American Resistance To Empire

The Making of the American Gulag

The Making of the American Gulag

The Making of the American Gulag

During the Cold War, the “police apparatus” was held up as a prime example of Soviet repression. Yet in its efforts to fight subversives, the United States ended up with its own carceral state.


This essay is featured in Boston Review’s Fall 2018 issue Evil Empire.


Imagine an empire with a massive security sector, one barely accountable to the democratic will. This coercive system, though appearing self-perpetuating, represents an elite echelon’s efforts to protect and consolidate power. It employs so many people that its maintenance and funding is necessary, not because of the dictates of national security, but simply to keep all its workers from becoming “superfluous.” With a repressive apparatus notorious for its abuses, this security sector fosters the very domestic opposition it is designed to combat.

The idea that fundamental differences in approaches to incarceration drove the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union strikes an odd chord from our current vantage point.

This outline, to some readers, may sound similar to the military-industrial complex—and its cognate prison-industrial complex—in the United States today. But this description actually comes from George Kennan’s foundational article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which appeared in Foreign Affairs, under the byline X, in 1947. Kennan, perhaps more than anyone else, shaped the rhetoric of the Cold War in a way that made it seem preordained, inevitable. He is most often remembered for calling out the supposedly innate qualities of Russian culture—spiritual deprivation, cynicism, and conformity—upon which communist ideology had been grafted. This combination, he argued, was destined to conflict with the innate qualities of Americanism—its freedom of worship, its emphasis on individuality, and its support of business. But the dominance of the security sector was another persistent motif in Kennan’s work; he dedicated five paragraphs of “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” to the “organs of suppression.” Secret police lurked everywhere, the narrative went, and prisons were the Soviet Union’s primary feature. By 1953, under Joseph Stalin, 2.6 million people were locked up in the gulag and over 3 million more were forcibly resettled— a total of around 3 percent of the population kept under state control. Kennan’s point, like those of other foundational Cold War tracts, was clear: unlike the United States, the Soviet Union was brutally repressive.

The idea that fundamental differences in approaches to incarceration drove the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union strikes an odd chord from our current vantage point. Today 2.3 million people are locked up in the United States, and an additional 4.5 million are on parole or probation, for a total of around 2 percent of the population under state control. While much has been written about how legal changes and racial politics led to the carceral state, it is also helpful to see how Cold War confrontation further contributed to the United States’ own gulag.

In the same year Kennan published as X, the National Security Act created the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council—the building blocks of the national security state. By 1950, in order to further counter the perceived Soviet threat, a top secret but widely known report argued that a blank check for the permanent war economy was needed to establish an offensive global posture. The report, “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security”—better known as NSC 68—planted the vocabulary that became the Cold War’s discursive kudzu. Though Kennan himself diverged from its predictions, NSC 68 echoed his formulations, contrasting the importance of U.S. “lawfulness” to Soviet expedience and absolutism.

NSC 68 drew much of its rhetorical power from carceral imagery. “The Soviet monolith,” it maintained, “is held together by the iron curtain around it and the iron bars within it, not by any force of natural cohesion.” The United States thus had to embark on a massive “build-up of political, economic, and military strength” to take advantage of the Kremlin’s “greatest vulnerability,” its relationship with the Soviet people. “That relationship,” NSC 68 charged, “is characterized by universal suspicion, fear, and denunciation.” At its core were “intricately devised mechanisms of coercion” from which the Kremlin’s power derived. The report went on to propose that the “artificial mechanisms of unity” of the Soviet police state would crumble if challenged from outside, which is what the cornucopia of U.S. national security spending would do. Though NSC 68 did not make specific recommendations regarding defense expenditures, the Truman administration almost tripled defense spending as a percentage of the gross domestic product between 1950 and 1953 (from 5 to 14.2 percent).

The widely shared images of repression in Soviet society became the preeminent security tools to protect the United States against Soviet expansionism.

The pathway toward the permanent war economy of NSC 68’s vision was not direct. It was contested in Congress and in public opinion. Critics rightly feared the emergence of a “garrison state,” a term that has been largely lost today. The necessary shifts entailed liberals accommodating conservatives. As historian Michael J. Hogan detailed, to find a way for fiscal conservatives to accede to the new appropriations that capital-intensive war-making would require in the atomic age, it was necessary for New Dealers to give up hope for continuously robust social-welfare appropriations. After the issuance of NSC 68, debate in Congress over appropriations taught conservatives to “decouple” the national security state “from the economic and social policies of the New Deal,” according to Hogan. New tax increases would cover the costs of coercion abroad but not of health, education, and welfare at home. The size of the budget for bombers and submarines would continue to increase, but the size of the social wage would not follow suit. New Dealers pushed “security” to the forefront of the national agenda in the first place by insisting that the government could protect citizens from unpredictable risks; now they were trapped in a cage of their own making.

