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American Resistance To Empire

Trump freezing Syria funds, Claiming Pullout Imminent

Trump freezing Syria funds in signal of US pullback, report says

President Donald Trump is freezing more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in war-torn Syria amid a reassessment of the role the U.S. should play in the drawn-out conflict there, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The White House ordered the State Department to put the funds on hold, the report said. According to The Journal, Trump did so after reading a news report saying that the U.S. had recently committed an additional $200 million to early recovery efforts.

Exiting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged the money in February in Kuwait at a meeting of the coalition trying to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS).

The apparent shift comes as the fight against ISIS has reached an impasse, with the insurgent group controlling just 5 percent of the battered nation but holding fast to it and losing little ground in recent months.

The Journal said that a sped-up pullback of America from Syria could kick up concerns about yielding control of the combat-scarred country to Iran and Russia.

In the past month, U.S.-led airstrikes supporting local forces on the ground have diminished.  In January, Tillerson laid out a strategy in which the U.S. would remain in Syria for the foreseeable future to prevent an ISIS resurgence and keep Iran’s influence in check.

Now, The Journal said, Trump looks to be questioning that tack. He has said he would like to see regional allies like Saudi Arabia take on more of the burden, and the White House has asked Gulf Arab states to come up with billions of dollars for Syria’s recovery.

The State Department last year spent $200 million on stabilization work in Syria, including removing unexploded weapons and restoring water, power and electricity, and an additional $225 million in funds was designated this year. The freezing of some or all of those funds, plus the additional spending promised last month, could cause existing programs to halt, U.S. officials told The Journal.

Only two months ago, Trump’s aides thought they’d persuaded him that the U.S. needed to keep its presence in Syria open-ended — not only because the Islamic State group has yet to be entirely defeated, but also because the resulting power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump signed off on major speech in January in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the new strategy and declared “it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.”

But by mid-February, Trump was telling his top aides in meetings that as soon as victory can be declared against ISIS, he wanted American troops out of Syria, said the officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Trump’s first public suggestion he was itching to pull out came in a news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull on Feb. 23, when Trump said the U.S. was in Syria to “get rid of ISIS and go home.” On Thursday, in a domestic policy speech in Ohio, Trump went further, The AP reported.

“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon — very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said.

The public declaration caught U.S. national security agencies off-guard and unsure whether Trump was formally announcing a new, unexpected change in policy. The Pentagon and State Department reached out to the White House’s National Security Council for clarification.

The White House’s ambiguous response: Trump’s words speak for themselves.

“The mission of the Department of Defense to defeat ISIS has not changed,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, according to The AP.

Still, without a clear directive from the president, planning has not started for a withdrawal from Syria, officials said, and Trump has not advocated a specific timetable.

For Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” mantra, Syria is just the latest foreign arena where his impulse has been to limit the U.S. role. Like with NATO and the United Nations, Trump has called for other governments to step up and share more of the burden so that Washington doesn’t foot the bill. His administration has been crisscrossing the globe seeking financial commitments from other countries to fund reconstruction in both Syria and Iraq, but with only limited success, The AP said.

Russian Press Reports Kremlin Surrender of Syrian Sovereignty Over Deir ez-Zor To Pentagon’s Proxy Terrorists

“The potential for a clash there [in Syria] has, thanks to the Russian direction… been reduced,” Mattis said on Tuesday.

Mattis said that Russian mercenary elements last week moved into more advanced positions near Deir ez-Zor across the deconfliction line and came “too close” to coalition and partner forces.

However, Mattis added, both sides drew back after deconfliction discussions between US officials and their Russian counterparts.

“It was resolved through the deconfliction communication line,” he added. “It did not, you know, go… into harm’s way, as it did there a month ago.”

On March 23, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told Sputnik that US forces contacted their Russian counterparts to discuss a buildup of pro-Syrian government forces near a coalition base in eastern Syria. The pro-Syrian government troops had amassed near Deir ez-Zor in the same area where pro-government forces attempted to attack the US-led coalition in February.

 

On February 7, the US-led coalition said it had carried out defensive airstrikes against pro-government forces in Syria that had attacked the headquarters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) east of the Euphrates River.

US officials later said that at least 100 Syrian pro-government troops were killed in the confrontation, while no coalition troops were killed or wounded.

The US-led coalition of more than 70 members is conducting military operations against the Islamic State (banned in Russia) terror group in Syria and Iraq. The coalition’s strikes in Iraq are conducted in cooperation with Iraqi officials, but those in Syria are not authorized by the government of President Bashar Assad or the UN Security Council.

68 dead as Venezuela jail break attempt sparks blaze

[SEE: Amnesty International Winks at Trump’s Economic Attack on Venezuelans ]

68 dead as Venezuela jail break attempt sparks blaze

Distressed relatives of detainees gathered outside the jail
Distressed relatives of detainees gathered outside the jail
Rioting and a fire in the cells of a Venezuelan police station in the central city of Valencia killed 68 people yesterday, according to the government and witnesses.Families hoping for news outside the police station were dispersed with tear gas and authorities did not give information until late into the evening.

“The State Prosecutor’s Office guarantees to deepen investigations to immediately clarify what happened in these painful events that have left dozens of Venezuelan families in mourning,” said Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab on Twitter.

Venezuelan prisons are notoriously overcrowded and filled with weapons and drugs. Riots leaving dozens dead are not uncommon.

State official Jesus Santander said the state of Carabobo was in mourning after the incident in Valencia.

“Forensic doctors are determining the number of fatalities,” Mr Santander said.

A policeman was shot in the leg and was in a stable condition and firefighters had extinguished the flames, he said.

Many Venezuelan prisons are lawless and have been for decades. Prisoners often openly wield machine guns and grenades, use drugs and leave guards powerless.

“There are people who are inside those dungeons (…) and the authorities do not know they exist because they do not dare to enter,” said Humberto Prado, a local prisons rights activist.

A video posted on Twitter showed dozens of people demanding information in front of police guarding the site.

“I am a desperate mother. My son has been here a week. They have not given any information,” a woman told local media.

Venezuela’s prisons suffer from dire overcrowding and a shortage of basic supplies, struggling under the deepening economic crisis that is gripping the once wealthy oil-producing country.

Because of the lack of space in prisons, convicts are often sent to police holding cells like the ones in Carabobo, meant to be used as temporary pens for suspects facing charges or court hearings, where detainees are supposed to spend a maximum of 48 hours.

Rights’ groups estimate that the temporary detention centres have been overfilled by five times their capacity.

Two weeks ago, 58 detainees escaped holding cells on Margarita Island, a favoured tourist spot, when a hole opened up in their facility’s wall. They were all soon recaptured.

In August 2017, a riot left 37 dead and 14 wounded in police cells in the southern state of Amazonas, while an April 2017 clash between rival gangs left 12 dead and 11 injured in the Puente Ayala prison in the eastern city of Barcelona.

A month before that, the remains of 14 people were found in a mass grave in the General Penitentiary of Venezuela, in San Juan de Los Morros in the country’s mid-region.

US Judge Today Rejects Saudi Arabia’s Motion To Dismiss 9/11 Complicity

3-28-18-Opinion-911-MDL-Saudi-Arabia

Sep 11, 2001

US judge tosses Saudi Arabia’s motion to dismiss 9/11 complicity lawsuit

US judge tosses Saudi Arabia’s motion to dismiss 9/11 complicity lawsuit
US District Judge George B. Daniels in Manhattan has dismissed the motion filed by Saudi Arabia to end a long-running litigation over what those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks claim is Riyadh’s complicity in the tragedy.

The allegations put forward by the victims’ relatives and those who were injured in the attack “narrowly articulate a reasonable basis for this Court to assume jurisdiction under JASTA (The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act ) over Plaintiffs’ claims against Saudi Arabia,” Daniels stated in the court opinion. Taking this into account, “this Court will exercise its discretion to allow Plaintiffs limited jurisdictional discovery,” it added before announcing the Saudi Arabian motion dismissed.

JASTA, passed by Congress in 2016, overriding a then-US President Barack Obama’ veto, paved the way for legal proceedings against foreign states and their officials suspected of supporting terrorism to continue even if they were previously rejected in a court.

Daniels rejected the lawsuit against Saudi Arabia back in 2015, arguing that the allegations brought by nearly 3,000 people, who accused the kingdom of providing material support for the terrorists, were “entirely conclusory” and gave no grounds for the court to assume jurisdiction over the high-profile case.

JASTA made a new filing possible, as previous US administrations hobbled the attempts to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the attacks perpetrated by 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens. The legislation creates an exception to the 1976 sovereign immunity law, allowing US citizens to sue foreign governments in US federal courts and demand compensation for the acts that kill Americans on the US soil.

The newest lawsuit alleged that the Saudi government should bear responsibility for the attacks, claiming that its agents and officials “directly and knowingly assisted the hijackers” that carried out the attacks 17 years ago. It also claims that charities controlled by the Saudi authorities enabled Al-Qaeda to perpetrate the attacks “through financial and operational support.”

The 2002 report, issued as a result of a 9/11 congressional inquiry, “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.” However, it did not rule out that “charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to Al-Qaeda.”

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, James Kreindler, welcomed the ruling, saying that they are “delighted” that the judge dismissed Saudi Arabia’s objections in the case.

“We have been pressing to proceed with the case and conduct discovery from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so that the full story can come to light, and expose the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks,” Kreindler said, as cited by Reuters.

Daniels, who has repeatedly voiced skepticism about Saudi Arabia’s culpability, citing the lack of direct evidence, dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims against two Saudi banks, the National Commercial Bank and Al Rajhi Bank, as well as a construction company with ties to Osama bin Laden. Daniels said the case did not fall under his jurisdiction.

Daniels said back in January that Saudi Arabia did not know that the money it funneled through government-sponsored charities would end up with Al-Qaeda.

“If I gave you $10 and you went and bought $5 of ice cream, why is it that I gave you $5 to buy ice cream?” he said, arguing that the country should not be held accountable for “every terrorist act Al-Qaeda commits.”

The law, which has cleared the way for the victims of the disastrous attacks to seek damages from the Gulf Kingdom, has drawn ire from Riyadh, which argued that it erodes the principle of national sovereignty and even threatened to pull money out of the US economy after the bill was overwhelmingly passed by Congress in September 2016.

Riyadh also pushed for the US to amend the legislation, which it called a “grave danger to the international system,” albeit, to no effect.

Israel Didn’t Do 9-11, The Plan Was Key To CIA Plot To Hand Mideast To Saudis

[SEE:  Saudi Conniving To Create Wahabbi Super-Caliphate To Rule Over Entire Middle East ; USA, CIA Created Sunni Islamic TerrorismSaudi Arabia, silently waging war on the world ; The Elite, the ‘Great Game’ and World War III]

9/11: Israel Didn’t Do It- The Plan Was Co-Led by U.S. & Saud Governments

To judge by articles and reader-comments about 9/11, many Americans who think that the 9/11 attacks weren’t done by the Sauds working in conjunction with the U.S. Government, think that those attacks were done by Israel’s Government working in conjunction with America’s Government. I wrote the only critical analysis of the main ‘evidence’ that is cited for the Israel-did-it argument, and found the argument to be based on false timelines and misrepresentations of what was in the FBI files.

The U.S. Government blames Iran for 9/11. But that hypothesis is even more ridiculous than is the Israel-did-it hypothesis. Clearly, the Saud family (otherwise known as the Saudi Government) were the the U.S. Government’s partners in this operation. (However, on the day before President-Elect Donald Trump nominated Congressman Mike Pompeo to be the new CIA Director, Pompeo tweeted — 17 November 2016 — “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” The U.S. regime don’t call the Sauds that, but they are, and the only terrorism that Iran has been associated with at all, has been some of the terrorism against Israel.)

The Wikipedia article, “Responsibility for the September 11 attacks”, mentions only “Saudi Arabia” in its section “Financing the attacks.” None of the proponents of the Israel-did-it hypothesis includes any coherent documented evidence that Israel financed the operation. And even the U.S. court that (based upon pressures from Israel and from the Sauds) ruled Iran to have caused 9/11, offered no evidence, that Iran, instead of Iran’s enemy the Saud family, was the main funder of the 9/11 attacks. None of the 19 alleged 9/11 terrorists was Iranian; none was even a Shiite, at all; 15 of them were Saudis, and all 19 were fundamentalist Sunnis; Al Qaeda is (so far as is known) a 100% fundamentalist-Sunni organization. (Furthermore, a google-search for “shiite member of al qaeda” produces: “No results found for ‘shiite member of al qaeda’.” Not even one such person has been publicly cited.) No real evidence exists that any of the money for the 9/11 attacks came either from Shias, or from Jews (nor from Israel’s Government).

9/11 was a well-planned operation, whatever it was. Substantial money paid for it, but little if any of that came from either Iran or Israel. It all came from fundamentalist-Sunnis.

And, if all of the money was fundamentalist-Sunni, then the only non-Sunni people who could have been involved in planning the operation would have been George W. Bush and his friends. One of his close friends happens to have been “Bandar Bush” — Saudi Prince Bandar, who was the Saud family’s chief geostrategist, and a longtime buddy of Bush’s, and whom the FBI found to have been personally funding at least two of the 19 hijackers, right up to 9/11.

Even Hillary Clinton, though supported by the Sauds, privately acknowledged that, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Al Qaeda is of Saudi origin, and it was the largest Sunni terrorist group worldwide. Osama bin Laden’s bag-man who personally picked up the suitcases full of cash from the biggest donors, said that “without the money of the — of the Saudi, you will have nothing”, and he named there most of the Saud princes (including Bandar) as having been people he had personally picked it up from. He said nothing whatsoever about Israel (nor about Iran).

And, then, there are the hypotheses that the U.S. Government wasn’t complicit in allowing the attacks to occur. 9/11 was just ‘failures by CIA, FBI, etc.’ That Wikipedia article ignores all evidence indicating complicity by the White House, but some of this evidence will be cited and linked-to here: “Politico Reports Bush Knew 2001 Terror-Attack Was Imminent and Wanted It, I headlined on 17 November 2015, about this article in Politico, which had provided the evidence, but without analysis of it (and especially with nothing at all to the effect that Bush wanted serious terrorism in the United States by Al Qaeda to happen — just the evidence that he did).

When the 9/11 attacks happened, Americans didn’t conclude that George W. Bush was either incompetent or else evil (or some combination of both). This country was now the opposite of Harry S. Truman’s famous dictum about the Commander-in-Chief and President: “The buck stops here.” To the exact contrary: Gallup’s 7-10 September 2001 job-approval rating for Bush by Americans immediately before the attacks was 51% approval and 39% disapproval; and the very next survey, 14-15 September 2001, showed 86% approval and 10% disapproval. The number of Americans who disapproved of him declined around 75%, and the number of Americans who approved of him increased around 70%, as a result of 9/11. So, instead of causing his approval to decline around 75% to 13%, and his disapproval to increase around 75% to 70% — which would have made sense, under the circumstances — what happened was exactly the opposite. Democracy cannot function that way (and it doesn’t).

This shows, as clearly as can be, that extremely few Americans had basic intelligence — a basic ability to reason logically from the best existing evidence regarding a given matter. The best existing evidence made unequivocally clear that Bush was either catastrophically stupid or else catastrophically evil (or both), but his job-approval numbers just soared, instead of shrank. This was an enormous failure of our schools to teach basic critical-thinking skills, and also a failure by America’s press to control in the right way the public discussion about what had happened, a failure by its editors and producers, their failure to demand a focus on the key question: Which of the two possibilities — fool, or fiend — is the U.S. President and Commander-in-Chief? After a catastrophe like this, there needs to be accountability; but, instead, Bush’s job-approval soared. Nobody was asking: What type of catastrophic leader is this? Not the media; no one. All U.S. institutions of supposed authority failed.

Accountability was thrown out the window immediately. That question wasn’t asked at all (except perhaps by some fringe component of the U.S. public, whose submitted op-eds and other commentaries to the press were being rejected en-masse by editors and producers — hidden from the public by them).

How can a country such as this be a democracy? The public aren’t prepared to function as a democracy, and the Establishment (as represented by the leaders and chief stockholders in the news media) have no interest in helping them to function as a democracy. What does this suggest — perhaps a country whose Establishment is so profoundly corrupt as to do everything they can to prevent there being accountability for the people at the very top of the nation’s power-structure? (The intense corruption happens also within states, too, not merely at the federal level.)

What the Politico story documented is that President Bush had instructed his staff to keep away from him the key intelligence officials (except, of course, in situations where they couldn’t have in-depth private discussions with him about what the facts are and what the options and likely consequences are for him in order to address the emerging situation). That, alone, means his complicity. (One might speculate that he hadn’t instructed Condoleezza Rice to block such private access to him, but in that case he would have fired her for having done so. She suffered no repercussions from enforcing his deniability — Bush’s entire life was instead a repudiation of accountability, a rejection of any “The buck stops here.”) Bush, clearly, needed to preserve deniability. He was, clearly, an evil man, even if he wasn’t necessarily a stupid one — and he was nobody’s fool.

And the press just looked away, while it all happened. This is what happens in a country that’s going to rot. And it’s what has, in fact, happened in America. 9/11 and its aftermath are just a sign of that. One of many signs, but a clear one.

This is no attempt to exonerate America’s enemy Israel. It is an attempt to document America’s enemy the Sauds. In both cases, the American public’s enemy is the American aristocracy’s friend. Israel’s Government is the American aristocracy’s friend, and Saudi Arabia’s Government is also the American aristocracy’s friend. And, clearly, the U.S. Government represents only America’s aristocracy, not the public.

The problem certainly isn’t Jews nor Muslims. The problem is the aristocracy, which controls Saudi Arabia, and the aristocracy which controls Israel, and the aristocracy which controls America. The victim is the public, and the victimizer is the aristocracy. It’s not just 9/11. It’s much bigger than that. And it is pervasive. And, also, that’s why, when 9/11 happened, “Accountability was thrown out the window immediately.” This system serves the aristocracy just fine. That’s why it exists.

Saudi Arabia, Fountainhead of Wahhabi Terrorism

[SEE: White House Should Acknowledge Saudi Arabia As the Source of Salafi/Wahhabi Terrorism]

How nice that the USA rolls out the red carpet for the number one supporter of terrorism in the world.

How nice that the USA rolls out the red carpet for the number one supporter of terrorism in the world.
Pixabay Images

Here is a pop quiz: some of you may remember two airplanes slamming into the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon, and a fourth crashing in the countryside in rural Pennsylvania, on September 11, 2001. Here is the question: who were the 9/11 hijackers that attacked America and killed thousands of innocent people?

I am sure many are sitting there looking at these words, and saying, “Why Bob, they were Muslims.” Well, yes, but if I were to ask, “Who orchestrated the Holocaust?” Would you answer, “Catholics and Lutherans?”

That would be the correct answer, but the right answer is the Germans. The correct answer in who is behind the attacks on 9/11 are the Saudis, including Saudi elites.

Saudi Arabian Wahhabism is the fountainhead of terrorism in the World. They are the world’s largest supporters of terrorism. Donald Trump and the US Government are busy tongue-kissing the Saudi Crown Prince at the White House.

When we incorrectly think all Muslims are terrorists, we are confusing the majority of Muslims in the world with Saudi Wahhabism. Named for an 18th Century preacher and extremist, the extreme fundamentalists have an enduring relationship with the House of Saud. Think of them like Saudi’s answer to the evangelicals that comprise a significant part of the Trump political base. The idea is not far-fetched.

Saudi Wahhabism has given us folks like Ossama bin Laden, the hijackers, the 9/11 bombers, those who attacked the USS Cole, and our favorite new group, ISIS. It takes religion to get people to kill themselves for a cause, and they have faith running out of their ears. They, like the evangelicals in America, think you need to believe their religion. If you do not believe as the Wahhistism demands, then you are fair game for killing. It is not just Islam they want you to embrace. They want you to be a Sunni Muslim. If you are a Shi’ite then like the Christians, Jews, and anyone else who is not Sunni and extremist, you are fair game to be butchered.

In our war against terror, we roll out the red carpet for the most significant supporters of terrorism in the world, instead of bombing them back into the dark ages, which would not be that far back for that nation.

Mohammad bin Salam, the Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in Washington. I suspect his visit is in part to make sure there is a new lapdog in place at the State Department, now that Saudi Arabia’s pet, Rex Tillerson, has been fired.

After all, the number one supporter of terrorism in the world, and the home nation for the 9/11 hijackers, as well as the birthplace of Al Qaeda, of course, must share American values, right? If you are one of the growing numbers of people in the world who think that killing civilians is an American value, then you can see the attraction between America and Saudi Arabia. I believe it is not an American value.

Saudi Arabia leads a nine-nation coalition that is killing people in Yemen. Hostilities began in 2015. Human Rights Watch, an organization that keeps count of these things, put the number of civilians killed at 5,295 men, women, and children to date, with another 8,000 or so severely injured.

Jets sold to Saudi Arabia by America are used to bomb civilian targets, including apartment buildings. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) list the Jets and bombing runs as the primary cause of deaths and injuries.

The Foreign Policy Organs of the USA are excellent when it comes to double-speak. They are quick to point out that while Saudi Arabia has “challenges,” a huge understatement, they are a “good partner” in fighting the extremists that threaten us all.

I have a hard time getting my mind around a good partner in the war on terror that also spends billions and billions of dollars promoting Wahhabism which is the inspiration for all Sunni global terrorism.

The Crown Prince has publicly stated he plans on eliminating all terrorism. Then why are billions still being spent by the Kingdom to promote Wahhabism in places like Pakistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Indonesia?

The words of the Crown Prince and his empty promises are part of a big scam on the West, and Donald Trump is buying into it. To be fair, every Administration since the Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s has bought off on the Saudi lie. We did so because we need oil to run a modern economy. I get that.

Donald Trump tells us that we now are the largest producer of oil in the World. In fact, we are now an oil exporting nation. So, why are we still partaking in the Saudi scam?

Iran is why. Americans just cannot seem to get past the Iranian Revolution, the American Hostages the Iranians took at the time, and their hate America rhetoric.

I look back at the past twenty years, and I do not see Iranian terrorists flying airplanes into American skyscrapers. They do fund terror in Gaza, but Saudi Arabia supports terrorists fighting Israel too. It is hypocritical of the USA to give a pass to Saudi financed terrorists fighting Israel while holding Iran accountable for the same behavior.

We are at the point in the article where the Iran haters will pipe up and talk about Iran’s nuclear program. Yes, Iran does have a nuclear program, and President Obama created a system for us to come into Iran and check to see if the plan is for building weapons or energy production.

Have the Iranians been sharing technology with the North Koreans? I do not dispute that claim. What nation is helping Iran more than any other? It appears to be Donald Trump’s good pal, Vladimir Putin.  We are not hearing too much about that when it is time for the GOP to pull out its righteous indignation against Iran.

Iran is not good guys. Neither is Saudi Arabia. In the contest among nations for Ronald Reagan’s Axis of Evil, should be won by Saudi Arabia, with a special mention for Iran an North Korea, and we are laying down with them.

Ex-Supreme Justice Demands Elimination of 2nd Amendment

John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment

A musket from the 18th century, when the Second Amendment was written, and an assault rifle of today. Credit Top, MPI, via Getty Images, bottom, Joe Raedle/Getty Images .

Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect. They reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of schoolchildren and others in our society.

That support is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms. But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.

For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation. In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated militia.”

During the years when Warren Burger was our chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge, federal or state, as far as I am aware, expressed any doubt as to the limited coverage of that amendment. When organizations like the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and began their campaign claiming that federal regulation of firearms curtailed Second Amendment rights, Chief Justice Burger publicly characterized the N.R.A. as perpetrating “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned Chief Justice Burger’s and others’ long-settled understanding of the Second Amendment’s limited reach by ruling, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that there was an individual right to bear arms. I was among the four dissenters.

That decision — which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable — has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.

That simple but dramatic action would move Saturday’s marchers closer to their objective than any other possible reform. It would eliminate the only legal rule that protects sellers of firearms in the United States — unlike every other market in the world. It would make our schoolchildren safer than they have been since 2008 and honor the memories of the many, indeed far too many, victims of recent gun violence.

Correction: March 27, 2018
An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified the 18th-century firearm depicted. It is a musket, not a rifle.

Did Sarkozy Lead the War On Khadafi To Hide Libyan Pay-Offs, Or To Avenge Insult To Saudi King?

[Either reason, if proven true, amounts to petty, vindictive “agressive war”, the highest of war crimes and both crimes against humanity itself.  If Sarkozy engineered the wars against both Khadafi and Bashar Assad, in order to hide Sarkozy’s interactions with the targets of the wars, or if he had Khadafi killed and tried to kill Assad as a political favor to the Saudi and Qatari kings, for whatever reasons, the human race will then have a face to blame for the desolation that has followed the masterfully-engineered “Arab Spring”.]
https://youtu.be/Rjiieuyk9Eo

 

 

Ziad Takieddine, the man most likely to bring about Sarkozy’s downfall

Takieddine
Ziad  Takieddine, Lebanese-French businessman, has now emerged as the man most likely to bring about the downfall of the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.  Originally from Baakline , Shouf mount Lebanon , 45 kilometres south-east of Beirut, Takieddine finds himself at the centre of an increasingly complex set of threats to Sarkozy’s reputation, and perhaps also his liberty.  His  upmarket ski resort in the Alps brought him into contact with influential political figures.  Takieddine 67,  is no stranger to high society, diplomacy and celebrity. His father( Munir)  and an uncle  ( Khalil)  served as Lebanese ambassadors ; uncle Bahij served as as a minister in several cabinets  ; his niece, the international human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, is married to the Hollywood actor George Clooney. He has known fabulous wealth.

