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FTR #881 Turkey Shoot: Sleepwalking into World War III

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This program was recorded in one, 60-minute segment.

F-16 of the Turkish Air Force

Introduction: Analyzing the shootdown of a Russian Su-24 aircraft by a Turkish F-16, this program details disturbing information that the attack was not only a deliberate ambush, but that the air forces of that NATO country have been providing air cover for the al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked combatants fighting inside Syria. (“Air cover” refers to combat aircraft neutralizing enemy air threats to ground forces. This should not be confused with “air support,” which refers to combat aircraft acting in support of ground forces against their opponents–serving, in effect, as “airborne artillery.”)

Interviewed by Andrew Cockburn, Pierre Sprey (who helped develop the F-16) opined: ” . . . Look­ing at the detailed Russ­ian time­line of what happened—as well as the much less detailed Turk­ish radar maps—I’d say the evi­dence looks pretty strong that the Turks were set­ting up an ambush. They cer­tainly weren’t doing any­thing that would point to a rou­tine air patrol along the bor­der. . . .”

A very important article from Harper’s sets forth key points of analysis of the attack:

  • The area attacked by the Su-24s was a major crossing point for trucks, oil tankers in particular (this was an area where Turkmen militias supported by Turkey and sympathetic to the Nusra Front (AQI in Syria) and ISIS operate. Chechens are also active in this area. ” . . . It’s also a place where there’s quite a bit of truck traf­fic, a fair amount of it prob­a­bly oil tankers. It’s the only cross­ing for many, many miles around. This is a pretty sparsely pop­u­lated, well forested and hilly area occu­pied by Turkmen—Turkish speak­ing Syr­ian tribes­men who are sym­pa­thetic to al-Nusra and the Islamic State, who har­bor Chechen ter­ror­ists and who we know have been sup­ported by the Turks. . . .
  • Turkey has used this area to slip terrorists into Syria or to allow them to infiltrate.
  • The Su-24’s were assigned a target in this area. They launched a first attack, then followed a race track-like U-turn and launched a second attack. Shortly after this attack, one of the jets was shot down. ” . . . They then made a U-turn, so to speak, to fol­low a race­track pat­tern back toward where they had been loi­ter­ing to get ready for a sec­ond attack. They in fact exe­cuted the sec­ond attack about seven or eight min­utes later. One of the two Su-24s hit its tar­get right at about ten twenty-four and was almost imme­di­ately shot down as he was pulling off the target. . . .”
  • Two Turkish F-16s were launched well before the Su-24s were assigned their target. They arrived at a mountainous area 25 miles above the border and began to “loiter” at about the time that the Russian pilots were being assigned their targets. The F-16s loitered over that mountainous area for about an hour and fifteen minutes. ” . . . Inter­est­ingly, they arrived in that area to loi­ter just about the time that the Russ­ian pilots were being assigned their tar­gets, and the F-16s loi­tered over that moun­tain­ous area for about an hour and fif­teen minutes. . . .”
  • The Russian Su-24 on its way down.

    The F-16s were not loitering at high altitude (20-30 thousand feet–to conserve fuel, which is would be normal in a routine patrol. They were loitering quite low (7,500 to eight thousand feet) below the coverage of Syrian and Russian radars. This is a very inefficient altitude at which to loiter, because the planes consume huge amounts of fuel at that altitude. ” . . . Here’s the cru­cial thing. They were not loi­ter­ing up at high altitude—say twenty to thirty thou­sand feet—to con­serve fuel, which is where you would nor­mally be loi­ter­ing if you were sim­ply doing a rou­tine bor­der patrol. They were loi­ter­ing quite low, at about seven thou­sand five hun­dred to eight thou­sand feet, which, first of all, is below the cov­er­age of the Syr­ian and Russ­ian radars that were down around Latakia, and which is a very fuel-inefficient alti­tude to loi­ter. You suck up a lot of gas down at those low altitudes. . . .

  • This means they were refueled on the way to their mission by American-made tanker aircraft possessed by the Turkish air force! (They were two hundred and fifty miles away.) The planes would have needed to have their fuel “topped off” to operate at that altitude and for that period of time. ” . . . That tells you right away, if they hung out there for seventy-five min­utes, they must’ve been tanked on the way in to that mis­sion, because they were quite far from their home base—two hun­dred and fifty miles—so they must’ve topped up on fuel to have enough to even last for an hour and a quar­ter at this inef­fi­cient low alti­tude. The Turk­ish Air Force does have a num­ber of Amer­i­can tankers that they own, so they cer­tainly could’ve and almost beyond a shadow of a doubt did tank these F-16s before this whole engagement. . . .”
  • Just as the doomed Russian fighter finishes its “race-track” pattern, the F-16s break out of their “loiter” patterns and fly in a line south, probably under Turkish ground control, heading for an intercept point. (They were not “hunting” for the Su-24s in a curved path.) The intercept point is close to the target bombed by the Su-24s. ” . . . At that point, the two F-16s break out of their loi­ter pat­terns to fly in a straight line south, quite cer­tainly under Turk­ish ground con­trol because they clearly are not hunt­ing for the Su-24s and fol­low­ing a curved path, they’re head­ing straight for an inter­cept point that appar­ently ground con­trol has pro­vided them—a point that’s very close to the tar­get that the Su-24s have just bombed. That’s clearly the point they’re com­ing back to bomb again. . . .”
  • Tayyip Erdogan

    The F-16s arrive (precisely timed) to a missile-firing position. One of the F-16s locks onto the Su-24 and fires a missile, flying up to a perfect attack altitude, and then dives down to be below Syrian radar coverage. ” . . . The F-16s arrive quite nicely and pre­cisely timed to a missile-shooting posi­tion very near the bor­der and three to four miles from the sec­ond Su-24—who has just fin­ished bomb­ing his sec­ond target—at about ten twenty-four. One of the F-16s locks onto him, launches a missile—an infrared mis­sile accord­ing to the Russians—and imme­di­ately dives down to get back under the Syr­ian radar coverage. . . .”

  • The attacking plane makes a “hard driving right turn” to get below radar coverage and heads away from the attack area. The F-16s would have had to be refueled again on their way back to their base. ” . . . The F-16 makes a hard div­ing right turn and is back down under eight thou­sand feet in no time at all and head­ing north away from the scene of the engage­ment. In that turn he actu­ally is pen­e­trat­ing Syr­ian air­space before he heads north to go home to Diyarbakir, prob­a­bly at that point out of fuel and hook­ing up with a tanker again in order to make it home. . . .”
  • The Turks claim that the Russian plane was in their air space. It is not clear that that was the case, but IF that was the case, the incursion would have been over a finger of land for just a few seconds. The attack took place on the second attack run of the Su-24, not during the alleged border incursion! ” . . . Here’s the very inter­est­ing thing. This border-violating incur­sion was on the first run to the tar­get at around quar­ter after ten a.m. On the sec­ond run to the tar­get the Russ­ian planes were clearly fur­ther to the south. This is accord­ing to the plots and maps released in the Russ­ian brief­ing, which are very, very detailed with exact time marks every minute. The seventeen-second cross­ing of the bor­der alleged by the Turks hap­pened at about a quar­ter after ten, but the Turks waited. They didn’t come in and attack the air­plane that had crossed the bor­der at that point. They sim­ply sat and waited until the plane flew a long re-attack pat­tern and came back on a sec­ond run seven or eight min­utes later, and that’s when they attacked and shot him down. . . .”
  • In accordance with the protocols established between NATO and the Russians, the Russians had submitted detailed information about the pending mission well beforehand. This would have made the Turkish attack relatively easy to engineer.
  • The Turks claim to have broadcast ten warnings to the Russian fighter, however the F-16s never issued any warnings, as required by protocol, nor did they fly on a parallel course, within visual contact of the Russian plane.Russian planes have no UHF radio frequency reception. ” . . . The Turks do say they trans­mit­ted their warn­ings from a ground-control sta­tion. They also claim they trans­mit­ted those radio calls on both the civil­ian inter­na­tional emer­gency “guard” UHF-band fre­quency and on the mil­i­tary VHF-band fre­quency pre­vi­ously agreed to by NATO and the Rus­sians. The Amer­i­cans were quick to con­firm that their mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment picked up the Turk­ish ground-station radio warn­ing calls, but they’ve been care­ful not to say what fre­quency they heard. Now it so hap­pens that Su-24s have no radios onboard for receiv­ing UHF-frequency sig­nals, a fact which is well known to Amer­i­can, NATO, and Turk­ish intelligence. . . .” 
  • The Turkish ground station may well have broadcast the warnings on UHF, knowing that the Russians would not have received them. ” . . . . The ground-control sta­tion in Turkey prob­a­bly did issue warn­ings, but they may have been warn­ings that were intended not to be received. . . .”
  • The Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles installed at the Latakia base can fire two hundred miles into Turkey, threatening any aircraft that might launch a similar attack  in the future. This could lead to World War III. ” . . . . The Russians are installing it at their base just south of Latakia, within fifty miles of the border. So conceivably they could shoot two hundred miles into Turkey. They may or may not be able to prevent a hidden Turkish fighter from firing at another Russian attack in the border area, but they certainly have the possibility of catching him or his friends on the way home. This is a real sword poised over the heads of the Turks now that the Russians have the capability to shoot deep into Turkey and can do so any time they want. . . .”

After analyzing the attack itself, the broadcast reviews information about the area targeted by the Russian jets.

Listeners are emphatically encouraged to use previous programs and descriptions to flesh out their understanding. We recommend: FTR #’s 737, 862, 863, 878, 879, 880.

Program Highlights Include:

  • Review of the fact that a Syrian jet was shot down while combatting an offensive by the Islamist forces backed by Turkey.
  • Review of the fact that the combatants for which Turkish aircraft have been providing air cover are: Turkmen associated with the Grey Wolves and the Pan-Turkist movement; al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front fighters and ISIS units.
  • The area targeted by the Russian jets also harbors Chechen fighters.
  • Review of the role of central role of Chechens in the ISIS order of battle.
  • Review of ISIS-linked Chechens operating in Ukraine under Pravy Sektor administrative command.
  • Review of UNA-UNSA Ukrainian fascists fighting in Chechnya.
  • Review of how the UNA-UNSO morphed into Pravy Sektor, selecting Yuriy Shukhevych to head its combatant wing. (Yuriy Shukhevych is the son of Roman Shukhevych, the head of the UPA that fought alongside Nazi Germany in World War II.
  • Review of the Pan-Turkist linked Crimean Tatars alliance with Pravy Sektor to blockade Crimean road traffic and sabotage the Crimean power supply.
  • Review of Grey Wolf/Pan-Turkist elements active in Asia, supporting the Uighurs against China.
  • Review of Grey Wolf activity in Syria.

F-16 of the Turkish Air Force

1a. Here’s an analy­sis of the jet shoot­down time­line in Harpers that’s based on the data pro­vided by Rus­sia and Turk­ish radar maps. It will be inter­est­ing to hear if the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment responds to the analy­sis because it comes to the con­clu­sion that the shoot­down was an ambush:

“Moun­tain Ambush” by Andrew Cockburn; Harper’s; 12/4/2015.

“Look­ing at the detailed Russ­ian time­line of what hap­pened,” says defense ana­lyst Pierre Sprey, “I’d say the evi­dence looks pretty strong that the Turks were set­ting up an ambush.”

By Andrew Cockburn

On Novem­ber 24, a Turk­ish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russ­ian Su-24 bomber near the bor­der of Turkey and Syria. In the imme­di­ate after­math, offi­cials from the two coun­tries offered con­tra­dic­tory ver­sions of what tran­spired: Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin claimed that the plane was fly­ing over Syr­ian ter­ri­tory when it was downed; Turk­ish pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan coun­tered that it was inside Turkey’s bor­der and had been warned ten times to alter its course. Hours later, Pres­i­dent Obama threw his sup­port behind Erdo­gan. “Turkey,” he said, “has a right to defend its ter­ri­tory and its airspace.”

I asked Pierre Sprey, a long­time defense ana­lyst and mem­ber of the team that devel­oped the F-16, to exam­ine what we know about the down­ing and deter­mine what actu­ally occurred that morning.

The Rus­sians have claimed the Novem­ber 24 down­ing of their bomber was a delib­er­ate pre-planned ambush by the Turks. Is there any merit in that argument?

The Russian Su-24 on its way down.

Look­ing at the detailed Russ­ian time­line of what happened—as well as the much less detailed Turk­ish radar maps—I’d say the evi­dence looks pretty strong that the Turks were set­ting up an ambush. They cer­tainly weren’t doing any­thing that would point to a rou­tine air patrol along the bor­der. Their actions in no way rep­re­sented a rou­tine, all day long type of patrol.

How can we tell that?

Well, let’s set up the sit­u­a­tion and it’ll be a lit­tle eas­ier to under­stand. The Russ­ian pilots were assigned a tar­get very close to the Turk­ish bor­der, about ten miles in from the Mediter­ranean coast and about five miles south of an impor­tant bor­der cross­ing at a lit­tle place called Yay­ladagi. That’s a bor­der cross­ing that the Turks have used to slip jihadists into Syria, or to allow them to slip in. It’s also a place where there’s quite a bit of truck traf­fic, a fair amount of it prob­a­bly oil tankers. It’s the only cross­ing for many, many miles around. This is a pretty sparsely pop­u­lated, well forested and hilly area occu­pied by Turkmen—Turkish speak­ing Syr­ian tribes­men who are sym­pa­thetic to al-Nusra and the Islamic State, who har­bor Chechen ter­ror­ists and who we know have been sup­ported by the Turks.

The tar­get area the Rus­sians were inter­ested in was about five miles south, along the road lead­ing to this cross­ing. That was the tar­get area that they assigned to these two Su-24s on the day of the shoot-down. The crews were assigned the mis­sion at about nine-fifteen in the morn­ing, Moscow time. They took off about a half hour later, headed for an area about thirty miles inland from the Mediter­ranean coast—in other words well east of this tar­get area—to loi­ter until they got fur­ther instruc­tions on hit­ting a tar­get in the tar­get area. At this point they’re just cruis­ing and loi­ter­ing at eigh­teen thou­sand, nine­teen thou­sand feet, try­ing to con­serve gas while they’re wait­ing to be assigned a spe­cific target.

The flight to their hold­ing area was very short, because they were fly­ing out of a Russ­ian base south of Latakia. It was like a ten-minute flight. They were only about thirty miles away or so. After they reached their loi­ter area—at roughly a quar­ter to ten—they were well in view of Turk­ish radar cov­er­age because they were up high and not far from the bor­der, roughly six­teen miles south.

They got assigned their tar­get, which was the road south of this impor­tant bor­der cross­ing, and exe­cuted a first strike, each of them attack­ing sep­a­rate tar­gets at about a quar­ter after ten. They then made a U-turn, so to speak, to fol­low a race­track pat­tern back toward where they had been loi­ter­ing to get ready for a sec­ond attack. They in fact exe­cuted the sec­ond attack about seven or eight min­utes later. One of the two Su-24s hit its tar­get right at about ten twenty-four and was almost imme­di­ately shot down as he was pulling off the target.

What about the Turk­ish air force, what were they doing meanwhile?

The Turks had launched two F-16s quite a bit ear­lier than the time we’re talk­ing about, from Diyarbakir, a major base for the Turk­ish Air Force about two hun­dred and fifty miles away, to loi­ter just in from the Mediter­ranean over a moun­tain­ous area that was about twenty-five miles north of this bor­der cross­ing. Inter­est­ingly, they arrived in that area to loi­ter just about the time that the Russ­ian pilots were being assigned their tar­gets, and the F-16s loi­tered over that moun­tain­ous area for about an hour and fif­teen minutes.

Here’s the cru­cial thing. They were not loi­ter­ing up at high altitude—say twenty to thirty thou­sand feet—to con­serve fuel, which is where you would nor­mally be loi­ter­ing if you were sim­ply doing a rou­tine bor­der patrol. They were loi­ter­ing quite low, at about seven thou­sand five hun­dred to eight thou­sand feet, which, first of all, is below the cov­er­age of the Syr­ian and Russ­ian radars that were down around Latakia, and which is a very fuel-inefficient alti­tude to loi­ter. You suck up a lot of gas down at those low altitudes.

That tells you right away, if they hung out there for seventy-five min­utes, they must’ve been tanked on the way in to that mis­sion, because they were quite far from their home base—two hun­dred and fifty miles—so they must’ve topped up on fuel to have enough to even last for an hour and a quar­ter at this inef­fi­cient low alti­tude. The Turk­ish Air Force does have a num­ber of Amer­i­can tankers that they own, so they cer­tainly could’ve and almost beyond a shadow of a doubt did tank these F-16s before this whole engagement.

They’re hang­ing out at low alti­tude over this moun­tain­ous area north of the bor­der, and it’s now about a quar­ter after ten. The Russ­ian fight­ers, the Su-24s, are just fin­ish­ing their race­track pat­tern after their first strike and are about to re-attack from this hold­ing posi­tion well east of the tar­get. At that point, the two F-16s break out of their loi­ter pat­terns to fly in a straight line south, quite cer­tainly under Turk­ish ground con­trol because they clearly are not hunt­ing for the Su-24s and fol­low­ing a curved path, they’re head­ing straight for an inter­cept point that appar­ently ground con­trol has pro­vided them—a point that’s very close to the tar­get that the Su-24s have just bombed. That’s clearly the point they’re com­ing back to bomb again.

The F-16s arrive quite nicely and pre­cisely timed to a missile-shooting posi­tion very near the bor­der and three to four miles from the sec­ond Su-24—who has just fin­ished bomb­ing his sec­ond target—at about ten twenty-four. One of the F-16s locks onto him, launches a missile—an infrared mis­sile accord­ing to the Russians—and imme­di­ately dives down to get back under the Syr­ian radar coverage. The F-16 makes a hard div­ing right turn and is back down under eight thou­sand feet in no time at all and head­ing north away from the scene of the engage­ment. In that turn he actu­ally is pen­e­trat­ing Syr­ian air­space before he heads north to go home to Diyarbakir, prob­a­bly at that point out of fuel and hook­ing up with a tanker again in order to make it home.

Would he have been in Syr­ian air­space when they fired the missile?

Not nec­es­sar­ily. It’s hard to tell at this point. All this action is pretty close to the bor­der, and there’s no rea­son to believe either the Turks or the Rus­sians about dis­tances of half a mile or a mile north or south of the bor­der, but there’s no ques­tion that the Turk­ish F-16 pen­e­trated Syr­ian air­space in exe­cut­ing his div­ing turn to get out of the area. He was head­ing due south to attack the east-west track of the Su-24 that had just fin­ished bomb­ing the tar­get. That Su-24 augured in almost imme­di­ately, about a mile and a half south of the border.

The bone of con­tention here is not the tar­get area. The tar­get area is roughly four or five miles south of that famous bor­der cross­ing we were just talk­ing about. The bone of con­tention is a nar­row fin­ger of Turk­ish land about five miles long, stick­ing straight down into Syria, about a mile and a half at its widest at the north­ern end and taper­ing down to a half mile at the south­ern tip. That fin­ger is a good six miles east of the tar­get area. So when head­ing west on their way to attack their tar­gets, the Su-24s nec­es­sar­ily had to pass very close to the south­ern tip of the fin­ger. In other words, the whole con­tro­versy about whether this shoot-down was legit­i­mate or not is whether the Su-24s on the way to the tar­get hap­pened to cross that fin­ger for a few seconds.

Remem­ber again the setup. You’ve got a tar­get that’s like ten miles in from the Mediter­ranean to the east. Another six miles or so east of there is this fin­ger of land. It’s well east of the tar­get area. The loi­ter area that the Sukhois were com­ing from is another six­teen miles to the east of that. They’re fly­ing from their loi­ter area, which is well south of the bor­der. They’re fly­ing past the fin­ger, maybe they crossed it, maybe they were just below it, and head­ing for the target.

But if the Rus­sians were in Turk­ish air­space, as the Turks claim, wouldn’t it be rea­son­able for the Turks to inter­cept them?

There’s a lit­tle detail that’s very telling. The alleged border-crossing took place on the first bomb­ing run from the loi­ter area to the tar­get, and accord­ing to the Turks the Rus­sians were roughly half a mile north of the tip of the fin­ger and so they were in Turk­ish air­space for about sev­en­teen seconds—a tiny, short, brief time—on their way to hit­ting the first tar­get. The Rus­sians, of course, say they were south of the fin­ger by about a mile. God knows who’s right. I’m sure if we had access to the radar records we could tell very promptly who’s lying and who’s not, but nobody is going to give us access to the exact radar plot.

Here’s the very inter­est­ing thing. This border-violating incur­sion was on the first run to the tar­get at around quar­ter after ten a.m. On the sec­ond run to the tar­get the Russ­ian planes were clearly fur­ther to the south. This is accord­ing to the plots and maps released in the Russ­ian brief­ing, which are very, very detailed with exact time marks every minute. The seventeen-second cross­ing of the bor­der alleged by the Turks hap­pened at about a quar­ter after ten, but the Turks waited. They didn’t come in and attack the air­plane that had crossed the bor­der at that point. They sim­ply sat and waited until the plane flew a long re-attack pat­tern and came back on a sec­ond run seven or eight min­utes later, and that’s when they attacked and shot him down.

Between the fuel-guzzling low alti­tude of the hold­ing pat­tern of the F-16s, which mirac­u­lously coin­cided with the flight times of the Russ­ian air­planes, and the fact that they didn’t even chase the air­plane imme­di­ately upon its alleged bor­der incur­sion, all that smells very much like a pretty pre-planned oper­a­tion. The Turks allowed the Russ­ian plane to hit a tar­get and make a long seven or eight minute re-attack pass and then came in from their hid­den low alti­tude posi­tion. They came up a lit­tle higher to gain a good fir­ing alti­tude, came whistling south, hit the Su-24, dove under the radar cov­er­age at the same time that they entered Syr­ian air­space and headed north out of radar cov­er­age to head back to Diyarbakir.

Such an ambush wouldn’t have been hard to pull off, because the Rus­sians, in their detailed account of this, state very clearly that they had coor­di­nated with NATO, with the Amer­i­cans, announc­ing this attack well in advance, and had fol­lowed the pro­to­col of lis­ten­ing on the NATO-agreed fre­quency for any warn­ings or alerts from NATO or from the Turks. There was plenty of time for the Amer­i­cans to inform the Turks that this mis­sion was tak­ing place. They might’ve even been informed by the Rus­sians the day before it was going to take place. All the pre­req­ui­sites for a setup were there.

The Turks made a big deal about the ten warn­ings they said they issued to the Russ­ian planes. What do we make of that?