The result was the military-industrial complex, as Dwight Eisenhower called it in his 1961 farewell speech. He wanted to highlight the entanglement of the military, arms manufacturers, and members of Congress, which he felt was imperiling democratic decision-making over the size of the military, its deployments, and its ever-increasing budget. Eisenhower also worried that a tradition of individual liberty would be difficult to reconcile with a national security state. But while his critique and terminology were indeed useful, Eisenhower was concerned only with the threat from abroad, failing entirely to see what the security state was already accomplishing at home.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, figures in the black freedom struggle—from W. E. B. Du Bois to Jack O’Dell—had been highlighting how the national security state’s coercions threatened not just individual freedoms but collective ones. As the United States increasingly accused its own citizens of being subversives, assuming them to be guided by a foreign power, the widely shared images of repression in Soviet society—prisons, exile, staged trials, and the “police apparatus”— became the preeminent security tools to protect the United States against Soviet expansionism. The United States imprisoned communists and black radicals such as Benjamin J. Davis after a series of highly publicized trials. Others, such as Claudia Jones, faced incarceration and then deportation. Reading NSC 68’s invocation of prisons and police as the kernel of the vulnerability of the Iron Curtain, then, it is impossible not to sense the paradox of U.S. global leadership. Emily Rosenberg has called it the “central dilemma” of NSC 68: “how to advocate ‘freedom’ by greatly enlarging the state’s capacity for coercion.”

The goal of the Kennedy administration’s Office of Public Safety was to make police in dozens of countries the preeminent tool in the fight against communist subversion.

The fear of Soviet expansion and the resulting political instability largely outweighed this philosophical question. One of Eisenhower’s own aides, for example, wanted him to emphasize the “worldwide tendency for orderly societies to break down into mob-ridden anarchies.” And it was this concern that became the overriding motivation of the Kennedy administration’s foreign policy. Not three weeks after Eisenhower’s farewell speech, Secretary of State Dean Rusk declared that a “mobile, substantial, and flexible U.S. capability for operations short of general war is essential.” Eisenhower adversary General Maxwell Taylor urged Kennedy to adopt this New Frontier policy, which, in practice, meant a focus on “counterinsurgency,” with police forces as the “first line of defense” against mob-ridden anarchies around the world, particularly those ginned up by subversives.

The Kennedy administration lodged its new police assistance program in the Agency for International Development, calling it the Office of Public Safety. The program, which was overseen directly by high-ranking National Security Council officials, consolidated and funded what had been a sprawling, poorly resourced, and inefficient set of operations to train, equip, and advise police in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The goal was to make police in dozens of countries the preeminent tool in the fight against communist subversion. The Office of Public Safety’s advisors were experienced law enforcement experts, many of whom spent the immediate aftermath of World War II in the occupations in Germany, Italy, Korea, and Japan. After observing authoritarian police and prison systems firsthand, these experts developed a contrasting commitment to political independence of police and aimed to achieve it through more decentralized organizational reform, technical upgrading, and internal discipline. Their goal was to bolster and educate security forces in “developing countries,” and thanks to the constant stream of funding NSC 68 inaugurated, police trainees from other countries quickly learned about “police service under autocratic rule.”

But the effort to reject shadowy secret police—and the subversion model that U.S. national security experts feared the Soviets were exporting—was two-faced. The purpose of public safety assistance, advisors insisted, was to enhance democracy. And they aimed to foster respect for constituted authority among the citizenry by making the police efficient and technically adept. As the Office of Public Safety developed and implemented its curriculum, it bequeathed the most modern forms of U.S. policing to the world. Yet with no trace of irony, these lessons detailed how Soviet secret police sent advisors to “vassal” countries to “pull the strings” of the local security apparatus. Moreover, to ensure the mission stayed on course, a number of authoritarian German and Korean officers, especially those known for their exquisite anticommunism, became key U.S. assets in bolstering the security forces in other countries. It was as if the United States thought that to fight creeping authoritarianism, expert authoritarians had to be on hand.

It was as if the United States thought that to fight creeping authoritarianism, expert authoritarians had to be on hand.