Beirut , Lebanon- Ziad Takieddine claims he met Sarkozy after 2004, contrary to the statements by the former French president, who is accused of bribery and illegal funding of his presidential campaign.

Ziad Takieddine, a French businessman of Lebanese origin, claims that he not only met with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy after 2004, but also helped to transfer money from Libya for his election campaign, cites the French news portal France Info.

“He was there, and I met him, I even greeted him, he took the suitcase, he put it aside, he did not even want to count [the money],” Ziad Takieddine said.

File photo of Lebanese French businessman Ziad Takieddine and former French president Sarkozy'
File photo of Lebanese French businessman Ziad Takieddine and former French president Sarkozy’

According to him, he met Sarkozy twice in his apartment at Ministry of the Interior in Paris and twice in Libya, with Claude Guéant, Sarkozy’s chief of staff, being present at the second meeting. It is notable that both Sarkozy and Guéant refute any allegations of the former president meeting with the French businessman after 2004.

France’s ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy is currently facing charges on accounts of passive bribery, illegal financing election campaign and concealment of Libyan public funds. The prosecution believes Sarkozy received 50 million euros from former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ahead of the country’s presidential elections in 2007. Sarkozy denies all the accusations being leveled against him.

In an interview with French financial newspaper La Tribune published on October  3, 2011 , Takieddine said that he was commissioned by Gueant, Sarkozy’s former presidential election campaign head, to conclude arms contracts with Gaddafi, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“I remember telling Gueant: You know me more than anyone else. Each of my acts amount to an official mission,” Takieddine stated.

“I went to see Gaddafi in Libya, and Assad in Syria only on the request and authorization from the president,” Takieddine  added.’

Agencies

Nicolas Sarkozy and Gaddafi, from friend to enemy

21/10/2011

The tent of Gaddafi, planted in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, Paris. AFP Photo
The tent of Gaddafi, planted in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, Paris. AFP Photo

The hotel de Marigny, opposite the Elysee, will have known all the tumultuous relations of Nicolas Sarkozy with Colonel Gaddafi. In December 2007, his lawn hosts the Libyan tent, which is enjoying its first state visit to a Western country. And in September 2011, this same hotel Marigny houses the conference that anticipates the fall of the dictator, already under the fire of French planes …

The two men have been in contact for years, according to the Nouvel Observateur: Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy inaugurates a cooperation against the common Islamist enemy, with Ziad Takieddine as intermediary.

The summit of their good agreement is probably reached in July 2007. Against the promise of a state visit to France, Muammar Gaddafi delivers to Cécilia Sarkozy, who made the trip to Tripoli, Bulgarian nurses detained for years. Will follow the episode of the tent, which creates a dissident, Secretary of State for Human Rights, Rama Yade.

The following is disappointing. Gaddafi refuses to support the efforts of Nicolas Sarkozy in building a Union for the Mediterranean. When the time comes for the Arab revolution, the French president seizes the opportunity of a tremendous political reversal: he harasses Europeans and Americans to declare war on the colonel, until his British friend David Cameron commits himself to him. The mark, he says, of a turning point in foreign policy, which must now see France “alongside the people” against tyrants. Or how to do History twice – with, then against the colonel.

FB

Sarkozy case: Ziad Takieddine indicted

The French-Lebanese businessman, already indicted in the Karachi case , was heard in the context of the investigation, opened since 2013, on suspicion of financing the campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy 2007 by the regime of Gaddafi .

In an interview with the Mediapart news site on 15 November, Ziad Takieddine had ensured that in late 2006 – early 2007, three suitcases containing five million euros in cash had been transported between Libya and France at the request of the former head of the Libyan secret services, Abdallah Senoussi.

 

OPED from R.I….

Our Senators seem fine with endless war and death

David Oppenheimer

Rhode Island Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed have decided to turn a blind eye towards the humanitarian disaster occurring in Yemen as a result of both Saudi bombing and blockade. They voted with Donald Trump and the GOP to defeat the bi-partisan Sanders/Lee/Murphy resolution that would have stopped United States support for Saudi Arabia‘s war on Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is aided in its three year fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen by the United States, which helps refuel planes and provides intelligence for Saudi Arabia’s brutal air campaign. So far the conflict has claimed more than 13,500 lives, many of them in airstrikes.

Roughly 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs – including food and water. One million Yemenis are suffering from cholera, although the situation there is so bad that it is hard to get an exact estimate of the extent of the misery. This year parts of Yemen were experiencing a diphtheria epidemic. Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade last year that even the most conservative of estimates say resulted in the deaths of at least 5,000 civilians from starvation and disease, 20 percent of whom were children.

Rather than lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of food, water and medical supplies, the Saudis and its coalition partners, including the United States, have said it will supply aid to Yemen, even while the bombing continues. Food supplies dwindle and transportation becomes impossible as fuel prices skyrocket and the road infrastructure is bombed, further preventing access to what little aid is available.

Apparently, our senators are fine with this.

Moreover, they seem uninterested in exercising Congress’s constitutional authority over the declaration of war and authorization of the use of force.

Posing as resisters, Senators Whitehouse and Reed have given Trump an immense military budget, voted to extend domestic spying on United States civilians by the National Security Agency and seem oblivious to the fact that under the new tax laws, we will be facing huge deficits. Every cent spent on war will not be available for domestic needs. Our Democratic Senators’ recent vote for a budget allocated more for war than for domestic needs. Later this year, when the GOP calls for safety net cuts on social security, medicare and medicaid, we expect our Senators to continue their pose as resisters. We are not fooled by this.

Whitehouse and Reed are giving Trump what he wants in terms of the ability to wage unchecked war wherever he wants, without oversight. They have voted to give security agencies the loopholes necessary to spy on civilians without warrants. They have tacitly agreed to vote for guns now, paving the way for cuts on domestic spending on the future.

This is not resistance…


Our demonstration, Wednesday, 4:30-6:00 PM outside Senator Whitehouse’s office at 170 Westminister St, Providence, is an effort to build public awareness of these issues and increase public support of a more peaceful, less militaristic country and world. The intent is not to directly engage our officials or their staff at these events.

Simple demonstration – people gathered on the sidewalks on the corner of Westminster and Dorrance Streets. People will be there peacefully with signs – bring your own, or we will have some, plus extra materials – generally challenging above mentioned elected officials and their support of Trump and majority GOP positions on these topics.

Key for successful demonstration – Respect Ourselves, Others, and Community. Positive interactions to build awareness, and work to change how our elected officials conduct our business and when they don’t serve our interests.

JASTA–Still a thorn in the side of US-Saudi relations

JOINT INQUIRY INTO INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES BEFORE AND AFTER THE TERRORIST ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

JASTA: Still a thorn in the side of US-Saudi relations

MBS seems to have won President Donald Trump’s support – but JASTA still looms over relations between the two countries.

by
US President Donald Trump holds a chart of military hardware sales as he welcomes Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the White House on March 20, 2018 [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
US President Donald Trump holds a chart of military hardware sales as he welcomes Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the White House on March 20, 2018 [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

The US and Saudi Arabia established full diplomatic relations back in 1940, with the formal acceptance of the first American envoy to Saudi Arabia. The relations between the two countries were consolidated further in 1943 when the kingdom’s founder, King Abdulaziz al Saud, sent two of his sons, Faisal and Khalid – both of them future kings – to the United States, following an official invitation by Franklin D Roosevelt. The trip was a success – The former American president met the princes in the White House, and they both returned home in awe of the American nation. Since then, the two countries have maintained a baseline of economic and security cooperation that has kept ties between them strong. 

But in 2001, the 9/11 terror attacks -15 out of 19 attackers were Saudi nationals – turned the public opinion in the US against the kingdom and put a strain on relations. Later, in the last years of the Obama administration, the rift between the two countries grew further, as result of Saudi Arabia’s refusal to engage with Iran and the Obama administration’s cautions to the kingdom about the civilian toll of the war in Yemen.

Mohamed bin Salman, known in the West as MBS, the young crown prince and de-facto king, who is currently touring the US, has been trying to hit the reset button in relations since the inauguration of President Donald Trumphoping that the haze of his liberal-esque policies and state-wide economic visions will help wash away the allegations about his country’s involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks.

So far, bin Salman seems to have won over the president. During his first trip to Riyadh, the Saudis gave Donald Trump more than he asked for; business deals and arms sales corroborated to nearly half a trillion dollars, and the pitfalls of the last eight years of US-Saudi relations were blamed on Obama’s administration. In terms of the larger region, bin Salman seems to have succeeded in presenting Iran as the bearer of the blame for the situations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

In Riyadh, Trump found a city that is reminiscent of his golden apartments and endless lines of yes-men. No other country would have spent as lavishly as the kingdom to guarantee that the president feels welcomed, and hears nothing but praise about himself and his administration. The scene was severely schizophrenic as it doesn’t seem natural that a president who has instituted a Muslim ban would be welcomed with such hospitality. 

Prior to bin Salman’s meeting with Trump in Washington last week, Adel al-Jubier, Saudi Arabia’s minister of foreign affairs stated that “relations with the US are at an all-time high,” and anticipated “a number of agreements to be signed on this trip” in the fields of investment, trade, technology and education. During their White House meeting, Mr Trump very happily held up poster boards of current and future Saudi investments and deals remarking, “three billion, $533m, $525m – that’s peanuts for you,” and the room erupted in laughter.

However, beyond these ambitious plans and regularly voiced pleasantries, it remains unclear as to what the future of the relationship between the two countries will look like.

One of the main challenges is the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill passed – almost unanimously – by the Congress in 2016, which limited immunity given to sovereign states for their participation in international acts of “terror”. Following the passing of the law, over 850 families of victims and 1,500 injured Americans filed a lawsuit seeking retribution from the Saudis for the role they believe the kingdom played in the 9/11 attacks. 

This poses a serious challenge to the nations’ bilateral relations.

Recently, it has been reported that the ambitious prince hopes to offer five percent of the two-trillion-dollar state-owned oil giant, Aramco, to the international market, as part of his 2030 economic vision. Trump jumped on this opportunity tweeting “Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States!”

However, the future of this plan looks uncertain, as Aramco’s lawyers warn about litigation risks associated with JASTA. As both sides, Saudi and American, continue to avoid the elephant in the room, there is a good chance that their ambitious policies will be severely restricted.

Also, despite Trump’s apparent support for the crown prince, Washington is not yet completely convinced by bin Salman’s “reformist” credentials. One camp in the American capital believes that the 2030 vision and liberal-looking policies of the bin Salman may alter the perceptions of the American public about the kingdom, allowing the relations between the two countries to prosper once again. But others remain sceptical, believing the crown prince’s reform promises to be hasty – They argue that with bulging crises on the northern, southern, and eastern borders of the country, and an unpredictable domestic environment, bin Salman will not succeed in bringing substantial change and reform to the country. They even fear that bin Salman’s aggressive policies may cause the US to lose an important ally in the Middle East in the long term.

Bin Salman’s ongoing visit to the US is another sign that we are witnessing the beginning of a new chapter in the relations between Riyadh and Washington. Trump and bin Salman seem to still be in their honeymoon phase, filled with hopes and promises. But as the US courts proceed in their justice-seeking efforts for 9/11 victims, sobering moments will likely to ensue, challenging both nations’ limits of compromise.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Boy-King Sucking-Up American Technology To Fuel Saudi Conquest of Middle East

[The latest Saudi arms sales and looming nuclear power deals are about more than the sale of technology to the Wahhabi state, because the idea is the transfer of those technologies to the Saudi homeland, the primary source and sponsor of global Sunni terrorism, the reason given for America’s neverending war against terror.  In the coup d’etat of the pudgy prince, “half of Saudi procurement is supposed to be done locally by 2030.”  America will gain little from this deal in the Big Picture, considering the Trillions of real debt coming due.  The stimulus in US missile and helicopter production will merely prolong the jobs of select defense workers for a few more years in the face of rapidly-building worldwide and American disarmament pressure.  Anti-gun issues will rapidly translate into anti-WMD movements…Rememington Arms is only the first casualty in this disarmament war.  Outfits like Raytheon will be forced to divest themselves of war manufacturing.  Transferring our technology to an Arab megalomaniac will not save American industry from more than a century of technology transfer and the manufacturing base that went along with it.]

Bin Salman: Saudi holds 5% of global uranium reserves

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman Al-Saud arrives at No.10 Downing street in London, United Kingdom on 7 March, 2018. [Kate Green/Anadolu Agency]

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman Al-Saud arrives at No.10 Downing street in London, United Kingdom on 7 March, 2018. [Kate Green/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Arabia “holds five per cent of the world’s uranium reserves”, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman told the Washington Post in an interview.

“If we do not make use of our uranium it is as if we have abandoned the use of oil.”

He also said that the US should set laws and rules to prevent the misuse of depleted uranium.

The Saudi prince, who started a two-week visit to the US last week, added: “My visit to the US is to get technology and education techniques to the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia says it needs nuclear energy to overcome the stage of burning oil in electricity generation and diversify its economic resources. It also says that it is planning to call for investors to build nuclear plants on its soil by the end of this year.

We Are One False Flag Event Away From World War 3

In September of the year 2000, the extremely influential neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century published a report titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” which laid out an agenda for ensuring US world dominance in a post-Cold War world. It called for massive, sweeping changes in the current model for US policy, about which it made the following observation:

“Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor. “

One year later, the neoconservatives got their “new Pearl Harbor” in the form of 9/11.

Following the title page of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” you will find an introduction titled “About the Project for the New American Century”, which begins as follows:

“Established in the spring of 1997, the Project for the New American Century is a nonprofit, educational organization whose goal is to promote American global leadership. The Project is an initiative of the New Citizenship Project. William Kristol is chairman of the Project, and Robert Kagan, Devon Gaffney Cross, Bruce P. Jackson and John R. Bolton serve as directors.”

You may have noticed that I mention some of those names quite a bit in my work, lately with a special focus on Mr. John Robert Bolton, who was recently named President Trump’s new National Security Advisor. Bolton was one of the leading voices advancing the cause for George W. Bush’s neoconservative wars, and he has remained easily the most aggressively hawkish neoconservative war pundit in Washington as he has continued to defend the Iraq invasion while advocating military aggression against every government which refuses to bow to the US-centralized empire.

Today Journalist Abby Martin highlighted a Trump quote from January of this year, less than three months before the president would select a primary PNAC architect and insatiable warmonger to the most important advisory position in the executive branch. The quote got lost in the shuffle of the news churn and didn’t get as much attention as it should have. The quote reads as follows:

“I would love to be able to bring back our country into a great form of unity. Without a major event where people pull together, that’s hard to do. But I would like to do it without that major event because usually that major event is not a good thing.”

We need to start paying attention to this shit.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists was waved through by Congress in the wake of 9/11, enabling the US to indefinitely station troops in any country with a terrorist presence, even if those terrorists have been armed and funded by the US government. The trauma inflicted upon Americans that September morning was used to corral them into supporting not one but two full-scale ground invasions in Bush’s first term, which killed a million people, destabilized an entire region, and created a deluge of terrorist factions for the US war machine to play with and use to decimate Libya and Syria.

I’m not an expert on 9/11, but I do know for a fact that the preexisting agendas of western warmongers benefited immensely from it, that the official story is riddled with massive plot holes, and that the US-centralized empire has an extensive history of using liespropaganda and false flags to manufacture support for depraved acts of military violence. There is no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point in history, and there is every reason not to.

The US-centralized empire is now according to its own data entering into a state of “post-primacy”, which means in order to advance the neoconservative agenda of global domination something drastic is going to have to occur. In my estimation, that is what we are being prepped for with all this nonstop anti-Russia propaganda today.

This preparation has been necessary. If in 2015 we westerners were told by our Washington overlords that a war against the loose coalition of Iran, Russia and China was now unavoidable because of some new traumatic event, the public would have said “No, fuck off, we’re not doing that.” It really would have been a case of they had a war and nobody came. The illusion would have been shattered, trust in the establishment broken, trust in the media propaganda machine never to be restored again, and a wide open door for us all to throw off the machinations of existing power structures and build something new and healthy.

So they’ve needed to prep us, and they have been doing so with remarkable success. Prior to the end of 2016 the average American rarely even thought about Russia, almost never thought about Vladimir Putin, and had no idea what a Kremlin was. Now hatred for Russia is at the forefront of consciousness in mainstream America, and now infected the UK as well and is quickly metastasizing throughout Australia and Europe. The wood has been slowly dried for some major future event, and a false flag event will be like a lit match on the kindling. The media will pick it up and run with it full-throttle, and people will be herded by fear toward the war door.

It won’t have to come from the US government. The new western empire is virtually borderless, and any government or group that is loyal to it could be enlisted to help enact such an agenda, making a false flag much harder to spot. It will likely take a great deal of inner clarity to see past the deception at first.

But we can still say no. We can all work to circulate awareness about where this all seems like it may be headed, so that when the event finally happens we can still say “No, fuck off, we’re not doing that.” We need to start sowing the seeds of doubt now, though, to inoculate as many people as possible from a future military psyop. Let people know what John Bolton is, tell them about PNAC, about America’s history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military operations. They can still have a war to which nobody came.

If we can pull that off, we can shrug off the oppression machine like a heavy coat on a warm day and build a healthy world together. We just have to wake up fast as a species before they drop the hammer.

By Caitlin Johnstone / Republished with permission / Steemit

Trump Joins the War On Putin, Expelling 60 Russian Diplomats, Closes Consulate In Seattle

US expels 60 Russian diplomats, 12 from United Nations

Warning of an “unacceptably high” number of Russian spies in the U.S., the Trump administration said 60 diplomats would be expelled — all Russian intelligence agents working under diplomatic cover, the U.S. said. The group includes a dozen posted to Russia’s mission to the United Nations who the officials said were engaged in “aggressive collection” of intelligence on American soil.

The move was one of the most significant actions President Donald Trump’s administration has taken to date to push back on Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Less than a week ago, Trump congratulated Putin by phone for his re-election but didn’t raise the spy case, renewing questions about whether the U.S. president is too soft on the Kremlin.

The American penalties were echoed by announcements in European capitals across the continent, including those in Russia’s backyard.

Fourteen European Union nations were expelling Russian diplomats, EU chief Donald Tusk said, with more likely to follow. An EU official put the total from those countries at more than 30 Russians. Germany, Poland and France each planned to boot four, the Czech Republic three and Italy two.

Ukraine, a non-EU country with its own conflicts with Moscow, was expelling 13 Russians, President Petro Poroshenko said. All three Baltic states said they would kick diplomats out. Canada, too, said it was taking action, kicking out four and denying three who have applied to enter the country.

Almost all of the countries said publicly that the Russian diplomats they were expelling were actually spies.

The expulsions came with a chorus of condemnation for the Kremlin – for the poisoning, Russian spying and other Western grievances. Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz called it “the right response to the unfriendly, aggressive actions of Russia.” In the Czech Republic, where Russian officials have claimed the poison may have originated, Prime Minister Andrej Babis dismissed that allegation as “an utter lie.”

“The United States and many of our friends are sending a clear message that we will not stand for Russia’s misconduct,” said U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump’s envoy to the U.N.

Russia’s Embassy in Washington responded to the decisions on Twitter by hinting at retaliation, asking its followers to vote which U.S. consulate should be shuttered: St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg or Vladivostok.

In Washington, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, was summoned early Friday to the State Department and told that the 60 diplomats would have one week to leave the country, a State Department official said. Antonov was later quoted by Russian news wire Tass as saying he “expressed resolute protest to the “illegal actions” and emphasized there’s no proof of Russian involvement in the poisoning.

Russia’s Consulate General in Seattle must close by April 2. The facility is a particular counter-intelligence concern to the U.S. because of its proximity to a U.S. Navy base, said the senior U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to be identified by name.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the actions would make the U.S. safer by “reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations” that threaten U.S. national security.

“With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences,” Sanders said.

Britain has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats, accusing them of being undeclared intelligence agents, which led Russia to expel the same number of British diplomats. The European Union has already recalled its ambassador to Russia.

The steps on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean add to a serious escalation of tensions between Russia and the West that has been building since the March 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer convicted of spying for the U.K., and his daughter, Yulia. The two remain in critical condition and unconscious. A policeman who responded to their home was also injured.

Britain has accused Moscow of perpetrating the attack using a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok. The U.S., France and Germany have agreed it’s highly likely Russia was responsible. Russia’s government has denied responsibility and has blasted Britain’s investigation into the poisoning.

Orlando Gunman’s Afghan Father Collecting Money For Terrorism Against Pakistan

[Pulse gunman’s father was an FBI informant under criminal investigation, attorneys say]

Seddique Mateen was collecting $50,000 to $100,000 in donations to “contribute toward an attack against the government of Pakistan.”

[Mateen Sr. is the second Afghan or Pakistani expatriate exposed for collecting and sending money back home to attack the Pak. Govt.]

[Pakistani expatriate Reaz Qadir Kahn, current citizen of Oregon, is the only living person convicted for the suicide-bombing of ISI HQ in Lahore, Pakistan on May 27, 2009.  He was found guilty of “conspiracy to support terrorism” and financially sponsoring the dead Maldivian suicide-bomber, Ali Jaleel.The Indian Art of Turning Jihadis Into Anti-Jihadis and the War On Pakistan

Another photo from his Facebook page shows Mateen wearing Army fatigues while saluting and holding a flag

Father of Omar Mateen hosted bizarre political talk show, railing against America and praising Taliban

Noor Salman defense files for mistrial after prosecutors reveal Pulse gunman’s father was FBI informant

Posted By

Defense attorneys for Noor Salman have filed for a mistrial after they say federal prosecutors failed to provide information to their client about the FBI’s relationship with Pulse gunman Omar Mateen’s father.

In a motion filed Sunday, the defense said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney revealed to them through an email Saturday that Seddique Mateen was a confidential FBI informant between January 2005 and June 2016.

After Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando on June 12, 2016, FBI agents conducted a search at Seddique Mateen’s home and found receipts for money transfers to Turkey and Afghanistan between March 16 and June 5. After discovering the receipts, the FBI opened an investigation into the older Mateen.

The agency also said it had received a tip in 2012 that indicated Seddique Mateen was collecting $50,000 to $100,000 in donations to “contribute toward an attack against the government of Pakistan.

Salman’s attorneys say the government never provided information about Seddique Mateen’s activities before last weekend. Salman, 31, is accused of aiding and abetting her husband in his plans to conduct a mass shooting supporting ISIS and is additionally charged with obstruction of justice. The defense argues the government violated Salman’s constitutional right to a fair trial by not disclosing the information about her husband’s father.

“Despite the Government’s email, it still has not provided the defense with any reports or documentation concerning Seddique Mateen’s conduct, including his transfer of funds,” the motion states. “There are two viable theories of defense that could have been developed … First, Omar Mateen conspired with his father, rather than Noor Salman, to commit the acts. Alternatively, the FBI’s purported interviews with Ms. Salman were directed to evading the negligence they exercised with their own informant with to finding an additional culprit rather than their own informant.”

The motion also said the government failed to inform Salman’s defense that Seddique Mateen played a “significant role” in the FBI’s 2013 investigation into threatening statements Omar Mateen made at work.

U.S. District Judge Paul Byron scolded federal prosecutors last week for potentially violating the Brady Rule, which requires the government to turn over exculpatory evidence favorable to a defendant. The admonishment came after the testimony of an FBI agent who said he knew “within days” of Mateen attacking Pulse that it was “highly unlikely” that Mateen or his wife Salman had driven to scout out the location in the days before the attack, which contradicts a confession Salman allegedly gave to FBI agents.

The Big Players Cannot Move On the Syrian Chessboard Without Their Highly-Trained Militant Assets

[SEE: Syrian Army Allegedly Nabs Failaq al-Rahman Leader, Former SAA Capt. Abdel Nasser al-Shumair ; The Big Players Cannot Move On the Syrian Chessboard Without Their Highly-Trained Militant Assets]

[Into the Tunnels]

BEIRUT (Reuters) – More than 5,000 Syrian rebel fighters and their families boarded 77 buses on Sunday to wait to be taken from eastern Ghouta, Syrian state media said, in the second day of an evacuation from their former stronghold near the capital Damascus.

Syrian rebels and civilians look through a bus window as they leave Harasta in eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The main rebel group in the Arbeen pocket of eastern Ghouta, Failaq al-Rahman, reached a deal on Friday under which fighters agreed to surrender the enclave to the government and be transported to an opposition-held area in northwest Syria.

Around 1,000 fighters and their relatives left on Saturday, Syrian state news agency SANA said.

After a month-long ground and air offensive and evacuation deals with Failaq al-Rahman and another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, pro-Syrian government forces control most of what had been a major rebel stronghold, just 15 km (9 miles) east of Damascus.

Before the recent offensive, the suburb had an estimated population of 400,000. It had been under siege by government forces since 2013 and only the town of Douma, the most populous part of eastern Ghouta, remains under rebel control.

There have been negotiations but no deal yet between government forces and the main faction controlling Douma, Jaish al-Islam, which has said it wants to stay.