Again, that’s one of those things where it’s hard to tell and hard to know which side to believe. The Rus­sians in their brief­ing, in their detailed brief­ing, are very clear and very adamant that the F-16s them­selves, the attack­ing F-16s never trans­mit­ted any warn­ing. Nor are the Turks or the Amer­i­cans claim­ing that the F-16s warned the Russ­ian fight­ers. But of course the inter­na­tional pro­to­cols for defend­ing against incur­sions of your air­space require the attack­ing fight­ers them­selves to inform the target—visually or by radio—whether it’s an air­liner or a fighter or what­ever, that they are now vio­lat­ing air­space and need to turn away.

The Turks do say they trans­mit­ted their warn­ings from a ground-control sta­tion. They also claim they trans­mit­ted those radio calls on both the civil­ian inter­na­tional emer­gency “guard” UHF-band fre­quency and on the mil­i­tary VHF-band fre­quency pre­vi­ously agreed to by NATO and the Rus­sians. The Amer­i­cans were quick to con­firm that their mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment picked up the Turk­ish ground-station radio warn­ing calls, but they’ve been care­ful not to say what fre­quency they heard. Now it so hap­pens that Su-24s have no radios onboard for receiv­ing UHF-frequency sig­nals, a fact which is well known to Amer­i­can, NATO, and Turk­ish intelligence.

There’s a lot of outs to this that could be the fault of either sider. It’s quite likely true that the Turks radioed warn­ings, but those warn­ings may have been delib­er­ately trans­mit­ted only on the inter­na­tional civil­ian fre­quency so that the Su-24s would never hear them. Or it may be that the Su-24’s mil­i­tary fre­quency radios were on the fritz, which is easy to believe given the well-known unre­li­a­bil­ity of Russ­ian electronics.

I do believe that the F-16s never issued any warn­ings, because it would be aston­ish­ing if they did. Here they went to all the trou­ble of tank­ing up and fly­ing at a very low alti­tude, stretch­ing their fuel endurance just to stay out of radar cov­er­age of the Rus­sians and the Syr­i­ans, and then why would they sud­denly announce that they were there by warn­ing the fight­ers when they had so obvi­ously set up a sit­u­a­tion where they were hid­ing? The ground-control sta­tion in Turkey prob­a­bly did issue warn­ings, but they may have been warn­ings that were intended not to be received. . . .

Would the United States have had radar coverage from its Airborne Warning and Control System or from their facilities at Incirlik? Would they be able to watch what was going on?

It’s very likely that they had a good track on that area, probably just as good as the Turks had. The Turks of course have a fairly extensive border network of radars, and the Russians and the Syrians have well mapped those radars and know exactly where the coverage is, which is why the Russians can be so precise as to say that the Su-24s entered Turkish radar coverage at 9:52, because they know pretty exactly where that radar coverage is.

The Americans could very possibly have access to those radar results. I have no idea whether they had an AWACS in the air at the time, but if they did it would’ve been easy to cover that area, too. For sure the Americans had complete radio monitoring coverage of the area, certainly heard all the radio transmission involved.

Now the Russians say that they activated air defense missiles, the famous S-400 I guess, to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Does that indeed preclude the Turks interfering with the Russians carrying out strikes in that area?

The answer is no, but it’s a hell of a threat. The longest range version of the S-400 is good for two hundred and fifty miles. The Russians are installing it at their base just south of Latakia, within fifty miles of the border. So conceivably they could shoot two hundred miles into Turkey. They may or may not be able to prevent a hidden Turkish fighter from firing at another Russian attack in the border area, but they certainly have the possibility of catching him or his friends on the way home. This is a real sword poised over the heads of the Turks now that the Russians have the capability to shoot deep into Turkey and can do so any time they want.

1b. Next, we note that the Turkish shoot-down of a Russian Su-24 appears to have been an instance of the Turkish air force providing air cover for the Turkmen militia and elements of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, who are part of the so-called “moderates” enjoying the support of the West and its allies in the region, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.(“Air cover” refers to combat aircraft neutralizing enemy air threats to ground forces. This should not be confused with “air support,” which refers to combat aircraft acting in support of ground forces against their opponents–serving, in effect, as “airborne artillery.”)

“Facts Back Russia on Turkish Attack” by Gareth Porter; Consortium News; 11/30/2015.

. . . . The motive for the strike was directly related to the Turkish role in supporting the anti-Assad forces in the vicinity of the border. In fact, the Erdogan government made no effort to hide its aim in the days before the strike. In a meeting with the Russian ambassador on Nov. 20, the foreign minister accused the Russians of “intensive bombing” of “civilian Turkmen villages” and said there might be “serious consequences” unless the Russians ended their operations immediately.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was even more explicit, declaring that Turkish security forces “have been instructed to retaliate against any development that would threaten Turkey’s border security.” Davutoglu further said: “If there is an attack that would lead to an intense influx of refugees to Turkey, required measures would be taken both inside Syria and Turkey.”

The Turkish threat to retaliate – not against Russian penetration of its airspace but in response to very broadly defined circumstances on the border – came amid the latest in a series of battles between the Syrian government and religious fighters.

The area where the plane was shot down is populated by the Turkmen minority. They have been far less important than foreign fighters and other forces who have carried out a series of offensives in the area since mid-2013 aimed at threatening President Bashar al-Assad’s main Alawite redoubt on the coast in Latakia province.

Charles Lister, the British specialist who was visiting Latakia province frequently in 2013, noted in an August 2013 interview, “Latakia, right up to the very northern tip [i.e. in the Turkmen Mountain area], has been a stronghold for foreign fighter-based groups for almost a year now.” He also observed that, after Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) had emerged in the north, al-Nusra Front and its allies in the area had “reached out” to ISIL and that one of the groups fighting in Latakia had “become a front group” for ISIL.

In March 2014, the religious rebels launched a major offensive with heavy Turkish logistical support to capture the Armenian town of Kessab on the Mediterranean coast of Latakia very close to the Turkish border. An Istanbul newspaper, Bagcilar, quoted a member of the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee as reporting testimony from villagers living near the border that thousands of fighters had streamed across five different border points in cars with Syrian plates to participate in the offensive.

During that offensive, moreover, a Syrian jet responding to the offensive against Kessab was shot down by the Turkish air force in a remarkable parallel to the downing of the Russian jet. Turkey claimed that the jet had violated its airspace but made no pretence about having given any prior warning. The purpose of trying to deter Syria from using its airpower in defense of the town was obvious.

Now the battle in Latakia province has shifted to the Bayirbucak area, where the Syrian air force and ground forces have been trying to cut the supply lines between villages controlled by Nusra Front and its allies and the Turkish border for several months. The key village in the Nusra Front area of control is Salma, which has been in jihadist hands ever since 2012. The intervention of the Russian Air Force in the battle has given a new advantage to the Syrian army.

The Turkish shoot-down was thus in essence an effort to dissuade the Russians from continuing their operations in the area against al-Nusra Front and its allies, using not one but two distinct pretexts: on one hand a very dubious charge of a Russian border penetration for NATO allies, and on the other, a charge of bombing Turkmen civilians for the Turkish domestic audience. . . .

Discussion

14 comments for “FTR #881 Turkey Shoot: Sleepwalking into World War III”

  1. Reuters: Russia’s payback against Turkey over shoot-down may turn deadly

    http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/12/15/why-russias-payback-to-turkey-could-be-lethal/

    Could this lead to a World War between a key NATO Member and Russia? The article states:
    “Putin could therefore strike a serious blow at Turkey’s geopolitical interests by ordering delivery of more advanced Russian weaponry to the Kurds, some of which would be aimed at Turkey. Syrian Kurds control two enclaves in northern Syria along the Turkish border, and wish to capture the final 60 miles needed to link these two territories together. Although Turkey repeatedly warns it will use force to prevent this scenario, Russian support and encouragement could motivate Syria’s Kurds to take the plunge. This would establish a 400-mile-long anti-Turkish cordon along Turkey’s southern border, which would be nothing short of a disaster in the minds of Turkish leaders.”

    “Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publiclywondered why Turkey bombs Syria’s Kurds against Washington’s wishes. Putin also suggested that Syria’s Kurds unite with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to fight Islamic State, an alliance that would upend the entire game in Syria.”

    “Putin’s vindictiveness towards the Turkmens is clear, as they killed one of the Russian pilots as he parachuted down, and then released a video showing them cheering and yelling “Allahu Akbar” as they found the body.”

    “Turkey is allowed to close the Straits in a war with Russia or if it considers itself to be “threatened with imminent danger of war.” This would bottle up Russian ships in the Black Sea, and significantly increase the difficulty for Moscow to resupply its forces in Syria. Turkey has already created “delays” for Russian cargo ships travelling through the Straits — a clear warning from Erdogan.”

    “Given that the Turks have fought and lost 17 wars against Russia since the 15th century, Ankara likely hopes this is the case.”

    Posted by Sojourner Truth | December 15, 2015, 5:23 pm
  2. Here’s another unpleasant situation to add to Iraq’s woes: Baghdad just issued the threat of military action if Turkey doesn’t remove its troops from Kurd-controlled territories in Northern Iraq. And Ankara’s response was basically, ‘we respect your sovereignty, but no, we aren’t leaving. And anyway, you don’t currently control this territory’. As far as tensions between neighbors go, the unwelcome presence of foreign troops along with taunts of ‘we’ll respect you’re sovereignty once you actually control this territory’ is quite a doozy:

    Reuters
    Iraqi PM says Turkey not respecting agreement to withdraw troops

    BAGHDAD/ANKARA | By Saif Hameed and Ece Toksabay

    Wed Dec 30, 2015 4:10pm EST

    Iraq’s prime minister accused Turkey on Wednesday of failing to respect an agreement to withdraw its troops from the country’s north and its foreign minister said if forced, Iraq could resort to military action to defend its sovereignty.

    The diplomatic dispute flared after Turkey deployed a force protection unit of around 150 troops earlier this month, citing heightened security risks near Bashiqa military base where its troops were training an Iraqi militia to fight Islamic State insurgents in nearby Mosul.

    Iraqi security forces have had only a limited presence in Nineveh province, where the camp is located, since collapsing in June 2014 in the face of a lightning advance by Islamic State.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told his Turkish counterpart in a call on Wednesday that a Turkish delegation had promised to withdraw its troops, according to a statement from his media office.

    “But the Turkish government has not respected the agreement and we request that the Turkish government announce immediately that it will withdraw from Iraqi territory”, he said.

    Ankara has acknowledged there was a “miscommunication” with Baghdad over the deployment. It later withdrew some troops to another base inside the nearby autonomous Kurdistan region and said it would continue to pull out of Nineveh province, where Bashiqa is located.

    But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said a total withdrawal is out of the question, and Abadi repeated to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday that Baghdad had not approved the deployment.

    Speaking on Wednesday night, Davutoglu said Ankara respected Iraqi sovereignty, but that Baghdad had no control over a third of its own territory. “If Baghdad wants to use force, they should use it against Daesh,” Davutoglu added, using an Arabic name for Islamic State.

    Abadi said there was no reason for Turkey to expose its trainers to danger by sending them “deep inside Iraqi borders”, and that Islamic State posed no danger to Turkey from inside Iraqi territory. Bashiqa is about 90 km (55 miles) from the Turkish border.

    Davutoglu also congratulated Abadi after Iraqi forces retook the center of the city of Ramadi this week, a victory that could help vindicate the Iraqi leader’s strategy for rebuilding the military after stunning defeats.

    MILITARY ACTION

    Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said earlier in the day that his government was committed to exhausting peaceful diplomatic avenues to avoid a crisis with Turkey, its northern neighbor, but insisted that all options remained open.

    “If we are forced to fight and defend our sovereignty and riches, we will be forced to fight,” he told reporters in Baghdad.

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in a phone call with Davutoglu earlier this month, welcomed the Turkish troops’ withdrawal and urged Ankara to continue trying to cooperate with Baghdad.

    After the diplomatic row began, the Bashiqa base came under fire from Islamic State when militants fired rockets in an attack on Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the area. The Turkish military said its soldiers returned fire and four had been lightly wounded in the incident.

    “If we are forced to fight and defend our sovereignty and riches, we will be forced to fight”

    Military conflict between Iraq and Turkey is now openly discussed. And while open conflict between the two is probably still a remote possibility at this point, keep in mind that the odds of Turkey shooting down a Russian jet was probably pretty low this time last year and yet here we are. Happy New Year.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 31, 2015, 12:45 pm
  3. Uh oh: Turkey accused Russia of violating its airspace again, threatening that “the unwanted consequences of such irresponsible behaviour will belong fully to the Russian Federation.” Russia responded that such accusations are hysteria “launched by the Turkish side that we define as ‘unsubstantiated propaganda’ looks pretty much like a premeditated provocation,” and then asserted that Russia’s military is in possession of video showing “a Turkish artillery battery shelling a Syrian frontier village”.

    So things could definitely be going better in Russian-Turkish relations. Of course, they could get worse too. For instance, according to an anonymous Russian secret service source, the FSB suspects that the Grey Wolves loyal to ISIS may have been behind the downing of another Russian jet: the Russia-operated Airbus A321 that was bombed on route from Sharm el-Sheikh. It’s unclear how substantive that claim is at this point, but if that really is something the FSB believes, those relations will presumably be getter much, much worse:

    International Business Times UK
    Russian plane crash: Isis-linked Turkish group Grey Wolves ‘may have downed’ Airbus A321

    By Brendan Cole
    February 1, 2016 16:43 GMT

    Turkish radical militants loyal to Isis (Daesh) may have been behind the crash of the Russian airliner brought down by a bomb over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, it has been reported. An anonymous Russian secret service source said that the FSB believes the radical Turkish Grey Wolves may have been behind what was the largest civil aviation disaster in Russian history.

    On 31 October 2015, the Russia-operated Airbus A321 rashed en route from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board.

    “The FSB believes that the Turkish radical nationalist organization Grey Wolves, linked to the Daesh terrorist group and working in many Arab countries, including Egypt, could have been linked to the explosion of the Russian airliner,” the source told the respected Kommersant newspaper..

    The Grey Wolves group first appeared in Turkey in the 1960s and are described as Turkish ultra nationalists.

    One of the leaders of the organization took responsibility for killing the ejected pilot of a Russian Su-24 military plane after the aircraft was downed by a Turkish fighter jet near the Syrian border on 24 November 2015.

    If the involvement of the Grey Wolves is confirmed, Russia will demand that Turkey pay compensation to the relatives of the victims of the crash, the RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing Victor Ozerov, the chairman of the Federation Council’s defense and security committee. The Kremlin has declined to comment on the reports alleging the existence of a Turkish lead in the investigation.

    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday (1 February): “We are not the investigating authorities. It is necessary to address this issue to the investigating authorities.”

    “If the involvement of the Grey Wolves is confirmed, Russia will demand that Turkey pay compensation to the relatives of the victims of the crash, the RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing Victor Ozerov, the chairman of the Federation Council’s defense and security committee. The Kremlin has declined to comment on the reports alleging the existence of a Turkish lead in the investigation.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 1, 2016, 1:29 pm
  4. Sabre rattling between Russia and the West is continuing to heat up, with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev lamenting the emergence of what he characterizes as a ‘new Cold War’:

    CNN
    Russian PM Medvedev equates relations with West to a ‘new Cold War’

    By Don Melvin, Nic Robertson and Ray Sanchez, CNN

    Updated 2:19 PM ET, Sat February 13, 2016

    (CNN)Bringing back the language of the 1950s and ’60s, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says the strained relationship between his country and the West could be described as “a new Cold War.”

    Speaking Saturday at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Medvedev said he sometimes found himself wondering whether this was 2016 or 1962.

    “NATO’s policy with regard to Russia has remained unfriendly and opaque. One could go as far as to say that we have slid back to a new Cold War,” Medvedev said. “Almost on an everyday basis we are called one of the most terrible threats either to NATO as a whole or to Europe, or to the United States.”

    Tensions between the West and Russia have increased in recent years, in large part — at least in the view of the West — due to Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and its support for separatists elsewhere in eastern Ukraine.

    More recently, some in the West have questioned whether Russia’s intervention in Syria is helpful. Russia says it is attacking terrorists. But some observers contend that Moscow is intent primarily on propping of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is hanging onto power despite a five-year civil war.

    Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe, told CNN that NATO does not agree with Medvedev’s assessment. At an earlier briefing at the Munich Security Conference, Breedlove said Russia is not just trying to change the rules but rewrite them.

    “We at NATO do not want to see a Cold War,” he said. “We do not talk about it. It’s not what we want to happen or anticipate to happen… We’re a defensive alliance who are arraying ourselves to face a challenge … [from] a nation that has once again decided it will use force to change internationally recognized borders and so we take those appropriate actions to be able to assure, defend and deter.”

    The back and forth came as Secretary of State John Kerry told the Munich Security Conference Saturday that Russia’s attacks in Syria have been largely “against legitimate opposition groups” and that must change.

    Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met briefly at the conference to discuss plans for a cessation of hostilities in Syria, the State Department said in a statement.

    They also discussed the establishment of a United Nations task force to coordinate humanitarian aid, according to a communique issued by the International Syria Support Group.

    Kerry and Lavrov agreed on the need for that aid to begin flowing as rapidly as possible, State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

    Referring to the conflict in the Ukraine, Kerry said earlier that Russia’s choice in the matter was simple: Either fully implement the Minsk agreement or face economically damaging sanctions.

    “Russia can prove by its actions that it will respect Ukraine’s sovereignty just as it insists on respect for its own by the same token,” Kerry said, with Lavrov in the audience.

    The secretary of state announced that the U.S. will significantly upgrade its commitment to European security, with a planned “four-fold increase in our spending on the European Reassurance Initiative,” from just under $790 million to $3.4 billion.

    “This will allow us to maintain a division’s worth of equipment in Europe and an additional combat brigade in Central and Eastern Europe, making our support and NATO’s more visible and more tangible,” he said.

    World powers, including the United States and Russia, this week agreed to a ceasefire in Syria and to the delivery of immediate aid there.

    The Syrian civil war began in March 2011, and since then at least 250,000 people have died and 12 million have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

    In Syria, the Russian military has stepped up its presence by land, air and sea, and Russian officials have contended their weaponry is targeting ISIS extremists and their infrastructure.

    But some analysts have likened the Syrian conflict to an emerging proxy war between Russia and the United States, harkening back to the Cold War.

    U.S. officials have accused the Kremlin of using its military to support al-Assad, an ally, and targeting anti-regime rebels.

    The Cold War pitted East against West and pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. The struggle between communism and capitalism defined the second half of the 20th century. The tension began after World War II and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

    Well, it wasn’t all bad news: “World powers, including the United States and Russia, this week agreed to a ceasefire in Syria and to the delivery of immediate aid there.” Note that, as the article below points out, the peace talks had collapsed just a week before this latest ceasefire was announced. So if this ceasefire holds it’s going to be really good news. Especially for the tens of thousands of Syrians from Aleppo currently getting blocked from fleeing to Turkey:

    AFP
    UN urges Turkey to open borders, end bombing of Aleppo

    Latest update : 2016-02-10

    The United Nations urged Turkey to let in tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a regime offensive around Aleppo on Tuesday, adding to calls for Russia to end air strikes ahead of fresh peace efforts.

    Up to 31,000 people have fled Aleppo and surrounding areas since last week, as government forces backed by Russian warplanes press an offensive that threatens to encircle the rebel-held eastern part of Syria’s second city.

    “The highest need and the best humanitarian response is for the bombing to stop,” UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said, when asked if Russia should halt its air campaign in Aleppo. “All bombings should stop.”

    UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman William Spindler urged Turkey to open its border to “all civilians from Syria who are fleeing danger and seeking international protection”.

    Huge crowds of Syrians, most of them women and children, have spent days waiting at the Oncupinar border crossing into Turkey, sleeping in the open or packed into tents.

    Ahmad al-Mohammad, a field worker with medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, said crowded conditions were causing health problems including diarrhea.

    “There are no longer enough places for families to sleep,” said told AFP. “Most of the families left with just the clothes they were in.”

    Turkey, which already hosts 2.5 million Syrians, is delivering supplies across the border but has said it will let the new arrivals in only “if necessary”.

    Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus has said that a “worst case scenario” could see up to 600,000 refugees arrive at the border.

    “Our objective for now is to keep this wave of migrants on the other side of Turkey’s borders as much as is possible, and to provide them with the necessary services there,” Kurtulmus said.

    Focus on Munich talks

    The Aleppo offensive is piling on the pressure for a political solution ahead of a 17-nation contact group meeting Thursday in Munich aimed at getting peace talks back on track.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Russia’s aerial bombardment of Syrian opposition targets could derail efforts to revive the peace process, after discussions collapsed last week.

    “Russia’s activities in Aleppo and in the region right now are making it much more difficult to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a serious conversation,” Kerry said in Washington.

    “We have called on Russia — and we call on Russia again — to join in the effort to bring about an immediate ceasefire.”

    EU president Donald Tusk said the Russian air strikes were “making an already very bad situation even worse”.

    “As a direct consequence of the Russian military campaign, the murderous Assad regime is gaining ground, the moderate Syrian opposition is losing ground and thousands more refugees are fleeing towards Turkey and Europe.”

    NATO said it would take any request to help with the refugee crisis “very seriously”, after Ankara and Germany said they would seek the alliance’s help combating people smugglers.

    US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is also expected to discuss the situation in Aleppo during a trip to Europe this week designed to drum up support for the fight against Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

    “Huge crowds of Syrians, most of them women and children, have spent days waiting at the Oncupinar border crossing into Turkey, sleeping in the open or packed into tents.”
    Part of what makes stories about refugees unable to flee the country so disturbing is that it highlights why a political resolution is vital but any of the military “solutions” and yet the fact that these refugees are fleeing in such large numbers also highlights why the prospects of a political solution is looking so bleak. If the Syrian civil war has accomplished in building one thing, it’s an abundance of irreconcilable differences between the various warring parties, which makes some sort of military ‘solution’ seem inevitable and yet inevitable catastrophic. Whether its the Syrian military, Sunni rebels, or ISIS taking over the country, the military solution to Syria’s civil war would almost certainly involve similar mass flights by refugees but on a much, much larger scale. That and the ever-present risk that one of these ‘new Cold War’ proxy-wars heats up beyond a thre growing war of words:

    UPI
    State Dept. dismisses accusation from Russia that U.S. warplanes bombed Aleppo

    By Doug G. Ware | Updated Feb. 11, 2016 at 7:45 PM

    WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of State has dismissed claims by the Russian government that American warplanes bombed targets in northwest Syria on Wednesday — including possibly two hospitals.