Public safety officers, for example, consistently claimed to teach how not to torture suspects during interrogation. And they introduced new counterterrorism techniques. That meant, by Nixon’s presidency, showing trainees how improvised bombs were built—to demonstrate, they claimed, how to disarm them. But in both these examples, techniques of repression could easily be reverse-engineered. Many of these aid-recipient countries—from Uruguay to the Philippines—went on to practice harsh forms of policing while paramilitary death squads emerged in others, such as Guatemala. The U.S. image of Soviet repression was mirrored in U.S. client states.

To understand how these public safety advisors then advanced punitive modernization and the carceral state at home, we must return again to 1947. At the very moment the National Security Act took effect, another crucial document in the history of U.S. law enforcement emerged. The President’s Committee on Civil Rights had been investigating how law enforcement could safeguard civil rights, especially black civil rights, in the United States. The committee’s report to President Harry Truman, To Secure These Rights, advocated for what Mary Dudziak has labeled “cold war civil rights.” It was necessary to ameliorate racial inequality, this argument went, because the Soviet Union frequently invoked lynching and racial abuses to highlight U.S. hypocrisy.

Although the committee was unflinching in its assessment of how the fundamental civil right to the safety of one’s person had been violated frequently (Japanese, Mexicans, and African Americans, as well as members of minority religions, suffered the most), it also understood these problems of racial injustice to be the effect of white extrajudicial violence and “arbitrary” individual actions by cops, particularly in the South. Its solutions were thus focused on strengthening law enforcement and assuring its adherence to due process and administrative fairness. Similar to Kennan, the committee (and the generation of reformers it influenced) believed it was possible to use the tools of policing and prisons fairly, unlike in the Soviet Union.

Political scientist Naomi Murakawa has shown, however, that by framing the problem as arbitrary and as growing out of lawlessness, the committee effectively ruled out the systematic and legally enshrined character of racial abuse. What made it predictable, rather than arbitrary, was its consistent object: racially subjugated peoples. By diminishing the structural aspects of the abuse of minorities, liberal law enforcement reformers opened the door to a wider misunderstanding of what needed to be reformed. The response the committee endorsed—to enact procedural reforms and modernize law enforcement in the United States—rode the high tide of police professionalization initiatives that would crest in the following decades, and which called for a well-endowed, federally sanctioned anticrime apparatus. As historian Elizabeth Hinton and Murakawa have argued, this effort to reform law enforcement and codify its procedures actually made it more institutionally robust and less forgiving, contributing to the country’s march toward mass incarceration.

U.S. empire abroad found its replica in the War on Crime at home: to break the political syzygy of an authoritarian state apparatus in Sacramento or Saigon, police needed to be technically adept, flush with cash, and insulated from political machinations.

What is less understood, however, is the fundamental mismatch between what reformers and police chiefs imagined reform to look like. For liberal reformers, injustice looked like a lynch mob. For many police experts, steeped in Cold War ideology and trained in counterintelligence, it looked like the Soviet secret police. Mob rule had to be avoided, but so too did centralized authority over police objectives. Underlying reasons for what police did daily, and to whom, was not the concern of either party.

Command-level cops across the United States, after all, were quick to absorb the lessons and perspectives of public safety officers. In policing’s professional literatures, CIA officials published articles on topics such as policing in the Soviet Union, which emphasized the centralized governing hierarchy. The fact that Soviet police at the lowest level enacted the tyranny ordered at the top resonated with a generation of U.S. police reformers who had watched corrupt political machines in U.S. cities be dismantled. Police reformers thus demanded that police answer primarily to their own professional guidelines, free from political interference. In this way, the negative model of the authoritarian state was misleading: it may have prevented centralized dictatorial rule, but it left police power largely insulated. And so Cold War U.S. empire abroad found its replica in the War on Crime at home: to break the political syzygy of an authoritarian state apparatus in Sacramento or Saigon, in Wichita or Tokyo, police needed to be technically adept, flush with cash, and insulated from political machinations.

This cohered in the mid-1960s as rioting in U.S. cities and towns caught police underprepared, and officers beat and killed participants and bystanders alike. High-ranking officials in Washington, D.C., and many state capitals turned to the reform experts most familiar with riot control and street protest: public safety advisors. The 1968 anticrime bill thus followed a familiar Cold War model: it funded new federally coordinated riot-control training programs—training that mimicked what the Office of Public Safety urged overseas—and it authorized the purchase of huge supplies of tear gas as well as other technical instruments, from radios to helicopters to tanks.