Tens of thousands of civilians have streamed out of Douma on foot during lulls in the bombardment of the past week. Hundreds more civilians left the area on Sunday, carrying children and hauling their belongings.

Russian news agency RIA, citing the Russian defense ministry, said more than 108,000 civilians in total had left eastern Ghouta since it said a month ago that it would oversee daily humanitarian pauses in the fighting.

Moscow and Damascus say the Ghouta campaign is necessary to halt deadly rebel shelling of the capital.

A military source told Reuters evacuation of Failaq al-Rahman fighters, who are coming from Zamalka, Jobar, Ein Terma and Arbeen towns, will take a couple of days to complete. They began boarding the buses on Sunday morning, but have not yet set off.

State TV showed lines of green buses waiting. A young child could be seen dangling a bandaged hand out of a bus window. Some men covered their faces with scarves as they sat waiting.

A number of fighters and family members who were transported last week from Harasta and Arbeen have arrived in rebel-held territory to the north, where many are receiving medical care, the opposition-run Hama health directorate said in a statement.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Remington Arms Responds To Anti-Gun Hysteria By Filing For Bankruptcy

The company expected a similar bump in sales if Hillary Clinton had won the presidential election in 2016 because of her possible pursuit of gun control legislation. But in the first nine months of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, Remington’s sales were down 27.5 percent.

Last month, Remington announced that its lenders had agreed to cut its $948 million debt load by $700 million in exchange for an ownership stake in the company.

Saudis Boast of 7 Missile Interception, But Videotape Says Otherwise

[SEE:  Saudis Lied…Houthi Missile Hits Riyadh Airport After Patriot Missiles Miss 5 ShotsHuthi Press Claims That Patriot Volley Missed Their Riyadh Missile, Again ; America’s Anti-Ballistic Missile Deception ]

[In the video above, two Patriot missiles visibly veer off course and arc into the ground…[the Saudi spokesman claimed that only fragments hit Riyadh.]

https://t.co/O5SA8NXpwl

https://t.co/sYc5LSVVp8

https://t.co/gUk1W1Av8R

https://t.co/FbridayfNA

https://t.co/d1SlmScVEh

Saudi Arabia’s missile defenses look to have ‘failed catastrophically’ at trying to stop a large Houthi strike

 

Saudi Arabia’s missile defense system intercepts several missiles fired from rebel-Houthis.
Screenshot via Twitter/Rosie Perper
  • Saudi Arabia’s missile interceptors may have “failed catastrophically” in their attempt to shoot down several missiles headed towards the its capital, Riyadh.
  • Their failure may have resulted in three casualties in the city.
  • The recent missiles follow dozens of launches by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group in recent months.
  • The missile strikes may have deliberately coincided with the the Crown Prince’s visit to the US.

Saudi Arabia’s missile interceptors may have “failed catastrophically” in their attempt to shoot down several Yemeni missiles headed towards the capital of Riyadh.

Seven ballistic missiles launched from Yemeni rebel group Houthis were intercepted on Sunday, according to Saudi Press Agency. One person died and two others were injured from shrapnel over Riyadh, according to UAE-based English daily The National.

—Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) March 25, 2018 //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js ” data-e2e-name=”embed-container” data-media-container=”embed”>

New angle suggests this is actually a spectacular failure of a #Saudi interceptor and not the missile fired at #Riyadh pic.twitter.com/TejVbA8fh3

— Strategic Sentinel (@StratSentinel) March 25, 2018 https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js ” data-e2e-name=”embed-container” data-media-container=”embed”>

However, experts say the both missile interceptors failed “catastrophically,” possibly causing the casualties in the capital city.

Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said on Twitter that through video footage released of the missiles, it appeared one defense system failed while another “pulled a u-turn” and exploded over Riyadh.

Lewis said it was “entirely possible” that the defense system failure caused the three casualties, rather than the actual missiles.

“Will have to see where debris fell, impact points, and where people were killed/injured before we can make educated guesses,” Lewis tweeted.

Experts say Sunday’s barrage could be the largest number of ballistic missiles fired at once by the rebel group since the war escalated four years ago.

—Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) March 26, 2018 //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js ” data-e2e-name=”embed-container” data-media-container=”embed”>

The recent missiles follow dozens of launches by the Houthis in recent months, including a November launch towards Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport. Saudi Arabia claimed to have downed the missile, while the Houthis claimed its munition successfully reached its target.

The militant group has been protesting Saudi Arabia’s role in its bloody civil war, and has engaged in an increasingly violent border conflict with the Kingdom since 2015.

The strikes coincided with the Royal Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s multi-week visit to the US, which may have been a deliberate display of disapproval by the Iran-backed rebels.

On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged the Crown Prince to pursue “urgent efforts” to create a peaceful solution to Yemen’s ongoing civil war.

US Arms Sale Increases Push International Arms Trade Volume Ten Percent Higher

[UN calls for global disarmament amid surging arms sales ; Arms trade growing rapidly in Asia and won’t stop anytime soon ; Africa: Merchants of Death Ultimate Winners in Escalating Military Conflicts ; ‘It’s caused enormous harm to civilians’: Amnesty condemns US and UK for arming Saudi coalition in Yemen war ]

International Arms Trade Up Ten Percent

file photo
file photo

By MarEx 

Continuing the upward trend that began in the early 2000s, the volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013-17 was 10 percent higher than in 2008-12, according to new data published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The flow of arms increased to Asia, Oceania and the Middle East between 2008–12 and 2013–17, while there was a decrease in the flow to Africa, the Americas and Europe. The five biggest exporters, the U.S., Russia, France, Germany and China, together accounted for 74 per cent of all arms exports in 2013–17.

A large proportion of land systems such as tanks, and many ships are transported by commercial tonnage. Often submarines and even ocean-going naval vessels don’t sail under their own steam, says Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “Lighter armored vehicles are sometimes transported by air, but it is more common to put large shipments particularly on ro-ro ships. It’s the same with ammunition, it is uncommon for it to be transported by air. It’s much cheaper and safer to transport it by ship.”

Arms exports: The U.S. extends its lead

In 2013–17 the U.S. accounted for 34 percent of total arms exports which was a 25 percent increase on the previous five year period and 58 percent higher than those of Russia, the second largest arms exporter. The U.S. supplied major arms to 98 states in 2013–17, with states in the Middle East accounting for 49 percent.

“Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, U.S. arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”

Arms exports by Russia have decreased by 7.1 percent, and those of France have increased by 27 percent. France is now the third largest arms exporter, Germany the fourth with German arms exports to the Middle East increasing by 109 percent. China was the fifth largest arms exporter, with Pakistan the main recipient of its arms. There were also large increases in Chinese arms exports to Algeria and Bangladesh.

The Middle East: Arms imports have doubled 

Most states in the Middle East were directly involved in violent conflict in 2013–17. Arms imports by states in the region increased by 103 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and accounted for 32 percent of global arms imports in 2013–17.

“Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in Western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Wezeman. “Yet the U.S. and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98 percent of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

In 2013–17, Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer, behind India, with arms imports increasing by 225 percent. Arms imports by Egypt, the third largest importer, grew by 215 percent. The United Arab Emirates was the fourth largest importer, while Qatar (the 20th largest arms importer) increased its arms imports and signed several major deals in that period.

Regional tensions drive India’s growing arms imports

India was the world’s largest importer of major arms in 2013–17 and accounted for 12 percent of the global total. Its imports increased by 24 percent with 62 percent of imports coming from Russia. However, arms imports from the U.S. rose by 557 percent, making it India’s second largest arms supplier.

Despite its continuing tensions with India and ongoing internal conflicts, Pakistan’s arms imports decreased by 36 percent. Pakistan accounted for 2.8 percent of global arms imports.

“The tensions between India, on the one side, and Pakistan and China, on the other, are fuelling India’s growing demand for major weapons, which it remains unable to produce itself,” said Wezeman. “China, by contrast, is becoming increasingly capable of producing its own weapons and continues to strengthen its relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar through arms supplies.”

China’s arms imports fell by 19 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17. Despite this, it was the world’s fifth largest arms importer in 2013–17.

As for the illegal arms trade, Wezeman says that it is fairly easy to smuggle arms using ships as they are fairly easy to hide in the large cargo holds on board. “We don’t know if what we see is the tip of the iceberg or most of the iceberg when something is found,” he says, noting that serious, reputable shipping companies are unlikely to be involved in taking such risks.

Other notable developments

•    Arms imports by African states decreased by 22 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17.
•    Algeria accounted for 52 percent of all African imports in 2013–17.
•    Nigeria’s arms imports grew by 42 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17.
•    Total arms imports by states in the Americas decreased by 29 percent in 2013–17 compared with 2008–12. Venezuela’s arms imports fell by 40 percent between the two periods.
•    Imports by states in Europe decreased by 22 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17. Deliveries of advanced combat aircraft from the U.S. will drive import volumes up during the next few years.
•    In 2013–17 China accounted for 68 percent of arms imports by Myanmar, followed by Russia (15 percent).
•    Indonesia increased its arms imports by 193 percent between 2008–12 and 2013–17.
•    Australia was the sixth largest arms importer globally in 2013–17.

Sarkozy is Guilty…of Destroying Libya, Creating Refugee Crisis–Le Pen

Europe

The first runner-up in the 2017 presidential elections voiced tough demands for the investigation into the former French head of state, who is suspected of taking money from the Libyan government for his campaign.

 The leader of France’s populist National Front, Marine Le Pen, responded on Twitter to the probe against Nikolas Sarkozy, who allegedly took money from Libya’s longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi for his 2007 election campaign.

“Justice should wade through seriously.  The case is not only about electoral campaign financing, it also concerns the war, elimination of the country, destabilizing of the state, followed by a mass migration wave,” Le Pen tweeted.

The politician, who ran for president in 2012 in 2017 but came in third and then second place, condemned the joint military operation by the NATO and the EU in Libya during her first campaign and demanded that France should leave the alliance.

France’s ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was detained in Nantre two days ago, remains under judicial supervision, according to the reports of the French news outlet Le Monde. He is charged with “passive bribery, illegal election campaign financing and the concealment of Libyan public funds.” He reportedly took about 50 million euro from the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ahead of the 2007 presidential elections. However, Nicolas Sarkozy denied the charges brought against him, according to reports. Most recently, the former French president denounced the lack of “physical evidence” in his case, as cited by local media.

“I’ve been living the hell of this slander since March 11, 2011, when Gaddafi first made the allegations,” Sarkozy reportedly told judges in remarks published by the Figaro.

In 2011 Gaddafi ‘s son publicly claimed the French president should admit he took money from the Libyan government.  A criminal case was opened in 2012, but the investigation had been suspended until 2017, when the judge brought preliminary charges against the former president, stating that prosecutors had enough evidence to start the criminal process.

READ MORE: UK Court Frees Tycoon Suspected of Aiding Gaddafi Sponsor Sarkozy — Reports

It’s not the first time he has faced charges of illegal campaign financing. Earlier, French police investigated allegations that billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, a principal shareholder of L’Oréal, made illegal payments. Later, the charges were dropped.

During his reign, Sarkozy supported the Western military campaign in Libya despite his prior cozy relationship with the country’s controversial leader. Gaddafi was captured and killed during the war in October 2011 after a French missile struck his vehicle and rule of the country is contested by rival factions.

Trump Jumping On Britain’s Anti-Russia War Wagon

Trump Plans Expulsion of Russian Envoys Over U.K. Attack

  • National Security Council has prepared recommendations
  • White House has been divided over how to respond to Putin

President Donald Trump is preparing to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the U.S. in response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K., two people familiar with the matter said Saturday.

Trump agreed with the recommendation of advisers and the expulsions are likely to be announced on Monday, the people said, though they cautioned that Trump’s decision may not be final. Trump is prepared to act but first wants to be sure European allies will take similar steps against Russia, aides said.

U.S. officials are working through the weekend to develop a coordinated response with the Europeans, one of the people said, after British Prime Minister Theresa May this week rallied support for a tough rebuke.  (SEE HERE)

Syrian Army Allegedly Nabs Failaq al-Rahman Leader, Former SAA Capt. Abdel Nasser al-Shumair

[SEE: The Big Players Cannot Move On the Syrian Chessboard Without Their Highly-Trained Militant Assets]

[(SEE: Almost 3,100 militants and their families leave Eastern Ghouta in one day).  Most of this “2nd largest rebel group to vacate Ghouta” belong to Failaq al-Rahman, linked to Turkey and Qatar,  theit seems likely that there was some sort of deal between Russia and the Turkey/Qatar alliance to salvage Turkish-trained fighters for use elsewhere. ]

Abdel Nasser Shmeir, head of Faylaq al-Rahman (Source: Faylaq al-Rahman media wing).

NOTE: The picture shown [above] has been disproved as an old picture of Abdel Nasser Shmeir [from

. Updated report with more details available here.

BEIRUT, LEBANON (11:55 A.M.) – Reports have just begun to surface that the Syrian Army has captured commander Abdel Nasser Shmeir, the leader of Free Syrian Army affiliate militia Faylaq al-Rahman, somewhere in Damascus’ East Ghouta region.

An unverified picture (show [above]) has been released over pro-government social media pages suggesting that the top Free Syrian Army has been been taken into the custody of government forces.

Indeed the bloodied up man in the unverified picture looks shocking similar in both general appearance and character expression to verified pictures of Abdel Nasser Shmeir.

In any case, virtually no information exists as to how or where Abdel Nasser Shmeir was captured and overall nothing can be confirmed at the present time.

Al-Masdar News will provide updates as more information becomes available.

The Big Players Cannot Move On the Syrian Chessboard Without Their Highly-Trained Militant Assets

[(SEE: Almost 3,100 militants and their families leave Eastern Ghouta in one day).  Most of this “2nd largest rebel group to vacate Ghouta” belong to Failaq al-Rahman, linked to Turkey and Qatar,  theit seems likely that there was some sort of deal between Russia and the Turkey/Qatar alliance to salvage Turkish-trained fighters for use elsewhere. ]

The Latest: Syria: Rebel group, Russians forge Ghouta plan

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows civilians carrying their belongings as they flee from fighting between Syrian government forces and insurgents through the Wafideen crossing in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, SThe Associated Press
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows civilians carrying their belongings as they flee from fighting between Syrian government forces and insurgents through the Wafideen crossing in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Thursday, March 22, 2018. Syrian troops have recently taken control of about 80 percent of eastern Ghouta from rebel forces.(SANA via AP)

The second largest rebel group in Syria’s eastern Ghouta says it has reached an agreement with the Russians over areas it controlled near the capital Damascus.

Failaq al-Rahman said in a statement Friday that the deal will lead to the immediate evacuation of sick and wounded people for treatment and to allow aid to enter the besieged area.

The group added that opposition fighters and their relatives who decide to leave eastern Ghouta will head to rebel-held parts of northern Syria.

It adds that civilians who decide to stay in eastern Ghouta will be guaranteed safety. It said that Russian military police will deploy in Failaq al-Rahman-controlled areas including the suburbs of Arbeen, Zamalka, Ein Tarma and Jobar.

A prisoner exchange will take place between the group and the government, the group added.

———

5 p.m.

Syria’s state media is reporting that rebels in the Damascus suburb of Douma will release 3,500 people they are holding in return for allowing 3,000 “humanitarian cases” to be evacuated from the area.

The government-controlled Central Military Media said Friday that the deal is part of an agreement between the government and rebels in Douma in eastern Ghouta.

Douma is controlled by the powerful Army of Islam group that is known to be holding hundreds of army prisoners and government supporters.

The SCMM also reported that a tentative agreement has been reached between the Syrian government and the armed groups in the eastern Ghouta’s towns of Arbeen, Zamalka, Hazeh and Jobar in which rebels in the area will head to the northwestern province of Idlib.

———

4 p.m.

Syrian state TV and an opposition monitoring group are reporting that the second largest rebel group in eastern Ghouta has agreed to evacuate the area.

A Syrian State TV correspondent says 7,000 civilians and Failaq al-Rahman fighters will begin leaving four towns in eastern Ghouta as of Saturday.

Rabieh Dibeh, correspondent for state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV, said the towns that are to be evacuated are Zamalka, Arbeen, Ein Tarma and Jobar.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it is not clear whether Failaq al-Rahman members will head to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib or to northern regions controlled by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Friday’s announcement came hours after a cease-fire called for by Failaq al-Rahman in areas it controls went into effect.

———

1:45 p.m.

Syrian state-run TV is broadcasting images of hundreds of Syrians streaming out of a besieged town in eastern Ghouta, heading to safety in the nearby capital, Damascus.

Al-Ikhbariya TV on Friday showed hundreds of men, women and children heading out on foot from the Wafideen crossing that links the rebel-controlled town of Douma to Damascus. Syrian State news agency SANA says over 4,000 left on Friday.

The state media say more than 6,000 left the day before.

Syrian rescuer workers, the White Helmets, said Douma had come under intense airstrikes, counting at least 30 since late Thursday. Activists claimed incendiary bombs were used, as videos showed dark skies light up with white smoke and multiple fires raging on the ground.

———

12:55 p.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters have captured four villages south of the town of Afrin in an enclave where Ankara s carrying out a military offensive to rout a Syrian Kurdish militia.

The advance brings Turkish forces closer to areas in northern Syria where Syrian government troops are deployed.

Anadolu Agency said the Turkish and Turkish-backed forces cleared the villages of Baay, Kafer Nabu, Bashufah and Burj Haydar on Thursday as they push toward the southeast of the enclave that is also known as Afrin.

Turkey launched an operation to clear the enclave of Syrian Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers to be a security threat, on Jan. 20. It captured the town of Afrin in a major phase of the offensive last Sunday.

———

10:20 a.m.

Syrian rescuers and a war monitoring group say 37 people were killed in airstrikes in a town in the eastern Ghouta region near the capital, Damascus, just hours before a cease-fire went into effect after midnight.

The rebel group Faylaq al-Rahman, one of at least three operating in the sprawling region, says intense government attacks targeted the area it controls on Thursday.

Rescuers, known as White Helmets, say the casualties were from an airstrike that hit an underground shelter in the town of Arbeen.

Rebel spokesman Wael Oweilan said Friday negotiations with Russia will follow to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the area.

A similar deal with another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, led to the evacuation of hundreds of fighters and civilians from Harasta, an eastern Ghouta town.

Trump Puts 6,700 TOW MISSILES Into the Hands Of An Arab Megalomaniac

 

The weapons “will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country,” the State Department said.

by Alastair Jamieson

President Donald Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office on Tuesday.Evan Vucci / AP

The State Department on Thursday announced the sale of 6,700 anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia, hours after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to discuss the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen.

The State Department said it had notified Congress of the proposed sale, part of a $1 billion defense deal that also includes parts and maintenance support for Saudi tanks and helicopters.

The main contractor for the missiles is Tucson, Arizona-based Raytheon.

“This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” the State Department said, adding that the deal “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

Related

The deal comes almost three years to the day that Saudi Arabia, supported by the U.S., began a campaign of airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Rights group Amnesty International said Friday that arms deals were “irresponsible” because all parties to the conflict had “repeatedly violated international law.”

“There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” it said in a statement, “But this has not deterred the USA, the U.K. and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms. As well as devastating civilian lives, this makes a mockery of the global Arms Trade Treaty.”

The Senate on Tuesday voted to defeat a war powers resolution for Yemen that represented an attempt to insert congressional oversight into U.S. military operations in the deadly civil war there. The measure, which called for the end of the U.S. role in the war, was co-sponsored by three members representing the full ideological spectrum of the Senate — Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. The Senate voted to block the resolution by a vote of 55-44.

Thursday’s deal came two days after bin Salman met President Donald Trump, and hours after he held talks with Pentagon leaders including Mattis.

Asked if he would raised concerns about civilian casualties in Yemen during his meeting, Mattis told reporters: “We have been working very hard with the new U.N. envoy to end the fight in Yemen. And we believe that Saudi Arabia is part of the solution. They have stood by the United Nations recognized government. And we are going to end this war. That’s the bottom line.”

Under the proposed defense deal, Saudi Arabia will buy: 6,696 TOW 2B missiles and associated training materials worth $670 million; parts and repairs support worth $300 million for its Abrams tanks and fighting vehicles, and maintenance equipment worth $100 million for its fleet of AH-64D/E, UH-60L, Schweizer 333 and Bell 406CS helicopters.

The U.S. military drastically stepped up its air campaign in Yemen last year, conducting more than six times as many airstrikes as in 2016, according to data from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

US General rules out hot pursuit of militants who flee to Pakistan….usually

US rules out hot pursuit of militants who flee to Pakistan

The Pentagon building in Washington, DC, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. (File photo: AFP)
The Pentagon building in Washington, DC, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. (File photo: AFP)

WASHINGTON: The US forces in Afghanistan have no plans to cross the international border to take out the Taliban and other militants who flee to Pakistan after conducting attacks inside the war-torn country, according to a top Pentagon official.

Afghanistan has witnessed some of the worst terrorist attacks killing scores of people. It has blamed Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban for these attacks.

“To be clear, US military authorities are within the borders of Afghanistan only. We have no authority to go into Pakistan. If there is a way to get that authority, but that would certainly be the exception and not the norm and would not be,” Lt Col Mike Andrews, a spokesperson of the Department of Defence, said yesterday after his return from Afghanistan where he accompanied US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“Say, for example, we have troops in contact and then the Taliban militants go across the border. They are clearly inside Pakistan then. There’s no change with regards to respecting the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan.”

He reiterated they would not be going into Pakistan. “Like I said there, there could be exceptions to that, but it is not going to be a normal day to day operational rules of engagement that our commanders on the ground know,” he added.

“If the Taliban reside in Pakistan and we are able to provide safety and support and to help secure districts and provinces within the borders of Afghanistan, I think that that is a tradeoff that we’re willing to make. Because it’s not necessarily about these people over in Pakistan, its about the Afghan people,” Andrews said.

So, looking at the provinces that the Taliban claim or that are contested with the Taliban, that’s going to be the focus of the Afghan forces this year to get them back, he said, adding that there’s enough work to be done inside of Afghanistan to reduce the Taliban’s influence, to reduce their level of control, to provide more security and stability to Afghans.

“And what happens in Pakistan, we can’t have any control on that… Now we’re going to stay focused on Afghanistan,” he said in response to a question.

It is the expectation of the United States, he said, that Pakistan takes steps to ensure that there are no sanctuaries where the Taliban or other terrorist organisations can reside and where they think that they are safe from the US.

MH17-Linked Ukrainian Pilot Shoots Himself In Ukraine–Kyiv Post

Vladyslav Voloshyn, Ukrainian pilot who fought in the Donbas war and was an acting director of Mykolaiv airport, shot himself in his apartment in Mykolaiv on March 18.

Renowned Ukrainian pilot Vladyslav Voloshyn died after shooting himself in his apartment in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv on March 18. His family was at home at the time of the incident.

Voloshyn’s wife who heard the shot called the ambulance. Voloshyn, 29, was still alive when the medics arrived, but died later in hospital.

According to the police, Voloshyn shot himself with a Makarov semi-automatic pistol with no license number. The pistol was seized and sent for examination. He leaves a wife and two children.

Voloshyn, a native of Luhansk Oblast, graduated from Kharkiv Aviation Institute and had been serving in the 299th Tactical Aviation Brigade, a formation of the Ukrainian Air Force based at Kulbakino, Mykolaiv Oblast. In summer 2014, Voloshyn took part in Ilovaisk battle when his low-flying Su-25 ground attack jet was hit near the village of Starobesheve on August 29, 2014.

In late 2014, Voloshyn was the victim of false accusations spread by Kremlin propaganda media that he had shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, 2014. Dutch investigators have found that the airliner, which had 298 people on board, all of whom were killed, was in fact shot down by a BUK anti-aircraft missile.

Voloshyn flew more than 30 combat sorties until he resigned from the armed forces in 2017. In December, he was appointed the acting director of Mykolaiv airport.

The investigation by a local journalist Andriy Lokhmatov published in late January shows that Voloshyn was pressured by the local administration into unlawfully signing documentation regarding procurement tenders at Mykolaiv Airport. Initially, he refused to agree but ended up signing the documents after being appointed an acting head of the airport.

Lokhmatov also published the screenshots of Voloshyn’s correspondence with a friend, in which the former pilot said he wanted to resign because he understood he had broken the law and felt “suicidal.” Relatives claimed he had looked depressed prior to the incident.

In the meantime, one of the deputy heads of Mykolaiv administration Valentyn Gaidardzhy said in a statement on March 18, that he was “sorry to see that some people have started to use this tragic event in their vile manipulations, instead of simply expressing their condolences.”

Mykolaiv city police have launched a homicide probe into Voloshyn’s death.

The Kyiv Post met with Voloshyn in Mykolaiv, a city with almost 495,000 residents, late on Feb. 27. He arrived after a day of work at the airport, slightly overwhelmed but energetic. He did not complain about his work at the airport, saying merely that it was quite different from army service. He also said he hoped that the airport would soon open its doors to visitors after the renovation is completed.

Voloshyn mainly told the Kyiv Post about his part in Ilovaisk operation, when the Ukrainian military had to use aviation to help encircled soldiers break out of the besieged town of Ilovaisk in the two military columns. He was on a combat sortie of two Su-25s. Voloshyn and the pilot of the other plane had just destroyed Russian-led forces heavy armor and a couple of military trucks near Starobeshevo in Donetsk Oblast when he was nearly blinded by a flash of light in his cockpit. In a moment, Voloshyn understood that his aircraft had been hit as the plane turned over in the air and started losing the altitude with every second.

