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For The Record  

FTR #954 Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack? Not So Fast

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

SarinIntro­duc­tion: In the wake of the alleged sarin attack by Bashar al-Assad’s gov­ern­ment and the cruise mis­sile strike on a Syr­i­an air base by the U.S., we exam­ine some of the rel­e­vant issues in the cri­sis, includ­ing and espe­cial­ly intel­li­gence eval­u­a­tions sharply diver­gent from the offi­cial ver­sion:

  1. We begin with analy­sis of the area (Idlib) where the alleged Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment sarin attack took place. It is dom­i­nat­ed by the Al-Nus­ra Front, the name giv­en to Al-Qae­da in Iraq when it oper­ates in Syr­ia. Note that the top cler­ic in the Al-Qae­da held area is Abdul­lah Muhaysi­ni, a Sau­di cler­ic: ” . . . . who was a stu­dent [25] of Sulay­man Al-Alwan, the Wah­habi cler­ic who over­saw what his Mus­lim crit­ics have called a ‘ter­ror­ist fac­to­ry [26]’ in Sau­di Arabia’s Al-Qas­sim Province. Al-Alwan was also the instruc­tor of the 9/11 hijack­er Abdu­laz­iz Alo­mari. . . .”
  2. Sad­dam and bin Laden worked out an arrange­ment in which Iraq—in order to pro­vide for a pay­back capa­bil­i­ty if the U.S. oust­ed him—gave infor­ma­tion about WMD’s to bin Laden’s peo­ple. Al Qae­da, in turn, was to act as a back-up unit for Saddam’s Iraq, strik­ing at the Unit­ed States if it knocked out Sad­dam. ” . . . . Accord­ing to Arab sources, in antic­i­pa­tion of a fore­see­able rever­sal of alliances in Kab­ul, bin Laden had been in dis­creet con­tact since Sep­tem­ber 2000 with asso­ciates of Oudai Hus­sein. . . . Bin Laden and the Iraqis are said to have exchanged infor­ma­tion about chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal weapons, despite the oppo­si­tion of some of the Bagh­dad lead­er­ship, includ­ing Tarik Aziz. . . .”
  3. Robert Par­ry notes in Con­sor­tium News that ele­ments in the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty do not agree with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s assess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion. ” . . . . Alarm with­in the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty about Trump’s hasty deci­sion to attack Syr­ia rever­ber­at­ed from the Mid­dle East back to Wash­ing­ton, where for­mer CIA offi­cer Philip Giral­di report­ed hear­ing from his intel­li­gence con­tacts in the field that they were shocked at how the new poi­son-gas sto­ry was being dis­tort­ed by Trump and the main­stream U.S. news media. Giral­di told Scott Horton’s Web­cast: ‘I’m hear­ing from sources on the ground in the Mid­dle East, peo­ple who are inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the intel­li­gence that is avail­able who are say­ing that the essen­tial nar­ra­tive that we’re all hear­ing about the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment or the Rus­sians using chem­i­cal weapons on inno­cent civil­ians is a sham.’ . . .”
  4. Par­ry also notes that some ana­lysts are report­ing a strike by a drone launched from a joint Sau­di-Israeli base that sup­ports Syr­i­an rebels. ” . . . Despite some tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in trac­ing its flight path, ana­lysts even­tu­al­ly came to believe that the flight was launched in Jor­dan from a Sau­di-Israeli spe­cial oper­a­tions base for sup­port­ing Syr­i­an rebels, the source said, adding that the sus­pect­ed rea­son for the poi­son gas was to cre­ate an inci­dent that would reverse the Trump administration’s announce­ment in late March that it was no longer seek­ing the removal of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad. . . .”
  5. Par­ry con­cludes one of his arti­cles with a scathing analy­sis of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s claims by a MIT researcher: ” . . . . In a sep­a­rate analy­sis of the four-page dossier, Theodore Pos­tol, a nation­al secu­ri­ty spe­cial­ist at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, con­clud­ed that the White House claims were clear­ly bogus, writ­ing: ‘I have reviewed the doc­u­ment care­ful­ly, and I believe it can be shown, with­out doubt, that the doc­u­ment does not pro­vide any evi­dence what­so­ev­er that the US gov­ern­ment has con­crete knowl­edge that the gov­ern­ment of Syr­ia was the source of the chem­i­cal attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syr­ia at rough­ly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017. In fact, a main piece of evi­dence that is cit­ed in the doc­u­ment points to an attack that was exe­cut­ed by indi­vid­u­als on the ground, not from an air­craft, on the morn­ing of April 4. This con­clu­sion is based on an assump­tion made by the White House when it cit­ed the source of the sarin release and the pho­tographs of that source. My own assess­ment, is that the source was very like­ly tam­pered with or staged, so no seri­ous con­clu­sion could be made from the pho­tographs cit­ed by the White House.’ . . . 
  6. Detailed analy­sis of an August, 2013 sarin attack, orig­i­nal­ly thought to have been per­pe­trat­ed by Bashar Al-Assad, was pre­sent­ed by Sey­mour Hersh in the Lon­don Review of Books. The sarin turns out not to have come from Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment stock­piles. “. . . . Obama’s change of mind had its ori­gins at Por­ton Down, the defence lab­o­ra­to­ry in Wilt­shire. British intel­li­gence had obtained a sam­ple of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analy­sis demon­strat­ed that the gas used didn’t match the batch­es known to exist in the Syr­i­an army’s chem­i­cal weapons arse­nal. The mes­sage that the case against Syr­ia wouldn’t hold up was quick­ly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. . . .”
  7. Al-Nus­ra (Al-Qae­da), on the oth­er hand, was pro­duc­ing Sarin and look­ing to ramp up pro­duc­tion through a sup­ply pipeline run­ning through Turkey. ” . . . . The Amer­i­can and British intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ties had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syr­ia were devel­op­ing chem­i­cal weapons. On 20 June ana­lysts for the US Defense Intel­li­gence Agency issued a high­ly clas­si­fied five-page ‘talk­ing points’ brief­ing for the DIA’s deputy direc­tor, David Shedd, which stat­ed that al-Nus­ra main­tained a sarin pro­duc­tion cell: its pro­gramme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre‑9/11 effort’. . . .”
  8. The 2013 con­clu­sions of gen­er­al Mar­tin Dempsey are worth exam­in­ing in the con­text of the cur­rent cri­sis: ” . . . . From the begin­ning of the cri­sis, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said, the joint chiefs had been skep­ti­cal of the administration’s argu­ment that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and oth­er agen­cies for more sub­stan­tial evi­dence. ‘There was no way they thought Syr­ia would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was win­ning the war,’ the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said. . . .”

Pro­gram High­lights Include:

  1. Review of the cor­po­ratist eco­nom­ic foun­da­tion of Mus­lim Broth­er­hood devel­op­men­tal the­o­ry. . . . . The Mus­lim Broth­er­hood hails 14th cen­tu­ry philoso­pher Ibn Khal­dun as its eco­nom­ic guide. Antic­i­pat­ing sup­ply-side eco­nom­ics, Khal­dun argued that cut­ting tax­es rais­es pro­duc­tion and tax rev­enues . . . The World Bank has called Ibn Khal­dun the first advo­cate of pri­va­ti­za­tion. . . .”
  2. Review of Gra­ham E. Fuller’s sup­port for the eco­nom­ic val­ues of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and his strange sup­port for Bernie Sanders, whose val­ues are the oppo­site of those espoused by Fuller.
  3. The fact that war in the Mid­dle East rais­es oil prices–this to be seen against the back­ground of Rex Tiller­son being Sec­re­tary of State (pre­vi­ous­ly CEO of Exxon/Mobil). ” . . . . For investors like Mr. Abdul­lah, con­flict in the Mid­dle East means one thing: high­er oil prices. ‘It’s always good for us,’ he says. . . .”
  4. Robert Par­ry’s view that the omis­sion of CIA direc­tor Mike Pom­peo and oth­er top U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials from a pho­to of Trump’s top advi­sors is indica­tive of dis­sent with­in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty from the offi­cial ver­sion of the attack.

1. The pro­gram begins with analy­sis of the area (Idlib) where the alleged Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment sarin attack took place. It is dom­i­nat­ed by the Al-Nus­ra Front, the name giv­en to Al-Qae­da in Iraq when it oper­ates in Syr­ia. Note that the top cler­ic in the Al-Qae­da held area is Abdul­lah Muhaysi­ni, a Sau­di cler­ic: ” . . . . who was a stu­dent [25] of Sulay­man Al-Alwan, the Wah­habi cler­ic who over­saw what his Mus­lim crit­ics have called a ‘ter­ror­ist fac­to­ry [26]’ in Sau­di Arabia’s Al-Qas­sim Province. Al-Alwan was also the instruc­tor of the 9/11 hijack­er Abdu­laz­iz Alo­mari. . . .”

“Is Trump Res­cu­ing ‘Al Qaeda’s Heart­land’ in Syr­ia?” by Max Blu­men­thal and Ben Nor­ton; Alter­net; 4/5/2017. 

“We have not yet any offi­cial or reli­able con­fir­ma­tion” of what took place or who was respon­si­ble, said [4] the UN spe­cial envoy for Syr­ia, Staffan de Mis­tu­ra, at a press con­fer­ence after the inci­dent.

“We also do not have evi­dence at the moment,” added [5] Fed­er­i­ca Mogheri­ni, high rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the EU for for­eign affairs and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy.

The chem­i­cal attack occurred just as peace talks were begin­ning in Gene­va, and with the Syr­i­an army in a dom­i­nant posi­tion in the sixth year of a war fueled by out­side pow­ers.

The attacks threat­en to reverse the polit­i­cal gains made by the gov­ern­ment of Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad, lead­ing to unre­lent­ing bipar­ti­san pres­sure for Don­ald Trump to autho­rize a bomb­ing cam­paign tar­get­ing the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and its mil­i­tary.

For the al-Qae­da-allied rebels who were oust­ed from their strong­hold in east­ern Alep­po in Decem­ber 2016, and whose gains in a recent series of offen­sives have been rapid­ly reversed, West­ern mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion is the only hope.

Giv­en its dom­i­nant posi­tion, why would the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment autho­rize a chem­i­cal attack that was like­ly to trig­ger renewed calls for regime change? The answer remains elu­sive. . . .

. . . . But there has been one issue major media out­lets have refused to touch, and that is the nature of the rebels who would gain from any U.S. mil­i­tary offen­sive. Who holds pow­er in Idlib, why are they there and what do they want? This is per­haps the most incon­ve­nient set of ques­tions for pro­po­nents of “human­i­tar­i­an” mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia.

The real­i­ty is that Idlib is sub­stan­tial­ly con­trolled by al-Qaeda’s Syr­i­an affil­i­ate, which has gone through a series of rebrand­ing schemes but remains the same jihadist group it always was: Jab­hat al-Nus­ra. In the province it rules, al-Nus­ra has imposed what a lead­ing schol­ar has described as a Tal­iban-like regime that has eth­ni­cal­ly cleansed reli­gious and eth­nic minori­ties, banned music and estab­lished a bru­tal theoc­ra­cy in which it pub­licly exe­cutes [13] women accused of adul­tery.

Even ana­lysts who have repeat­ed­ly called for U.S.-led regime change in Syr­ia have described [14] Idlib as the “heart­land of al-Nus­ra.” . . .

. . . . When Al Nus­ra and its ally, Ahrar Al Sham, took Idlib’s Abu al-Dhuhur Air Base in 2015, a cler­ic appeared [24] on the scene in cam­ou­flaged bat­tle dress uni­form. Stand­ing among a group of blind­fold­ed, exhaust­ed cap­tives, all Syr­i­an army reg­u­lars, the cler­ic blessed their mass exe­cu­tion, curs­ing them as tak­fir for fight­ing on the government’s side.

“I don’t like to call them Sun­ni. They were once Sun­ni but became apo­s­ta­tized once they enlist­ed in the Alaw­ites’ regime,” he said of the 56 cap­tives. Moments lat­er, they were lined up and rid­dled with bul­lets.

