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“Moderate” Erdogan Aiding ISIS?

Tayyip Erdogan

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash drive that can be obtained here. (The flash drive includes the anti-fascist books avail­able on this site.)

COMMENT: In FTR #805, we noted the apparent role of Saudi Prince Bandar in the financing of ISIS. It appears that Erdogan’s Turkey is also involved in financing the group. This should not really come as a great surprise, in that Erdogan is no “moderate” as the mainstream media has [mis]represented him.

 In FTR #‘s 737738739, we noted that Erdogan’s gov­ern­ment was a direct out­growth of the Bank Al-Taqwa com­plex and an exten­sion of the Islamic fas­cism of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood. In addi­tion, Erdogan’s regime has strong links to euro-fascists and the Under­ground Reich. We have doc­u­mented this in numer­ous posts and broad­casts.

The Erdo­gan gov­ern­ment appears to be an Islamic, Under­ground Reich entity, ulti­mately directed at the core of the Earth Island.

A principle vehicle for the Turkish/Erdogan funding of ISIS appears to be the IHH, which draws support from Erdogan’s son and Ptech funder Yassin Al-Qadi.

Now that U.S. forces are engaged in combat operations against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, the Obama administration must press ISIS on all fronts, targeting its financing, logistics, and weapons providers. Turkey — America’s ally and NATO member — is allegedly involved. Clarifying Turkey’s role would serve U.S.-Turkey relations.

During my visit recent to Turkey, members of Turkey’s parliament and prominent personalities described connections between Turkey, Turks and militant Sunni organizations, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They allege a prominent role for Turkey’s Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), an Islamic charity with a history of assisting extremist groups. Bilal Erdogan, President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son, has ties to the IHH board, and allegedly uses his father’s political network to raise funds for the organization. Some sources say Bilal has served on the IHH board, but the IHH web site does not currently list him as a board member.

President-elect Erdogan was outraged by atrocities committed against Sunni Muslims in Syria. He became the chief critic of Syria’s President Bashar al- Assad, hosting opposition groups and the Free Syrian Army’s headquarters in Gaziantep. The West’s failure to support the Free Syrian Army further incensed Erdogan. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates provided funds, while Turkey coordinated the travel, payments, and weapons supplies for ISIS, Al-Nusra, and the Islamic Front.

According to a March 2010 report of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, IHH had an annual budget of $100 million with field operations in 120 countries. IHH works with Muslim Brotherhood affiliates worldwide. The first known shipment of weapons to “Brothers” in Syria occurred in September 2012. Free Syrian Army commanders learned that a boat loaded with weapons docked in Syria. It was registered to members of IHH.

Major contributors to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party are “encouraged” to make contributions, lest they fall from favor and lose government contracts. IHH also receives money from international sponsors. IHH is financed by Yasin Al-Qadi, a wealthy al Qaeda-linked Saudi businessman with close ties to Erdogan. IHH is an affiliate of the Saudi-based “Union of Good.” Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, an advocate of suicide attacks in Israel, chairs the “Union of Good.” Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a radical cleric and “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the United States in 2004, serves on its board. In 2010, the German branch of IHH was banned for links to jihadist activity. The U.S. Department of State listed the Union of Good as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

 

 

Discussion

50 comments for ““Moderate” Erdogan Aiding ISIS?”

  1. The New Normal for spying continues to get weird:

    Aug 18, 9:10 AM EDT

    Turkey calls German ambassador over spying claims

    By SUZAN FRASER
    Associated Press

    ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Monday summoned Germany’s ambassador and demanded an explanation after an “unacceptable, inexcusable” report that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency targeted NATO ally Turkey in addition to eavesdropping on U.S. officials’ conversations.

    German Ambassador Eberhard Pohl was also told that, if the reports were true, Turkey expected Germany to immediately stop any espionage targeting Turkey, according to the Foreign Ministry.

    German magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday that the agency, known by its German acronym BND, had inadvertently listened to calls made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and predecessor Hillary Clinton. It also cited a confidential 2009 BND document listing Turkey as a target for intelligence gathering, but didn’t say what that spying involved.

    If true, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said spying by Germany would be “unacceptable, inexcusable and would most certainly require an explanation.”

    He said he would speak with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter-Steinmeier later Monday. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Monday’s meeting with the ambassador took place in a “friendly atmosphere.”

    The U.S. has not commented.

    German officials would not confirm Der Spiegel’s report. Government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said only that the government in July informed a parliamentary intelligence committee about some of the matters in the report and would inform it about the rest soon. The panel is sworn to secrecy.

    Some German lawmakers defended the idea of spying on Turkey. Christian Flisek, of the governing Social Democrats, noted that it is “a geopolitically important country.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 19, 2014, 7:23 pm
  2. Here’s a reminder that the Libyan civil war is also a proxy war:

    The New York Times
    Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.

    By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ERIC SCHMITTAUG. 25, 2014

    CAIRO — Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.

    The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.

    The strikes in Tripoli are another salvo in a power struggle defined by old-style Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Arrayed against them and backing the Islamists are the rival states of Turkey and Qatar.

    American officials said the Egyptians and the Emiratis had teamed up against an Islamist target inside Libya at least once before. In recent months, the officials said, teams of “special forces” operating out of Egypt but possibly composed primarily of Emiratis had also successfully destroyed an Islamist camp near the eastern Libyan city of Derna, an extremist stronghold.

    Several officials said in recent days that United States diplomats were fuming about the airstrikes, believing the intervention could further inflame the Libyan conflict as the United Nations and Western powers are seeking to broker a peaceful resolution. Officials said the government of Qatar has already provided weapons and support to the Islamist-aligned forces inside Libya, so the new strikes represent a shift from a battle of proxies to direct involvement. It could also set off an arms race.

    “We don’t see this as constructive at all,” said one senior American official.

    The strikes have also, so far, proved counterproductive. Islamist-aligned militias fighting for control of Tripoli successfully seized its main airport just hours after they were hit with the second round of strikes.

    “In every arena — in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Libya, even what happened in Egypt — this regional polarization, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or U.A.E., on one side and Qatar and Turkey on the other, has proved to be a gigantic impediment to international efforts to resolve any of these crisis,” said Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Middle East specialist at the State Department.

    Egypt’s role, the American officials said, was to provide bases for the launch of the strikes. The Egyptian president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, and other officials have issued vigorous-sounding but carefully worded public statements denying any direct action by Egyptian forces in Libya.

    “There are no Egyptian aircraft or forces in Libya, and no Egyptian aircraft participated in military action inside Libya,” Mr. Sisi said on Sunday, the state news agency reported.

    In private, the officials said, the Egyptian denials had been more sweeping.

    The officials said the U.A.E. — which boasts one of the most effective air forces in the Arab world, thanks to American equipment and training — provided the pilots, warplanes and aerial refueling planes necessary for the fighters to bomb Tripoli out of bases in Egypt. It was unclear if the planes or munitions were American-made.

    The U.A.E. has not commented directly on the strikes but came close to denying a role. On Monday, an Emirati state newspaper printed a statement from Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, calling any claims about an Emirati role in the attacks “a diversion” from the Libyans’ desire for “stability” and rejection of the Islamists. The allegations, he said, came from a group that “wanted to use the cloak of religion to achieve its political objectives” and “the people discovered its lies and failures.”

    The U.A.E. was once considered a sidekick to Saudi Arabia, a regional heavyweight and the dominant power among the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The Saudi rulers, who draw their own legitimacy from a puritanical understanding of Islam, have long feared the threat of other religious political movements, especially the well-organized and widespread Muslim Brotherhood.

    But Western diplomats in the region say the U.A.E. is now far more assertive and aggressive than even the Saudis about the need to eradicate Islamist movements around the region, perhaps because the Emirati rulers perceive a greater domestic threat.

    The issue has caused a rare schism among the Arab monarchies of the gulf because Qatar has taken the opposite tack. In contrast to its neighbors, it has welcomed Islamist expatriates to its capital, Doha, and supported their factions around the region, including in Libya.

    During the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya three years ago, Qatar and the U.A.E. both played active roles, but each favored different clients among the rebels. While Qatar backed certain Islamists, the U.A.E. favored certain tribal or regional militias, including the militias based in the Western mountain town of Zintan, said Frederic Wehrey, another associate at the Carnegie Institute and a former United States military attaché in Libya.

    The “proxy competition” between the two gulf states in Libya, he said, goes back to 2011.

    Now it has extended to backing different sides in what threatens to become a civil war between rival coalitions of Libyan cities, tribes and militias. Although the ideological lines are blurry, the U.A.E. has backed its Zintani clients in what they describe as a battle against Islamist extremists. Qatar, its Islamist clients and loosely allied regional or tribal groups from the coastal city of Misurata have squared off from the other side; most insist that their fight has nothing to do with political Islam and seek to prevent an Egyptian-style “counterrevolution.”

    The first strikes occurred before dawn a week ago, hitting positions in Tripoli controlled by militias on the side of the Islamists. The bombs blew up a small weapons depot, among other targets, and local authorities said they killed six people.

    A second set of airstrikes took place south of Tripoli in the early hours on Saturday. The Islamist-allied militias were posed to capture the airport from Zintani militias allied with the U.A.E. who had controlled it since 2011, and the strikes may have been intended to slow the advance.

    Striking again before dawn, jets bombed rocket launchers, military vehicles and a warehouse all controlled by Islamist-allied militia. At least a dozen people were killed, local authorities said. But within hours the Islamist-aligned forces had nonetheless taken the airport.

    Responsibility for the airstrikes was initially a mystery. In both cases, anti-Islamist forces based in eastern Libya under a renegade former general, Khalifa Heftir, sought to claim responsibility. But the strikes, at night and from a long distance, were beyond the known capabilities of General Heftir’s forces.

    The Islamist-allied militias, allied under the banner Libya Dawn, were quick to suspect Egypt and the U.A.E. But they offered no evidence or details.

    You have to wonder just how convoluted the proxy-war logic gets in this situation. You also have to wonder how much more common secret bombing runs are going to get where no one initially claims responsibility. Once stealth drone bombers with a global range are part of the standard arsenal of virtually every country with an air force it’ll just be a matter of time before secret bombing runs become much more accessible to every nation and therefore much easier to get away with because so many other countries (or private entities) could be the possible culprit. Yikes.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 25, 2014, 7:12 pm
  3. This is via Google Translate…

    https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.welt.de%2Fpolitik%2Fausland%2Farticle132446686%2FArbeitet-die-Tuerkei-heimlich-an-der-Atombombe.html&edit-text=

    Turkey secretly working on the atomic bomb?

    The BND peeking from Ankara: The reason could be a Turkish nuclear weapons program, working on the apparently secretly. The trail of clues leads from fuel rods up to medium-range missiles.

    By Hans Rühle

    Where Europe bordering the Middle East, there is a man who follows powerful visions. The new Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to be as dynamic as a Southeast Asian boom economy, while inspired by Islamic piety and widely invincible as once the Ottoman Empire. Not unlike his predecessor Sultan also spread this as much fear as gloss.

    As was recently announced that the federal intelligence service spying on Turkey , there were several possible reasons for the same: through the country on the Bosporus drag Islamist fighters in the crises in Iraq and Syria. Drug trafficking, smuggling, militant Kurds can explore in Erdogan’s Turkey also. But there is an even better, though hardly known reason, which makes Turkey a legitimate target German intelligence services. For some time, there are increasing signs that Erdogan wants to arm his country nuclear multiply.

    The dispute over the Iranian nuclear program and North Korea’s provocations with nuclear weapons tests employ the messages at regular intervals. That obviously Turkey is working on nuclear weapons, however, is hardly discussed publicly. The western intelligence scene, however, is largely in agreement about it.

    Large-scale civilian nuclear program

    Model for the strategy of the Turks is clearly Iran. Tehran seeks nuclear weapons by establishing bomb material secretly under the cover of a civilian nuclear program. And Turkey has launched a large-scale civilian nuclear program in recent years. The official reason for this: The domestic economy was growing and need more power.

    2011 instructed the Russian company Rosatom Ankara for 15 billion euros to build a large reactor complex on the Mediterranean coast, about 300 kilometers east of the tourist center of Antalya. Two years later, a similar agreement with a Japanese-French consortium for the price of 17 billion. Even more interesting than these figures but the contracts – and especially what is not in it.

    When companies build a light-water reactor, they usually agree to the Government, the project to operate for 60 years, to provide the necessary for the operation of uranium available and then take back the spent fuel. Exactly offered in the case of Turkey in both Rosatom and the Japanese-French consortium. So far nothing special so.

    Not fixed supply of uranium contract

    Turkey but has waived in both cases it to fix the supply of uranium and the withdrawal of spent fuel contract. She insisted the contrary, to regulate this separately later. Explains Ankara has not this unusual maneuver in the negotiations. But the intention behind it is easy to see: The Turkish leadership wants to keep these parts of the nuclear program in their own hands – and they are crucial to any State that wants to develop nuclear weapons.

    First, there are the fuel rods: Not only Gorleben in Lower Saxony, but all over the world, the disposal of nuclear waste is discussed as a problem. Turkey on the other hand do not want to give up their spent fuel obviously. The only logical explanation for this: you want to make preparations for the construction of a plutonium bomb.

    And this is a civilian nuclear power plant so: After burning off the bars contain only 90 percent of waste, but in addition nine percent contaminated uranium and plutonium contaminated percent. A plant with the help of highly radioactive material from the rods could be isolated, can be built within half a year and is about the size of a normal office complex. This has been shown in the United States system studies.

    The plutonium bomb on base

    The fuel rods could theoretically be processed for reuse in a civilian reactor. But this is much more expensive than buying new. If Turkey still wants to keep the spent fuel rods, then there’s just one reasonable explanation: She wants to gather material for a bomb on plutonium base.

    The gaps in the contracts even open yet another way to bomb, namely directly with uranium. For Ankara took the same technology that is also used to make the ore as civilian reactor fuel available: uranium enrichment.

    For the power plant operation, it must be enriched to 3.5 to five per cent, for nuclear weapons on at least 80 percent. The technical process is the same in principle. And so, a suitable cover for those who want to take power in truth produce nuclear weapons. If Turkey dropped with the reactor foreign companies to a firm order for uranium, then it seems likely that they will make it for yourself.

    They want to understand the nuclear cycle

    It also affected by the fact that Ankara intends to enrich uranium, yet rejects indignantly. In any case, the attitude of the Turkish government is contradictory. Despite the denials Turkey is vehemently on their alleged rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including uranium enrichment. The Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz founded the gaps in the contracts with the need to “try to understand” the nuclear cycle.

    According to the Federal Intelligence Service, who were known to a limited German public by a relevant information service, the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has already arranged in 2010, secretly prepare for the construction of facilities for the enrichment. According to other intelligence findings that Turkey already has a significant number of centrifuges. Where they come from, can be supposed, after all: Pakistan.

    The Turks had a leading role in the activities of Abdul Qadeer Khan Pakistani nuclear smuggler who endowed 1987-2002 Iran, North Korea and Libya with thousands of centrifuge. The electronics of all Pakistani assets came from Turkish partners. Khan had even temporarily the intention to relocate its entire illegal centrifuge production in Turkey. 1998 offered the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the Turks even a “nuclear partnership” in research.

    Nuclear Scientific exchanges with Pakistan

    Turkey had finally been helped in the construction of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program in the 80s. At that time many components, which could not be procured open, delivered via Turkey to Pakistan were. Therefore it is not surprising if intelligence report that to date there is brisk nuclear scientific exchange between the two countries.

    But probably it’s about more than this, AQ Khan has proven its customers not only supplied with the centrifuge, but also with complete blueprints for the construction of nuclear weapons. Such a set of highly sensitive documents could ensure the CIA in Libya in 2003, hidden in the plastic bag from a master tailor from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. Should Turkey along with Iran, North Korea and Libya have been another customer Khan, then they should have received similar benefits: material and know-how.

    Another important indication in the chain is the Turkish missile program. Since the mid-80s developed Turkey short-range missiles with a maximum range of 150 kilometers. This was to obviously not be satisfied. Public sensation was caused mainly prompted Erdogan in December 2011 to the defense industry of his country, to develop long-range missiles. Two months later, Turkey began apparently with the development of a medium-range missile. A type of missile with a range of 1,500 kilometers, after all, already tested the Turks 2012 A medium-range missile with 2,500 km range should be ready in 2015.

    Medium-range missiles as a further indication

    Although this schedule for all experiences can not be complied with, there is the question of the meaning and purpose of such accelerated missile development. The answer is relatively simple: medium-range missiles are suitable due to their low accuracy and payload only for weapons of mass destruction. A program for their preparation is a strong – a very strong – an indication of an ongoing nuclear weapons program.

    But what exactly does the political leadership of Turkey to the nuclear option? Not much. Again, you have to know to read hints and omissions. In August 2011, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, said: “We can not let that Iran has nuclear weapons.” Two years later, the then Turkish President Abdullah Gul clarified this position in an interview with the magazine “Foreign Affairs”: “Turkey will not allow a neighboring country has weapons, on which Turkey does not have.”

    Pursued nuclear weapons massively

    At this time, should have been clear and the Turkish leaders that Iran promotes its nuclear weapons massively. If Erdogan would follow, then it might bring a no great internal problems. In a survey conducted in 2012, 54 percent of the 1500 Turkish respondents were in favor of developing the event of a nuclear-armed Iran’s own nuclear weapons.

    German intelligence and representatives of the people may disagree. If an ally recognizable faces on the way to nuclear-armed regional power, then this is a unique process that must take the German policy in the EU and to respond to them.

    Given the already established nuclear power, Israel and the nascent nuclear-armed Iran, the Turkish prime minister has no choice but to his country to arm nuclear, if he wants to carry out his vision of a great power Turkey. Because otherwise, Turkey remains his understanding of secondary importance – and therefore can not and will Erdogan definitely not satisfied.

    The author Hans Rühle from 1982 to 1988 Head of the Policy Planning Staff in the Department of Defense.

    Posted by Vanfield | September 22, 2014, 12:06 pm
  4. http://pjmedia.com/spengler/2014/09/24/erdogans-flying-carpet-unravels/

    Erdogan’s Flying Carpet Unravels

    Posted By David P. Goldman On September 24, 2014 @ 5:45 am In Uncategorized | 1 Comment
    Erdogan’s Flying Carpet Unravels

    by David P. Goldman
    Asia Times
    September 23, 2014

    Crossposted from Asia Times Online:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-01-230914.html

    Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a growing list of enemies. “Among his targets” at a recent address to a Turkish business group “were The New York Times, the Gezi events of 2013, credit rating agencies, the Hizmet movement, the Koc family and high interest rates,” Zamanreported September 18. Erdogan earlier had threatened to expel rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch from Turkey if they persisted in making negative comments about Turkey’s credit.

    Turkey’s financial position is one of the world’s great financial mysteries, in fact, a uniquely opaque puzzle: the country has by far the biggest foreign financing requirement relative to GDP among all the world’s large economies, yet the sources of its financing are impossible to trace.

    Source: Bloomberg

    Source: Central Bank of Turkey

    I have analyzed sovereign debt risk for three decades – including stints as head of credit strategy at Credit Suisse and head of debt research at Bank of America – and have never seen anything quite like this.

    At around 8% of GDP, Turkey’s current account deficit is a standout among emerging markets. It is at the level of Greece before its near-bankruptcy in 2011. Where is the money coming from to cover it?

    A great deal of it is financed by short-term debt, mainly through borrowings by banks.

    Little of this appears on the Bank for International Settlements tables of Western banks’ short-term lending to other banks, which means that the source of the bank loans lies elsewhere than in the developed world. Gulf State banks are almost certainly the lenders, by process of elimination.

    Recently, as the above chart shows, the rate of growth of bank borrowing has tapered off. What has replaced bank loans?

    Source: Central Bank of Turkey

    According to Turkey’s central bank, the main source of new financing cannot be identified: It appears on the books of the central bank as “errors and omissions”.

    Analysts close to Turkey’s ruling party claim that the unidentified flows represent a political endorsement from Turkey’s friends in the Gulf States. Quoted in Al-Monitor, political scientist Mustafa Sahin boasted: “The secret of how Turkey avoided the 2008 global economic crisis is in these mystery funds. The West suspects that Middle East capital is entering Turkey without records, without being registered. Qatar and other Muslim countries have money in Turkey. These unrecorded funds came to Turkey because of their confidence in Erdogan and the Muslim features of the AKP and the signs of Turkey restoring its historic missions.”

    It seems clear from the data that short-term bank lending and mystery inflows have been interchangeable means of covering Turkey’s deficit. When the growth of bank lending slowed, errors and omissions rose during the past eight years, and vice versa.

    This continuing trade-off suggests that bank lending and mystery inflows have a common origin, presumably in the Gulf States. But it seems unlikely that Qatar is the main source of funds for Turkey, simply because its resources are too small to cover the gap. Qatar shares Turkey’s enthusiasm for political Islam in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, but there are alternative explanations. Despite its historical dislike for its former Ottoman overlord and strong disagreement about the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia may want to influence Turkey as a Sunni counterweight to Iran’s influence in the region.

    If mystery attends Turkey’s past economic performance, the future is all the cloudier. Erdogan’s power rests on his capacity to deliver jobs. The country’s economic performance has depended in turn on extremely rapid credit growth, as I showed in a 2012 analysis for The Middle East Quarterly.

    Source: Central Bank of Turkey

    Source: Central Bank of Turkey

    Source: Central Bank of Turkey

    According to Moody’s, 80% Turkish corporate loans are denominated in foreign currency, which bears far lower interest rates than local-currency loans, but entails foreign exchange risk: a devaluation of Turkey’s currency would increase the debt-service costs of over-levered Turkish borrowers. Credit to Turkey’s private sector is still growing at more than 20% year-on-year, down from a peak of 45% in 2010, but remains extremely fast.

    Despite the extremely rapid rate of credit growth, Turkey’s economy has stalled. Turkey reported 2% annualized growth in real GDP during the second quarter, but a detailed look at the economy shows a far direr picture. Manufacturing and construction are falling while inflation is surging.

    New housing permits, meanwhile, are down by almost 40% year-on-year for single-family homes, and negative for all categories of construction (measured by square meter of planned new space).

    The biggest contribution to reported GDP growth during the second quarter came from the finance sector. In short, the central bank is counting the banks’ contribution to the lending bubble as a contribution to growth. That is absurd, considering that most of the increase in lending to the private sector is to help debtors pay their interest on previous loans. A fairer accounting would show zero growth or even a decline in Turkey’s GDP.

    Erdogan’s popularity among Turkish voters is not hard to understand: He has levered the Turkish economy to provide jobs, especially in construction, a traditional recourse of Third World populists who want to create jobs for semi-skilled workers.

    Source: Central Bank of Turkey

    Source: Bloomberg

    During the run-up to the 2014 elections, construction employment increased sharply even while employment in other branches of the economy declined.

    Judging from the plunge in building permits, though, this source of support for Turkey’s economy disappeared during the first half of 2014.