Voloshyn managed to eject and spent two days in a private house on the northern outskirts of Starobesheve village. On Sept. 1, 2014 he escaped from the village disguised as a civilian and successfully got through Russian-led forces’ checkpoints on his way to the village of Rozdolne where there was a front-line hospital of the Ukrainian army.

“I wasn’t scared (when it had happened). A person who had almost accepted his death on Aug. 29 couldn’t be scared anymore,” Voloshyn said during the interview. “However, from that moment, I felt that a piece of me had died there… I was ready to die when my plane turned 180 degrees in the air. But if I survived back then, it means that I’m needed in this life for something.”

Read the full story of the Ukrainian pilot Vladyslav Voloshyn in a Kyiv Post series about 2014 Ilovaisk battle this April.

Putin’s diplomacy in the Middle East, ‘a winning strategy’

Putin’s diplomacy in the Middle East, ‘a winning strategy’

© Mikhail Klimentyev, POOL, AFP | Russia’s Vladimir Putin (centre) and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad (left), and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) in Latakia, Syria, on December 11, 2017

 

Text by Marc DAOU

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, set to be re-elected for yet another presidential term on Sunday, has spent much of his latest six-year mandate trying to increase Moscow’s influence in the Middle East. Experts call it a winning diplomatic strategy.

Immensely popular at home, Putin is all but guaranteed victory in the Russian presidential election on March 18, a victory which would hand him a fourth term as the country’s most powerful man.

On the international stage, however, perceptions of the Russian leader are mixed. While the West views Putin with rising suspicion, not least because of Moscow’s recent annexation of Crimea in Ukraine and its staunch support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, he now counts a growing number of Middle Eastern nations among his allies, including Egypt, Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

FRANCE 24 spoke to Arnaud Dubien, associate professor at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), about Russia’s diplomatic strategy in the Middle East.

FRANCE 24: What are your thoughts on Putin’s policies on the Middle East, where Russia is now a key player?

Arnaud Dubien: Putin’s diplomacy is particularly successful in the Middle East, where Russia has many economic, energy and military interests. Today, Moscow plays a key role in the biggest foreign policy quagmire of our time: The Syrian crisis. The Russians are perceived by all regional and extra-regional players – friends and foes alike – as a key player in this issue, a role which Russia hasn’t held for decades.

In the past few years, Russia has significantly strengthened its influence and its positions in the region, from the east to the west, and from the north to the south. It’s important to note, for example, the dramatic improvement of its relations with Turkey, a NATO member to whom it sells arms, its [diplomatic] return to Egypt – an historic gateway to the region for the former USSR – and the Russian-Iranian rapprochement which doesn’t prevent Moscow from developing lucrative relations with Saudi Arabia.

How is this possible, given how complex and fragile the region is?

There are several factors behind this success. First of all, you have to give credit where credit is due, because Putin didn’t start from scratch in the region. The seeds for his success had been sown by former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, one of the country’s biggest Arabists. Since the mid-1990s, Primakov, while serving as foreign minister, managed to maintain and develop contacts in the region. Putin has enjoyed the fruits of his work, accomplished at a time when Russia was very weak internationally. He also relies on his diplomats’ very rare skills and knowledge of the region. But above all, Putin talks with everyone — it’s the main feature of his diplomacy in the Middle East. Russia can discuss anything, openly, with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, while still maintaining very good relations with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

Are there other factors that have helped Putin?

The Russians have benefitted from the US’s indecision and its extremely stark choices [in the Middle East] which have alienated it from other important countries in the region. Putin, who willingly presents himself as a protector of Christians in the Middle East, has not made the choice to bet on Shiites against Sunnis, or vice versa. It’s clever, but it can have its disadvantages too. If you look at what’s going on in Syria different regional actors are now making Russia face up to its contradictions.

Does Putin have the necessary resources for his ambitions in the region?

The political gains are very lucrative from an economic point of view for Russia, compared with the money and resources it has invested in the region. Although the costs for Syria haven’t been made public, they are estimated at €3-5 million per day. Moscow can cover these costs, and it’s far less than the Americans spent in Afghanistan for example. Whether it’s signing nuclear plant construction deals in Turkey and Egypt, or various arms and agriculture contracts, its a very attractive investment opportunity for Russia. Financially, nothing is preventing it from continuing in this way. It’s a calculated, winning strategy, where its great challenge will be to consolidate its achievements and stay [in the region].

How is Russia’s Syria policy, which is seen as uncompromising by the West, perceived by Russians?

The ordinary Russian is more interested in the situation in Ukraine, rather than the far-away conflicts in the Middle East. It should also be noted that Putin is known, even by his detractors, to be very constant and faithful in his alliances. He has been unwavering in his support for Assad, unlike the Americans who rightly or wrongly relinquished support for Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 – one of Russia’s few faithful allies in the region at the time. Russia has never been able to fully accept the ouster of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, a former USSR ally, and it remains a key event in Russian diplomacy today. It’s impossible to comprehend Putin’s uncompromising and rigid stance on Syria if we don’t also keep this event in mind. The regime change in Tripoli has impacted how Moscow perceives the West, and in particular how it views the US — as a destabilising factor in the Middle East.

This piece was translated from the original in French

Turkey Just Kicked Obama’s/Trump’s Terrorists Out of Afrin

Syria war: Turkey-backed forces oust Kurds from heart of Afrin

18 March 2018

Kurdish statue pulled down in Afrin on 18 March 2018Image copyright Reuters

Turkish-backed forces have taken full control of the centre of the Syrian-Kurdish city of Afrin.

Fighters waved flags and tore down the statue of a legendary Kurdish figure after claiming the city centre on Sunday.

The two-month Turkish-led operation aimed to rid the border region of a Kurdish militia that Turkey considers a terrorist group.

Activists say 280 civilians have died, although this is denied by Ankara.

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that “units of the Free Syrian Army… took control of the centre of Afrin this morning”.

Operations continued on Sunday to clear mines and remaining Kurdish resistance elsewhere in Afrin.

“Most of the terrorists have already fled with tails between their legs,” the Turkish president said.

“In the centre of Afrin, symbols of trust and stability are waving instead of rags of terrorists.”

Pictures and video footage emerged of forces tearing down a Kurdish statue with a bulldozer.

The monument depicted the blacksmith Kawa, a legendary figure for Kurds.

A statement on a Whatsapp group for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces called it the “first blatant violation of Kurdish people’s culture and history since the takeover of Afrin”.

A Turkish armed forces Twitter page posted a video of troops displaying the nation’s flag in Afrin’s centre.

Mohammad al-Hamadeen, spokesman for the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), said they met no resistance as they entered Afrin on three fronts.

“Maybe it will be cleared by the end of the day – it is empty of [YPG] fighters, they cleared out,” he said.

However, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish and FSA fighters controlled around half of the city, with clashes continuing in some areas on Sunday morning.

 

US Homeland Sec. Issues Cyberwar Certification Against Russian Govt….

[Alert (TA18-074A) Russian Government Cyber Activity Targeting Energy and Other Critical Infrastructure Sector–US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team), Homeland Security]

“Large cyberattacks against the United States and its interests would be included in the kinds of foreign aggression that could justify a nuclear response.”–Defense Department’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Thursday blamed the Russian government for a campaign of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the U.S. power grid, marking the first time the United States has publicly accused Moscow of hacking into American energy infrastructure.

Power lines are seen at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center in McCarran, Nevada, September 16, 2014. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

Beginning in March 2016, or possibly earlier, Russian government hackers sought to penetrate multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and manufacturing, according to a U.S. security alert published Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI said in the alert that a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” had targeted the networks of small commercial facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.” The alert did not name facilities or companies targeted.

The direct condemnation of Moscow represented an escalation in the Trump administration’s attempts to deter Russia’s aggression in cyberspace, after senior U.S. intelligence officials said in recent weeks the Kremlin believes it can launch hacking operations against the West with impunity.

It coincided with a decision Thursday by the U.S. Treasury Department to impose sanctions on 19 Russian people and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other malicious cyber attacks.

Russia in the past has denied it has tried to hack into other countries’ infrastructure, and vowed on Thursday to retaliate for the new sanctions.

‘UNPRECEDENTED AND EXTRAORDINARY’

U.S. security officials have long warned that the United States may be vulnerable to debilitating cyber attacks from hostile adversaries. It was not clear what impact the attacks had on the firms that were targeted.

But Thursday’s alert provided a link to an analysis by the U.S. cyber security firm Symantec last fall that said a group it had dubbed Dragonfly had targeted energy companies in the United States and Europe and in some cases broke into the core systems that control the companies’ operations.

Malicious email campaigns dating back to late 2015 were used to gain entry into organizations in the United States, Turkey and Switzerland, and likely other countries, Symantec said at the time, though it did not name Russia as the culprit.

The decision by the United States to publicly attribute hacking attempts of American critical infrastructure was “unprecedented and extraordinary,” said Amit Yoran, a former U.S. official who founded DHS’s Computer Emergency Response Team.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Yoran, now chief executive of the cyber firm Tenable, said.

A White House National Security Council spokesman did not respond when asked what specifically prompted the public blaming of Russia. U.S. officials have historically been reluctant to call out such activity in part because the United States also spies on infrastructure in other parts of the world.

News of the hacking campaign targeting U.S. power companies first surfaced in June in a confidential alert to industry that described attacks on industrial firms, including nuclear plants, but did not attribute blame.

An electrical line technician works on restoring power in Vilonia, Arkansas April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

“People sort of suspected Russia was behind it, but today’s statement from the U.S. government carries a lot of weight,” said Ben Read, manager for cyber espionage analysis with cyber security company FireEye Inc.

ENGINEERS TARGETED

The campaign targeted engineers and technical staff with access to industrial controls, suggesting the hackers were interested in disrupting operations, though FireEye has seen no evidence that they actually took that step, Read said.

A former senior DHS official familiar with the government response to the campaign said that Russia’s targeting of infrastructure networks dropped off after the publication in the fall of Symantec’s research and an October government alert, which detailed technical forensics about the hacking attempts but did not name Russia.

The official declined to say whether the campaign was still ongoing or provide specifics on which targets were breached, or how close hackers may have gotten to operational control systems.

“We did not see them cross into the control networks,” DHS cyber security official Rick Driggers told reporters at a dinner on Thursday evening.

Driggers said he was unaware of any cases of control networks being compromised in the United States and that the breaches were limited to business networks. But, he added, “We know that there is intent there.”

It was not clear what Russia’s motive was. Many cyber security experts and former U.S. officials say such behavior is generally espionage-oriented with the potential, if needed, for sabotage.

Russia has shown a willingness to leverage access into energy networks for damaging effect in the past. Kremlin-linked hackers were widely blamed for two attacks on the Ukrainian energy grid in 2015 and 2016, that caused temporary blackouts for hundreds of thousands of customers and were considered first-of-their-kind assaults.

Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, asked the Trump administration earlier this month to provide a threat assessment gauging Russian capabilities to breach the U.S. electric grid.

It was the third time Cantwell and other senators had asked for such a review. The administration has not yet responded, a spokesman for Cantwell’s office said on Thursday.

Last July, there were news reports that the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp, which operates a nuclear plant in Kansas, had been targeted by hackers from an unknown origin.

Spokeswoman Jenny Hageman declined to say at the time if the plant had been hacked but said that there had been no operational impact to the plant because operational computer systems were separate from the corporate network. Hageman on Thursday said the company does not comment on security matters.

John Keeley, a spokesman for the industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute, said: “There has been no successful cyber attack against any U.S. nuclear facility, including Wolf Creek.”

 

Reporting by Dustin Volz and Timothy Gardner, additional reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Tom Brown, Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman

The Syrian army has revealed Jaysh al-Islam chemical weapons workshop in Eastern Ghouta

The Syrian army has discovered a secret workshop in Eastern Ghouta that was used to produce various military-grade chemicals, according to the SANA news agency.

 

The footage showing a plant full of high-tech equipment located in the town of al-Shefounieh t in Eastern Ghouta has been released by the state-run news agency. The clandestine workshop was used by terrorists, presumably Jaysh al-Islam  militant group, papers of which were also discovered at site, to manufacture chemical munitions with equipment allegedly of Saudi origin and materials ostensibly made in Western countries. Chlorine was among the other toxic chemicals found at the building.

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has urged the United States to abandon its “irresponsible plans” on Syria, which are fraught with conflict escalation.

“Several days ago we warned Washington against being tempted to take advantage of the fresh provocations by militants with the use pf chemical weapons against civilians and carry out a strike on Damascus. Threats by the US Ambassador to the UN to take such actions and escalate the situation in leading American media are apparently to accustom society to their inevitability,” it stated.

The ministry has also emphasized it was concerned over whom Washington was backing in Eastern Ghouta, which has long been controlled by terrorist groups.

On March 12, the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley asserted that Washington was ready to act militarily against Syria if deemed necessary.

Earlier this week, Russian envoy to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said Tahrir al-Sham* (formerly known as al-Nusra Front) terrorist group had used chlorine gas in Eastern Ghouta on March 5.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of having used chemical agents against civilians, reiterating that Damascus had no chemical weapons, which was proved by the OPCW report.

 

*A terrorist group banned in Russia

While the world looks to Eastern Ghouta, civilians in Afrin are being slaughtered in their hundreds by Turkish forces

[SEE: US Belligerants Threaten WWIII Over Russian “War Crimes” In Ghouta, Blind To Our Own Limitless Civilian Slaughter]

While the world looks to Eastern Ghouta, civilians in Afrin are being slaughtered in their hundreds by Turkish forces

Over the last week in Afrin, the siege of heavily populated areas has tightened and the death toll has risen – 220 dead and 600 injured civilians according to the local Kurdish health authority – but the international media gives it scarcely any mention

On a green hillside in Afrin in northern Syria, Arab militiamen allied to the Turkish army which invaded this Kurdish enclave seven weeks ago have captured a group of terrified looking Kurdish civilians. The unformed and heavily armed militiamen are shouting “pigs”, “pimp” and “PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] pigs” all the while chanting “Allah Akbar [God Is Great]”. The Kurds, their hands raised in the air, are led away by the militiamen and their fate is unknown.

There are many such videos and still photographs from Afrin taken by Kurds and members of the Turkish forces showing the shelling and bombing of houses, the mangled bodies of children killed by the explosions and others of Kurdish civilians being herded away. One horrific selfie taken by a militiamen shows him staring at the camera while over his left shoulder is a burned out civilian car in which sits the corpse of the driver, his white teeth thrown into relief because the rest of his body is burned black.

If any of these images were coming out of Eastern Ghouta, they would be leading every television newscast and dominating the front pages. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, would be holding up pictures of dead and dying children. But because these events are happening in Afrin and not in Eastern Ghouta, in the same country but 200 miles apart, they are almost entirely ignored by both media and foreign politicians.

Afrin is seeing the beginnings of a tragedy that could be every bit as bad or worse than anything witnessed in Eastern Ghouta today or East Aleppo in 2016. Coming upon pictures of children buried under broken concrete, one has to search for additional information to know if the deaths are of Kurds killed by the Turkish bombardment in northern Syria, or people in Eastern Ghouta slaughtered by the Syrian government at the same time in much the same way. The greatest difference between the two situations is that the atrocities in Damascus are publicised by the media across the world, while in the Kurdish case they are regarded as scarcely worth a mention.

Over the past week in Afrin, the siege of heavily populated areas has tightened and the death toll has risen – 220 dead and 600 injured civilians according to the local Kurdish health authority. The suffering is likely to get a lot worse. The Turkish advance is speeding up, something the Kurds believe is happening because Turkey knows that international attention is focused exclusively on Eastern Ghouta. On Thursday, the Turkish forces announced that they had captured the large and strategically placed town of Jinderes, south-west of Afrin city. The latter is the largest urban centre in the enclave where most of the population driven from their villages in the countryside have taken refuge. Such is the chaos in Syria that nobody knows how many people are trapped in Afrin with the UN giving a figure of 323,000 and Kurdish leaders saying that it is closer to one million.

Afrin is about three times larger in area than Eastern Ghouta before the latest Syrian government assault, but, as we have seen in other sieges in Syria and Iraq, civilian casualties go up as the besiegers press people into a smaller and smaller zones. The water-pumping station in Afrin City was hit in the last few days, reducing the availability of drinking water.

As with Eastern Ghouta, there is a grizzly argument about whether or not the local inhabitants are free to leave Afrin or are being detained as “human shields”. Elham Ahmad, the co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council, which administers Kurdish-controlled areas and has just returned from Afrin, denied this and told me that people were free to leave.

As in Eastern Ghouta, where are these poor people in Afrin to go to if they leave their homes? At best, they will end up in a refugee camp and taking to the road may not be the safest course as the captured Kurds shown in the video mentioned earlier learned to their cost. Afrin is some distance from the main Kurdish majority areas and the road there has to skirt Turkish army positions and pass through territory controlled by the Syrian government.

Among reasons for Kurds in Afrin to stay where they are is the nature of the Turkish forces that invaded the city on 20 January. There are regular Turkish troops and special forces, but also as many as 25,000 fighters operating under the umbrella name of the Free Syrian Army. But evidence from the front line and from former FSA and Isis members suggests that many of these are battle-hardened Islamists who had previously fought with or alongside Isis and al-Qaeda. They detest the US-backed Kurds, who hold 25 per cent of Syria, as one of the main reasons for the Islamist defeat in the struggle for Syria. No Kurd who falls into their hands will be safe.

The Kurds have an additional fear that they are about to become the victims of a campaign of ethnic cleansing under which they will be cleared out of Afrin wholly or in part. This enclave has traditionally been one of their core majority areas, but on the day after the invasion President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “55 per cent of Afrin is Arab, 35 per cent are the Kurds.” He added that Turkey’s aim was “to give Afrin back to its rightful owners.” It is a threat that carries all the more menace because the Syrian war has already seen widespread sectarian and ethnic cleansing, though the expulsion of a particular ethnic group from Afrin would be larger than earlier examples. The departure of the Kurds would have the advantage from the Turkish point of view of establishing a powerful Sunni Arab bloc north of Aleppo which would be under its influence.

The Kurds of Afrin could end up like the Greeks in Cyprus who fled or were driven from the northern part of the island by the Turkish invasion of 1974 and are still trying to return to their homes and lands 44 years later.

I have been struck since 2011 by the unbalanced way in which the Syrian war has been reported by the media. Vast attention was given to the sufferings inflicted on the people of East Aleppo in 2016 under attack by Syrian government and Russian air strikes, but very little notice was taken of the almost complete destruction of Isis-held Raqqa, with massive civilian casualties, at the hands of the US-led coalition.

I used to attribute such uneven coverage of the war to the greater skill and resources of the Syrian opposition in recording and publicising atrocities committed by the Syrian government and its allies. Isis had no interest in the fate of civilians under its control. But in Afrin there is no shortage of film of the suffering of civilians, but it simply is not widely broadcast or printed. In many respects, the role of the international media in the Syrian war has been as partial and misleading as the warring parties inside the country or their foreign sponsors without.

The Criminal Nature of U.S. Counterinsurgency

The Criminal ‘Laws’ of Counterinsurgency

A new book traces how the CIA and U.S. counterinsurgency warfare operatives adopted lessons from the Nazis’ fight against the partisans and evolved into a dangerous law onto themselves, writes retired JAG Major Todd E. Pierce.

By Todd E. Pierce

Douglas Valentine has once again added to the store of knowledge necessary for American citizens to understand how the U.S. government actually works today, in his most recent book entitled The CIA As Organized Crime. (Valentine previously wrote The Phoenix Program, which should be read with the current book.)

Some of the original detainees jailed at the Guantanamo Bay prison, as put on display by the U.S. military.

The U.S. “deep state” – of which the CIA is an integral part – is an open secret now and the Phoenix Program (assassinations, death squads, torture, mass detentions, exploitation of information) has been its means of controlling populations. Consequently, knowing the deep state’s methods is the only hope of building a democratic opposition to the deep state and to restore as much as possible the Constitutional system we had in previous centuries, as imperfect as it was.

Princeton University political theorist Sheldon Wolin described the U.S. political system in place by 2003 as “inverted totalitarianism.” He reaffirmed that in 2009 after seeing a year of the Obama administration. Correctly identifying the threat against constitutional governance is the first step to restore it, and as Wolin understood, substantive constitutional government ended long before Donald Trump campaigned. He’s just taking unconstitutional governance to the next level in following the same path as his recent predecessors. However, even as some elements of the “deep state” seek to remove Trump, the President now has many “deep state” instruments in his own hands to be used at his unreviewable discretion.

Many “never-Trumpers” of both parties see the deep state’s national security bureaucracy as their best hope to destroy Trump and thus defend constitutional government, but those hopes are misguided. After all, the deep state’s bureaucratic leadership has worked arduously for decades to subvert constitutional order.

As Michael Glennon, author of National Security and Double Government, pointed out in a June 2017 Harper’s essay, if “the president maintains his attack, splintered and demoralized factions within the bureaucracy could actually support — not oppose — many potential Trump initiatives, such as stepped-up drone strikes, cyberattacks, covert action, immigration bans, and mass surveillance.”

Glennon noted that the propensity of “security managers” to back policies which ratchet up levels of security “will play into Trump’s hands, so that if and when he finally does declare victory, a revamped security directorate could emerge more menacing than ever, with him its devoted new ally.” Before that happens, it is incumbent for Americans to understand what Valentine explains in his book of CIA methods of “population control” as first fully developed in the Vietnam War’s Phoenix Program.

Hating the U.S. 

There also must be the realization that our “national security” apparatchiks — principally but not solely the CIA — have served to exponentially increase the numbers of those people who hate the U.S. Some of these people turn to terrorism as an expression of that hostility. Anyone who is at all familiar with the CIA and Al Qaeda knows that the CIA has been Al Qaeda’s most important “combat multiplier” since 9/11, and the CIA can be said to have birthed ISIS as well with the mistreatment of incarcerated Iraqi men in U.S. prisons in Iraq.

A Predator drone firing a missile.

Indeed, by following the model of the Phoenix Program, the CIA must be seen in the Twenty-first Century as a combination of the ultimate “Murder, Inc.,” when judged by the CIA’s methods such as drone warfare and its victims; and the Keystone Kops, when the multiple failures of CIA policies are considered. This is not to make light of what the CIA does, but the CIA’s misguided policies and practices have served to generate wrath, hatred and violence against Americans, which we see manifested in cities such as San Bernardino, Orlando, New York and Boston.

Pointing out the harm to Americans is not to dismiss the havoc that Americans under the influence of the CIA have perpetrated on foreign populations. But “morality” seems a lost virtue today in the U.S., which is under the influence of so much militaristic war propaganda that morality no longer enters into the equation in determining foreign policy.

In addition to the harm the CIA has caused to people around the world, the CIA works tirelessly at subverting its own government at home, as was most visible in the spying on and subversion of the torture investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The subversion of democracy also includes the role the CIA plays in developing and disseminating war propaganda as “information warfare,” upon the American people. This is what the Rand Corporation under the editorship of Zalmay Khalilzad has described as “conditioning the battlefield,” which begins with the minds of the American population.

Douglas Valentine discusses and documents the role of the CIA in disseminating pro-war propaganda and disinformation as complementary to the violent tactics of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam. Valentine explains that “before Phoenix was adopted as the model for policing the American empire, many US military commanders in Vietnam resisted the Phoenix strategy of targeting civilians with Einsatzgruppen-style ‘special forces’ and Gestapo-style secret police.”

Military Commanders considered that type of program a flagrant violation of the Law of War. “Their main job is to zap the in-betweeners – you know, the people who aren’t all the way with the government and aren’t all the way with the Viet Cong either. They figure if you zap enough in-betweeners, people will begin to get the idea,” according to one quote from The Phoenix Program referring to the unit tasked with much of the Phoenix operations.

Nazi Influences

Comparing the Phoenix Program and its operatives to “Einsatzgruppen-style ‘special forces’ and Gestapo-style secret police” is not a distortion of the strategic understanding of each. Both programs were extreme forms of repression operating under martial law principles where the slightest form of dissent was deemed to represent the work of the “enemy.” Hitler’s Bandit Hunters: The SS and the Nazi Occupation of Europe by Philip W. Blood describes German “Security Warfare” as practiced in World War II, which can be seen as identical in form to the Phoenix Program as to how the enemy is defined as anyone who is “potentially” a threat, deemed either “partizans” or terrorists.

High-ranking Nazis on trial at Nuremberg

That the Germans included entire racial categories in that does not change the underlying logic, which was, anyone deemed an internal enemy in a territory in which their military operated had to be “neutralized” by any means necessary. The U.S. military and the South Vietnamese military governments operated under the same principles but not based on race, rather the perception that certain areas and villages were loyal to the Viet Cong.

This repressive doctrine was also not unique to the Nazis in Europe and the U.S. military in Vietnam. Similar though less sophisticated strategies were used against the American Indians and by the imperial powers of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, including by the U.S. in its newly acquired territories of the Philippines and in the Caribbean. This “imperial policing,” i.e., counter-insurgency, simply moved to more manipulative and, in ways, more violent levels.

