand in 1914 in Sarajevo.”Indeed, it seems just like someone was taking a potshot at a couple of Hapsburg’s in Sarajevo,” he said.

Lazare warned that any relatively small incident or future terrorist attack or assassination could set off a far wider clash of the rival coalitions across the region.

IS REMAINS THREAT

While Shia-Sunni and pro-Iran versus pro-Saudi and Israeli tensions mounted in the Middle East, Daesh was likely to continue to pose an international terrorist threat for some time to come, Independent Institute Center for Peace and Freedom Director Ivan Eland warned.

“The taking of Mosul undermines the Islamic State’s claim to run a caliphate, but it does not end the threat. The group will go back into guerrilla/terrorist status and continue fighting,” he said.

Eland predicted Daesh would try and revert to terror attacks around the world to compensate for the loss of its heartland areas held over the past three years in Iraq and Syria.

“Continued terror attacks outside the Iraq/Syria theater including the West are likely. The threat will not be eradicated until the underlying causes are alleviated,” he advised.

Eland therefore warned that that IS would encourage further terror attacks by its supporters throughout Europe and elsewhere in the coming months.

Putin/Trump Southern Syria Deal Bars ISIS, But Protects al-Nusra As “Syrian Force”


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a Syrian man [probably al-Nusra], who was wounded in the ongoing violence in Syria as he visits a military hospital located in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Since the Syrian conflict erupted almost three years ago hundreds of Syrians have received treatment in Israeli hospitals. (AP Photo/Menahem Kahana, Pool

Secret Details of Trump-Putin Syria Cease-

fire Focus on Iranian Proxies

 

 

Secret Details of Trump-Putin Syria Cease-fire Focus on Iranian Proxies

A confidential U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement for southwestern Syria that went into effect Sunday calls for barring Iranian-backed foreign fighters from a strategic stretch of Syrian territory near the borders of Israel and Jordan, according to three diplomatic sources.

President Donald Trump hailed it as an important agreement that would serve to save lives. But few details of the accord have been made public.

U.S. Defense Department officials — who would have responsibility for monitoring the agreement — appeared to be in the dark about the pact’s fine print.

The pact is aimed at addressing demands by Israel and Jordan — the latter is a party to the agreement — that Iranian forces and their proxies, including Hezbollah, not be permitted near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which separates Syria from Israel, or along the Jordanian border.

But former U.S. diplomats and observers question whether the agreement is truly enforceable, expressing doubts that Russia could act as a reliable guarantor for a cease-fire involving the Syrian regime, Iran, and its proxies.

“The question is, ‘Who is going to enforce that?’ Is Russia going to take on the responsibility for telling Iran what to do?” said Gerald Feierstein, a veteran U.S. diplomat who retired last year, noting that a peace deal without Iranian buy-in is untenable. “Iranians are much closer to Assad’s position on the way forward in Syria than the Russians are.”

And they have far more leverage. “It’s the Iranians and their proxies who are doing a bulk of the fighting inside Syria,” he told Foreign Policy.

With Iran in the driver’s seat, seasoned U.S. diplomats expressed doubts that the Kremlin could deliver on its promises. “The key to the survival of the Assad regime is Iran, not Russia,” said Fred Hof, a former State Department special advisor for transition in Syria. “Are the Russians trying to rush this [agreement] through without a firm understanding with the regime and without clear understanding of what the ‘or else’ is?”

Since May, the Russians have failed to persuade Iranian-backed militia groups or the Syrian regime to respect a “deconfliction zone” that American commanders had declared near a U.S. outpost in southeastern Syria. Although U.S. officers informed their Russian counterparts about the zone around Tanf, Iranian-backed militias and Syrian fighter jets ignored the warning and moved toward U.S. special operations forces and their Syrian Kurdish and Arab allies. As a result, U.S. aircraft shot down a Syrian fighter jet and an Iranian-made drone and struck Iranian-backed militias in the area.

Given the track record so far, “Why should we believe that it will be different under this cease-fire?” one congressional staffer asked.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Qasemi, reacted coolly to the pact, saying it contained some “ambiguities” and that “no agreement would be successful without taking the realities on the ground into account.”

“Iran is seeking Syria’s sovereignty and security so a cease-fire cannot be limited to a certain location,” Qasemi was quoted saying by Tasnim News Agency.

Not everyone was so pessimistic. Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said southwestern Syria’s relative calm — and Washington’s continued influence among U.S.-trained opposition factions fighting President Bashar al-Assad — make it a natural proving ground for U.S. and Russian cooperation.

If successful, such cooperation could be employed in other parts of the country. “I think it’s worth a try,” Tabler said. “If we’re going to test something, this is a good place to test it.”

The pact — detailed in a Memorandum of Principle for De-escalation in Southern Syria — established a cease-fire between Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups that came into force on Sunday. It calls for transforming southern Syria below Quneitra and Suwayda into an exclusion zone for fighters of “non-Syrian origin,” including Iranian troops, their proxies, and fighters linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, which have a limited presence in the area.

“This could be designed mainly to reassure the Israelis that these elements would not be operating in proximity to the Golan Heights,” said Hof, who is now at the Atlantic Council.