A revised approach to riot control was but one result of the War on Crime. With a bureaucratic frame of mind that had its closest analog in the military-industrial complex, the “prison-industrial complex” was born out of its zeal for spending on the penal sector. Strategic planning of the best way to utilize those resources fell second. Moreover, by leaning so heavily on Cold War rationales, elected officials and law enforcement leaders started treating criminals as interchangeable with political subversives, thus eschewing rehabilitation efforts, as Micol Seigel has argued. If criminal propensity was similar to the dedication to a cause that marked political radicalism, rehabilitative efforts were pointless.

In 1969 two special investigations concluded that prisons were already ineffective at rehabilitation. New York researchers declared prisons to be hotbeds of radicalism, “more fertile breeding grounds for crime than the streets.” Federal research findings, endorsed by James V. Bennett, the retired Federal Bureau of Prisons director, were less caustic but corroborated fears of increasing crime due to the failings of prisons. Bennett was a lifelong reformer; earlier in his career, he had advocated for flexibility in sentencing, educational programs for prisoners, and other hallmarks of rehabilitation. But he and his staff also worked closely with the public safety program, advising prisons in Guatemala and Thailand, and he had spent a few years in occupied Germany learning how to dismantle an authoritarian system. Though Bennett continued to push for educational programs, the final recommendation of his investigation was to dedicate greater resources to incarceration, expand the number of guards, and upgrade the training they received.

The effort to reform law enforcement and codify its procedures actually made it more institutionally robust and less forgiving, contributing to the country’s march toward mass incarceration.

The War on Crime was a creature of federalism. Federal appropriations for upgrading police, courts, and prisons came embroidered with a commitment that no usurpation of local authority or discretion would result. Policing remained decentralized. Even when police killed unarmed people during unrest, causing public complaint, police were protected; outrage could be an orchestrated communist plot, the thinking went, intended to take control over law enforcement by undermining its autonomy. In this way, the reform effort preserved the petty despotism of the nightstick and localized tyranny of the police chief that was at the root of the racial crisis. By insulating police from federal oversight or control, while also affording them increased resources, particularly for capital-intensive repressive technologies, the War on Crime allowed the underlying structure of Jim Crow policing to persist.

In the end, U.S. police came to see extreme lawfulness—of which they were the sole arbiter—as the rejoinder to Soviet repressiveness, and a vastly inflated penal system as the bureaucratic shield against subversives on U.S. streets. Yet, seeing where it has gotten us—and what we have sacrificed in the process—it is hard not to compare our current system to “organs of suppression.” The prison-industrial complex of the present is marked by aggressive and technologically advanced policing, brutal conditions of incarceration, civic exclusion, and fiscal penalties that extends far beyond time served. It has metastasized despite crime declining in the same period. Just as key analysts of the impasse between the Eastern bloc and the United States found that repression seemed to persist for its own sake behind the Iron Curtain, Americans might question the purpose of the contemporary criminal justice system at home.

What made the early Cold War vision of Americanism distinct from that of totalitarianism was that the Soviet police answered directly to political leaders, whereas in the United States police had, by midcentury, mostly thrown off the shackles of the political machine that dictated their terms of employment. This independence remains important for democracy. But as crime continues to decline and appropriations for police continue to grow, the question of democratic control over the instruments of public safety becomes urgent, for public safety appears now to be the instrument for the control of democracy. Law enforcement leaders have become, as Kennan claimed they were in Russia, “masters of those whom they were designed to serve.”

Saudis asked Russia to probe Aramco oilfield attack, Moscow will condemn Iran if it’s responsible – Putin

Saudis asked Russia to probe Aramco oilfield attack, Moscow will condemn Iran if it’s responsible – Putin

Saudis asked Russia to probe Aramco oilfield attack, Moscow will condemn Iran if it's responsible – Putin

Russia agreed to look into the September aerial attack on the Saudi Aramco oil facilities and will condemn whoever was behind it, but will not take sides in the feud between Riyadh and Tehran, President Vladimir Putin says.

Russia treasures its cordial ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and is equally sensitive to each side’s concerns, Putin told reporters from three Arabic-language broadcasters when asked for his take on the recent strike on Riyadh’s oil processing facilities in Abqaiq.

On the one hand, Moscow maintains “close contacts with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, including the Crown Prince [Mohammad bin Salman],” who asked the Russian leader if his country could help establish crucial facts about the incident.