That the U.S. drew upon German counter-insurgency doctrine, as brutal as it was, is well documented. This is shown explicitly in a 2011 article published in the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies entitled German Counterinsurgency Revisited by Charles D. Melson. He wrote that in 1942, Nazi commander Heinrich Himmler named a deputy for “anti-bandit warfare,” (Bevollmachtigter fur die Bandenkampfung im Osten), SS-General von dem Bach, whose responsibilities expanded in 1943 to head all SS and police anti-bandit units and operations. He was one of the architects of the Einsatzguppen “concept of anti-partisan warfare,” a German predecessor to the “Phoenix Program.”

‘Anti-Partisan’ Lessons

It wasn’t a coincidence that this “anti-partisan” warfare concept should be adopted by U.S. forces in Vietnam and retained to the present day. Melson pointed out that a “post-war German special forces officer described hunter or ranger units as ‘men who knew every possible ruse and tactic of guerrilla warfare. They had gone through the hell of combat against the crafty partisans in the endless swamps and forests of Russia.’”

In May 2016, Russian marchers honoring family members who fought in World War II. (Photo from RT)

Consequently, “The German special forces and reconnaissance school was a sought after posting for North Atlantic Treaty Organization special operations personnel,” who presumably included members of the newly created U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers, which was in part headquartered at Bad Tolz in Germany, as well as CIA paramilitary officers.

Just as with the later Phoenix Program to the present-day U.S. global counterinsurgency, Melson wrote that the “attitude of the [local] population and the amount of assistance it was willing to give guerilla units was of great concern to the Germans. Different treatment was supposed to be accorded to affected populations, bandit supporters, and bandits, while so-called population and resource control measures for each were noted (but were in practice, treated apparently one and the same). ‘Action against enemy agitation’ was the psychological or information operations of the Nazi period. The Nazis believed that, ‘Because of the close relationship of guerilla warfare and politics, actions against enemy agitation are a task that is just as important as interdiction and combat actions. All means must be used to ward off enemy influence and waken and maintain a clear political will.’”

This is typical of any totalitarian system – a movement or a government – whether the process is characterized as counterinsurgency or internal security. The idea of any civilian collaboration with the “enemy” is the basis for what the U.S. government charges as “conspiracy” in the Guantanamo Military Commissions.

Valentine explains the Phoenix program as having been developed by the CIA in 1967 to combine “existing counterinsurgency programs in a concerted effort to ‘neutralize’ the Vietcong infrastructure (VCI).” He explained further that “neutralize” meant “to kill, capture, or make to defect.” “Infrastructure” meant civilians suspected of supporting North Vietnamese and Vietcong soldiers. Central to the Phoenix program was that its targets were civilians, making the operation a violation of the Geneva Conventions which guaranteed protection to civilians in time of war.

“The Vietnam’s War’s Silver Lining: A Bureaucratic Model for Population Control Emerges” is the title of Chapter 3. Valentine writes that the “CIA’s Phoenix program changed how America fights its wars and how the public views this new type of political and psychological warfare, in which civilian casualties are an explicit objective.” The intent of the Phoenix program evolved from “neutralizing” enemy leaders into “a program of systematic repression for the political control of the South Vietnamese people. It sought to accomplish this through a highly bureaucratized system of disposing of people who could not be ideologically assimilated.” The CIA claimed a legal basis for the program in “emergency decrees” and orders for “administrative detention.”

Lauding Petraeus 

Valentine refers to a paper by David Kilcullen entitled Countering Global Insurgency. Kilcullen is one of the so-called “counter-insurgency experts” whom General David Petraeus gathered together in a cell to promote and refine “counter-insurgency,” or COIN, for the modern era. Fred Kaplan, who is considered a “liberal author and journalist” at Slate, wrote a panegyric to these cultists entitled, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. The purpose of this cell was to change the practices of the U.S. military into that of “imperial policing,” or COIN, as they preferred to call it.

Gen. David Petraeus posing before the U.S. Capitol with Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. (Photo credit: ISW’s 2011 Annual Report)

But Kilcullen argued in his paper that “The ‘War on Terrorism” is actually a campaign to counter a global insurgency. Therefore, Kilcullen argued, “we need a new paradigm, capable of addressing globalised insurgency.” His “disaggregation strategy” called for “actions to target the insurgent infrastructure that would resemble the unfairly maligned (but highly effective) Vietnam-era Phoenix program.”

He went on, “Contrary to popular mythology, this was largely a civilian aid and development program, supported by targeted military pacification operations and intelligence activity to disrupt the Viet Cong Infrastructure. A global Phoenix program (including the other key elements that formed part of the successful Vietnam CORDS system) would provide a useful start point to consider how Disaggregation would develop in practice.”

It is readily apparent that,  in fact, a Phoenix-type program is now U.S. global policy and — just like in Vietnam — it is applying “death squad” strategies that eliminate not only active combatants but also civilians who simply find themselves in the same vicinity, thus creating antagonisms that expand the number of fighters.

Corraborative evidence of Valentine’s thesis is, perhaps surprisingly, provided by the CIA’s own website where a number of redacted historical documents have been published. Presumably, they are documents first revealed under the Freedom of Information Act. A few however are copies of news articles once available to the public but now archived by the CIA which has blacked-out portions of the articles.

The Bloody Reality

One “sanitized” article — approved for release in 2011 — is a partially redacted New Times article of Aug. 22, 1975, by Michael Drosnin. The article recounts a story of a U.S. Army counter-intelligence officer “who directed a small part of a secret war aimed not at the enemy’s soldiers but at its civilian leaders.” He describes how a CIA-directed Phoenix operative dumped a bag of “eleven bloody ears” as proof of six people killed.

The bodies of Vietnamese men, women and children piled along a road in My Lai after a U.S. Army massacre on March 16, 1968. (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)

The officer, who recalled this incident in 1971, said, “It made me sick. … I couldn’t go on with what I was doing in Vietnam. . . . It was an assassination campaign . . . my job was to identify and eliminate VCI, the Viet Cong ‘infrastructure’ – the communist’s shadow government. I worked directly with two Vietnamese units, very tough guys who didn’t wear uniforms . . . In the beginning they brought back about 10 percent alive. By the end they had stopped taking prisoners. …

“How many VC they got I don’t know. I saw a hell of a lot of dead bodies. We’d put a tag on saying VCI, but no one really knew – it was just some native in black pajamas with 16 bullet holes.”

This led to an investigation by New Times in a day when there were still “investigative reporters,” and not the government sycophants of today. Based on first-hand accounts, their investigation concluded that Operation Phoenix was the “only systematized kidnapping, torture and assassination program ever sponsored by the United States government. . . . Its victims were noncombatants.” At least 40,000 were murdered, with “only” about 8,000 supposed Viet Cong political cadres targeted for execution, with the rest civilians (including women and children) killed and “later conveniently labeled VCI. Hundreds of thousands were jailed without trial, often after sadistic abuse.” The article notes that Phoenix was conceived, financed, and directed by the Central Intelligence Agency, as Mr. Valentine writes.

A second article archived by the CIA was by the Christian Science Monitor, dated Jan. 5, 1971, describing how the Saigon government was “taking steps … that could help eliminate one of the most glaring abuses of its controversial Phoenix program, which is aimed against the Viet Cong political and administrative apparatus.” Note how the Monitor shifted blame away from the CIA and onto the South Vietnamese government.

But the article noted that one of the most persistent criticisms of Phoenix was that it resulted “in the arrest and imprisonment of many innocent civilians.” These were called “Class C Communist offenders,” some of whom may actually have been forced to commit such “belligerent acts” as digging trenches or carrying rice. It was those alleged as the “hard core, full-time cadre” who were deemed to make up the “shadow government” designated as Class A and B Viet Cong.

Yet “security committees” throughout South Vietnam, under the direction of the CIA, sentenced at least 10,000 “Class C civilians” to prison each year, far more than Class A and B combined. The article stated, “Thousands of these prisoners are never brought to court trial, and thousands of other have never been sentenced.” The latter statement would mean they were just held in “indefinite detention,” like the prisoners held at Guantanamo and other U.S. detention centers with high levels of CIA involvement.

Not surprisingly to someone not affiliated with the CIA, the article found as well that “Individual case histories indicate that many who have gone to prison as active supporters of neither the government nor the Viet Cong come out as active backers of the Viet Cong and with an implacable hatred of the government.” In other words, the CIA and the COIN enthusiasts are achieving the same results today with the prisons they set up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CIA Crimes

Valentine broadly covers the illegalities of the CIA over the years, including its well-documented role in facilitating the drug trade over the years. But, in this reviewer’s opinion, his most valuable contribution is his description of the CIA’s participation going back at least to the Vietnam War in the treatment of what the U.S. government today calls “unlawful combatants.”

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush (a former CIA director) with CIA Director William Casey at the White House on Feb. 11, 1981. (Photo credit: Reagan Library)

“Unlawful combatants” is a descriptive term made up by the Bush administration to remove people whom U.S. officials alleged were “terrorists” from the legal protections of the Geneva Conventions and Human Rights Law and thus to justify their capture or killing in the so-called “Global War on Terror.” Since the U.S. government deems them “unlawful” – because they do not belong to an organized military structure and do not wear insignia – they are denied the “privilege” of belligerency that applies to traditional soldiers. But – unless they take a “direct part in hostilities” – they would still maintain their civilian status under the law of war and thus not lose the legal protection due to civilians even if they exhibit sympathy or support to one side in a conflict.

Ironically, by the Bush administration’s broad definition of “unlawful combatants,” CIA officers and their support structure also would fit the category. But the American public is generally forgiving of its own war criminals though most self-righteous and hypocritical in judging foreign war criminals. But perhaps given sufficient evidence, the American public could begin to see both the immorality of this behavior and its counterproductive consequences.

This is not to condemn all CIA officers, some of whom acted in good faith that they were actually defending the United States by acquiring information on a professed enemy in the tradition of Nathan Hale. But it is to harshly condemn those CIA officials and officers who betrayed the United States by subverting its Constitution, including waging secret wars against foreign countries without a declaration of war by Congress. And it decidedly condemns the CIA war criminals who acted as a law unto themselves in the torture and murder of foreign nationals, as Valentine’s book describes.

Talleyrand is credited with saying, “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” Reportedly, that was borrowed from a 1796 letter by a French naval officer, which stated, in the original language: Personne n’est corrigé; personne n’a su ni rien oublier ni rien appendre. In English: “Nobody has been corrected; no one has known to forget, nor yet to learn anything.” That sums up the CIA leadership entirely.

Douglas Valentine’s book is a thorough documentation of that fact and it is essential reading for all Americans if we are to have any hope for salvaging a remnant of representative government.

Todd E. Pierce retired as a Major in the US Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in November 2012. His most recent assignment was defense counsel in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions.

Saudi crown prince has hidden his own mother from his father, the king

WASHINGTON — When Saudi Arabia’s crown prince visits the White House next week, he’s expected to be welcomed as a reformer who’s expanded women’s rights in one of the most restrictive countries in the world, allowing them to drive and attend sports events.

Yet there is one Saudi woman whom U.S. officials say has not benefited from the prince’s rise: his own mother. Fourteen current and former senior U.S. officials told NBC News that intelligence shows Prince Mohammed bin Salman — often referred to by his initials MBS — blocked his mother from seeing his father, King Salman, more than two years ago and has kept her away from him as the young prince rapidly amassed power.

Prince Mohammed, a key ally of the Trump White House, has concocted various explanations of his mother’s whereabouts over the years, such as that she’s out of the country receiving medical treatment, so King Salman would not know his son has been behind her continued absence, the current and former officials said.

U.S. officials interviewed for this story believe, based on several years of intelligence, that MBS took action against his mother because he was concerned that she opposed his plans for a power grab that could divide the royal family and might use her influence with the king to prevent it. The officials said MBS placed his mother under house arrest at least for some time at a palace in Saudi Arabia, without the king’s knowledge.

Image: Mohammed bin Salman

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives for talks at 10 Downing Street on March 7, 2018 in central London. Tolga Akmen / AFP – Getty Images

Last June, at just age 31, Prince Mohammed abruptly displaced his cousin to become crown prince of the oil-rich kingdom. He implemented some economic and social changes in the following months, but also made some brazen power moves at home and in the region. In November MBS oversaw the arrests of more than 200 Saudi officials and businessmen, including prominent princes and rival members of the royal family, in what the government has described as a crackdown on corruption.

President Donald Trump defended the Saudi government for “harshly treating” those who were imprisoned as part of the effort. Trump, and his son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, have embraced MBS as a close partner and critical player in the administration’s Middle East strategy.

The White House announced Monday that the president will meet with the crown prince on March 20, saying Trump “looks forward to discussing ways to strengthen ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia and to advance our common security and economic priorities.”

But the meeting, which is part of MBS’s multistate tour across the U.S., comes as some senior U.S. officials are increasingly concerned his aggressive tactics could sow more instability in the Middle East.

The U.S. intelligence assessment of Prince Mohammed’s actions against his mother, which American officials said has long been concealed from both King Salman and the public, is an example of MBS’s willingness to remove any perceived impediment to solidifying his position as Saudi Arabia’s next king, the current and former officials said.

Who Is Mohammed bin Salman?1:17

Officials said the assessment of the dynamic between MBS and his mother, which has not been previously reported, is based on a combination of human intelligence, intercepts and information shared with the U.S. from other countries.

The determination that the crown prince’s mother, Princess Fahda bint Falah Al Hathleen, was being kept from King Salman without his knowledge was first made during the Obama administration, the officials said. That assessment has not changed since Trump took office, according to the current officials.

The Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington denied that the princess is under any kind of house arrest or separation from her husband.

Where is King Salman’s wife?

The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence, said the 82-year-old King Salman has at times been told his third wife is out of the country receiving medical treatment. They said the king has told people around him that he misses her and apparently does not know her true location or status. Multiple U.S. officials have told NBC News previously that their interactions with the king suggest he is not consistently lucid.

Inside Saudi Arabia’s changing kingdom1:58

At one point during a meeting at the White House in September 2015, King Salman told then-President Barack Obama that his wife was in New York for medical treatment and that he hoped to visit her while in the U.S., officials said. The officials said Obama did not inform the king that his wife was not in New York, but the king’s comment was viewed as further evidence of what U.S. officials already had gleaned from intelligence on the royal family.

In early 2016, U.S. officials picked up communications in which MBS was talking about his efforts to keep his mother from his father without the king knowing, according to current and former officials.

A spokesperson for Obama declined to comment, citing the privacy of the former president’s conversations with foreign leaders.

The CIA declined comment on any intelligence on the Saudi royal family. A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence also declined comment for this story.

While Prince Mohammed’s power base began expanding at home several years ago, his brashest moves have coincided with the strong and early support he’s received from the Trump White House.

Less than two months after his inauguration, Trump hosted MBS at the White House, not the then-crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef. MBS, who began trying to forge close ties with the Trump team immediately after the 2016 election, has spent hours with Kushner in Washington and Riyadh.

A spokesperson for Kushner, who oversees the administration’s efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, declined to comment for this story and referred questions to the National Security Council, which also declined comment.

‘We’ve all pinned our hopes on him’

Trump officials view MBS as the best hope for seeing economic and social changes in the tightly controlled kingdom.

“We’ve all pinned our hopes on him,” one senior White House official said.

It’s a stark contrast to the U.S.-Saudi relationship during Obama’s presidency. Then the two countries clashed over Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional adversary.

Now Saudi Arabia is integral to U.S. policy goals in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to blunting Iran’s influence in the region and reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Image: Trump and Salman

President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the State Dining Room before lunch at the White House. Nicholas Kamm / AFP – Getty Images file

In May, Trump made Saudi Arabia the first foreign country he visited as president. A month later MBS unexpectedly supplanted Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince. As part of the power shift, bin Nayef was put under house arrest, though the restriction was later lifted.

The crown prince’s younger brother, Prince Khaled bin Salman, was named Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to the U.S. in July. Both have the same mother.

“The president and Jared very much see Mohammed Bin Salman as their man in the region,” said Andrew Bowen, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Trump backed a Saudi-led blockade of Qatar over the advice of some of his own advisers and supported the government’s jailing of hundreds of wealthy Saudis accused of corruption. “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” Trump wrote on Twitter in November as the arrests came under international scrutiny. “Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!”

Many prisoners were released in recent weeks after agreeing to undisclosed financial settlements with the government.

An interview offer, with strings attached

Bowen cautioned, however, that Trump’s strong support for MBS’s early moves could backfire over time due to the young prince’s own “insularity and his own recklessness.”

One person close to the royal family said Prince Mohammed and his mother had a falling out several years ago in part because he was concerned she was trying to empower her siblings. This person said MBS wanted to avoid a dynamic that played out with a previous Saudi king in which the brothers of one of his wives became extremely powerful and wealthy.

Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington, vehemently denied that the crown prince has kept his mother away from the king without the king’s knowledge.

“It is absolutely not true and if you would like to ask Her Royal Highness the Princess yourself, this includes asking her in-person, we would be happy to arrange it immediately,” Baeshen said in a statement.

NBC News, which first contacted Baeshen about this story on Dec. 22, 2017, did not accept the offer to speak with the princess because the Saudi government would not allow NBC to disclose that one of its reporters had met with her or use any information she provided for this story under any conditions, including if she was granted anonymity to talk about sensitive matters as others in this story were.

President Trump Praises Saudis Amid Crackdown1:35

Another spokesman for the Saudi embassy then offered for NBC News to speak with sources close to the crown prince’s mother, an offer NBC News accepted.

On Jan. 30, Kabil wrote in an email that it was the Saudi government’s impression that NBC News would speak with the crown prince’s mother and she “would then put you in touch with her circle of confidantes.”

NBC responded by reiterating its position that a reporter would not meet with the crown prince’s mother unless NBC could disclose that a meeting took place. NBC asked again for names of people close to her whom reporters could contact independently.

Kabil responded by calling NBC’s position “reckless,” and said it would cause the princess distress and force her into the public spotlight.

“The story is absolutely false and highly offensive,” Kabil wrote. “The Princess offered to meet with you privately to personally refute the story but you declined. Instead, you have chosen to rely entirely on unnamed and anonymous sources for your reporting. Thus, your viewers cannot judge your sources’ motives or credibility.”

Assessing the inner workings of the Saudi royal family can be difficult, particularly when it comes to women, U.S. officials and Saudi experts said. They noted that the wife of a king under house arrest, confined to a palace or denied access to her husband could go unnoticed for quite a while. Such a dynamic could be difficult to determine because the king’s wives are rarely seen in public, they said, and it is considered disrespectful to ask about a Saudi man’s wife.

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow for national security at the Center for American Progress who has met with top Saudi officials, including the crown prince, said it’s been particularly challenging to determine what’s happening in the kingdom over the past year because of efforts by different factions to frame what’s unfolding.

“In absolute monarchies controlled by a ruling family like Saudi Arabia, it’s hard to tell what is actually going on inside these power shifts,” Katulis said, adding that he had not heard of any issues related to the crown prince’s mother and had no way to verify it.

Chemical Weapons Accusations on Damascus Always Come as Syrian Army Wins

Bassam Sabbagh, Syria’s Permanent Envoy to the UN, has said that the terrorist organizations may use chemical weapons against the Syrian people so they may blame Damascus, which Sabbagh said would give the US military a pretext to stage more attacks.

“Syria has confidential information that the states which sponsor those terrorist organizations will exploit the convening of the executive council of The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to make their, he was quoted by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) as saying.

He emphasized that allegations of Syrian authorities’ use of chemical weapons “always coincides with its political and military achievements, and that they constitute a US bid to stop the collapse of the terrorists,” according to SANA.

Sabbagh also pledged to inform the OPCW about the possible smuggling of chemical weapons to Syria via Turkish territory. He reiterated the Syrian government’s condemnation of any use of chemical weapons, which he stressed run counter to “all international laws and conventions.”

His statement came after local media reported on Tuesday that the Syrian Army had uncovered a clandestine plant in the suburban Damascus region of Eastern Ghouta that was used by the terrorists to produce military-grade agents.

READ MORE: Syria Cannot Use Chemical Weapons Because It Has None — Syrian Envoy to UN

The discovery of high-tech equipment at the plant indicates that European or Saudi experts could have been involved in the illegal production of a spate of toxic chemicals, including chlorine, according to the media.In separate development last week, Damascus sent more than 100 letters to the UN Security Council, notifying it of the terrorist groups’ use of chemical substances against civilians in Syria.

Russia vows to retaliate against militants’ possible provocations in Syria

© REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh, MOSCOW, March 13. /TASS/.

Recent statements made by United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley on a possible strike against Syria raises indignation and extreme concern, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Such belligerent and irresponsible statements of the American representative raise indignation and extreme concern,” the statement said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that it was a blatant hypocrisy on behalf of Washington to make statements in favor of the political process in Syria, while the US forces are occupying a significant part of Syria in violation of the UN Charter and the international law.

“In fact, Washington is doing its utmost to cover up and preserve terrorist groupings, which are active near Damascus and in other provinces of Syria,” the statement said. “At the same time, the real situation in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, which terrorists use to systematically shell the residential areas of the Syrian capital, is distorted.”

The ministry stated that the attempts of the United States and its allies to misinterpret the UN Resolution on Eastern Ghouta, which excludes terrorist groupings from the ceasefire, are absolutely unacceptable.

According to the statement, “…growing concern is caused by the incoming information on militants’ preparations to imitate the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government troops against civilians as the basis to justify US unilateral strikes against Damascus and government facilities in Syria.”

“Such criminal actions may also create a threat to the lives of Russian military advisers, including representatives of the Centre for the Reconciliation of the Warring Sides, who are staying at establishments in Damascus and at facilities of the Syrian Defense Ministry,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.

“In this case, required retaliatory measures will be taken,” the ministry added.

US Belligerants Threaten WWIII Over Russian “War Crimes” In Ghouta, Blind To Our Own Limitless Civilian Slaughter

UNITED NATIONS/AMMAN (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned on Monday that Washington “remains prepared to act if we must,” if the U.N. Security Council fails to act on Syria, as the Syrian army’s onslaught in eastern Ghouta continued unabated.

Smoke rises from the besieged Eastern Ghouta in Damascus, February 27. REUTERS/ Bassam Khabieh

The United States asked the Security Council to demand an immediate 30-day ceasefire in Damascus and rebel-held eastern Ghouta, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, say they are targeting “terrorist” groups which are shelling the capital.

The army’s onslaught in eastern Ghouta, backed by air and artillery strikes, has killed about 1,160 people since Feb. 18, a war monitor said, as Assad seeks to crush the last big rebel stronghold near the capital Damascus.

“It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again,” Haley told the 15-member Security Council. “When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action.”

The United States bombed a Syrian government air base last year over a deadly chemical weapons attack.

The Security Council demanded a 30-day ceasefire across Syria in a unanimously adopted Feb. 24 resolution.

Russia and Damascus say a ceasefire ordered by the U.N. Security Council does not protect the fighters in eastern Ghouta, arguing that they are members of banned terrorist groups.

“There has been no cessation of hostilities,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday. “Violence continues in eastern Ghouta and beyond – including in Afrin, parts of Idlib and into Damascus and its suburbs.”

“No sieges have been lifted … To our knowledge, not one critically sick or wounded person has yet been evacuated.

Russia’s U.N. envoy Vassily Nebenzia also said some states were accusing the Syrian government of carrying our chemical weapons attacks in a bid to “prepare the ground for the unilateral use of force against sovereign Syria.”

“We have heard hints of that in the statements of some delegations today,” Nebenzia said. “Basically steps are being weighed which could hit regional stability very, very hard.”

HEAVY ONSLAUGHT

The assault on Ghouta is one of the heaviest in the war, which enters its eighth year this week.

Thousands of families are sleeping in the open in the streets of the biggest town in the enclave, where there is no longer any room in packed cellars to shelter from government bombardment, local authorities said.

At least 70 people had been buried in a town park because air strikes made it unsafe to reach the cemetery on the outskirts, it said.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the U.N. Security Council on Syria during a meeting of the Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

In a video filmed inside Douma, one man cowering in a heavily damaged shelter said: “It is completely uninhabitable. It is not even safe to put chickens in. There is no bathroom, just one toilet, and there are 300 people.”

Douma residents said dozens of people were trapped alive under rubble, with rescuers unable to reach them due to the intensity of the raids.

Government forces have now captured more than half the rebel enclave, entirely besieging Douma and the large town of Harasta, cutting them off from each other and neighbouring areas with advances on Saturday and Sunday.

In an apparent sign of local discontent with the rebel policy of holding out, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported that hundreds of people protested in the town of Kafr Batna to demand a deal to end the onslaught.

Shots were fired at the crowd by unknown people and one person was killed, it said. The spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman, the main rebel group there, was not immediately available for comment.

Jaish al-Islam, one of eastern Ghouta’s main rebel groups, said on Monday it had reached an agreement with the government’s ally Russia to evacuate wounded people, after communicating with Moscow through the United Nations.

A U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman said the United Nations was not part of that deal and still called for the urgent evacuation of more than 1,000 sick and wounded people in eastern Ghouta.

State television broadcasts from the government-controlled side of the battlefront showed dark grey clouds of smoke billowing from several places across a landscape of shattered buildings. A minaret had lost a chunk from one side of its slender tower. In the background, heavy vehicles could be heard rumbling past and the deep crump of explosions echoed around.

HALF-MILLION DEAD

The Observatory, said on Monday the death toll in the civil war had passed half a million people.