The accord calls for maintaining existing governance and security arrangements in opposition-held areas in southwestern Syria, a provision aimed at dissuading Syrian government forces from retaking territory in the area. But some observers said the arrangement could also help turn a de facto partition of southern Syria into a permanent one. “This entrenches Syria’s partition further,” one diplomatic observer said.

The accord also calls for the unimpeded access for humanitarian aid workers and for the creation of conditions for the return of refugees from southwestern Syria. Jordan has received more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees since the conflict began more than six years ago.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Monday the establishment of a monitoring center in Jordan, but State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert declined to confirm any specifics. “Mr. Lavrov likes to talk a lot,” she said.

A State Department official told FP that the United States and Russia are still trying to work out the details of the pact, “including how to monitor the cease-fire, the rules that would govern the southwest de-escalation area, and the presence of monitors.”

“We are looking at various options for the monitoring arrangement in which information can be exchanged and violations resolved,” the official said.

When asked if she was optimistic about the cease-fire holding, Nauert demurred. “Perhaps optimism is too strong a word. But I think it is promising, in a certain sense, we have been able to get the cease-fire underway,” she said.

The White House did not respond to queries about the cease-fire deal.

The agreement — finalized following Trump’s recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin — calls for more coordination among the former Cold War superpowers in the fight against terrorists in Syria. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the pact may serve as a model for further cooperation in northern Syria and provides the “first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.”

It also marked a recognition by Moscow that a separate effort to negotiate a cease-fire in Astana, Kazakhstan, with Iran and Turkey was foundering. On May 4, the three powers signed an agreement to establish four so-called “de-escalation zones” throughout Syria. But they have been unable to agree on whose forces would monitor those cease-fires.

“Not necessarily a brilliant deal for the Russians,” one diplomatic source said. “I suspect that after the humiliating failure of Astana, Putin needed a ‘success’ to announce and divert attention from Astana failure.”

The cease-fire would be overseen by officials from the United States, Russia, and Jordan at a monitoring cell in Amman, Jordan. Israel is not a formal party to the pact but has been actively involved behind the scenes in the discussions leading up to the agreement.

Hof said the provision for a joint monitoring center resembles a plan put forward by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to coordinate efforts to confront extremists in northwestern Syria. “[U.S. Central Command] was very, very, very skeptical about that when it was first proposed,” Hof said. “They feared being hoodwinked by the Russians into some kind of attack on an urban area that would produce massive civilian casualties.”

In fact, it appears that the military was not consulted this time around. On Monday, BuzzFeed News reported that top Pentagon officials were not involved in the planning or briefed on their role in the arrangement.

A military officer confirmed to FP that the Pentagon and Centcom have very little information about the proposed cease-fire and said, “We’re getting to that level of understanding this week.”

American aircraft rarely operate in southwestern Syria, but “we’ll certainly respect the cease-fire,” the officer said, adding that the U.S. military hasn’t decided if it would fly combat air patrols to enforce any agreement.

The more likely situation would see a “remote” monitoring agreement, where U.S. military personnel would sit together with Russian officers at the proposed facility in Amman, the officer said, though “we have to figure out exactly what it means, and we have to figure out what the terms of reference are between the Russians and us and if the Syrians are even a party to it.”

U.S. troops won’t be working directly with Iranians or Syrians, however. “Our operating assumption is if the Iranians and Syrians will want to be informed, the Russians are going to be the intermediary on all things,” the officer said.

“The United States remains committed to defeating ISIS, helping to end the conflict in Syria, reducing suffering, and enabling people to return to their homes,” Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, said last Friday, referring to the Islamic State. “This agreement is an important step toward these common goals.”

But questions lingered about its workability.

The region is occupied by several armed opposition groups backed by the United States, Turkey, Jordan, and Persian Gulf states and also includes small pockets of forces loyal to al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The United States exercises little influence over such extremist groups, making them potential spoilers.

On July 9, Trump tweeted that the Syrian cease-fire seems to be holding. For Moscow, the pact placed Putin in the role of peacemaker, even as Russia continued to provide air support for Syrian offensive operations.

“This is a sop for Russia,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria scholar at the University of Oklahoma. “The Americans can’t police this situation.”

Photo credit: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Trump Considering Blackwater Solution For Afghanistan

Trump Aides Recruited Businessmen to

Devise Options for Afghanistan

 

 

Erik D. Prince in 2014. He was a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide. Credit Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

 

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

The highly unusual meeting dramatizes the divide between Mr. Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan, the lengths to which his aides will go to give their boss more options for dealing with it and the readiness of this White House to turn to business people for help with diplomatic and military problems.

Soliciting the views of Mr. Prince and Mr. Feinberg certainly qualifies as out-of-the-box thinking in a process dominated by military leaders in the Pentagon and the National Security Council. But it also raises a host of ethical issues, not least that both men could profit from their recommendations.

“The conflict of interest in this is transparent,” said Sean McFate, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote a book about the growth of private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “Most of these contractors are not even American, so there is also a lot of moral hazard.”