Saudis asked Russia to probe Aramco oilfield attack, Moscow will condemn Iran if it's responsible – Putin

“I said yes, we are ready to share anything that might be necessary, everything we have for a thorough investigation,” Putin revealed.

When asked directly whether Russia will go as far as condemning Iran if it’s found responsible, he said there won’t be any exceptions.

Regardless of who stood behind the incident, we condemn any such actions. That is exactly what I said before, and I really meant it.

But assigning blame before finding out the facts is “counterproductive,” the president said, explicitly referring to Riyadh and Washington pointing finger at Tehran.

And while Russia is ready to assist the Saudi fact-finding effort, such contribution – as well as friendly relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – will never come at the expense of the long-standing ties with neighboring Iran, “a big country” that “has existed on its territory for thousands of years [and] has its own interests.”

Russia will never be friends with one country against another. We build bilateral relations that rely on positive trends generated by our contacts; we do not build alliances against anyone.

Likewise, Moscow will not take on the “unrewarding” role of a mediator in the Riyadh-Tehran feud, Putin said, adding that the he believes the two nations are capable of solving their disputes without a middleman.

Kurds Welcome Syrian Troops Into Kobani and Manbij, As Last Resort Against Turkish Advance

Syrian government forces set to enter Kobani and Manbij in SDF deal

The deal would see the SAA and pro-regime militias enter the towns to prevent a Turkish incursion

Syrian government forces were poised to enter the northeastern Syrian cities of Kobani and Manbij on Sunday, October 13 after a deal with the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight against Turkey-backed rebels.

Kobani official General Ismet Sheikh Hasan said that Russian and Syrian government troops could enter Kobani and Manbij by Sunday night to help secure the cities from a Turkish incursion.

“We did everything we could,” he said. “We have called upon the West [and] the Arab Union but no one is coming to help, so we have no one other than ourselves to defend [Kobani]. Kurdish youth should come and defend their homes, and people should not abandon their homes – this is our land. It looks like this is the fate of the Kurds, to go through this each time.”

Neither the SDF or Russia have confirmed such an agreement exists.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported that SAA units were moving north to “confront” Turkish forces.

Earlier on Sunday, Turkey said its forces had secured the M4 highway, about 30 km into Syrian territory and a major supply line for the area.

A deal between the SDF, regime and Russia could see the Syrian Arab Army and pro-government militias enter Manbij and Kobani as early as Sunday in a bid to stop the progress of Syrian rebels in the north. Other reports have put the timeline within 48 hours, meaning Turkey-backed forces would have an additional two days to secure their positions, potentially cutting off Manbij from SDF strongholds in the east.

Syria mapEarlier Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that the Pentagon had received information that the SDF, which it had backed for years in the war against Islamic State, was preparing to strike a deal with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Russians.

Turkey invaded northeast Syria on October 9 after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would pull back American troops along the Syria-Turkey border where they were protecting the SDF from a Turkish incursion. On Sunday, Esper said the remaining 1,000 U.S. troops would withdraw from northeastern Syria.

In January, senior SDF official and former YPG spokesperson Redur Xelil said a deal with the regime was inevitable “because our areas are part of Syria.”

Ankara considers the SDF and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) wing to be an arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey, and Erdogan has for months been threatening to attack northeast Syria.

The Syrian regime and its Russian ally consider all Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, even those not aligned with jihadist groups, to be terrorists.

Fighters backed by Turkey and pro-regime forces had flanked Manbij on Monday before Turkey’s incursion began.

Manbij Military Council spokesperson Shervan Derwish told The Defense Post that his side had received information that Syrian pro-government forces, supported by Russian troops, had begun movements in area, while the Turkey-organized Syrian National Army, a conglomerate of Syrian Arab rebel groups, began making preparations to move towards the town, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The SDF captured Manbij from ISIS on August 12, 2016 after a 75-day battle, later named “Operation Martyr and Commander Faysal Abu Layla” after the SDF commander.

Kobani, which lies to the east of the Euphrates river, is where Kurds in 2015 halted a bloody six-month Islamic State onslaught with the help of U.S. airstrikes.

US Spec Forces Shelled By Turkish Artillery While Sheltering Jihadi Forces In North Syria

[From Editor-created Syrian Google map below, it is undeniable that both the northern and southern jihadi hideouts are located in the center of US-protected areas.  The northern jihadi stronghold is centered around Idlib and Aleppo…the southern jihadi stronghold is centered on illegal US military base built at At-Tanf, Syria and US-protected Rukban refugee camp on Jordan border.]