It has confirmed the deaths of 511,000 people, it said, and has the names of more than 350,000 of them. About 85 percent were killed by government forces and their allies, it said.

Eastern Ghouta has been besieged for years after many of its residents joined the initial protests against Assad’s rule in 2011 that triggered the slide into civil war. The United Nations says 400,000 people live in the enclave, already suffering shortages of food and medicine even before the massive assault began in mid-February.

Assad says the assault on eastern Ghouta is needed to end the rule of Islamist insurgents over the civilian population and to stop mortar fire on nearby Damascus.

The United Nations has warned of dire shortages of food and medicine, where international deliveries have long been erratic and often obstructed before they could reach the enclave.

The expulsion of the rebels from eastern Ghouta would represent their biggest defeat since they lost their enclave in Aleppo in December 2016. They still control large areas in the northwest and southwest and a few scattered pockets elsewhere but have been driven from most major population centres.

Syrian jets also struck rebel-held towns in the country’s south, the first aerial attacks on the area since the United States and Russia brokered a deal making it a “de-escalation zone” last year, rebels and residents said.

Additional reporting by a reporter in eastern Ghouta and Angus McDowall and Ellen Francis in Beirut; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Alistair Bell

Saudi Boy-King A College Dropout and A Loser, Leading King’s Vanity Army To Hell

What is the secret and why did the Saudi Crown Prince reach a dead end?

1 March 2018 at 00:00

 

The US military officers in the Central Command, as a result of their talks and their dealings with the Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Minister of Defense, that the great responsibilities received by Mohammed bin Salman is unable to carry out, and the first point is that Mohammed bin Salman registered at the university but did not follow his lessons and not him But he took some experience when his father, King Salman Abdul Aziz, Governor of Riyadh and briefed on administrative transactions on transactions and contracting in the Saudi capital, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz reached the throne and handed over his son many responsibilities, including three:
1 – is the defense minister of the largest army in the region because what the Saudi army buys annually up to 400 billion dollars if we take the average rate of the last ten years, he bought more than Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Spain and Italy, at the same time has no previous military experience in the administration However, the leadership of the Saudi Army and its command is fully recognized by his post as defense minister, where he is subject to the commander of the Saudi army with all its ground, air, missile, armor, air defense and artillery.
2 – The presidency of Aramco, the largest oil company in the world produces 11 million barrels and a half is the chairman of the board of directors is absolute and because there is no board of directors but is the owner of all decisions.
3. The leadership of the Royal Court, which issues all the decrees and decrees of the Kingdom, is required. This requires at least 25 years of experience and the age of 32 years. He has no previous experience in the administration of Saudi affairs, especially in the field of oil, defense, international relations and the regional conflict from Afghanistan to Iran To Pakistan to Turkey to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Israel to Egypt to the Maghreb countries, the most important of which is Algeria, in addition to the weakness of his European relations, where he does not know the principles of the European Union.
When the war on Yemen was announced by the storm, the American officers responsible for the Saudi Army Command asked him not to launch a full-scale war because the size and composition of Yemen required the introduction of 150,000 officers and soldiers, with about 2,000 tanks, 4,000 guns and the use of 250 private F-15 fighter jets. , And refused to participate in the war through 200 aircraft to shell and did not enter tanks or artillery, but sent six thousand troops to Sanaa, where they were trapped and defeat them, and the chief of the Saudi Army, who was fired yesterday did not have the courage to tell the Defense Minister that we are going to commit suicide in Yemen , So yesterday was sacked and loaded The responsibility of the failure of the war in Yemen to the commander of the Saudi army and the arrival of an officer does not have combat experience because the Saudi army has not fought any battle in its history and did not participate in any war, and the alternative to participate in the war is the courses in America where the exercise is military exercises involving 80 thousand troops and actually A real war management involving officers and commanders of armies, including a senior army officer is preparing to become the commander of the Saudi army, but the army commander who was appointed does not have experience, but find Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz, in order to satisfy the Sadiri wing in the Saudi family Al Saud.
After the end of the first stage in the war in Yemen and the failure of the Saudi army and the UAE, mercenaries were hired as young men and paid salaries between 4,000 dollars and 6,000 dollars for soldiers and officers and fought instead of the Saudi army but they know nothing about valleys and mountains. Iran has provided simple weapons to the Houthis, but the size of the arms of the Saudi army is 8 times greater than that of the Iranian army. Thus, Saudi Arabia lost the war in Yemen and it was in trouble for the United Arab Emirates and they have no solution but to divide Yemen into the north and south. N Alamartyon they are comfortable in northern Yemen Houthis.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman paid $ 841 billion of Aramco’s cash and checks, which paid America $ 450 million. He paid Turkey and Egypt many points on the basis of standing against Iran. He is now fighting Iran, but Iran can not beat Saudi Arabia because the US military protects Saudi Arabia. That Saudi Arabia can not win over Iran because Iran has a population of 88 million people and an area of ​​one million and 600 thousand kilometers, the largest country in the region area is a semi-continent in addition to it has a regular army of 3 million soldiers and possess a revolutionary guard of 960 thousand officers and soldiers, the total of 4 million Therefore, the war of the Crown Prince of peace Man will not win Iran, as Iran will not win, but the conflict will remain tense in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
CAIRO – The US commander in the Middle East, General Al-Jahrlal Fotil, was present after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declared the blockade with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to Qatar and told them that the US military headquarters in the Gulf is in Qatar at Al-Qadim base. After the siege on Qatar, Qatar imported 15% of the nutrients from Saudi Arabia and Europe. When it became under siege, it imported 85% of its food and its needs from Iran. It also established a better relationship with Iran but with borders because America The Qatar alliance refuses to accept Iran’s relations with Iran But Washington wants Iran not to open its borders to Afghanistan and not to facilitate the dispatch of some 1 million Taliban on the Iran-Afghanistan border after the United States launched a war on Afghanistan. Of the 37 million Afghans, 6 million fled to Pakistan and 2 million to Iran. The United States has paid 4 billion dollars to Iran in return for closing Iran’s border with Afghanistan and not allowing the Taliban to enter Afghanistan so as not to hit the US military in Afghanistan.
In the political experience, the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman showed that he did not understand the political structure of Lebanon. He summoned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and forced him to resign without giving the full details of a failure in Lebanon. The United States and Europe, especially France, against him and considered his behavior on Lebanon to be destabilizing Lebanon, Russia and the United States agree on the stability of Lebanon and came to Mohammed bin Salman and hit the stability in Lebanon stood in the face of Russian President Putin and US President Trump and French President Macaron and Faysal bin Salman P Shallah
Saudi Arabia is in danger, and the big powers, especially President Trump, French President Macaron and Russian President Putin, put on their table the political and military future of Saudi Arabia under the rule of Ben Salman. They agreed to pressure him first to preserve the world’s largest oil wealth and the need for it will last 40 to 50 years And the second, so as not to divide Saudi Arabia after Bin Salman arrested 37 emirs and forced them to give up most of their wealth, in addition to the arrest of 300 Saudi businessmen and forced them to give up 90% of their wealth. But after the pressure on the crown prince was released but received 541 billion dollars, but the damage to the family of Saud and investment men much greater because under the existence of law and the rule of a young man aged 32 years to seize $ 541 billion dollars by force and without trial under the pressure of intelligence and force businessmen To sign the waiver of their wealth left great concern to the major countries, and the question was what is the guarantee with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman if he behaves this way in 44 days and force by force to withdraw 541 billion dollars of princes and businessmen did not do not robbery or corruption under the title Bin Salman put it «fighting corruption», and felt that about Fighting corruption is a big lie. General Fotel, the largest American officer in the Central Region, commander of US armies in the central region, from India to Central Russia, through Turkey and Afghanistan, told Mohammed bin Salman that the siege on Qatar should be lifted because the US military command center is in danger General Fotil and his threat, Saudi Arabia in the spring will lift the blockade with the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain from Qatar.
If the United States does not save Saudi Arabia with France, Mohammed bin Salman leads Saudi Arabia to collapse and to the problem of the Al Saud family system and disputes within the royal family.

Another Neocon Con-Job?…”Let Assad Win”….Max Boot

 
Syrians walk down a street past rubble from destroyed buildings. (Hamza Al-Ajweh/AFP/Getty Images)

Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing assault on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta is a war crime that has already killed more than 900 civilians. But while it’s easy to condemn this “brutal campaign,” as the White House has dutifully done, it’s hard to know what to do about it. A U.N.-brokered cease-fire is being predictably ignored. A small humanitarian relief convoy finally made it through, but its arrival will not stop the slaughter.

In 2012, I joined many others in calling for the United States to enforce a no-fly zone to stop the rain of Assad’s barbaric “barrel bombs” and to provide aid to the Free Syrian Army to overthrow him. A lot more people might be alive today if President Barack Obama had listened, and a strategic and humanitarian disaster might have been averted. But, although right six years ago, I no longer think that advice makes sense now. Russia got involved in Syria in 2015, and the United States can’t attack Russian aircraft without risking a war. Thanks to Russian and Iranian aid, Assad is no longer on the verge of defeat. His position is more secure than ever, and it’s only a matter of time before he reconquers most of Syria.

Using U.S. airpower to aid the embattled people of Ghouta might make us feel good, but it would not save lives. Even if we could ground Russian aircraft — a big if — pro-regime forces would simply use artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems to pulverize the city. U.S. intervention would only prolong the agony.

The way to save lives, I’ve sadly concluded, is to let Assad win as quickly as possible. Aleppo was a charnel house in 2016. But now that it has fallen to Assad’s forces, pictures are circulating of civilians strolling through its rebuilt public park. It’s terrible that they have to live under Assad, but at least they’re alive. Tyranny is preferable to endless and useless war.

I once would have been sympathetic to the plan put forward by American Enterprise Institute fellow Kenneth Pollack to aid Syrian rebel groups to bleed the Iranians and Russians. No longer. Such aid makes sense when, as in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the rebels have a realistic chance to prevail. It’s not right, however, to use Syrians as cannon fodder in a great power rivalry when they have no hope of winning.

That’s not to suggest that there is nothing the United States can do. We can try to bargain with Moscow to restrain Assad’s brutality in return for an end to U.S. opposition to his regime, and we can maintain the taboo against the use of weapons of mass destruction. In April, President Trump launched cruise missiles against a Syrian airfield in response to a sarin-gas attack by Assad’s forces. This year, there have been at least seven reports of Assad using chlorine gas. Trump should launch airstrikes against the responsible Syrian units — as he is reportedly considering — even though it would do little to ameliorate the larger horrors of the conflict.

The most important thing the United States can do now is to stand with our Kurdish and Arab partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces that liberated northeastern Syria from the Islamic State. The Kurds control about 25 percent of Syria’s territory, and there is a U.S. military presence 2,000 strong to aid them and prevent the Islamic State from returning. The Turkish government is not happy about this. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sent the Turkish army, working with Syrian allies, to attack the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in northwestern Syria. Erdogan sees no difference between the Syrian Kurds in the YPG (People’s Protection Units) and the Turkish Kurds in the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), whom he has long regarded as domestic subversives and mortal enemies.

Trump should cut a deal with Erdogan: The YPG will sever all support for the PKK in return for the Turks pulling back. As long as the YPG sticks to this bargain, the United States will use its airpower and advisers to defend the Syrian Kurdish enclave east of the Euphrates River, just as it committed after the 1991 Gulf War to defend the Iraqi Kurds. Turkey wasn’t happy with that decision but has learned that it can live with, and happily trade with, the Kurdish Regional Government.

Leaving Assad in control of three-quarters of Syria will be a bitter pill to swallow. He is not only a war criminal but also a threat to Israel — as long as Assad remains in charge, Iran will attempt to establish military bases in Syria. But Israel can defend itself, and we missed our best opportunity under Obama to oust Assad. Now we have no choice but to accept the grim reality — Assad is going to win — while trying to ameliorate the worst excesses of his murderous reign.

Arrogant, Delusional, Warmonger Boy King Can’t Sell the World His Bullshit Revisionist Historical Fairytale Stories

[SEE: ‘A national disgrace’: fury over £100m aid deal between UK and Saudi Arabia]

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sits during an allegiance pledging ceremony flanked by senior Saudi religious figures in Mecca, Saudi Arabia June 21, 2017. (Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Court)

Saudi Prince Dubs Iran, Turkey and Extremist Religious Groups “Triangle of Evil”

In a scathing interview with an Egyptian newspaper, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler spared no words against a growing list of enemies.

https://www.juancole.com/2018/03/prince-extremists-triangle.html

Supporting Taliban Against Daesh Is A ‘ Big Mistake’–Afghan Nat. Sec. Advisor Atmar

Supporting Taliban to Fight Against Daesh Is A ‘ Big Mistake’: NSA Atmar

National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar says International terrorist organizations including Daesh are active under umbrella of the Taliban in Afghanistan, insisting that it is a “big mistake” to support a militant group to fight against other.   

Speaking to Afghan military commanders on Thursday, Atmar said that if the Taliban lay down arms, the other militant groups involved in the ongoing war, will flee outside Afghanistan borders.

He said the international terror networks – including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT),  Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,  East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM – are active under umbrella of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In a message to neighboring countries, Atmar said: “Those who support the Taliban to fight Daesh is a mistake because both [groups] are the same.” Adding that the Taliban and Daesh (Islamic State) militant groups are supporting each other in Faryab and Jowzjan provinces.

Following the peace proposal to the Taliban, NSA Atmar stressed that the government talks peace only with the Afghan militant groups. He said making peace with the Taliban and Haqqani Network will ensure stability and security in the region.

This comes as Afghan and U.S. officials accuse Russia and Iran of supporting the Taliban by sheltering, training, funding and arming the insurgent group to undermine the U.S.-led stabilization.

Trump Fighting Pakistani Taliban So Pakistan Doesn’t Have To?

[Most of the MOAB Dead Were Reportedly Former TTP Converts To ISIS Cash ; US Drone Strike In Khost Kills 3 TTP/ISIS Taliban, While Pak Army Hangs 2 More, Same Group ; Did Trump Offer To Strike Pakistan’s TTP Targets In Afghanistan? ]

Afghanistan drone strike kills 20 Pakistani Taliban, officials say

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A suspected U.S. drone strike on a training camp in an isolated part of Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar on Wednesday killed more than 20 Pakistani Taliban preparing to launch suicide attacks in Pakistan, officials said.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said the attack, carried out in a village called Saresha Sultan Shah, killed at least two senior figures in the movement, besides someone believed to be a trainer of suicide bombers.

The Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan or TTP, is separate from the Afghan Taliban and combines a number of groups that fight the government of Pakistan. The U.S. State Department has put it on a list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Last month, a suspected U.S. drone strike on the Pakistani side of the border killed the deputy leader of the TTP, which has been waging a campaign of bombings and other attacks on Pakistani forces.

The Pakistani intelligence officials said Wednesday’s drone strike in Kunar, an undeveloped and thickly forested province on the two countries’ border, took place during a visit by senior TTP figures prior to sending the militants into Pakistan.

They said it killed Gul Mohammad, a TTP leader in Bajaur Agency on the Afghan border, and Qari Yaseen [Qari Yasin was reported killed by drone on March 20, last year], whom officials described as a “master trainer of suicide bombers”. A son of TTP leader Fazlullah Khorasani was also killed, they added.

Sources in the Pakistani Taliban confirmed the strike had killed more than a dozen of their members but said Fazlullah Khorasani, who was visiting the training camp at the time of the attack, had not himself been killed.A spokesman of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan headquarters in the capital, Kabul, did not confirm the report.

“We were not aware of this report and have no additional information to offer,” he said in an emailed statement.

Last year, the CIA requested increased authorities to conduct covert drone strikes against militant targets in Afghanistan.

Provincial officials in Kunar confirmed a drone strike had been carried out, but did not say what the target had been.

Afghanistan and Pakistan accuse each other of allowing militant groups to shelter in remote frontier regions to prepare cross-border attacks. U.S. officials have also accused Pakistan of not doing enough to crack down on such groups operating on its side of the border.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have become increasingly strained over the issue and the United States this year suspended about US$2 billion in assistance to Pakistan.

(Additional reporting by Rohullah Anwari in ASADABAD and James Mackenzie and Hamid Shalizi in KABUL; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Source: Reuters

Kurdish/Syrian Forces Devastate Turkish Armor In Afrin, Claiming 96 Targets Destroyed

A Turkish tank on the outskirts of Jandaris town, southwestern Afrin, on Wednesday. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP
A Turkish tank on the outskirts of Jandaris town, southwestern Afrin, on Wednesday. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey will begin installing domestically-made protection systems on its tanks in Afrin, to shield them from missiles and rocket fire, the defence minister stated on Wednesday as a conflict monitor noted an “escalated” pace of operations in the Syrian Kurdish enclave.

“We will begin to install PULAT system to our tanks participating in Afrin operation by the end of this month or beginning of April,” Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli told Anadolu Agency in an interview.

The system, with 360 degrees of range, detects and intercepts approaching anti-tank missiles, Anadolu reported.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claimed on Wednesday that they have destroyed 96 armoured vehicles, including tanks, belonging to Turkey and their Syrian allies and have damaged another 32 in operations in Afrin since January 20. They have also reported shooting down two helicopters and damaging a third.

Turkey launched its Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria on January 20 with the stated aim of clearing “terrorists” from its borders. Ankara alleges the Kurdish armed forces, YPG and YPJ, and the ruling PYD are branches of the PKK, a named terror organization. The Kurdish groups deny the charge.

Turkey ‘targets’ communication towers

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the “continuous flight of Turkish warplanes over Afrin area” on Wednesday, noting violent clashes in Shera district, northeastern Afrin, and on the outskirts of Jandaris town in the southwest.

According to the SDF, so far in operations they have lost 283 fighters among their own ranks and claimed to have killed 1,588 members of the Turkish armed forces and their allied Syrian militias.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed their forces have “neutralized” 2,960 “terrorists” in operations in Afrin to date. Turkey uses the term “neutralized” to refer to those removed from the battlefield, whether they were killed or injured.

Turkey has targeted communication towers in the past 24 hours, “which resulted in interruption of the communication networks and the internet almost completely,” the UK-based conflict monitor stated on Wednesday.

As Turkey advances from the borders, much of the civilian population, numbering some 323,000 according to UN figures, has been gathering in central Afrin where humanitarian conditions are deteriorating and medical supplies and food are in short supply.

The SDF reported 165 civilian deaths due to Turkish airstrikes and artillery shelling. Another 650 civilians have been injured.

The Observatory has documented 185 civilian deaths, 69 of whom were killed after the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire that council members insist also applies to Afrin.

Turkey has denied harming civilians during its military offensive and insists that the ceasefire does not apply to Afrin.

The Kurdish forces have stated their acceptance of the truce, but maintain the right to self-defence.

Turkey wants US to stop SDF redeployment

Asked about Turkey’s intent to take Afrin city, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the United States has “real concerns about that because of an escalation of violence,” explaining that Washington has been calling for a de-escalation of violence since Turkey began its operation.

“The more that we would see Turkish forces enter into Syria proper, deeper into Syria, the more that it stands to create a potential humanitarian crisis,” she said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

She added that the situation in Afrin “underscores” the importance of a nation-wide ceasefire.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian explained on Tuesday that French officials have told Turkey to “put an end” to its offensive in Afrin.

Defence Minister Canikli, who attended a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels last month, rebuffed international opposition to its offensive, telling Anadolu that he “talked to most of my counterparts and there was no criticism for Afrin operation.”

Turkey is upset about a shift in US-backed SDF fighters from the war against ISIS in eastern Syria to join the defence of Afrin.

“The US is expected to step in to stop YPG/PYD forces shifting – under US control – from Manbij to Afrin,” Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on Wednesday.

“This is our most natural right. Whether they do it or not is a separate question but we have taken all the necessary measures on the ground,” he said.

The United States has not immediately responded.

Arab forces who have families among the IDPs sheltering in Afrin announced on Tuesday that they were redeploying some 1,700 troops from Deir ez-Zor to Afrin.

State Department spokesperson Nauert said the United States was concerned by the move. “We would like to see the focus stay on the fight against ISIS,” she said.

Even “Saint Billy” Admitted Belief In Jewish Control Over America

Nixon, Graham anti-Semitism on tape

President, pastor recorded views in 1972 meeting

March 01, 2002|By James Warren, Tribune staff reporter.

Rev. Billy Graham openly voiced a belief that Jews control the American media, calling it a “stranglehold” during a 1972 conversation with President Richard Nixon, according to a tape of the Oval Office meeting released Thursday by the National Archives.

 

“This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain,” the nation’s best-known preacher declared as he agreed with a stream of bigoted Nixon comments about Jews and their perceived influence in American life.

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“You believe that?” Nixon says after the “stranglehold” comment.

“Yes, sir,” Graham says.

“Oh, boy,” replies Nixon. “So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”

“No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something,” Graham replies.

Later, Graham mentions that he has friends in the media who are Jewish, saying they “swarm around me and are friendly to me.” But, he confides to Nixon, “They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.”

The newly released tapes cover the first six months of 1972, with the Vietnam War and the upcoming presidential campaign the backdrops for many conversations. The tapes touch subjects as varied as using a nuclear bomb on North Vietnam–a notion quickly derided by adviser Henry Kissinger–and settling a West Coast dock strike.

They also include all of the famous “smoking gun” conversation about the Watergate break-in, known for its damaging disclosures about a cover-up and its 18 1/2-minute gap.

The Nixon-Graham remarks came during a 90-minute session after a prayer breakfast the men attended on Feb. 1, 1972.

Scholars surprised

“I find this rather stunning,” said William Martin, a professor of religion and sociology at Rice University in Houston and author of “A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story.”

“This is out of character with anything else I have heard Billy Graham say or be quoted as saying. It is disappointing,” Martin said.

“What Graham said that day is inexcusable. Did it ever occur to him that he should have countered the president?” said Martin Marty, a religious historian at the University of Chicago who noted the distinction some conservative evangelicals and Pentecostals have made between supporting Israel but not American Jews.

“One really did not associate him with this,” said Michael Kotzin, a vice president at the Jewish United Fund in Chicago. “Rather than try to direct Nixon in a different direction, he reinforces him and eggs him on when it came to these stereotypes, and that’s troubling.”

Graham, 83, is not in good health and indicated, through spokesman Larry Ross, that he could not respond because he did not recall the conversation.

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Thursday’s release of 426 hours brings to about 2,600, out of a total of 3,700, the hours of recordings either publicly disclosed or returned to the Nixon family because they were deemed strictly personal. Many recordings, including the Graham tape, are edited to exclude content believed to disclose national security information, constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy or reveal trade secrets, among other matters.

Previous tapes have underscored the complexity of Nixon, including his insecurity and occasional nastiness. Apologists tend to cite his fits of bigotry as ancillary to his policy achievements, with the Nixon estate claiming that his harshness was often a display of faux machismo in the presence of H.R. Haldeman or his other top aide, John Erlichman.

While other prominent figures, such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then a Nixon aide, can also be heard on tapes during mean-spirited discourses by Nixon, many assumed a more passive role. Graham is unusual for being a distinguished outsider actively taking part.

Longtime friendship

Graham and Nixon had become close friends during the Eisenhower administration, when Nixon was vice president. The friendship remained strong until Nixon was brought down by the Watergate scandal and resigned the presidency in August 1974.

Haldeman’s diaries noted the conversation. He wrote that there was discussion “of the terrible problem arising from the total Jewish domination of the media, and agreement that this was something that would have to be dealt with.”

He continues, “Graham has the strong feeling that the Bible says there are satanic Jews and there’s where our problem arises.” No such comments about the Bible are found on the tape released Thursday but, because it contains several long deletions, it’s believed such remarks were excised.

The lengthy chat opens with Graham praising Nixon’s prayer breakfast remarks. “There were a lot of people in tears when you finished this morning and it’s very moving. That’s the best I’ve heard you at one of those breakfast things.”

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Iranian Gen. Soleimani Wants To Present Dossier On US Support To ISIS

[SEE: Washington’s Islamist Assets Being Relocated Once Again, This Time To Southeast Asia]

US Black hawk helicopters

Iranian General Wants to ‘Slap West in Face’ With Proof of US-Daesh Cooperation

© AFP 2018/ JOSEPH EID

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, special advisor on international affairs to Iran’s speaker of parliament, said he had a meeting with Soleimani and received the evidence while he was working at the foreign ministry.

“He gave me documents and told me to slap them in the face of the West and the UN,” Amir-Abdollahian said, according to Press TV.

Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, an Iranian special forces unit which has been battling Daesh in Syria, even asked Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to “put the documents on the table and tell the Americans ‘this is what you are up to’,” Amir-Abdollahian added.Soleimani’s documents “contained precise information on the geographical position, time and exact details” of US collusion with the terrorists, the official stressed.

For instance, Amir-Abdollahian recalled that while Mosul, Iraq was still under Daesh occupation, “an American A330 [transport plane] landed in Mosul Airport; American generals got off the plane and military equipment was unloaded. At the airport’s VIP lounge, the American generals talked with Daesh leaders in Mosul for three hours and 23 minutes and then boarded the plane and returned. What did they bring Daesh? Weapons and equipment it needed and that they had already agreed on.”

Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, file photo.
© AP Photo/ Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader
Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, file photo.