    That leaves the mystery investors in Turkey holding an enormous amount of risk in the Turkish currency. Turkey’s currency has fallen by half against the US dollar, cheapening the cost of Turkish assets to foreign investors. The Turkish lira nearly collapsed in January, but the country’s central bank stopped its decline by raising interest rates. The lira has been slipping again, and the central bank has let rates rise to try to break the fall.

    Despite the largesse of the Gulf States, Turkey is locked into a vicious cycle of currency depreciation, higher interest rates, and declining economic activity. Turkish voters stood by Erdogan in last March’s national elections, believing that he was the politician most likely to deliver jobs and growth. But his ability to do so is slipping. If the Turkish lira drops sharply, the cost of debt service to Turkish companies will become prohibitive, while the cost of imports and ensuing inflation will depress Turkish incomes. By some measures Turkey already is in a recession, and it is at risk of economic free-fall.

    That explains Erdogan’s propensity to shoot the messengers: the rating agencies, the central bank, and even the New York Times. For the past dozen years he has made himself useful enough to his neighbors to stay in business. His magic carpet is unraveling, though, and his triumph in the March elections may turn out to be illusory much sooner than most analysts expect.

    David P Goldman is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the Wax Family Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

    Posted by Vanfield | September 29, 2014, 3:00 pm
  5. There’s a growing meme in the right-wing media that the Obama administration either completely made up the “Khorasan Group” because it didn’t want to admit that it was an al Qaeda affiliate while Glenn Greenwald has been suggesting that the group may not really exists at all. Given the Bush administration’s “curve balls” in the lead up to war it’s not surprising that these memes are catching on but, as the following piece suggests, there are other explanations for the sudden emergence of the Khorasan Group’s public debut:

    warincontext.org
    Glenn Greenwald’s Khorasan conspiracy theory misses the point
    By Paul Woodward on September 29, 2014

    Washington is often — and justifiably — criticized for viewing the world through a U.S.-centric prism. But many of the U.S. government’s fiercest critics are guilty of the same narrow orientation.

    A case in point is an analysis provided by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain in The Intercept yesterday: “The Khorasan Group: Anatomy of a Fake Terror Threat to Justify Bombing Syria.”

    Up until last week, hardly anyone, including seasoned Syria watchers and Syrians themselves, had heard of an outfit called the Khorasan Group and so sober warnings from high officials in the U.S. government that this group poses a greater threat to the U.S. than ISIS, were received by some observers with a measure of skepticism.

    The Intercept analysis traces the recent evolution of the Khorasan narrative as presented by the servile American media and reaches this conclusion:

    What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.

    So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.””

    As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets – eager, as always, to justify American wars – spewed all of this with very little skepticism. Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. Government was trying not to talk about all of this – too secret! – but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerged only when it’s impotent.

    The first problem with this conspiracy theory — its claim that the Khorasan Group was invented for domestic propaganda purposes — is that such an invention would largely be redundant.

    Having successfully presented ISIS as worse than al Qaeda, why muddy the narrative by introducing into the picture a previously unheard of group? If a pretext for bombing Syria was being fabricated, why not posit an “imminent” threat to the U.S. coming from ISIS itself?

    The actual story here is one that is somewhat more complex than appeals to conspiracy theorists like Glenn Greenwald and Alex Jones and it requires giving as much attention to what is happening in Syria as to what is happening behind closed doors in the capital of the Evil Empire.

    The invention of the Khorasan Group — which is to say, the creation of the name — seems to have been necessitated not by the desire to find a pretext for bombing another Muslim country, but instead the desire to avoid headlines which would identify the target of a cluster of airstrikes by its real name: Jabhat al-Nusra (JN).

    I dare say that the average American is no more familiar with the name Jabhat al-Nusra than they are with the Khorasan Group, so why construct a distinction between the two?

    This actually has little to do with how expanding the airstrike targeting beyond ISIS would be perceived in the U.S. and everything to do with how it would be seen in Syria.

    As was report in a 2013 report “Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment,” by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Homeland Security Project chaired by Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean, Jabhat al-Nusra is “widely acknowledged as the most effective fighting force in the war against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”

    Unlike ISIS, JN has pursued a strategy designed to avoid alienating Syrians who oppose the Assad regime yet do not support JN’s Islamist ideology. The Syrian fighters at its core, having learned from the mistake of alienating the local population while they were fighting in Iraq as members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor of ISIS), made some strategic adjustments for JN.

    As a Quilliam Foundation report notes, JN opted for:

    * predominantly military rather than civic targets, with no bombing of shrines and careful use of suicide bombs to minimise civilian casualties,
    * downplaying JN’s rhetoric concerning sectarianism and kuffar (labelling Alawites, Shiites and Sufis as non-Muslims)
    * the decision to use a different name to avoid preconceptions associated with Al Qaeda.

    If the Obama administration chose for debatable reasons to target a unit inside JN and wanted to explain itself to the American public, it didn’t need to concoct a new name for this unit. It could simply present the same assertions about plots to attack the homeland and say that they emanate from Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

    After all, Mohsin Al-Fadhli who in recent reports has been described as the leader of the Khorasan Group has also been referred to as the de facto leader of al Qaeda in Syria.

    An Arab Times report in March this year said:

    Al-Fadhli lives in north of Syria, where he is in control of al-Qaeda. He entices and recruits jihadists from among the European Muslim youths, or from those who embrace Islam. After choosing the youths, he trains them on how to execute terror operations in the western countries, focusing mostly on means of public transportation such as trains and airplanes. His activities were also focused on directing the al-Qaeda elements to execute operations against four main targets, which are Assad’s military, the Free Syrian Army, the ‘Islamic Front’ and ‘Da’esh’ [ISIS]. Sources revealed that Al-Fadhli supports ‘Al-Nusra Front’ against ‘Da’esh’, especially after the Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammad Al-Joulani declared his loyalty to al- Qaeda group in April last year.

    The decision taken by [Al Qaeda leader] Al-Zawahri to support ‘Al-Nusra Front’ to face ‘Da’esh’ was made after Al-Fadhli provided information about what is happening in Syria. Sources stressed that such a decision indicates the confidence al-Qaeda leadership has in Al-Fadhli. It also confirms that Al-Fadhli is the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Syria, even though it has not been officially announced over fear of exposing him.

    If the leader of the so-called Khorasan Group had such a central position in JN, why should the Obama administration see fit to try and educate the American public about some finer details in the organization’s internal structure?

    It didn’t. The distinction between the Khorasan Group and Jabhat al-Nusra appears to have been contrived in a vain effort by Washington to fool Syrians rather than Americans. The U.S. hoped it could chop off one of JN’s limbs without appearing to strike its body.

    The problem with a frontal attack on Jabhat al-Nusra is that this would inevitably be perceived in Syria as an attack on part of the opposition which has been on the frontline of the fight against ISIS and the regime — an attack that can thus only provide additional help to Bashar al-Assad.

    President Obama says that the fight against ISIS will require ground forces drawn from the Syrian opposition, but by attacking JN the U.S. has swiftly alienated itself from the very fighters — the so-called moderates — on whose support the U.S. supposedly depends.

    The ploy of inventing the Khorasan Group didn’t succeed in deceiving Syrians who knew that the men being killed in airstrikes in north-west Syria all belonged to Jabhat al-Nusra. Thus, by the end of last week instead of there being popular rallies welcoming a campaign to destroy the much-despised ISIS, ordinary Syrians were taking to the streets to protest against the U.S. airstrikes.

    So was the US trying to use the “Khorasan” label to “quietly” bomb a branch of al Nusra? At this point we don’t have enough information but al Nusra is a target of US bombs (one of which almost hit a Free Syrian Army camp that was adjacent to an al Nusra camp). Whether or not this is a roughly accurate description of the reality behind the “Khorasan Group” it’s a reminder that, relative to ISIS, al Qaeda affiliates like al Nusra might actually seem kind of moderate to the Syrians living in the hell of civil war. Making al Qaeda seem OK is just one more aspect of the ISIS nightmare. And it’s an aspect of ISIS that might make a US campaign against the Syrian government a lot more likely if a military solution is the only solution:

    The Daily Beast
    Al Qaeda Makes a Play for the U.S. Allies the War Against ISIS Depends On
    In Syria, the al Qaeda branch is wooing America’s proxies—and some of those proxies just hate the new U.S. bombing campaign.

    World News
    09.29.14

    Jacob Siegel

    Al Qaeda’s leader in Syria reemerged online Sunday with his first official statement in eight months. In the wake of ongoing U.S.-led airstrikes, his threats to attack Western civilians in retaliation for American attacks in Syria were ominous but predictable. Aside from threatening the West, the message was clearly aimed at gaining support from Syrian rebel groups—the same groups U.S. officials have courted as the future ground force to fight ISIS. Essentially, America is competing with al Qaeda for the support of those rebel groups. And so far the momentum is on Qaeda’s side.

    Members of the Syrian opposition who had been eyed by U.S. officials as members of a potential proxy force have already condemned the bombardment by America and its allies. Sunday’s statement from Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the head of Syrian al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, addressed the rebel groups directly saying that he was their true ally, not the U.S.

    In the fractured allegiances and conflicts created by Syria’s brutal civil war, many rebel groups opposed to both ISIS and the Assad regime consider al-Nusra something of a moderate force—despite its loyalty to al Qaeda. To these rebel factions, al-Nusra’s jihadist ideology is secondary to its fight against the Syrian government. In his message Jolani appealed to the idea that al-Nusra is the opposition’s natural leader, imploring rebel groups, “Don’t let the crimes of ISIS [and] its aggression push you towards the West.”

    Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Delma institute in Abu Dhabi whose Twitter feed provided a translation of key points from Jolani’s speech, said it was “tapping into the growing cynicism towards the airstrikes” among Syrians.

    The Obama administration has insisted that it will not deploy American troops to Syria. But at the same time, top military and civilian officials have insisted that defeating ISIS requires a ground force that can capitalize on airstrikes and capture territory. That’s left the moderate Syrian rebels, those groups that have fought both the Assad regime and ISIS.

    There’s a problem with these moderates, though. This faction of the opposition is itself fractured into dozens of splinter groups. Many government officials and outside observers of the conflict have questioned how the U.S. can be sure which groups are truly moderate and which groups might use U.S. arms in pursuit of a more radical agenda.

    The alliance between America and rebel forces has been strained by the U.S. refusal to directly attack the Assad regime. In some ways, the U.S. and its chosen proxies are fighting different wars, despite sharing a common enemy in ISIS. The rebels consider the Assad regime, which has slaughtered tens of thousands of Syrians over years of brutal attacks, their primary enemy, while the U.S. has condemned Assad but focused its attacks only on ISIS and al Qaeda.

    That tension led to a symbolic break last week when Harakat Hazm, one of the few vetted rebel groups to receive American weapons and training, called the U.S.-led airstrikes “an attack on national sovereignty” that would only strengthen the Assad regime.

    Jolani played the same notes in his statement, stressing the “the possibility of Assad benefiting from the airstrikes,” according to Hassan. But the speech also emphasized the difference between ISIS and al-Nusra. Though they were once aligned, al Qaeda’s leadership excommunicated ISIS in February over the group’s attempt to control the Syrian jihad and its brutality toward fellow Muslims, which was judged to hurt popular support.

    This was also stressed in Jolani’s statement, which Hassan said “affirmed his position on ISIS,” which is still unpopular among most Syrians, and reiterated his message that Jabhat al-Nusra will not be like them.”

    Many U.S. officials have already publicly expressed how skeptical they are of the approach in Syria. “We simply don’t know if somewhere down the line it will turn our guns back against us,” Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat from California, said during a congressional hearing this month, questioning the loyalties of rebel groups. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a Republican from Indiana, similarly expressed “deep reservations about providing funds or arms to Syrian rebels we know little about.” Even supporters of arming the rebels, like Senator John McCain, have questioned whether enough are being trained soon enough to make a difference in Syria’s war. With some rebel groups condemning the U.S. airstrikes—and with al Qaeda making a public play for their loyalties—that skepticism is likely to grow.

    Inside the Syrian civil war, al-Nusra can position itself as a necessary ally for groups squeezed between ISIS and the Assad regime. Of course, none of that calculated moderation has made it into the group’s rhetoric toward the West. To American and European civilians, Jolani warns in his statement, “your leaders will not pay the price for the war alone, you will pay the higher price.” Unless the airstrikes in Syria stop and America pulls out of the Middle East, al Qaeda “will transfer the battle to your very homes.” If the West will abide by his demands, Jolani offers this faint incentive: “I think jihadists won’t attack you.”

    It’s a message unlikely to deter either the American people or political leaders. But as al-Nusra attempts to co-opt rebel groups and make them seem like impossible allies, it’s contributing to what may be a far more profound shift in U.S. policy than anything boilerplate threats could accomplish.

    Sunday night, John Boehner, Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said the U.S. may have “no choice” other than sending American troops to Syria. On ABC News, Boehner questioned the President’s approach to defeating ISIS. “I don’t believe the strategy he outlines will accomplish it. At the end of the day I think it’s going to take more than airstrikes to drive them out—at some point somebody’s boots have to be on the ground, that’s the point.”

    Let’s see…so if the US wants the genuinely moderate opposition to fight ISIS and al Nusra there needs to be a simultaneous air campaigns on Assad’s forces, al Nusra, and ISIS by the US. And someone’s ground troops are going to be required in addition to the moderate Syrian rebels. As John Boehner suggested, the US may have “no choice” other than sending US ground troops into Syria if wants to get rid of ISIS…especially if major US political leaders signal to all the other countries in the region that the US is perfectly willing to send those ground troops in if no one else does. Hopefully Boehner’s pledge to use “boots on the ground” to “drive them out” doesn’t prevent the required regional coalition from coalescing since it’s unclear why the regional neighbors that have been financing groups like al Nusra aren’t much better positioned to deal with the realities on the ground in that region.

    It’s also unclear from Boehner’s “boots on the ground” commitment if he’s thinking of US ground troops operating deep inside Syria to combat both al Nusra AND Assad’s forces in order to gain the trust of the moderate rebels or if the ground forces are supposed to just occupy the ISIS-controlled areas indefinitely while the civil war rages on and on. Even with US airstrikes against Assad it’s unlikely that the Syrian moderates are going to be able to quickly topple that regime.

    So, given the entire flustercluck of the situation, you have to wonder if the US can convince Assad to stop attacking the moderates and focus exclusively on ISIS and al Nusra while simultaneously working out a non-military solution between Assad and the moderate opposition. Could a unilateral cease-fire by the Syrian government be arranged for all but explicit ISIS/al Nusra targets with the understanding that Assad is going to have to find a non-military settlement with the rebels? Perhaps there’s a tentative radical federalism plan that could be secured by international peace keepers in the rebel regions combined with and massive foreign aid for the entire country? And perhaps a major global commitment to making all of Syria more ready for the climate-change stresses that helped create the civil war in the first place would be in order? Assad’s regime is going to have a permanent insurgency and global isolation on its hand if it’s unwilling to basically let the rebel regions run their own affairs after this kind of bloodshed and the Syrian moderates are probably going to have Islamist militants running their lives if they continue down this path. Is a peace deal between Assad’s government and the genuine moderates really impossible at this point when all of the military options are pointing towards nightmare scenarios?

    Syria’s neighbors like Turkey and the gulf states are clearly uninterested in seeing any resolution that doesn’t result in the fall of Assad but since they’re uninterested in sending in ground troops while ISIS runs wild these government don’t really have any credibility in this situation. Shouldn’t the rest of the world override those regional players by making a major “Marshall Plan for Syria” proposal that doesn’t first require the fall of the Assad regime? A “Marshall Plan” for Syria was already being devised in 2012, but it was only a plan for after Assad fell. Preemptive Marshall Plans clearly aren’t used nearly enough (most of the world could use a Marshall Plan) but interruptive Marshall Plans (an international offer of massive aid to all sides to end a war) are pretty much never offered. Perhaps the exceptional flustercluck otherwise known as “Syria’s civil war” can inspire the world to get better at preemptive and interruptive Marshall Plans.

    We’re going to learn how to do that all around the globe sooner or later so why not make Syrians an offer: lots and lots of money and resources in exchange for a peace that all the non-totally-crazy sides can find acceptable. The neocons would hate this. Turkey and the gulf states would hate it. But are the Assad regime and Syrian moderates so committed to destroying each other that they couldn’t work out a non-military path forward even with globally backed Marshall Plan? That seems like an important question to answer before John Boehner makes any more public commitments to send US troops in to fight almost all of the sides in the Syrian civil war.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 1, 2014, 6:10 pm
  6. http://www.thetower.org/1148-report-close-ties-between-turkeys-akp-and-irans-revolutionary-guards-exposed/

    Report: Close Ties Between Turkey’s AKP and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Exposed

    by TheTower.org Staff | 10.02.14 5:54 pm

    Benjamin Weinthal of The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday about revelations that an Iranian backed terrorists group has strong ties with Turkey’s ruling AKP party. Citing the work of counter-intelligence expert John Schindler, Weinthal writes that the “dismissal of an investigation into an Iranian-linked terrorist group” suggested that “[t]he decision to pull the plug on the investigation had to have come ‘from the highest level of government.’” Though secular opponents of the government opposed the decision to drop the case, they were unable to gain any traction.

    “Ali Fuat Yılmazer, former head of the Istanbul police’s intelligence unit, conducted an extensive investigation that revealed Tawhid-Salam had penetrated the Turkish government and the AKP at the highest levels, and was a tool of the Pasdaran. For this, he was thrown in jail on trumped-up charges,” he said.

    Pasdaran is an informal name for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

    Schindler continued, “Tawhid-Salam, which also goes by the revealing name ‘Jerusalem Army,’ has long been believed to be a front for Iranian intelligence, particularly its most feared component, the elite Quds [“Jerusalem”] Force of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which handles covert action abroad.”

    Schindler recounted the terror group’s record to Weinthal, noting that “Tawhid-Salam goes back to the mid-1990s and has been blamed for several terrorist incidents, including the 2011 bombing of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul, which wounded several people, as well as a thwarted bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, in early 2012… It also is believed to be behind the murders of several anti-Tehran activists in Turkey in the 1990s.”

    However, the ties between Turkey and Tawhid-Salam go beyond the latter’s support of terror. “Tawhid-Salam operatives have been observed surveilling an important NATO radar base in Turkey, a sensitive site that monitors possible Iranian missile launches,” according to Schindler.

    Last year, ties between Turkey’s intelligence community and Iran came to attention when it was reported that Turkey had betrayed ten Israeli spies to Tehran. A boast by Iran’s ambassador to Turkey confirmed that the intelligence relationship between Tehran and Ankara was close and ongoing.

    Turkey’s ties to Iran aren’t limited to matters of intelligence and terror. In Where the Shadiest Players Find a Home, published in the September 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, Jonathan Schanzer recounts:

    Turkey also engaged in 2012 and 2013 in a sanctions-busting scheme with Iran. Amidst global financial pressure to convince Iran’s leadership to dismantle its illicit nuclear program, Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank was executing “gas-for-gold” transactions with Iran, and helping Tehran circumvent sanctions. At the time, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan unabashedly admitted, Turkey’s “gold exports [to Iran] end up like payments for our natural gas purchases.”
    The sale of gold was technically legal because the gold was going to individuals, not the government of Iran. And trade with individuals was not, at the time, in violation of sanctions. But it was undeniable that the Turks were violating the spirit of the sanctions regime. … According to a report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Roubini Global Economics, “Iran’s golden loophole” allowed Iran to receive over $13 billion before gas-for-gold slowed to a trickle.

    Posted by Vanfield | October 3, 2014, 1:22 pm
  7. Peace through strength! Exported strength:

    thelocal.de
    Berlin approves arms exports to Arab states

    Germany has approved new deliveries of weapons to several Arab countries, including Qatar which had been accused of backing jihadists, according to a newspaper report Thursday.

    Published: 03 Oct 2014 11:45 GMT+02:00
    Updated: 03 Oct 2014 11:45 GMT+02:00

    The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on its website that weapons including tanks and machine guns are to be delivered to countries including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Algeria.

    Jordan, Oman and Kuwait would also receive German weaponry.

    But critics rounded on the government’s decision, with Jan Van Aken, a deputy from the far-left party Die Linke, questioning the delivery to Qatar in particular.

    Germany’s development aid minister Gerb Mueller had in August directly accused Qatar of financing the Islamic State group, although Berlin had said it regretted any offence caused in Doha over the comment.

    Qatar has repeatedly denied the charges, and has since joined the United States in conducting air strikes against IS jihadists.

    The opposition also took Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel to task over the decision, accusing him of bending to the arms lobby.

    As recently as August, Gabriel had pushed for rules to be tightened on arms exports particularly to countries with poor human rights records, and had called for deliveries to Saudi Arabia to end.

    Huh.

    In related news, Joe Biden is now “history” to Erdogan:

    Biden Apologizes After Turkish PM Says VP Is ‘History To Me’

    By JIM KUHNHENN PublishedOctober 4, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden has apologized to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (REH’-jehp TY’-ihp UR’-doh-wahn) for saying the Turkish leader had conceded that his country mistakenly assisted foreign fighters, including Islamic State extremists, seeking to depose the Syrian regime.

    The White House says Biden spoke to Erdogan on Saturday “to clarify comments” Biden made on Thursday at Harvard University.

    The White House says Biden apologized “for any implication” that Turkey or other allies had intentionally supplied or helped in the growth of the Islamic State group or other extremists groups in Syria.

    Biden on Thursday said Erdogan had admitted that Turkey made mistakes by helping violent militants in Syria. An angry Erdogan denied saying that and countered that Biden would become “history to me” over the comments.

    So Turkey had nothing to do with rise of ISIS. Uh huh. Also note that it isn’t just Joe Biden that’s “history” to Erdogan. Recent history is apparently also history to Erdogan. That must feel nice.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 4, 2014, 3:48 pm
  8. Erdogan is warning that the Kurdish stronghold of Kobani is about the fall. Kurdish leaders pleading for international assistance agree with this assessment although, with airstrikes against ISIS increasing around Kobani it’s not clear if ISIS is really going to be able to fully capture the city assuming more supplies and weapons can reach the city soon and especially given Turkey’s military presence and vastly superior forces sitting right across the border. But that assumes Turkey is going to be willing to take part in any military action to defend Kobani or even allow aid to flow into the city, which is a big assumption at this point since Erdogan also seems to have another message for the anti-ISIS forces, especially for the US: Turkey’s participation in anti-ISIS operations is going to be limited unless that anti-ISIS operation is expanded into a more explicit anti-ISIS and Assad operation. It’s one of the reasons Turkey is currently blocking the flow of aid and weapons to the Kurds in Kobani while warning about its imminent fall:

    The New York Times
    Syria Border Town, Kobani, May Fall to ISIS, Turkey’s Leader Warns

    By KARAM SHOUMALI and ANNE BARNARDOCT. 7, 2014

    MURSITPINAR, Turkey — Kurdish fighters in Syria struggled to fight off Islamic State militants in Kobani on Tuesday, as Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warned that border town was about to fall, despite new United States-led airstrikes on the militants.