    The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed Thursday that the United States military was behind the attack in the war-torn city of Aleppo. Moscow said two U.S. Air Force A-10 attack aircraft hit nine targets in the city, which has seen increased violence in recent weeks.

    “Two A-10 attack aircraft of the U.S. Air Force entered Syrian airspace from … Turkey and, reaching Aleppo by the shortest path, made strikes against objects in the city,” Russian Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

    Russia also said the United States bombed the targets as part of a secret mission and that two hospitals were possibly among the targets.

    The State Department, though, was quick to dismiss the claims. Two American officials said U.S. military planes weren’t anywhere near Aleppo Wednesday.

    The accusation is the latest hit in deteriorating diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia, which have been at odds over Syria for years. Moscow has backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad while Washington supports the opposition.

    Russia wants Assad to remain in power while the United States flatly rejects any ceasefire proposal that leaves his regime intact.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced later Thursday that an agreement had been reached toward implementing a ceasefire.

    “Russia wants Assad to remain in power while the United States flatly rejects any ceasefire proposal that leaves his regime intact.”
    That really doesn’t bode well for either a political or military solution. And since we’re talking about two nuclear super-powers engaged in a proxy-war, it’s hard to see any military solution that isn’t a nightmare.

    Now, regarding Russia’s claims that it was the US bombing Aleppo, it’s unclear what the US would be trying to achieve with secret A-10 missions against a rebel held city, so it’s probably not a genuine claim by the Russian defense ministry but more an attempt to counter the charges that Russia has been bombing civilian areas in Aleppo. But whatever the reality is of who is bombing whom, the whole situation is a dark reminder of what a grim clusterf#ck the situation has become. It’s now a daily threat that multiple foreign powers are potentially bombing different forces in the same region. Or bombing the the same forces. And as the article below points out, it’s a clusterf#ck that’s only getting more clusterf#cked as more regional powers begin implementing military solutions of their own:

    The Independent

    Turkey shells Kurdish fighters in Aleppo province as Bashar al-Assad’s forces continue to advance on rebels
    Artillery fire was reported from over the Turkish border at four locations on Saturday

    Lizzie Dearden
    Saturday 13 February 2016 21:55 BST

    Turkey has been shelling Kurdish fighters in Syria’s Aleppo province as regime forces backed by Russian air strikes continue to make gains against rebels.

    The Turkish military claimed that it was fired on by artillery from Azaz, which is close to the Turkish border.

    Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a press conference: “Today retaliation was taken under the rules of engagement against forces that represented a threat in Azaz and the surrounding area.”

    He also demanded that Kurdish forces left the area.

    The US has urged de-escalation between the two sides.

    “We have urged Syrian Kurdish and other forces affiliated with the YPG not to take advantage of a confused situation by seizing new territory,” State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement.

    “We have also seen reports of artillery fire from the Turkish side of the border and urged Turkey to cease such fires.”

    Shelling was reported at Menagh air base, a former Syrian Air Force facility that Kurds seized from Islamist rebels just days ago, and at three other positions between the airport and Turkish border.

    The air base has been a key target for several parties in the Syrian civil war since 2012, being besieged by rebels for almost a year until it was seized by a coalition including an early form of Isis and the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra in August 2013.

    It remained in rebel hands until Thursday, when Kurdish PYD fighters capitalised on the diversion caused by Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Russian air strikes attacking rebel areas to the south to seize Menagh.

    Russian planes staged at least 30 raids against rebels, Reuters reported, although it was unclear whether the bombing was deliberately in support of the Kurds.

    Zekeriya Karsli, a rebel commander from the Levant Front alliance said at the time, said: “The fall of Menagh airport has made the situation on the ground pretty grim.”

    Other recent gains reported include the villages of Deir Jameal and al-Qamiya, which rebels evacuated as Syrian troops advanced from the south.

    “The Kurds have gained from the major offensive in Aleppo to widen their areas of control,” Rami Abdulrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.

    The US-led coalition has backed Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq because of their role fighting Isis, succeeding in pushing the terrorist group back in northern Syria.

    But Turkey, which is struggling to end a three-decade insurgency on its own territory by Kurdish militants, views them as terrorists and has been sporadically shelling groups fighting along its border.

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at the US for supporting groups including the PYD and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) last week.

    “Are you on our side or the side of the terrorist PYD and PKK organisation?” he asked, claiming the West was creating a “sea of blood”.

    Turkey has also said it will not permit Kurds to join peace talks in Geneva, which are scheduled to re-start later this month after falling apart in January.

    But John Kirby, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said America does not recognise the PYD as terrorists and support would continue.

    “Kurdish fighters have been some of the most successful in going after Daesh (Isis) inside Syria,” he added.

    “We have provided a measure of support, mostly through the air, and that support will continue.”

    Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, announced that Saudi Arabia would be sending fighter jets and troops to Turkey ahead of co-ordinated operation in Syria.

    “At every coalition meeting we have always emphasised the need for an extensive result-oriented strategy in the fight against the Daesh terrorist group,” he told a Turkish newspaper on Saturday.

    “If we have such a strategy, then Turkey and Saudi Arabia may launch an operation from the ground.”

    Meanwhile, Assad’s forces made new gains on Saturday, capturing the village of Tamoura near Aleppo and tightening the noose around rebel-held parts of Syria’s second city.

    State television and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the gains, while Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said government are now nearing the towns of Hayan and Anadan, which lie on the road to Aleppo city.

    Talks in the German city of Munich on Friday saw world powers agree a temporary “cessation of hostilities” to start within a week but there was little hope for a long-term truce after Assad vowed to retake the whole of Syria by force..

    Ok, let’s try to unpack all that: So the US-backed Kurdish PYD fighters seize control of an Syrian airbase from Syria rebels just days ago. Turkey shells the base, accusing the US of supporting terrorists, and also asserts that the Kurds won’t be allowed to participate in restarted peace talks. Erdogan is charging that the West was creating a “sea of blood,” publicly asking “Are you on our side or the side of the terrorist PYD and PKK organisation?”. At the same time, Turkey has announced that it may team up with Saudi Arabia to launch a joint ground force operation.

    Yeah, that’s looking like a bloody clusterf#ck. And as the following article points out, one of the absolute demands of the Saudis is that Assad must go, whether politically or by force. But one way or another he must go, which is not going to go over well with the Russians. Or Iranians. And another demand of the Saudis is that they will only join a ground coalition that the US leads. So the joint Turkey-Saudi ground force that is forming right now has an explicit goal of overthrowing the government Russia and Iran are desperate to protect.

    It’s all part of why, depending on how the situation unfolds, this is a clusterf#ck that could make a ‘new Cold War’ a relatively benign outcome. Not that a new Cold War wouldn’t be a complete disaster for humanity and a horrible and senseless waste of the future. It would indeed be a complete disaster. But it’s still better than a new non-proxy Hot War. It’s quite a clusterf#ck:

    CNN

    Saudi Arabia official: If all else fails, remove Syria’s Assad by force

    By Mick Krever

    Updated 6:15 AM ET, Sat February 13, 2016

    Munich, Germany (CNN) Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister says if the Syrian political process fails, President Bashar al-Assad will have to be removed “by force.”

    “I believe Bashar al-Assad is weak and I believe Bashar al-Assad is finished,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview in Munich, Germany.

    Saudi Arabia is prepared to contribute ground troops to the fight in Syria, but only as part of a U.S.-led coalition, he said.

    “Bashar al-Assad will leave — have no doubt about it. He will either leave by a political process or he will be removed by force.”

    “We will push as much as we can to ensure that the political process works. But if it doesn’t work, it will be because of the obstinance of the Syrian regime and that of its allies.”

    “And should that prove to be the case, then it becomes clear that there is no option to remove Bashar al-Assad except by force.”

    No time for celebrations

    The political process has been in doubt, especially of late. U.N.-brokered talks were put on ice almost as soon as they started this month.

    Russia steps in

    Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict last fall has bolstered Assad’s position and allowed him to launch a major offensive on the rebel-held city of Aleppo.

    Saudi Foreign Minister Jubeir made clear that his country’s troops would not go it alone.

    “I can tell you that there is some serious discussion going on with regards to looking at a ground component in Syria, because there has to be a possibility of taking and holding ground, that one cannot do from the air.”

    “We are saying we will participate within the U.S.-led coalition, should this coalition decide to send ground troops into Syria, that we are prepared to send special forces with those troops.”

    When asked whether America was doing enough to help bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria, Jubeir said they are “playing a role” in the political process, in supporting the opposition, and helping Syria’s neighbors.

    Whether that is enough, he said “is for the Americans to decide.”

    “From my perspective no country, including Saudi Arabia, can play a big enough role.””

    ‘Neighbors have to live with each other’

    Were Saudi troops to deploy to Syria, they could come into direct contact with the military of Iran — Saudi Arabia’s longtime foe in the region, with whom tensions have been rising of late.

    “We have always said that we would like to have good relations with Iran,” Jubeir said.

    But Saudi Arabia, he said, has been on the “receiving end” of Iranian aggression.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif expressed similar genial sentiments in an interview with Amanpour last month, but did not miss an opportunity to mention that 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001, were Saudi citizens.

    “We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia can be two important players who can accommodate each other, who can complement each other in the region,” Zarif said.

    “Unfortunately,” Zarif said, “the Saudis have had the illusion that, backed by their Western ally, they could push Iran out of the equation in the region. And they were successful for some time.”

    Jubeir reacted to that with mock incredulity.

    “I find it comic that the foreign minister of the country that is single-handedly responsible for the mischief in the region for the past 35 years would say this,” he said.

    “It is Iran that has mobilized sectarian militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan to support this dictator, not Saudi Arabia,” Jubeir said, referring to Assad.

    Iran is our neighbor,” he said. “But neighbors have to live with each other based on the principle of good neighborliness, And the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others.”

    “Iran is our neighbor…But neighbors have to live with each other based on the principle of good neighborliness, And the principle of non-interference in the affairs of others.”
    Yes, the Saudi foreign minister actually said that non-ironically as the government declares that it will remove Assad one way or another:


    Saudi Arabia is prepared to contribute ground troops to the fight in Syria, but only as part of a U.S.-led coalition, he said.

    “Bashar al-Assad will leave — have no doubt about it. He will either leave by a political process or he will be removed by force.”

    “We will push as much as we can to ensure that the political process works. But if it doesn’t work, it will be because of the obstinance of the Syrian regime and that of its allies.”

    “And should that prove to be the case, then it becomes clear that there is no option to remove Bashar al-Assad except by force.”

    But Saudi government hypocrisy also beside the point, especially in the midst of a through-the-looking-glass multi-actor proxy war where even allied powers’ proxy forces are in opposition to each other.

    So if the recently renewed peace talks collapse, which seems likely since the US is demanding Assad goes and Russia demands that he stays, we may soon see a US-led Turkish-Saudi ground invasion, which could also include the UAE, Jordan, and Bahrain. And while it will be explicitly and anti-ISIS coalition, overthrowing Assad is also going to be an absolute mandate and Turkey will probably attack the Kurds, who the US backs. And Iran might join in the fun if it perceives the Saudis are gaining too much power.

    Despite the fact that ISIS’s terrorist capabilities are nothing to take lightly, that was never the biggest threat ISIS created for the global community. The biggest threat ISIS created was by being so awful that it would provide a very good excuse for the regional powers which are dead set on seeing the Assad government fall create an invasion force and invade Syria. Why? Because a ground invasion by the Sunni powers that would inevitably attack Assad after they rout ISIS was obviously going to create the kind of situation where we could see ground war involving most of the Middle East’s military powers with the US and Russia providing air support for opposing sides. So it’s looking like ISIS is on track to accomplish its goal of creating an apocalyptic scenario, although it’s only going to do this by getting wiped out by an Arab army with even bigger goals in mind. Mission accomplished.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 13, 2016, 5:37 pm
  5. The Turkish government is pinning the blame for the recent bombing in Ankara on the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which denies the allegation. And considering that the Turkish government claims it identified a suicide bomber from an identity card he was wearing, the YPG’s denials would appear pretty reasonable. And as the article below makes clear, whether or not the YPG was behind the bombing, the chorus of voices calling for the US to break its ties to ties YPG and get behind a Turkish/Saudi ground invasion that would presumably involve conquering both the Assad government and the Syrian Kurdish groups (and maybe ISIS and the various al-Qaeda affiliates once they are no longer useful) and prompting a major showdown with Russia is only getting louder:

    The New York Times
    Turkey Blames Kurdish Militia for Ankara Attack, Challenging U.S.

    By TIM ARANGO and CEYLAN YEGINSU

    FEB. 18, 2016

    BAGHDAD — In blaming a Syrian Kurdish militia supported by the United States for a deadly car bombing in Ankara, Turkey added new urgency on Thursday to a question its president recently posed to the Obama administration: Are you on the side of a NATO ally — Turkey — or its enemies?

    The militia, which adamantly denies any role in the bombing, is the administration’s most important ground force inside Syria in the fight against the militants of the Islamic State. But it is also fast becoming an enemy of Turkey, which views the militia as a national security threat because of its links to another Kurdish militant group that is battling for autonomy within Turkey.

    More broadly, the situation crystallizes what critics say has long been the problem with United States policy in the Middle East. Though the region is undergoing historic and violent change, with multiple insurgencies, failed states, various proxy wars that have sucked in world powers and the possible breakdown of the entire post-World War I regional order, the United States has focused on only one small part of that: defeating the militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

    The United States, which quickly condemned the Ankara attack, reiterated support for its Turkish ally on Thursday. But the American response also reflected its narrowly defined purpose in the Syrian conflict. Obama administration officials said it was premature to attribute responsibility for the Ankara attack, and said they had warned the Syrian Kurdish militia forces against taking any action that would undercut Turkey’s relationship with the United States.

    “We are cognizant of, and sensitive to, Turkish views on our cooperation with the Syrian Kurds,” said a senior American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations. But he added, “Our rule of thumb is that this is needed in the campaign against ISIL.”

    ….

    Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., a former American ambassador to Turkey now at the Atlantic Council, said the focus on the Islamic State, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq and has carried out attacks in Paris and inspired a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., distracts from what he called the broader struggle.

    “How do we in the West and those in the region collaborate to mitigate the violent, catastrophic breakdown of the post-Ottoman regional order?” he said. “How do we regenerate stability and the rule of law based on legitimate, well-governed states? This is what truly requires a strategy, and it will be the work of a generation.”

    Turkish officials said this week that they favored a ground intervention to end the carnage of the multifront war in Syria, where the government of President Bashar al-Assad has been making gains recently, backed by Russian airstrikes and Iranian support on the ground. But the Turks indicated that they would not intervene on the ground without the support of the United States, which is seen as highly unlikely.

    Even so, for several days Turkey has been shelling the American-backed Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units or Y.P.G., and has vowed to keep up its attack as long as the Kurds continue trying to carve out an autonomous enclave in Syria along the Turkish border.

    Adding to Turkish anger, not to mention the complexity of the battlefield in Syria, the Syrian Kurds have also drawn support from two Turkish enemies: Russia and, to some extent, Mr. Assad. The United States opposes Russia’s intervention in Syria and has said that Mr. Assad’s ouster is necessary for peace in Syria, although it has done little to achieve it.

    In a televised speech on Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said the various Kurdish groups were all connected in one way or another and, in Turkey’s way of thinking, all terrorist organizations, and that Washington was wrong to try to distinguish among them. Mr. Erdogan said he would continue to make this case with Turkey’s allies and at the United Nations.

    Nevertheless, analysts said they did not expect any major shift in American policy on Syria, despite growing Turkish pressure, because the Kurds have had success recently in fighting the Islamic State.

    “The U.S. has a very specific goal in mind with its current actions in Syria — to degrade and defeat ISIS,” said Aaron Stein, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “It’s not to topple Assad, and it’s not to roll back Russian aggression.”

    The bombing in Ankara, the capital, which struck a military convoy Wednesday evening and killed 28 people, was carried out by a Syrian named Salih Necar, according to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Mr. Davutoglu said the assailant had links to the Y.P.G., which has received ammunition, supplies and air support from the United States and, more recently, the aid of American Special Forces soldiers.

    Turkey considers the Y.P.G. — the military wing of the Democratic Union Party in Syria — to be a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., a militant group that has waged an insurgency in Turkey for decades. A fragile peace process in that conflict broke down last year.

    Officials of the Y.P.G. swiftly denied any involvement in the Ankara bombing after Turkey accused the group on Thursday, and some analysts questioned the plausibility of the accusation, since mounting such an attack would jeopardize the group’s American support.

    “These allegations are unfounded — lies with no truth to them,” Redur Xelil, a spokesman for the group said via WhatsApp from Qamishli, Syria. He said the Turkish government had everything to gain by blaming the Kurds for the bombing, giving it an excuse to keep shelling the Y.P.G. and putting pressure on Washington to reduce its support for the group.

    “We are not enemies of Turkey, and our goal is to fight Daesh inside the Syrian borders,” he added, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “We have no interest in being enemies with Turkey.”

    Some analysts doubted the Turkish claim that the Y.P.G was responsible.

    “Sponsoring or being involved with car bombings in Turkish cities would break its alliance structure with the U.S. and Russia,” said Michael Stephens, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security. “Neither of which the P.Y.D.-Y.P.G. wants. In short, the Y.P.G. have nothing to gain and everything to lose by being involved in this.”

    United States support for the group dates back almost 18 months to the battle for Kobani, a Syrian town near the Turkish border that came under assault by the Islamic State. Washington maintains that the group is distinct from the P.K.K., which the United States considers a terrorist group, though the Turks and many analysts say they are essentially one organization.

    “Is the U.S. going to risk confronting Russia in Syria in order to help Turkey beat the Kurds, on whom the U.S. relies to beat ISIS?” said Halil M. Karaveli, senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program, a research organization. “Looking at the facts as they are today, there is no way Turkey will get what it wants.”

    “Is the U.S. going to risk confronting Russia in Syria in order to help Turkey beat the Kurds, on whom the U.S. relies to beat ISIS?”
    That’s one way to frame it, although it’s pretty clear that some analysts prefer to frame it a different way:


    More broadly, the situation crystallizes what critics say has long been the problem with United States policy in the Middle East. Though the region is undergoing historic and violent change, with multiple insurgencies, failed states, various proxy wars that have sucked in world powers and the possible breakdown of the entire post-World War I regional order, the United States has focused on only one small part of that: defeating the militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.


    Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., a former American ambassador to Turkey now at the Atlantic Council, said the focus on the Islamic State, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq and has carried out attacks in Paris and inspired a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., distracts from what he called the broader struggle.

    “How do we in the West and those in the region collaborate to mitigate the violent, catastrophic breakdown of the post-Ottoman regional order?” he said. “How do we regenerate stability and the rule of law based on legitimate, well-governed states? This is what truly requires a strategy, and it will be the work of a generation.”

    Yep, ISIS is a distraction from “the violent, catastrophic breakdown of the post-Ottoman regional order,” and the way to deal with this breakdown is apparently a ground invasion that takes out not just Assad, but the Syrian Kurdish militias too. And maybe ISIS at some point, but ISIS is just a small part of what’s going on in the Middle East. At least according to the folks that see a major military confrontation pitting the Turks, Saudis, and US against Russia and Iran as the best path towards forging a lasting peace.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 19, 2016, 3:49 pm
  6. With the cause of crashed EgyptAir fight 804 from Paris to Cairo still under investigation, public concerns over the dangers of terrorist attacks on airlines is going to be heightened right now. And while flight 804 was probably destroyed by a bomb if indeed it was a terrorist attack, concerns about surface-to-air missiles falling into the wrong hands are inevitably going to be increased. So it’s worth noting that CIA has been working on a ‘Plan B’ for Syria’s civil war if the cease-fire doesn’t hold, and one of the key features the Saudis and Turks would like to see in any ‘Plan B’ revolves around giving the Syrian rebels anti-aircraft weapons including shoulder-fired missiles:

    The Wall Street Journal

    U.S. Readies ‘Plan B’ to Arm Syria Rebels
    Moderate groups could get antiaircraft weapons if cease-fire collapses, officials say

    By Adam Entous
    April 12, 2016 9:03 p.m. ET

    WASHINGTON—The Central Intelligence Agency and its regional partners have drawn up plans to supply more-powerful weapons to moderate rebels in Syria fighting the Russia-backed regime in the event the country’s six-week-old truce collapses, according to U.S. and other officials.

    The preparations for a so-called Plan B center on providing vetted rebel units with weapons systems that would help them in directing attacks against Syrian regime aircraft and artillery positions, the officials said.

    The Wall Street Journal first reported in February that President Barack Obama’s top military and intelligence advisers were pressing the White House to come up with a Plan B to counter Russia in Syria. Since then, fresh details have emerged on the nature of the new weaponry that could be deployed under the covert program.

    The preparations were discussed at a secret meeting of spy chiefs in the Middle East just before the cease-fire took effect on Feb. 27 and in follow-on exchanges between intelligence services.

    In those meetings, officials briefed on the deliberations said, coalition members received provisional assurances from the CIA that they would be given approval to expand support to Syria’s moderate opposition. Coalition members have agreed on the outlines of Plan B, but the White House must still approve the list of specific Plan B weapons systems before they can be introduced to the battlefield.
    Officials said the CIA has made clear to its allies that the new systems, once agreed upon, would be given to the rebels only if the truce and the concurrent political track toward a lasting peace—Plan A—fall apart and full-scale fighting resumes.

    “The agreement is to up the ante, if needed,” a senior U.S. official said of the CIA’s message to the coalition supporting antiregime rebels, adding that the administration’s main focus now was to find ways to make the cessation of hostilities and political negotiations stick.

    A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on the deliberations.

    The discussions of Plan B come as representatives from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition prepare to resume U.N.-brokered negotiations in Geneva this week.

    Development of the weapons list is part of a broader behind-the-scenes effort by the Obama administration to deter its adversaries in the Syrian conflict while preventing the U.S.’s coalition partners who are supporting the moderate opposition from taking matters into their own hands.

    The private message conveyed by U.S. officials to their Russian counterparts, who have backed the Assad regime with air power since last year, has been that the moderate opposition isn’t going away and that a return to full-scale fighting could end up putting more Russian pilots in danger, according to U.S. officials.

    To coalition partners including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the CIA has twinned assurances that the U.S. will allow the anti-Assad coalition to supply more weapons with warnings that they would be mistaken to go behind Washington’s back to provide weapons systems that Mr. Obama has decided so far not to introduce to the battlefield.