The official also confirmed earlier reports of US helicopters being used to deliver military equipment to senior Daesh commanders, and evacuating captured leaders. “Later, we found out that the Americans had taken some of those evacuated to northern Afghanistan, some to Libya and others to southern Yemen,” he said.

Syrian, Russian and Iranian officials have repeatedly accused the US of shady dealings with Syrian jihadist groups in recent months, charging the US military with evacuating Daesh commanders, and training ex-jihadist militants at the Al Hasakah refugee camp in northeastern Syria.Last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister charged the US of regularly evacuating militants out of Syria and Iraq. These claims have been echoed by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who claimed that Daesh was a “tool” used by Washington in Afghanistan to pursue its broader goals in the region.

Pak/US Historical Sabotage of ANY Afghan Peace Efforts

[It’s not often that I come across an article which appears to completely validate one of my previous research reports, but the following report from  Afghanistan’s TOLO NEWS on Pak. ISI interference with Afghan peace attempts does just that, with my report, called, Arresting Taliban To Cover America’s Ass.  Many of my other reports from the same 2008 era on Mullah Baradar can be found HERE.]

However, Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI), has said that there was no doubt over Pakistan’s intention to sabotage the peace process in Afghanistan.

mullah-omar-27

The Afghan government and the Taliban were willing to conduct purposeful peace negotiation talks in Pakistan in 2007 and again in 2009, but the Pakistani government and Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) sabotaged the peace process between the two sides, a New York Times report has quoted a Norwegian diplomat Alf Arne Ramslien as saying.

The New York Times report says that in 2007, the Taliban emissary gave Ramslien a list of five names that Mullah Omar had tasked with exploring the possibility of peace talks with the Afghan government. They needed the help of a facilitator, he said, and Ramslien was it.

However, Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI), has said that there was no doubt over Pakistan’s intention to sabotage the peace process in Afghanistan.

“The people of Afghanistan know the role the Pakistanis are playing in the Afghan peace process, our allies also know it,” MoI spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told TOLOnews.

The New York Times reports states that in May 2008, the Taliban agreed to meet Afghan government representatives and after a brief delay, delegations from both parties arrived in Oslo in November.

According to the Norwegian’s report, they stayed in the same hotel. But a few hours after arriving the home of one of the Taliban negotiators was bombed and his brother was killed and wife wounded.

The New York Times report states that peace efforts continued until 2009 and three Norwegian diplomats met with the Taliban’s then leader Mullah Omar.

According to the report, Mullah Omar was suffering from kidney disease and diabetes at the time.

“He was definitely very sick,” Ramslien said.

“We knew that he had severe diabetes problems. We knew that he had kidney problems. And his talk was slurred.”

The report states that Pakisan’s ISI continued to put hurdles in the way of Afghan peace talks. In addition the deployment of thousands of additional U.S troops by the Obama administration also created challenges for the talks.

Pakistan’s crackdown against Mullah Omar’s deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Beradar, who was arrested only a few days before the peace negotiation talks started, was seen as a sign that Pakistan did not want the talks to go ahead.

Later, Obama’s agreeing to a military surge of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, in Ramslien’s view, was a significant setback to the process, the article stated.

“If they are bombing us from above, we will bomb them from below,” was how Ramslien characterized the Taliban’s attitude then, according to the New York Times.

“Those Taliban who join the peace process, they love their people and country, but those who reject peace process are slaves of Pakistan,” said a member of the Kunduz provincial council Safiullah Amiri.

“Pakistan is the hub of terrorists and Pakistan itself is sponsor of terrorism,” said civil society activist Mohammad Ibrahim Rahimi.

 

Washington to its allies…Let us divide Syria

Washington to its allies: Let us divide Syria

Diplomatic document reveals the US plan in the face of Russia and Iran

The participants gave themselves a deadline to implement the US plan (AFP)

US policy in Syria has changed. After a long time in deciding what they would do after the defeat of the “Da’ash”, the Americans decided to prolong the war by staying behind the eastern bank of the Euphrates and working on a detailed plan to divide the country. Over the past two months, US diplomacy has been briefing allies on the plan in preparation for its launch and implementation. In this context, Al-Akhbar received a diplomatic cable from the British Embassy in Washington, summarizing the US strategy to reach a division of Syria as presented by David Satterfield during a meeting in Washington on 11 October last year by representatives of the “Syria”

Mohammed Balout, Walid Sharara

The US fragmentation project in Syria is no longer in the realm of analysis, not in the Russian diplomatic relations with Washington. The words of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have emerged in recent days that Washington is planning to divide. After last week’s strike by US air and missile destroyers of Russian and Syrian forces, last week tried to cross the “border” over floating bridges from the western Euphrates to the east. The United States worked to establish a dividing line of fire between Suritin, west of the Euphrates and its east.

But what happened was not a lightning bolt in a clear diplomatic or field sky. The massacre by US warplanes of the “Wagner” fighters of the Russian army in Syria has drawn the border and the future beyond the Euphrates to the east, as the Americans have prepared for weeks. This comes after the new National Security Council matured on Syria. The Americans knew their allies in the Syria Group six weeks ago that the next goal is to separate the east from the rest of the Syrian map. The White House allocated $ 4 billion a year to finance the forces that Will work in the area in addition to training the border guard force to be established to dissolve the Kurdish dominance in Syria’s democratic forces east of the river, and facilitate the creation of political opposition east of the river representing the region, and prevent the return of the Syrian army.
In a five-page diplomatic cable from the British Embassy in Washington, which the News received, the diplomat and Middle East expert Benjamin Norman summarizes the British Foreign Office in London, the new US strategy to reach the division of Syria, Middle East, David Satterfield during a meeting in Washington on the eleventh of last month representatives of the «Syria Group» America.
The meeting was attended by Satterfield, head of Syria’s team at the British Foreign Office Hugh Clary, and the head of the Middle East and North Africa division of the French Foreign Ministry, Jerome Bonnafon. Two Arab allies of Washington in its partition plan attended the meeting: Advisor to the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nawaf Wasfi al-Tal, and the security official in the Saudi Interior Ministry Brigadier Jamal al-Aqeel.
The brief cable Satterfield speaks frankly about the goal the United States will pursue from now on, dividing and separating the Syrian east and the north-east of the country. Satterfield said, as outlined in the British brief, that the plan must be made up of five points: dividing Syria, sabotaging Sochi, absorbing Turkey, issuing instructions to international mediator Stephane de Mistura to restore Geneva and implementing an eight-point paper containing the solution in Syria was Washington submitted it to the last meeting of the Syrian opposition and representatives of the government in Vienna on the 26th of last month. The participants gave themselves a deadline to implement the plan when they welcomed the US proposals “and called for concrete progress in Syria in 2018 and to respond to the propaganda of the Russian victory.”
Satterfield told the audience that President Donald Trump had decided to maintain an important military force in Syria, despite the defeat of the “Dahesh,” and that the US administration had allocated $ 4 billion a year to the operation, which Western sources say would also spend on expanding US bases in Kurdish-controlled territory Especially in Rumailan in the far east of Syria and in Ain al-Arab (Kubani) on the Syrian-Turkish border. He said the aim was to prevent Iranians from long-term concentration in Syria or to impose themselves on the tracks of a political solution. The group decided to confront the Russian monopolization politically in determining the future of the political system in Syria by providing material and political support to Stefan de Mistura to strengthen the Geneva process, in the face of Sochi. Everyone welcomed these proposals, focusing on the other field and process to meet the «Russian desire to reach a political solution».
The United Nations will play a big role in the US plan to divide Syria. Priority will be given to strengthening the Geneva process. The Americans told the audience that they would no longer participate in the Astana meetings and that they had reduced their diplomatic representation to the lowest level, to return the political process to Geneva. The minutes of the meeting say that the sponsors acknowledged that Geneva had failed despite the efforts made by Stephane de Mistura to revive it. They expressed reservations about the cease-fire in Syria under the current field conditions and with the retreat of the opposition and considered it useless to introduce the cease-fire proposal in the Geneva process because In fact, “we do not have the ability to prevent the regime from gnawing the pockets that the opposition still maintains in Idlib and the eastern Ghouta,” according to the notes.

“We advised the opposition not to support the idea of ​​a transitional government, and the opposition should stop waving the interim government on every occasion,” Satterfield told the assembly. “The Americans are on the road to partition. They do not care about the idea of ​​a transitional government. . The Americans said that the aim of their diplomatic initiatives is to preserve their image and show their flexibility and movement, while not using the opposition in these negotiations without abandoning their ultimate goal of dividing Syria and Assad’s departure. The Americans explained to everyone that “the plan is to work to establish institutions and conditions for elections that Bashar al-Assad can not win, so there is no obvious justification for preventing Assad from participating in the elections.” The meeting approved a strategy for Russia to test its intentions to go to the right conditions for holding elections under the auspices of the United Nations «and dragged the regime to negotiate a new constitution, and not satisfied with the words of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Satterfield said: “We will benefit positively from the fragility of Vladimir Putin’s position in the electoral phase in order to push the Russians to abandon President Assad through more meetings in the Security Council and the largest media campaign against him.”
The Americans took a step toward establishing a diplomatic channel with East Euphrates and the Kurds by appointing William Robock as ambassador to the Syrian Democratic Forces, Satterfield told the meeting. They also presented proposals that would give more recognition and diplomatic weight to the Kurds in the negotiating process without provoking the Turks, especially since they were aware of the American steps in this direction, which justified the Turks by the attack on Afrin. The Americans also proposed to sink the Kurdish representation in the Geneva negotiations under the banner of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” and to form a delegation representing East Euphrates to be implemented by the delegation and the opposition coalition delegation to the delegation of the Syrian government.


Participants in the meeting

Benjamin Norman, prepared the meeting minutes sent to the British Foreign Office, the Middle East Foreign and Security Policy Expert at the British Embassy in Washington.
Hugh Clare, head of the Syria team at the British Foreign Office.
Jerome Bonnafon, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Division of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
– David Satterfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East.
Nawaf Wasfi Al-Tal, Advisor to the Jordanian Foreign Minister.
Brigadier General Jamal al-Aqeel, a Saudi security official.


Introduction

The first meeting of the US mini-working group on Syria after President Donald Trump congratulated the presence of US troops in the country. It was agreed to provide immediate support to Stephan de Mistura to balance Russian efforts, to re-activate the Geneva process structurally, to renegotiate humanitarian issues, and to prisoners … The mini-group will present proposals on the Syrian constitution and elections, and Russia’s understanding of what President Bashar al- Assad in the next round of negotiations to be held in Vienna on 26 January. The ministers will meet in Paris on January 23 to agree on this approach and throw the gauntlet at the Russians. Tilerson will deliver a keynote address on Syria next week.


Comments of the author of the document

Point 18: This meeting achieved progress according to Syrian standards. The United States has reasserted its leadership as it wishes, which Tilerson will make clear in a speech on Syria at the Hoover Institution. Satterfield reiterated US commitment to the political track, and in separate meetings (with Brian Hook). It was clear that Tilerson would help propel the vehicle forward.
Point 19: We now have a solid plan for the next three weeks. However, there was a debate on how to continue to pressure Russia, and even multiply it if they did not respond to our requests concerning the Syrian regime, as we hope. We should continue what we have started in this area by focusing on the terrible humanitarian situation and Russian complicity with bombing against civilians.
Point 20: (Addressing Satterfield) Thank you so much for you and Hugh for attending this meeting. The United States has expressed its gratitude for our efforts and support in the months that have passed, having crystallized its strategy, that it is a good working day.
Best regards
Benjamin Norman. Foreign and Security Policy. British Embassy, ​​Washington.

TAPI pipeline–Not a done deal, yet

TAPI pipeline: Not a done deal, yet

Despite India, Pakistan and Turkmenistan signing an agreement for the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline, it faces many hurdles before it can become a reality, says Shebonti Ray Dadwal.

On May 23, GAIL India, Pakistan’s Inter State Gas Systems and Turkmenistan’s state gas company Turkmengaz signed the General Sales Purchase Agreements for the ambitious transcontinental gas pipeline project which would see Turkmen gas being delivered to India and Pakistan via Afghanistan in 2018.

Interestingly, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan signed only a MoU for cooperation in the gas sector, leaving the signing of a GSPA till negotiations on prices were agreed upon.

The 1,700-kilometre pipeline, once constructed, will transport some 90 billion cubic metres of gas per year for 30 years from Turkmenistan’s giant Galkynysh field to energy-hungry consumers in Pakistan and India as well as relieving shortages in Afghanistan.

Despite the euphoria and the media coverage, one can’t help but wonder whether the project will eventually see the light of day. No doubt, the fact that the project has received robust support from the US does allow for some optimism (the Baku-Tbilsi-Ceyhan pipeline was pushed through by Washington despite innumerable technical, commercial and security hurdles).

The US has done everything it could to ensure that the project becomes a reality, from getting the Asian Development Bank’s [ Get Quote ] technical and financial support and projecting it as a harbinger of regional peace and prosperity, to thwarting the rival Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project.

Neither can one deny that when, and if, the pipeline is constructed, it will not only provide India with access to Central Asia’s vast energy resources, but will also allow the latter to diversify their market away from Russian and Chinese dominance.

Nevertheless, there are several reasons to believe that the project remains a chimera. First, the pipeline will go through 735 km in Afghanistan (Herat and Kandahar) and Pakistan’s Baluchistan (Quetta) which remain conflict-ridden, before going on to Multan and Fazilka in India.

After NATO exits post 2014, the instability in these regions may worsen, notwithstanding the Afghan government’s assurance of an ‘understanding’ being reached with the Taliban [ Images ].

Second, in 2008, the project cost was estimated at $7.6 billion (about Rs 41,800 crore). By the time the pipeline is laid, the cost is expected to be around $10 billion to $12 billion (about Rs 55,000 crores to Rs 66,000 crores).

Moreover, India will have to pay almost $13/mmBtu ($9.7/mmBtu to Turkmenistan, 50 cents/mmBtu to Afghanistan and Pakistan as transit fees and $1.83/mmBtu as transportation charges), which is lower than the $16/mmBtu paid for imported LNG, but far higher than domestically produced gas at $4.20/mmBtu.

Moreover, although ADB has helped in coordinating and facilitating the project’s negotiation process over the past 10 years, it is funding only a small part of the project which has the onerous task of attracting commercial partners to build, finance and operate the pipeline, something that will be difficult given the unstable environment in which the pipeline will traverse.

Third, with India’s share of the piped gas being 38 million cubic metres — with Pakistan getting the same amount and Afghanistan getting 14 million cubic metres — it will do little to satisfy demand that is projected to reach some 473 million cubic metres by 2017.

Fourth, while British auditors Gaffney, Cline and Associates, has ranked the Galkynysh field the world’s second largest, with reserves pegged between 13.1-21.2 trillion cubic meters, doubts have been raised regarding Ashkabat’s ability to ensure uninterrupted supplies for 30 years, given that Turkmenistan has committed gas supplies to Iran, Russia [ Images ] and China.

In fact, during Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov’s visit to Beijing [ Images ] in November 2011, it was agreed that Turkmenistan would double supplies up to 65 billion cubic meters of gas annually to China.

Similarly, doubts have been raised regarding Turkmenistan’s ability to develop sufficient production, even if it does indeed have the requisite reserves, as well as develop its transport infrastructure, which is currently dependent on Russia’s pipeline infrastructure.

Fifth, the role of China and Russia as potential spoilers is an issue that needs to be looked at. Russia’s policy of using its pipeline network as an instrument to force recalcitrant neigbours to fall in line is well documented.

Moscow [ Images ] has often manipulated events to ensure that its former Soviet satellites do not succeed in gaining independent access to diverse markets. And with Gazprom having indicated its interest in being associated with the TAPI project, along with US firms ExxonMobil and Chevron, one cannot rule out Russian interference if Gazprom is not accommodated in the project.

At the same time, Beijing has made it clear that Central Asia is a key factor in its energy security policy and strategy, as it provides an alternative to its sea-based energy supplies. Like Russia, it may prefer the Central Asian countries to be dependent on its market. To ensure that it gets preference over other contenders, China has shown its readiness to pay premium prices for its energy supplies.

Given that pricing is a major factor in India’s energy import decisions, Beijing may exploit it as a means of weaning away the Central Asian suppliers from its South Asian competitors.

Sixth, for a pipeline project to be successful, four key elements are crucial: 1. A strong sponsor; 2. Sufficient reserves; 3. Economic and commercial viability and 4. A secure market. While TAPI has a strong sponsor in the US, the other three components have raised some concerns.

While Turkmenistan’s ability to ensure 30 years of supply is not assured, the project’s commercial viability is also in doubt.

Given the security of the TAPI project route, which in turn would necessitate an escalation in costs, it would make it very difficult to find any financier or insurance underwriter to participate in the project, US political support notwithstanding.

Moreover, even if the pipeline becomes a reality, it is likely to be a high-value target for religious extremists in Pakistan, who will ensure that no energy supply enters India through their territory.

And finally, with India perceived as a critical pillar of the project in terms of its market size, the pricing of the gas would be critical.

Given the disparity in pricing between domestic and imported gas, this could become a spoiler in the future, particularly if the price of gas falls in the international market due to the availability of abundant unconventional or shale gas in the near future.

Shebonti Ray Dadwal is an energy security specialist and a Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

American Terror Disguised As Anything Else

The Provocateur State

Is the CIA Behind the Iraqi “Insurgents”–and Global Terrorism?

The requirement of an ever-escalating level of social violence to meet the political and economic needs of the insatiable “anti-terrorist complex” is the essence of the new US militarism.

What is now openly billed as “permanent war” ultimately serves the geo-political ends of social control in the interests of US corporate domination, much as the anti-communist crusade of the now-exhausted Cold War did.

Back in 2002, following the trauma of 9-11, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld predicted there would be more terrorist attacks against the American people and civilization at large. How could he be so sure of that? Perhaps because these attacks would be instigated on the order of the Honorable Mr. Rumsfeld. According to Los Angeles Times military analyst William Arkin, writing Oct. 27, 2002, Rumsfeld set out to create a secret army, “a super-Intelligence Support Activity” network that would “bring together CIA and military covert action, information warfare, intelligence, and cover and deception,” to stir the pot of spiraling global violence.

According to a classified document prepared for Rumsfeld by his Defense Science Board, the new organization–the “Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group (P2OG)”–would actually carry out secret missions designed to provoke terrorist groups into committing violent acts. The P2OG, a 100-member, so-called “counter-terrorist” organization with a $100-million-a-year budget, would ostensibly target “terrorist leaders,” but according to P2OG documents procured by Arkin, would in fact carry out missions designed to “stimulate reactions” among “terrorist groups”–which, according to the Defense Secretary’s logic, would subsequently expose them to “counter-attack” by the good guys. In other words, the plan is to execute secret military operations (assassinations, sabotage, “deception”) which would intentionally result in terrorist attacks on innocent people, including Americans–essentially, to “combat terrorism” by causing it!

This notion is currently being applied to the problem of the Iraqi “insurgency,” it seems. According to a May 1, 2005 report by Peter Maass in the New York Times Magazine, two of the top US advisers to Iraqi paramilitary commandos fighting the insurgents are veterans of US counterinsurgency operations in Latin America. Loaning credence to recent media speculation about the “Salvadorization” of Iraq, the report notes that one adviser currently in Iraq is James Steele, who led a team of 55 US Army Special Forces advisers in El Salvador in the 1980s. Maass writes that these advisors “trained front-line battalions that were accused of significant human rights abuses.”

The current senior US adviser at the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which Maass writes “has operational control over the commandos,” is former top US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official Steve Casteel, who worked “alongside local forces” in the US-sponsored “Drug War” in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, “where he was involved in the hunt for Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin cocaine cartel.”

The US “drug war” in Latin America also serves as a cover for ongoing counterinsurgency, employing terrorist methods to achieve two aims: one, actually combating genuine insurgency; two, the ratcheting up of a “strategy of tension,” heightened social violence designed to induce fear among the citizenry and the subsequent call for greater “security.”

This was the essence, for example, of Operation Gladio, a decades-long covert campaign of provocateur-style terrorism and deceit. The ostensible purpose of Gladio, officially launched as a covert NATO program in 1952, was to establish a clandestine network of “stay-behind” teams which would organize armed resistance and sabotage in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. But the network actually took a far more proactive role. Directed by US/NATO intelligence services of the West against their own populations, Operation Gladio led to possibly hundreds of innocent people being killed or maimed in “terrorist” attacks which were then blamed on “leftist subversives” or other political opponents. The most notorious such attack was the 1980 bombing of the train station at Bologna, which left 85 dead. Initially blamed on left-wing radicals, the blast was revealed upon investigation to be the work of an ultra-right network linked to the Italy’s Gladio team; four Italian neo-fascists were eventually convicted of the crime.

The purpose was again twofold: to demonize designated enemies (the “communists”) and to frighten the public into supporting ever-increasing powers for the national security state. It appears the Pentagon has been implementing Gladio-style operations for quite some time–possibly including 9-11. A stretch? Maybe not.

Witness the US Joint Chiefs discussion of “Operation Northwoods” back in 1962, a plan to blow up U.S. “assets”–including U.S. citizens–in order to justify an invasion of Cuba. Later, US Army Field Manual 30-31B, entitled “Stability Operations Intelligence – Special Fields,” dated March 18, 1970 and signed by Gen. William C Westmoreland, promoted terrorist attacks (and the planting of false evidence) in public places which were then to be blamed on “communists” and “socialists.” It called for the execution of terrorist attacks throughout Western Europe, carried out through a network of covert US/NATO armies, in order to convince European governments of “the communist threat.”

What is striking is that during this period the primary source for US government info on the Russian “threat” was coming from the Gehlen Organization, Hitlers eastern front intelligence apparatus, which in the aftermath of World War II had cut a deal with the CIA’s Allen Dulles and worked out of Fort Hunt, just outside Washington DC, before being relocated back to Munich. Headed up by super-spy Nazi General Reinhard Gehlen, the Org’s “special operations” expertise was heeded, financed and well-protected by U.S. tax dollars well into the 1970’s. Could the Gehlen Org have had an influence in the production of FM 30-31B?

According to FM 30-31B,

“there may be times when Host Country Governments show passivity or indecision in the face of communist subversion and according to the interpretation of the US secret services do not react with sufficient effectiveness. Most often such situations come about when the revolutionaries temporarily renounce the use of force and thus hope to gain an advantage, as the leaders of the host country wrongly consider the situation to be secure. US army intelligence must have the means of launching special operations which will convince Host Country Governments and public opinion of the reality of the insurgent danger.”

The U.S. Army now claims the document was a Russian forgery. Journalist Allan Francovich in his BBC documentation on Gladio and US/NATO “special operations” terrorism, asked Ray Cline, CIA deputy director from 1962 to 1966, if he believed FM 30-31B was for real and he replied: “Well, I suspect it is an authentic document. I don’t doubt it. I never saw it but it’s the kind of special forces military operations that are described,” to be implemented at the discretion of the president and Defense Department on the “appropriate occasion.”

It could be that in Iraq–and elsewhere around the world–the “appropriate occasion” has arrived. Bush’s war on terrorism could be the ultimate manifestation of the provocateur state; carrying out of clandestine “executive actions” and “special operations” directed against populations, including our own, who are truly ignorant of the real “enemy” in the face of the ever-present manufactured one, traumatized by strategic terror designed to engender fear and acquiescence to further “security measures”–thereby enriching the military, police agencies, and munitions and nuclear business enterprises.

RESOURCES:

Peter Maass, “The Salvadorization of Iraq?,” New York Times Magazine, May 1, 2005.

A.K. Gupta, “Unraveling Iraq’s Secret Militias,” Z Magazine, May 2005

Lila Rajiva, “The Pentagon’s ‘NATO Option’,” CommonDreams, Feb. 10, 2005.

Statewatch Briefing on Operation Gladio

US Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Operation Northwoods”, 1962

National Security Archives on Operation Northwoods

US Army, Field Manual 30-31B, 1970

Frank Morales, “John Negroponte and the Death Squad Connection,” WW4 REPORT #108

US Propaganda Source Radio Free Europe, Goes from TAPI Cheerleader To TAPI Skeptic

Saudi Royals Finally Finagle Total Control Over TAPI Pipeline Project

Imperial Plan To Use Civil War As Gas and Oil Valve


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (2nd right) speaks during the inauguration of TAPI pipeline construction work, while Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (right), Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (2nd left), and Indian Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar (left) listen in Herat on February 23.

Executives and regional leaders gathered for a ground-breaking ceremony for Afghanistan’s section of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline on February 23 in the western Afghan city of Herat.

Herat, and uncertainty as the ceremony there approached, provide another reminder of the doubts and questions that have surrounded the TAPI pipeline for years now.

On February 20, Jailani Farhad, the spokesman for the Herat mayor, was quoted as saying the project would be inaugurated on February 25. China’s Xinhua news agency seemed hesitant to provide an exact date at all, also reporting on February 20 that the “ceremony is expected to be held within coming days.”

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was visiting Mary on February 21. His country, of course, is the supplier of gas for TAPI; and given Turkmenistan’s current dire economic situation (more on that below), it is in Berdymukhammedov’s interest to see Afghanistan start construction of TAPI. Berdymukhammedov told officials that on February 23 “many important events” would take place, first of all the launch of construction on TAPI in Afghanistan but also the start of work to build a new high-voltage transmission power line and extend a railway from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan.

Berdymukhammedov indicated he would be at the ceremony in Herat but it was not mentioned in a report on the official Turkmen government website.