    Saying that aerial attacks alone may not be enough to stop the fighters’ advance, Mr. Erdogan called for more support for insurgents opposed to the group in Syria. In doing so, he was reiterating the key sticking point between Turkey and Washington: President Obama wants Turkey to take stronger action against the Islamic State, while Mr. Erdogan wants the American effort to focus more on ousting Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Turkey has long supported the armed opposition to Mr. Assad.

    “There has to be cooperation with those who are fighting on the ground,” Mr. Erdogan said, addressing Syrian refugees at a camp in Gaziantep, a border province west of Kobani.

    But to the Syrian and Turkish Kurds watching in increasing desperation from hilltops here on Tuesday, the ground force that needs immediate help is the Kurdish group fighting the Islamic State in the streets of Kobani, the People’s Protection Committees. They believe that given Turkey’s long history of tensions with its Kurdish population, Mr. Erdogan sees the group, known as the Y.P.G., as an enemy and an even greater threat than the Islamic State.

    Such complications are part of the tangled mix of alliances and enmities that have challenged the American effort to battle the Islamic State without wading deeper into the Syrian conflict.

    Not long after Mr. Erdogan spoke, an airstrike hit less than a mile to the southwest of Kobani, also known as Ain al-Arab, sending a black plume skyward. Residents said the target appeared to be an Islamic State tank that had been shelling the city for two days. Two more strikes followed in the same area in less than an hour.

    Several other airstrikes hit Islamic State positions overnight and Tuesday morning on the southern and eastern outskirts of the town, said Barwar Mohammad Ali, a coordinator with the Kurdish Y.P.G. force, who was reached by telephone inside Kobani.

    “It is the first time that people have the impression that the airstrikes are effective,” Mr. Ali said, referring to Kurdish fighters on the front lines. “But they need more.”

    He said street fighting had continued on Tuesday and that Y.P.G. fighters had killed numerous attackers and captured 20, including 10 foreigners.

    The American military confirmed four new airstrikes on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL: one strike south of Kobani that destroyed three armed vehicles and damaged another; another strike to the southeast that hit antiaircraft artillery, and two to the southwest that damaged a tank and “destroyed an ISIL unit.”

    But there was little joy among the crowds of Kurdish men watching the battle unfold just across the border fence, many of whom had only recently fled the town or had relatives there.

    One spectator, Mahmoud Nabo, 35, a Syrian Kurd who left his home in Kobani after Y.P.G. fighters urged civilians to evacuate on Monday, said airstrikes would have a limited effect since Islamic state militants move in small groups. They would work, he said, only if Kurdish fighters were given weapons and ammunition.

    “Now I can see the shelling is getting closer to my neighborhood,” he said, pointing to the western side of the city. “We thought everything would stop after the first airstrike on ISIS, but now it is closer and more frequent.”

    Another spectator, Avni Altindag, a Kurd from the nearby Turkish town of Suruc, said the Islamic State was stronger than a few air raids.

    He pointed to the men watching the smoke rising over Kobani, who were chanting for the Y.P.G. and listening to warplanes circling overhead. “They used to come with high expectations of strikes against ISIS, but all are disappointed,” he said.

    Mr. Altindag blamed Turkey for the delay in stronger American-led strikes. “They don’t want to help what they say is their enemy,” he said. “This is why it is in Turkey’s favor that Kobani falls to ISIS.”

    Kobani is cut off from the east, west and south by the well-armed Islamic State fighters. To the north, refugees and fighters face the border fence with Turkey – a barrier to resupplying the Y.P.G. The Turkish authorities have refused to allow the group to receive supplies and weapons unless it meets a set of demands that are virtually impossible politically.

    Turkey wants the group to denounce Mr. Assad and openly join the Syrian insurgents fighting him, and to dismantle its semiautonomous zone inside Syria. But the Y.P.G. and its affiliated political party, the P.Y.D., accepted control of Kurdish areas when Mr. Assad’s forces withdrew earlier in the Syrian war, and have focused more on self-rule and protecting their territory than on fighting the government.

    Turkey also wants the P.Y.D. to distance itself from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which the Turkish government and the United States consider a terrorist group.

    That impasse leaves Kobani isolated. Some refugees are literally pressed against the fence, unwilling to cross because they cannot take their livestock, and sometimes blocked by the Turkish authorities when border crossings are closed.

    Turkish soldiers have stood by and watched the fighting from their armored vehicles, and have also stopped Syrian and Turkish Kurds from crossing into Syria to fight the Islamic State.

    Tear gas wafted near the border on Tuesday, one of many instances in which Turkish security forces have used it against crowds of demonstrators, journalists, and would-be fighters and refugees. Tensions were also higher, with Kurdish men packing the streets of Suruc to show their displeasure with Turkish policy.

    This seems like a pretty key part of the article:


    Kobani is cut off from the east, west and south by the well-armed Islamic State fighters. To the north, refugees and fighters face the border fence with Turkey – a barrier to resupplying the Y.P.G. The Turkish authorities have refused to allow the group to receive supplies and weapons unless it meets a set of demands that are virtually impossible politically.

    Turkey wants the group to denounce Mr. Assad and openly join the Syrian insurgents fighting him, and to dismantle its semiautonomous zone inside Syria. But the Y.P.G. and its affiliated political party, the P.Y.D., accepted control of Kurdish areas when Mr. Assad’s forces withdrew earlier in the Syrian war, and have focused more on self-rule and protecting their territory than on fighting the government.

    And note that it isn’t just supplies and weapons that Turkey isn’t allowing to flow into Kobani. It’s also blocking Kurds:

    Los Angeles Times
    Turkey to allow army to fight in Syria and Iraq, but blocks Kurds

    By Nabih Bulos, Patrick J. McDonnell

    October 2, 2014, 6:59 PM

    Turkish lawmakers Thursday approved allowing ground troops into Syria and Iraq, as riot police prevented Kurdish defenders from reaching the besieged Syrian border town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani to its mostly Kurdish residents.

    “It’s clear. Daesh and the Turks are one hand,” said one disgusted Kurdish man, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State militant group, sometimes called the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, or ISIS.

    Turkey’s ambivalence about the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State has been on full display, even as militant forces across the border in Syria close in on Kobani, drawing attention to the isolated border zone. More than 150,000 mostly Syrians, mostly Kurds, have escaped into Turkey, fleeing the militant onslaught.

    U.S. warplanes have been bombing extremists’ positions near Kobani, including an overnight strike that destroyed a militant checkpoint, the Pentagon said Thursday.

    But Turkish troops massed with tanks and armored vehicles have not stopped the militant advance on Kobani, which has become a vivid symbol of resistance among Kurds. The inaction has aggravated Turkey’s long-fraught relations with its Kurdish minority.

    Turkey’s longtime nemesis, the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK, has signaled that peace talks between the group and the government in Ankara could collapse if Kobani is allowed to fall.

    On Thursday, lawmakers responding to the militant threat on Turkey’s borders overwhelmingly approved a motion to allow the Turkish army to engage in cross-border operations in Iraq and Syria. The parliament also approved allowing foreign powers to launch attacks from Turkey, easternmost bastion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance.

    “The threat against Turkey has gained a new dimension,” Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said before the parliamentary session, Turkish news reports said. “It’s our obligation to take measures against this threat and to protect our citizens in the frame of international law.”

    There was no indication that Turkey was preparing to dispatch troops across its borders. Asked whether any action was imminent, the defense minister told reporters, “Don’t expect any immediate steps.”

    Ankara has come under international criticism for its tepid participation in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State. Turkish officials have rejected allegations that it covertly aided Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria.

    “No terrorist whether in Turkey or elsewhere will receive any sympathy from us.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the parliament this week. “Their presence is not acceptable.”

    But Erdogan has made it clear that his priority is to help topple the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Ankara has long aided anti-Assad rebels and has opened its more than 500-mile-long border with Syria to militants fighting Assad’s government.

    Turkey has one of the region’s largest and most powerful armies and a modern air force equipped with U.S. fighter jets. But Turkish officials have been hesitant to become directly involved in the Syrian conflict.k

    Turkey’s concern reflects the complex nature of the Syrian conflict, which consists of various layers of proxy battles involving regional and world powers.

    A major concern of Erdogan’s government is that military action against Islamic militants in Syria could bolster two of its principal foes: Assad and the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Ankara and Washington. Kurdish fighters affiliated with the leftist PKK are the major adversaries of the Islamic militants in Kobani and at other contested zones in Syria along the Turkish border.

    Turkish officials are also worried about the possibility of retaliatory attacks should Turkey become directly involved in the conflict. Islamic State reportedly has cells and supporters in various Turkish cities.

    In formulating a revamped Syria policy, Turkish authorities are reviving a diplomatic push for a “buffer zone” in Syrian territory that could provide a haven for civilians and Ankara-backed rebels. A no-fly zone barring Syrian warplanes would be part of the proposal. But whether Turkey is willing to commit troops to such a plan remains a question mark.

    At the border Thursday, a sharp whistle signaled the advance of riot police into a crowd of Kurds protesting Turkey’s refusal to allow volunteers to return to Kobani to fight the militants.

    “We don’t know the reason why the Turks are doing this,” said a frustrated Mohammad Fares, a lanky 22-year-old with wispy facial hair and a yellow scarf on his head.

    Fares, like other Syrian Kurdish men interviewed, said he had crossed into Turkey to take his family to safety. That deed done, he was eager to return and defend the city.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 7, 2014, 1:20 pm
  9. Kevin Drum has a post about the situation in Kobani that, if accurate, puts the calls for US ground troops into intervene in perspective:

    Mother Jones
    Here’s Why Kobani Probably Isn’t Going to Be Saved

    —By Kevin Drum
    | Fri Oct. 10, 2014 12:48 AM EDT

    Writing about Kobani and ISIS this morning, I casually mentioned that “If you want quick results against ISIS, then speak up and tell us you want to send in 100,000 troops.” I got a bit of pushback on this from people suggesting that it wouldn’t take anywhere near that number of troops to take out ISIS and save a small town.

    Actually, I was lowballing. For starters, here’s a map showing Kobani’s predicament:
    [see pic]

    Kobani is the tiny yellow patch of Kurdish territory at the top of the map. It’s deep inside Syria, surrounded almost entirely by territory controlled by ISIS. The only country with the capability of getting in ground troops is Turkey, and they’re refusing to do anything. Why? Because Kobani is home to Kurdish separatists, and Turkey has no intention of saving their bacon.

    In a nutshell, this is America’s problem: we have no trustworthy allies in the region who truly care about ISIS. The Turks care about keeping Kurdish separatists under control and securing their border with Syria. The Arabian Gulf countries care about Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian patrons. The Iraqis care about maintaining Shiite dominance over their Sunni minority. They’re all willing to play along in the US war against ISIS, but it’s not really a high priority for any of them. As Fred Kaplan puts it, “ISIS gains much of its strength from the fact that the countries arrayed against it—which, together, could win in short order—can’t get their act together; they have too many conflicting interests tearing them apart.” What’s more, those conflicting interests are deep and longstanding. These countries will humor us to varying extents since they’d just as soon stay on our good side, but the bottom line is that helping America fight its latest shiny-toy war just isn’t something they really care about. They have their own fish to fry.

    Given all that, you should ask yourself this: What would it take to rescue a small city that’s hundreds of miles behind enemy lines with no allies to help you out? Answer: A hundred thousand troops would be a good start, but there’s no guarantee that even that would be enough.

    So was it “tone deaf” for John Kerry and others to talk about how Kobani wasn’t strategically important to us? Maybe so. The problem is that the real-life adult answer would have acknowledged that (a) we don’t have the capability to save Kobani, and (b) our NATO ally Turkey has chosen not to save Kobani. Neither of these is something that the American public is really prepared to digest.

    As Drum points out, given the fact that the US would have to control a vast amount of territory across Syria just to reach Kobani, it’s hard to argue that such a mission wouldn’t require a very large number of US troops because it’s not just Kobani that’s being occupied at that point. But let’s assume the US accepts Erdogan’s blackmail and commits to taking down Assad in exchange for Turkey’s help. In that case, isn’t it going to take far more that 100,000 US troops to secure the rest of Syria? And will it really end there?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 11, 2014, 5:58 pm
  10. Turkey is saying ‘no’ to US claims of an agreement to allow for coalition uses of Turkish bases:

    The Washington Post
    Turkey denies reaching accord with U.S. on use of air base against Islamic State

    By Liz Sly and Craig Whitlock October 13 at 5:34 PM

    SANLIURFA, TURKEY— Turkey denied Monday that it has reached any “new agreement” with the United States to allow the use of Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey for attacks on the Islamic State militant group, despite suggestions from the Obama administration that a deal had been reached.

    A statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said talks are continuing between Ankara and Washington over whether to permit U.S. forces to use Incirlik in the fight against the Islamic State, a radical al-Qaeda offshoot that has captured parts of Syria and Iraq. However, “there is no new agreement on the Incirlik issue,” the statement said.

    “There are requests and expectations and the negotiations continue,” it added.

    The Obama administration has been pressing Turkey to allow warplanes to use Incirlik, where the United States bases aircraft under existing NATO agreements, as part of an effort by a U.S.-led coalition to roll back Islamic State gains.

    U.S. officials said Sunday that Turkey had agreed to allow the coalition to use Turkish military bases for the fight against the Islamic State and to use Turkish territory as part of a training program for moderate Syrian opposition fighters.

    “That’s a new commitment and one that we very much welcome,” Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They have said that their facilities inside of Turkey can be used by the coalition forces — American and otherwise — to engage in activities inside of Iraq and Syria.”

    Rice did not specify what kind of military activities the United States would be allowed to conduct from Turkish bases to support operations in Syria. A Defense Department planning team is scheduled to travel to Turkey this week to finalize the plans, U.S. officials said.

    In a reflection of the sensitivity of the matter, U.S. officials on Monday were reluctant to further address or clarify the issue for fear of irritating the Turks. “We are grateful for steps Turkey is taking to support the coalition, to include training and the use of some facilities,” said a U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    Turkey has allowed the United States for some time to use Incirlik, located less than 100 miles from the Syrian border, to help with deliveries of humanitarian aid to needy civilians inside Syria. That has not changed, said a Turkish official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues.

    Turkey has also allowed the U.S. Air Force to conduct drone surveillance missions over northern Iraq from Incirlik for years but has drawn the line at arming the drones or permitting the United States to use other aircraft for airstrikes.

    Opening up the base for warplanes would make it much easier for the United States to launch strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria, instead of having to rely on much more distant air bases in the Persian Gulf. It also would represent a powerful signal of Turkey’s willingness to fully engage in the international coalition formed by the United States to fight the militants.

    But Turkey has insisted it will not allow attacks from its soil unless the war is also extended to include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Turkish leaders believe is responsible for creating the conditions that have enabled the extremists to flourish.

    “The Assad regime should be the target for a real solution in Syria,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an address at Istanbul’s Marmara University on Monday. He also reiterated Turkey’s demands for the imposition of a no-fly zone and the creation of a safe haven in northern Syria, conditions that United States so far has not accepted.

    Turkey did not dispute a statement Sunday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that an agreement has been reached to train moderate Syrian rebels in Turkey, a step that Turkey has long sought. But it was not immediately clear who would train the rebels or precisely where.

    So ‘no’ to the use of Turkish bases…until the US and the rest of the coalition says ‘yes’ to completely taking over and occupying Syria. Although it’s unclear how long Syria is going to remain “Syria” since, in addition to not being enthusiastic about Syria’s current government, there’s something else that Erdogan is deeply unsatisfied with: Syria’s existence:

    Daily Sabah
    ‘ASSAD REGIME SHOULD BE THE MAIN TARGET,’ PRESIDENT ERDOGAN SAYS

    Published : 13.10.2014 12:29:17
    Updated : 13.10.2014 14:28:4

    ISTANBUL — Removing the terrorist ISIS group from Syria is not enough, removing President Bashar al-Assad regime should be the main target, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.

    In an address from Istanbul’s Marmara University, Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated the necessity of forming a no-fly zone and a safe zone in Syria, along with continuing the U.S.-led international airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria’s north.

    ISIS is currently advancing on the town of Ayn al-Arab, or Kobani in Kurdish, resulting in the escape of around 200,000 Syrian Kurds into Turkey over the last three weeks. Armed groups of an offshoot of Turkey’s outlawed PKK, are continuing their fight against ISIS, outmatching in numbers and technological capacities.

    “Syria has many Kobanis. What will happen to Aleppo, Latakia, Turkmen and other people after saving Kobani? Assad regime should be the target for a real solution in Syria,” Erdogan said, reminding that the regime is responsible for the killing of 250,000 people in Syria.

    “A no-fly zone and a safe zone should be built. So we could be able to place the Syrians inside our country at these safe havens,” he said.

    “Also the moderates should be trained and equipped either in Turkey or inside those safe zones in order to be able to conduct their war against the regime.”

    He also criticized PKK’s claims that the Turkish government was doing nothing to halt the advance of the ISIS in Kobani, which sparked last week’s protests, killing 34 people.

    Erdogan said “the artifically-made” borders in the Middle East drawn by the imperial powers right after the end of World War I are the real cause of long-term pain and crisis in the region.

    Saying that “there should be no borders between Middle Eastern countries in the minds and hearts of the people,” Erdogan noted that Turkey should do its own part in fighting with sectarianism, ethnicism and all other divisions in the Middle East.

    “Turkey is the only country that could provide peace in that region. Turkey is the hope of the Middle Eastern people. Turkey can remove the barriers between Middle Eastern people not by changing physical borders, but by instilling hope and trust,” he said.

    Yes, the real long-term solution to ISIS isn’t just defeating Assad. The real solution is breaking Syria up into a bunch of new nations. Sometimes “mission creep” decides to sprint:

    The Daily Beast
    Turkish President Declares Lawrence of Arabia a Bigger Enemy than ISIS
    In a stunning speech, Erdogan railed against Western “spies” and journalists and seemed to endorse the ISIS plan to redraw the region’s borders.
    Jamie Dettmer
    10.13.14

    GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took on the iconic Lawrence of Arabia Monday in a furious anti-Western diatribe. The Turkish president compared the outside meddling in the region now to the role the renowned British army officer played during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during World War I. And Western diplomats here say the tirade bears a rather striking resemblance to some of the propaganda that has come out of the so-called Islamic State, widely known by the acronym ISIS or ISIL.

    Last week, stung by Western criticism of Turkey’s conspicuous absence from the U.S.-led air combat against the terror organization, and the refusal of the Turkish government to rescue the besieged town of Kobani, just across the Syrian border, Erdogan insisted he had no sympathy for the jihadists.

    But on one very important point of history and geography it now appears there’s a serious convergence of views between ISIS and Erdogan. In his speech Monday at a university in Istanbul, the Turkish president blasted the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret understanding (signed behind Lawrence’s back) that divided up the Middle East after World War I between British and French spheres of influence. That deal opened the way for a British vow to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine and led to borders drawn by the European powers that created modern Syrian and Iraq. Historian David Fromkin summed up the mess that resulted in the title of his book The Peace to End All Peace.

    “Each conflict in this region has been designed a century ago,” said Erdogan. “It is our duty to stop this.”

    In point of fact, T. E. Lawrence was opposed to the secret Anglo-French agreement, because it reneged on promises given the Arabs by London in a bid to persuade them to revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule. He tried mightily to sabotage the deal. But Erdogan is either unaware of that or sought to simplify history.

    ISIS, meanwhile, has done some simplifying of its own, and on similar lines. Its militants say explicitly they are out to erase the borders that Sykes-Picot established across most of the modern Middle East. In the summer, after sweeping in from Syria to seize Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, they produced a video called, yes, ”The End of Sykes Pico,”, in which they blew up a border outpost and leveled part of the earthen barrier on the Iraqi-Syrian border. They declared triumphantly they would bulldoze other Western-imposed borders as well.

    The Erdogan speech was suffused with an angry anti-Western narrative—he also tilted at Western journalists, accusing them of being spies—and will no doubt thrill some of Erdogan’s supporters. In southern Turkey, some local officials in his Justice and Development Party (AKP) express sympathy for ISIS. But it will ring alarm bells in Western capitals at a time coalition officials are redoubling their efforts to try to persuade a reluctant Turkish government to play a forward-leaning part in the American-led war on the jihadists.

    Turkey is considered crucial if President Barack Obama’s war aim to “degrade and defeat” ISIS is to be accomplished. The country has been the main logistical base for the Islamic militants, the main transit country for foreign fighters to enter neighboring Syria and a key source of it’s revenue from the smuggling of oil tapped in captured oil fields. In his determination to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, Erdogan has been accused of at best turning a blind eye to the rise of ISIS and at worst actively encouraging it.

    At the weekend U.S. officials announced a breakthrough in their efforts to persuade Turkey to become a frontline ally, saying the Turkish government had agreed that a NATO airbase at Incirlik could be used by the anti-ISIS coalition. But the Turkish government was ominously silent Monday on that score and just hours after Erdogan’s speech Turkish officials denied they had agreed U.S. warplanes could use Incirlik air base for attacks on Islamic militants.

    Erdogan’s comments Monday give a glimpse into the Turkish leadership’s reasons for denying the use of Incirlik. And they augur badly for the overall effort, revealing the deep level of distrust the Turkish president harbors for the West. Certainly the speech suggests that American hopes of persuading Turkey to come fully on board are misplaced.

    About T.E. Lawrence—who is still viewed as a hero in the West and by many Arabs—the Turkish President showed nothing but disdain, then used Lawrence as a vehicle to heap opprobrium on others. Erdogan dismissed the British officer as “an English spy disguised as an Arab.” And he told the university audience—the speech was televised—that Westerners are “making Sykes-Picot agreements hiding behind freedom of press, a war of independence or jihad.”

    “This isn’t a speech one expects from an ally, especially when there are delicate negotiations going on,” says an Istanbul-based European diplomat. “It reveals starkly what we are up against when it comes to Erdogan.” Another diplomat said: “The Turks are determined to ensure that whatever happens in Syria post-Assad, it is seen as their sphere of influence and they have two aims: to keep Iran at bay and keep the West out.”

    So it appears that the number of countries to be invaded and indefinitely occupied is yet to be decided since the number of new countries in the post-Sykes Picot map is also yet to be decided. And given Erdogan’s talk about how Turkey should do its own part in fighting with sectarianism, ethnicism and all other divisions in the Middle East it should be interesting to see the post-ethnicism map Erdogan has in mind. Very interesting indeed.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 13, 2014, 2:27 pm
  11. Here’s one more indication that any sort of significant anti-ISIS coalition is going to have to double as an anti-Assad coalition if any of ISIS’s regional neighbors are going to be playing a role on the ground:

    Gulf states ‘could expand anti-IS role to ground troops’
    AFP
    By Rene Slama October 10, 2014 8:37 PM

    Dubai (AFP) – Gulf monarchies taking part in US-led air strikes against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria could deploy special forces on the ground but only if certain conditions are met, analysts say.

    Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have joined air strikes on the IS, which has seized swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

    But they want to assess their potential gains and fear that Shiite-majority Iran may emerge the ultimate winner, the experts added.

    Any decision by Gulf states to send in troops would depend on whether Turkey decides to use its own ground forces, according to Mathieu Guidere, professor of Middle East Studies at Toulouse University.

    “A ground intervention from Arab countries depends on the Turkish decision to engage or not ground troops. We are likely to see Arab boots on the ground if Turkish forces engage in the Syrian territory,” he said.

    Turkish forces are gathered along the Syrian border across from the strategic town of Kobane, but Ankara has been reluctant to use them to tackle advancing IS militants.

    Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the Gulf role in strikes on Syria to date was “somewhere between purely symbolic and fully operational”.

    If the Gulf states did step up their role, Wehrey said it would likely take the form of deploying special forces.

    Such units would not be involved in actual combat but rather staff “operations rooms, coordinate weapons flows, collaborate on intelligence collection, advise and equip the (Syrian) opposition,” he added.

    He pointed out the Gulf militaries played a similar role in shoring up Libyan rebels battling to overthrow the country’s longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi in the 2011 uprising.

    – Iran the winner? –

    In the Emirati daily Gulf News, a headline said regional states were “on the right side of the fight against extremist ideology,” which “threatens their own stability”.

    But some commentators are asking what the monarchies stand to gain from the US, which could pull out abruptly once its own goals have been achieved.

    Gulf states have thrown their weight behind rebel groups which have been battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since March 2011.

    “I think the end state for these participating Gulf countries is a sort of quid pro quo whereby the US eventually expands the strikes to Assad’s forces,” said Wehrey.

    But others are more doubtful about what the countries stand to gain.

    “America is far from frank about its true intentions,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, political science professor at the University of the Emirates.

    “There is the constant fear that every time the US touches the Middle East, it makes things worse and instead of solving regional problems, it invariably creates bigger ones,” he said.

    While the “we’ll only send in ground troops if Turkey sends them in too” response isn’t surprising, it’s a little curious that the description of the role of the Gulf states’ ground troops might play would not be involve in actual combat but instead would staff “operations rooms, coordinate weapons flows, collaborate on intelligence collection, advise and equip the (Syrian) opposition.” Hasn’t that already been happening? For quite a while now? What are the Gulf states going to do if the the US doesn’t agree to go to war against Assad?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 16, 2014, 8:05 pm
  12. With ISIS hitting Baghdad in a series a suicide bombings, Mark Ames points us towards a list of the 31 suicide bombers in Iraq from September 03 – October 18 that highlights the fact that the vast majority of the people willing to blow themselves up for ISIS in Iraq aren’t from Iraq. Or Syria. The counts were:
    1 from Egypt
    1 from Germany
    1 from Indonesia
    1 from Libya
    1 Kuwait
    1 from Tunisia
    1 from Ukzbekistan
    1 mystery bomber
    2 from Turkey
    3 from Syria
    5 from Iraq
    13 from Saudi Arabia

    Now, according to the following interview, leadership in ISIS is directly tied to battlefield capability and the ability to speak Arabic, so you have to wonder how stable the power sharing is going to be between the local Iraqi and Syrian leadership and the foreign members going forward:

    Syria Deeply
    For European Jihadi Fighters, a Raise in Profile – but No Promotion
    We look at the emerging hierarchy and roles played by Western fighters in Syria and Iraq – and increasing tensions with Syrian fighters.

    August 29th, 2014
    By Karen Leigh

    An August 19 video depicting the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley at the hands of an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant with a British accent has raised questions about the increasing profile of the group’s Western fighters.

    Since ISIS’s June offensive in Mosul – it now holds a tenuous control over Iraq’s second-largest city – the group has opened the porous border between Syria and Iraq and taken control of the Syrian regime’s air bases in Raqqa, giving it effective control of the province it considers its stronghold.

    The momentum, says Peter Neumann, the director and founder of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and a professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, has led to a 10 to 15 percent increase in foreign fighters coming from Europe in the past two months – an additional 200 to 300 men.

    But he says tensions are on the rise between the new Western recruits – many of whom lack battlefield experience and Arabic-language skills – and ISIS’s Syrian fighters, who say the group’s more brutal activities have no basis in their country’s history or culture.

    Here, Neumann discusses the emerging hierarchy and roles played by Western fighters in Syria and Iraq, and why events of the past two months have galvanized so many young Europeans to make the journey.

    Syria Deeply: Is there tension between Syrians and the increasing number of foreign fighters?

    Peter S. Neumann: We hear from a number of Syrians that the foreign fighters are not that popular, and that a lot of Syrians do not like them very much. There are differences between Syrian and foreign fighters when it comes to social norms, how to practice Islam, which punishments to impose. I don’t think it’s an accident that even within ISIS, a lot of the Syrian fighters are not involved in certain acts of violence. There are practically no Syrian suicide bombers, and we haven’t seen them involved in the most gruesome acts, like beheadings. Syrians feel uneasy about practices they don’t believe have any basis in the culture or history of their country.

    We have heard from Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham fighters who say ISIS’s foreign fighters have to learn to accept Syrian culture and customs, and while they didn’t say they hate them, it was clear that they did. They said they can only stay [to fight in Syria] if they accept the way that Islam is being practiced in Syria, implying that the foreign fighters practice it differently.

    Nusra has been quite clever – in contrast to ISIS – in that wherever they are holding territory, there are always Syrians who are the public face of the organization. So even though they have a number of foreign fighters, those fighters are not on the front line. And that makes Nusra look like a Syrian organization. Meanwhile, we have often heard ISIS referred to by Syrians as “the Foreigners,” because they are perceived to be so predominant in the organization.

    Syria Deeply: Are European and British fighters’ roles becoming more visible? Is there a hierarchy within ISIS’s foreign fighter ranks, based on provenance?

    Neumann: Europeans are playing a more prominent role in the propaganda because that’s where their particular talents lie. They are playing a more prominent role in the European-language propaganda. The Chechen fighters are extremely influential because they are good fighters, but that’s what they’re out doing – they’re not appearing in the videos.

    I haven’t seen any European become very senior. There are Europeans who are in charge of managing other [newer] Europeans, so in that sense there are leaders from Europe. But the problem is that by and large they don’t speak Arabic or have fighting experience, and you can’t be in the upper leadership of a militant Arab organization if you don’t have fighting experience and don’t speak the language of the country that you’re in.

    So there are huge obstacles for foreign fighters to be promoted within ISIS. In terms of advancement within the organization, it’s not happening unless you speak the language. The Chechens are seen within ISIS as ideal fighters – ultimate heroes – but the Europeans, not so much. On the other hand, they might be the most committed fighters, and as such they are given more trusted tasks like guarding hostages.

    So it sounds like a number of Syrians hate ISIS in part out of the sense that foreign fighters dominate the organization. But in order to gain leadership in the organization these foreign fighters have to be both effective on the battlefield and also speak Arabic. Given the predominance of Saudi nationals amongst the suicide bombers, you have to wonder about how strong that Saudi influence is on ISIS’s leadership and what impact this could have on the viability of the ISIS “Caliphate” model as a long-term social contract for pissed off Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis that mostly were just sick of being locked out of power by Baghdad and Damascus. What’s going to maintain the long-term loyalties of the population to a group like ISIS?

    The New York Times
    ISIS’ Harsh Brand of Islam Is Rooted in Austere Saudi Creed

    By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICKSEPT. 24, 2014

    BAGHDAD — Caliph Ibrahim, the leader of the Islamic State, appeared to come out of nowhere when he matter-of-factly proclaimed himself the ruler of all Muslims in the middle of an otherwise typical Ramadan sermon. Muslim scholars from the most moderate to the most militant all denounced him as a grandiose pretender, and the world gaped at his growing following and its vicious killings.

    His ruthless creed, though, has clear roots in the 18th-century Arabian Peninsula. It was there that the Saud clan formed an alliance with the puritanical scholar Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab. And as they conquered the warring tribes of the desert, his austere interpretation of Islam became the foundation of the Saudi state.

    Much to Saudi Arabia’s embarrassment, the same thought has now been revived by the caliph, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the foundation of the Islamic State.

    “It is a kind of untamed Wahhabism,” said Bernard Haykel, a scholar at Princeton. “Wahhabism is the closest religious cognate.”

    The Saudis and the rulers of other Persian Gulf states — all monarchies — are now united against the Islamic State, fearful that it might attack them from the outside or win followers within. Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all participated with Washington in its attacks on the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria.

    For their guiding principles, the leaders of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, are open and clear about their almost exclusive commitment to the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam. The group circulates images of Wahhabi religious textbooks from Saudi Arabia in the schools it controls. Videos from the group’s territory have shown Wahhabi texts plastered on the sides of an official missionary van.

    This approach is at odds with the more mainstream Islamist and jihadist thinking that forms the genealogy of Al Qaeda, and it has led to a fundamentally different view of violence. Al Qaeda grew out of a radical tradition that viewed Muslim states and societies as having fallen into sinful unbelief, and embraced violence as a tool to redeem them. But the Wahhabi tradition embraced the killing of those deemed unbelievers as essential to purifying the community of the faithful.

    “Violence is part of their ideology,” Professor Haykel said. “For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself.”

    The distinction is playing out in a battle of fatwas. All of the most influential jihadist theorists are criticizing the Islamic State as deviant, calling its self-proclaimed caliphate null and void and, increasingly, slamming its leaders as bloodthirsty heretics for beheading journalists and aid workers.

    The upstart polemicists of the Islamic State, however, counter that its critics and even the leaders of Al Qaeda are all bad Muslims who have gone soft on the West. Even the officials and fighters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas are deemed to be “unbelievers” who might deserve punishment with beheading for agreeing to a cease-fire with Israel, one Islamic State ideologue recently declared.

    The Islamic State’s sensational propaganda and videos of beheadings appear to do double duty. In addition to threatening the West, its gory bravado draws applause online and elsewhere from sympathizers, which helps the group in the competition for new recruits.

    That is especially important to the Islamic State because it requires a steady flow of recruits to feed its constant battles and heavy losses against multiple enemies — the governments of Iraq and Syria, Shiite and Kurdish fighters, rival Sunni militants and now the United States Air Force.

    For Al Qaeda, meanwhile, disputes with the Islamic State are an opportunity “to reposition themselves as the more rational jihadists,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

    The Islamic State’s founder, Mr. Baghdadi, grafted two elements onto his Wahhabi foundations borrowed from the broader, 20th-century Islamist movements that began with the Muslim Brotherhood and ultimately produced Al Qaeda. Where Wahhabi scholars preach obedience to earthly rulers, Mr. Baghdadi adopted the call to political action against foreign domination of the Arab world that has animated the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and other 20th-century Islamist movements.

    Mr. Baghdadi also borrowed the idea of a restored caliphate. Where Wahhabism first flourished alongside the Ottoman Caliphate, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded shortly after that caliphate’s dissolution, in 1924 — an event seen across the world as a marker of Western ascent and Eastern decline. The movement’s founders took up the call for a revived caliphate as a goal of its broader anti-Western project.

    These days, though, even Brotherhood members appear almost embarrassed by the term’s anachronism, emphasizing that they use caliphate as a kind of spiritual idea irrelevant to the modern world of nation-states.

    “Even for Al Qaeda, the caliphate was something that was going to happen in the far distant future, before the end times,” said William McCants, a researcher on militant Islam at the Brookings Institution. The Islamic State “really moved up the timetable,” he said — to June 2014, in fact.

    Adhering to Wahhabi literalism, the Islamic State disdains other Islamists who reason by analogy to adapt to changing context — including the Muslim Brotherhood; its controversial midcentury thinker Sayed Qutb; and the contemporary militants his writing later inspired, like Ayman al-Zawahri of Al Qaeda. Islamic State ideologues often deem anyone, even an Islamist, who supports an elected or secular government to be an unbeliever and subject to beheading.

    “This is ‘you join us, or you are against us and we finish you,’ ” said Prof. Emad Shahin, who teaches Islam and politics at Georgetown University. “It is not Al Qaeda, but far to its right.”

    Some experts note that Saudi clerics lagged long after other Muslim scholars in formally denouncing the Islamic State, and at one point even the king publicly urged them to speak out more clearly. “There is a certain mutedness in the Saudi religious establishment, which indicates it is not a slam dunk to condemn ISIS,” Professor Haykel said.
    l
    Finally, on Aug. 19, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti, declared that “the ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism do not belong to Islam in any way, but are the first enemy of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims, as seen in the crimes of the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda.”

    Al Qaeda’s ideologues have been more vehement. All insist that the promised caliphate requires a broad consensus, on behalf of Muslim scholars if not all Muslims, and not merely one man’s proclamation after a military victory.

    “Will this caliphate be a sanctuary for all the oppressed and a refuge for every Muslim?” Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a senior jihadist scholar, recently asked in a statement on the Internet. “Or will this creation take a sword against all the Muslims who oppose it” and “nullify all the groups that do jihad in the name of God?”

    Another prominent Qaeda-linked jihadist scholar, Abu Qatada al-Falistini, echoed that: “They are merciless in dealing with other jihadists. How would they deal with the poor, the weak and other people?”

    Both scholars have recently been released from prison in Jordan, perhaps because the government wants to amplify their criticism of the Islamic State.

    These parts were particularly chilling:

    ““Violence is part of their ideology,” Professor Haykel said. “For Al Qaeda, violence is a means to an ends; for ISIS, it is an end in itself.””

    “This is ‘you join us, or you are against us and we finish you,’ ” said Prof. Emad Shahin, who teaches Islam and politics at Georgetown University. “It is not Al Qaeda, but far to its right.”

    It’s like the worst parts of Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood’s worldview got packaged into a global Clockwork Orange movement. A global Clockwork Orange movement practing Saudi-style religion, heavily influenced by foreign fighters, and located on the war torn regions of Iraq and Syria. That used to be al Qaeda’s job but it apparently wasn’t crazy enough to get the job done. How sustainable is the local support for this kind of movement in the long-run? And if that local support is lost will all those foreign fighters just leave or does it become an ISIS occupation at that point?

    The foreign nature of the ISIS nightmare has been one of its strongest weapons so far given the steady inflows of outside militants but it seems like one its greatest weaknesses too given the obvious tensions that will only grow as the foreign fighters grow in number. Ditto with the Clockwork Orange violence. And then there’s the slavery…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 19, 2014, 8:32 pm
  13. http://www.thetower.org/1220-new-power-grabs-by-erdogan-unleash-anger-and-fear-in-turkey/

    New Power Grabs by Erdogan Unleash Anger and Fear in Turkey

    by TheTower.org Staff | 10.21.14 12:03 pm

    The Turkish government and the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been subject to harsh criticism in the past several days from various parties in the country, which stem from the passage of several controversial bills in the parliament and a tightening grip on the judiciary. Turkish commentators fear (Arabic link) that Erdogan will use the new powers against minorities and opposition figures in Turkey.

    The ruling party – The Justice and Development Party (AKP) – introduced a bill last week that permits the arrest and confiscation of property of anyone who opposes the Islamic party that has controlled the country since 2002. The new bill also allows wiretapping of opposition activists, and may facilitate searches conducted by security forces in people’s homes.

    Meanwhile, the government also submitted a bill that is supposed to provide the security forces additional powers in their measures against protesters. This bill is a direct result of the recent Kurdish protests against Erdogan’s foreign policy.

    In a quick response (Arabic link), Turkish opposition figures accused Erdogan of “reviving the era of the coups”, during which strict laws were applied against civilians. Residents worry (Arabic link) that Turkey will become a “police state” if the laws are actually implemented.

    In a third legal development, the Turkish Islamic government led by Erdogan also increased its control of the judiciary, which the recent elections have seen populated with a majority of AKP supporters. Many Turkish figures harshly condemned the move, arguing it represents a lack of separation of powers.

    Meanwhile, massive Kurdish protests are taking place in Turkey against Erdogan’s delay in sending aid to the Kurds fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Syrian city Kobani. In recent days, Turkey has been described in the Middle Eastern media as a “turtle”, although it allowed some Kurdish forces to cross its border and help the Kurds in Kobani.

    Curbs on social media and harassment of journalists this year have led to Turkey’s being designated “Not Free” by Freedom House, which monitors press freedom worldwide. Erdogan has also been struggling to keep a massive corruption scandal plaguing his government under wraps and hurt ties with NATO by seeking a missile defense deal with China. Turkey’s deepening ties with Iran this year were manifest in a deal that undermined economic sanctions against Iran raising questions about its reliability as an ally.

    In Where the Shadiest Players Find a Home, which was published in the September 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, Jonathan Schanzer took stock of Turkey’s mischief-making and concluded:

    Unfortunately, it does not appear that Turkey will redress these problems any time soon. With Erdoğan’s ascent to presidency, and with his former foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, taking over as prime minister, the architects of Turkey’s dangerous foreign policies have consolidated power. This means that Turkey is more than likely to continue to drift from the Western orbit, and to resemble some of the more dangerous actors in the Middle East.

    Posted by Vanfield | October 21, 2014, 11:08 am
  14. With Tunisia sending more fighters to ISIS than any other nation, here’s an article about that highlights something obvious about the situation (that people will drift towards radicalism when they have no economic prospects) but also something somewhat surprising: Almost no one the reporter talked to, whether sympathizers or critics of ISIS, believed the reports about ISIS’s beheadings or mass killings:

    The New York Times
    New Freedoms in Tunisia Drive Support for ISIS

    By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICKOCT. 21, 2014

    TUNIS — Nearly four years after the Arab Spring revolt, Tunisia remains its lone success as chaos engulfs much of the region. But that is not its only distinction: Tunisia has sent more foreign fighters than any other country to Iraq and Syria to join the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State.

    And throughout the working-class suburbs of the capital, young men are eager to talk about why.

    “Don’t you see it as a source of pride?” challenged Sufian Abbas, 31, a student sitting at a street cafe in the densely packed Ettadhamen district with a half-dozen like-minded friends.

    Tunisians have approved a new Constitution by a broad consensus, and a second free election is to take place this month. The country has the advantage of one of the Arab world’s most educated and cosmopolitan populations, numbering just 11 million, and it has some of the most alluring Mediterranean beaches.

    But instead of sapping the appeal of militant extremism, the new freedom that came with the Arab Spring revolt has allowed militants to preach and recruit more openly than ever before. At the same time, many young Tunisians say that the new freedoms and elections have done little to improve their daily lives, create jobs or rein in a brutal police force that many here still refer to as “the ruler,” or, among ultraconservative Islamists, “the tyrant.”

    Although Tunisia’s steps toward democracy have enabled young people to express their dissident views, impatience and skepticism have evidently led a disgruntled minority to embrace the Islamic State’s radically theocratic alternative. Tunisian officials say that at least 2,400 Tunisians have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the group — other studies say as many as 3,000 — while thousands more have been blocked in the attempt.

    “The Islamic State is a true caliphate, a system that is fair and just, where you don’t have to follow somebody’s orders because he is rich or powerful,” said Ahmed, a young supporter of the Islamic State who, like others interviewed, did not want to give his family name for fear of the police. “It is action, not theory, and it will topple the whole game.”

    While only a minority of Tunisians have expressed support for the militants, it seemed that everyone under 30 knew someone who had traveled to fight in Syria or Iraq, or someone who had died there. In interviews at cafes in and around Ettadhamen, dozens of young unemployed or working-class men expressed support for the extremists or saw the appeal of joining their ranks — convinced that it could offer a higher standard of living, a chance to erase arbitrary borders that have divided the Arab world for a century, or perhaps even the fulfillment of Quranic prophecies that Armageddon will begin with a battle in Syria.

    “There are lots of signs that the end will be soon, according to the Quran,” said Aymen, 24, who was relaxing with friends at another cafe.

    Bilal, an office worker who was at another cafe, applauded the Islamic State as the divine vehicle that would finally undo the Arab borders drawn by Britain and France at the end of World War I. “The division of the countries is European,” said Bilal, 27. “We want to make the region a proper Islamic state, and Syria is where it will start.”

    Mourad, 28, who said he held a master’s degree in technology but could find work only in construction, called the Islamic State the only hope for “social justice,” because he said it would absorb the oil-rich Persian Gulf monarchies and redistribute their wealth. “It is the only way to give the people back their true rights, by giving the natural resources back to the people,” he said. “It is an obligation for every Muslim.”

    Many insisted that friends who had joined the Islamic State had sent back reports over the Internet of their homes, salaries and even wives. “They live better than us!” said Walid, 24.

    Wissam, 22, said a friend who left four months ago had told him that he was “leading a truly nice, comfortable life” under the Islamic State.

    “I said: ‘Are there some pretty girls? Maybe I will go there and settle down,’ ” he recalled.

    Imen Triki, a lawyer at a nonprofit that has represented more than 70 returning Tunisians, described the thinking of many young ultraconservative Islamists, known as Salafis: “If I am going to get arrested and beaten here anyway, I might as well go where I can have an impact.”

    Tunisian officials say that as many as 400 Tunisians have returned from Syria or Iraq and that many have been arrested. Lawyers who represent them say many testify that they were tricked into going.

    Ms. Triki estimated that as many as 60 percent of those who come back profess disappointment at the strife between the Islamic State and its former partner, the Nusra Front, the Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebel group. “They never thought there would a fight between Muslims,” she said. “They find that they have been deceived and sold like mercenaries.”

    Charfeddine Hasni, 30, an information technology worker who said he backed the Islamic State, acknowledged that friends had returned dismayed. “They thought it would be like joining the side of the Prophet Muhammad, but they found it was divided into these small groups with a lot of transgressions they did not expect, like forcing people to fight,” he said, recalling one friend killed by his own fellows in the Nusra Front. “But they are not a real army, so they are hard to control, and these are personal mistakes,” he added.

    Unemployed college graduates — a large group in Tunisia, where education is inexpensive but jobs remain scarce — are prime candidates for jihad, their friends and Tunisian analysts say. But there are also accounts of affluent M.B.A. students or peasants going as well. Almost all have now gravitated from other factions to join the Islamic State, according to their friends and the statements of Tunisian officials.

    Some families approve. Chiheb Eddine Chaouachi, 24, a medical student, said that both he and his family supported the decision of his brother Bilal, 29, a Salafi theologian, to move with his wife to the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, even though the brothers’ personal lifestyles differed widely.

    “Sometimes I pray, and sometimes I don’t,” Chiheb Eddine said. “I am very social.” But, like many Tunisians whose practices sometimes seem to contradict their piety, he nonetheless said he hoped that the Islamic State would “win.”

    “Maybe when the war is over, we will all be in an Islamic state, for all practicing Muslims, under Shariah,” he said with a shrug, adding that he had asked his brother directly about the Islamic State’s beheadings and other atrocities. “He said, ‘Don’t believe it,’ and I trust my brother.”

    Indeed, in dozens of conversations with young Tunisians, almost no one, whether sympathizers or critics, believed the news reports of the Islamic State’s mass killings or beheadings. “It is made up,” echoed Amar Msalmi, 28, a taxi driver. “All of this is manufactured in the West.”