The cler­ic was Abdul­lah Muhaysi­ni, a 33-year-old zealot from Sau­di Ara­bia, who was a stu­dent [25] of Sulay­man Al-Alwan, the Wah­habi cler­ic who over­saw what his Mus­lim crit­ics have called a “ter­ror­ist fac­to­ry [26]” in Sau­di Arabia’s Al-Qas­sim Province. Al-Alwan was also the instruc­tor of the 9/11 hijack­er Abdu­laz­iz Alo­mari.

Today, Muhaysi­ni com­mands an almost mys­ti­cal sta­tus among the Islamist armed groups ram­pag­ing across north­ern Syr­ia. Accord­ing to Bilal Abdul Kareem [27], an Amer­i­can-born rebel pro­pa­gan­dist cur­rent­ly in Idlib, Muhaysi­ni is “prob­a­bly the most loved cler­ic in the Syr­i­an ter­ri­to­ries today.” . . . .

2a.  Before con­tin­u­ing with analy­sis of the Syr­i­an imbroglio, we pause to refresh listeners’/readers’ aware­ness of relat­ed issues. We not­ed in FTR #953, GOP and intel­li­gence offi­cials involved with Mus­lim Brotherhood/jihadi ele­ments have fig­ured in the ascent of Bernie Sanders & com­pa­ny. In addi­tion to Karl Rove and Grover Norquist pro­tege Faisal Gill

Gra­ham E. Fuller, the “ex” CIA offi­cer who is (arguably) the biggest advo­cate for the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood in the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty describes him­self as being “gal­va­nized” by Sanders. The val­ues espoused by Sanders are the oppo­site of those advo­cat­ed by Fuller. WHY is Fuller so sup­port­ive of Sanders?

  • None oth­er than Gra­ham E. Fuller, who was CIA sta­tion chief in Kab­ul, helped start the first Afghan war, was some­thing of a God­fa­ther for al-Qae­da and fig­ures in the inves­ti­ga­tion into the Boston Marathon bomb­ing, is pulling for “Boinie,” as well as tout­ing Don­ald Trump as a desir­able can­di­date. “. . . . Like many oth­ers, I have been gal­va­nized at watch­ing the spec­ta­cle of Bernie Sanders pro­claim­ing issues in his cam­paign that had been vir­tu­al­ly off lim­its for polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion for decades: gap between rich and poor, rapa­cious inter­na­tion­al trade deals, a fair wage, free uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tion, the call for US bal­ance (gasp!) in han­dling the Arab-Israeli, issue, etc. The great thing about Bernie — even if he prob­a­bly won’t get nom­i­nat­ed — is that he has pushed hawk­ish, friend-of-Wall-Street Hillary to the left. She has as much acknowl­edged that. That will be Bernie’s great­est lega­cy. I would have hoped that the issues Sanders has raised can nev­er be shoved back into the polit­i­cal tooth­paste tube again. . . . .”
  • Might ele­ments of the CIA be pulling for “Boinie?” Com­pare Gra­ham E. Fuller “feel­ing the Bern” with his advo­ca­cy for the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood: “. . . Fuller comes from that fac­tion of CIA Cold War­riors who believed (and still appar­ently believe) that fun­da­men­tal­ist Islam, even in its rad­i­cal jiha­di form, does not pose a threat to the West, for the sim­ple rea­son that fun­da­men­tal­ist Islam is con­ser­v­a­tive, against social jus­tice, against social­ism and redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, and in favor of hier­ar­chi­cal socio-eco­nom­ic struc­tures. Social­ism is the com­mon ene­my to both cap­i­tal­ist Amer­ica and to Wah­habi Islam, accord­ing to Fuller. . . ‘There is no main­stream Islam­ic organization...with rad­i­cal social views,’ he wrote. Clas­si­cal Islam­ic the­ory envis­ages the role of the state as lim­ited to facil­i­tat­ing the well-being of mar­kets and mer­chants rather than con­trol­ling them. Islamists have always pow­er­fully object­ed to social­ism and communism....Islam has nev­er had prob­lems with the idea that wealth is uneven­ly dis­trib­uted.’ . . . .”

2b. To give us some depth on Fuller’s views and how frankly fishy his sup­port for Sanders is, we review the Broth­er­hood’s advo­ca­cy of cor­po­rate eco­nom­ics.

Ibn Khal­dun is high­ly regard­ed by the Broth­er­hood and that atti­tude has led the cor­po­rate busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty to sup­port the Broth­er­hood. Note that no less an author­i­ty than the World Bank views Ibn Khaldun—revered by the Brotherhood—as “the first advo­cate of pri­va­ti­za­tion”!

“Islam in Office” by Stephen Glain; Newsweek; 7/3–10/2006.

. . . . The Mus­lim Broth­er­hood hails 14th cen­tu­ry philoso­pher Ibn Khal­dun as its eco­nom­ic guide. Antic­i­pat­ing sup­ply-side eco­nom­ics, Khal­dun argued that cut­ting tax­es rais­es pro­duc­tion and tax rev­enues, and that state con­trol should be lim­it­ed to pro­vid­ing water, fire and free graz­ing land, the util­i­ties of the ancient world. The World Bank has called Ibn Khal­dun the first advo­cate of pri­va­ti­za­tion. [Empha­sis added.] His found­ing influ­ence is a sign of mod­er­a­tion. If Islamists in pow­er ever do clash with the West, it won’t be over com­merce.

3. Some depth on the pres­ence of sarin and oth­er chem­i­cal weapons in the Syr­i­an con­flict derives from aware­ness of a con­tin­gency arrange­ment between Sad­dam Hus­sein’s gov­ern­ment and Al-Qae­da. (Again Nus­ra Front is Al-Qae­da in Iraq when oper­at­ing in Syr­ia.)

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, both the pro-war and anti-war sides got it wrong with regard to Saddam’s rela­tion­ship with Al Qae­da. Although there is no indi­ca­tion that Iraq or Sad­dam were involved with 9/11, the two enti­ties did have a “dooms­day back-up” arrange­ment. Sad­dam and bin Laden worked out an arrange­ment in which Iraq—in order to pro­vide for a pay­back capa­bil­i­ty if the U.S. oust­ed him—gave infor­ma­tion about WMD’s to bin Laden’s peo­ple. Al Qae­da, in turn, was to act as a back-up unit for Saddam’s Iraq, strik­ing at the Unit­ed States if it knocked out Sad­dam. Of course, pre­cise­ly that sce­nario has tran­spired. ” . . . . Accord­ing to Arab sources, in antic­i­pa­tion of a fore­see­able rever­sal of alliances in Kab­ul, bin Laden had been in dis­creet con­tact since Sep­tem­ber 2000 with asso­ciates of Oudai Hus­sein. . . . Bin Laden and the Iraqis are said to have exchanged infor­ma­tion about chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal weapons, despite the oppo­si­tion of some of the Bagh­dad lead­er­ship, includ­ing Tarik Aziz. . . .”

In the Name of Osama Bin Laden; by Roland Jacquard; Copy­right 2002 [SC]; Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press; ISBN 0–8223-2991–3; pp. 112–113.

. . . It appears, how­ev­er, that this ver­sion is the pub­licly admis­si­ble one, the one that can pass polit­i­cal muster. Accord­ing to the same sources, there was anoth­er sce­nario more. In keep­ing with the cal­cu­lat­ing men­tal­i­ty of Sad­dam Hus­sein and his secret ser­vices. In 1998, after declin­ing all offers that had been made to them through offi­cial diplo­mat­ic chan­nels, those ser­vices are report­ed to have estab­lished a secret oper­a­tional ‘con­nec­tion’ with bin Laden in Mani­la and in Kash­mir. It was indeed dif­fi­cult for Iraq to ignore an Arab like Osama bin Laden who so effec­tive­ly humil­i­at­ed the Amer­i­cans.’ Colonel Khairal­lah al Takir­i­ti, the broth­er of the head of Mukkhabarat, the intel­li­gence ser­vices, is report­ed to have been named case offi­cer for the con­nec­tion. The arrest of two Mor­roc­can asso­ciates of bin Laden in Rabat on Novem­ber 11, 1998, made it pos­si­ble to estab­lish to estab­lish the link with cer­tain­ty. Accord­ing to West­ern sources, the Iraqi ser­vices have sought to secure the assis­tance of bin Laden’s net­works, in case Iraq were again to be attacked by the Unit­ed States, in order to car­ry out attacks against Amer­i­can tar­gets in Arab coun­tries.

Accord­ing to Arab sources, in antic­i­pa­tion of a fore­see­able rever­sal of alliances in Kab­ul, bin Laden had been in dis­creet con­tact since Sep­tem­ber 2000 with asso­ciates of Oudai Hus­sein, anoth­er of Saddam’s sons; the ground for agree­ment was the anti-Israeli and anti-Amer­i­can bat­tle. Bin Laden and the Iraqis are said to have exchanged infor­ma­tion about chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal weapons, despite the oppo­si­tion of some of the Bagh­dad lead­er­ship, includ­ing Tarik Aziz. . . .

4. A quote from an Arab investor con­cern­ing the effect of war on the price of oil is worth bear­ing in mind. War in the Mid­dle East leads to a rise in the price of oil, due to fears over the avail­abil­i­ty of stocks. Trump’s Sec­re­tary of State is Rex Tiller­son, the for­mer head of Exxon/Mobil the largest U.S. oil com­pa­ny. ” . . . For investors like Mr. Abdul­lah, con­flict in the Mid­dle East means one thing: high­er oil prices. ‘It’s always good for us,’ he says. . . .”

“Mideast Stocks Hold Up Well Amid Con­flict” by Karen Richard­son and Yas­mine El-Rashi­di; Wall Street Jour­nal; 7/24/2006; p. C1/

. . . . “Lebanon is far away,” says Waleed Abdul­lah, a sales man­ag­er in Shar­jah, one of the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, who has been buy­ing stocks in neigh­bor­ing Dubai and Abu Dhabi. ‘Our invest­ments here aren’t affect­ed real­ly by what hap­pens there.’ For investors like Mr. Abdul­lah, con­flict in the Mid­dle East means one thing: high­er oil prices. “It’s always good for us,” he says. [Empha­sis added.]. . .”

5. Turn­ing to the lat­est sarin inci­dent, Robert Par­ry notes in Con­sor­tium News that ele­ments in the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty do not agree with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s assess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion. ” . . . . Alarm with­in the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty about Trump’s hasty deci­sion to attack Syr­ia rever­ber­at­ed from the Mid­dle East back to Wash­ing­ton, where for­mer CIA offi­cer Philip Giral­di report­ed hear­ing from his intel­li­gence con­tacts in the field that they were shocked at how the new poi­son-gas sto­ry was being dis­tort­ed by Trump and the main­stream U.S. news media. Giral­di told Scott Horton’s Web­cast: ‘I’m hear­ing from sources on the ground in the Mid­dle East, peo­ple who are inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the intel­li­gence that is avail­able who are say­ing that the essen­tial nar­ra­tive that we’re all hear­ing about the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment or the Rus­sians using chem­i­cal weapons on inno­cent civil­ians is a sham.’ . . .”

“Trump’s  ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment” by Robert Par­ry; Con­sor­tium News; 4/7/2017.

. . . . There is also an inter­nal dis­pute over the intel­li­gence. On Thurs­day night, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty assessed with a “high degree of con­fi­dence” that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment had dropped a poi­son gas bomb on civil­ians in Idlib province.

But a num­ber of intel­li­gence sources have made con­tra­dic­to­ry assess­ments, say­ing the pre­pon­der­ance of evi­dence sug­gests that Al Qae­da-affil­i­at­ed rebels were at fault, either by orches­trat­ing an inten­tion­al release of a chem­i­cal agent as a provo­ca­tion or by pos­sess­ing con­tain­ers of poi­son gas that rup­tured dur­ing a con­ven­tion­al bomb­ing raid.