    The agency’s principal concern focuses on man-portable air-defense systems, known as Manpads. The CIA believes that rebels have obtained a small number of Manpads through illicit channels. Fearing these systems could fall into terrorists’ hands for use against civilian aircraft, the spy agency’s goal now is to prevent more of them from slipping uncontrollably into the war zone, according to U.S. and intelligence officials in the region.

    Coalition partners have proposed ways to mitigate the risk. They have suggested tinkering with the Manpads to limit how long their batteries would last or installing geographical sensors on the systems that would prevent them from being fired outside designated areas of Syria. But Washington has remained cool to the idea.

    U.S. and Middle Eastern officials declined to specify the precise systems that could be introduced on the battlefield due to the sensitivity of the program and because disclosing details could help regime forces and their allies, Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group, prepare countermeasures.

    Violations of the truce have increased in recent weeks, raising fears that it could fall apart at any moment and spurring intelligence agencies to ready the Plan B package. Obama administration officials acknowledge that the cessation of hostilities has become increasingly shaky. But these officials say they don’t think it is on the verge of collapse.

    In private meetings with their Russian counterparts, Mr. Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan have warned the alternative to the truce could be a dangerous escalation on the battlefield, U.S. officials said.

    “If the cease-fire collapses, if the negotiations don’t go anywhere, and we’re back to full throttle civil war, all bets will be off,” a senior Obama administration official said of the message to Moscow. “The outside patrons will double and triple down, throwing everything they can into Syria, including much more lethal weaponry.”

    In contrast to Mr. Putin’s aggressive intervention with air power last year on behalf of Mr. Assad, Mr. Obama has been cautious about expanding U.S. support to the moderate opposition, much to the chagrin of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some other U.S. partners in the region.

    The CIA’s covert program has grown gradually since it was launched in 2013 with limited supplies of small arms and ammunition. In 2014, the CIA introduced advanced antitank TOW missiles on the battlefield, helping the rebels gain ground on the regime, until Russia’s intervention last year drove the fighters back.

    More recently, the CIA has allowed some rebel groups to receive Soviet-era BM-21 “Grad” multiple rocket launcher systems, though the quantities have been relatively small, according to officials in the region.

    Deciding which weapons systems to introduce on the battlefield, and to whom, has always been a difficult balancing act for the Obama administration.

    Saudi Arabia and Turkey have increased pressure on Washington to up the ante in support of the moderate opposition in part by calling for the introduction of weapons systems that they know are a red line for Mr. Obama, such as Manpads.

    To get U.S. allies to back off their demands, U.S. officials have proposed alternative systems that Washington believes would pose less of a proliferation danger. That is how the U.S. has responded to calls by Turkey and Saudi Arabia for the introduction of a limited number of Manpads in Syria during the Plan B discussions.

    Officials say the CIA and its regional partners are looking at different types of antiaircraft weapons, including Soviet-era systems that would be less mobile. But alternative systems, such as anti-aircraft batteries which come mounted on vehicles, may be easier targets for Syrian and Russian aircraft, according to officials involved in the deliberations.

    “Saudi Arabia and Turkey have increased pressure on Washington to up the ante in support of the moderate opposition in part by calling for the introduction of weapons systems that they know are a red line for Mr. Obama, such as Manpads.”
    As we can see, ‘Plan B’ might not be very plane-friendly since it revolves around weapons for shooting down planes. Also note that when you read:


    “If the cease-fire collapses, if the negotiations don’t go anywhere, and we’re back to full throttle civil war, all bets will be off,” a senior Obama administration official said of the message to Moscow. “The outside patrons will double and triple down, throwing everything they can into Syria, including much more lethal weaponry.”

    the cease-fire is basically already collapsed. So ‘Plan B’ could become the new ‘Plan A’ sooner than you might suspect. Especially since the Saudis have been talking about such a ‘Plan B’ for years, and one day before the crash of EgyptAir flight 805 Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister declared that it might be time for a ‘Plan B’ in Syria:

    Reuters

    Saudi Arabia says time may be coming for “Plan B” on Syria

    Tue May 17, 2016 2:22pm EDT

    Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did not abide with efforts to establish a truce across Syria country, alternatives would need to be looked at.

    “We believe we should have moved to a ‘Plan B’ a long time ago,” Adel al-Jubeir told reporters after a meeting of foreign governments in Vienna.

    “The choice about moving to an alternative plan, the choice about intensifying the military support (to the opposition) is entirely with the Bashar regime. If they do not respond to the treaties of the international community…then we will have to see what else can be done.”

    “We believe we should have moved to a ‘Plan B’ a long time ago,” Adel al-Jubeir told reporters after a meeting of foreign governments in Vienna.
    Yep, the ‘Plan B’ has been the preferred ‘Plan A’ for a while now. And it’s looking like that could happen. It’s more than a little ominous, especially given some of the other features of the Saudis’ and Turks’ current ‘Plan A’.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 19, 2016, 1:22 pm
  7. And as is always the case, the WSJ cannot bring itself to name EVEN ONE of the “moderate, anti-Assad” groups. Not one. Is it because, in the age of Google search, it is just too easy for folks to research these groups and find that, surprise, surprise, they really aren’t that moderate at all? To be fair, this is not just the WSJ, it is the entire Western media. Did we call the Serb partisans “moderate, Alled Forces-aligned groups?” Was the ARVN in Vietnam called a “moderate, anti-Viet Cong military”? So why can’t we NAME these damn groups? It’s total Orwell, all the time…

    I actually did see a BBC article a few months ago that I will see if I can find, which quite clearly named some of the groups, including at least one alligned with Al Qaeda. And, no, it was not al-Nusra, it was one that we supported without qualifications.

    Posted by Tiffany Sunderson | May 23, 2016, 12:54 pm
  8. The clusterf*ck in Syria just got a lot more clusterf*cked: Turkey and its Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies (which was initially backed by the CIA) are waging a campaign to expel the YPG from the border region of Afrin in an air and ground offensive. And the YPG is, of course, the primary Pentagon-backed military force in the country and integral to the US’s anti-ISIS campaign. The former CIA-backed rebels are in an alliance again the Pentagon-backed forces. Again.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said DC had proposed working with Turkey and in Afrin to “see how we can stabilize this situation and meet Turkey’s legitimate concerns for their security.” And Turkey replied that the US had better drop its support for the YPG if it wants any cooperation:

    Reuters

    Turkey expects swift campaign against U.S.-backed Kurds in Syria

    Mert Ozkan
    January 22, 2018 / 2:52 AM / Updated

    HASSA, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkey shelled targets in northwest Syria on Monday and said it would swiftly crush U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters in an air and ground offensive on the Afrin region beyond its border.

    The three-day-old campaign has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war, realigning a battlefield where outside powers are supporting local combatants.

    While Washington and other Western capitals expressed concern, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he had secured a go-ahead for the campaign from Russia, principal backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, long Turkey’s foe.

    Turkish forces and their Syrian anti-Assad rebel allies began their push on Saturday to clear the northwestern border enclave of Kurdish YPG fighters. Ankara considers the YPG to be allies of insurgents that have fought against the Turkish state for decades. The United States, meanwhile, has armed and aided the YPG as its main ground allies against Islamic State.

    France called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, and Britain said it would look for ways to prevent any further escalation.

    But Erdogan said Turkey was determined to press ahead. “There’s no stepping back from Afrin,” he said in a speech in Ankara. “We discussed this with our Russian friends, we have an agreement with them, and we also discussed it with other coalition forces and the United States.”

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington had proposed working with Turkey and forces on the ground in Afrin to “see how we can stabilize this situation and meet Turkey’s legitimate concerns for their security.”

    But Turkey said Washington must end its support for the Kurdish YPG militia before any proposal for cooperation: “If they want a cooperation, we are ready for this cooperation. As the first step to take, they can stop arming terror groups and take back weapons already given,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

    Syria has objected to the Turkish incursion, and Moscow, which controls parts of Syrian air space on behalf of its allies in Damascus, has not confirmed giving a green light to it. But Russia does not appear to be acting to prevent it, and has pulled its own troops out of the Afrin area.

    Iran, Assad’s other main military supporter, called for a halt to the operation. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said the Afrin campaign could lead to “the return of regional terrorism and extremism”, according to state television.

    The YPG’s Afrin spokesman, Birusk Hasaka, said there were clashes between Kurdish and Turkish-backed forces on the third day of the operation, and that Turkish shelling had hit civilian areas in Afrin’s northeast.

    Afrin would be a “quagmire from which the Turkish army will only exit after suffering great losses”, said a statement from the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces umbrella group.

    The YPG said Afrin had already been reinforced in anticipation of the Turkish offensive, and there were discussions over whether to send more reinforcements from other YPG-held territory, which is separated from Afrin by areas held by Syrian government forces.

    The United Nations has said it is deeply concerned for the more than 300,000 people in Afrin. Spokeswoman Linda Tom said there were reports of people displaced within Afrin by the fighting, and of smaller numbers heading to nearby Aleppo.

    U.S.-TURKEY TENSION

    Ankara has been infuriated by U.S. support for the YPG, one of several issues that have brought relations between the United States and its Muslim NATO ally close to breaking point.

    Erdogan has also pledged to drive the SDF from the town of Manbij to the east, part of a much larger area of northern Syria controlled by the YPG-led SDF. That raises the prospect of protracted conflict between Turkey and its allied Free Syrian Army factions against the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

    Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek played down the long-term risks: “Our investors should be at ease, the impact will be limited, the operation will be brief and it will reduce the terror risk to Turkey in the period ahead,” he said.

    A senior Turkish official declined to give a timeframe but said the operation would “move fast”, adding that Turkey believed there was some local support for its action in both Afrin and Manbij.

    YPG official Nouri Mahmoud said Turkish-backed forces had not taken any territory in Afrin. “Our forces have to this point repelled them and forced them to retreat,” he told Reuters.

    A Turkish official said Turkish troops and allied Free Syrian Army fighters had begun to advance on Afrin’s eastern flank, taking control of a hill northwest of the town of Azaz. An FSA commander later told Reuters YPG forces had recaptured the summit of Barshah hill.

    TURKISH SHELLING

    A Reuters cameraman near Hassa, across the border from Afrin, saw Turkish shelling on Monday morning. Dogan news agency said Turkish howitzers opened fire at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT), and that YPG targets were also being hit by Turkish warplanes and multiple rocket launchers.

    Turkey sees the YPG presence on its southern border as a domestic security threat. Defeating it in Afrin would reduce Kurdish-controlled territory on its frontier and link up two regions controlled by insurgents opposed to Assad – Idlib province and an area where Turkey fought for seven months in 2016-17 to drive back Islamic State and the YPG.

    The Turkish-backed FSA factions, which have come together under the banner of a newly branded “National Army”, also want to see an end to YPG rule in Afrin. They accuse the YPG of displacing 150,000 Arab residents of towns including Tel Rifaat and Menigh to the east of Afrin, captured in 2016.

    ———-

    “Turkey expects swift campaign against U.S.-backed Kurds in Syria” by Mert Ozkan; Reuters; 01/22/2018

    “Turkish forces and their Syrian anti-Assad rebel allies began their push on Saturday to clear the northwestern border enclave of Kurdish YPG fighters. Ankara considers the YPG to be allies of insurgents that have fought against the Turkish state for decades. The United States, meanwhile, has armed and aided the YPG as its main ground allies against Islamic State.”

    And these Turkish military operations aren’t just in Afrin, which means this might not be resolved any time soon:


    Ankara has been infuriated by U.S. support for the YPG, one of several issues that have brought relations between the United States and its Muslim NATO ally close to breaking point.

    Erdogan has also pledged to drive the SDF from the town of Manbij to the east, part of a much larger area of northern Syria controlled by the YPG-led SDF. That raises the prospect of protracted conflict between Turkey and its allied Free Syrian Army factions against the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

    Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek played down the long-term risks: “Our investors should be at ease, the impact will be limited, the operation will be brief and it will reduce the terror risk to Turkey in the period ahead,” he said.

    A senior Turkish official declined to give a timeframe but said the operation would “move fast”, adding that Turkey believed there was some local support for its action in both Afrin and Manbij.

    YPG official Nouri Mahmoud said Turkish-backed forces had not taken any territory in Afrin. “Our forces have to this point repelled them and forced them to retreat,” he told Reuters.

    A Turkish official said Turkish troops and allied Free Syrian Army fighters had begun to advance on Afrin’s eastern flank, taking control of a hill northwest of the town of Azaz. An FSA commander later told Reuters YPG forces had recaptured the summit of Barshah hill.

    And note how clearing out the Afrin region of the YPG would link up Idlib with another area Turkey had previously cleared out of Isamic State and YPG fighters back in 2016-2017. So while Turkey is largely framing this an ‘anti-terrorist’ operation targeting the YPG on its border, there’s also clearly a strategic element to this move regarding the larger battle for control of Syria:


    Turkey sees the YPG presence on its southern border as a domestic security threat. Defeating it in Afrin would reduce Kurdish-controlled territory on its frontier and link up two regions controlled by insurgents opposed to Assad – Idlib province and an area where Turkey fought for seven months in 2016-17 to drive back Islamic State and the YPG.

    The Turkish-backed FSA factions, which have come together under the banner of a newly branded “National Army”, also want to see an end to YPG rule in Afrin. They accuse the YPG of displacing 150,000 Arab residents of towns including Tel Rifaat and Menigh to the east of Afrin, captured in 2016.

    “This is a historic moment in our revolution,” Mohammad al-Hamadeen, a senior officer in the FSA forces, told fighters in Azaz on Sunday as they prepared to join the ground offensive.

    So how is the US going to respond to Turkey and the FSA militarily expelling the US’s closest military ally in the anti-ISIS campaign? Well, that’s rather unclear, because President Trump reportedly told Turkey’s government back in November that arming the YPG was a mistake and it would end, but these reports caught US officials by surprise:

    The Telegraph

    Donald Trump ‘to stop arming’ Syrian Kurdish fighters

    by Nick Allen, Washington

    24 November 2017 • 6:28pm

    President Donald Trump told his Turkish counterpart that the United States will stop supplying arms to Syrian Kurdish fighters, according to officials in Turkey.

    The Turkish government considers the group, known as the YPG, terrorists but the US has been openly arming them in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

    Mr Trump reportedly said, in a call with President Recep Erdogan, that the US would no longer do so.

    Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister who was in Mr Erdogan’s office during the call, told a press conference in Ankara: “Mr Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions and that the YPG won’t be given arms, and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago.”

    There was no immediate comment from the White House, the State Department or the Pentagon.

    But several US officials involved with Syria policy said they were not yet aware of an intention to end US assistance to the Kurds.

    Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey for decades.

    Before the call Mr Trump had written on Twitter that he would be speaking to Mr Erdogan “about bringing peace to the mess that I inherited in the Middle East”.

    He added: “I will get it all done but what a mistake in lives and dollars (6 trillion) to be there in the first place!”

    Mr Trump added: “After Turkey call I will be heading over to Trump National Golf Club to play golf (quickly) with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson.”

    ———-

    “Donald Trump ‘to stop arming’ Syrian Kurdish fighters” by Nick Allen; The Telegraph; 11/24/2018

    “Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister who was in Mr Erdogan’s office during the call, told a press conference in Ankara: “Mr Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions and that the YPG won’t be given arms, and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago.””

    That was Turkey’s claim: “Mr Trump clearly stated that he had given clear instructions and that the YPG won’t be given arms, and that this nonsense should have ended a long time ago.”

    So did Trump actually say that? Well, if so, he apparently didn’t run this past US officials in advance:


    There was no immediate comment from the White House, the State Department or the Pentagon.

    But several US officials involved with Syria policy said they were not yet aware of an intention to end US assistance to the Kurds.

    So there’s some ambiguity about what Trump actually said. But one thing that isn’t ambiguous is that Trump had high hopes for that phone call since he tweeted about “bringing peace” to the Middle East with Erdogan right before making the call:


    Before the call Mr Trump had written on Twitter that he would be speaking to Mr Erdogan “about bringing peace to the mess that I inherited in the Middle East”.

    He added: “I will get it all done but what a mistake in lives and dollars (6 trillion) to be there in the first place!”

    That was Trump’s public stance before the phone call where he reportedly pledge an and to support for the YPG. So if Trump pledged to end YPG support back in Nobemver, what explains the current Turkish demands that the US better stop its arming of the Kurds? Well, that’s because the US announced its backing for a new 30,000-strong “border force” of Kurdish-led fights in northern Syria last week. So while Trump may have been talking about ending support for the Kurds during that phone call, his actions last week say something very different:

    Reuters

    Erdogan: we will ‘strangle’ U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born”

    Ellen Francis, Ezgi Erkoyun
    January 15, 2018 / 6:15 AM

    BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to “strangle” a planned 30,000-strong U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born,” as Washington’s backing for Kurdish fighters drove a wedge into relations with one of its main Middle East allies.

    The United States announced its support on Sunday for plans for a “border force” to defend territory held by U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

    The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad responded on Monday by vowing to crush the new force and drive U.S. troops from the country. Assad’s ally Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under U.S. control.

    But the strongest denunciation came from Erdogan, who has presided as relations between the United States and its biggest Muslim ally within NATO have stretched to the breaking point.

    “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the United States in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

    “Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”

    Erdogan said Turkey had completed preparations for an operation in Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.

    The Kurdish-led regions in Syria say they need the border force to protect them against threats from Ankara and Damascus.

    “To prevent any attack… there must be a deterrent force that protects the border between our areas and the others,” Fawza Youssef, a senior Kurdish politician, told Reuters.

    “Until a political settlement is reached in Syria, these areas need protection. Now, there aren’t any guarantees,” she said.

    The United States has led an international coalition using air strikes and special forces troops to aid fighters on the ground battling Islamic State militants in Syria since 2014. It has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria.

    The U.S. intervention has taken place on the periphery of a near seven-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

    Islamic State was effectively defeated last year, but Washington says its troops are prepared to stay to make sure the Islamist militant group cannot return.

    For much of the war, the United States and Turkey worked together, jointly supporting forces fighting against Assad’s government. But a U.S. decision to back Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in recent years has enraged Ankara.

    Meanwhile, the Assad government, backed by Russia and Iran, has made great strides over the past two years in defeating a range of opponents, restoring control over nearly all of Syria’s main cities. It considers the continued U.S. presence a threat to its ambition to restore full control over the entire country.

    On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition said it was working with its militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up the new force to patrol the Turkish and Iraqi borders, as well as within Syria along the Euphrates River which separates SDF territory from that held by the government.

    “DON‘T FORCE US TO BURY”

    Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish forces supported by the United States as allies of the PKK, a banned Kurdish group waging an insurgency in southern Turkey.

    “This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and terrorist organizations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences,” Erdogan said.

    “Don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with terrorists,” he said. “Our operations will continue until not a single terrorist remains along our borders, let alone 30,000.”

    Syria’s main Kurdish groups have emerged so far as one of the few winners in the Syrian war, working to entrench their autonomy over large parts of northern Syria. Washington opposes those autonomy plans even as it has backed the SDF.

    ———-

    “Erdogan: we will ‘strangle’ U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born”” by Ellen Francis, Ezgi Erkoyun; Reuters; 01/15/2018

    “The United States announced its support on Sunday for plans for a “border force” to defend territory held by U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.”

    That was the US’s stance on this issue just a week ago: a new 30,000 strong “border force,” which, according to Kurdish forces, is required to protect themselves from threats from Turkey and the Syrian government forces:


    The Kurdish-led regions in Syria say they need the border force to protect them against threats from Ankara and Damascus.

    “To prevent any attack… there must be a deterrent force that protects the border between our areas and the others,” Fawza Youssef, a senior Kurdish politician, told Reuters.

    “Until a political settlement is reached in Syria, these areas need protection. Now, there aren’t any guarantees,” she said….

    So it looks like the declaration of a planned force intended to protect the Kurds against Turkey is what triggered Turkey’s invasion.

    And note that the US actually back-tracked somewhat on this in the days following the declaration, with Rex Tillerson trying to reframe it as definitely NOT a border force:

    Voice of America News

    Turkey Dismisses US Assurances on Planned Border Force

    Jamie Dettmer
    Last Updated: January 18, 2018 2:05 PM

    Turkish officials say they are dissatisfied with assurances from Washington about a Kurdish border force the U.S. plans to maintain in northern Syria to help stabilize territory recently captured from the Islamic State terror group.

    Speaking in Ankara Thursday, the country’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, warned the establishment such a force would cause “irreversible damage” to American-Turkish relations.

    And in what some analysts see as an underscoring of the warning, the Turkish defense department announced that Turkey’s army and intelligence chiefs had flown to Moscow for talks.

    Washington has said it plans to train a 30,000-member border force composed mainly of fighters drawn from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to combat remaining jihadist factions in northern Syria and to ensure IS is unable to engineer a comeback.

    The Turkish government sees the YPG as an offshoot of a Kurdish separatist group in Turkey, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara has been battling since 1984.

    On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the planned U.S.-backed border force, dubbing it an “army of terror.”

    The Pentagon qualified Wednesday what the planned force’s role would be and dismissed its description as an “army,” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on a flight home from a conference in Vancouver, Canada, later Wednesday that the issue had beemn “misportrayed and misdescribed.”

    “We are not creating a border security force at all,” said Tillerson, who said he had discussed the issue with Cavusoglu at the Vancouver conference on North Korea. “I think it’s unfortunate that comments made by some left that impression. That is not what we’re doing.”

    Nevertheless, Cavusoglu said Thursday his government still has doubts.

    “Did this satisfy us in full? No, it did not,” he told CNN-Turk television in an interview. “The establishment of a so-called terror army would cause irreversible damage in our relations …it is a very serious situation,” he warned.

    Tensions over Syria’s Kurds have tested relations between the U.S. and Turkey for the past three years almost to breaking point. Ankara has been enraged by Washington’s alliance with the YPG, which led the battle to oust IS from Raqqa, the terror group’s self-proclaimed capital, and a swathe of territory across northern Syria.

    Erdogan and his ministers have repeatedly called on the Trump administration to stop arms resupplies to the Syria Kurds, and they dismiss as “unworkable” U.S. promises to reclaim American-supplied weapons later from the YPG. They accuse the YPG of sharing the weapons with the PKK.

    Earlier Wednesday in California, Tillerson explained why the U.S. intends to prolong its military presence in Syria to prevent the return of IS and to back up a United Nations-backed political process that Western powers hope will eventually see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad relinquish power.

    “It is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria,” he said in a speech to a U.S. research organization audience. He said continued U.S. involvement would be necessary to help stabilize northern Syria, allowing refugees to return and to ensure IS and al-Qaida do not resurface as threats in Syria.