    All dismissed the existing Arab governments as corrupt and dictatorial, and all held a dim view of Ennahda. Most struggled to name a credible Muslim institute or scholar uncorrupted by service to some earthly power.

    You have to wonder what the morale is like for new ISIS recruits once they show up and find out that, as opposed to their fantasies, ISIS really does engage in beheadings, mass killings. And now slavery. You also have to wonder how much of this ISIS nightmare could have been avoided if we had a global economy that was actually dedicated to providing everyone, including unemployed Tunisian college graduates, the means for a decent life instead of thefantasy economy we actually have.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 22, 2014, 8:13 am
  15. Gary Brecher has a suggestion for how Western nations should deal with wannabe jihadis clamoring to get to Syria: let them go. In addition to making great covers for all the double-agents that have also infiltrated ISIS, these wannabe jihadis are probably just going to be asked to become suicide bombers since that’s the only real way they could become useful for ISIS. In other words, if you want to join ISIS but are hoping for some on the job training to get up to speed be prepared to accept your new job as a disposable human explosive:

    Pando Daily
    The War Nerd: How do you deal with wannabe jihadis? An upgrade to business class

    By Gary Brecher
    On October 24, 2014

    KUWAIT CITY—It’s been a busy week for Canada’s home-grown jihadis.

    Monday, October 20: Martin Rouleau, a French-Canadian convert to Islam, ran down two Canadian soldiers with his Nissan Altima, then led the RCMP on a chase that ended when he rolled the Nissan, came up out of the wreck waving a kitchen knife, and got himself shot to death “like he wanted to.”

    Wednesday, October 22: Michael Zehaf-Babeau, also Quebecois and a recent convert, shot a soldier standing guard at a war memorial then ran into Parliament, firing as he ran, until he was shot dead by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

    You can look for all kinds of patterns in these shootings — to me, the Quebecois connection seems particularly interesting here — but the most obvious, urgent connection we need to see is that both these guys had tried their best to get out of Canada, and were refused the chance to go to fight in Syria/Iraq. Both had their passports seized, and were “counselled” to dissuade them from jihad. Instead, it simply made them consider the local option.

    So, two soldiers are now dead, Canada’s uncommonly flustered, and all because the RCMP didn’t do the obvious, and let these guys go where they wanted to go. If the RCMP had taken DNA samples, front and side photos, and seen them off at the airport with a “Mazel tov!”, Canada would be a lot better off. It took both Rouleau and Zehaf-Babeau weeks, between being refused a passport and their final act, to work up the courage to kill at home. Most wannabe jihadis feel a certain grudging sentimentality for the country where they grew up, which makes them more willing to kill for God far, far away from home than to kill people who look like the kids they grew up with.

    These two only killed at home when the Syrian option was shut down for them.

    So what was the downside of letting them go? The most likely outcome was that both would have been cannon fodder, dead in their first month. The Middle East, the non-tourist version, is a big shock to most Westerners, and amateur soldiers who don’t speak Arabic and are used to flush toilets will spend their first months just dealing with the gastro-intestinal adjustments. During that time, these pampered amateurs make big fat targets. And that’s all Martin and Michael wanted, “Istishad,” martyrdom. Though I doubt they knew the proper term; like many new jihadis, they were much more excited about the killing and dying than actually learning the religion. They would have found their deaths fast, vaporized in an air strike or hit by shrapnel. The death rates for foreign jihadis in Syria are horrific, and only the practically unlimited pool of replacements keeps foreign-dominated militias in operation.

    New recruits, and those who have no useful military skills, are also the ones persuaded to make the ultimate sacrifice as suicide bombers.

    Something many people don’t understand about this way of becoming a shahid (martyr) is that it’s the least prestigious, far less honored than death in combat. It’s the least useful recruits who get used as suicide bombers. That’s why Saudi boys are disproportionately represented among suicide bombers; they’re hard to train (as I can testify), not much good for more complex tasks. Almost half of suicide bombers to detonate in Iraq in the last two months have been Saudi.

    Once a recruit has been persuaded to drive a car full of TNT into an enemy checkpoint, the counter-terror officer assigned to monitor him, back in a government cubicle in Ottawa, can safely cross one name off the list of potential threats. Case very definitely closed.

    And even if they survive, they’re marked for life; the second they try to return to their home countries, they can be pulled out of the line at the airport and detained for as long as necessary, on any charge you care to name. It’s not like charges are hard to find, since Islamic State actually brags, in its house magazine, that it sold hundreds of Yazidi women and girls into slavery.

    Last time I checked, slavery is illegal in Canada, and in fact everywhere except Mauritania, so conspiracy to commit kidnapping and rape are the minimum you could charge every IS recruit with.

    Or you could send them to Mauritania, but that seems a little harsh compared to a life sentence in a Canadian prison. Nobody deserves Mauritania, not even sex slavery gangsters.

    Even when they’re alive and fighting in Syria, these guys are a huge asset to Western Intelligence, because they make an effective camouflage for the real double agents already in place there. You can safely assume that a big fraction of the men fighting with Islamic State are double agents reporting to one or more of the major Western intelligence agencies, covertly photographing and DNA-typing their comrades for future reference.

    If there’s one thing most intelligence agencies do in quantity, if not quality, it’s infiltration. Sometimes the scale of infiltration of targeted groups is just ridiculous, especially when they’re Leftist groups that drew J. Edgar Hoover’s rage. Case in point:

    “Following a lawsuit…it was revealed that an organization with 2,500 members had been infiltrated by 1,600 informers.”

    The proportion of double agents in Islamic State may not be that high (it’s a lot riskier to pretend to be a jihadi in a combat zone than a harmless stateside socialist) but there is no doubt that all jihadi organizations have been penetrated by the intelligence agencies of countries from Egypt to Russia.

    Jihadi groups are easy to penetrate by their very nature. By definition, jihad is open to anyone with the True Faith. And the way you tell who has that faith is that they make the declaration of faith, the shahaada.

    So the answer to the problem of Western convert jihadis is simple: Let ’em go to Syria. A few will wake up, and it’ll be a painful awakening in more ways than one. As Melville said, “What like a bullet can undeceive?” More will die quickly. A few will arouse their comrades’ suspicion and be executed—and the odds are those won’t even be the real double agents. The rest will provide cover for those actual double agents.

    These guys are surplus, after all, surplus males in an era doing some fairly frantic tinkering with that whole concept. The best way to deal with them is let them take one for the team they’ve talked themselves into joining. And their job for that team is to provide cover. Basically, it’s the same assignment I used to get on every play: “Uh, the rest of you, go out and block.”

    In fact, Islamic State is such a perfect organ for draining the surplus reactionary-male rage from a certain demographic of the secular West that you can’t help wondering, sometimes, if it’s a Western invention. I doubt that; just because IS has turned out to be useful to Western security services doesn’t mean they created it. But it has become extremely useful, a sort of global kidney, drawing in and filtering out a pool of potentially troublesome young males. And all done far away, in the bowels of Syria. But only if places like Canada have enough cold-blooded sense to let this piece of luck keep doing its job. And that means only one thing: business class upgrades for every male under 25 with a record of jihadist rants and a one-way ticket to Istanbul.

    So now, in addition to the global phenomena of human traffickers luring people into a life of slavery by making job offers in foreign lands as a trap, we now have a movement that lures people from foreign lands to become potential slave owners and turns them into suicide bombers. Imagine that. And these welcoming slave owners sounded so nice.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 24, 2014, 5:42 pm
  16. Here’s a story that’s bad news for one of the sides fighting over Kobani, although it’s unclear which side this is bad news for: ISIS is claiming that, contrary to all reports, it’s about to capture Kobani. It’s a rather bold claim when you consider that:
    1. Iraqi Peshmerga are about to arrive at Kobani.
    and
    2. Much of ISIS’s strength comes from its foreign support and fighters that are drawn ti ISIS, in part, from its ability to use the media to promote an image of inevitable victory.

    So, unless ISIS really is about to take Kobani, it would appear that ISIS is engaging in an almost Rovian attempt to create its own reality using the media. Or perhaps it’s an almost Rovian attempt to deny reality. It’s sort of a mystery, for now at least. But should Kobani stay in the hands of the Kurds over the next few weeks or longer we may get a better idea of whether or not ISIS’s global fanboys prefer their fanaticism to be entirely divorced from reality or if they prefer it to be at least grounded in the reality of ISIS’s successes on the battlefield or the lack thereof:

    McClatchy
    New Islamic State video challenges Western version of battle for Kobani

    By Jonathan S. Landay

    McClatchy Washington Bureau
    October 27, 2014 Updated 20 hours ago

    BAGHDAD — The Islamic State posted a video Monday in which a captured British photojournalist, shown in an embattled Syrian town on the border with Turkey, denied that the fanatical group was retreating before a Syrian Kurdish militia backed by U.S. airstrikes and arms supplies.

    It wasn’t clear precisely when the video featuring John Cantlie was recorded, although references that he made to Western news reports and other events indicated that it was produced on or after Oct 20.

    The video was aimed at discrediting media reports that the Islamic State had been driven from the town of Kobani after a weeks-long assault against a Syrian Kurdish militia, known by the Kurdish acronym YPG, aided by U.S. airdrops of arms and ammunition and U.S. airstrikes that at times have been intense.

    “Despite continual American air strikes which so far have cost nearly half a billion dollars in total, the mujahideen have pushed deep into the heart of the city,” said Cantlie, 43, using the Arabic word for holy warriors. “The battle for Kobani is coming to an end.”

    Cantlie acknowledged that the airstrikes had forced some Islamic State commanders not to use tanks and other heavy armor “as they’d have liked.” But he denied that they’d broken off their push into the city. Instead, they’d adjusted their tactics and were now moving house-to-house with light arms.

    “The mujahideen are just mopping up now, street to street and building to building. You can occasionally hear sporadic gunfire in the background as a result of those operations. But contrary to what the Western media would have you believe, it is not an all-out battle here now,” he said. “It is nearly over, as you can hear.”

    The Obama administration initially dismissed Kobani as strategically unimportant. But its decision to aid the YPG _ despite its close ties with a separatist Turkish Kurdish group that is on the U.S. terrorism list _ has made preventing an Islamic State takeover of the town symbolically critical to the U.S.-led air campaign against the al Qaida spinoff.

    Cantlie initially appears in the 5:32-minute video on a rubble-strewn street and then on a roof-top overlooking the shattered remains of buildings.

    He quoted Western media reports from Oct. 16 and 17 that the Islamic State was retreating from Kobani, and noted that they were “quite a turnaround” from earlier statements by U.S. officials and “Kurd-hating” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the town was likely to fall to the militants “in just a matter of time.”

    Cantlie referred to an Oct. 19 U.S. air-drop of arms to the YPG, noting that two crates were captured by the Islamic State, something the Pentagon acknowledged on Oct. 21. He also cited Turkish approval of a plan to have Kurdish reinforcements from Iraq transit Turkey to Kobani, something Ankara agreed to on Oct. 20, but that has yet to take place.

    “Kobani is now being reinforced by Iraqi Kurds who are coming in through Turkey while the mujahideen are being resupplied by the hopeless United State Air Force who parachuted two crates of weapons and ammunition straight into the outstretched arms of the mujahideen,” he said.

    The video ended with Cantlie pointing out that some 200,000 residents had fled the fighting to Turkey, where they settled in refugee camps.

    “You can see the refugee camps over my right shoulder in Turkey where the inhabitants now are,” he said. “But contrary to media reports, the fighting in Kobani is nearly over. Urban warfare is about as nasty and tough as it gets and it’s something of a specialty of the mujahideen.”

    Cantlie wore a black shirt with a long-sleeved undergarment and black trousers in the video, a sharp contrast to the orange prison jump suit that he has worn in six previous videos that have been posted on the Internet over the past six weeks.

    In contrast to those videos, shot with Cantlie sitting behind a desk in a dark room, the British hostage was recorded in the open air and seemed remarkably relaxed. He gestured over his right shoulder with his thumb to indicate Turkey behind him, walked comfortably in front of the camera in a common television reporting technique, and spoke from a variety of camera angles. At one point, as he was mocking Western media reports, he looked left, then right before noting that “I can’t see any of their journalists here in the city of Kobani.”

    There was no immediate reaction by American officials to the video, and an official of the Kurdish government in Kobani could not be reached for comment. On Monday, Turkish news reports indicated that the Islamic State had made another effort to capture the border crossing, and Kurdish journalists in Turkey last week told McClatchy that about 40 percent of the town is in Islamic State hands.

    Kurdish reinforcements from Iraq have yet to arrive in the city, and when they do will not engage in combat, according to the most recent news accounts. On Monday, the U.S. Central Command said U.S. aircraft launched four airstrikes near Kobani, destroying five vehicles and a building Islamic State fighters had occupied.

    Here we go again?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 28, 2014, 2:52 pm
  17. One of the biggest looming questions about the fate of ISIS is what’s going to happen to the flow of foreign fighters if ISIS loses the momentum in a high-profile manner that even the suckers can’t ignore. There are only so many battle-hardened Chechens in the world and it’s very unclear if the kind of adventure-seeking Western recruits are still going to be interested in the going on a safari in Syria once they find out that they’re the (possibly explosive) big game to be hunted. And ISIS itself surely must be wondering too what happens if it loses the momentum…especially since it’s clearly losing the momentum:

    Kurds gain ground but not control in struggle for Syrian border town

    By Rasha Elass and Hamdi Istanbullu

    BEIRUT/MURSITPINAR Turkey Wed Nov 12, 2014 2:21pm EST

    (Reuters) – Syrian Kurds backed by fighters from northern Iraq have gained ground towards breaking the siege of the Syrian border town of Kobani but are drawing heavy fire from Islamic State insurgents and have yet to win back control.

    Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, or “those who face death,” arrived with armored vehicles and artillery more than a week ago to try to repulse a more than month-old siege that has tested a U.S.-led coalition’s ability to halt the Islamist insurgents.

    Known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab, the town is among a few areas in civil war-ridden Syria where the coalition can coordinate air strikes against Islamic State with operations by an effective ground force.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce overnight clashes between Kurdish and Islamic State forces along Kobani’s southern front, combined with heavy artillery fire by peshmerga, yield new gains for the Kurds.

    The Observatory quoted sources around Kobani as saying the radical Sunni Muslim insurgents had been surprised by the resilience of the Kurdish forces and that the battle for the town had killed hundreds of Islamic State combatants.

    Kurdish forces have retaken some villages around Kobani but a Reuters correspondent on the Turkish side of the border said the front lines in the town itself appeared little changed, with the insurgents still controlling its eastern part.

    A video on YouTube distributed by Islamic State supporters showed fighters purportedly in Syria’s northern province of Raqqa promising to reinforce Kobani.

    “God’s servants have prepared the explosives and bombs … We are coming with the sword and the Koran … We tell our brothers in (Kobani) that we’re coming to support you,” one of the insurgents said in the video.

    Yes, just last week ISIS produce a video intended to lift the morale of its comrades currently bogged down in Kobani. Sure, that may have been uplifting to the ISIS fighter currently getting their asses kicked by airstrikes and a vastly under-armed ground force, but how does that look to all those potential recruits on the outside? It’s not exactly the ISIS glamor we’ve come to expect. ISIS even dramatically announced last month that it was sending in the much-feared “Omar the Chechen” to Kobani to finish the job and it doesn’t look like Kobani is falling any time soon. Except for the ISIS-held sections:

    Kurds seize Islamic State arms, buildings in besieged town: monitor

    BEIRUT Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:35am EST

    (Reuters) – Kurdish fighters captured six buildings from Islamic State militants besieging the Syrian town of Kobani on Tuesday and seized a large haul of their weapons and ammunition, a group monitoring the war said.

    Islamic State has been trying to take control of the town, also known as Ayn al-Arab, for more than two months in an assault that has driven tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians over the border into Turkey and drawn strikes by U.S.-led forces.

    The hardline Sunni Muslim movement, an offshoot of al Qaeda, has declared an Islamic caliphate covering large areas of land that it has captured in other parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

    The six buildings seized by Kurdish fighters from Islamic State were in a strategic location in the town’s north, close to Security Square where the main municipal offices are based, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory, a group that tracks the conflict using sources on the ground.

    The Kurds also took a large quantity of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, guns and machine gun ammunition.

    The clashes killed around 13 Islamic State militants, including two senior fighters who had been helping to lead the militant group’s assault on the town, he said.

    Kurdish forces appear to have made other gains in recent days of fighting. Last week they blocked a road Islamic State was using to resupply its forces, the first major gain against the jihadists after weeks of violence.

    “During the last few days we have made big progress in the east and southeast,” said Idris Nassan, an official in Kobani.

    But Islamic State still appeared to be holding a significant grip on the town. Abdulrahman estimated it controlled more than 50 percent of the city.

    With ISIS still in control of half of Kobani it’s possible that these are just temporary setbacks in a campaign for eventual control. But, again, momentum certainly isn not on ISIS’s side at this point and that means the battle over Kobani could be a long, drawn out defeat with many, many crappy “we’re coming to help!” videos produced in the interim. And given that ISIS is basically operating like a pyramid scheme, where a constant flow of more and more outside funds and fighters is required to keep the scam going, you have to wonder if a long, slow defeat at Kobani could undercut the entire movement. Can a group that prides itself on being the most intensely pious badass rapist slaveholders in the world withstand a defeat like that?

    Of course, any speculation about the downfall of ISIS is really only meaningful if we assume that the surrounding countries really are interested in defeating ISIS (as opposed to using it as a proxy army for carrying out strategic regional objectives like toppling Assad or destroying the PKK). It’s an alarmingly large ‘if’:

    i24 News
    Even under allied bombing, IS has weapons to fight for two years

    UN report recommends seizure by Turkey of all oil tanker trucks leaving Islamist-controlled territory
    Published November 19th 2014 09:16am

    The UN Security Council will debate measures on Wednesday designed to choke off funding and weapons to the Islamic State organization and the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front in Syria. These include the seizure, possibly in Turkey, of all oil tanker trucks leaving Islamist-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in order to cut off millions of dollars from crude sales now bankrolling the jihadists.

    According to a new UN report that will form the basis for the discussion, IS has sufficient weapons to keep fighting for six months to two years.

    The size and breadth of the Isis arsenal provides the group with durable mobility, range and a limited defense against low-flying aircraft. Even if the US-led bombing campaign continues to destroy the group’s vehicles and heavier weapons, the UN report states, it “cannot mitigate the effect of the significant volume of light weapons” Isis possesses.

    “The group should have few problems maintaining state-of-the-art materials seized from the Iraqi Government, as most were unused. ISIL also appears comfortable with older Russian heavy military equipment seized in the Syrian Arab Republic due to the availability of spare parts,” wrote the eight-member UN Al-Qaeda Monitoring Team. “Meanwhile the maintenance of complex and sophisticated weapons systems may prove too much of a challenge,” it added.

    The Isis arsenal, according to the UN assessment, includes T-55 and T-72 tanks; US-manufactured Humvees; machine guns; short-range anti-aircraft artillery, including shoulder-mounted rockets captured from Iraqi and Syrian military stocks; and “extensive supplies of ammunition”. One member state, not named in the report, contends that Isis maintains a motor pool of 250 captured vehicles.

    The panel is also proposing an embargo on flights taking off or landing in territory seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and its allies to prevent them from moving assets and possibly weapons.

    ISIS earns an estimated $850,000 to $1.65 million per day from oil sales through private middlemen who operate a fleet of trucks through smuggling routes, the report said.

    While it did not specify which smuggling routes should be targeted, Turkey has been singled out as a major transit point for the oil deliveries, with trucks often returning to Iraq or Syria with refined products.

    “Sanctions measures cannot prevent this trade entirely,” the report said, but it added that “disrupting the tanker trucks available to ISIL and its allied smuggling networks (is) a point of vulnerability.”

    The team proposed that the Security Council ask all-member states bordering Islamist-controlled territory to “promptly seize all oil tanker-trucks and their loads that originate or seek entry into” those areas.

    “While it did not specify which smuggling routes should be targeted, Turkey has been singled out as a major transit point for the oil deliveries, with trucks often returning to Iraq or Syria with refined products.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 19, 2014, 1:26 pm
  18. One of the biggest looming questions about the fate of ISIS is what’s going to happen to the flow of foreign fighters if ISIS loses the momentum in a high-profile manner that even the suckers can’t ignore. There are only so many battle-hardened Chechens in the world and it’s very unclear if the kind of adventure-seeking Western recruits are still going to be interested in the going on a safari in Syria once they find out that they’re the (possibly explosive) big game to be hunted. And ISIS itself surely must be wondering too what happens if it loses the momentum…especially since it’s clearly losing the momentum:

    Kurds gain ground but not control in struggle for Syrian border town

    By Rasha Elass and Hamdi Istanbullu

    BEIRUT/MURSITPINAR Turkey Wed Nov 12, 2014 2:21pm EST

    (Reuters) – Syrian Kurds backed by fighters from northern Iraq have gained ground towards breaking the siege of the Syrian border town of Kobani but are drawing heavy fire from Islamic State insurgents and have yet to win back control.

    Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga, or “those who face death,” arrived with armored vehicles and artillery more than a week ago to try to repulse a more than month-old siege that has tested a U.S.-led coalition’s ability to halt the Islamist insurgents.

    Known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab, the town is among a few areas in civil war-ridden Syria where the coalition can coordinate air strikes against Islamic State with operations by an effective ground force.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce overnight clashes between Kurdish and Islamic State forces along Kobani’s southern front, combined with heavy artillery fire by peshmerga, yield new gains for the Kurds.

    The Observatory quoted sources around Kobani as saying the radical Sunni Muslim insurgents had been surprised by the resilience of the Kurdish forces and that the battle for the town had killed hundreds of Islamic State combatants.

    Kurdish forces have retaken some villages around Kobani but a Reuters correspondent on the Turkish side of the border said the front lines in the town itself appeared little changed, with the insurgents still controlling its eastern part.

    A video on YouTube distributed by Islamic State supporters showed fighters purportedly in Syria’s northern province of Raqqa promising to reinforce Kobani.

    “God’s servants have prepared the explosives and bombs … We are coming with the sword and the Koran … We tell our brothers in (Kobani) that we’re coming to support you,” one of the insurgents said in the video.

    Yes, just last week ISIS produce a video intended to lift the morale of its comrades currently bogged down in Kobani. Sure, that may have been uplifting to the ISIS fighter currently getting their asses kicked by airstrikes and a vastly under-armed ground force, but how does that look to all those potential recruits on the outside? It’s not exactly the ISIS glamor we’ve come to expect. ISIS even dramatically announced last month that it was sending in the much-feared “Omar the Chechen” to Kobani to finish the job and it doesn’t look like Kobani is falling any time soon. Except for the ISIS-held sections:

    Kurds seize Islamic State arms, buildings in besieged town: monitor

    BEIRUT Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:35am EST

    (Reuters) – Kurdish fighters captured six buildings from Islamic State militants besieging the Syrian town of Kobani on Tuesday and seized a large haul of their weapons and ammunition, a group monitoring the war said.