Acontingent of U.S. Special Forces was caught up in Turkish shelling against U.S.-backed Kurdish positions in northern Syria, days after President Donald Trump told his Turkish counterpart he would withdraw U.S. troops from certain positions in the area. A senior Pentagon official said shelling by the Turkish forces was so heavy that the U.S. personnel considered firing back in self-defense.

Newsweek has learned through both an Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official and the senior Pentagon official that Special Forces operating on Mashtenour hill in the majority-Kurdish city of Kobani fell under artillery fire from Turkish forces conducting their so-called “Operation Peace Spring” against Kurdish fighters backed by the U.S. but considered terrorist organizations by Turkey. No injuries have been reported.

Instead of returning fire, the Special Forces withdrew once the shelling had ceased. Newsweek previously reported Wednesday that the current rules of engagement for U.S. forces continue to be centered around self-defense and that no order has been issued by the Pentagon for a complete withdrawal from Syria.

The Pentagon official said that Turkish forces should be aware of U.S. positions “down to the grid.” The official could not specify the exact number of personnel present, but indicated they were “small numbers below company level,” so somewhere between 15 and 100 troops. Newsweek has reached out to the Pentagon for comment on the situation.

syria us troops
A US soldier sits atop an armoured vehicle during a demonstration by Syrian Kurds against Turkish threats next to a base for the US-led international coalition on the outskirts of Ras al-Ain town in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on October 6, 2019.  US forces in Syria started pulling back today from Turkish border areas, opening the way for Ankara’s threatened military invasion and heightening fears of a jihadist resurgence. DELIL SOULEIMAN

The Turkish Defense Ministry issued a statement in response to Newsweek’s report, denying that its military had targeted U.S. forces. The ministry affirmed that “Turkish border outposts south of Suruc came under Dochka and mortar fire from the hills located approximately 1,000 meters southwest of a U.S. observation post.”

“In self-defense, reciprocal fire was opened on the terrorist positions of the attack. Turkey did not open fire at the U.S. observation post in any way,” the statement added. “All precautions were taken prior to opening fire in order to prevent any harm to the U.S. base. As a precaution, we ceased fire upon receiving information from the U.S. We firmly reject the claim that U.S. or Coalition forces were fired upon.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had long warned he would storm the border to establish a so-called “safe zone” and, after the White House announced Sunday that U.S. troops would stand aside, he launched the operation earlier this week.

In its Sunday statement, the White House had said that U.S. troops “will no longer be in the immediate area” as Turkey and allied Syrian rebels commenced their assault. During Friday’s press conference, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley said that U.S. personnel were “still co-located” save for “two small outposts” near the border with Turkey. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said 50 Special Forces personnel had been repositioned ahead of the Turkish and allied Syrian rebel assault.

The U.S. first partnered with the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces in 2015 to battle the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) as the country shifted its support away from an increasingly Islamist opposition seeking the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The group proved effective in beating back the jihadis, but the U.S.’ decision was opposed by Turkey, a NATO member that has faced off with a decades-long insurgency by Kurdish separatists.

Turkey remains the last major sponsor of the Syrian opposition, made up largely of members of the country’s Syrian Arab majority, and has mobilized up to a thousand fighters from these forces, along with hundreds of its own troops, in order to seize territory currently administered by a majority-Kurdish autonomous administration that spans the country’s north and east. This self-governing entity has not been recognized by Ankara nor the central government in Damascus, which has secured much of the rest of the country’s territory with the help of Russia, Iran and allied militias.

The Pentagon has repeatedly urged Turkey to halt its operations and, though he initially signaled support for Erdogan’s plans following their phone call Sunday, Trump has since threatened to sanction the Turkish economy if the country’s military action did anything “off limits.” While the president has repeatedly called for an end to the costly, “endless wars” launched by his predecessors in the Middle East and beyond, he also warned he may send more troops to Syria if the situation was not resolved.

On Thursday, Trump tweeted that he had “one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”



Reports of Attack Upon Iranian Tanker In Red Sea Obfuscated By Reports of 2nd. Tanker Hit At Same Locale

[SEE:  Iranian Tanker Sabiti Struck By Two Missiles In Red Sea, Near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia]

Iranian Suezmax tanker explosion in Red sea UPDATE mess as usual

0830 UTC Oct 11 UPDATE: As usual when something happens in Middle East waters, the story is changing with each passing hour. Now it’s probably SABITI tanker, suffering explosions and fire, but it may well be SINOPA, nevertheless. Now it’s rockets that hit tanker, maybe 2, maybe 5 of them. At least 2 cargo tanks are breached, according to latest.