    U.S. engagement would also help to diminish Iranian influence in Syria, he said.

    ———-

    “Turkey Dismisses US Assurances on Planned Border Force” by Jamie Dettmer; Voice of America News; 01/18/2018

    “The Pentagon qualified Wednesday what the planned force’s role would be and dismissed its description as an “army,” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on a flight home from a conference in Vancouver, Canada, later Wednesday that the issue had beemn “misportrayed and misdescribed.””

    So the US tried to recharacterize the planned US-backed Kurdish force as definitely NOT a border security force at all. Which obviously didn’t convince the Turks:


    “We are not creating a border security force at all,” said Tillerson, who said he had discussed the issue with Cavusoglu at the Vancouver conference on North Korea. “I think it’s unfortunate that comments made by some left that impression. That is not what we’re doing.”

    Nevertheless, Cavusoglu said Thursday his government still has doubts.

    “Did this satisfy us in full? No, it did not,” he told CNN-Turk television in an interview. “The establishment of a so-called terror army would cause irreversible damage in our relations …it is a very serious situation,” he warned.

    And all that’s part of what led to this current Turkish attack on the YPG.

    What’s next? Well, that’s part of what makes this so ominous. Trump’s administration announces a new military force and Turkey almost immediately attacks it. It’s a helluva diss and also a potentially significant complication for US anti-ISIS operations. Does Trump feel that his self-declared image as the ISISslayer is at risk? What’s he going to do in response to this? Who knows, but we now have ‘the Chaos President’ facing a critical test with the chaos Syria and it’s hard to imagine that more chaos isn’t going to be the result. Although if he can pull off that ‘peace in the Middle East’ thing he was tweeting about back in November, now would be a good time to do it (someone call Jared).

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 22, 2018, 5:28 pm
  9. Now that Turkey has committed itself to wiping the YPG Kurds out from the Afrin region of Northern Syria just a week after the US announces the planned creation of a 30,000 strong “border security” force led by the YPG, the question of what exactly Turkey is planning regarding its broader goals in Syria loom large. Because while Turkey’s long-standing opposition to any whiff of Kurdish independence is certainly going to be a major motivating factor in this new military push, Erdogan’s broader ambitions in Syria – like the overthrow of the Assad regime and the potential breakup of the country – are presumably going to be part of this decision-making too.

    And as we already saw, by driving the Kurds out of the Afrin region Turkey would link up two other regions controlled by anti-Assad rebels: Idlib – controlled by al-Nusra/al-Qaeda – and a second area where Turkey fought for seven months in 2016-17 to drive back Islamic State and the YPG. So we could be seeing the start of a much of involved Turkish role in the ground war in preparation for either a final push to topple the Assad regime or to simply make the breakup of the country a de facto reality by provided an umbrella of protection for the anti-Assad rebels.

    Does the military action in the Afrin region point towards a larger Turkish military role on the ground in Syria? Well, that depends a lot on what exactly Turkey means when it talks about its plans for creating a ‘safe zone’ inside Syria:

    The Guardian

    Turkey plans Syria ‘safe zone’ as shelling of Kurdish area resumes

    Intense fighting has resumed on third day of operation to create ‘safe zone’ across the border

    Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul and Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

    Mon 22 Jan 2018 10.54 EST

    Turkey has resumed shelling a Kurdish enclave inside Syria on the third day of a military campaign that the government says aims to create a “safe zone” across the border.

    The fighting is ongoing in villages and towns around Afrin, which is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara says is the Syrian arm of a terror group that has fought a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.

    The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim said the aim of the campaign, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch”, would be to create a zone inside Syria’s borders that was 30km (19 miles) deep. Turkish officials also said they wanted to significantly degrade the military capabilities of the YPG, which they say has 8,000 to 10,000 fighters in Afrin.

    The “safe zone” would probably be secured and administered by Turkey’s Syrian rebel allies, creating a buffer zone with the Turkish border. Turkish officials have also hinted that it could be used as a safe area for civilians who wish to return to Syria, modelled on other parts of the country that Turkey had seized from Isis in an offensive called “Euphrates Shield” that was launched in the summer of 2016.

    “First goal is to create a safe area there and then we can take concrete steps to eliminate terrorist elements,” Yildirim said.

    Competing claims have emerged on both sides, with Turkey saying it has joined allied Syrian rebel fighters to take control of a series of YPG military points along the enclave’s outskirts.

    A spokesman for the Kurdish militia said fierce fighting was ongoing amid intense artillery bombardment from Turkey’s border provinces of Kilis and Hatay. The YPG also claims to have launched counter-attacks on Syrian rebel positions.

    There have been no credible reports of the total casualties on either side.

    The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said Monday he was “concerned” about Turkey’s new offensive in northern Syria, as he urged all sides to show restraint.

    “The US is in Syria to defeat Isis. We’ve done that with a coalition of partners and the [Kurdish-led] Syrian Democratic Forces, so we are concerned about the Turkish incidents in northern Syria,” he said ahead of a meeting in London with the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

    But the US, he added, also recognised Turkey’s “legitimate right to protect its own citizens from terrorist elements that may be launching attacks against Turkish citizens on Turkish soil from Syria.”

    His statement was echoed by Johnson. “We understand that the Kurds have been instrumental in taking the fight to Daesh, and everybody appreciates that,” he said. “On the other hand, Turkey does have a legitimate interest in protecting its own border.”

    The remarks stopped short of the level of criticism of Turkish actions voiced by the french foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian. France has convened a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council for Monday deploring the “brutal degradation of the situation” in northern Syria. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, will travel to Paris for talks on Tuesday.

    Yildirim and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have vowed the campaign would be swift, saying they would establish the safe zone and root out the militias, as well as rebuilding infrastructure and democratic institutions. But questions remain on whether they can dislodge the militias from the majority Kurdish enclave and whether locals are likely to welcome Ankara’s troops and proxy fighters.

    The YPG led the campaign against the city of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Isis caliphate, successfully ousting the militants. The alliance with the US has created deep-seated tensions between Turkey and the US, the two largest armies in Nato, and Ankara intervened militarily in Syria in August 2016 to create a buffer zone that would halt Kurdish expansion west of the Euphrates river.

    Russia, which had granted Turkey permission to begin the operation, pulling out its military from the area and allowing the use of Afrin’s airspace by Turkish warplanes, blamed the US on Monday for the crisis.

    The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Washington had encouraged “separatist” sentiments among Syria’s Kurds, whom Turkey had long accused of wanting to establish a self-governing statelet in areas liberated from Isis.

    The Olive Branch operation came after a US announcement that it would build a border security force inside Syria that would include the YPG as a key component.

    ———-

    “Turkey plans Syria ‘safe zone’ as shelling of Kurdish area resumes” by Kareem Shaheen and Patrick Wintour; The Guardian; 01/22/2018

    The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim said the aim of the campaign, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch”, would be to create a zone inside Syria’s borders that was 30km (19 miles) deep. Turkish officials also said they wanted to significantly degrade the military capabilities of the YPG, which they say has 8,000 to 10,000 fighters in Afrin.”

    “Operation Olive Branch” is now underway. A campaign to create a safe zone by attacking the YPG. From Turkey’s standpoint that’s a pretty efficient use of its military resources.

    So will the ‘safe zone’ will also be haven for the rebel forces that Turkey is backing in its ongoing efforts to topple Assad? Well, probably, since the plan is for those rebels to secure and administer this safe zone:


    The “safe zone” would probably be secured and administered by Turkey’s Syrian rebel allies, creating a buffer zone with the Turkish border. Turkish officials have also hinted that it could be used as a safe area for civilians who wish to return to Syria, modelled on other parts of the country that Turkey had seized from Isis in an offensive called “Euphrates Shield” that was launched in the summer of 2016.

    And that strongly implies the anti-Assad Turkey-based rebel forces more or less have Turkey’s military available for defending that safe zone territory.

    So what does the US and UK say about this plan? Not much, other than to say Turkey has a right to do what it’s doing in Afrin:


    The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said Monday he was “concerned” about Turkey’s new offensive in northern Syria, as he urged all sides to show restraint.

    “The US is in Syria to defeat Isis. We’ve done that with a coalition of partners and the [Kurdish-led] Syrian Democratic Forces, so we are concerned about the Turkish incidents in northern Syria,” he said ahead of a meeting in London with the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

    But the US, he added, also recognised Turkey’s “legitimate right to protect its own citizens from terrorist elements that may be launching attacks against Turkish citizens on Turkish soil from Syria.”

    His statement was echoed by Johnson. “We understand that the Kurds have been instrumental in taking the fight to Daesh, and everybody appreciates that,” he said. “On the other hand, Turkey does have a legitimate interest in protecting its own border.”

    The remarks stopped short of the level of criticism of Turkish actions voiced by the french foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian. France has convened a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council for Monday deploring the “brutal degradation of the situation” in northern Syria. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, will travel to Paris for talks on Tuesday.

    So the US and UK are viewing the “Operation Olive Branch” military campaign as a legitimate right of Turkey’s. So what’s the response going to be when the YPG and other Kurdish groups refuse to give up Afrin without a fight? Well, the response from the US appears to be that any Kurds found fight Turkey in Afrin will no longer be considered a US partner:

    Anadolu Agency

    YPG who leaves group for Afrin to lose US support

    Similar consequences if equipment to fight Daesh used elsewhere, US military spokesman tells Anadolu Agency

    By Safvan Allahverdi
    23.01.2018

    WASHINGTON

    YPG elements who leave anti-Daesh operations and mobilize in Afrin, Syria, will lose backing from the U.S., the Pentagon told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.

    “If they [U.S.-backed forces under the SDF] carry out military operations of any kind that are not specifically focused on ISIS they will not have coalition support,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Adrian Rankine-Galloway in reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, another name for Daesh.

    “Let’s say for example, a unit of YPG says, ‘Hey, we’ll no longer fight ISIS and we are going to support our brothers in Afrin.’” then they are on their own, he said. “They are not our partners anymore.”

    The remarks were in response to an Anadolu Agency’s question regarding reports that PYD/PKK convoys from the Kamisli region in northeastern Syria were mobilizing to support the PYD/PKK militants in Afrin.

    Media reports have stated the mobilization followed Turkey’s launch of Operation Olive Branch on Saturday to remove PYD/PKK terrorists from the northern Syrian city.

    The military operation intends to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region, as well as to protect Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists, according to Turkish General Staff.

    The U.S.’s relationship with its partner forces in Syria is not in the form of “command and control”, Rankine-Galloway said, adding that he cannot say anything on such a mobilization.

    “We provide training, advice and assistance to the forces that are carrying out military operations against [Daesh],” he said. “We do not issue order for example to our partnered forces [SDF] on the ground. That is not our relationship with them.”

    As for equipment the U.S. distributed to the group, Rankine-Galloway said the supplies were used against Daesh.

    “If we observe scenarios in which that equipment is used for other purposes, we are going to take appropriate action that could include cutting off military assistance to them,” he said.

    Such a move, he said, would comprise all “local partners”, including those in Al-Tanf.z

    ———-

    “YPG who leaves group for Afrin to lose US support” by Safvan Allahverdi; Anadolu Agency; 01/23/2018

    “”If they [U.S.-backed forces under the SDF] carry out military operations of any kind that are not specifically focused on ISIS they will not have coalition support,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Adrian Rankine-Galloway in reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, another name for Daesh.”

    So the US will not support any Kurdish units fighting in Afrin, which is not surprising since that would involve the US fighting its NATO ally Turkey at this point. Beyond that, however, if any Kurdish units are found using equipment the US gave to the group for the fight in Afrin, they’ll get off from military assistance in general:


    The U.S.’s relationship with its partner forces in Syria is not in the form of “command and control”, Rankine-Galloway said, adding that he cannot say anything on such a mobilization.

    “We provide training, advice and assistance to the forces that are carrying out military operations against [Daesh],” he said. “We do not issue order for example to our partnered forces [SDF] on the ground. That is not our relationship with them.”

    As for equipment the U.S. distributed to the group, Rankine-Galloway said the supplies were used against Daesh.

    “If we observe scenarios in which that equipment is used for other purposes, we are going to take appropriate action that could include cutting off military assistance to them,” he said.

    So the US appears to have the stance that the Kurds are free to fight the Turks and other rebels in Afrin, but only as long as it doesn’t involve using equipment the US gave them.

    Now, assuming the Turks do manage to create this ‘safe zone’ on the border, connecting both Idlib with a second region under Turkey’s control, what’s Turkey going to do about the fact that al-Nusra is the dominant force in Idlib and the most powerful and effective anti-Assad element of the Sunni rebels? Are they going to directly team up against Assad? Well, not quite. Because as this following article from back in October describes, Turkey has a plan for how to address al-Nusra’s control of Idlib: separate the al-Qaeda/al-Nusra jihadists in Idlib from the rest of the jihadists who are encouraged to just blend in with the populace. In other words, as long as the members of al-Nusra are willing to become former members of al-Nusra, they should be fine. That appears to be Turkey’s plan for dealing with al-Nusra in Idlib:

    Reuters

    Turkey seeks to isolate Syria Idlib jihadists opposing truce

    Ezgi Erkoyun, Tom Perry
    October 3, 2017 / 10:09 AM

    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey is luring militants away from the jihadist alliance that controls Syria’s northwestern Idlib province as a step toward implementing a deal to reduce violence there, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

    Idlib is one of four “de-escalation” zones which foreign powers agreed to establish in opposition territory in western Syria after years of civil war. But the former al Qaeda branch which controls the province has pledged to keep fighting Syrian government forces and their allies.

    The ex-Nusra Front’s stance has raised doubt about how Turkey, one of three parties to the agreement, can proceed with plans to deploy observers inside Idlib. Russia and Iran, the other two countries involved, are due to police its edges.

    Cavusoglu said the first stage, already under way, was to separate “moderate rebels” from “terror organizations” – a reference to Nusra, which cut ties with al Qaeda last year, rebranded itself and now spearheads the Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance that dominates Idlib.

    His comments endorsed remarks by a rebel source who said that efforts by foreign states were under way to encourage defections from the alliance, to break it up, isolate it and reduce its capacity to oppose any Turkish military deployment.

    “With regards to Nusra, they are working to weaken it through intelligence operations,” the source told Reuters. Those could include assassinations and campaigns to undercut the group’s popular support, the source said.

    The aim was to encourage jihadist fighters who are not members of al Qaeda to “melt into society”.At least two million people live in Idlib, the largest populated Syrian area held by rebels – including some nationalist Free Syrian Army factions who sometimes fought alongside jihadists.

    The province’s population has ballooned as thousands of civilians and combatants have left areas seized by the Syrian army in other parts of the country, with the help of Russian jets and Iran-backed militias.

    ISOLATING JIHADISTS

    Turkey already controls a swathe of northern Syria east of Idlib following a military incursion in 2016. The rebel source said up to 2,000 fighters being trained by Turkish forces could deploy to Idlib, where many people have close ties to Turkey and could welcome a Turkish presence.

    Turkey has called for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad and supported several rebel factions, but has recently worked with Iran and Russia, both strong supporters of Assad, to stem the violence in Syria’s six-year conflict.

    Tahrir al-Sham, which was formed in January, has been hit in recent months by the breakaway of two of its significant fighting factions, Nour el-Din al-Zinki and Jaish al-Ahrar.

    In a change of leadership announced on Sunday, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the head of Nusra Front, assumed command of Tahrir al-Sham after Abu Jaber al-Sheikh quit that post. Tahrir al-Sham gave no reason for the resignation, adding in a statement that al-Sheikh had been appointed head of its Shura Council.

    Insurgent sources in northwest Syria say ideological divisions between the groups that form Tahrir al-Sham have been a big factor leading to the departure of some members.

    ———-

    “Turkey seeks to isolate Syria Idlib jihadists opposing truce” by Ezgi Erkoyun, Tom Perry; Reuters; 10/03/2017

    “Idlib is one of four “de-escalation” zones which foreign powers agreed to establish in opposition territory in western Syria after years of civil war. But the former al Qaeda branch which controls the province has pledged to keep fighting Syrian government forces and their allies.”

    The international plan for Idlib is “de-escalation”, which doesn’t appear possible as long as al-Qaeda runs the place. But Turkey has a plan according to a rebel source: encourage defections from the jihadist alliance, to break it up, isolate it and reduce its capacity to oppose any Turkish military deployment. And do that by encouraging jihadist fighters who are not members of al-Qaeda to “melt into society”:


    The ex-Nusra Front’s stance has raised doubt about how Turkey, one of three parties to the agreement, can proceed with plans to deploy observers inside Idlib. Russia and Iran, the other two countries involved, are due to police its edges.

    Cavusoglu said the first stage, already under way, was to separate “moderate rebels” from “terror organizations” – a reference to Nusra, which cut ties with al Qaeda last year, rebranded itself and now spearheads the Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance that dominates Idlib.

    His comments endorsed remarks by a rebel source who said that efforts by foreign states were under way to encourage defections from the alliance, to break it up, isolate it and reduce its capacity to oppose any Turkish military deployment.

    “With regards to Nusra, they are working to weaken it through intelligence operations,” the source told Reuters. Those could include assassinations and campaigns to undercut the group’s popular support, the source said.

    The aim was to encourage jihadist fighters who are not members of al Qaeda to “melt into society”.At least two million people live in Idlib, the largest populated Syrian area held by rebels – including some nationalist Free Syrian Army factions who sometimes fought alongside jihadists.

    That sure sounds like a plant to have Turkey have a military presence in Idlib in partnership with rebel allies that include a whole lot of ex-al-Qaeda jihadists. Which isn’t at all surprising but it’s pretty notable that it appears to be happening:


    Turkey already controls a swathe of northern Syria east of Idlib following a military incursion in 2016. The rebel source said up to 2,000 fighters being trained by Turkish forces could deploy to Idlib, where many people have close ties to Turkey and could welcome a Turkish presence.

    Turkey has called for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad and supported several rebel factions, but has recently worked with Iran and Russia, both strong supporters of Assad, to stem the violence in Syria’s six-year conflict.

    So should we expect the military campaign in Afrin to pivot towards a move to effectively unify the anti-Assad rebels under Turkey’s control by splintering al-Nusra’s jihadist alliance? That probably depends a lot on how the conflict in Afrin goes and how long it takes to actually clear out the YPG (which sure sounds a lot like ethnically cleansing the region of Kurds). Because time may not be on Turkey’s side when it comes to Idlib:

    Reuters

    Syrian army, allies capture Idlib air base: state TV

    Reuters Staff
    January 20, 2018 / 7:57 AM

    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian troops and allied forces seized an air base in Idlib province on Saturday, pressing their offensive into the country’s largest insurgent stronghold, state television said.

    The province in northwest Syria has become a focal point of the war, with government forces taking scores of villages in recent weeks. With the help of Iran-backed militias and Russian air power, they advanced towards Abu al-Duhur military airport, where rebels had ousted the army in 2015.

    Since mid-December, fighting has forced more than 212,000 people to flee their homes in the south of Idlib and nearby parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces, the United Nations says.

    Ankara has warned the attacks will cause a new wave of migration, urging Russia and Iran to rein in the Syrian army offensive in Idlib, which borders Turkey.

    Rebels have held Idlib since 2015, and its population has mushroomed with fighters and civilians escaping offensives in other parts of Syria. It has since become the largest single chunk of the country still under the control of factions fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s state.

    Tahrir al-Sham, spearheaded by al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch, is now the dominant insurgent force in the province.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the army and allied militia took full control of the airport after heavy air strikes against the insurgents.

    The troops had stormed the base hours earlier, said a military media unit run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which fights alongside the Damascus government. Other pro-government forces seized villages in rural Aleppo, it said.

    The army offensive has pushed into Idlib along several fronts from rural Hama to the south and from Aleppo province to the east.

    Government forces at opposite ends linked up on Saturday, splitting rebel territory in two, the Observatory and the Hezbollah media unit said. The advance besieged militants near the airport in an enclave, part of it under Tahrir al-Sham control and the other in the hands of Islamic State.

    In recent weeks, Tahrir al-Sham had been simultaneously under attack at the corner of Idlib from Islamic State, which has expanded a small pocket of territory in Hama since the army ousted it from central Syria last year.

    ———-

    “Syrian army, allies capture Idlib air base: state TV” by Reuters Staff; Reuters; 01/20/2018

    “The province in northwest Syria has become a focal point of the war, with government forces taking scores of villages in recent weeks. With the help of Iran-backed militias and Russian air power, they advanced towards Abu al-Duhur military airport, where rebels had ousted the army in 2015.”

    And note how Islamic State is also operating in Idlib:


    Government forces at opposite ends linked up on Saturday, splitting rebel territory in two, the Observatory and the Hezbollah media unit said. The advance besieged militants near the airport in an enclave, part of it under Tahrir al-Sham control and the other in the hands of Islamic State.

    In recent weeks, Tahrir al-Sham had been simultaneously under attack at the corner of Idlib from Islamic State, which has expanded a small pocket of territory in Hama since the army ousted it from central Syria last year.

    So pretty much everyone but the Kurds are trying to gain control of Idlib at this point: Turkey and its rebel allies. Al-Nusra and its jihadist allies (who Turkey is trying to woo). The Syrian army and its allies. ISIS. It’s the kind of situation where you have to wonder if Turkey’s plan is to let the Syrian army slug it out with al-Nusra and ISIS first while the Turkey-backed rebel forces get trained and plan on picking up the pieces and soaking up all the leftover jihadist. We’ll see. But it’s pretty clear that any plans for a Turkish-backed ‘safe zone’ also include plans for unifying the anti-Assad rebels (jihadist and secular) under Turkey’s direction for either breaking up the country or waging a knock-down-drag-out fight to the death with the Assad government. Which, of course, means those ‘safe zones’ had better include ample resources for A LOT of fleeing refugees.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 23, 2018, 4:14 pm
  10. It appears that “Olive Branch operation” – Turkey’s military campaign in the Afrin region of Syria to clear out the Kurdish military forces – is extending an ‘olive branch’ to a new area: the town of Manbij. And unlike Afrin, this new area contains US military forces:

    Reuters

    Erdogan says to extend Syria operation despite risk of U.S. confrontation

    Tuvan Gumrukcu, Tom Perry
    January 24, 2018 / 8:22 AM / Updated

    ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Turkey would extend its military operation in Syria to the town of Manbij, a move that could potentially bring Turkish forces into confrontation with those of their NATO ally the United States.

    Turkey’s air and ground “Operation Olive Branch” in the Afrin region of northern Syria is now in its fifth day, targeting Kurdish YPG fighters and opening a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war.