Last month, Mr. Trump gave the Pentagon authority to send more American troops to Afghanistan — a number believed to be about 4,000 — as a stopgap measure to stabilize the security situation there. But as the administration grapples with a longer-term strategy, Mr. Trump’s aides have expressed concern that he will be locked into policies that failed under the past two presidents.

Mr. Feinberg, whose name had previously been floated to conduct a review of the nation’s intelligence agencies, met with the president on Afghanistan, according to an official, while Mr. Prince briefed several White House officials, including General McMaster, said a second person.

Mr. Prince laid out his views in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May. He called on the White House to appoint a viceroy to oversee the country and to use “private military units” to fill the gaps left by departed American soldiers. While he was at Blackwater, the company became involved in one of the most notorious episodes of the Iraq war, when its employees opened fire in a Baghdad square, killing 17 civilians.

After selling his stake in Blackwater in 2010, Mr. Prince mustered an army-for-hire for the United Arab Emirates. He has cultivated close ties to the Trump administration; his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Mr. Trump’s education secretary.

If Mr. Trump opted to use more contractors and fewer troops, it could also enrich DynCorp, which has already been paid $2.5 billion by the State Department for its work in the country, mainly training the Afghan police force. Mr. Feinberg controls DynCorp through Cerberus Capital Management, a firm he co-founded in 1992.

Mr. McFate, who used to work for DynCorp in Africa, said it could train and equip the Afghan Army, a costly, sometimes dangerous mission now handled by the American military. “The appeal to that,” he said, “is you limit your boots on the ground and you limit your casualties.” Some officials noted that under the government’s conflict-of-interest rules, DynCorp would not get a master contract to run operations in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for Mr. Feinberg declined to comment for this article, and a spokesman for Mr. Prince did not respond to a request for comment.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff; and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, at a working luncheon in April. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

The proposals Mr. Prince presented, a former American official said, hew closely to the views outlined in his Journal column — in essence, that the private sector can operate “cheaper and better than the military” in Afghanistan.

Mr. Feinberg, another official said, puts more emphasis than Mr. Prince on working with Afghanistan’s central government. But his strategy would also give the C.I.A. control over operations in Afghanistan, which would be carried out by paramilitary units and hence subject to less oversight than the military, according to a person briefed on it.

The strategy has been called “the Laos option,” after America’s shadowy involvement in Laos during the war in neighboring Vietnam. C.I.A. contractors trained Laotian soldiers to fight Communist insurgents and their North Vietnamese allies until 1975, leaving the country under Communist control and with a deadly legacy of unexploded bombs. In Afghanistan until now, contractors have been used mainly for security and logistics.

Whatever the flaws in these approaches — and there are many, according to diplomats and military experts — some former officials said it made sense to open up the debate.

“The status quo is clearly not working,” said Laurel Miller, who just stepped down as the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “If the United States is going to chart a way forward towards a sustainable way of protecting our national security interests, it is important to consider a wide range of options.”

Despite Mr. Bannon’s apparent inability to persuade Mr. Mattis, Defense Department officials said they did not underestimate his influence as a link to, and an advocate for, Mr. Trump’s populist political base. Mr. Bannon has told colleagues that sending more troops to Afghanistan is a slippery slope to the nation building that Mr. Trump ran against during the campaign.

Mr. Bannon has also questioned what the United States has gotten for the $850 billion in nonmilitary spending it has poured into the country, noting that Afghanistan confounded the neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration and the progressives in the Obama administration.

Mr. Kushner has not staked out as strong a position, one official said. But he, too, is sharply critical of the Bush and Obama strategies, and has said he views his role as making sure the president has credible options. Mr. Mattis has promised to present Mr. Trump with a recommendation for a broader strategy this month.

Like General McMaster, Mr. Mattis is believed to support sending several thousand more American troops to bolster the effort to advise and assist Afghan forces as they seek to reverse gains made by the Taliban. But he has been extremely careful in his public statements not to tip his hand, and has not yet exercised his authority to deploy troops.

Aides and associates say that while Mr. Mattis believes that Mr. Prince’s concept of relying on private armies in Afghanistan goes too far, he supported using contractors for limited, specific tasks when he was the four-star commander of the Pentagon’s Central Command.

“No one should diminish the role that they play,” Mr. Mattis, then a general, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2012. “It is expensive, but there are places and times where having a contract force works well for us, as opposed to putting uniformed military to do, whether it’s a training mission or a security guard mission.”

The Pentagon has developed options to send 3,000 to 5,000 more American troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, with a consensus settling on about 4,000 additional troops. NATO countries would contribute a few thousand additional forces.

“It seems likely that the new strategy in Afghanistan will look a lot like what was proposed at the end of 2013,” said James G. Stavridis, a retired admiral who served as NATO’s top military commander.

Some critics say the increase will have little effect on the fighting on the ground. In May, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, testified that the situation in Afghanistan would probably deteriorate through 2018 despite a modest increase in American and NATO forces.

Asked in June by reporters in Brussels about that analysis, Mr. Mattis responded curtly, “They’re entitled to their assessment.”

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