So one question was whether the Turkmen president would make the trip to Herat (he did); another was whether he would dress in his commando fatigues, as he did in videos last year, perhaps to frighten away militants.

Because security along the 744-kilometer section of the TAPI pipeline has been a huge question in recent years as fighting spread and intensified in previously relatively stable areas of northern Afghanistan. In fact, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, known locally as Azadi, reported on February 22 that Herat officials said insurgents who were trained by Iran to disrupt the February 23 ceremony had switched sides and joined the government.

For what’s it’s worth, a spokesman for the Taliban and a Taliban splinter group led by Rasul Akhund that operates in northwestern Afghanistan have both pledged to protect construction of TAPI through Afghan territory, since it is a “national project.”

Given the government in Kabul’s bold claims that TAPI would help bring prosperity and stability to Afghanistan, it is difficult to imagine any militant group in Afghanistan resisting the temptation to try to sabotage the project and keep the government from boosting its popularity and support in areas along the proposed TAPI route.

And the Taliban and the Taliban splinter group are not the only armed groups active in northern and western Afghanistan. There are other militant forces and warlords there as well.

What Afghanistan Gets

TAPI aims to carry some 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas a year, most of which is intended for markets in Pakistan and India.

Afghanistan should receive some 5 bcm of that gas, but equally if not more importantly, Afghanistan will receive transit fees from TAPI.

But how much?

The Afghan Voice Agency reported on February 19 that the amount would be “nearly $400 million” annually. Afghanistan’s ToloNews reported on February 20 that “Afghanistan is expected to earn $500 million USD in transit duties annually from the project. Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov promised in November that Afghanistan would receive some $1 billion annually in transit fees from TAPI.

Of course, Turkmenistan is experiencing the worst economic crisis of its 26-year history as an independent country, in large part due to the inability to sell Turkmenistan’s major and nearly only export: gas. So Turkmen officials could be expected to say anything that would portray TAPI in a positive light, especially since financing for the project is still uncertain.

Who Will Pay For Construction?

State company Turkmengaz is the operator of TAPI. That means Turkmengaz must find some $8.5 billion of the estimated $10 billion it will cost to build TAPI. The company has no experience managing a major project outside Turkmenistan and so far has found it difficult to attract investors. The Islamic Development Bank already promised a loan of some $700 million, but that’s where it ends.

Other countries and companies have reportedly expressed some interest in joining TAPI — the China National Petroleum Corporation, Russia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia — but no contracts have been signed.

Turkmenistan alone cannot come up with the remaining almost $8 billion that Turkmengaz still needs to cover its share of the costs. And it will not have escaped the attention of potential foreign investors that Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, the countries that will also benefit from TAPI, have never gone beyond the 5 percent of costs ($500 million) that each is committed to spending — showing, perhaps, that there are doubts about the viability of TAPI in Kabul, Islamabad, and New Delhi.

Another question that we’re still looking for an answer to is whether Turkmenistan has completed its section of TAPI. There was a big launch ceremony in Turkmenistan in December 2015 for construction of the 214-kilometer portion on Turkmen territory. Turkmen officials have maintained since then that construction was progressing. But strangely, state media in Turkmenistan, which is obsessed with showing pictures and footage of the country’s major projects, has not shown much proof of TAPI’s construction. Once there were some photographs in 2016 of sections of pipe-laying in a desert that were alleged to be somewhere in eastern Turkmenistan.

But we’re still waiting for clues from the February 23 ceremony in Herat to clear up that and other questions.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL

Fox News Images of New Syrian Spec. Forces Base, Not For Iranian Base

Fox News images not for Iranian base: source

  zamanalwsl.net

(Zaman Al Wasl)- A well-informed source denied Western intelligence reports that Iran has built another permanent military base outside Damascus as Fox News said on Tuesday.

The satellite images showed a training camp of the regime’s Special Forces in the village of al-Dreij eight miles northwest of the capital, according to the source.

 

But Fox News, in its exclusive satellite images, claimed the images show what is believed to be the new Iranian base, operated by the Quds Force — the special operations arm of Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The photos show two new white hangars, each roughly 30 yards by 20 yards, used to store short- and medium-range missiles.

Zaman al-Wasl’s source said the hangers are being used only for army vehicles.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, the top U.S. military commander for American forces in the Middle East said Iran was “increasing” the number and “quality” of its ballistic missiles it was deploying to the region — when asked during a House Armed Services Committee hearing by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., about reports Iran had moved more missiles into Syria.

Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, said Iran has “enhanced” its funding to proxy forces in the Middle East since the landmark nuclear agreement in July 2015, including sending missiles, fighters and other arms to Yemen and Syria.

But when asked by Cheney what the U.S. military’s role against Iran in Syria should be, Votel replied, “Countering Iran is not one of the coalition’s missions in Syria.”  The focus of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Syria remains the destruction of ISIS and prevention of the terror group from rising up again, Votel said.

Votel said in the past five years Iran successfully had created a proxy network in Yemen similar to what it took them 20 years to create in Lebanon with Hezbollah.

A base similar to the one revealed in these new satellite photos was built last year south of Damascus, before being destroyed in December by Israeli surface-to-surface missiles.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tehran a month prior to the strike against building any military bases in Syria.  “Israel will not let that happen,” he said. (With Fox News)

Al Gore Is A Big Fat “Cunt”….pass it on

Al Gore

Al Gore the Bore has got a new climate change film coming out….the sequel. More of the same landfill sized lies but twice done. Not that many of us will be settling down to a family sized box of popcorn to watch it. But you can bet it will be spoon-fed, forced indoctrination for all school children. Anyway, enough publicity for that.

The real reason for this cunting is he is also suggesting Brexit, the rise of populism and nationalism is down to climate change. Yup, listen up Brexiteers, farting cows and your 4X4s are to blame for your stupidity in voting to leave the great benefactor and saviour of the universe, the E.U.

He says, a Syrian drought which caused Syrian people on the move to clash with the refugees from the Iraqi war was the problem. This, then led to the Arab Spring which then led to the Syrian war and the refugee crisis to plague Europe.

Really?

I thought it was Dubya and B.Liar who started the Iraqi War. Then George Sore-ass and the globalists who manufacturered the Arab Spring and finally the U.S fancied a spot of regime change in Syria, wanting Assad out of the frame, to stick on in the eye, to Vlad the Indestructible. To add to that, up popped the peaceful religion’s inter-faction fighting and general hatred of each other, along with everyone’s favourites, Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

That doesn’t much sound like climate change to me. Sounds like good old warmongers, stirring up a hornets nest of religious fanatics in that region, after bombing the fuck out of their homelands. After all, Saddam and Gaddafi had no drought in their countries, nor were they religious. Finally, the whole  region is a desert anyway  – desert equals drought.

So Gorey has managed to turn a man made, unnatural disaster, i.e. war, which his political friends in the main, were responsible for and now blame it on man made climate change. Talk about ‘fake news’ .

Lastly, he and the U.S miltary, believes much of North Africa and the Middle East is in danger of becoing uninhabitable. No shit Sherlock, if the globalist political class keep interfering there, changing governments like underpants and feeding rancid regimes, while letting terrorists terrorise the region, what do you expect? It’s got nothing to do with it being hot and sunny there. It has always been hot and sunny!

So Mr Bore your solution is what exactly? Invite, them all over to Europe for a long stay, all expenses paid holiday, so they can “Carry on up the Jihadi” here?

In case of any doubt, don’t forget Al Bore is a fully paid up, card carrying, globalist cunt.  ‘Nuff said.

Nominated by Mike Oxard.

US escalation in the Middle East

Pentagon To Make Huge Investment In Future Syrian Troublemaking w/$143 Million Buildup of Jordanian Air Base

Pentagon Planning World’s Biggest Game of “Chicken” At Intersection of Jordan, Iraq and Syria

US escalation in the Middle East

It is clear that the Trump administration in the US is adopting a new strategy in the Middle East that is far more engaged than the Obama administration.

This year, the US position in Syria has been very aggressive, both militarily and politically. This approach is likely to keep the crisis going, but it could also further spread chaos across the region.

US policy in Syria has a real potential to fracture the country that would, at best, result in a federation of states, which is exactly what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested after US promised to withdraw troops following the fall of ISIS.

“It’s very likely that the Americans have taken a course of dividing the country. They just gave up their assurances, given to us, that the only goal of their presence in Syria — without an invitation of the legitimate government – was to defeat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and the terrorists,” Lavrov said.

The Russian foreign minister has expressed his concerns, calling on the US not to “play with fire” in Syria and emphasised that the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be preserved. He said, “Such fears arise when we get acquainted with the plans that the US is beginning to implement on the ground, primarily to the east of the Euphrates, on vast territories between this river and the border of Syria with Iraq and Turkey.”

The change in US policy under President Donald Trump could lead to a spread of violence across the region, and as more groups join in, countries like Iran and Turkey will be impacted regarding their internal politics and security.

On his recent trip to the Middle East, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave the impression that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is part of the peace process strategy for the Trump administration. Clearly, Jordan and Lebanon are fundamental to any strategy around Israel and Palestine, which puts Secretary Tillerson’s meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah into context.

Today, the major issues in the Middle East are centred around Syria, Iran, Hizbollah and Palestine. With the US return to Syria, and the obvious escalation with Iran and its allies, Jordan is key to US strategy. Further, the US is rebuilding its old regional alliances following Russia’s strong presence in the region. Given that we saw disagreement between Jordan and the US over the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, this meeting and the discussions that took place are pivotal to both countries. The US needs strong regional alliances and Jordan seeks reassurances from the American administration regarding its role in the peace process, in order to avoid political isolation or a solution at the cost of Jordan.

With the increased US presence in the region, we will see greater engagement to maintain their allies. Pragmatically, one of the most effective ways to ensure the relationship stays strong is through economic support related to internal development, especially given the economic crisis developing in Jordan which, if it were to continue, would limit Jordan’s political options.

Two Lebanese Students Killed, One In Canada, One In France, A Nuclear Tech and An Anti-Zionist Activist

Al Manar reports

“A Lebanese man studying nuclear physics found dead earlier this week in France, with reports on his death were conflicting [Early reports claim that Hisham had two stab wounds, before falling from his terrace–ed.] .
Hisham Salim Mourad, from the southern town of Braikeh in Nabatieh….
Hasan Ali Kheireddine, 23, was killed on Feb. 13 at a student residence on the St. Mary’s University campus in the Canadian region of Halifax….the bright student was studying economic and had been well-known for his searches on the influence of Zionism on the international economy.”

Israeli fingerprints behind the killing of Lebanese student Hisham Murad in France!

 

Lebanon and the town of Bureka in the south were shocked by the news of the assassination of student Hicham Salim Mourad in his apartment in the French city of Grenoble, studying nuclear physics at the University of Joseph Fourier in the city.

The assassination of young Hisham Murad comes days after the murder of Hassan Ali Khairuddin in the Canadian city of Halifax.

Young Hassan Khairuddin dead in Canada … and Foreign Affairs: Investigations underway

The head of the Syrian National Social Party, Hanna al-Nashif, contacted the student’s father, Hisham, Salim Murad, and offered him condolences, stressing that the party will follow up the issue with those concerned to clarify the truth and uncover the perpetrators of the assassination. Which targets the students of our country.

In turn, the member of the Supreme Council of the Party called on the Minister of State Ali Qansu Lebanese Foreign Ministry, and asked to follow up the case, and accelerate the procedures and follow-up investigations to uncover the circumstances of the assassination. The Ministry has shown all attention and gave guidance in this regard to the Embassy of Lebanon in France.

Diyar

The Middle East Is Marching Towards Israel’s Nuclear Nightmare Scenario–Haaretz

The Middle East Is Marching Towards Israel’s Nuclear Nightmare Scenario

While the Netanyahus drink champagne and Trump tweets, the Russians changed the Mideast’s nuclear calculus – and this time, Israel has no feasible military option. But can Jerusalem really depend on the White House to avert a nuclear arms race?

A 1956 nuclear test conducted by the United States at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.A 1956 nuclear test conducted by the United States at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photos

While our leaders in Jerusalem were giddily drinking champagne and Washington was proudly trumpeting tweets, the Middle East continued its march towards the nightmare scenario of a region with multiple nuclear actors.

This time, it’s not just about Iran, but about the rapid spread of civil nuclear programs all around us. The various programs reflect legitimate energy needs, but civil nuclear programs in the Middle East have a nasty tendency to morph into military ones, or at least the technological basis for this.

Saudi Arabia already consumes approximately 25% of its total oil production and unless it diversifies its sources of power – astonishingly –  it risks becoming a net importer of oil by the early 2030s. The Saudis thus recently issued tenders for the first two of 16 planned nuclear power reactors.

In addition to energy needs, the Saudi program is also motivated by fear of Iran, along with growing doubts regarding the reliability of the American security guarantee, and a consequent desire to ensure that the kingdom has the infrastructure in place for a military program.

The Saudis are also opposed to the U.S. demand that they forgo the right to enrich uranium, as a condition for the sale of American reactors. This condition is considered essential today to ensure that civil nuclear programs are not misused for military purpose and both Egypt and the UAE accepted it in deals with the U.S. in recent years.

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran recognizes its right to continue uranium enrichment, albeit at lower levels, thus making it difficult for the U.S. to now demand that the Saudis forgo a similar capability. The U.S. is also concerned that if it insists on this demand the Saudis may turn to other manufacturers, including Russia and China, which impose less stringent conditions for the sale of reactors and ongoing inspection.

It is thus now considering a waiver for the Saudis, but this is likely to lead to similar demands by Egypt and the UAE and to a heightened Iranian threat perception. The result could be a collapse of the nuclear agreement and a regional nuclear arms race.

Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, May 20, 2017.
Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, May 20, 2017.MANDEL NGAN/AFP

Russia is using nuclear deals and arms sales to resurrect its standing in the region. It recently concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia and also signed its first arms deal with it, including advanced anti-aircraft systems, missiles and more.

In December 2017 Russia also signed a deal with Egypt to build and finance four power reactors by 2028, and to establish factories in Egypt to manufacture some of the necessary components. Some observers believe that there are more cost-effective means of producing energy in Egypt and therefore question the deal’s motivations.

Last year, Russia also began supplying advanced fighter aircraft and helicopters to Egypt and tentative agreement was even reached providing, for the first time since the Soviet eviction from Egypt in 1974, for Russian use of Egyptian airbases.

The Egyptian and Saudi slaps in America’s face resounded all the way to Washington.

In 2016 Russia signed a deal with Jordan for two nuclear power reactors, to be completed by 2025. A nuclear research reactor, of South Korean manufacture, became operational in Jordan in 2016.

Rex Tillerson speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of the UAE during the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders summit in Riyadh
Qatar crisis: UAE behind hack which prompted Gulf state boycott. Pictured: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of the UAE in Riyadh JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

In the UAE, the first of four South Korean power reactors, to be built by 2020, will become operational this year. In 2017 Russia signed $2 billion in arms deals with the UAE, including advanced air-defense systems and missiles, and it is reportedly considering Sukhoi fighters. Turkey also purchased similar air-defense systems recently and Bahrain, Qatar and Morocco have expressed interest. The Russians have already deployed these systems in Syria.

Israel is being surrounded by civil nuclear programs on all sides. There is no immediate danger and it would take many years, possibly decades, to turn these programs into military ones, but the technological clock may have begun ticking. Moreover, these programs may undermine the relative regional stability gained by the Iran nuclear deal.

In weighing its policies towards these developments, Israel faces a difficult dilemma which does not exist in the case of Iran today, nor Syria, Iraq and Libya in the past.

The countries in question all maintain formal, or de facto peace with Israel, share a desire to contain Iran, are friends of the U.S. and enjoy at least some American commitment to their defense.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia February 9, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia February 9, 2018REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

In reality, Israel does not have a military option against them, except in extreme circumstances, and thus Jerusalem is approaching the end of the “Begin Doctrine,” which held that it must act militarily, after exhausting other options, to eliminate nuclear threats.

On this issue, as is the case of the other primary challenges Israel faces today (the Palestinians, Iran, the “northern front”), Israel does not have an effective military option, at a price it is willing to pay, and is increasingly coming up against the limits of military force. The IDF can gain time for decision-makers, but the only true solution to these challenges may lie, if at all, in the diplomatic realm.

Israel should urge the U.S. to insist that the Saudis forgo uranium enrichment. Even at this turning point, when Israel hopes for a breakthrough with Riyadh, it should oppose a decision that may spark a regional nuclear arms race.

A possible compromise, however, that might preserve both Saudi interests and face, may be found in the recent proposal by the noted U.S. nonproliferation expert, Robert Einhorn, to craft a “practical compromise” – limiting the agreement to a period of 15 years. In the future, the U.S. can always demand an extension.

A further possibility would be to urge the administration to pursue a new international norm, among the six countries that manufacture reactors today, to make their sale contingent on the recipient’s willingness to forgo uranium enrichment and to purchase nuclear fuel from the manufacturer throughout the reactor’s lifetime.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his bomb illustrating the red line for Iran's development of a nuclear bomb, at the UN in 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his “bomb” illustrating the red line for Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb, at the UN in 2012.AP

This will not be easily achieved, American competitors will fear the loss of a commercial advantage at a time when a number of deals are in play, but the principle is acceptable to all and a deal is worth the try.

In the longer run, these developments, along with already existing trends, will require that Israel devote considerable thought to its strategic policies. The danger of a Middle East with multiple nuclear players may require that Israel reconsider its policy of ambiguity, seek a defense treaty with the U.S., or even explore what is today still considered a totally fanciful option: regional arms control.

In the meantime, they’re still drinking champagne in Jerusalem.

Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security advisor, is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is the author of “Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change” (Oxford University Press, 2018)

America’s strategic error

America’s strategic error

If US wants to convince Turkish citizens, politicians on its trustworthiness, it must embrace different decisions, actions

America's strategic error

ISTANBUL

Two weeks ago a small procession of U.S. officials arrived in Ankara for talks with Turkish politicians. Despite the fervent attention given to the meetings, the only concrete result seems to have been a direct dialogue mechanism, to be initiated in the coming month, aimed at ameliorating communication difficulties between the two sides.

Other than that one development, other affairs seem to be proceeding as they have for the past four years. On a daily basis Turkish officials criticize U.S. cooperation with the PYD/PKK, and on the same daily basis U.S. officials fudge, evade, and obfuscate the American relationship with that same organization, which is designated “terrorist” by the U.S.’s own institutions.

Other U.S. officials, and even the CIA, have acknowledged the simple reality that the PYD is a branch of the PKK. But U.S. spokespersons, or yet other U.S. officials, feign shock, even anger, when Turkish officials criticize the U.S. alliance with the PYD/PKK, and they make exasperated sounds as Turkish public anger towards the U.S. mounts, and as Turkish distrust of U.S. intentions deepens. They blame the Turkish press or other straw men for results that clearly and unmistakably stem from their own misguided policies.

The PYD/PKK are a threat to Turkish territorial integrity

The U.S. decision to cooperate, then form a working, military relationship with the PYD/PKK dates back to late 2014. That was during the infamous Daesh (ISIS) assault on Rojava, a north Syrian region that borders Turkey, when the Turkish government went so far as to allow the northern Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government’s armed militiamen to cross Turkish territory and enter Rojava.

What Obama administration officials did not understand — and realistically how could they, when a 30-something aspiring novelist (Ben Rhodes) was President Obama’s primary foreign policy advisor? — was that forming a relationship with the PYD/PKK would undermine one of the Turkish-American alliance’s cornerstones.

That fundamental base is Turkey’s traditional need for what some political scientists would call an “offshore balancer.” From the late 19th century on, a key concern for first Ottoman, then Turkish Republic officials was the search for a Great Power ally that could both provide a bulwark against existing direct threats to Ottoman or Turkish sovereignty and not, at the same time, constitute an additional threat.

Turkey finally found that ally in the U.S. during WWII. U.S. officials, for their part, were not convinced until 1946, when they decided that the USSR could not be trusted and that a long-term political struggle with the Soviets was at hand. Turkey, which bordered the USSR, provided a frontline ally; meanwhile the U.S. would shore up and modernize Turkey’s dilapidated military. Even though the U.S. had large numbers of soldiers and officials in Turkey for the duration of the Cold War, the USSR’s much greater threat and the obvious mutual benefits assuaged any Turkish concerns.

That situation did not change after the Cold War’s conclusion. Even though Russia was momentarily weakened, the previous 300 years had well illustrated that Russia would remain a long-term threat to Turkish sovereignty. And as the U.S. became more deeply embroiled in regional conflicts, its facilities in Turkey continued to be vital.

The 2014 turning point

Since late 2014, however, this situation has changed. There is no question that the Russian threat remains, especially with the presence Moscow has now established in war-torn Syria (enabled by the Obama administration’s inaction). But the Obama administration’s choice to ally itself with the PYD/PKK meant allying with a force that bases its raison d’être on threatening Turkish territorial integrity. In other words, the Obama administration chose to support a threat to Turkish sovereignty.

From the Turkish standpoint, the U.S. partnership with the PYD/PKK instantly weakens the rationale for maintaining a strategic relationship with Washington because the U.S. has opted, in fact, to become a strategic threat. Divining exactly how the U.S. fell into such a blunder will be a question for historians, but for now we can guess that a combination of uninformed, misinformed, and short-sighted (even myopic) policy formulation, plus a determined unwillingness to trust the U.S.’s own regional allies (namely Turkey) were main elements which swerved the U.S. off track.

Gulen also a threat to Turkish sovereignty

Unfortunately, the U.S.’s ill-chosen alliance with the PKK is not the only issue. After December 2013, anyone who cared to approach Turkish domestic politics with a rational and objective eye understood that Fetullah Gulen’s cult had become a threat to Turkish democracy. The defeated coup attempt of July 2016 added violence and murder to the already evident threat as Gulen’s acolytes used branches of the Turkish military to carry out the attempted coup. In other words, Gulen’s organization has to be understood as a direct, violent threat to Turkish society and its democratically-elected political leadership.

As everyone is aware, Gulen has resided in the U.S. since 1999. This means that, in addition to cooperating with the PKK/PYD, one threat to Turkish sovereignty, the U.S. harbors another threat to Turkish sovereignty; Gulen. And the U.S. has made no concrete steps to extradite Gulen to Turkey despite that reality.

There is yet a further logical dimension to this issue. If the U.S. cooperates with one threat to Turkish sovereignty, and harbors another, then doesn’t the U.S. military presence in Turkey begin to loom as a potential threat? I, personally, would like to argue that it does not, but I am not a Turkish politician responsible for the lives and well-being of my constituents and voters. For Turkish officials, civilian and military, events in the past five years have greatly complicated the manner in which they view the U.S. military presence in the country.

The logic of recent events and possible future contingencies, if one can adopt the perspective of Turkish officials for a moment, leads to the conclusion that U.S. forces stationed in Turkey pose a threat to Turkish sovereignty. That means the situation that had existed for the previous 70 years, that U.S. forces were understood as guarantors of Turkish sovereignty, has fundamentally changed. When one reaches this conclusion, and truly understands the events and logic that lead to such a conclusion, then one should more readily understand why Turkish politicians (and citizens) have begun to distrust the U.S. in a more profound manner, and to express animated, even angry responses to recent U.S. actions.

Changing strategic perspective

If the U.S poses a direct threat to Turkish sovereignty through both the PYD/PKK and through Fetullah Gulen’s cult, then the U.S. is no longer the “offshore balancer” that Turkey found seventy-five years ago. Instead, the U.S. appears to have crossed into the same “direct threat” category that Britain and France held in the 19th century, and that Russia has been for 300 years. Those actors were busily engaged in breaking off pieces of the Ottoman Empire.

If the U.S. supports an armed militant group which also wants to break off pieces of the Turkish Republic, and harbors a religious organization that has already attempted to violently assert power over Turkish state institutions, U.S. officials should understand that, in Turkish eyes, they are no different than the 19th-century British and French, or the Russians. Thus Turkish policy-makers, who are responsible to their citizens as democratically elected representatives, will begin looking for another “offshore balancer,” or they will take matters into their own hands.

An example is an effort pressed for the past decade by the Turkish state, to become more self-sufficient in modern weapons development. Just last week the Turkish Armed Forces announced the imminent use of armed, driverless land vehicles in the effort to drive the PYD/PKK from Afrin.

Since the 19th century, the Ottoman and Turkish states had been largely dependent on foreign allies for not just weapons, but even tactical training of the military officers. The recent campaigns, both Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch, have featured advanced weapons, such as armed drones, that are almost entirely the product of Turkish research and development.

But even more importantly, the campaigns themselves have been carefully planned and executed offensives that have not only been highly effective, but have also featured few civilian casualties. That is, Turkish military planners and officers have developed capacities in contra-guerilla warfare, even urban warfare, that the U.S. has yet to exhibit. And after the fighting is over, Turkish aid workers quickly move in to help the local inhabitants begin rebuilding their lives and communities. Overall, Turkish dependence on foreign military weapons, technology, and tactics is quickly waning.

What I want to emphasize here is that the U.S. administrations, both current and former, have chosen this path, and made decisions that pushed Turkish civilian and military officials to move in this direction. If U.S. officials want to convince Turkish citizens and politicians that the U.S. can still be trusted, and that the U.S. does not pose a direct threat to Turkish sovereignty, then they must embrace different decisions and different actions.