    A push towards Manbij, in a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, could threaten U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of northeast Syria.

    The United States has around 2,000 special forces troops in Syria, officially as part of an international U.S.-led coalition, assisting the Kurds in battle against Islamic State.

    None of the Americans are known to be based in the Afrin area, but they are deployed in the Kurdish-held pocket that includes Manbij. Washington has angered Turkey by providing arms, training and air support to the Syrian Kurdish forces, which Turkey considers enemies.

    “With the Olive Branch operation, we have once again thwarted the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different,” Erdogan said in a speech to provincial leaders in Ankara.

    “Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game.”

    Differences over Syria policy have already strained Turkey’s relations with Washington almost to a breaking point. For the United States, the YPG is a key ally against both Islamic State jihadists and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

    A Turkish operation in Manbij would be fraught with risk due to the presence of the U.S. military personnel in and around the town. They were deployed there last March to deter Turkish and U.S.-backed rebels from attacking each other and have also carried out training missions in Manbij.

    President Donald Trump plans to raise the U.S. concerns over the Turkish offensive in a telephone call with Erdogan expected on Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said.

    In an interview with Reuters, Turkey’s government spokesman said he saw a small possibility that Turkish forces could come face-to-face with the U.S. troops in Manbij.

    MOUNTING DEATH TOLL

    U.S.-backed Syrian fighters in the Manbij area have deployed to frontlines to confront any Turkish assault and are in contact with the U.S.-led coalition over defending the town, their spokesman Sharfan Darwish said on Wednesday.

    “We are in full readiness to respond to any attack.”

    Rockets fired from Afrin struck the Turkish border town of Kilis, killing two people, a Syrian and a Turk, and wounding 11 people in the area, the local governor’s office said, the latest in what has been a series of such attacks since the start of the operation.

    One of the rockets hit a mosque and the two people who were killed were praying at the time, the statement said.

    Dozens of combatants have been killed since Turkey launched its offensive, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria.

    Turkish shelling and airstrikes in Afrin have killed 28 civilians, while two civilians were killed as a result of YPG shelling near Azaz, a town held by Turkish-backed opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, the monitoring group said.

    Turkey said three of its soldiers had been killed. Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman said 48 Turkey-backed Syrian fighters with Free Syrian Army groups had been killed and that the death toll among the Kurdish YPG so far stood at 42.

    The Turkish military said it had killed at least 287 Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants in the offensive. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) umbrella group led by the Kurdish YPG said there was no Islamic State presence in Afrin and Turkey had exaggerated the number of dead.

    SECURITY LINE

    Communication between the United States and Turkey has continued over Syria, despite the countries’ differences.

    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who, he said, had suggested the formation of a “30 km security line” inside Syria, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

    Turkey has previously sought such buffer zones in parts of Syria near its southern border.

    A senior U.S. official said that as of Tuesday the Turks had not been ready to engage in detail on such a proposal.

    Afrin is separated from Manbij and the rest of the territory held by the Kurdish-led forces by a strip of land held by Assad’s government forces.

    In 2016, the Kurdish-led SDF pushed Islamic State fighters out of Manbij. Erdogan has accused the United States of reneging on a promise to ensure that Kurdish fighters would return the town to Arab control.

    U.S., British and German volunteers who fought against Islamic State alongside Kurdish-led forces in Syria are also now in the Afrin area to help confront Turkey, the SDF said.

    The United States has hoped to use the YPG’s control of territory to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria’s civil war and eventually lead to Assad’s removal.

    ———–

    “Erdogan says to extend Syria operation despite risk of U.S. confrontation” by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Tom Perry; Reuters; 01/24/2018

    “A Turkish operation in Manbij would be fraught with risk due to the presence of the U.S. military personnel in and around the town. They were deployed there last March to deter Turkish and U.S.-backed rebels from attacking each other and have also carried out training missions in Manbij

    So the US gets deployed to the town of Manbij to help deter Turkish and U.S.-backed rebels from attacking each other, and now a force consisting of Turkey and Turkish-backed rebels is getting ready to roll into town and push out all the Kurds. Yeah, that sounds like a situation fraught with risk.

    And note how Erdogan is framing this move: ‘Operation Olive Branch ‘ is being done to ‘thwart the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different’:


    With the Olive Branch operation, we have once again thwarted the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different,” Erdogan said in a speech to provincial leaders in Ankara.

    Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game.”

    Are those “sneaky forces” a reference to the US? Or just the Kurds? Because if he was referring to the Kurds it seems like he would have described them as “terrorists” or something like that. “Sneaky forces” sounds a lot more like a reference to the US in this context (and, by proxy, Israel). If so, that sure sounds like this move in Manbij is being framed to the Turkish domestic audience as an operation targeting Kurdish and US forces operating in Syria.

    And by moving into places like Manbij where the US is actively working with the Kurds that makes “Operation Olive Branch” a potentially significant disruption of the anti-ISIS operations in that region. The attack on Afrin was an indirect disruption of those anti-ISIS operations simply by drawing Kurdish forces away from the front-lines with ISIS to fight in Afrin, but there weren’t US troops actually in that region. But it sure sounds like the new plan involves a much more frontal assault on that US/Kurdish anti-ISIS force. As Erdogan says, “Starting in Manbij, we will continue to thwart their game.” In other words, the attack on Manbij is just the start of a military campaign that appears to be targeting a lot more than Afrin.

    Also note the apparent plans of the US for how to use the territory under Kurdish control as leverage for reviving UN-led settlement talks:


    The United States has hoped to use the YPG’s control of territory to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria’s civil war and eventually lead to Assad’s removal.

    So are those planned talks part of the ‘game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different’ Erdogan was talking about?

    Those are just some of the questions raised by this dicey new phase of the Syrian conflict. But perhaps the most immediate question is what’s the US going do in response to this? Well, according to the Pentagon, the US hasn’t decided yet how to respond and much of that response will be determined by the State Department’s negotiations

    STARS AND STRIPES

    Pentagon won’t say if it will move US troops as Turkish offensive in Syria eyes Manbij

    By COREY DICKSTEIN | Published: January 25, 2018

    WASHINGTON — Senior Pentagon officials on Thursday said they were aware of media reports that Turkey had requested the United States remove its military forces from a key northern Syrian town, but they declined to say whether they would comply with their NATO ally’s request.

    Turkey wants the United States to remove its troops remaining around Manbij, where it intends to shift the focus of its anti-Kurdish assault along its border, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday, according to local media. The United States has maintained a small force around Manbij since U.S.-backed troops captured it from Islamic State fighters in the summer of 2016.

    However, the United States is not immediately prepared to withdraw its forces from the strategic city, said Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, leaving open the potential of a battlefield showdown between allied militaries.

    American troops “will either stay or they will go. I don’t know what the answer will be,” McKenzie said Thursday. He added that decision would rely heavily on State Department policy for the region.

    If it becomes necessary, “U.S. troops…will be able to defend themselves,” he said.

    Long-stressed, the relationship between the United States and Turkey has strained further since Turkey launched an offensive Saturday targeting Kurdish groups, including the YPG, an organization the Pentagon has leaned heavily on in its fight against ISIS. While the United States has continued to support the YPG, including providing weapons to its fighters still combatting ISIS in southeast Syria, Turkey views the group as a security threat with close ties to the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist organization.

    McKenzie said the U.S. military does not train or provide weapons to Kurdish groups in the Afrin pocket, where Turkey began its offensive over the weekend, or forces elsewhere in Syria not focused on fighting ISIS, such as near Manbij.

    Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Turkey should discontinue its operations in northern Syria, calling them a distraction from the fight against ISIS.

    The United States officially has maintained some 2,000 military troops in Syria and has said those forces will remain in the country even after ISIS is defeated. American troops have regularly patrolled in the region around Manbij since its liberation, often to ensure stability as pro-Turkish forces and U.S.-backed forces have skirmished.

    So far, the tensions in northern Syria have not directly impacted the ongoing fight against ISIS in the middle Euphrates River valley, but McKenzie said the United States is closely monitoring signs of YPG fighters, which make up a portion of the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, leaving to fight against the Turkish offensive.

    The YPG-led SDF is the primary ground force fighting the less than 1,000 ISIS fighters who remain in a small portion of the valley in eastern Syria, according to the Pentagon.

    ———-

    “Pentagon won’t say if it will move US troops as Turkish offensive in Syria eyes Manbij” by COREY DICKSTEIN; STARS AND STRIPES; 01/25/2018

    “American troops “will either stay or they will go. I don’t know what the answer will be,” McKenzie said Thursday. He added that decision would rely heavily on State Department policy for the region.”

    The US’s response is going to be heavily reliant on diplomacy at this point. Trump White House diplomacy. That should go well.

    But while that diplomacy plays out, there’s still the reality that US-trained and armed Kurdish forces are going to be increasingly drawn away from the fight against ISIS to defend against Turkey’s military offensive:


    The United States officially has maintained some 2,000 military troops in Syria and has said those forces will remain in the country even after ISIS is defeated. American troops have regularly patrolled in the region around Manbij since its liberation, often to ensure stability as pro-Turkish forces and U.S.-backed forces have skirmished.

    So far, the tensions in northern Syria have not directly impacted the ongoing fight against ISIS in the middle Euphrates River valley, but McKenzie said the United States is closely monitoring signs of YPG fighters, which make up a portion of the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, leaving to fight against the Turkish offensive

    So given the expanding nature of “Operation Olive Branch” and the extensive evidence that Turkey played a critical role in fostering the growth of ISIS – from turning a blind-eye in allowing the flood of ISIS fighters and arms to move through its border with Syria to allowing ISIS to facilitating ISIS’s oil trade – you have to wonder if part of the motivation for this whole campaign is to stop ISIS was being completely defeate by effectively drawing away the YPG fighters that comprise the bulk of the anti-ISIS forces operating in the East of the country. Don’t forget that it was only a couple of year ago when Turkey’s head of intelligence basically called ISIS a “reality” that the world needs to accept. In other words, is ISIS the one getting the ‘olive branch’ here?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 25, 2018, 3:52 pm
  11. It sounds like the ‘olive branch’ being extended in “Operation Olive Branch” is going to be a really, really long branch: President Erdogan just announced that Turkey’s military campaign inside Syria is going to extend all the way to Syria’s Eastern border with Iraq. Which, of course, is the parts of Syria controlled by the Kurds. So Erdogan basically just declared war against the Kurds of Syria. That appears to be what “Operation Olive Branch” is all about.

    And what about the US’s partnership with the Kurds as part of the anti-ISIS operations? Well, the government of Turkey is hoping that its military campaign against the US’s partners will ‘encourage Washington to stop and think.’ That’s pretty much the only response by Turkey regarding the fact that it just declared war on the US’s military partners and its military campaign is going to be moving through regions of Syria where US forces are working side-by-side with the Kurdish forces. So if you thought things going get any more chaotic in Syria, the Turkish government is encouraging you to stop and think about that:

    Reuters

    Turkey’s Erdogan says military operation to make big sweep east across Syria

    Ece Toksabay, Lisa Barrington
    January 26, 2018 / 7:39 AM / Updated

    ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkish forces would sweep Kurdish fighters from the Syrian border and could push all the way east to the frontier with Iraq — a move which risks a possible confrontation with U.S. forces allied to the Kurds.

    The Turkish offensive in northwest Syria’s Afrin region against the Kurdish YPG militia has opened a new front in the multi-sided Syrian civil war but has strained ties with NATO ally Washington.

    Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group but the militia has played a prominent role in U.S.-led efforts to combat the hardline Islamic State in Syria.

    Since the start of the incursion, dubbed “Operation Olive Branch” by Ankara, Erdogan has said Turkish forces would push east towards the town of Manbij, potentially putting them in confrontation with U.S. troops deployed there.

    “Operation Olive Branch will continue until it reaches its goals. We will rid Manbij of terrorists, as it was promised to us, and our battles will continue until no terrorist is left until our border with Iraq,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.

    A senior official in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias of which the YPG is the strongest, said any wider Turkish assault would face “the appropriate response”.

    Redur Xelil also said in an interview that he was sure the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, which has backed the SDF in its battle against the jihadists, was trying to put pressure on Turkey to limit its offensive.

    Any drive by Turkish forces toward Manbij, part of Kurdish-held territory some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, could threaten U.S. efforts to stabilize northern Syria.

    The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria, officially as part of the international coalition against Islamic State.

    U.S. forces were deployed in and around Manbij to deter Turkish and U.S.-backed rebels from attacking each other and have also carried out training missions in the area.

    Washington has angered Ankara by providing arms, training and air support to the Syrian Kurdish forces. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast for three decades.

    “How can a strategic partner do this to its partner?” Erdogan said, referring to the United States. “If we wage a battle against terror together, we will either do this together or we will take care of ourselves.”

    U.S. POLICY RETHINK?

    Erdogan’s chief diplomatic adviser said Turkey’s military action in Syria should prompt Washington to rethink its policy.

    “The moment Turkey starts using its military power instead of soft power in the region, however sour ties are at that moment, it encourages Washington to stop and think,” Gulnur Aybet told Reuters in an interview.

    “I believe the U.S. will put forward some truly satisfying alternative solutions to ease Turkey’s security concerns,” she said.

    While Aybet did not elaborate on what such measures could include, she said they would follow on from a recent U.S. proposal to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria.

    Turkey has said the United States has offered to work on a 30 km (19 mile) safe zone, but it says trust between the allies must first be restored.

    Aybet said Turkey was aware that a confrontation on the ground in Manbij risked pushing ties to breaking point: “Everyone is aware of that risk. We hope that the Americans are aware, too.”

    The Kurdish-led autonomous administration that runs Afrin urged the Syrian government on Thursday to defend its border with Turkey despite Damascus’ stance against Kurdish autonomy.

    The Syrian government has said it is ready to target Turkish warplanes in its airspace, but has not intervened so far. It suspects the Kurds of wanting independence in the long-run.

    ———-

    “Turkey’s Erdogan says military operation to make big sweep east across Syria” by Ece Toksabay, Lisa Barrington; Reuters; 01/26/2018

    ““Operation Olive Branch will continue until it reaches its goals. We will rid Manbij of terrorists, as it was promised to us, and our battles will continue until no terrorist is left until our border with Iraq,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.”

    Keep in mind that Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization, so when Erdogan says, “and our battles will continue until no terrorist is left until our border with Iraq”, he’s probably not referring to ISIS.

    And if the US has a problem with Turkey declaring war on the US’s allies, well, the US is apparently just going to have to ‘stop and think’ about that and adopt a new policy, according to Erdogan’s chief diplomatic adviser:


    U.S. POLICY RETHINK?

    Erdogan’s chief diplomatic adviser said Turkey’s military action in Syria should prompt Washington to rethink its policy.

    “The moment Turkey starts using its military power instead of soft power in the region, however sour ties are at that moment, it encourages Washington to stop and think,” Gulnur Aybet told Reuters in an interview.

    “I believe the U.S. will put forward some truly satisfying alternative solutions to ease Turkey’s security concerns,” she said.

    While Aybet did not elaborate on what such measures could include, she said they would follow on from a recent U.S. proposal to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria.

    Turkey has said the United States has offered to work on a 30 km (19 mile) safe zone, but it says trust between the allies must first be restored.

    Aybet said Turkey was aware that a confrontation on the ground in Manbij risked pushing ties to breaking point: “Everyone is aware of that risk. We hope that the Americans are aware, too.”

    “Aybet said Turkey was aware that a confrontation on the ground in Manbij risked pushing ties to breaking point: “Everyone is aware of that risk. We hope that the Americans are aware, too.””

    So Turkey has declared war on the US’s closes anti-ISIS military partner. Is there any resolution for this conflict that any sides are dangling out there? Well, sort of. While Turkey isn’t backing away from its pledge to wipe out the YPG across the Syria, it is laying out a set of demands for reducing tensions with the US. Those demands are, of course, for the US to completely cut off is partnership and arms to the YPG. And according to Turkey’s foreign minister, that’s exactly what U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster confirmed in a phone call late Friday: that the U.S. will no longer arm the Syrian Kurdish fighters:

    Associated Press

    Turkey advances offensive into Syrian Kurdish enclave

    By LEFTERIS PITARAKIS and MEHMET GUZEL
    01/27/2018

    AZAZ, Syria (AP) — Fighting raged in northwestern Syria Saturday as Turkish troops and allied militiamen tried to advance their week-long offensive in a Kurdish-controlled enclave, Syrian opposition activists said.

    The bombardment could be heard a few miles away from Afrin in the Turkish-controlled town of Azaz, where Associated Press journalists were on a media trip organized by the Turkish government and escorted by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters taking part in the offensive.

    Azaz is one of the fronts from where Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters of the so-called Free Syrian Army have launched a push into Afrin to clear the area of a Syrian Kurdish militia which Ankara considers to be a national security threat. The militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, has been a partner of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

    Kurdish and other activists said Saturday’s fighting concentrated around the Rajo area in Afrin, amid heavy shelling and airstrikes by the Turkish forces. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria war through a network of activists on the ground, said Turkish helicopters were attacking the town of Rajo, struggling to make progress after a week of attacks.

    AP journalists saw a checkpoint in the village of Maarin, manned by local security trained and equipped by Turkey.

    In nearby downtown Azaz, about 22 kilometers (14 miles) from Afrin, people were going about their daily lives and stores were open, but armed men were keeping a watchful eye. In the town briefly controlled by the Islamic State group at one point and a rebel bastion since 2014, children now waved Turkish flags for their journalist visitors.

    Syrian local security forces wore recycled Turkish uniforms, some with the word POLIS written on them.

    The boom of continuous shelling and YPG watch points in the distance were a reminder that the frontline with Afrin was near.

    A local policeman in Azaz told the AP that Kurds in Afrin were shelling the towns of Azaz and Marea, which have been under Turkish patronage since its 2016 cross-border operation to limit Kurdish expansion and clear IS from its border.

    “We want to get rid of the terrorist PKK party. We don’t have a problem with the Kurdish people, only with the terrorist PKK party which destroyed us and killed us, fires shells and rockets on us and on our mosques,” he said.

    The Turkish offensive has strained ties between Turkey and the U.S., which has expressed major concerns over the Afrin attack. Turkey has vowed to expand its operation against the YPG to other areas along the border including Manbij, where some U.S. troops are stationed. Ankara views the YPG as a major threat because of its links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK.

    On Saturday, Turkey’s foreign minister said his country wants to see “concrete” steps from the United States to re-establish trust between the two NATO allies. These steps, Mevlut Cavusoglu said, include severing U.S. ties with the YPG, stopping their armament and taking back weapons it has supplied them with, as well as pressing for their withdrawal from Manbij.

    Cavusoglu claimed that U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster confirmed in a phone call with the Turkish president’s spokesman late Friday that the U.S. will no longer arm the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

    However Cavusoglu criticized the U.S. for sending conflicting messages and said: “The President says something, the Pentagon says something else. There are people, U.S. soldiers, who are interweaved with them … (YPG) in the field and they say something else.”

    Separately, Syria’s main opposition negotiating body said it will boycott a peace conference in Russia next week, saying it would not lead to a genuine peace track that could end the country’s seven-year war.

    The High Negotiations Committee announced the boycott of the Russia-backed conference in Sochi in a tweet Sunday night after a vote held in Vienna, Austria, where a U.N.-led conference was being held. The two-day conference ended, as in many previous rounds, with accusations hurled back and forth between the two sides in comments to the press.

    “The (Syrian) regime doesn’t believe in a political solution and it will not believe in the future … it only believes in the military option,” Syrian opposition leader Naser al-Hariri said from Vienna on Saturday.

    Russia has been steering a separate negotiating track in Astana, and now in the Black Sea resort of Sochi where the conference is scheduled to be held on Monday with the participation of some 1,600 representatives of the Syrian government and opposition.

    Opposition figures have said Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, is trying to undermine the U.N.-led talks. However the spokesman for the U.N. secretary general on Saturday said he is confident that the conference in Sochi will be an important contribution to a “revived intra-Syrian talks under the auspices of the U.N. in Geneva,” and added that the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura would take part in the conference.

    Meanwhile, a cease-fire deal to halt the fighting over the rebel-held besieged eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus appeared to have crumbled before it even began.

    The agreement was reached in Vienna between the Syrian opposition and Russia. Rebels gave the government 24 hours to comply, but opposition sources on Saturday said the government shelling had not ceased.

    ———–

    “Turkey advances offensive into Syrian Kurdish enclave” by LEFTERIS PITARAKIS and MEHMET GUZEL; Associated Press; 01/27/2018

    “The Turkish offensive has strained ties between Turkey and the U.S., which has expressed major concerns over the Afrin attack. Turkey has vowed to expand its operation against the YPG to other areas along the border including Manbij, where some U.S. troops are stationed. Ankara views the YPG as a major threat because of its links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey known as the PKK.”

    Note how Turkey is framing the YPG as a major threat not just to Ankara’s ambitions in Syria, but also a major threat to Turkey because if its ties to the PKK. And that’s one reason to suspect this military campaign could be a sustained one despite the reports of fierce Kurdish resistance.

    It’s being framed as the kind of threat that is so serious that Turkey appears to have almost no concerns about the fact that it just declared war on a force working side-by-side with US military troops. It’s a pretty remarkable power play, and if Turkey’s foreign minister is to be believed, it’s a power play that’s working with stunning success:


    On Saturday, Turkey’s foreign minister said his country wants to see “concrete” steps from the United States to re-establish trust between the two NATO allies. These steps, Mevlut Cavusoglu said, include severing U.S. ties with the YPG, stopping their armament and taking back weapons it has supplied them with, as well as pressing for their withdrawal from Manbij.

    Cavusoglu claimed that U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster confirmed in a phone call with the Turkish president’s spokesman late Friday that the U.S. will no longer arm the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

    However Cavusoglu criticized the U.S. for sending conflicting messages and said: “The President says something, the Pentagon says something else. There are people, U.S. soldiers, who are interweaved with them … (YPG) in the field and they say something else.”

    Did H.R. McMaster really confirm in a phone call late Friday that the U.S. will no longer arm the Syrian Kurdish fighters? Only time will tell, but if so that’s a pretty remarkable policy shift for the US in Syria, especially given the circumstance.

    And if these claims are true, and the US really is planning on cutting off its support for the YPG, it raises the question of what sort of deal the US and Turkey might be trying to work out. Is this the Trump administration just unilaterally caving to Erdogan’s demands or is there a broader strategy in play? Well, as the following article reminds us, there is one area where we could be see a broader strategy in play as part of the US’s decision-making regarding virtually any issue involving Turkey: The agenda of keep the Trump Towers in Istanbul up and running. Yep, this US/Turkey conflict in the making contains some very Trump-specific conflicts of interest:

    Mother Jones

    Donald Trump Has a Conflict of Interest in Turkey. Just Ask Donald Trump.
    Why the president’s congratulatory call to Recep Tayyip Erdogan raises serious questions.