According to AIS, SINOPA was hit, not SABITI. No AIS from SINOPA so far, while SABITI latest AIS timed 0800 UTC Oct 11, showed her under way heading south, speed 8.6 knots, not far from SINOPA.

The only sure thing in these waters, it seems, is the sun, rising east and going down west, the rest is always a guess. Maybe this or maybe that, maybe happened maybe not, maybe it’s just maybe or maybe it’s more or less probably.

SABITI (IMO 9172040, dwt 149999, built 1999, flag Iran, owner NITC) story is similar to that of SINOPA –,AIS history deleted, last port of call Evyap Turkey in April, resurfaced on Oct 11, near SINOPA. The ship probably (maybe) switched AIS on to smokescreen accident and disorient media.

Crude oil tanker SINOPA suffered explosion in cargo tanks area, followed by fire, in reportedly, early morning Oct 11, while sailing in Red sea SW of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Understood from Iranian sources, hull was breached, oil is leaking from cargo tank or tanks into the sea. Tanker was sailing to Suez, most probably from Iranian oil terminal in Persian Gulf. Tanker history track is missing, with Dalian recorded as last port of call, in April this year. After that date, no AIS records are visible. AIS reappeared on Oct 8 in Red sea, so SINOPA is one of those ghost NITC tankers, dodging the US sanctions.
Latest AIS signal was recorded at around 1330 UTC Oct 10, tanker was moving at 8.6 knots speed in Suez Canal direction.

Crude oil tanker SINOPA, IMO 9172038, dwt 159691, built 1999, flag Iran, owner NITC.

[note vessel speed…orange line]

[note vessel draught…vessel somehow sits approx. 7 meters deeper, indicating that load has increased since transponders first switched on.]

Iranian Tanker Sabiti Struck By Two Missiles In Red Sea, Near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia


Iranian Foreign Ministry: Investigations indicate that the oil tanker Sabity has been targeted twice



Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi announced today that the Iranian oil tanker “Sabiti” has been targeted twice in the eastern Red Sea.

“Investigations by the National Iranian Oil Tankers Company (NIOC) show that the tanker was damaged when it was targeted twice in half an hour near the corridor in the east of the Red Sea,” Mousavi said in a statement.

He pointed out that “during the past few months there have been other acts of sabotage against Iranian oil tankers in the Red Sea, where investigations are currently being carried out on those involved in these incidents.”

Moussaoui expressed concern over the pollution caused by the oil spill from the damaged tanker tanks.

He pointed out that the investigation will continue on the details and elements behind the serious incident and will be announced after reaching the results.

An Iranian tanker belonging to the National Oil Tankers Company (NOC) was hit earlier in the day by an explosion that hit the structure of the tanker, 60 miles from the Saudi port of Jeddah.

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Is Trump’s “Green Light” For Erdogan’s War In Syria A Deranged Form of Proxy War On the EU?

Arab and Kurdish civilians flee following Turkish bombardment in Syria's northeastern town of Ras al-Ain [Delil Souleiman/AFP]
Arab and Kurdish civilians flee following Turkish bombardment in Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain [Delil Souleiman/AFP]


The long-awaited operation launched by Turkey into northeastern Syria extended far beyond what was initially expected by military observers who predicted Ankara would likely embark on limited action.

In the first hours of Operation Peace Spring, Turkish air raids across the border reached as far as Qamishli in the east and further west of Kobane.

Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, told Al Jazeera the scale of the attack surprised many analysts.

“They’ve already hit 300km length and 50km depth, almost all major cities are hit,” Civiroglu said.

Soner Cagaptay, Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s research programme director, told Al Jazeera Turkey’s assault at this point was focused on Arab-majority towns.

“I think that’s quite a smart choice for Ankara because of the fact that Turkish troops will be more welcome in Arab-majority areas, given how friendly Turkey has been towards the Arab population,” Cagaptay said.

He said Turkey will continue to drive a wedge between Kurdish-controlled territory as a strategy to undermine the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and weaken the political authority that controls the border region with Turkey.

The SDF is spearheaded by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has operated inside Turkey for decades. The PKK has been branded a “terrorist” organisation by Turkey and several other countries.