    Islamic State has been trying to take control of the town, also known as Ayn al-Arab, for more than two months in an assault that has driven tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians over the border into Turkey and drawn strikes by U.S.-led forces.

    The hardline Sunni Muslim movement, an offshoot of al Qaeda, has declared an Islamic caliphate covering large areas of land that it has captured in other parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

    The six buildings seized by Kurdish fighters from Islamic State were in a strategic location in the town’s north, close to Security Square where the main municipal offices are based, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory, a group that tracks the conflict using sources on the ground.

    The Kurds also took a large quantity of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, guns and machine gun ammunition.

    The clashes killed around 13 Islamic State militants, including two senior fighters who had been helping to lead the militant group’s assault on the town, he said.

    Kurdish forces appear to have made other gains in recent days of fighting. Last week they blocked a road Islamic State was using to resupply its forces, the first major gain against the jihadists after weeks of violence.

    “During the last few days we have made big progress in the east and southeast,” said Idris Nassan, an official in Kobani.

    But Islamic State still appeared to be holding a significant grip on the town. Abdulrahman estimated it controlled more than 50 percent of the city.

    With ISIS still in control of half of Kobani it’s possible that these are just temporary setbacks in a campaign for eventual control. But, again, momentum certainly isn not on ISIS’s side at this point and that means the battle over Kobani could be a long, drawn out defeat with many, many crappy “we’re coming to help!” videos produced in the interim. And given that ISIS is basically operating like a pyramid scheme, where a constant flow of more and more outside funds and fighters is required to keep the scam going, you have to wonder if a long, slow defeat at Kobani could undercut the entire movement. Can a group that prides itself on being the most intensely pious badass rapist slaveholders in the world withstand a defeat like that?

    Of course, any speculation about the downfall of ISIS is really only meaningful if we assume that the surrounding countries really are interested in defeating ISIS (as opposed to using it as a proxy army for carrying out strategic regional objectives like toppling Assad or destroying the PKK). It’s an alarmingly large ‘if’:

    i24 News
    Even under allied bombing, IS has weapons to fight for two years

    UN report recommends seizure by Turkey of all oil tanker trucks leaving Islamist-controlled territory
    Published November 19th 2014 09:16am

    The UN Security Council will debate measures on Wednesday designed to choke off funding and weapons to the Islamic State organization and the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front in Syria. These include the seizure, possibly in Turkey, of all oil tanker trucks leaving Islamist-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in order to cut off millions of dollars from crude sales now bankrolling the jihadists.

    According to a new UN report that will form the basis for the discussion, IS has sufficient weapons to keep fighting for six months to two years.

    The size and breadth of the Isis arsenal provides the group with durable mobility, range and a limited defense against low-flying aircraft. Even if the US-led bombing campaign continues to destroy the group’s vehicles and heavier weapons, the UN report states, it “cannot mitigate the effect of the significant volume of light weapons” Isis possesses.

    “The group should have few problems maintaining state-of-the-art materials seized from the Iraqi Government, as most were unused. ISIL also appears comfortable with older Russian heavy military equipment seized in the Syrian Arab Republic due to the availability of spare parts,” wrote the eight-member UN Al-Qaeda Monitoring Team. “Meanwhile the maintenance of complex and sophisticated weapons systems may prove too much of a challenge,” it added.

    The Isis arsenal, according to the UN assessment, includes T-55 and T-72 tanks; US-manufactured Humvees; machine guns; short-range anti-aircraft artillery, including shoulder-mounted rockets captured from Iraqi and Syrian military stocks; and “extensive supplies of ammunition”. One member state, not named in the report, contends that Isis maintains a motor pool of 250 captured vehicles.

    The panel is also proposing an embargo on flights taking off or landing in territory seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and its allies to prevent them from moving assets and possibly weapons.

    ISIS earns an estimated $850,000 to $1.65 million per day from oil sales through private middlemen who operate a fleet of trucks through smuggling routes, the report said.

    While it did not specify which smuggling routes should be targeted, Turkey has been singled out as a major transit point for the oil deliveries, with trucks often returning to Iraq or Syria with refined products.

    “Sanctions measures cannot prevent this trade entirely,” the report said, but it added that “disrupting the tanker trucks available to ISIL and its allied smuggling networks (is) a point of vulnerability.”

    The team proposed that the Security Council ask all-member states bordering Islamist-controlled territory to “promptly seize all oil tanker-trucks and their loads that originate or seek entry into” those areas.

    “While it did not specify which smuggling routes should be targeted, Turkey has been singled out as a major transit point for the oil deliveries, with trucks often returning to Iraq or Syria with refined products.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 19, 2014, 1:27 pm
  19. With talk of a US/Turkey-enforced no-fly/buffer zone along Syria’s border with Turkey once again picking up (although the US is downplaying the reports), here’s an interesting new development: Russia is ditching the long-planned planned South Stream gas pipeline that would have bypassed Ukraine and sent gas directly to Bulgaria. Putin is planning on courting Turkey with discounted gas and an offer to turn Turkey into a new gas hub instead. So the main proponent of collapsing the Assad regime (Erdogan) and the main opponent of such action (Putin) are now courting each other with promises of cheap gas and big markets:

    Putin drops South Stream gas pipeline to EU, courts Turkey
    Mon Dec 1, 2014 8:15pm EST

    By Darya Korsunskaya

    ANKARA (Reuters) – Russia on Monday scrapped the South Stream pipeline project to supply gas to southern Europe without crossing Ukraine, citing EU objections, and instead named Turkey as its preferred partner for an alternative pipeline, with a promise of hefty discounts.

    The EU, at loggerheads with Moscow over Ukraine, and keen to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, had objected to the $40 billion South Stream pipeline, which was to enter the EU via Bulgaria, on competition grounds.

    The proposed undersea pipeline to Turkey, with an annual capacity of 63 billion cubic metres (bcm), more than four times Turkey’s annual purchases from Russia, would face no such problems. Russia offered to combine it with a gas hub at the EU’s southeastern edge, the Turkish-Greek border, to supply southern Europe.

    Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Russia’s state-controlled gas exporter Gazprom, told reporters in Ankara, where he was on a one-day visit with President Vladimir Putin, that South Stream was “closed. This is it”.

    Putin accused the EU of denying Bulgaria, heavily dependent on Russian gas, its sovereign rights, and said that blocking the project “is against Europe’s economic interests and is causing damage”.

    He announced that Russia would grant Turkey a 6 percent discount on its gas imports from Russia for next year, supplying it with 3 bcm more than this year.

    Miller said Gazprom had signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkey’s Botas on the pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey.

    But the plan remains at an early stage. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that “energy ministers and companies (on both sides) were ordered to look into these proposals in detail … It is hard to assess the costs, financial mechanisms, terms of fulfilment for now.”

    He also said Turkey was seeking a 15 percent discount for Russian gas.

    AT ODDS WITH EU?

    Nevertheless, EU-candidate Turkey’s deepening energy ties with Russia are likely to raise eyebrows in Europe and the United States, coming as Western powers have imposed economic sanctions on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, and as Europe tries to lower its energy dependence on Russia, which supplies about 30 percent of its gas needs, half of that via Ukraine.

    “As our cooperation develops and deepens, I think we will be ready for further price reductions,” Miller told reporters in Ankara. “As we develop our joint projects … the level of gas price for Turkey could reach the one Germany has today.”

    The South Stream pipeline had exposed cracks in EU strategy as Hungary, Austria, Serbia and Bulgaria among others saw it as a solution to the risk of a repeat of supply disruptions via Ukraine, while Brussels and Washington saw the project as entrenching Moscow’s energy stranglehold on Europe. Yet its appeal has waned as economic growth has stalled, and with Azeri Caspian gas due to land in Italy from 2020.

    Carlos Pascual, who until earlier this year was the top energy diplomat at the U.S. State Department, said there was no way that the cancellation of the pipeline damages Europe.

    “One could actually argue that in the end this will save European consumers money by eliminating an unnecessary high cost pipeline that would not have added any additional new supply,” he said.

    Russia is already Turkey’s main energy supplier, and Turkey Russia’s second biggest trade partner after Germany. Those economic interests have outweighed deep differences over Ukraine and especially Syria’s nearly four-year-old civil war.

    While Russia backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has become his most vocal critic, lambasting the U.N. Security Council, and Russia in particular, for stalling on an international response to the war.

    “President (Putin) has a different assessment to us,” Erdogan told their joint news conference. “We agree a solution is needed, but we differ on the means.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 2, 2014, 6:50 pm
  20. Back in September, there were reports that ISIS members were purposely giving their captures sex slaves cellphones so they could contact that outside world and share the details of their horror stories, which is about the what one expects from the group at this point. And now, of course, ISIS’s “Research and Fatwa Department” just published a slavery manual:

    The Daily Beast
    ISIS Jihadis Get ‘Slavery for Dummies’
    They’ve enslaved thousands of Yazidi women—and now the militants must follow ‘rules’ laid out in an awful new list of dos and don’ts, from treatment of virgins to reasons for beating.
    12.8.14

    Jamie Dettmer

    Whom can you enslave? What can you do with female slaves? Can you beat them and have sex with them? The militants of the self-styled Islamic State, never shy to parade their gruesome, atavistic interpretation of the Quran and its place as they see it in the modern world, have now answered those questions.

    In a long list of the dos and don’ts governing the enslavement and treatment of women and girls captured by jihadist warriors, ISIS includes details of “permissible” sexual practices with female slaves. The new rules follow widespread reports this summer of the jihadists enslaving women from the Yazidi religious minority seized during the militants’ lightening offensive in northern Iraq.

    Issued on December 3 by ISIS’s “Research and Fatwa Department,” the rules are laid out in question-and-answer format—a kind of “Slavery for Dummies.” It is permissible to beat slaves, trade them and offer them as gifts, to take virgins immediately and to have sex with a pre-pubescent girl, “if she is fit for intercourse,” whatever that means.

    According to Nazand Begikhani, an adviser to the Kurdistan regional government and researcher at the University of Bristol Gender and Violence Research Center, ISIS has kidnapped more than 2,500 Yazidi women. Yazidi activists, meanwhile, say they have compiled a list of at least 4,600 missing Yazidi women, seized after they were separated from male relatives, who were shot.

    The women were bussed, according to firsthand accounts of women who have managed to flee, to the ISIS-controlled cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and chosen and traded like cattle. Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq say they have freed about 100 Yazidi women. In October ISIS justified its enslavement of the women—and of any non-believing females captured in battle—in its English-language digital magazine Dabiq. Islamic theology, ISIS propagandists argued, gives the jihadists the right, much in the same way that the Bible’s Ephesians 6:5 tells “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.”

    Below—courtesy of the Washington, D.C.-based the Middle East Media Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that monitors extremism—are some highlights of the ISIS rules governing the enslavement of women and how slaves should be treated.

    You have to wonder how many of ISIS’s international recruits are aware of both the reports of slave owning privileges and the reports about how ISIS is making their new international recruits clean toilets all day. Because those recruits clearly have some sort of very strange psychologies going on in their heads and holding power over others as a slave master is probably part of the appeal. Cleaning toilets? Not so much.

    Even reports about ISIS using the new recruits as “frontline cannon fodder” and suicide bombers probably holds more appeal than cleaning toilets day after day. Especially for the western recruits that left everything and traveled halfway across the world. Who knows, maybe once you recruit someone for their new glorious life as a rapist slave master and then, upon arrival, they discover that they’re going to clean toilets all day instead and never own a slave, maybe they actually want to become suicide bombers at that point (If so, it just might be the least tragic aspect of the entire “ISIS” experience).

    You also have to wonder how if ISIS is ever going to put out a “Suicide Bombings for Dummies” manual. It seems appropriate. And maybe even warranted.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 9, 2014, 7:35 pm
  21. ISIS just opened a school of medicine and it wants you to apply for one of those coveted education slots. Or someone. Anyone really. Just be willing to blow yourself up at some point and you’re probably good to go:

    The Daily Beast
    ISIS’s Futile Quest to Go Legit
    With its latest propaganda videos and recruitment for a medical school, the group’s attempts to portray a functioning caliphate seem increasingly desperate.
    Jamie Dettmer
    01.05.15

    Ever since Islamic militants grabbed a swath of land across Syria and Iraq this summer, they have been presenting their caliphate as a valid, functioning state. This weekend, the Orwellian depiction of legitimacy became ever more surreal and desperate with the announcement of a new medical school in one city they control and the release of a propaganda video featuring a British hostage touring another town, claiming “this is a normal city going about its business.”

    In the Syrian city of Raqqa—the main stronghold of the self-styled Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL—posters appeared over the weekend, according to local activists, which announced the opening of a school of medicine and invited applications from high-school graduates between the ages of 18 and 30.

    The medical school follows recent claims of plans to mint ISIS currency and the opening of a bank in the Iraqi city of Mosul—another was opened in the Syrian town of al-Bab several weeks ago. But locals there say any money deposited is thrown into an unlocked cupboard behind the tellers, hardly inspiring confidence.

    Coinciding with the medical school announcement, the eighth propaganda video featuring British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has been held for more than two years by the militants, was released at the weekend, this time having him tour Mosul in the role of a TV correspondent. Using the city that was captured by ISIS in June as a backdrop, Cantlie disputes Western media reports that it is “in a state of near collapse” with a lack of food, water and working public institutions.

    “The media likes to paint a picture of life in the Islamic State as depressed, people walking around as subjugated citizens in chains, beaten down by strict, totalitarian rule,” Cantlie says. But this picture of a “city living in fear as Western media would have you believe” is inaccurate, the captive photojournalist claims in the chilling video that has him looking less gaunt than in the previous seven propaganda videos in which he appears in as a narrator. Touring a souk and a hospital and riding on the back of a police motorcycle with a beaming jihadist, he declares, “Apart from some rather chilly but very sunny December weather, life here in Mosul is business as usual” and enjoyed by “people from every walk of life.”

    The doublethink video smacks of something Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s novel 1984, could be have produced for the Ministry of Truth in accordance with the slogans, “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”

    Just hours after his claims, ISIS released pictures showing the brutal executions of eight people, four of them Iraqi policemen, in Iraq’s Salaheddin province. The men were accused of reneging on pledges to stop working for the Iraqi government. They are frog-marched blindfolded under a bridge, made to kneel and shot by pistol-armed masked gunmen in yet another highly choreographed execution scene that has been seen often in recent weeks .

    In the Cantlie video there’s no mention of commonplace executions or the massacre by Islamic militants of more than 2,000 Shiite prisoners and soldiers shortly after Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was captured. Nor is there mention of the banishment of Christians on pain of death or even of the hundreds of women and girls from Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority being sold and abused as sex slaves— something boasted in Tweets and videos by Islamic State fighters. Tellingly, the eight-minute video has no interviews with locals testifying to how good life is under the jihadists—all has to be taken on trust from the captive narrator.

    “Of all the Cantlie videos, this one is definitely the strangest,” tweeted Shiraz Maher, a senior fellow at the Institute Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London. “The healthier appearance and civilian clothing are very peculiar.”

    Well, at least the med school isn’t as crazy as most of ISIS’s decisions. For instance, Raqqa is well positioned to become a global center for head transplant research. Plus, it’s not like there isn’t an immense need for doctors in ISIS-held territory. Or morticians:

    AFP
    Kurds seize most of Kobane from ISIS: monitor

    Monday, 5 January 2015

    Kurdish fighters have seized the security and government district of Syria’s Kobane from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and now control 80 percent of the border town, a monitoring group said Monday.

    “The People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighting the jihadists [ISIS] for nearly four months have full control of the security district,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    The Britain-based group said Kurdish fighters had seized control of the area after fierce clashes since Sunday night.

    The U.S.-led coalition on Sunday also conducted eight bombing runs near the northern town of Kobane, targeting ISIS troops that have waged a months-long battle to seize the area near the Turkish border.

    ISIS began its assault on Kobane in mid-September and came close to overrunning the town, which is also known as Ain al-Arab.

    But Kurdish fighters, backed by international air strikes, have been able to gradually recapture territory in the small town, which is strategic because of its location on the border.

    ISIS had better include a substantial mental health component in its new medical school’s curriculum. It’s going to need it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 5, 2015, 8:38 pm
  22. It looks like Yemen is experiencing a full blown case of ISISitis:

    US official: US was surprised by collapse of Yemen govt
    By KEN DILANIAN, AP Intelligence Writer : February 12, 2015 : Updated: February 12, 2015 6:48pm

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration’s senior counterterrorism official acknowledged Thursday that U.S. intelligence was surprised by the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Yemen.

    Nick Rasmussen, who directs the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate intelligence committee that Yemen’s American-funded army failed to oppose advancing Houthi rebels in the same way the U.S.-supported Iraqi military refused to fight Islamic State militants last year.

    What happened in Iraq with the onslaught of the Islamic State group “happened in Yemen” on “a somewhat smaller scale,” he said. “As the Houthi advances toward Sanaa took place … they weren’t opposed in many places. …The situation deteriorated far more rapidly than we expected.”

    In response to other questioning, Rasmussen also noted that extremists in Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt and Algeria had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, suggesting a growing influence of that al-Qaida rival.

    The Islamic State group is now the dominant extremist group in the Libyan cities of Derna and Benghazi, where a 2012 attack killed four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, he said.

    “We’ve seen in recent months ISIL has looked to expand its reach in a number of places,” Rasmussen said.

    He acknowledged that efforts against al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate, considered one of the most dangerous to Americans, had been significantly diminished by the collapse of the government and this week’s evacuation of the U.S. Embassy.

    Keep in mind that chronic dehydration and general malnutrition exacerbate ISISitis signficantly, as well as a non-harmonious home life. So, while the rate progression of the disease this development may have taken observers by surprise, the fact that ISISitis flared up at all probably should have been expected. Especially after Dr. Saudi cut off the medicine:

    Haaretz
    Can Iran replace Saudi Arabia as Yemen’s sugar daddy?
    Tehran may have declared that it will support the Houthi revolutionary government, but let’s see if it can provide the hundreds of millions that Riyadh did.
    By Zvi Bar’el | Feb. 8, 2015 | 4:44 PM

    The Houthi rebels in Yemen have disbanded parliament and declared a provisional government, but they don’t yet control the entire country. Over the weekend, the Houthis talked about “revolutionary committees” that will appoint a five-member national council — to replace the president, who has resigned. There will also be a new parliament, which will serve for two years.

    During this period a new constitution will be written and elections held. The new government also hurried to reappoint Defense Minister Mahmoud al-Subeihi in an attempt to show a willingness to cooperate with people from the old regime.

    But the procedures for governing are a secondary problem for a country in which 40 percent of the people are Zaydi Shi’ites and the rest are Sunnis. The south, where Al-Qaida operates, is Sunni, and the other regions rely on tribal loyalties that have normally been stronger than those to the central government.

    The sagging Yemeni army is also divided between these loyalties, so the Houthis were able to conquer the north and center of the country with little resistance. The main challenge is to prevent another north-south split.

    The Houthi regime also has vast economic problems. It’s not just that Yemen is the poorest Arab nation, where over half the population lives in poverty. In December, Saudi Arabia announced that it was halting vital economic aid estimated at $450 million for ongoing needs and $900 million for petroleum products.

    Iran may have declared that it will support the Houthis, but there’s a difference between support for the fighters and ongoing economic aid. This is even more the case when Iran is suffering a financial crisis due to the West’s economic sanctions, the steep drop in oil prices and the heavy aid it’s providing Syria. The question is whether Iran can replace Saudi Arabia as a conduit of aid.

    The Houthis can’t depend on Yemen’s oil production because the oil and natural gas ports — as well as some of the oil fields — are in the south and controlled by Sunni tribes. These tribes shut down certain oil facilities a week and a half ago to protest the Houthis’ efforts. Other possible channels for aid are Russia and China, which are making contacts with the Houthis.

    Saudi Arabia’s boycott of the Houthi regime could turn out to be a double-edged sword because it leaves the new government in the hands of Iranian good will. It also requires Saudi Arabia to cooperate with the Sunni tribes — most of which support the reformist Islah party, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudis’ enemy.

    “But the procedures for governing are a secondary problem for a country in which 40 percent of the people are Zaydi Shi’ites and the rest are Sunnis. The south, where Al-Qaida operates, is Sunni, and the other regions rely on tribal loyalties that have normally been stronger than those to the central government.” That sure sounds like a variant of ISISitis.

    So what’s the plan? Well, for Dr. Saudi the plan is to isolate the patient. Or, rather, to isolate Dr. Saudi from the patient:

    Saudi Arabia’s new Yemen strategy: get behind a fence

    By Angus McDowall

    RIYADH Thu Jan 22, 2015 10:42am EST

    (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is increasingly taking a security-first approach to neighboring Yemen, where Houthi rebels have all but seized power, wanting nothing better than to finish a new border fence and then slam shut the gates.

    Riyadh convened a meeting of Gulf countries on Wednesday to threaten unspecified measures to “protect their interests” in Yemen where the Shi’ite Muslim rebels, allies of its enemy Iran, are holding the president a virtual prisoner.

    But unlike in the past, the kingdom wields little influence across its border and has few established ties to Yemen’s new powerbrokers. It has already suspended aid payments, its most potent leverage in the country.

    That will compel the Houthis, and by extension Iran, to foot the substantial bill for keeping Yemen afloat if they want to govern the poorest Arab country without Riyadh’s support.

    Saudi analysts say the priority is sealing the mountainous Yemeni border – where Houthis killed around 200 Saudi soldiers in a brief war four years ago – with a fence modeled on its expensive frontier defenses with Iraq.

    “The Saudi strategy is no strategy for Yemen. I don’t see one except for security: keeping the border intact and guarding it well,” said Jamal Khashoggi, who runs a Saudi news channel owned by a prince.

    The Houthi ascendancy means that both the Sunni Muslim kingdom’s most populous neighbors, Yemen and Iraq, are now dominated by its biggest regional rival, Shi’ite Tehran.

    But Riyadh also worries that the revolutionary Zaydi Shia component of Houthi ideology will raise sectarian tensions. These could drive Yemen’s majority Sunnis toward the arms of al Qaeda, which carried out an insurgency inside Saudi Arabia in 2003-06 and wants to unseat the ruling Al Saud family.

    HOUTHI AID DILEMMA

    By cutting off aid, the Saudis present a dilemma to both Iran and the Houthis.

    In Tehran – where politicians have boasted that another Arab capital has fallen to their influence after Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus – Iranian leaders must decide whether to start making its own aid payments to help keep Yemen’s economy afloat.

    Plunging crude oil prices and the effect of years of sanctions mean Iran has little extra cash to subsidize a country that has historically had a marginal place in the region-wide power tussle between Riyadh and Tehran.

    But Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, suggested on Thursday that aid might be forthcoming. “If the people of Yemen would need support, we would of course support them,” he told reporters on a visit to Turkey.