One intel­li­gence source told me that the most like­ly sce­nario was a staged event by the rebels intend­ed to force Trump to reverse a pol­i­cy, announced only days ear­li­er, that the U.S. gov­ern­ment would no longer seek “regime change” in Syr­ia and would focus on attack­ing the com­mon ene­my, Islam­ic ter­ror groups that rep­re­sent the core of the rebel forces. . . .

. . . . Alarm with­in the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty about Trump’s hasty deci­sion to attack Syr­ia rever­ber­at­ed from the Mid­dle East back to Wash­ing­ton, where for­mer CIA offi­cer Philip Giral­di report­ed hear­ing from his intel­li­gence con­tacts in the field that they were shocked at how the new poi­son-gas sto­ry was being dis­tort­ed by Trump and the main­stream U.S. news media.

Giral­di told Scott Horton’s Web­cast: “I’m hear­ing from sources on the ground in the Mid­dle East, peo­ple who are inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the intel­li­gence that is avail­able who are say­ing that the essen­tial nar­ra­tive that we’re all hear­ing about the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment or the Rus­sians using chem­i­cal weapons on inno­cent civil­ians is a sham.”

Giral­di said his sources were more in line with an analy­sis pos­tu­lat­ing an acci­den­tal release of the poi­son gas after an Al Qae­da arms depot was hit by a Russ­ian airstrike.

“The intel­li­gence con­firms pret­ty much the account that the Rus­sians have been giv­ing … which is that they hit a ware­house where the rebels – now these are rebels that are, of course, con­nect­ed with Al Qae­da – where the rebels were stor­ing chem­i­cals of their own and it basi­cal­ly caused an explo­sion that result­ed in the casu­al­ties. Appar­ent­ly the intel­li­gence on this is very clear.”

Giral­di said the anger with­in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty over the dis­tor­tion of intel­li­gence to jus­ti­fy Trump’s mil­i­tary retal­i­a­tion was so great that some covert offi­cers were con­sid­er­ing going pub­lic.

“Peo­ple in both the agency [the CIA] and in the mil­i­tary who are aware of the intel­li­gence are freak­ing out about this because essen­tial­ly Trump com­plete­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed what he already should have known – but maybe he didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is mov­ing toward a sit­u­a­tion that could eas­i­ly turn into an armed con­flict,” Giral­di said before Thurs­day night’s mis­sile strike. “They are aston­ished by how this is being played by the admin­is­tra­tion and by the U.S. media.” . . . .

6. Par­ry also sees the omis­sion of CIA direc­tor Mike Pom­peo and oth­er major intel­li­gence offi­cials from the offi­cial pho­to­graph of Trump con­fer­ring with his advi­sors as indica­tive of dis­sent with­in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty from the offi­cial nar­ra­tive.

“Where Was the CIA’s Pom­peo on Syr­ia?” by Robert Par­ry; Con­sor­tium News; 4/8/2017.

There is a dark mys­tery behind the White House-released pho­to show­ing Pres­i­dent Trump and more than a dozen advis­ers meet­ing at his estate in Mar-a-Lago after his deci­sion to strike Syr­ia with Tom­a­hawk mis­siles: Where is CIA Direc­tor Mike Pom­peo and oth­er top intel­li­gence offi­cials?

Before the pho­to was released on Fri­day, a source told me that Pom­peo had per­son­al­ly briefed Trump on April 6 about the CIA’s belief that Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad was like­ly not respon­si­ble for the lethal poi­son-gas inci­dent in north­ern Syr­ia two days ear­li­er — and thus Pom­peo was exclud­ed from the larg­er meet­ing as Trump reached a con­trary deci­sion.

At the time, I found the infor­ma­tion dubi­ous since Trump, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and oth­er senior U.S. offi­cials were declar­ing quite con­fi­dent­ly that Assad was at fault. Giv­en that appar­ent con­fi­dence, I assumed that Pom­peo and the CIA must have signed off on the con­clu­sion of Assad’s guilt even though I knew that some U.S. intel­li­gence ana­lysts had con­trary opin­ions, that they viewed the inci­dent as either an acci­den­tal release of chem­i­cals or an inten­tion­al ploy by Al Qae­da rebels to suck­er the U.S. into attack­ing Syr­ia.

As strange as the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has been in its ear­ly months, it was hard for me to believe that Trump would have lis­tened to the CIA’s views and then shooed the direc­tor away from the larg­er meet­ing before launch­ing a mil­i­tary strike against a coun­try not threat­en­ing Amer­i­ca. . . .

. . . . But in the pho­to of Trump and his advis­ers, no one from the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty is in the frame. You see Trump, Sec­re­tary of State Tiller­son, Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er H.R. McMas­ter, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, strate­gic advis­er Steve Ban­non, son-in-law Jared Kush­n­er and a vari­ety of oth­er offi­cials, includ­ing some eco­nom­ic advis­ers who were at Mar-a-Lago in Flori­da for the meet­ing with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

How­ev­er, you don’t see Pom­peo or Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence Dan Coats or any oth­er intel­li­gence offi­cial. Even The New York Times not­ed the odd­i­ty in its Sat­ur­day edi­tions, writ­ing: “If there were C.I.A. and oth­er intel­li­gence briefers around, … they are not in the pic­ture.”

That made me won­der whether per­haps my orig­i­nal source did know some­thing. The claim was that CIA Direc­tor Pom­peo had briefed Trump per­son­al­ly on the ana­lysts’ assess­ment that Assad’s forces were not respon­si­ble, but – then with Pom­peo side­lined – Trump con­veyed his own ver­sion of the intel­li­gence to his senior staff.

In oth­er words, the oth­er offi­cials didn’t get the direct word from Pom­peo but rather received a sec­ond-hand account from the Pres­i­dent, the source said. Did Trump choose to rely on the smug cer­tain­ty from the TV shows and the main­stream news media that Assad was guilty, rather than the con­trary view of U.S. intel­li­gence ana­lysts?

After the attack, Sec­re­tary of State Tiller­son, who is not an insti­tu­tion­al intel­li­gence offi­cial and has lit­tle expe­ri­ence with the sub­tleties of intel­li­gence, was the one to claim that the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty assessed with a “high degree of con­fi­dence” that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment had dropped a poi­son gas bomb on civil­ians in Idlib province.

While Tillerson’s com­ment meshed with Offi­cial Washington’s hasti­ly formed group­think of Assad’s guilt, it is hard to believe that CIA ana­lysts would have set­tled on such a firm con­clu­sion so quick­ly, espe­cial­ly giv­en the remote loca­tion of the inci­dent and the fact that the ini­tial infor­ma­tion was com­ing from pro-rebel (or Al Qae­da) sources. . . .

7. The U.S. is with­hold­ing key infor­ma­tion due to the “need to pro­tect sources and meth­ods.” Robert Par­ry notes that there is noth­ing secre­tive about the col­lec­tion of satel­lite and oth­er elec­tron­ic intel­li­gence. So what is so secret about the white paper? Par­ry also notes that some ana­lysts are report­ing a strike by a drone launched from a joint Sau­di-Israeli base that sup­ports Syr­i­an rebels. ” . . . Despite some tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in trac­ing its flight path, ana­lysts even­tu­al­ly came to believe that the flight was launched in Jor­dan from a Sau­di-Israeli spe­cial oper­a­tions base for sup­port­ing Syr­i­an rebels, the source said, adding that the sus­pect­ed rea­son for the poi­son gas was to cre­ate an inci­dent that would reverse the Trump administration’s announce­ment in late March that it was no longer seek­ing the removal of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad. . . .”

After not­ing that the pre­sen­ta­tion of var­i­ous pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios for the sarin release does not indi­cate a “cov­er-up” by Rus­sia, mere­ly the nor­mal weigh­ing of facts in the process of intel­li­gence analy­sis, Par­ry con­cludes his arti­cle with a scathing analy­sis of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s claims by a MIT researcher: ” . . . . In a sep­a­rate analy­sis of the four-page dossier, Theodore Pos­tol, a nation­al secu­ri­ty spe­cial­ist at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, con­clud­ed that the White House claims were clear­ly bogus, writ­ing: ‘I have reviewed the doc­u­ment care­ful­ly, and I believe it can be shown, with­out doubt, that the doc­u­ment does not pro­vide any evi­dence what­so­ev­er that the US gov­ern­ment has con­crete knowl­edge that the gov­ern­ment of Syr­ia was the source of the chem­i­cal attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syr­ia at rough­ly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017. In fact, a main piece of evi­dence that is cit­ed in the doc­u­ment points to an attack that was exe­cut­ed by indi­vid­u­als on the ground, not from an air­craft, on the morn­ing of April 4. This con­clu­sion is based on an assump­tion made by the White House when it cit­ed the source of the sarin release and the pho­tographs of that source. My own assess­ment, is that the source was very like­ly tam­pered with or staged, so no seri­ous con­clu­sion could be made from the pho­tographs cit­ed by the White House.’ . . . 

“Trump With­holds Syr­ia-Sarin Evi­dence” by Robert Par­ry; Con­sor­tium News; 4/12/2017.

. . . . A four-page white paper, pre­pared by Pres­i­dent Trump’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil staff and released by the White House on Tues­day, claimed that U.S. intel­li­gence has proof that the plane car­ry­ing the sarin gas left from the Syr­i­an mil­i­tary air­field that Trump ordered hit by Tom­a­hawk mis­siles on April 6.

The paper assert­ed that “we have sig­nals intel­li­gence and geospa­tial intel­li­gence,” but then added that “we can­not pub­licly release all avail­able intel­li­gence on this attack due to the need to pro­tect sources and meth­ods.”

I’m told that the key evi­dence was satel­lite sur­veil­lance of the area, a body of mate­r­i­al that U.S. intel­li­gence ana­lysts were review­ing late last week even after the Trump-ordered bom­bard­ment of 59 Tom­a­hawk mis­siles that, accord­ing to Syr­i­an media reports, killed sev­en or eight Syr­i­an sol­diers and nine civil­ians, includ­ing four chil­dren.

Yet, it is unclear why releas­ing these over­head videos would be so detri­men­tal to “sources and meth­ods” since every­one knows the U.S. has this capa­bil­i­ty and the issue at hand – if it gets fur­ther out of hand – could lead to a nuclear con­fronta­tion with Rus­sia. . . .

. . . . In the case of the April 4 chem­i­cal-weapons inci­dent in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which report­ed­ly killed scores of peo­ple includ­ing young chil­dren, I was told that ini­tial­ly the U.S. ana­lysts couldn’t see any war­planes over the area in Idlib province at the sus­pect­ed time of the poi­son gas attack but lat­er they detect­ed a drone that they thought might have deliv­ered the bomb.

A Drone Mys­tery

Accord­ing to a source, the ana­lysts strug­gled to iden­ti­fy whose drone it was and where it orig­i­nat­ed. Despite some tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in trac­ing its flight path, ana­lysts even­tu­al­ly came to believe that the flight was launched in Jor­dan from a Sau­di-Israeli spe­cial oper­a­tions base for sup­port­ing Syr­i­an rebels, the source said, adding that the sus­pect­ed rea­son for the poi­son gas was to cre­ate an inci­dent that would reverse the Trump administration’s announce­ment in late March that it was no longer seek­ing the removal of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad.

If indeed that was the motive — and if the source’s infor­ma­tion is cor­rect — the oper­a­tion would have been suc­cess­ful, since the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has now reversed itself and is press­ing Rus­sia to join in oust­ing Assad who is get­ting blamed for the lat­est chem­i­cal-weapons inci­dent.

Pre­sum­ably, how­ev­er, the “geospa­tial intel­li­gence” cit­ed in the four-page dossier could dis­prove this and oth­er con­tentions if the Trump admin­is­tra­tion would only make its evi­dence pub­licly avail­able.

The dossier stat­ed, “Our infor­ma­tion indi­cates that the chem­i­cal agent was deliv­ered by regime Su-22 fixed-wing air­craft that took off from the regime-con­trolled Shayrat Air­field. These air­craft were in the vicin­i­ty of Khan Shaykhun approx­i­mate­ly 20 min­utes before reports of the chem­i­cal attack began and vacat­ed the area short­ly after the attack.” . . .