Wednesday’s cross-border operation was not the first. Last year, Turkey launched a similar offensive dubbed Operation Olive Branch into Syria’s Afrin town to “clear the area of terrorists”.

The SDF, while not wanting to comment on specifics, told Al Jazeera it was reviewing Turkish military strategy during Olive Branch to map out a response to the current operation.

According to local activists on the ground, the number one target for Turkey is the Arab-majority town of Tal Abyad, where Ankara hopes to quickly establish a ground presence.

Turkish security analyst and former special forces soldier Necdet Ozcelik told Al Jazeera he expects the first phase of Turkey’s operation will only last about 10 days, or a couple of weeks maximum, with the goal to take control of the area between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

The offensive will also involve thousands of Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels providing ground support for Turkish commandos and its regular soldiers.

‘Under pressure’

Civiroglu said two scenarios were likely to unfold: Turkey intensifying ground operations, or the operation being halted because of condemnation from the international community.

“Trump is under pressure, the Turkish government is under pressure, the UN Security Council will meet today … The world is not buying arguments of the Turkish government,” he said.

“The SDF always wanted good relations [with Turkey] … Kurdish sympathy is very strong, that’s why there’s strong diplomatic efforts to put an end to this.”

The possibility remains that Syrian government forces of President Bashar al-Assad may try to capture the main city of Manbij, if the United States decides to withdraw its troops from there without giving early warning to the Turks.

“In this case, the Syrian army may try to capture Manbij before the Turkish forces or the FSA,” Ozcelik said.

“We might be seeing some sort of tension, or maybe limited confrontation, between the FSA elements and the Assad regime forces in Manbij area, but not in the eastern part.”

‘Turkish aggression’

The SDF responded to Turkey’s military action with artillery attacks and rockets fired into Turkish territory.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter the Kurdish fighters would not allow Turkish troops to advance further. “We will use all our possibilities against Turkish aggression,” he said.

Heavy fighting was taking place in Syrian border villages between advancing Turkish forces and SDF soldiers on Thursday.

Ozcelik said the Kurds were no match for the advancing Turkish-led forces.

“The YPG elements are composed of a lot of PKK ideology people, and they forcibly recruited many people who did not have serious military experience,” he said. “I’m expecting a lot of defections from the YPG side, so the Turkish military is going to take advantage of that.”

Robert Wesley of the Terrorism Research Initiative told Al Jazeera that Turkey will also suffer setbacks considering how vast the area is that it wants to control.

“It will require huge amounts of direct military engagement from the Turkish side,” Wesley said.

“The use of the FSA, that will also be limited [because] these groups are not really well-trained. They don’t have a strong track record with more sophisticated defences.”

Turkey may not have the appetite for sustaining significant casualties, Wesley said, which a serious military encounter with the SDF would necessitate.

“I don’t think either side is particularly well prepared for the engagement,” he said.

The biggest challenge for the SDF is not having a weapon system that can counter Turkish air attacks, Civiroglu said.

“[Even so] they have said they will defend themselves until the end,” he noted.

Russian reaction

Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Ankara after the Turkish operation began to stress that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity be respected.

The Kremlin said it would not interfere further in Syria after years of supporting Assad’s forces against rebel groups, but cautioned Turkey not to take any steps that would destabilise the region.

Cagaptay said Moscow has no choice but to back Turkey’s move. “The most Russia will do is to voice support behind closed doors, even though they may publicly criticise the operation,” he said.

He said the Kremlin may even be welcoming Ankara’s military action. 

“The [Syrian] regime and Russia consider Turkey a threat, so by provoking Turkey to attack Kurds really Russia is hitting two birds with one,” Cagaptay said. “Hitting Kurds, trying to make Kurds dependent on Russia, at the same time allow Turkey to suppress the Kurds, not allow them to make gains.”

Even if Turkey is successful in securing its so-called “safe-zone” to return about two million Syrian refugees, there will be major challenges ahead, observers said.

The complex issue of containing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) fighters who are still active in the region must be addressed by Turkey.

As seen by the suicide attack claimed by the armed group in Raqqa on an SDF intelligence base, killing 13 people, ISIL may be defeated militarily but sleeper cells are still prevalent.

“It’s unfamiliar territory for Turkey,” Civiroglu said. “It’s Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, and Yazidis of the region [who] fought these people.”

Can the US and Turkey bridge their differences over the Kurds?


Can the US and Turkey bridge their differences over the Kurds?