    The Houthis have their own reasons to distrust Riyadh. The group was founded partly to counter the spread of Saudi Arabia’s hardline Salafi form of Islam in Zaydi areas and the kingdom’s historical patronage networks among Sunni leaders in the country. For its part, Saudi Arabia added the group to its list of banned “terrorist” organizations in March.

    However, Riyadh understands that Houthi ideology and strategy remain relatively fluid and that its leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi might eventually be swayed by the practical advantages of Saudi assistance to reconsider his group’s stance.

    GREAT WALL OF YEMEN

    So far, though, the Houthis have shown little sign they are willing to bow to external pressure as their forces push into Sunni areas and cement their control over the government.

    A report in the Saudi daily al-Yaum on Thursday said Saudi Arabia was working “day and night” to finish its border fence, but the Interior Ministry says it will still take some years to complete.

    The bulldozers of Saudi Binladen Group, the huge Saudi contracting company founded by a Yemeni immigrant whose son created al Qaeda, are crawling over this landscape, building a new road for frontier guards to help keep out militants.

    “The old technique of buying off the border tribes no longer works because Iran is paying the Houthis. All we can do is make our defenses stronger,” a Saudi guard told Reuters on a recent visit to the frontier.

    Wouldn’t it be great if there was a vaccine against ISISitis?

    Oh yeah, there is. We just don’t want to use it for various reasons.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 13, 2015, 4:28 pm
  23. http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/5174/turkey-new-middle-east
    Bad News: Davutoglu Wants “New Middle East”
    by Burak Bekdil February 10, 2015 at 4:00 am

    When, in a recent speech, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pledged to defend all faiths, “even Buddhism,” a Buddhist friend sent a message saying that: “I understand we were wrong to feel safe from the wrath of Turkish Islamists’ Sunni supremacy. Judging from how they wanted to crush every other faith, including different disciples of Islam, while faking to respect them I now worry about the Buddhist faith.”

    Echoing the Buddhist friend’s fear and commenting on Davutoglu’s most recent remarks on the making of a new Middle East, an EU ambassador told this author in a telephone conversation: “I think we should be worried again.”

    Fresh in the job but apparently full of hope, then foreign minister Davutoglu said in an October 2009 speech in Sarajevo: “As in the 16th Century, when the Ottoman Balkans were rising, we will once again make the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, together with Turkey, the centre of world politics in the future. That is the goal of Turkish foreign policy and we will achieve it.”

    At that time, Turkey’s best regional ally was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, now its worst regional nemesis. Relations with Jerusalem were deteriorating but not yet frozen. Turkey was the rising star in almost every Arab capital. Ankara was confidently spearheading efforts to build what looked like the European Union of the Middle East — a free-travel, free-trade zone between Turkey, Syria and Jordan, which would then expand to Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. Thus, the academic-turned-foreign minister would rebuild the Middle East under Turkish leadership.

    In an April 2012 speech, Davutoglu was more specific about his regional ambitions. “On the historic march of our holy nation, the AK Party signals the birth of a global power and the mission for a new world order. This is the centenary of our exit from the Middle East … whatever we lost between 1911 and 1923, whatever lands we withdrew from, from 2011 to 2023 we shall once again meet our brothers in those lands. This is a bounden historic mission.”

    Nearly five years after Davutoglu set out on a self-declared mission to remake the Middle East, Turkey is the only country in the world that has no ambassadors in all of Jerusalem, Damascus and Cairo. The ambassador it appointed for Libya has never taken up the job, due to understandable security concerns. Its neighbour to the south is no longer Syria but the Islamic State [IS], a coalition of jihadists it once supported (and perhaps indirectly supports even today), which has become a major security threat to Turkey itself. Its citizens are a high-currency in Lebanon’s kidnapping market. Since 2013, its missions in Somalia, where it has heavily invested in the past few years, have been attacked.

    The multiple policy failures find an echo among the Turks. According a survey released on January 20 by Kadir Has University in Istanbul, “Social-Political Trends in Turkey, 2014,” Davutoglu’s foreign policy has an approval rate of 33.8%. On a more specific level, the same survey found that only 21.6% of Turks approve of Davutoglu’s Syria policy, and 21.5% approve of his Egypt policy.

    Yet Davutoglu remains miraculously optimistic.

    In the speech that “worried” the EU ambassador, the Turkish prime minister said that Turkey was seeking a new Middle East that will be a home for Turks, Kurds and Arabs together. Speaking in the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakir in Turkey’s southeast, Davutoglu said: “We aim at a new Middle East.”

    He further said: “Against the tyrants in Syria [Assad] we want a new Middle East that Turks, Kurds and Arabs build in everywhere. Turkish, Kurdish and Zaza braves will be together everywhere again. Hopefully, this brotherhood will become eternal.” And, typically, he added that Turkey would continue representing Islam, “with the crescent on its flag.”

    Once again, Davutoglu is mistaken to think that Islam could be the bond to keep Middle Eastern nations in peace. In Diyarbakir, he was happy to greet around 100,000 Kurds who protested Charlie Hebdo and cheered for the Kurdish Hizbullah, a radical Sunni Kurdish organization.

    As a courtesy to Davutoglu “The Lovers of the Prophet Platform” had organized a two-hour long protest at a central square in Diyarbakir. They brandished placards and shouted slogans targeting the French magazine, including “I am Hizbullah in Kurdistan,” “I am Hamas in Palestine,” “I am Malcolm X in America” and “I am Imam Shamil in Chechnya.”

    Tens of thousands of Kurdish supporters of the radical Kurdish Hizbullah rally in Diyarbakir, on January 24, 2015. (Image source: Showhaber video screenshot)

    In a speech, Molla Osman Teyfur, chairman of the pro-Hizbullah Free Cause Party, said: “As long as you are the enemies of Allah, we will be your enemies.” He vowed to “cut the tongue that talked against the prophet.”

    Davutoglu has been trying and repeatedly failing to remake the Middle East on the common bond that is Islam. He does not learn from his past mistakes. He does not acknowledge failure. His repeated promise of a new Middle East is not a good omen for the region.

    Posted by Vanfield | February 14, 2015, 8:19 pm
  24. As of a couple of weeks ago, this was the state of the debate over the international response to ISIS:

    The Hill
    Sanders blasts Saudi Arabia for suggesting US troops against ISIS

    By Martin Matishak – 03/06/15 02:58 PM EST

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ripped Saudi Arabia Friday after the nation’s top diplomat suggested the U.S. would have to deploy ground troops to ultimately defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

    “I find it remarkable that Saudi Arabia, which borders Iraq and is controlled by a multi-billion dollar family, is demanding that U.S. combat troops have ‘boots on the ground’ against ISIS. Where are the Saudi troops?” Sanders, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said in a statement.

    “With the third largest military budget in the world and an army far larger than ISIS, the Saudi government must accept its full responsibility for stability in their own region of the world,” he added.

    The sharp words come the day after Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, expressed concern that Iran’s military is increasing its support to Baghdad’s forces in the fight against the terror group, especially around the city of Tikrit.

    “Tikrit is a prime example of what we are worried about,” the prince through an interpreter said during a joint press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry in Riyadh, the country’s capital. “Iran is taking over the country.”

    The diplomat urged the U.S.-led international coalition to take the “necessary military means to fight this challenge on the ground.”

    Sanders flatly rejected the notion that America must lead the vanguard against ISIS.

    “Ultimately, this is a profound struggle for the soul of Islam, and the anti-ISIS Muslim nations must lead that fight. While the United States and other western nations should be supportive, the Muslim nations must lead,” he said.

    And while not a lot has change in the ISIS debate in the last couple of weeks, the Saudi government did just float the idea of assembling a gulf coalition and a full-scale military intervention in the region. But it’s not going to be heading to Syria:

    Bloomberg Business
    Saudis Will Take ‘Necessary Measures’ in Yemen If Talks Fail

    by Glen Carey by Mohammed Hatem
    10:53 AM CDT March 23, 2015

    (Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners will take “necessary measures” to restore stability in Yemen if peace talks fail to resolve the growing conflict there, the Saudi foreign minister said.

    “We hope that this can be done peacefully but if it is not done peacefully, certainly countries of the region will take the necessary measures to protect the region from the aggression,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Monday during a press conference in Riyadh.

    His comments came after the internationally recognized government of President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi appealed for Gulf military support in its fight against Shiite Houthi rebels. Hadi has asked the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, to impose a no-fly zone and send troops to stop the Houthi advance, his Foreign Minister Riad Yassin told Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

    Fighting in Yemen between the Houthis and forces loyal to Hadi is threatening to escalate into a full-blown civil war, increasing the risk that neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, will be drawn in. The erosion of government authority has already allowed al-Qaeda to take root in Yemen and use it as a base for attacks.

    ‘Brink of Disaster’

    The Saudis and their allies among the Sunni Muslim monarchies of the Persian Gulf support Hadi and say that Iran is behind the rise of the Houthis, who advanced from their base in north Yemen to capture the capital Sana’a last year.

    “This could get very messy,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. “The Saudis will do what they can to stop their southwestern flank from becoming a client state of their arch-enemy Iran.”

    At the same time, he said, “Yemen is collapsing and the Saudis do not want to be pulled too much into this. This could quite easily be their Vietnam.”

    The Houthis, who have been targeted by a series of al-Qaeda attacks, accuse Hadi and his Gulf supporters of tacitly encouraging the jihadists.

    Saudi Arabia has agreed to host talks between all factions in Yemen to “bring the country back from the brink of disaster,” Prince Saud said. United Nations-backed negotiations between the warring parties have broken down, and the Houthis have ruled out attending talks in Saudi Arabia.

    Tear Gas

    Yemen was split into north and south before its reunification in 1990, and the current conflict has raised the prospect of renewed partition. In the past week fighting has flared up in the south, where Hadi is seeking to regroup after fleeing the Houthi-held capital last month.

    Skirmishes broke out in Taiz on Monday, after pro-Houthi security forces fired tear gas and live rounds at thousands of people protesting their advance into the southern city in the past few days.

    The Houthis are collaborating with Ali Abdullah Saleh, the still-influential ex-president who ceded power to Hadi under a 2011 accord brokered by Saudi Arabia.

    The Houthis declared an armed mobilization for war on Saturday. In a televised address the following day, their leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi urged Yemen’s tribes to send fighters and money. He accused Hadi of collaborating with al-Qaeda and Islamic State, and being a “puppet” for foreign forces.

    Keep in mind that, should the gulf states actually do this and send in an occupying military force, there will still be plenty of potential interactions with ISIS in Yemen, although it’s unclear if they’ll be considered friends or foes by the coalition. It’s a shockingly common area of confusion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 23, 2015, 6:01 pm
  25. The Syrian rebels appear to be making significant gains against the Syrian government with the help of some US supplied TOW anti-tank missiles and a lot of Islamist allies:

    U.S.-backed rebels team with Islamists to capture strategic Syrian city

    By Mousab Alhamadee and Roy Gutman

    McClatchy Foreign Staff
    April 25, 2015

    ISTANBUL — Rebels, including members of U.S.-backed groups and al Qaida’s Nusra Front, captured the strategic town of Jisr al Shughur in northwest Syria on Saturday, the second major setback for the government of President Bashar Assad in Idlib province in a month.

    The loss of Jisr al Shugur all but closes the government’s land supply routes to two major bases in the west of Idlib, Mastuma and Ariha, both of which are surrounded by rebel forces and can now be supplied only by air. Rebels captured the provincial capital, Idlib city, on March 28.

    The latest rebel victory came surprisingly quickly, apparently aided by U.S.-supplied TOW anti-tank missiles. Islamist groups announced the battle only Wednesday. The government troops fled to the neighboring provinces of Latakia and Hama.

    Gen. Ahmad Rahhal, who defected from the Syrian army and now works with the moderate rebels, called it a strategic victory for the anti-Assad forces that would strengthen their ability to move their own supplies between three provinces – Idlib, Hama and Latakia. But he told McClatchy the forces “still have a lot of work to do” and noted the government still has hundreds of troops in the two bases under siege.

    The precise role of the moderate rebels and Nusra in the battle was in dispute, though accounts of the fighting made clear that U.S.-supplied rebel groups had coordinated to some degree with Nusra, which U.S. officials declared a terrorist organization more than two years ago.

    Supporters of the moderate rebels sought, however, to discredit claims from the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors fighting in Syria, that Nusra had led the fighting and that it and Islamist groups were responsible for the city’s capture.

    Muhammad al Faisal, a reporter with the opposition Orient TV network, who is now in Jisr al Shughur, told McClatchy that many moderate rebel groups had taken part in the assault on the city, something the Syrian Observatory report did not note.

    Gen. Ahmad Berri, the deputy chief of staff of the pro-Western Free Syrian Army, said half the fighters in the attack were affiliated with the FSA. He said moderate rebels destroyed nine government tanks. He also acknowledged that Nusra had deployed one suicide bomber and one car bomb in the fighting.

    Videos posted on social media showed that U.S.-supplied TOW missiles played a critical role, destroying dozens of government tanks and vehicles. The opposition run Masar News Network reported that rebel forces captured dozens of regime troops as well as three tanks and three other armored vehicles.

    Berri said the main factor behind the victory was surprise. The government forces were expecting the attack to target the town of Ariha from the east. Instead, the rebels, including fighters from the Islamist Ahrar al Sham group, opened the fight from the west and cut the supply routes quickly.

    Government forces withdrew to the west and south to Jourin and other towns in the mountains of Latakia.

    The official SANA news agency posted a brief item about the fighting, saying that the army “is conducting heavy battles against the terrorist groups” in Jisr al Shughur and is “reinforcing its defensive lines around the city,” wording that suggested it had retreated.

    Masar Press, an opposition news service, reported that rebels killed two regime tanks in the village of Al Qahera and bombed the town of Az Zyara with Grad missiles. Both towns are south of Jisr Al Shughur, attacks that may indicate the direction of future battles.

    The cooperation between U.S.-supplied rebels and Nusra in the battle could prove controversial. The U.S. in recent months has severed relationships with some moderate rebel groups that had surrendered weapons to Nusra.

    Video posted on social media Saturday showed fighters from two major groups that still receive U.S. support, Division 13 and the Sukur al Ghab Brigades, participating in the fighting, including firing TOWs.

    Among the moderate rebel groups deployed, Berri said, were the The Coastal Division, Division 101, Division 13 and Sukur Al Ghab Brigades.

    Activists sympathetic to the moderate rebels said Ahrar al Sham, an Islamist group that also has links to al Qaida but has not been designated a terrorist group, played a more important role than Nusra. Another group that took part in the fighting was the Rahman Brigade, which is affiliated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 27, 2015, 6:08 pm
  26. Al-Nusra just told the world that is has orders not to plot attacks against the West. And no, it’s not a sign that world peace just broke out. Quite the opposite:

    BBC
    Al-Qaeda ‘orders Syria’s Al-Nusra Front not to attack West’

    5/28/2015

    Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria has been ordered by the jihadist network not to use the country to launch attacks on the West, the group’s leader has said.

    In an interview with Al Jazeera, Abu Mohammed al-Julani said al-Nusra Front was focused on capturing Damascus and toppling President Bashar al-Assad.

    He also promised to protect Syrian minorities that disavowed Mr Assad.

    A rebel alliance including al-Nusra has been making gains in north-western Syria, capturing the city of Idlib.

    Rebel fighters are now advancing on the Mediterranean coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of the president and his heterodox Shia Muslim Alawite sect.

    ‘One mission’

    The hour-long interview with Julani broadcast on Wednesday night was his second with Qatar-based Al Jazeera since 2013, when al-Nusra Front split from what is now Islamic State (IS).

    Julani said al-Nusra had been instructed by the overall leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to avoiding launching attacks abroad that might jeopardise its operations in Syria.

    “We are only here to accomplish one mission, to fight the regime and its agents on the ground, including Hezbollah and others,” he stressed, referring to the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement that is fighting alongside government forces.
    The interview also suggested a growing split between Nusra and ISIS.
    Mr. al Golani condemned “those who go to the extreme” and denounce non-devout Muslims as apostates—a concept embraced by many al Qaeda followers.
    “Al-Nusra Front doesn’t have any plans or directives to target the West. We received clear orders not to use Syria as a launching pad to attack the US or Europe in order to not sabotage the true mission against the regime. Maybe al-Qaeda does that, but not here in Syria.”

    The al-Nusra leader also denied claims by the US that it had a secret cell called the “Khorasan Group” that was tasked with plotting attacks outside Syria.

    “There is nothing called Khorasan group. The Americans came up with it to deceive the public. They claim that this secret group was set up to target the Americans but this is not right.”

    The US-led coalition against Islamic State, to which al-Nusra is violently opposed, has bombed several bases that US officials say were used by the Khorasan group.

    “Our options are open when it comes to targeting the Americans if they will continue their attacks against us in Syria. Everyone has the right to defend themselves,” Julani warned.

    A US intelligence official told the New York Times that Julani’s claims were “self-serving propaganda”.

    Julani also vowed that al-Nusra would not harm members of Syria’s Christian and Druze minorities who did not fight against it, and that Alawites would be safe if they “drop their weapons, disavow Assad, do not send their men to fight for him and return to Islam”.

    “The battle does not end in Qardaha, the Alawite village and the birthplace of the Assad clan,” he explained. “Our war is not a matter of revenge against the Alawites despite the fact that in Islam, they are considered to be heretics.”

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even when the former enemy used to be my main enemy (that I’ve spent over a dozen years pursuing across the world) and the latter enemy is the main enemy of another enemy that’s now my main enemy and a splinter group of the former enemy.

    World peace here we come!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 28, 2015, 3:07 pm
  27. One of the most powerful Sunni politician in Iraq just made quite a controversial assertion regarding the recent fall of Ramadi to ISIS: Iraq’s troops were ordered to leave:

    CNN
    Ramadi fell to ISIS because troops were ordered to leave, Iraq’s speaker says

    By Nick Paton Walsh

    Updated 9:51 AM ET, Mon June 1, 2015

    Baghdad, Iraq (CNN)Iraqi troops left the strategically vital city of Ramadi — allowing it to fall to ISIS — because of a direct order from their military commanders of which Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was not aware, according to the powerful Sunni speaker of Iraq’s parliament.

    In an exclusive interview with CNN, Salim al-Jabouri, arguably the most powerful Sunni politician in the country, said Ramadi was abandoned last month because of “a clear decision to give the order to pull out — and after that Ramadi fell.”

    Al-Jabouri added: “Even the Prime Minister — the general commander of the armed forces — was not aware of the orders to pull out. This led to big questions for us. Who has a direct interest in the army pulling out and not confronting ISIS?”

    Asked who gave that order, he replied: “In command was the Golden Division, and after they withdrew, a collapse occurred, and ISIS controlled Ramadi.” He said it was unclear where the order to withdraw originated — whether the Golden Division was ordered to pull out by a higher command, or did so on its own. A parliamentary investigation is under way to establish these facts, he added.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/melikkaylan/2015/05/28/did-iraqs-army-genuinely-collapse-in-ramadi-and-mosul-what-really-happened/
    “There are a number of answers that we need to confirm in a realistic form,” he said. “We fear that there are other hands involved in this that played a role in military decisions.”

    Al-Jabouri echoed assertions by U.S. officials that the Iraqi forces in the city were far from outnumbered by ISIS. “The number of ISIS fighters who entered Ramadi at the time of the fall was not large,” he said, “and I think morale played a huge role and it had an influence.”

    Sectarian tensions are high over the fall of Ramadi, with some critics of the often pro-Shia Baghdad government suggesting it was reluctant to arm the Sunni tribes fighting ISIS there as it mistrusts them, but also reluctant to send adequate reinforcements to fight for a predominantly Sunni area.

    Al-Jabouri said locals in Anbar province — like the Sunni tribes fighting there — should be the ones to liberate the province, but that previous campaigns in other towns against ISIS had left a bitter taste for some Sunnis. “The experiences in Salaheddin, in Tikrit and al-Dor sometimes play a discouraging role. There is concern that it would be repeated in Anbar, especially after the liberation operations in those areas. We have to be careful. We must not think only of the liberation of an area but also about what comes after liberation. How do we establish stability and security?”

    Many will take that as a reference to the conduct of Shia fighting groups, whose human rights records are often questioned and whom some Sunnis fear.

    In the 48 hours before the interview, al-Jabouri met the U.S. coordinator for the coalition against ISIS, Gen. John Allen, and he is expected to travel to Washington soon. He appealed for more aid from the U.S., and said that airstrikes could intensify along with — if the U.S. was willing — boots on the ground.

    Well that’s interesting…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 1, 2015, 10:55 am
  28. The AKP just significantly underperformed expectations in Turkey’s elections yesterday, striking a significant blow to Erodogan’s many grand ambitions, including a constitutional power grab. And as the article below points out, that just might include his ambitions in redrawing the Middle East and overthrowing Assad, something that hasn’t been particularly popular in Turkey. So who knows what could to the Turkey-to-Syria route for wannabe ISIS members now that the geopolitical incentives to keeping that route open-ish having suddenly become a lot murkier:

    The New York Times
    Erdogan’s Governing Party in Turkey Loses Parliamentary Majority

    By TIM ARANGO and CEYLAN YEGINSU
    JUNE 7, 2015

    ISTANBUL — Turkish voters delivered a rebuke on Sunday to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as his party lost its majority in Parliament in a historic election that thwarted his ambition to rewrite Turkey’s Constitution and further bolster his clout.

    The results represented a significant setback for Mr. Erdogan, an Islamist who has steadily increased his power since being elected last year as president, a partly but not solely ceremonial post. The prime minister for more than a decade before that, Mr. Erdogan has pushed for more control of the judiciary and cracked down on any form of criticism, including prosecuting those who insult him on social media, but his efforts appeared to have run aground on Sunday.

    The vote was also a significant victory to the cadre of Kurds, liberals and secular Turks who found their voice of opposition to Mr. Erdogan during sweeping antigovernment protests two years ago. For the first time, the Kurdish slate crossed a 10 percent threshold required to enter Parliament.

    Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., still won the most seats by far, but not a majority, according to preliminary results released Sunday night. The outcome suggests contentious days of jockeying ahead as the party moves to form a coalition government. Already, analysts were raising the possibility Sunday of new elections if a government cannot be formed swiftly. Many Turks were happy to see Mr. Erdogan’s powers curtailed, even though the prospect of a coalition government evokes dark memories of political instability and economic malaise during the 1990s.

    With 99 percent of the votes counted, the A.K.P. had won 41 percent of the vote, according to TRT, a state-run broadcaster, down from nearly 50 percent during the last national election in 2011. The percentage gave it an estimated 258 seats in Turkey’s Parliament, compared with the 327 seats it has now.

    “The outcome is an end to Erdogan’s presidential ambitions,” said Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Turkey and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    Almost immediately, the results raised questions about the political future of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who moved to that position from that of foreign minister last year and was seen as a loyal subordinate of Mr. Erdogan.

    Speaking Sunday night from a balcony at the party headquarters in Ankara, Mr. Davutoglu struck notes of triumph and optimism, touting his party as the winner because it won the most seats, without mentioning the loss of its majority.