. . . . On April 6, before Trump’s mis­sile strike, I and oth­ers received word from U.S. mil­i­tary intel­li­gence offi­cials in the Mid­dle East that they, too, shared the belief that the poi­son gas may have result­ed from a con­ven­tion­al bomb­ing raid that rup­tured con­tain­ers stored by the rebels, who – in Idlib province – are dom­i­nat­ed by Al Qaeda’s affil­i­ate and its allies.

Those reports were cit­ed by for­mer U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials, includ­ing more than two dozen who pro­duced a memo to Pres­i­dent Trump urg­ing him to under­take a care­ful inves­ti­ga­tion of the inci­dent before let­ting this cri­sis exac­er­bate U.S.-Russia rela­tions.

The memo said “our U.S. Army con­tacts in the area” were dis­put­ing the offi­cial sto­ry of a chem­i­cal weapons attack. “Instead, a Syr­i­an air­craft bombed an al-Qae­da-in-Syr­ia ammu­ni­tion depot that turned out to be full of nox­ious chem­i­cals and a strong wind blew the chem­i­cal-laden cloud over a near­by vil­lage where many con­se­quent­ly died,” the memo said.

In oth­er words, to sug­gest pos­si­ble alter­na­tive sce­nar­ios is not evi­dence of a “cov­er-up,” even if the the­o­ries are lat­er shown to be erro­neous. It is the nor­mal process of sort­ing through often con­flict­ing ini­tial reports. . . .

. . . . [In a sep­a­rate analy­sis of the four-page dossier, Theodore Pos­tol, a nation­al secu­ri­ty spe­cial­ist at the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, con­clud­ed that the White House claims were clear­ly bogus, writ­ing:

“I have reviewed the doc­u­ment care­ful­ly, and I believe it can be shown, with­out doubt, that the doc­u­ment does not pro­vide any evi­dence what­so­ev­er that the US gov­ern­ment has con­crete knowl­edge that the gov­ern­ment of Syr­ia was the source of the chem­i­cal attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syr­ia at rough­ly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017.

“In fact, a main piece of evi­dence that is cit­ed in the doc­u­ment points to an attack that was exe­cut­ed by indi­vid­u­als on the ground, not from an air­craft, on the morn­ing of April 4. This con­clu­sion is based on an assump­tion made by the White House when it cit­ed the source of the sarin release and the pho­tographs of that source. My own assess­ment, is that the source was very like­ly tam­pered with or staged, so no seri­ous con­clu­sion could be made from the pho­tographs cit­ed by the White House.”]

8. A detailed analy­sis of an August, 2013 sarin attack, orig­i­nal­ly thought to have been per­pe­trat­ed by Bashar Al-Assad, was pre­sent­ed by Sey­mour Hersh in the Lon­don Review of Books. The sarin turns out not to have come from Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment stock­piles.

The defin­i­tive deter­mi­na­tion that the sarin used in the August 2013 attack did not come from the Assad gov­ern­ment was made by ana­lysts at Por­ton Down, the top UK CBW facil­i­ty: “. . . . Obama’s change of mind had its ori­gins at Por­ton Down, the defence lab­o­ra­to­ry in Wilt­shire. British intel­li­gence had obtained a sam­ple of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analy­sis demon­strat­ed that the gas used didn’t match the batch­es known to exist in the Syr­i­an army’s chem­i­cal weapons arse­nal. The mes­sage that the case against Syr­ia wouldn’t hold up was quick­ly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. . . .”

Al-Nus­ra, on the oth­er hand, was pro­duc­ing Sarin and look­ing to ramp up pro­duc­tion through a sup­ply pipeline run­ning through Turkey. ” . . . . The Amer­i­can and British intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ties had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syr­ia were devel­op­ing chem­i­cal weapons. On 20 June ana­lysts for the US Defense Intel­li­gence Agency issued a high­ly clas­si­fied five-page ‘talk­ing points’ brief­ing for the DIA’s deputy direc­tor, David Shedd, which stat­ed that al-Nus­ra main­tained a sarin pro­duc­tion cell: its pro­gramme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre‑9/11 effort’. . . .”

The 2013 con­clu­sions of gen­er­al Mar­tin Dempsey are worth exam­in­ing in the con­text of the cur­rent cri­sis: ” . . . . From the begin­ning of the cri­sis, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said, the joint chiefs had been scep­ti­cal of the administration’s argu­ment that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and oth­er agen­cies for more sub­stan­tial evi­dence. ‘There was no way they thought Syr­ia would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was win­ning the war,’ the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said. . . .”

“The Red Line and the Rat Line” by Sey­mour Hersh; Lon­don Review of Books ; 4/17/2014.

. . . . Obama’s change of mind had its ori­gins at Por­ton Down, the defence lab­o­ra­to­ry in Wilt­shire. British intel­li­gence had obtained a sam­ple of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analy­sis demon­strat­ed that the gas used didn’t match the batch­es known to exist in the Syr­i­an army’s chem­i­cal weapons arse­nal. The mes­sage that the case against Syr­ia wouldn’t hold up was quick­ly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report height­ened doubts inside the Pen­ta­gon; the joint chiefs were already prepar­ing to warn Oba­ma that his plans for a far-reach­ing bomb and mis­sile attack on Syria’s infra­struc­ture could lead to a wider war in the Mid­dle East. As a con­se­quence the Amer­i­can offi­cers deliv­ered a last-minute cau­tion to the pres­i­dent, which, in their view, even­tu­al­ly led to his can­celling the attack.

For months there had been acute con­cern among senior mil­i­tary lead­ers and the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty about the role in the war of Syria’s neigh­bours, espe­cial­ly Turkey. Prime Min­is­ter Recep Erdoğan was known to be sup­port­ing the al-Nus­ra Front, a jihadist fac­tion among the rebel oppo­si­tion, as well as oth­er Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment,’ a for­mer senior US intel­li­gence offi­cial, who has access to cur­rent intel­li­gence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dab­bling with a sarin attack inside Syr­ia – and forc­ing Oba­ma to make good on his red line threat.’

The joint chiefs also knew that the Oba­ma administration’s pub­lic claims that only the Syr­i­an army had access to sarin were wrong. The Amer­i­can and British intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ties had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syr­ia were devel­op­ing chem­i­cal weapons. On 20 June ana­lysts for the US Defense Intel­li­gence Agency issued a high­ly clas­si­fied five-page ‘talk­ing points’ brief­ing for the DIA’s deputy direc­tor, David Shedd, which stat­ed that al-Nus­ra main­tained a sarin pro­duc­tion cell: its pro­gramme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre‑9/11 effort’. (Accord­ing to a Defense Depart­ment con­sul­tant, US intel­li­gence has long known that al-Qai­da exper­i­ment­ed with chem­i­cal weapons, and has a video of one of its gas exper­i­ments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Pre­vi­ous IC [intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty] focus had been almost entire­ly on Syr­i­an CW [chem­i­cal weapons] stock­piles; now we see ANF attempt­ing to make its own CW … Al-Nus­rah Front’s rel­a­tive free­dom of oper­a­tion with­in Syr­ia leads us to assess the group’s CW aspi­ra­tions will be dif­fi­cult to dis­rupt in the future.’ The paper drew on clas­si­fied intel­li­gence from numer­ous agen­cies: ‘Turkey and Sau­di-based chem­i­cal facil­i­ta­tors,’ it said, ‘were attempt­ing to obtain sarin pre­cur­sors in bulk, tens of kilo­grams, like­ly for the antic­i­pat­ed large scale pro­duc­tion effort in Syr­ia.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesper­son for the direc­tor of nation­al intel­li­gence said: ‘No such paper was ever request­ed or pro­duced by intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty ana­lysts.’)

Last May, more than ten mem­bers of the al-Nus­ra Front were arrest­ed in south­ern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilo­grams of sarin. In a 130-page indict­ment the group was accused of attempt­ing to pur­chase fus­es, pip­ing for the con­struc­tion of mor­tars, and chem­i­cal pre­cur­sors for sarin. Five of those arrest­ed were freed after a brief deten­tion. The oth­ers, includ­ing the ring­leader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the pros­e­cu­tor request­ed a prison sen­tence of 25 years, were released pend­ing tri­al. In the mean­time the Turk­ish press has been rife with spec­u­la­tion that the Erdoğan admin­is­tra­tion has been cov­er­ing up the extent of its involve­ment with the rebels. In a news con­fer­ence last sum­mer, Aydin Sez­gin, Turkey’s ambas­sador to Moscow, dis­missed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recov­ered ‘sarin’ was mere­ly ‘anti-freeze’.

The DIA paper took the arrests as evi­dence that al-Nus­ra was expand­ing its access to chem­i­cal weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-iden­ti­fied’ as a mem­ber of al-Nus­ra, and that he was direct­ly con­nect­ed to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for mil­i­tary man­u­fac­tur­ing’. Qassab and his asso­ciate Khalid Ous­ta worked with Halit Unalka­ya, an employ­ee of a Turk­ish firm called Zirve Export, who pro­vid­ed ‘price quotes for bulk quan­ti­ties of sarin pre­cur­sors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two asso­ciates to ‘per­fect a process for mak­ing sarin, then go to Syr­ia to train oth­ers to begin large scale pro­duc­tion at an uniden­ti­fied lab in Syr­ia’. The DIA paper said that one of his oper­a­tives had pur­chased a pre­cur­sor on the ‘Bagh­dad chem­i­cal mar­ket’, which ‘has sup­port­ed at least sev­en CW efforts since 2004’.

A series of chem­i­cal weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was inves­ti­gat­ed over the next few months by a spe­cial UN mis­sion to Syr­ia. A per­son with close knowl­edge of the UN’s activ­i­ty in Syr­ia told me that there was evi­dence link­ing the Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a vil­lage near Alep­po. In its final report in Decem­ber, the mis­sion said that at least 19 civil­ians and one Syr­i­an sol­dier were among the fatal­i­ties, along with scores of injured. It had no man­date to assign respon­si­bil­i­ty for the attack, but the per­son with knowl­edge of the UN’s activ­i­ties said: ‘Inves­ti­ga­tors inter­viewed the peo­ple who were there, includ­ing the doc­tors who treat­ed the vic­tims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in pub­lic because no one want­ed to know.’

In the months before the attacks began, a for­mer senior Defense Depart­ment offi­cial told me, the DIA was cir­cu­lat­ing a dai­ly clas­si­fied report known as SYRUP on all intel­li­gence relat­ed to the Syr­i­an con­flict, includ­ing mate­r­i­al on chem­i­cal weapons. But in the spring, dis­tri­b­u­tion of the part of the report con­cern­ing chem­i­cal weapons was severe­ly cur­tailed on the orders of Denis McDo­nough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Some­thing was in there that trig­gered a shit fit by McDo­nough,’ the for­mer Defense Depart­ment offi­cial said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fin­gers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The deci­sion to restrict dis­tri­b­u­tion was made as the joint chiefs ordered inten­sive con­tin­gency plan­ning for a pos­si­ble ground inva­sion of Syr­ia whose pri­ma­ry objec­tive would be the elim­i­na­tion of chem­i­cal weapons. . . .

. . . . At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syr­i­an army was capa­ble of deploy­ing sarin – was unrav­el­ling. With­in a few days of the 21 August attack, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial told me, Russ­ian mil­i­tary intel­li­gence oper­a­tives had recov­ered sam­ples of the chem­i­cal agent from Ghou­ta. They analysed it and passed it on to British mil­i­tary intel­li­gence; this was the mate­r­i­al sent to Por­ton Down. (A spokesper­son for Por­ton Down said: ‘Many of the sam­ples analysed in the UK test­ed pos­i­tive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t com­ment on intel­li­gence mat­ters.)