    Ashley Dejean
    Apr. 18, 2017 8:11 PM

    Several media outlets have slammed President Donald Trump for congratulating Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on winning a referendum that will bolster his autocratic power and weaken that nation’s democracy. International observers say the referendum took place on an “unlevel playing field” and voting irregularities raise questions about the outcome. A brief White House summary of Trump’s call to Erdogan did not reference any such concerns. Ultimately, if the referendum stands, Turkey will shift from a parliamentary government to one largely controlled by the president—though many of the changes strengthening the president’s powers won’t take place until after the next election in 2019. (It’s worth noting that before Erdogan became president, the role of this office was primarily ceremonial.)

    And there’s also another troubling layer to this story: Trump’s business ties to Turkey create a conflict of interest. That’s according to Trump himself. As Mother Jones reported in November, Trump mentioned his Turkey-related conflicts in 2015 during a conversation with Steve Bannon, who was then the executive chairman of Breitbart News. (Bannon would go on to become Trump’s chief strategist.)

    On Bannon’s radio show, Breitbart News Daily, Trump said on December 1, 2015, “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers—two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.”

    Trump was speaking truthfully. He had a vested interest in smooth relations with Ankara. And he owed Erdogan a solid. In 2012, Erdogan presided over the opening ceremony for the Trump Towers. (At the time, Erdogan was prime minister—a role the recently passed referendum would eliminate).

    Trump has not publicly spoken in detail about his relationship with Erdogan. But in December, Newsweek contended that the Turkish president has leverage over Trump and noted that Erdogan wants the US government to extradite to Turkey the man he believes is responsible for an attempted military coup against him in July. “Erdogan of Turkey has told associates,” Newsweek reported, “he believes he must keep pressure on Trump’s business partner there to essentially blackmail the president into extraditing a political enemy.”

    It appears that Turkey’s Trump Towers pose more than “a little conflict of interest.”

    ———-

    “Donald Trump Has a Conflict of Interest in Turkey. Just Ask Donald Trump.” by Ashley Dejean; Mother Jones; 04/18/2017

    “On Bannon’s radio show, Breitbart News Daily, Trump said on December 1, 2015, “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers—two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.”

    “I have a little conflict of interest…” Those were Trump’s own words. And it isn’t a little conflict of interest. It’s two very big conflicts of interest in the form of the Trump Towers in Istanbul:


    Trump was speaking truthfully. He had a vested interest in smooth relations with Ankara. And he owed Erdogan a solid. In 2012, Erdogan presided over the opening ceremony for the Trump Towers. (At the time, Erdogan was prime minister—a role the recently passed referendum would eliminate).

    Would Turkey have been this bold and brazen if there wasn’t this clear point of leverage Erdogan has directly over Trump’s business interests? Who knows, but the very fact that we have to ask the question is the latest reminder that Trump’s conflicts of interest might actually fuel military conflicts.

    So what is the actual scale of this conflict of interest in terms of revenues? According to the following article, it’s about $5 million a year. And as the following article also notes, this isn’t the first time a Trumpian conflict of interest appeared to work against the US-YPG anti-ISIS military alliance over Turkish concerns. Because it turns out the US-YPG assault on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa was actually delayed by former US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn…the same former Trump official who was simultaneously on the Turkish government payroll. And that assault on Raqqa didn’t get approved until Flynn was gone:

    Center for American Progress

    Trump’s Conflicts of Interest in Turkey
    By John Norris and Carolyn Kenney Posted on June 14, 2017, 12:01 am

    Selling out America’s interests on the battlefield

    In 2008, the Trump Organization inked into a multimillion-dollar branding deal with the Dogan Group, run by one of the most politically influential families in Turkey, to build a two-tower apartment, office, and shopping complex in Istanbul. The opening ceremonies for the complex in 2012 were presided over by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    The very next year, in 2013, the Trump Organization entered into a partnership with luxury furniture company Dorya International to produce pieces to be sold under the Trump Home brand and distributed initially in Turkey. Dorya claims on its website to have furnished the offices of Turkey’s president, prime minister, armed forces, and embassies around the world.

    During the election campaign, when then-candidate Donald Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Dogan Group founder and owner Aydin Dogan reportedly tried to break the contract with the Trump Organization. In addition, President Erdogan called for Trump’s name to be removed from the towers. However, Erdogan dropped this demand after Trump praised his response to the July 2016 coup attempt.

    The day following the U.S. election, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued a statement that linked his government’s congratulatory remarks to Trump with a call for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim spiritual leader and bitter rival of President Erdogan, who is currently in exile in Pennsylvania. “We congratulate Mr. Trump. I am openly calling on the new president from here about the urgent extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the mastermind, executor and perpetrator of the heinous July 15 coup attempt, who lives on U.S. soil,” read the statement. According to a Newsweek article: “If Erdogan’s government puts more pressure on the company that’s paying millions of dollars to Trump and his children, revenue flowing from the tower complex in Istanbul could be cut off. That means Erdogan has leverage with Trump, who will soon have the power to get Gülen extradited.”

    Not long after the congratulatory remarks from the Turkish prime minister, Trump, in a phone call with Erdogan in which Ivanka Trump also participated, reportedly praised his business partners—Aydin Dogan, whose group still operates the Trump Towers in Istanbul, and Mehmet Ali Yalçindag, who is Dogan’s son-in-law and has facilitated the Dogan Group’s partnership with the Trump Organization. As Jeremy Venook argued in an Atlantic article: “That [Trump] chose to discuss the towers with Erdogan, albeit obliquely, through his references to his business partners when he has already acknowledged the impropriety of doing so simply reinforces the perception that he may prove unable to separate his business from his official duties while in office.”

    It has also increasingly come to light that Michael Flynn, a key adviser to the Trump campaign and later the president’s first national security adviser, had plenty of reasons to be beholden to Turkey—considerable conflicts of interest that he failed to disclose as required by federal law. The Associated Press reported on Flynn and his connection to Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who is close to President Erdogan:

    The retired Army lieutenant general and former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency formally told the Justice Department in March that his now-defunct Flynn Intel Group was paid $530,000 for operating as a foreign agent for Alptekin’s firm, Inovo BV, and performing work that could have benefited the Turkish government. That filing—prompted by Justice Department pressure—came just weeks after Trump fired Flynn from his national security post. The president has said he made the decision after it became clear Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

    More troubling, Alptekin not only paid Flynn and his firm close to $600,000 at a time when the retired general was receiving highly classified U.S. government briefings as part of Trump’s campaign team, but Alptekin also has substantial business ties to Russia. This fact further suggests that Flynn, who was ousted from his national security post for failing to disclose his close contacts with the Russian ambassador, may be tainted by money from Moscow as well as Istanbul. Again, and far from coincidentally, on Election Day, Flynn wrote an article for The Hill in which he argued that Fethullah Gülen should be extradited from the United States—a key demand by the Turkish government.

    Perhaps most disturbingly, Flynn may have delayed a key strategic military operation in Syria against the Islamic State out of fear that it would upset the same Turkish government that was helping to funnel money to him. The United States has been working with the Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to mount an assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, despite strong objections from Turkey and President Erdogan who fear Kurdish separatism in Turkey. In the final days of the Obama administration, Obama officials offered to make the announcement of the joint U.S.-YPG offensive on Raqqa to give the Trump administration a clean slate with the Turks and let them blame everything on the outgoing administration.

    Andrew Exum, who worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the time, explained the situation in an Atlantic article, noting that the Obama administration had worked for two years to find a compromise in which the Turks would be willing to have the YPG armed by Washington but that there was no clearly acceptable compromise. “That’s why Susan Rice told Mike Flynn that we would make the decision in the waning days of the Obama administration so that we could take the blame for the decision and Trump could start with a clean slate. Flynn, who was a paid agent of the Turkish government at the time, declined her offer,” Exum wrote. In short, when it came to the most important bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey, Flynn made a major strategic decision involving U.S. troops in an active war zone without disclosing that he was being paid by the foreign power most directly interested in the United States’ decision. The plan to take Raqqa was not approved until after Flynn was fired as national security adviser, and, as the Miami Herald noted, “Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to downplay the red flags, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the administration was repeatedly warned about Flynn’s foreign involvement.”

    The Associated Press noted in May 2017, “[F]ormer Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told senators that Flynn’s misstatements about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. raised concerns that he could be targeted for blackmail. Yates also cited the possibility that Flynn could have broken federal law by operating as a paid foreign agent for the Turkish client without U.S. government permission.” It remains inexplicable why President Trump and Vice President Pence would appoint Flynn to such a vital national security post when they knew he was under investigation and had been acting as a paid agent of foreign governments.

    Follow the paper trail

    According to Trump’s July 2015 financial disclosure—which was not verified by regulators and therefore may not include all of his foreign deals or assets—Trump was paid as much as $5 million in royalties from the Istanbul tower complex for the previous year and owned, had ownership interest in, or was a managing member of several companies related to this project, including the following:

    * Trump Marks Istanbul II Corp., director, chairman, president

    * Trump Marks Istanbul II LLC, president, member, received between $1 million and $5 million in royalties

    According to Trump’s May 2016 financial disclosure—which was not verified by regulators and therefore may not include all of his foreign deals or assets—Trump was paid as much as $5 million in royalties from the Istanbul complex for the previous year and owned, had ownership interest in, or was a managing member of several companies related to this project, including the following:

    * Trump Marks Istanbul II Corp., director, chairman, president

    * Trump Marks Istanbul II LLC, president, member, received between $1 million and $5 million in royalties

    According to both disclosure forms, Trump was paid as much as $10 million in royalties from his Istanbul project for the previous two years, and he—and his children—will presumably continue to receive money from this arrangement.

    With Turkey’s democracy under fundamental siege and neighboring Syria still at war, the Trump administration’s judgement on Turkish relations appears to have been deeply clouded by shadowy payments from Istanbul to Flynn and Donald Trump’s own overriding concern for protecting his foreign business interests. These are exactly the kinds of conflicts that hurt America and profit Trump.

    Read the full series of columns here.

    ———-

    “Trump’s Conflicts of Interest in Turkey” by John Norris and Carolyn Kenney; Center for American Progress; 06/14/2017

    “According to both disclosure forms, Trump was paid as much as $10 million in royalties from his Istanbul project for the previous two years, and he—and his children—will presumably continue to receive money from this arrangement.”

    $10 million in royalties to the Trump family over 2015-2016. That’s the ‘little conflict of interest’ disturbingly playing right now as this Turkish declaration of war on Syria’s Kurds unfolds.

    So was that Trump Org conflict of interest part of what led to Michael Flynn’s decision to put off the US/YPG attack on Raqqa at the end of the Obama administration? It’s unclear but it’s hard to see why that isn’t very possible. After all, when someone like Michael Flynn – a Turkish government lobbyist – was in charge of making these crucial decisions, it’s hard to rule out any conflict of interest at work in the Trump administration’s policies towards Turkey:


    It has also increasingly come to light that Michael Flynn, a key adviser to the Trump campaign and later the president’s first national security adviser, had plenty of reasons to be beholden to Turkey—considerable conflicts of interest that he failed to disclose as required by federal law. The Associated Press reported on Flynn and his connection to Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who is close to President Erdogan

    The retired Army lieutenant general and former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency formally told the Justice Department in March that his now-defunct Flynn Intel Group was paid $530,000 for operating as a foreign agent for Alptekin’s firm, Inovo BV, and performing work that could have benefited the Turkish government. That filing—prompted by Justice Department pressure—came just weeks after Trump fired Flynn from his national security post. The president has said he made the decision after it became clear Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

    Perhaps most disturbingly, Flynn may have delayed a key strategic military operation in Syria against the Islamic State out of fear that it would upset the same Turkish government that was helping to funnel money to him. The United States has been working with the Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to mount an assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, despite strong objections from Turkey and President Erdogan who fear Kurdish separatism in Turkey. In the final days of the Obama administration, Obama officials offered to make the announcement of the joint U.S.-YPG offensive on Raqqa to give the Trump administration a clean slate with the Turks and let them blame everything on the outgoing administration.

    Andrew Exum, who worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the time, explained the situation in an Atlantic article, noting that the Obama administration had worked for two years to find a compromise in which the Turks would be willing to have the YPG armed by Washington but that there was no clearly acceptable compromise. “That’s why Susan Rice told Mike Flynn that we would make the decision in the waning days of the Obama administration so that we could take the blame for the decision and Trump could start with a clean slate. Flynn, who was a paid agent of the Turkish government at the time, declined her offer,” Exum wrote. In short, when it came to the most important bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey, Flynn made a major strategic decision involving U.S. troops in an active war zone without disclosing that he was being paid by the foreign power most directly interested in the United States’ decision. The plan to take Raqqa was not approved until after Flynn was fired as national security adviser, and, as the Miami Herald noted, “Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to downplay the red flags, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the administration was repeatedly warned about Flynn’s foreign involvement.”

    “The plan to take Raqqa was not approved until after Flynn was fired as national security adviser, and, as the Miami Herald noted, “Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to downplay the red flags, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the administration was repeatedly warned about Flynn’s foreign involvement.”

    And note how Turkey appeared to want to hold off on an attack on ISIS’s capital, ostensibly over concerns of Kurdish ambitions in Syria (Turkey said it wanted its own rebels to lead the assault). And while those concerns were no doubt part of what led Turkey to oppose the assault on Raqqa, it’s hard to ignore the Turkish government’s extensive assistance to ISIS as a Sunni jihadist proxy army and calls for the world to recognize ISIS as a “reality” that needs to be recognized. That’s why we really do need to ask the question of whether or not protecting ISIS from a complete collapse in Syria is one of the objective Erdogan is trying to achieve at this critical moment with this war on the Kurds. The temptation to rehabilitate ISIS as a Sunni jihadist proxy army to further Erdogan’s ambitions in the region would be the ultimate nightmare conflict of interest, but that could be a very real conflict of interest in this situation (and not exactly an unprecedented one).

    So that’s all part of what we need to keep in mind as Turkey’s war on the US’s Syrian Kurdish allies plays out: Trump’s ‘little conflict of interest’ could be fueling a much, much darker ‘Great Powers’ conflict of interest that relies on ensuring the conflict in Syria doesn’t end any time soon.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 27, 2018, 2:18 pm
  12. As Turkey’s anti-Kurd military campaign in the Afrin region of Syria continues and Erdogan threatens to expand the eastward across the entire Kurdish-held areas of Northern Syria, the question of how the US is going to respond isn’t going to away. Especially after Erdogan declared his intent on driving the YPG out of the town of Manbij, where US forces partnering with the YPG are also based.

    So what’s the US response going to be? Well, the Kurds have an interesting suggestion: invite the Syrian army to act as a buffer between the Turkish military and the Kurds. And while Assad’s government has turned down the proposal, the US is reportedly open to the suggestion. At the same time, the Trump administration is apparently telling the the Kurds may be disappointed if they are expecting any sort of loyalty when it comes to Turkey’s war on the Kurds despite the YPG being the US’s primary, and most effective, anti-ISIS partner. When a senior Trump administration officials was asked if Washington had a moral obligation to stick with the Kurds, they responded that Trump’s “America first” doctrine dictated that the U.S. must always prioritize its own interests:

    Associated Press

    Syria’s Kurds push US to stop Turkish assault on key enclave

    By SARAH EL DEEB
    02/01/2018

    BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s Kurdish militia is growing frustrated with its patron, the United States, and is pressing it to do more to stop Turkey’s assault on a key stronghold in Syria.

    The issue reflects a deeper concern among the Kurds over their alliance with the Americans, which proved vital to defeating the Islamic State group in Syria. The Kurds fear that ultimately they and their dream of self-rule will be the losers in the big powers’ play over influence in Syria. Already the U.S. is in a tough spot, juggling between the interests of the Kurds, its only ally in war-torn Syria, and its relations with Turkey, a key NATO ally.

    The Kurdish militia views defending the Kurdish enclave of Afrin as an existential fight to preserve their territory. Afrin has major significance — it’s one of the first Kurdish areas to rise up against President Bashar Assad and back self-rule, a base for senior fighters who pioneered the alliance with the Americans and a key link in their efforts to form a contiguous entity along Turkey’s border. The offensive, which began Jan. 20, has so far killed more than 60 civilians and dozens of fighters on both sides, and displaced thousands.

    “How can they stand by and watch?” Aldar Khalil, a senior Kurdish politician said of the U.S.-led coalition against IS. “They should meet their obligations toward this force that participated with them (in the fight against terrorism.) We consider their unclear and indecisive positions as a source of concern.”

    Khalil, one of the architects of the Kurds’ self-administration, and three other senior Kurdish officials told The Associated Press that they have conveyed their frustration over what they consider a lack of decisive action to stop the Afrin assault to U.S. and other Western officials. They said U.S. officials have made confusing statements in public. One of the officials who agreed to discuss private meetings on condition of anonymity said some U.S. comments even amounted to tacit support for the assault.

    The fight for Afrin puts Washington in a bind with few good options. The Americans have little leverage and no troops in Afrin, which is located in a pocket of Kurdish control at the western edge of Syria’s border with Turkey and is cut off from the rest of Kurdish-held territory by a Turkish-held enclave. The area is also crowded with other players. Russian troops were based there to prevent friction with Turkey until they withdrew ahead of the offensive, and the area — home to more than 300,000 civilians — is surrounded by territory held by Syrian government forces or al-Qaida-linked militants.

    The Americans’ priority for the YPG — the main Kurdish militia that forms the backbone of forces allied to the U.S. — is for them to govern the large swath of territory wrested from the Islamic State group in northern and eastern Syria, including the city of Raqqa. Washington wants to prevent IS from resurging and keep Damascus’ ally, Iran, out of the area.

    Afrin is not central to those American goals and U.S. officials say it will distract from the war on IS.

    The U.S-led coalition has distanced itself from the Kurdish forces in Afrin, saying they have not received American training and were not part of the war against the Islamic State group in eastern Syria. But it also implicitly criticized the Turkish assault as unhelpful.

    “Increased violence in Afrin disrupts what was a relatively stable area of Syria. Furthermore, it distracts from efforts to ensure the lasting defeat of Daesh and could be exploited by Daesh for resupply and safe haven,” the coalition said in an emailed statement to the AP, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

    For its part, Turkey views the YPG as an extension of its own Kurdish insurgent groups and has vowed to “purge” them from its borders.

    While the U.S. may distance itself from the fighting in Afrin, it can’t sit by silently if Turkey goes ahead with its threat to expand the fight to Manbij, a Syrian town to the east where American troops are deployed alongside Kurdish forces that took the town from IS in 2016.

    One option is a proposal by the Kurds to persuade Assad to deploy his troops as a buffer between the Kurds and Turks in Afrin. Nobohar Mustafa, a Kurdish envoy to Washington, said the Americans appear open to that proposal. However, so far Assad’s government has refused; they want full control of the area.

    Another option could be to seek a compromise with Turkey by withdrawing U.S. and Kurdish forces from Manbij, said Elizabeth Teoman, a Turkey specialist with the Institute for the Study of War.

    “The Turks may accept that as an intermediate step, but the U.S. will consistently face threats of escalation from Turkey as long as we maintain our partnership with the Syrian Kurdish YPG,” Teoman said.

    The Trump administration has also quietly acknowledged that ultimately, the Kurds may be disappointed if they are expecting loyalty even on matters where U.S. and Kurdish interests diverge. Turkey, after all, is a NATO ally. Asked recently if Washington had a moral obligation to stick with the Kurds, senior Trump administration officials said Trump’s “America first” doctrine dictated that the U.S. must always prioritize its own interests.
    U.S. officials have reportedly said recently that they have no intention of pulling out of Manbij.

    Kurdish officials say they don’t expect the Americans to go to war with Turkey or send troops to fight with them in Afrin.

    But “this doesn’t mean the U.S. doesn’t have a role in stopping the war on Afrin,” said Mustafa, the Kurdish envoy to Washington. She said Kurdish officials weren’t surprised the Americans have distanced themselves from the Afrin dispute “but we didn’t expect their stance to be that low.”

    She and Khalil have lobbied Washington and Europe for a more aggressive stance against Turkey’s advances. Other than the proposal to allow Syrian border guards to deploy, they have suggested international observers along a narrow buffer zone. Mustafa said the U.S. could argue that the YPG presence in northwestern Syria, where al-Qaida-linked militants have their stronghold, is necessary to fight terrorism. Khalil said he has pressed other NATO members to urge Turkey to stop airstrikes.

    Meanwhile, a heated media campaign has been launched to “Save Afrin,” while Kurdish supporters in Europe have staged regular protests and a senior YPG official wrote an op-ed for the New York Times.

    In Washington, U.S. officials rejected the notion that the United States hasn’t tried hard enough to rein in Turkey. In addition to publicly urging Turkey to limit its operation and avoid expanding further east, they noted that President Donald Trump spoke about it directly with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The White House said that Trump used that call to urge Turkey to “deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.”

    They say that since Turkey has proceeded, the U.S. has been left with only bad options.

    Although the U.S. doesn’t want to see Assad’s government return to the area between Afrin and Turkey, it may be the “least worst situation,” said a U.S. official involved in Syria policy.

    The United States has less ability to influence negotiations about how to secure the border than Russia, whose forces have long had a strong presence in the area, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private diplomatic discussions.

    The Trump administration has also quietly acknowledged that ultimately, the Kurds may be disappointed if they are expecting loyalty even on matters where U.S. and Kurdish interests diverge. Turkey, after all, is a NATO ally. Asked recently if Washington had a moral obligation to stick with the Kurds, senior Trump administration officials said Trump’s “America first” doctrine dictated that the U.S. must always prioritize its own interests.

    From the Kurdish perspective, “the Americans are missing the whole point. If Erdogan is not stopped at Afrin, he will turn eastward and will not stop until he has destroyed the entire edifice” built by the Kurds in eastern Syria, said Nicholas Heras, of the Center for a New American Security.

    ———-

    “Syria’s Kurds push US to stop Turkish assault on key enclave” by SARAH EL DEEB; Associated Press;
    02/01/2018

    “The Trump administration has also quietly acknowledged that ultimately, the Kurds may be disappointed if they are expecting loyalty even on matters where U.S. and Kurdish interests diverge. Turkey, after all, is a NATO ally. Asked recently if Washington had a moral obligation to stick with the Kurds, senior Trump administration officials said Trump’s “America first” doctrine dictated that the U.S. must always prioritize its own interests.