The for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said the Russ­ian who deliv­ered the sam­ple to the UK was ‘a good source – some­one with access, knowl­edge and a record of being trust­wor­thy’. After the first report­ed uses of chem­i­cal weapons in Syr­ia last year, Amer­i­can and allied intel­li­gence agen­cies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if any­thing, was used – and its source’, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion. The DIA’s base­line con­sist­ed of know­ing the com­po­si­tion of each batch of Sovi­et-man­u­fac­tured chem­i­cal weapons. But we didn’t know which batch­es the Assad gov­ern­ment cur­rent­ly had in its arse­nal. With­in days of the Dam­as­cus inci­dent we asked a source in the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment to give us a list of the batch­es the gov­ern­ment cur­rent­ly had. This is why we could con­firm the dif­fer­ence so quick­ly.’

The process hadn’t worked as smooth­ly in the spring, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said, because the stud­ies done by West­ern intel­li­gence ‘were incon­clu­sive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of dis­cus­sion about this, but since no one could con­clude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial went on, ‘the Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion clear­ly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syr­i­an army had been used, before any analy­sis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’

The UK defence staff who relayed the Por­ton Down find­ings to the joint chiefs were send­ing the Amer­i­cans a mes­sage, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse mes­sage a senior offi­cial in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the cur­rent regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and Amer­i­can, British and French planes, ships and sub­marines were at the ready.

The offi­cer ulti­mate­ly respon­si­ble for the plan­ning and exe­cu­tion of the attack was Gen­er­al Mar­tin Dempsey, chair­man of the joint chiefs. From the begin­ning of the cri­sis, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said, the joint chiefs had been scep­ti­cal of the administration’s argu­ment that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and oth­er agen­cies for more sub­stan­tial evi­dence. ‘There was no way they thought Syr­ia would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was win­ning the war,’ the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said. Dempsey had irri­tat­ed many in the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion by repeat­ed­ly warn­ing Con­gress over the sum­mer of the dan­ger of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary involve­ment in Syr­ia. . . .

. . . .A US intel­li­gence con­sul­tant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a high­ly clas­si­fied brief­ing pre­pared for Dempsey and the defense sec­re­tary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anx­i­ety’ of the Erdoğan admin­is­tra­tion about the rebels’ dwin­dling prospects. The analy­sis warned that the Turk­ish lead­er­ship had expressed ‘the need to do some­thing that would pre­cip­i­tate a US mil­i­tary response’. By late sum­mer, the Syr­i­an army still had the advan­tage over the rebels, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said, and only Amer­i­can air pow­er could turn the tide. In the autumn, the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial went on, the US intel­li­gence ana­lysts who kept work­ing on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syr­ia had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound goril­la was, how did it hap­pen? The imme­di­ate sus­pect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it hap­pen.’

As inter­cepts and oth­er data relat­ed to the 21 August attacks were gath­ered, the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty saw evi­dence to sup­port its sus­pi­cions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s peo­ple to push Oba­ma over the red line,’ the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial said. ‘They had to esca­late to a gas attack in or near Dam­as­cus when the UN inspec­tors’ – who arrived in Dam­as­cus on 18 August to inves­ti­gate the ear­li­er use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do some­thing spec­tac­u­lar. Our senior mil­i­tary offi­cers have been told by the DIA and oth­er intel­li­gence assets that the sarin was sup­plied through Turkey – that it could only have got­ten there with Turk­ish sup­port. The Turks also pro­vid­ed the train­ing in pro­duc­ing the sarin and han­dling it.’ Much of the sup­port for that assess­ment came from the Turks them­selves, via inter­cept­ed con­ver­sa­tions in the imme­di­ate after­math of the attack. ‘Prin­ci­pal evi­dence came from the Turk­ish post-attack joy and back-slap­ping in numer­ous inter­cepts. Oper­a­tions are always so super-secret in the plan­ning but that all flies out the win­dow when it comes to crow­ing after­wards. There is no greater vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty than in the per­pe­tra­tors claim­ing cred­it for suc­cess.’ Erdoğan’s prob­lems in Syr­ia would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Oba­ma will say red line and Amer­i­ca is going to attack Syr­ia, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’

The post-attack intel­li­gence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial told me. ‘There is great reluc­tance to con­tra­dict the pres­i­dent, although no all-source intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty analy­sis sup­port­ed his leap to con­vict. There has not been one sin­gle piece of addi­tion­al evi­dence of Syr­i­an involve­ment in the sarin attack pro­duced by the White House since the bomb­ing raid was called off. My gov­ern­ment can’t say any­thing because we have act­ed so irre­spon­si­bly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’. . . .

 

Discussion

2 comments for “FTR #954 Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack? Not So Fast”

  1. Since sus­pi­cions that the chem­i­cal inci­dent in Idlib could have been pos­si­bly been a false flag attack from the ground by al Nus­ra rely on the assump­tion that If case any­one was won­der­ing whether or not the al Qae­da affil­i­ates in Syr­ia would be will­ing to kill large num­bers of civil­ians, it’s worth recall­ing a dev­as­tat­ing attack on civil­ians that hap­pened near two pre­dom­i­nant­ly Shia vil­lages near Idlib that took place back in Decem­ber. A deal was set up that would see 2,500 cit­i­zens leave al-Foua and Kefraya (the Shia vil­lages near Idlib under rev­el seige) in two batch­es, in exchange for the evac­u­a­tion of peo­ple from east Alep­po that were under a Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment-seige . But when the day arrived for the evac­u­a­tions, gun­men burned the bus­es of civil­ian evac­uees from the vil­lages of al-Foua and Kefraya. The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment blamed al Nus­ra and the rebels blamed an angry crowd and pos­si­bly the gov­ern­ment:

    Reuters

    Gun­men burn bus­es, Alep­po con­voy goes through

    By Lisa Bar­ring­ton and Suleiman Al-Kha­li­di | BEIRUT/AMMAN
    Sun Dec 18, 2016 | 6:18pm EST

    Armed men burned five bus­es that were sup­posed to be used for an evac­u­a­tion near Idlib in Syr­ia on Sun­day, stalling a deal to allow thou­sands to depart the last rebel pock­et in Alep­po, where evac­uees crammed into bus­es for hours before depart­ing the city.

    The Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights, a Britain-based war mon­i­tor, said the evac­u­a­tion of the vil­lages near Idlib had been post­poned as a result of the inci­dent. Five bus­es leav­ing Alep­po were held, packed with evac­uees, for hours before they could dri­ve the 5 km (3 miles) to rebel-held ter­ri­to­ry out­side.

    In return for the evac­u­a­tion of fight­ers, their fam­i­lies and oth­er civil­ians from Alep­po, the most­ly Sun­ni insur­gents had agreed that peo­ple in the vil­lages of al-Foua and Kefraya, Shi’ite vil­lages that they have besieged near Idlib, should also be allowed to leave.

    Videos post­ed on social media showed beard­ed men with guns cheer­ing and shout­ing “God is great” after torch­ing the green bus­es before they were able to reach the vil­lages.

    State media said “armed ter­ror­ists”, a term it uses for all groups fight­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad, had car­ried out the attack. Pro-Dam­as­cus Mayadeen tele­vi­sion and the Obser­va­to­ry blamed the rebel group for­mer­ly known as the Nus­ra Front.

    Rebel offi­cials said an angry crowd of peo­ple, pos­si­bly along­side pro-gov­ern­ment “oper­a­tives”, was respon­si­ble.

    Although the Alep­po evac­u­a­tion con­voy was even­tu­al­ly cleared to dri­ve to rebel-held al-Rashideen, there was no offi­cial word on what impact the bus burn­ing would have on the depar­ture of more con­voys from the city and the two vil­lages.

    While the Obser­va­to­ry said the con­voy of five bus­es had reached al-Rashideen, a Unit­ed Nations offi­cial in Syr­ia said only that they had left east Alep­po, adding: “The evac­u­a­tions are on”.

    Robert Mar­di­ni, region­al direc­tor for the Inter­na­tion­al Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which is at the fore­front of the oper­a­tion, tweet­ed that the bus­es and one ambu­lance of the Syr­i­an Arab Red Cres­cent “just left dark & cold E #Alep­po”, adding: “Hope­ful oper­a­tion will pro­ceed smooth­ly.”

    Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, Assad’s main for­eign backer, and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Erdo­gan, the rebels’ main sup­port­er, agreed by tele­phone on Sun­day that the dis­rup­tions must be quick­ly over­come, sources in Erdo­gan’s office said.

    The com­man­der of forces allied to Assad said there was still a chance for states with influ­ence over rebel groups to find a way to evac­u­ate civil­ians safe­ly.

    In a state­ment car­ried by a mil­i­tary news out­let run by Dam­as­cus’s ally, the Lebanese group Hezbol­lah, the allied forces lead­er­ship said respon­si­bil­i­ty for the delay in the evac­u­a­tion falls with “ter­ror­ists and their state spon­sors”.

    Some 40 km (26 miles) to the north­east, hun­dreds of fight­ers and their fam­i­lies in Alep­po sat or stood in bus­es, hop­ing the evac­u­a­tion would resume after a three-day hia­tus.

    Syr­i­an state tele­vi­sion, cit­ing its cor­re­spon­dent in the city, said bus­es had start­ed to leave east Alep­po where over 15,000 peo­ple had gath­ered in a square to wait, many after a night sleep­ing in the streets in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures.

    Alep­po had been divid­ed between gov­ern­ment and rebel areas in the near­ly six-year-long war, but a light­ning advance by the Syr­i­an army and its allies began in mid-Novem­ber fol­low­ing months of intense air strikes, forc­ing the insur­gents out of most of the rebel-held ter­ri­to­ry with­in a mat­ter of weeks.

    “EVERYONE IS WAITING”

    Accord­ing to Syr­i­a’s al-Ikhbariya TV news, about 1,200 civil­ians would ini­tial­ly be evac­u­at­ed from east Alep­po and a sim­i­lar num­ber from the two vil­lages.

    A doc­u­ment cit­ed by al-Man­ar tele­vi­sion and passed to Reuters by rebels and activists said the entire deal would see 2,500 cit­i­zens leave al-Foua and Kefraya in two batch­es, in exchange for the evac­u­a­tion of peo­ple from east Alep­po in two cor­re­spond­ing batch­es.

    Fol­low­ing this, anoth­er 1,500 would leave al-Foua and Kefraya in exchange for the evac­u­a­tion of 1,500 from the towns of Madaya and Zabadani near Lebanon, which are besieged by pro-gov­ern­ment forces.

    Once evac­uees from the vil­lages have safe­ly arrived in gov­ern­ment areas, Alep­po fight­ers and more of their fam­i­ly mem­bers will be allowed to leave, in return for sub­se­quent batch­es of peo­ple depart­ing al-Foua and Kefraya, al-Ikhbariya TV report­ed.

    In the square in Alep­po’s Sukari dis­trict, orga­niz­ers gave every fam­i­ly a num­ber to allow them on bus­es.

    “Every­one is wait­ing until they are evac­u­at­ed. They just want to escape,” said Salah al Attar, a for­mer teacher with his five chil­dren, wife and moth­er.

    Thou­sands of peo­ple were evac­u­at­ed on Thurs­day, the first to leave under a cease­fire deal that would end years of fight­ing for the city and mark a major vic­to­ry for Assad.

    They were tak­en to rebel-held dis­tricts of the coun­try­side west of Alep­po. Turkey has said Alep­po evac­uees could also be housed in a camp to be con­struct­ed near the Turk­ish bor­der to the north.

    ...

    “Videos post­ed on social media showed beard­ed men with guns cheer­ing and shout­ing “God is great” after torch­ing the green bus­es before they were able to reach the vil­lages.”

    So who burned the bus­es of Shia civil­ians? Was it al Nus­ra or an angry crowd that for some rea­son decid­ed to work with gov­ern­ment oper­a­tives?

    ...
    State media said “armed ter­ror­ists”, a term it uses for all groups fight­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad, had car­ried out the attack. Pro-Dam­as­cus Mayadeen tele­vi­sion and the Obser­va­to­ry blamed the rebel group for­mer­ly known as the Nus­ra Front.

    Rebel offi­cials said an angry crowd of peo­ple, pos­si­bly along­side pro-gov­ern­ment “oper­a­tives”, was respon­si­ble.
    ...

    While al Nus­ra is a pret­ty obvi­ous cul­prit, they would have us believe that, no, it was a gov­ern­ment false flag. They would also prob­a­bly like us to ignore that al Nus­ra nev­er agree the evac­u­a­tion deal (and they were the ones besieg­ing these two vil­lages):

    Reuters

    Bus­es Burned Dur­ing Evac­u­a­tion Of Syr­i­an Vil­lages, Mon­i­tor Says
    Sev­er­al vehi­cles sent to evac­u­ate the ill and injured from besieged vil­lages were destroyed.

    12/18/2016 09:29 am ET

    BEIRUT, Dec 18 (Reuters) — Sev­er­al bus­es en route to evac­u­ate ill and injured peo­ple from the besieged Syr­i­an vil­lages of al-Foua and Kefraya were attacked and burned on Sun­day, the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights and Syr­i­an state tele­vi­sion said.

    ...

    Syr­i­an state media said “armed ter­ror­ists” — a term it uses for insur­gent groups fight­ing against Assad’s rule — attacked five bus­es and burned and destroyed them.

    Rebel offi­cials said an angry crowd of peo­ple, pos­si­bly along­side pro-gov­ern­ment forces, car­ried out the attack.

    A res­i­dent in the area told Reuters it was not car­ried out by the group for­mer­ly known as the Nus­ra Front, which had pre­vi­ous­ly said it had not agreed to the evac­u­a­tion of the two vil­lages.

    Most of al-Foua and Kefraya’s res­i­dents are Shi’ite Mus­lims.

    “A res­i­dent in the area told Reuters it was not car­ried out by the group for­mer­ly known as the Nus­ra Front, which had pre­vi­ous­ly said it had not agreed to the evac­u­a­tion of the two vil­lages.”

    So did the al Nus­ra Front, which nev­er agreed to the evac­u­a­tions, attack the bus­es filled with Shia evac­uees in towns al Nus­ra was besieg­ing, or was it an angry crowd and gov­ern­ment oper­a­tives? Hmm....it’s a mys­tery. A mys­tery with a very non-mys­te­ri­ous answer.

    And while the arti­cle below notes that mul­ti­ple oppo­si­tion sources said it was Jab­hat Fath al-Sham (the rebrand­ed name of al Nus­ra) behind the attack, as the arti­cle also notes the Hezbol­lah’s al-Man­ar TV and Beirut-based pro-Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment al-Mayadin TV had a slight­ly dif­fer­ent expla­na­tion at one point: clash­es between Jab­hat Fath al-Sham and the Ahrar al-Sham (a dif­fer­ent rebel al Qae­da affil­i­ate) had result­ed in the blaze. That would be quite a twist. Either way, since the arti­cle also notes that Jab­hat Fath al-Sham/al Nus­ra hold­ing up the bus­es before the attack it sure looks like al Nus­ra was involved with the attack those bus­es of flee­ing civil­ians (again, unless we accept the rebel posi­tion that it was gov­ern­ment false flag attack):

    BBC

    Alep­po bat­tle: Rebels burn Syr­ia evac­u­a­tion bus­es

    18 Decem­ber 2016

    Sev­er­al bus­es sent to trans­port the sick and injured from two gov­ern­ment-held vil­lages in Syr­i­a’s Idlib province have been burned by rebels.

    The attack appar­ent­ly halt­ed the lat­est efforts to evac­u­ate besieged areas.

    Pro-gov­ern­ment forces say peo­ple must be allowed to leave the main­ly Shia vil­lages of Foah and Kefraya for the evac­u­a­tion of east Alep­po to restart.

    State media said con­voys began to leave Alep­po on Sun­day but oth­er reports said they turned back.

    The ini­tial plan to evac­u­ate the last rebel-held enclaves in the city col­lapsed on Fri­day, leav­ing civil­ians strand­ed at var­i­ous points along the route out with­out access to food or shel­ter.

    Mean­while, the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil agreed a draft res­o­lu­tion on send­ing UN offi­cials to mon­i­tor the evac­u­a­tions in Alep­po, diplo­mats said. Rus­sia, which backs the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad, had ear­li­er threat­ened to veto the French-draft­ed text.

    But after three hours of nego­ti­a­tions behind closed doors, the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil appeared to come to a com­pro­mise.

    “We expect to vote unan­i­mous­ly for this text tomor­row [Mon­day],” said US Ambas­sador to the UN Saman­tha Pow­er.

    Bus­es were prepar­ing to evac­u­ate peo­ple from both east­ern Alep­po and the gov­ern­ment-held vil­lages in Idlib province on Sun­day.

    A num­ber of bus­es did suc­ceed in enter­ing Foah and Kefraya, accord­ing to the UK-based mon­i­tor­ing group the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights (SOHR), which ear­li­er report­ed that Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham, for­mer­ly al-Qae­da-linked Nus­ra Front, had been hold­ing them up.

    How­ev­er, six bus­es were attacked and torched on the way, the SOHR said.

    Syr­i­an state media said “armed ter­ror­ists” — a term it uses for all groups fight­ing against Pres­i­dent Assad — attacked five bus­es, burned and destroyed them.

    A reporter for AFP news agency said armed men forced the dri­vers of the bus­es to get out before open­ing fire and set­ting the vehi­cles alight.

    Sev­er­al reports from oppo­si­tion sources said Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham was respon­si­ble. But Hezbol­lah’s al-Man­ar TV and Beirut-based pro-Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment al-Mayadin TV said clash­es between jihadist Jab­hat Fath al-Sham and the rebel Islamist Ahrar al-Sham had result­ed in the blaze.

    The jihadist groups have not com­ment­ed on the attack.

    How­ev­er, the Free Syr­i­an Army, a more mod­er­ate rebel fac­tion, con­demned it as a “reck­less act endan­ger­ing the lives of near­ly 50,000 peo­ple” in east Alep­po.

    ...

    “A num­ber of bus­es did suc­ceed in enter­ing Foah and Kefraya, accord­ing to the UK-based mon­i­tor­ing group the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights (SOHR), which ear­li­er report­ed that Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham, for­mer­ly al-Qae­da-linked Nus­ra Front, had been hold­ing them up.

    All signs are point­ing towards al Nus­ra. Includ­ing oppo­si­tion sources. Although maybe there was an Islamist clash involved? If so, you have to won­der how that clash between two jihadists groups result­ed in armed men forc­ing the dri­vers from the bus­es before open­ing fire and set­ting them ablaze. It must have been a com­pli­cat­ed clash:

    ...
    A reporter for AFP news agency said armed men forced the dri­vers of the bus­es to get out before open­ing fire and set­ting the vehi­cles alight.

    Sev­er­al reports from oppo­si­tion sources said Jab­hat Fatah al-Sham was respon­si­ble. But Hezbol­lah’s al-Man­ar TV and Beirut-based pro-Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment al-Mayadin TV said clash­es between jihadist Jab­hat Fath al-Sham and the rebel Islamist Ahrar al-Sham had result­ed in the blaze.

    The jihadist groups have not com­ment­ed on the attack.
    ...

    So that’s the mys­tery of who attacked those bus­es of flee­ing civil­ians back in Decem­ber, which, at this point, looks to most­ly be a mys­tery as to whether or not Ahrar al-Sham was involved in this al Nus­ra attack. It’s the kind of inci­dent that should remind us that the answer to the ques­tion of whether or not a group like al Nus­ra would be will­ing to mass mur­der civil­ians, the answer is of course, they have a long his­to­ry of doing exact­ly that. It’s not like ISIS does­n’t have a ter­ror monop­oly.

    And if that was­n’t a strong enough reminder that al Nus­ra will attack civil­ians, here’s anoth­er: a large sui­cide car bomb just killed evac­uees from the same two vil­lages in the mid­dle of anoth­er evac­uee swap:

    Reuters

    Bomb­ing of Syr­i­an bus con­voy kills dozens out­side Alep­po

    By John Davi­son | BEIRUT
    Sat Apr 15, 2017 | 3:22pm EDT

    A bomb blast hit a bus con­voy wait­ing to cross into gov­ern­ment-held Alep­po in Syr­ia on Sat­ur­day, killing dozens of peo­ple evac­u­at­ed from two Shi’ite vil­lages the day before in a deal between war­ring sides.

    The agree­ment had stalled, leav­ing thou­sands of peo­ple from both gov­ern­ment-besieged and rebel-besieged areas strand­ed at two tran­sit points on the city’s out­skirts, before the explo­sion occurred.

    Late on Sat­ur­day bus­es began cross­ing into both gov­ern­ment-held and rebel-held ter­ri­to­ry from the two tran­sit points as the deal resumed, pro-Dam­as­cus media and the Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights mon­i­tor­ing group report­ed.

    But the inci­dent under­scored the dif­fi­cul­ty car­ry­ing out any agree­ment between war­ring sides in a volatile and com­plex Syr­i­an con­flict which, in its sev­enth year, shows no signs of eas­ing.

    A media unit run by Dam­as­cus ally Hezbol­lah said the attack was car­ried out by a sui­cide car bomb and killed at least 40 peo­ple. The Obser­va­to­ry said more than 24 were killed and scores more wound­ed.

    Footage on state TV showed bod­ies lying next to charred bus­es with their win­dows blown out, and vehi­cles in flames.

    The blast hit bus­es in the Rashidin area on Alep­po’s out­skirts. The vehi­cles had been wait­ing since Fri­day to cross from rebel-held ter­ri­to­ry into the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled city itself. Ambu­lances lat­er took the wound­ed to hos­pi­tal in Alep­po.

    The con­voy was car­ry­ing res­i­dents and pro-gov­ern­ment fight­ers from the Shi’ite vil­lages of al-Foua and Kefraya, which are besieged by rebels in near­by Idlib province, an insur­gent strong­hold.

    They had left under a deal where, in exchange, hun­dreds of Sun­ni insur­gents and their fam­i­lies were grant­ed safe pas­sage from Madaya, a gov­ern­ment-besieged town near Dam­as­cus.

    But a delay in the agree­ment had left all those evac­u­at­ed stuck at tran­sit points on Alep­po’s out­skirts since late on Fri­day.

    ...

    “The con­voy was car­ry­ing res­i­dents and pro-gov­ern­ment fight­ers from the Shi’ite vil­lages of al-Foua and Kefraya, which are besieged by rebels in near­by Idlib province, an insur­gent strong­hold.”

    Pre­sum­ably al Nus­ra would pre­fer us to assume that it was a gov­ern­ment attack. With a sui­cide car bomber. That blew up a van hand­ing out crisps right when chil­dren began flock­ing to it:

    BBC

    Syr­ia war: Huge bomb kills dozens of evac­uees in Syr­ia

    4/15/2017

    A huge car bomb has blast­ed a con­voy of coach­es car­ry­ing evac­uees from besieged gov­ern­ment-held towns in Syr­ia, killing at least 45 peo­ple..

    It shat­tered coach­es and set cars on fire, leav­ing a trail of bod­ies includ­ing chil­dren, as the con­voy wait­ed in rebel ter­ri­to­ry near Alep­po.

    ...

    What do we know of the bomb­ing?

    The bomb report­ed­ly went off at Rashidin, west of gov­ern­ment-held Alep­po, around 15:30 local time (12:30 GMT) at the check­point where the han­dover was due to take place.

    A sui­cide bomber dri­ving a van sup­pos­ed­ly car­ry­ing aid sup­plies blew it up near the coach­es, the UK-based Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights reports.

    “A van was dis­trib­ut­ing crisps,” one civil­ian evac­uee told @ZamanEnglish News. “Chil­dren start­ed run­ning after it. It then explod­ed.”

    ...

    ““A van was dis­trib­ut­ing crisps,” one civil­ian evac­uee told @ZamanEnglish News. “Chil­dren start­ed run­ning after it. It then explod­ed.””