    “America first!” That appears to be the generic explanation the Trump administration is going to use to explain why it’s going to hang the YPG out to dry.

    At the same time, note the following description of the US’s priority for the YPG: for them to govern the large swath of territory wrested from the Islamic State group in northern and eastern Syria:


    The Americans’ priority for the YPG — the main Kurdish militia that forms the backbone of forces allied to the U.S. — is for them to govern the large swath of territory wrested from the Islamic State group in northern and eastern Syria, including the city of Raqqa. Washington wants to prevent IS from resurging and keep Damascus’ ally, Iran, out of the area.

    Afrin is not central to those American goals and U.S. officials say it will distract from the war on IS.

    So if the US has been planning on the YPG preventing the return of ISIS across a large swath of territory in northern and eastern Syria, and Turkey decides that this represents a security threat to Turkey and moves to wipe out the YPG across that area, what’s the US going to do? Will that be an “America First!” moment because Turkey – which was quietly supporting ISIS for years – is deemed to be a more important ally? We’ll see. But note the remarkable opportunity for a significant reshaping of the situation in Syria in terms of the standoff between virtually all of the sides fighting in Syria: what if the Kurds invited the Syrian army to act as a buffer between Turkey and the Kurds:


    While the U.S. may distance itself from the fighting in Afrin, it can’t sit by silently if Turkey goes ahead with its threat to expand the fight to Manbij, a Syrian town to the east where American troops are deployed alongside Kurdish forces that took the town from IS in 2016.

    One option is a proposal by the Kurds to persuade Assad to deploy his troops as a buffer between the Kurds and Turks in Afrin. Nobohar Mustafa, a Kurdish envoy to Washington, said the Americans appear open to that proposal. However, so far Assad’s government has refused; they want full control of the area.

    “One option is a proposal by the Kurds to persuade Assad to deploy his troops as a buffer between the Kurds and Turks in Afrin. Nobohar Mustafa, a Kurdish envoy to Washington, said the Americans appear open to that proposal. However, so far Assad’s government has refused; they want full control of the area.”

    So if the US and Syrian governments eventually accept that offer, what’s Turkey going to do? And is the US actually open to the proposal or was this just positive spin by a Kurdish envoy? Well, one reason to assume that the US might actually be open to offer is that there really aren’t a lot of great options here. As the Turkey specialist with the Institute for the Study of War notes, even if the US manages to pull its own troops and the YPG out of the town of Manbij, it’s not like that’s going to end Turkey’s war on the Kurds:


    Another option could be to seek a compromise with Turkey by withdrawing U.S. and Kurdish forces from Manbij, said Elizabeth Teoman, a Turkey specialist with the Institute for the Study of War.

    “The Turks may accept that as an intermediate step, but the U.S. will consistently face threats of escalation from Turkey as long as we maintain our partnership with the Syrian Kurdish YPG,” Teoman said.

    So we have a situation where Turkey declared war on the US’s primary military partner in Syria and the best option could very well be to invite the Syrian army to act as a kind of peacemaker unless the US is planning on standing by and watching Turkey and the Kurds fight it out for who know how long. It’s really quite stunning, but given how incredibly convoluted the situation has been in Syria all along it’s perhaps not surprising that using the Syrian army as a buffer between the US’s two closest allies operating in the country really could be the “America first!” thing to do. This is, of course, assuming “Trump first!” isn’t the actual decision-making model at work here.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 2, 2018, 1:45 pm
  13. Here’s a story to keep in mind in relation to the speculation over whether or not the US is going to provide should-fired missiles (Manpads) to Ukraine: Remember those reports from May of 2016 about how the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey were lobbying pushing to provide Syrian rebel forces with Manpads as part of a “Plan B” strategy for defeating the Assad government? Well, it looks like the rebels have Manpads. Specifically, it looks like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a rebel faction that officially broke off from an alliance with al-Qaeda last year, had at least one Manpad because it just shot a Russian jet down with one:

    The Washington Post

    Russia strikes back as Syrian rebels take credit for shooting down fighter jet, killing pilot

    By Erin Cunningham and Louisa Loveluck
    February 3, 2018

    ISTANBUL — Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate claimed responsibility Saturday for the downing of a Russian warplane in northern Syria, apparently using a surface-to-air missile to target the aircraft.

    The pilot was killed after he ejected and exchanged gunfire with militants on the ground, the Russian Defense Ministry and a monitoring group said.

    Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, a powerful rebel alliance that publicly split from al-Qaeda last year, said it had used a shoulder-fired weapon to down the Su-25 fighter jet as it flew low over the opposition-held town of Saraqeb.

    That claim was echoed by Russia’s Interfax news agency, quoting the Defense Ministry, as well as the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    The incident could raise tensions between Russia and Turkey, which is monitoring a ­“de-escalation zone” in the northern province of Idlib as part of an agreement made during Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

    It also raises questions about the source of the apparent “man-portable air-defense system,” or MANPADS, a shoulder-fired weapon for which Syria’s rebels have repeatedly pleaded from their international backers. The United States has been strongly opposed, fearing that antiaircraft weapons could fall into the hands of the country’s extremist groups.

    State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said any allegation that the United States has provided MANPAD missiles in Syria was untrue, and she denied that U.S. equipment was used in shooting down the Russian plane.

    “The United States has never provided MANPAD missiles to any group in Syria, and we are deeply concerned that such weapons are being used,” she said.

    Saraqeb has come under heavy bombardment from Russian and Syrian warplanes in recent days as pro-government forces try to recapture a strategic highway linking Damascus to Aleppo. The White Helmets civil defense group said Saturday seven civilians had been killed in at least 25 strikes on largely residential areas, some of them using barrel bombs.

    In the hours after the Russian jet was downed, Moscow also claimed to have killed more than 30 militants in the area, Interfax reported. The agency quoted the Defense Ministry as saying it used “precision-guided weapons” to carry out the strike, but without giving details.

    The use of MANPADS in a province where Turkish forces are nominally present could also anger Russia. The two countries have improved ties and cooperated in Syria in recent months, but relations hit an all-time low in 2015 when Turkey, a longtime supporter of the country’s rebels, shot down a Russian warplane inside Syria.

    Turkey set up observation points in Idlib last year, ostensibly to monitor the fighting between the rebels and government forces, but it has also been accused of fostering closer ties with HTS.

    Moscow entered Syria’s civil war in 2015 on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. And its intervention turned the tide of the brutal war, allowing Syria’s government to recapture the city of Aleppo from the rebels and beat back militants in other parts of the country.

    But Idlib remains under militant control, and HTS exercises significant influence even over areas it does not formally hold.

    “Mahmoud Turkmani, the military commander of the HTS air defence battalion, managed to shoot down a military plane by an anti-aircraft MANPADS in the sky of Saraqeb in the Idlib countryside in late afternoon today,” Ebaa News, the unofficial media outlet used by HTS, reported Saturday.

    “That is the least revenge we can offer to our people, and those occupiers should know that our sky is not a picnic,” the commander reportedly said.

    Idlib is also home to more than a million displaced people from around Syria, and renewed fighting has pushed close to a quarter-million residents to flee again since mid-December, cramming into ­already-packed houses and tented settlements across the region.

    Despite repeated appeals to their international backers, rebel groups in Syria have never had a sustained supply of MANPADS. But they have occasionally used weapons captured from the battlefield. Rebels have shot down Syrian fighter jets and other Russian military aircraft. In August 2016, a Russian transport helicopter was shot down over Saraqeb, killing all five people aboard.

    Videos circulating online showed the alleged crash site of the fighter jet in Saraqeb, which the United Nations said has recently suffered “heavy shelling and aerial bombardment.” According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, an airstrike on a potato market there last week killed at least 16 people, and the town’s hospital also was attacked.

    Russia and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights each said the pilot on Saturday was killed after exchanging fire with the rebels.

    He communicated that he had ejected from the aircraft in an area held by HTS but later “died in a fight with the terrorists,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said. The ministry also said it was working with Turkey to bring the pilot’s body home.

    ———-

    “Russia strikes back as Syrian rebels take credit for shooting down fighter jet, killing pilot” by Erin Cunningham and Louisa Loveluck; The Washington Post; 02/03/2018

    “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, a powerful rebel alliance that publicly split from al-Qaeda last year, said it had used a shoulder-fired weapon to down the Su-25 fighter jet as it flew low over the opposition-held town of Saraqeb.”

    When a powerful rebel alliance of ex-al-Qaeda jihadists shoots a jet down with Manpads it’s only natural to ask the question of where the hell did this group of al-Qaeda associates get its hands on shoulder-fired missile systems:


    The incident could raise tensions between Russia and Turkey, which is monitoring a ­“de-escalation zone” in the northern province of Idlib as part of an agreement made during Syrian peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

    It also raises questions about the source of the apparent “man-portable air-defense system,” or MANPADS, a shoulder-fired weapon for which Syria’s rebels have repeatedly pleaded from their international backers. The United States has been strongly opposed, fearing that antiaircraft weapons could fall into the hands of the country’s extremist groups.

    The US, being one of the default suspects for supplying the weapons, is asserting it had nothing to do with it:


    State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said any allegation that the United States has provided MANPAD missiles in Syria was untrue, and she denied that U.S. equipment was used in shooting down the Russian plane.

    “The United States has never provided MANPAD missiles to any group in Syria, and we are deeply concerned that such weapons are being used,” she said.

    And Turkey is another very obvious suspect, since it’s been working the most directly with the Sunni jihadist rebel elements, including the group that shot down the jet:


    The use of MANPADS in a province where Turkish forces are nominally present could also anger Russia. The two countries have improved ties and cooperated in Syria in recent months, but relations hit an all-time low in 2015 when Turkey, a longtime supporter of the country’s rebels, shot down a Russian warplane inside Syria.

    Turkey set up observation points in Idlib last year, ostensibly to monitor the fighting between the rebels and government forces, but it has also been accused of fostering closer ties with HTS.

    And, again, let’s not forget that Saudi Arabia and Turkey were openly lobbying to get Manpads to the rebels back in 2016. That was “Plan B”. So when we read that, “despite repeated appeals to their international backers, rebel groups in Syria have never had a sustained supply of MANPADS,” the question of whether or not the rebels are going to have a sustained supply of Manpads is more of an open question:


    Despite repeated appeals to their international backers, rebel groups in Syria have never had a sustained supply of MANPADS. But they have occasionally used weapons captured from the battlefield. Rebels have shot down Syrian fighter jets and other Russian military aircraft. In August 2016, a Russian transport helicopter was shot down over Saraqeb, killing all five people aboard.

    So are the Syrian jihadist rebels that were now armed with a lot more Manpads or was that a one-off that they found on the battlefield? That’s one of the big new urgent questions in relation to Syria’s civil war. And the kind of question that might get answered with more planes getting shot down by jihadists.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 5, 2018, 11:15 am
  14. Here’s a profoundly disturbing report about the situation in the Afrin region of Syria as the offensive by the Turkish army and its allied Syrian rebel forces continues: It sounds like the Yazidis of Afrin are facing a similar fate as the Yazidis of Northern Iraq that were slaughtered and/or enslaved by ISIS if they didn’t convert to ISIS’s brand of Islam.

    And it’s not a particular surprise because it sounds like many of the Turkey-allied rebel forces operating in Afrin are indeed ex-ISIS and ex-al Qaeda/al Nusra fighters, which is in keeping with previous reports that the Turkish army was planning on dealing with the large number of Islamists in Idlib by basically encouraging them to “melt into society” at which point these Islamist extremist would be considered acceptable.

    But even more disturbing is that this is all happening in the context of what appears to be conscious effort by Turkey to effectively move all the Kurds and Yazidis out of Afrin and replace them with the Sunni refugees for other parts of Syria, in particular Eastern Ghouta. Recall that Douma, where the alleged (and highly suspect) chemical attack recently took place is in Eastern Ghouta.

    There are also reports that the Turkish army and its allies aren’t allowing the Yazidis of Afrin to return to their homes if they choose to do so.

    So it looks like Turkey’s campaign in Afrin has become a Turkish campaign to ethnically replace the population of Afrin using ISIS and al Qaeda:

    The Independent

    Yazidis who suffered under Isis face forced conversion to Islam amid fresh persecution in Afrin

    Islamist rebels allied to Turkey accused of destroying temples of those following the non-Islamic sect

    Patrick Cockburn
    Thursday 19 April 2018 08:10 BST

    The Yazidis, who were recently the target of massacre, rape and sex slavery by Isis, are now facing forcible conversion to Islam under the threat of death from Turkish-backed forces which captured the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on 18 March. Islamist rebel fighters, who are allied to Turkey and have occupied Yazidi villages in the area, have destroyed the temples and places of worship the Kurdish-speaking non-Islamic sect according to local people.

    Shekh Qamber, a 63-year-old Syrian Kurdish Yazidi farmer who fled his town of Qastel Jindo in Afrin, described in an exclusive interview with The Independent what happened to Yazidis who refused to leave their homes. He said that some were forcibly brought to a mosque by Islamists to be converted, while others, including a 70-year-old man he knew, were being lured there by offers of food and medical attention.

    Even the place names of Yazidi villages are being changed. Mr Qamber recounted a conversation he had with an Islamist militant who had arrested and questioned him near the town of Azaz when he was trying to escape. He was asked by his interrogator where he was from and he replied that he was from Qastel Jindo. The Islamist, whose groups often describe themselves as belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said: “it’s no more Qastel Jindo. It’s al-Quds now. We will give it the name of Palestine’s capital. These areas were occupied by the infidels and now it is [going] back to their original owners and original names … We came here to regain our lands and behead you.”

    Mr Qamber recalls that he replied to this threat to kill him by a saying that what would happen would be by god’s will. His interrogator responded: “Shut up! You are infidel. Do you really know or believe in god?” Mr Qamber said that believed in one god and soon after he was released because, he believes, he was old and sick. He eventually found his way to the main Kurdish enclave in northeast Syria which is protected by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) backed by US airpower and 2,000 US troops.

    There are frequent reports that many of the Sunni Arab fighters in the FSA, who are under the command of the Turkish military, are former members of Isis and al-Qaeda. In their own videos, they describe the existing Kurdish population as infidels, using slogans and phrases normally associated with al-Qaeda.

    Mr Qamder says that the majority of the people in villages around Qastel Jindo, which fell early during the Turkish invasion that began on 20 January, are Yazidis. He says that some villagers fled, but others risked staying because they did not want to lose their houses and lands. These who remained were later “taken to the mosque and given lessons in Islamic prayer”.

    In addition, there were “there were temples and Yazidi worship houses, but all have been blown up and destroyed by the militants after they entered the village”. The Yazidi religion is a mixture of beliefs drawn from Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

    Mr Qamber said he had spoken to people from the Yazidi villages of Burj Abdalo, Basufane, Faqira, and Tirende and they all said “the militants are teaching the Yazidis the Islamic prayer”.

    Asked about the present concerns of the Yazidis, many of whom are in refugee camps in northern Syria and Iraq, Mr Qamber said that after the defeat of Isis as a territorial entity they “expected that the Turks will attack us, either directly as they did before in Turkey in the 1970s, or indirectly using their allied Islamist Jihadi groups, like Daesh [Isis] or other groups like the so-called Free Syrian Army”.

    Only a limited amount information has been coming out about conditions in Afrin since it was finally captured by the Turkish army and its Arab allies on 18 March. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its latest report on the Afrin crisis on 16 April says that 137,000 individuals have been displaced from Afrin, while 150,000 remain there, of whom 50,000 are in Afrin City and 100,000 in the countryside. It says that the movement of people is heavily restricted and many who want to return to their homes are not being allowed to pass through checkpoints, which, though it does not identify who is in charge of them, must mean the Turkish military or their Arab auxiliaries inside Afrin, since they are the only authority there.

    Reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), widely seen as neutral or pro-opposition, citing multiple sources in Afrin confirm Mr Qamber’s account of sectarian and ethnic cleansing by the Turkish army and its Arab allies. It says that it has reliable information that ‘the resettlement of the displaced people of Eastern Ghouta in the Afrin area is still continuing.’ It says that Abdul Nasser Shamir, the military commander of Faylaq al-Rahman, one of the most important armed groups previously fighting the Syrian government in Eastern Ghouta, has been settled along with his top commanders in a town in Afrin.

    Other displaced people from Eastern Ghouta are being moved into houses from which their Kurdish inhabitants have fled and are not being allowed to return according to SOHR. It says that refugees from Eastern Ghouta object to what is happening , saying they do not want to settle in Afrin, “where the Turkish forces provide them with houses owned by people displaced from Afrin”.

    The Eastern Ghouta refugees say they resent being the instrument of “an organised demographic change” at the behest of Turkey which would, in effect, replace Kurds with Arabs in Afrin. They say they reject this plan, just as they reject any demographic change orchestrated by the Syrian government and Russia in their own home region of Eastern Ghouta, where shelling killed about 1,800 civilians and injured some 6,000. The SOHR notes that the ethnic cleansing by Turkey of Afrin is being carried out “amid a media blackout” and and is being ignored internationally.

    The Yazidi Kurds fear that the slaughter and enslavement they endured at the hands of Isis in Sinjar in 2014 might happen again. Mr Qamber is living safely with his wife Adula Mahmoud Safar to the east of Qamishli, the de facto capital of Rojava as the Kurds call their territory in north east Syria. But he is pessimistic about the future, expecting Turkey to invade the rest of Rojava.

    He says that many Turkish officials say that “if the Kurds live in a tent in Africa, that tent should be destroyed”. He adds that because the Turks and their Arab allies see the Yazidis as both infidels and Kurds, they are the doubly jeopardised and will be the biggest losers in any future war waged by Turkey against the Kurds.

    ———-

    “Yazidis who suffered under Isis face forced conversion to Islam amid fresh persecution in Afrin” by Patrick Cockburn; The Independent; 04/19/2018

    “The Yazidis, who were recently the target of massacre, rape and sex slavery by Isis, are now facing forcible conversion to Islam under the threat of death from Turkish-backed forces which captured the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on 18 March. Islamist rebel fighters, who are allied to Turkey and have occupied Yazidi villages in the area, have destroyed the temples and places of worship the Kurdish-speaking non-Islamic sect according to local people.”

    Forcible conversion of the Yazidis under threat of death. Sound familiar?

    And the people conducting these forced conversions are pretty open about it…after they lure people to mosques with offers of food and medical attention:


    Shekh Qamber, a 63-year-old Syrian Kurdish Yazidi farmer who fled his town of Qastel Jindo in Afrin, described in an exclusive interview with The Independent what happened to Yazidis who refused to leave their homes. He said that some were forcibly brought to a mosque by Islamists to be converted, while others, including a 70-year-old man he knew, were being lured there by offers of food and medical attention.

    Even the place names of Yazidi villages are being changed. Mr Qamber recounted a conversation he had with an Islamist militant who had arrested and questioned him near the town of Azaz when he was trying to escape. He was asked by his interrogator where he was from and he replied that he was from Qastel Jindo. The Islamist, whose groups often describe themselves as belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said: “it’s no more Qastel Jindo. It’s al-Quds now. We will give it the name of Palestine’s capital. These areas were occupied by the infidels and now it is [going] back to their original owners and original names … We came here to regain our lands and behead you.”

    And as we should expect, this is coinciding with reports that many of the Sunni Arab fighters in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are former members of Isis and al-Qaeda:


    There are frequent reports that many of the Sunni Arab fighters in the FSA, who are under the command of the Turkish military, are former members of Isis and al-Qaeda. In their own videos, they describe the existing Kurdish population as infidels, using slogans and phrases normally associated with al-Qaeda.

    And this persecution/slaughter is all happening in the context of what appears to be a Turkish campaign of ethnic replacement. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the movement of people is heavily restricted and many who want to return to their homes are not being allowed to pass through checkpoints:


    Asked about the present concerns of the Yazidis, many of whom are in refugee camps in northern Syria and Iraq, Mr Qamber said that after the defeat of Isis as a territorial entity they “expected that the Turks will attack us, either directly as they did before in Turkey in the 1970s, or indirectly using their allied Islamist Jihadi groups, like Daesh [Isis] or other groups like the so-called Free Syrian Army”.

    Only a limited amount information has been coming out about conditions in Afrin since it was finally captured by the Turkish army and its Arab allies on 18 March. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its latest report on the Afrin crisis on 16 April says that 137,000 individuals have been displaced from Afrin, while 150,000 remain there, of whom 50,000 are in Afrin City and 100,000 in the countryside. It says that the movement of people is heavily restricted and many who want to return to their homes are not being allowed to pass through checkpoints, which, though it does not identify who is in charge of them, must mean the Turkish military or their Arab auxiliaries inside Afrin, since they are the only authority there.

    And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), widely seen as neutral or pro-opposition, says it has reliable information that ‘the resettlement of the displaced people of Eastern Ghouta in the Afrin area is still continuing.’:


    Reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), widely seen as neutral or pro-opposition, citing multiple sources in Afrin confirm Mr Qamber’s account of sectarian and ethnic cleansing by the Turkish army and its Arab allies. It says that it has reliable information that ‘the resettlement of the displaced people of Eastern Ghouta in the Afrin area is still continuing.’ It says that Abdul Nasser Shamir, the military commander of Faylaq al-Rahman, one of the most important armed groups previously fighting the Syrian government in Eastern Ghouta, has been settled along with his top commanders in a town in Afrin.

    Other displaced people from Eastern Ghouta are being moved into houses from which their Kurdish inhabitants have fled and are not being allowed to return according to SOHR. It says that refugees from Eastern Ghouta object to what is happening , saying they do not want to settle in Afrin, “where the Turkish forces provide them with houses owned by people displaced from Afrin”.

    The Eastern Ghouta refugees say they resent being the instrument of “an organised demographic change” at the behest of Turkey which would, in effect, replace Kurds with Arabs in Afrin. They say they reject this plan, just as they reject any demographic change orchestrated by the Syrian government and Russia in their own home region of Eastern Ghouta, where shelling killed about 1,800 civilians and injured some 6,000. The SOHR notes that the ethnic cleansing by Turkey of Afrin is being carried out “amid a media blackout” and and is being ignored internationally.

    “The SOHR notes that the ethnic cleansing by Turkey of Afrin is being carried out “amid a media blackout” and and is being ignored internationally.”

    Yes, the Kurds and Yazidis are being pushed out and replaced with Eastern Ghouta refugees via the same kind of vicious ‘convert or die’ mandate that captured the world’s attention back in 2014, except this time the campaign has Turkey’s backing and is taking place amid a de facto international media blackout.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 20, 2018, 1:10 pm

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