    So in case any­one for­get that the var­i­ous al Qae­da off­shoots oper­at­ing in Syr­ia are will­ing to kill civil­ians, includ­ing chil­dren, the group that just car­ried out this car bomb­ing attack gave us anoth­er very time­ly reminder that, yes, they are more than hap­py to kill civil­ians. Sure, in this case they were pre­dom­i­nant­ly Shia civil­ians, but it’s not like al Qae­da does­n’t have a long his­to­ry of killing Sun­ni civil­ians too. And these are the groups that have no prob­lem killing civil­ians will be the ones that are on track to even­tu­al­ly gain con­trol of Syr­ia if the ongo­ing fight to the death is the ulti­mate solu­tion to the con­flict. It’s some­thing to keep in mind as both the respon­si­ble par­ty and response to the Idlib chem­i­cal attack con­tin­ues to be debat­ed by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty.

    We’ll have to wait for more infor­ma­tion on exact­ly who was behind this lat­est attack, but at this point it’s a safe bet that it was­n’t due to a clash between al Nus­ra and Ahrar al-Sham. A very safe bet.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 15, 2017, 2:48 pm
  2. From the “Cred­it Where Cred­it is Due” Depart­ment, it looks like the Trump admin­is­tra­tion actu­al­ly did some­thing that was­n’t desta­bi­liz­ing for some part of the world: The Trump admin­is­tra­tion just end­ed the CIA’s pro­gram to arm the ‘mod­er­ate’ Sun­ni rebel forces in Syr­ia. The Pen­tagon’s pro­gram of work­ing with Kur­dish-backed forces con­tin­ues.

    Sad­ly, despite being one of the few sane moves of seen from this admin­is­tra­tion, it’s unfor­tu­nate­ly being wide­ly por­trayed as ‘cav­ing to Moscow’. As if a weapons pro­gram that was indi­rect­ly fuel­ing rad­i­cal far-right reac­tionary Islamist groups and doom­ing any sort of post-Assad envi­ron­ment was in the US’s inter­est. Or the inter­ests of the Syr­i­an peo­ple:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    Trump ends covert CIA pro­gram to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syr­ia, a move sought by Moscow

    By Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous
    July 19 at 5:41 PM

    Pres­i­dent Trump has decid­ed to end the CIA’s covert pro­gram to arm and train mod­er­ate Syr­i­an rebels bat­tling the gov­ern­ment of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Rus­sia, accord­ing to U.S. offi­cials.

    The pro­gram was a cen­tral plank of a pol­i­cy begun by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion in 2013 to put pres­sure on Assad to step aside, but even its back­ers have ques­tioned its effi­ca­cy since Rus­sia deployed forces in Syr­ia two years lat­er.

    Offi­cials said the phas­ing out of the secret pro­gram reflects Trump’s inter­est in find­ing ways to work with Rus­sia, which saw the anti-Assad pro­gram as an assault on its inter­ests. The shut­ter­ing of the pro­gram is also an acknowl­edg­ment of Washington’s lim­it­ed lever­age and desire to remove Assad from pow­er.

    Just three months ago, after the Unit­ed States accused Assad of using chem­i­cal weapons, Trump launched retal­ia­to­ry airstrikes against a Syr­i­an air base. At the time, U.N. Ambas­sador Nik­ki Haley, said that “in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment.”

    Offi­cials said Trump made the deci­sion to scrap the CIA pro­gram near­ly a month ago, after an Oval Office meet­ing with CIA Direc­tor Mike Pom­peo and nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er H.R. McMas­ter ahead of a July 7 meet­ing in Ger­many with Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

    Spokes­men for the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil and the CIA declined to com­ment.

    After the Trump-Putin meet­ing, the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia announced an agree­ment to back a new cease-fire in south­west Syr­ia, along the Jor­dan­ian bor­der, where many of the CIA-backed rebels have long oper­at­ed. Trump described the lim­it­ed cease-fire deal as one of the ben­e­fits of a con­struc­tive work­ing rela­tion­ship with Moscow.

    The move to end the secret pro­gram to arm the anti-Assad rebels was not a con­di­tion of the cease-fire nego­ti­a­tions, which were already well under­way, said U.S. offi­cials, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty to dis­cuss the secret pro­gram.

    Trump’s deal­ings with Rus­sia have been under heavy scruti­ny because of the inves­ti­ga­tions into the Kremlin’s inter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion. The deci­sion on the CIA-backed rebels will be wel­comed by Moscow, which focused its fire­pow­er on those fight­ers after it inter­vened in Syr­ia in 2015.

    Some cur­rent and for­mer offi­cials who sup­port the pro­gram cast the move as a major con­ces­sion.

    “This is a momen­tous deci­sion,” said a cur­rent offi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty to dis­cuss a covert pro­gram. “Putin won in Syr­ia.”

    With the end of the CIA pro­gram, U.S. involve­ment in Syr­ia now con­sists of a vig­or­ous air cam­paign against the Islam­ic State and a Pen­ta­gon-run train-and-equip pro­gram in sup­port of the large­ly Kur­dish rebel force that is advanc­ing on Islam­ic State strong­holds in Raqqa and along the Euphrates Riv­er val­ley. The Trump administration’s long-term strat­e­gy, fol­low­ing the defeat of the Islam­ic State, appears to be focused on stitch­ing togeth­er a series of region­al cease-fire deals among the U.S.-backed rebels, the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia.

    Some ana­lysts said the deci­sion to end the pro­gram was like­ly to empow­er more rad­i­cal groups inside Syr­ia and dam­age the cred­i­bil­i­ty of the Unit­ed States.

    “We are falling into a Russ­ian trap,” said Charles Lis­ter, a senior fel­low at the Mid­dle East Insti­tute, who focus­es on the Syr­i­an resis­tance. “We are mak­ing the mod­er­ate resis­tance more and more vul­ner­a­ble. ... We are real­ly cut­ting them off at the neck.”

    Oth­ers said it was recog­ni­tion of Assad’s entrenched posi­tion in Syr­ia.

    “It’s prob­a­bly a nod to real­i­ty,” said Ilan Gold­en­berg, a for­mer Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial and direc­tor of the Mid­dle East Secu­ri­ty Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty.

    U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials say bat­tle­field gains by rebels in 2015 prompt­ed Russia’s direct mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion on the side of the Assad regime. Some U.S. offi­cials and their allies in the region urged Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma to respond by pro­vid­ing the rebels with advanced anti­aircraft weapons so they could bet­ter defend them­selves. But Oba­ma balked, cit­ing con­cerns about the Unit­ed States get­ting pulled into a con­flict with Rus­sia.

    Senior U.S. offi­cials said that the covert pro­gram would be phased out over a peri­od of months. It is also pos­si­ble that some of the sup­port could be redi­rect­ed to oth­er mis­sions, such as fight­ing the Islam­ic State or mak­ing sure that the rebels can still defend them­selves from attacks.

    ...

    U.S. offi­cials said the deci­sion had the back­ing of Jor­dan, where some of the rebels were trained, and appeared to be part of a larg­er Trump admin­is­tra­tion strat­e­gy to focus on nego­ti­at­ing lim­it­ed cease-fire deals with the Rus­sians.

    Ear­li­er this month, five days into the first cease-fire in south­west Syr­ia, Trump indi­cat­ed that anoth­er agree­ment was under dis­cus­sion with Moscow. “We are work­ing on the sec­ond cease-fire in a very rough part of Syr­ia,” Trump said. “If we get that and a few more, all of a sud­den we are going to have no bul­lets being fired in Syr­ia.”

    One big poten­tial risk of shut­ting down the CIA pro­gram is that the Unit­ed States may lose its abil­i­ty to block oth­er coun­tries, such as Turkey and Per­sian Gulf allies, from fun­nel­ing more sophis­ti­cat­ed weapons — includ­ing man-portable air-defense sys­tems, or MANPADS — to anti-Assad rebels, includ­ing more rad­i­cal groups.

    Toward the end of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, some offi­cials advo­cat­ed end­ing the CIA pro­gram, argu­ing that the rebels would be inef­fec­tive with­out a major esca­la­tion in U.S. sup­port. But the pro­gram still had the sup­port of a major­i­ty of top Oba­ma advis­ers, who argued that the Unit­ed States couldn’t aban­don its allies on the ground and give up on the mod­er­ate oppo­si­tion because of the dam­age that it would do to U.S. stand­ing in the region.

    Even those who were skep­ti­cal about the program’s long-term val­ue, viewed it as a key bar­gain­ing chip that could be used to wring con­ces­sions from Moscow in nego­ti­a­tions over Syria’s future.

    “Peo­ple began think­ing about end­ing the pro­gram, but it was not some­thing you’d do for free,” said a for­mer White House offi­cial. “To give [the pro­gram] away with­out get­ting any­thing in return would be fool­ish.”

    ———-

    “Trump ends covert CIA pro­gram to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syr­ia, a move sought by Moscow” by Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 07/19/2017

    With the end of the CIA pro­gram, U.S. involve­ment in Syr­ia now con­sists of a vig­or­ous air cam­paign against the Islam­ic State and a Pen­ta­gon-run train-and-equip pro­gram in sup­port of the large­ly Kur­dish rebel force that is advanc­ing on Islam­ic State strong­holds in Raqqa and along the Euphrates Riv­er val­ley. The Trump administration’s long-term strat­e­gy, fol­low­ing the defeat of the Islam­ic State, appears to be focused on stitch­ing togeth­er a series of region­al cease-fire deals among the U.S.-backed rebels, the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia.”

    As we can see, mil­i­tary sup­port for Kur­dish-led rebel force is indeed con­tin­u­ing. Just not for the pre­dom­i­nant­ly Sun­ni ‘mod­er­ate’ rebel forces. Which, inter­est­ing­ly, appears to be OK with at least some oppo­si­tion lead­ers. Why? Because those CIA weapons kept falling into the hands of the al Qae­da off­shoots that com­prise the bulk of the rebels:

    The Finan­cial Times

    Syr­i­an rebels alarmed by reports covert CIA aid will end
    Insur­gents fear Trump will cut US fund­ing to oppo­si­tion forces

    by: Eri­ka Solomon in Beirut

    07/20/2017

    For near­ly four years, Syr­i­an rebels have clung to a pro­gramme of CIA assis­tance as a sym­bol of US sup­port in their bat­tle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

    So reports that Don­ald Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion will stop the lim­it­ed scheme to arm and train Syria’s oppo­si­tion forces have sparked anger and con­fu­sion.

    Rebels say they have not been informed of any changes to the pol­i­cy intro­duced by Barack Oba­ma as US pres­i­dent in 2013 as part of efforts to put pres­sure on Syria’s pres­i­dent and bring about a polit­i­cal set­tle­ment. Mr Assad’s main backer, Rus­sia, has long pushed for the US to end sup­port.

    Accord­ing to a report first pub­lished by the Wash­ing­ton Post news­pa­per, Mr Trump decid­ed last month to end fund­ing for the CIA pro­gramme. A US offi­cial told Reuters that the US was not mak­ing a major con­ces­sion, giv­en Mr Assad’s grip on pow­er, although not on all of Syr­ia, “but it’s a sig­nal to Putin that the admin­is­tra­tion wants to improve ties to Rus­sia”.

    “If these reports are true, the admin­is­tra­tion is play­ing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin,” John McCain, the Repub­li­can chair­man of the Sen­ate armed ser­vices com­mit­tee, coun­tered. “Mak­ing any con­ces­sion to Rus­sia, absent a broad­er strat­e­gy for Syr­ia, is irre­spon­si­ble and short-sight­ed,” he said.

    Rebels con­tact­ed by the Finan­cial Times say their CIA inter­locu­tors had not con­firmed any change, and polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion fig­ures who met US offi­cials this week say they, too, were giv­en no hint of any change. The White House has not con­firmed that the pro­gramme has been can­celled.

    “Until now, noth­ing is con­firmed. There have been no changes on the ground. When we spoke to the con­cerned par­ties [in the oper­a­tions room] they were also sur­prised at the news,” said Has­san Hamadeh, com­man­der of Divi­sion 101, a rebel group. “Co-ordi­na­tion is ongo­ing, and every­thing has been hap­pen­ing nor­mal­ly.”

    One rebel com­man­der who asked not to be named said US sup­port had been wan­ing for months but not­ed that the rebels had been giv­en their salaries as nor­mal last month. Still, he believed the deci­sion was final. “The CIA’s role is done,” the rebel com­man­der said.

    ...

    The pro­gramme, fund­ed by inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence agen­cies from west­ern coun­tries, Gulf states and Turkey, had long been fraught by rebel rival­ries and feuds between donor states. The CIA fund­ing for rebel groups fed into two inter­na­tion­al­ly backed oper­a­tions that sup­port­ed an array of rebel groups seen as ide­o­log­i­cal mod­er­ates: one based in Jor­dan to help rebels in the south and one based in Turkey to fun­nel aid to rebels in the north.

    Many observers and even rebels them­selves crit­i­cised the pro­gramme for turn­ing a blind eye to its fund­ing end­ing up with jihadis.

    Rebels who received sup­port would return to volatile ter­ri­to­ries in Syr­ia, only to be pressed by an al-Qae­da-linked jiha­di group to hand over a cut. “Frankly so much of the weapons and ammu­ni­tion were going to [Syria’s al-Qae­da affil­i­ate] that it’s prob­a­bly a good thing,” a third oppo­si­tion fig­ure said.

    For all the crit­i­cism of the US sup­port, one of the rebel com­man­ders said that los­ing it would push Syr­ia fur­ther toward Islamists or Mr Assad.

    “I don’t want the Amer­i­cans to leave, because this means Syr­ia has been sur­ren­dered — on one side, to the Turks and the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood groups it sup­ports in Syr­ia, and on the oth­er side to Rus­sia and the regime.”

    ———-

    “Syr­i­an rebels alarmed by reports covert CIA aid will end” by Eri­ka Solomon; The Finan­cial Times; 07/20/2017

    “Rebels who received sup­port would return to volatile ter­ri­to­ries in Syr­ia, only to be pressed by an al-Qae­da-linked jiha­di group to hand over a cut. “Frankly so much of the weapons and ammu­ni­tion were going to [Syria’s al-Qae­da affil­i­ate] that it’s prob­a­bly a good thing,” a third oppo­si­tion fig­ure said.”

    And that sum­ma­rizes why the CIA’s strat­e­gy was so hope­less­ly flawed bar­ring a major US mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion, which real­ly would put the US and Rus­sia at risk of open war­fare: The ‘mod­er­ate’ rebels sim­ply did not have the man-pow­er required to ‘out com­pete’ groups like Jab­hat al-Nus­ra a.k.a Jab­hat Fateh al-Sham no mat­ter how many weapons the CIA gave them. And it’s not like there has­n’t been years spent try­ing to train a sig­nif­i­cant ‘mod­er­ate’ rebel force. It’s just that those efforts have failed, and not for a lack of weapons.

    And in relat­ed news, on the same day that we got the reports about the end of the CIA’s pro­gram, there was a report in the Mil­i­tary Times about footage from Kur­dish activists of a large num­ber of US-made armored vehi­cles get­ting deliv­ered into Syr­ia . And the types of vehi­cles observed aren’t the kinds of vehi­cles that have been approved for the SDF (Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces) and are asso­ci­at­ed withe US spe­cial oper­a­tions. Mil­i­tary offi­cials say the vehi­cles aren’t part of the US’s aid to the SDF, and when ques­tioned if the U.S. was plan­ning to increase troops in Syr­ia or engage in a more active role, the mil­i­tary would nei­ther con­firm nor deny it, cit­ing oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty:

    The Mil­i­tary Times

    US armored vehi­cles seen pour­ing into Syr­ia

    By: Shawn Snow
    July 19, 2017

    WASHINGTON — Over the last week videos and pic­tures post­ed by Kur­dish activists on social media show flatbed trucks deliv­er­ing U.S.-made MRAP, M‑ATVs, and up-armored bull­doz­ers into Syr­ia.

    Mil­i­tary offi­cials say these vehi­cles are not part of the U‑S.-led coali­tion’s aid to Kur­dish allies on the ground who are cur­rent­ly engaged in a tense street-by-street urban bat­tle in Raqqa — ISIS’s self-pro­claimed cap­i­tal.

    The images of heav­i­ly armored Amer­i­can vehi­cles flow­ing into Syr­ia emerge as the Kur­dish fight­ers attempt to push clos­er to Raqqa’s city cen­ter and their progress has slowed in recent days.

    “The SDF [Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces] has report­ed­ly encoun­tered inten­si­fied resis­tance and ‘bet­ter-emplaced defens­es’ over the past four weeks fol­low­ing ini­tial rapid gains in dis­tricts on the out­skirts of Ar-Raqqa City,” accord­ing to a report of the lat­est assess­ment from the Insti­tute for the Study of War.

    Nev­er­the­less, progress con­tin­ues, accord­ing to Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pen­ta­gon spokesman.

    The Amer­i­can-backed Kur­dish fight­ers in Syr­ia have tak­en heavy casu­al­ties, Davis said. Last week, three west­ern­ers, includ­ing two Amer­i­cans who were not active-duty mil­i­tary ser­vice mem­bers, were killed in what was described as a mine explo­sion by sources on the ground. In all, Kur­dish fight­ers with the People’s Pro­tec­tion Unit, or YPG, have lost 35 fight­ers in the month of July alone, accord­ing to YPG press releas­es.

    “ISIS has exten­sive­ly lever­aged inno­v­a­tive tools to slow coali­tion advances, includ­ing drone-borne muni­tions and a new type of motion-acti­vat­ed IED,” accord­ing to the ISW report.

    Offi­cials with Oper­a­tion Inher­ent Resolve, which over­sees Amer­i­can oper­a­tions in Iraq and Syr­ia, have push backed on claims that progress has slowed or stalled, call­ing the reports “not true.”

    “The SDF have not sus­pend­ed mil­i­tary oper­a­tions. In fact, over the course of the last week, the SDF have cleared more than 35 [square kilo­me­ters] of ISIS-held ter­ri­to­ry, in and around Raqqa,” said the OIR offi­cial.

    How­ev­er, the videos of U.S. armored vehi­cles head­ed towards the embat­tled city of Raqqa calls into ques­tion the type of aid being deliv­ered to the Kur­dish allies and its ade­qua­cy to lib­er­ate the city from ISIS fight­ers.

    Armored vehi­cles are a part of coali­tion aid to the SDF, offi­cials at the Pen­ta­gon said. Those vehi­cles are Guardian armored trucks and U.S. up-armored Humvees, accord­ing to offi­cials at OIR.

    How­ev­er, Amer­i­can-made M‑ATVs and MRAPs are not includ­ed in the aid pack­age for the SDF. Also, pic­tures of the M‑ATVs show mounts for the Com­mon Remote­ly Oper­at­ed Weapon Sta­tion, or CROWs sys­tem — a remote­ly oper­at­ed weapons sys­tem that can be con­trolled by troops from inside the vehi­cle. CROWs sys­tems are also not includ­ed in aid to Kur­dish fight­ers.

    These vehi­cles have com­mon­ly been oper­at­ed by U.S spe­cial oper­a­tions forces in Syr­ia. The tim­ing and appear­ance of the large con­voys of M‑ATVs calls into ques­tion their pur­pose.

    When asked by Mil­i­tary Times about whether the U.S. was plan­ning to increase troops in Syr­ia or engage in a more active role beyond advis­ing part­ner forces, OIR would not con­firm or deny, cit­ing oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty.

    The clips also show armored bull­doz­ers and earth movers. Accord­ing to the Defense Depart­men­t’s fis­cal year 2018 request for funds for the train-and-equip pro­gram for Syr­i­an part­ner forces, these vehi­cles are includ­ed in aid to “vet­ted” Syr­i­an groups.

    Armored bull­doz­ers have been instru­men­tal in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and espe­cial­ly Mosul where more than 100 Cater­pil­lar D7R doz­ers have been sent since 2015, accord­ing to a report by the Wash­ing­ton Post.

    ...

    ———-

    “US armored vehi­cles seen pour­ing into Syr­ia” by Shawn Snow; The Mil­i­tary Times; 07/19/2017

    How­ev­er, Amer­i­can-made M‑ATVs and MRAPs are not includ­ed in the aid pack­age for the SDF. Also, pic­tures of the M‑ATVs show mounts for the Com­mon Remote­ly Oper­at­ed Weapon Sta­tion, or CROWs sys­tem — a remote­ly oper­at­ed weapons sys­tem that can be con­trolled by troops from inside the vehi­cle. CROWs sys­tems are also not includ­ed in aid to Kur­dish fight­ers.”

    So a whole bunch of mil­i­tary vehi­cles not pre­vi­ous­ly approved as mil­i­tary aid to the large­ly Kur­dish forces are seen get­ting by Kur­dish activists flow­ing into Syr­ia, which implies there were seen head­ing towards Kur­dish held ter­ri­to­ries. And the US mil­i­tary says it’s not aid to the Kurd and won’t com­ment on whether or not it’s a sign of increased US spe­cial forces involve­ment, pre­sum­ably along-side the Kur­dish forces:

    ...
    Mil­i­tary offi­cials say these vehi­cles are not part of the U‑S.-led coali­tion’s aid to Kur­dish allies on the ground who are cur­rent­ly engaged in a tense street-by-street urban bat­tle in Raqqa — ISIS’s self-pro­claimed cap­i­tal.

    ...

    These vehi­cles have com­mon­ly been oper­at­ed by U.S spe­cial oper­a­tions forces in Syr­ia. The tim­ing and appear­ance of the large con­voys of M‑ATVs calls into ques­tion their pur­pose.

    When asked by Mil­i­tary Times about whether the U.S. was plan­ning to increase troops in Syr­ia or engage in a more active role beyond advis­ing part­ner forces, OIR would not con­firm or deny, cit­ing oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty.
    ...

    That all sounds like the shut­ting down of the CIA’s pro­gram is coin­cid­ing with an uptick in direct US mil­i­tary involve­ment with the Kurds. And while that might seem like the US is drop­ping one proxy-force in exchange for a pol­i­cy of greater direct US mil­i­tary action in Syr­ia, don’t for­get that the only way the US was going to make the ‘mod­er­ate’ Sun­ni rebels even remote­ly com­pa­ra­ble in terms of mil­i­tary strength to their al Qaeda/jihadist com­peti­tors is with a dra­mat­ic ramp up in direct US mil­i­tary action in Syr­ia. And if the US is intent on see­ing Assad’s regime fall with­out a mass slaugh­ter of civil­ians by vic­to­ri­ous jihadist forces who will turn Dam­as­cus into a blood bath those ‘mod­er­ate’ forces had bet­ter be the dom­i­nant Sun­ni mil­i­tary rebel force. Which, again, is only real­is­ti­cal­ly pos­si­ble with a mas­sive up tick in direct US mil­i­tary forces oper­at­ing along side them. That’s just the real­i­ty on the ground when the al Qae­da-off­shoots are the over­whelm­ing­ly dom­i­nant Sun­ni rebel force.

    So more US spe­cial forces oper­a­tions in Syr­ia is prob­a­bly a giv­en if the US is going to con­tin­ue inter­ven­ing in this con­flict. The big ques­tion is whether or not the pri­mar­i­ly US goal is to defeat ISIS or defeat ISIS and col­lapse the Assad gov­ern­ment. And if the goal is to defeat ISIS and col­lapse the Assad gov­ern­ment, the next big ques­tion is whether or not the US is fine hav­ing jihadist groups take over and wage a civil­ian slaugh­ter. And if the US isn’t fine with that out­come, the next ques­tion is how will­ing the US is on engag­ing in a mas­sive mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion that effec­tive­ly makes the rel­a­tive­ly weak ‘mod­er­ate’ rebels the dom­i­nant Sun­ni rebel force by get­ting into direct simul­ta­ne­ous con­flicts with the jihadist rebels and Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and pos­si­bly Rus­sia. And, thus far, it looks like the answers the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has arrived at is to focus on ISIS alone while focus­ing on a cease-fire between the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and the rest of the rebels. Good for Trump *gag*. It’s a hel­lu­va lot bet­ter than the alter­na­tives.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 20, 2017, 2:49 pm

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