    “The elections once again showed that the A.K. Party is the backbone of Turkey,” he said.

    Mr. Erdogan, who as president was not on the ballot Sunday, will probably remain Turkey’s dominant political figure even if his ambitions have been curtailed, given his outsize personality and his still-deep well of support among Turkey’s religious conservatives, who form the backbone of his constituency. But even among those supporters, including ones in Kasimpasa, the Istanbul neighborhood where Mr. Erdogan spent part of his youth, there are signs that his popularity is flagging.

    “A lot of people in Kasimpasa have become disheartened by Erdogan’s aggressive approach in recent weeks,” said Aydin, 77, who gave only his first name because some of his family members are close to Mr. Erdogan. “I voted for the A.K.P. because it has become habit, but I think Erdogan lost votes this week.”

    Turnout was 86 percent for the elections, which were seen as a referendum on Mr. Erdogan’s tenure, especially his plan for a presidential system that would have given him more power. Polling had consistently shown that the majority of Turks are opposed to the change.

    By law, Mr. Erdogan can call for new elections after 45 days if a coalition is not formed, and the political uncertainty sent Turkey’s currency, the lira, to a record low against the dollar in after-hours trading.

    The vote turned on the historic performance at the ballot box of Turkey’s Kurdish minority, which aligned with liberals and secular Turks opposed to Mr. Erdogan’s leadership to win almost 13 percent of the vote, passing the legal threshold for earning representation in Parliament.

    Selahattin Demirtas, 42, a former human rights lawyer who leads the largely Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, told reporters Sunday night: “As of this hour, the debate about the presidency, the debate about dictatorship, is over. Turkey narrowly averted a disaster.”

    The People’s Democratic Party, known as H.D.P., was able to broaden its base by fielding a slate of candidates that included women, gays and other minorities and appealed to voters whose goal was to curtail Mr. Erdogan’s powers.

    “I voted for H.D.P. because it’s the only party that can break up Erdogan’s bid for absolute power,” said Selen Olcay, 47, a fitness instructor who voted in Istanbul’s Sariyer District. “In this election a lot of Turks abandoned their ideological preferences and voted strategically to derail Erdogan’s one-man rule.”

    The Kurdish party opted to run a unified slate, rather than field independent candidates as it had in the past. But it was a big risk: either it would reach the 10 percent threshold and enter Parliament, or it would be shut out, and its seats would have gone to the A.K.P.

    In the city of Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish heartland in the southeast, celebrations broke out as people flooded the streets, dancing and setting off fireworks.

    In Istanbul, Kurds saw the election as the culmination of decades of struggle, some of it waged violently by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has fought an insurgency from a base in northern Iraq for more political rights. In recent years Mr. Erdogan’s government had entered peace talks with the Kurds and violence ebbed, and Sunday’s vote raised hopes for a final deal.

    The Republican People’s Party, the main secular opposition party, came in second with 25 percent of the vote, but it was the Kurds whose surge positioned them as kingmakers in the next Parliament. It also highlighted the evolution of the Kurdish movement, from the battlefields of the southeast, where a bloody insurgency raged for nearly 30 years, to the halls of power in Ankara, the capital.

    Even as days of political bargaining lie ahead, the elections capped a two-year period of seismic shifts in Turkish politics. Widespread antigovernment protests in 2013, set off by plans to raze an Istanbul park and replace it with a mall, laid bare the growing resentments among liberal and secular Turks toward the governing party. Then, a corruption scandal threatened to engulf Mr. Erdogan and his government. Mr. Erdogan survived by targeting the followers of his erstwhile ally, the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who over the years had taken positions in the judiciary and the police and were accused of orchestrating a graft inquiry.

    Turkey has felt strains in other arenas. It has taken in nearly two million Syrians, who have been a burden on services and exacerbated tensions in border regions, especially as the economy has slowed. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Turkey pursued an Islamist agenda in the region, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose president was deposed by the military. Its policy in Syria of pushing for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad has been unpopular in Turkey, and Mr. Assad, four years later, is still in power.

    The diminished power of Mr. Erdogan’s party is likely to rein in Turkey’s ambitions to shape events in the Middle East, an activist foreign policy that has been controversial among political opponents and the public.

    “Turkey’s foreign policy will be less driven by the A.K.P.’s ambitions, which is basically driven by a foreign policy vision to make Turkey a regional player at any cost,” Mr. Cagaptay said, suggesting it had supported various Syrian factions opposing the Assad government and sometimes turned a blind eye to fighters crossing into Syria to join the Islamic State.

    He added: “The outcome of the election will take Turkey’s anti-Assad policy down a notch. The government will not be able to drive its agenda single-handedly anymore.”

    Turkey, a member of NATO, has seen its relations with its Western allies deteriorate, mainly over Syria and the fight against the Islamic State, the militant group that controls vast areas of Iraq and Syria. An American-led coalition has been carrying out an air campaign against the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, for nearly a year, but Western officials complain that Turkey has not done enough, such as allowing its air bases to be used for bombing runs. Critics also partly blame Turkey for the rise of the Islamic State for its early support of Islamist groups in Syria.

    The election was defined by bitter partisanship, with opponents criticizing Mr. Erdogan for his accumulation of powers, his bashing of the news media and his lavish new official residence, which Mr. Erdogan justified by saying his previous residence was infested with cockroaches. The campaign was also marred by violence, including a bombing last week at a Kurdish political rally that left two people dead.

    Whoops.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 8, 2015, 10:54 am
  29. Turkey has a bit of an ‘the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy’ situation developing:
    Following the bombing by ISIS of Suruc, a Turkish border town that neighbors the Kurdish Syrian town of Kobani, Turkey has begun bombing ISIS targets in Syria. Somewhat more controversially, Turkey has also started bombing the Syrian Kurds too. Bombs for everyone:

    Reuters

    UPDATE 3-Turkey’s Erdogan: peace process with Kurdish militants impossible

    * Turkish jets began bombing PKK camps last week

    * Operation parts of wider “terrorist” crackdown

    * Kurdish party sees bid to eliminate it

    * Western allies keen to avoid collapse of peace process (Adds AK Party spokesman)

    By Tulay Karadeniz

    Tue Jul 28, 2015 7:22pm IST

    ANKARA, July 28 (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was impossible to continue a peace process with Kurdish militants and urged parliament to strip politicians with links to them of immunity from prosecution.

    His comments come days after the Turkish air force bombed camps in northern Iraq belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), following a series of attacks on police officers and soldiers in Turkey blamed on the Kurdish militant group.

    The PKK said the air strikes, launched virtually in parallel with strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria, rendered the peace process meaningless but stopped short of formally pulling out.

    “It is not possible for us to continue the peace process with those who threaten our national unity and brotherhood,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara before departing on an official visit to China.

    Western allies have said they recognise Turkey’s right to self-defence but have urged the NATO member not to allow peace efforts with the PKK to collapse. While deeming the PKK a terrorist organisation, Washington depends heavily on allied Syrian Kurdish fighters in battling Islamic State in Syria.

    An emergency NATO meeting in Brussels on Tuesday offered political support for Turkey’s campaigns in Syria and Iraq, and Erdogan signalled Turkey may have a “duty” to become more involved.

    For NATO allies, the prospect of Turkey, which borders Iran, Iraq and Syria, fighting a domestic conflict against Kurdish as well as Islamist fighters is a deep concern. But for many in Turkey, Kurdish rebellion remains the primary national threat.

    Besir Atalay, spokesman for the ruling AK Party, said it was too soon to declare the peace process over and said it could resume if “terrorist elements” put down arms and left Turkey.

    “There is currently a stagnation in the mechanism but it would restart where it left off if these intentions emerge,” he told a press conference in Ankara.

    POLITICAL GAMBLE

    Braving nationalist anger, Erdogan introduced tentative reforms on Kurdish rights and in 2012 launched negotiations to try to end a PKK insurgency that has killed 40,000 people since 1984. A fragile ceasefire had been holding since March 2013.

    However, any calculation Erdogan may have had that his political gamble would reap broad electoral support from Kurds, some 20 percent of the population, demonstrably failed.

    The pro-Kurdish HDP party won 13 percent of the vote in a June 7 poll, helping to deprive the AKP Erdogan founded of a majority in parliament for the first time since 2002.

    Many Kurds believe that by reviving conflict with the PKK, Erdogan seeks to undermine support for the HDP ahead of a possible early election. That poll – so runs the argument – could then provide him with the majority he seeks to change the constitution and increase his powers.

    Turkey has shut down almost all Kurdish political parties over the years. Erdogan, who wants the AKP to win back a majority and has recently accused the HDP of links to the PKK, said he opposed party closures, but urged parliament to lift the immunity of politicians with links to “terrorist groups”.

    “We have committed no unforgivable crimes. Our only crime was winning 13 percent of vote,” HDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas told party members in parliament.

    “The only way for the AKP to be in government on its own is if the HDP is liquidated. Tomorrow the HDP’s 80 lawmakers will submit a request for immunity to be lifted,” he said, effectively challenging parliament to fulfil Erdogan’s threat.

    SEEKING LEGITIMACY

    Casting the operations as a war on terrorist groups “without distinction”, Turkey opened its air bases to the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched air strikes against the jihadists in Syria and the PKK in northern Iraq last week. It has since been rallying international support.

    “No steps back will be taken in our fight against terrorism. This is a process and it will continue with the same determination,” Erdogan said, after phone calls overnight with French President Francois Hollande, the king of Saudi Arabia and the emir of Qatar.

    Presidential sources said all three leaders had expressed their support.

    But Western allies are also concerned that Erdogan should not abandon several years of work on a peace process with the PKK, which has entailed giving Kurds more cultural rights with the prospect, over time, of greater autonomy in the southeastern regions where they constitute a majority.

    “Dangerous rhetorics in Turkey against HDP, which won 6 million votes in last elections. Time to face that reality,” the European parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri wrote on Twitter.

    Some Kurdish activists have accused Erdogan of deliberately refraining from action in the past against Islamic State, seeing them as a counter-weight to Kurdish fighters. Such a policy, they say, led directly to last week’s suicide bombing in southeast Turkey that killed 32 and has been blamed on the Islamist militant group.

    Turkish officials deny this and also reject the notion that the action against the PKK is motivated by domestic politics, pointing to a series of militant attacks on the security forces in recent weeks.

    On Monday, a gendarmerie major in the eastern province of Mus died after being shot by suspected PKK militants, while in the nearby province of Van a military unit came under fire.

    “Some Kurdish activists have accused Erdogan of deliberately refraining from action in the past against Islamic State, seeing them as a counter-weight to Kurdish fighters. Such a policy, they say, led directly to last week’s suicide bombing in southeast Turkey that killed 32 and has been blamed on the Islamist militant group.” You don’t say…

    And in related news, in addition to Turkey’s new parallel bombing campaigns, the US and Turkey appear to be on the verge of creating a ISIS-free “buffer zone” along the Syrian/Turkish border where refugees can flee from the conflict areas and rebels can flee for more weapons and supplies that they’re planning on direct at the Assad regime first. So while it be an ISIS-free buffer zone, it’s not necessarily going to be an anti-ISIS buffer zone:

    International Business Times
    How Turkey Border Zone Could Help Syrian Rebels Obtain Weapons, Cash To Fight Assad
    By Erin Banco
    on July 28 2015 11:19 AM EDT

    Rebels in Syria are counting their stockpiles of ammunition, weapons and tanks in the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city and one of the largest battlegrounds in the fight against the Islamic State group and President Bashar Assad’s forces. As usual, the rebels are running low this month on supplies needed to defeat their enemies. Even for some of the strongest and best-connected units in northern Syria, finding and obtaining simple resources like bullets and Kalashnikovs can take weeks.

    .That could all change in the coming days when the United States and its NATO allies move forward with a proposed offensive to create a “safe zone” aimed at pushing back Islamic State group militants from the Syrian-Turkish border. For rebel groups, the promised campaign represents an unprecedented opportunity to obtain much needed-cash and weapons. But for the U.S. and Turkey, the countries spearheading the operation, there is a risk that the weapons they supply will end up in the hands of rebels who have a different goal — fighting Assad first, not ISIS.

    Under the plan, Turkish troops and Syrian rebel fighters are to clear a 60-mile strip of land along the border to create a haven for Syrian refugees, who have flooded Turkey’s borders during the four-year civil war. The U.S. and Turkey will rely on rebels on the ground to secure the buffer zone. The rebels are supposed to get regular shipments of ammunition and heavy weaponry to ensure that the Sunni militants known as ISIS stay out of the area.

    That process, though, could go awry quickly. The rebels receiving the arms for securing the buffer zone will undergo no formal training and will not be bound to any official or binding agreement with the U.S. and Turkey. Rebels in Aleppo say that while they are willing to join the buffer zone monitoring force, they fully intend on using the weapons they receive from the U.S. and Turkey for their fight against Assad first and foremost, before the fight against ISIS.

    “This is what we have been asking for for years. This is what we wanted,” a member of one of the largest rebel umbrella organizations in the country said on condition of anonymity. “We have been asking for weapons for years, and we finally have a good chance of getting them.”

    Taking out Assad is not an immediate concern for the U.S. It wants to defeat ISIS first. Turkey, on the other hand, supports the rebel groups that see Assad as the real enemy.

    In recent years, Turkey has funded groups like Ahrar al-Sham, a Sunni Muslim extremist group with ties to al Qaeda, and has pushed for the ousting of Assad before ISIS. The Turkish government has also taken part in the shipment of arms to rebels in Syria, Reuters reported earlier this year.

    In contrast, the U.S. has rejected cooperation with Ahrar al-Sham and other extremists, instead preferring to work with so-called “moderate rebels.” The U.S. has also promoted an ISIS-first strategy, which has angered some rebels who argue that Assad is the true enemy and must be taken out of power before the Islamic State can be toppled.

    Rebel groups in Syria, especially in the north, are split in their allegiances to Turkey and the U.S., and finding a rebel force with a common ideology and strategy to carry out the monitoring of the buffer zone will be difficult, rebels in Aleppo told International Business Times Monday. The weapons, they said, will end up falling into the hands of groups that have different ideologies and ultimate goals.

    While many rebel leaders used to fall under one umbrella group, the Free Syrian Army, they have recently split and are now duking it out for land and power. There are the hardline Islamist fighters with known battlefield strength, but an extremist Muslim ideology. Then there’s the more moderate groups known for their popularity among the people of Aleppo, who while still devoutly Muslim, do not want the implementation of Shariah law in the post-war era.

    In an effort to get the U.S. weapons for the buffer zone mission, extremist fighters who make up Ahrar al-Sham, one of the main Islamist rebel groups, say they have tried to promote themselves as a more moderate organization, one willing to work with other groups toward a peace process. But in the end, they say, the weapons they receive will be used for one goal.

    “Ahrar al-Sham wants to see the end to Assad’s reign,” wrote Labib Al Nahhas, foreign affairs director for Ahrar al-Sham, in the Telegraph this week. “Assad and his cabal of murderous generals must go.”

    Al Nahhas also warned the U.S. against attempting to bring Western values to Syria. “Political systems and models of government cannot be imported into the Middle East and expected to flourish where historical experiences, political cultures and social structures are so radically different. There needs to be a major role for religion and local custom in any political arrangement that emerges,” he said.

    Other rebel leaders, including some who were once trained and given weapons under a CIA covert operation against Assad in 2013, have called the safe zone operation a “sham.” In the spring of 2013, the U.S. selected groups within the Free Syrian Army for a program that allowed for the transfer of U.S.-made weapons to Turkey via other countries’ aircraft.

    One senior rebel leader in Idlib, a major rebel stronghold in the southwest of Aleppo, insisted the West had failed them before and “will fail us again.” The United States is “sitting on its heels” in seriously attacking Assad because it does not want to engage in armed conflict with the dictator’s allies, Iran and Russia, he added.

    Still, the appeal of helping the United States and Turkey fight ISIS is clear to many rebel leaders, who expect the offensive to bring in loads of cash and weapons, resources they have needed desperately amid a four-year battle to unseat Assad.

    “In recent years, Turkey has funded groups like Ahrar al-Sham, a Sunni Muslim extremist group with ties to al Qaeda, and has pushed for the ousting of Assad before ISIS.”
    So it sounds like the al Qaeda offshoot which Turkey backs, Ahrar al-Sham, is pretty excited about the ‘buffer zone/weapons for rebels’ idea, although the “moderate” rebels aren’t exactly brimming with confidence. And it’s not even clear how concerned ISIS should be about the plan since it sounds like those weapons are just going to be used against the Assad regime, one of ISIS’s primary enemies.

    Still, the odds of the government-controlled regions of Syria falling into the hands of the hard core violent Islamists like Ahrar al-Sham have just become much, much higher and the possibility of two Islamist radical regimes controlling Syria raises a rather ominous question: If the Western half of Syria becomes a new al Qaeada-run regime, and the Eastern half remains under the control of ISIS, would those sides really fight each other at that point? Really?

    Wouldn’t they just team up and kill off all the non-Sunni radicals first? It seems very possible. And very possibly the plan.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 28, 2015, 2:05 pm
  30. Here’s an indication of a how hard it’s going to be to get Turkey to stop helping ISIS despite the fact that it’s increasingly obvious to the world that Turkey is intentionally helping ISIS (including evidence of exactly that collusion obtained in a recent raid):
    The black market that’s sprouted up around the unofficially sanctioned trade with ISIS, especially the oil market, and the flow porous borders that turned Turkey into a key entry point for ISIS fighters has resulted in a substantial ISIS presence in the Turkey. And that means it may not be so easy for Turkey to crack down on ISIS’s operations in Turkey even if it wanted to.

    In other words, the villagers are pissed about Dr. Frankestein’s monster trashing the place and murdering people. Now Dr. Frankenstein needs to discipline his monster whether he wants to or not. And it’s not at all clear how the monster will react:

    Business Insider
    Senior Western official: Links between Turkey and ISIS are now ‘undeniable’

    Natasha Bertrand

    Jul. 28, 2015, 3:57 PM

    A US-led raid on the compound housing the Islamic State’s “chief financial officer” produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, Martin Chulov of the Guardian reported recently.

    The officer killed in the raid, Islamic State official Abu Sayyaf, was responsible for directing the terror army’s oil and gas operations in Syria. The Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) earns up to $10 million a month selling oil on black markets.

    Documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid reportedly revealed links “so clear” and “undeniable” between Turkey and ISIS “that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara,” senior Western official familiar with the captured intelligence told the Guardian.

    NATO member Turkey has long been accused by experts, Kurds, and even Joe Biden of enabling ISIS by turning a blind eye to the vast smuggling networks of weapons and fighters during the ongoing Syrian war.

    The move by the ruling AKP party was apparently part of ongoing attempts to trigger the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

    Ankara officially ended its loose border policy last year, but not before its southern frontier became a transit point for cheap oil, weapons, foreign fighters, and pillaged antiquities.

    In November, a former ISIS member told Newsweek that the group was essentially given free rein by Turkey’s army.

    “ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” the fighter said. “ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria.”

    But as the alleged arrangements progressed, Turkey allowed the group to establish a major presence within the country — and created a huge problem for itself.

    “The longer this has persisted, the more difficult it has become for the Turks to crack down [on ISIS] because there is the risk of a counter strike, of blowback,” Jonathan Schanzer, a former counterterrorism analyst for the US Treasury Department, explained to Business Insider in November.

    “You have a lot of people now that are invested in the business of extremism in Turkey,” Schanzer added. “If you start to challenge that, it raises significant questions of whether” the militants, their benefactors, and other war profiteers would tolerate the crackdown.”

    A Western diplomat, speaking to The Wall Street Journal in February, expressed a similar sentiment: “Turkey is trapped now — it created a monster and doesn’t know how to deal with it.”

    Ankara had begun to address the problem in earnest — arresting 500 suspected extremists over the past six months as they crossed the border and raiding the homes of others — when an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber killed 32 activists in Turkey’s southeast on July 20.

    “This isn’t an overhaul of their thinking,” a Western official in Ankara told the Guardian. “It’s more a reaction to what they’ve been confronted with by the Americans and others. There is at least a recognition now that ISIS isn’t leverage against Assad. They have to be dealt with.”

    “This isn’t an overhaul of their thinking…It’s more a reaction to what they’ve been confronted with by the Americans and others. There is at least a recognition now that ISIS isn’t leverage against Assad. They have to be dealt with.”
    So Dr. Frankenstein is finally being forced to have a very unpleasant conversation with his monster about now murdering people. One wonders how that’s going to go. Hopefully it will be more uplifting and educational than their prior pow wows.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 28, 2015, 6:02 pm
  31. And now we have an “the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy but maybe we can be friends…for now…never mind” situation developing in Syrian: Al Nusra Front, the al Qaeda affiliate that’s generally viewed on as the most militarily capable of the non-ISIS insurgent groups, just waged a full assault on Division 30, the CIA-backed group of secular-leaning rebels, a day after kidnapping members of the group’s leadership. Al Nusra claims they did this to prevent the US from gaining a foothold in the area but also because, for al Nusra and most of the other rebel groups, taking out Assad’s regime is actually the top priority. And pretty much none of those other groups came to help when Division 30 requested assistance during the attack.

    So, at this point, it’s looking like al Qaeda is basically leading the Syrian insurgency, and leading it away from attacking ISIS:

    The New York Times
    Rivals of ISIS Attack U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group

    By ANNE BARNARD and ERIC SCHMITTJULY 31, 2015

    BAGHDAD — A Syrian insurgent group at the heart of the Pentagon’s effort to fight the Islamic State came under intense attack on Friday from a different hard-line Islamist faction, a serious blow to the Obama administration’s plans to create a reliable military force inside Syria.

    The American-led coalition responded with airstrikes to help the American-aligned unit, known as Division 30, in fighting off the assault, according to an American military spokesman and combatants on both sides. The strikes were the first known use of coalition air power in direct battlefield support of fighters in Syria who were trained by the Pentagon.

    The attack on Friday was mounted by the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda. It came a day after the Nusra Front captured two leaders and at least six fighters of Division 30, which supplied the first trainees to graduate from the Pentagon’s anti-Islamic State training program.

    In Washington, several current and former senior administration officials acknowledged that the attack and the abductions by the Nusra Front took American officials by surprise and amounted to a significant intelligence failure.

    While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.

    “This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.

    The Nusra Front said in a statement on Friday that its aim was to eliminate Division 30 before it could gain a deeper foothold in Syria. The Nusra Front did much the same last year when it smashed the main groups that had been trained and equipped in a different American effort, one run covertly by the C.I.A.

    A spokesman for the American military, Col. Patrick S. Ryder, wrote in an email statement that “we are confident that this attack will not deter Syrians from joining the program to fight for Syria,” and added that the program “is making progress.”

    Division 30’s leaders expected to play a role in an ambitious new joint push by the United States and Turkey to help less radical Syrian insurgent groups seize territory from the fundamentalist militant fighters of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.

    But the unit had no known plans to fight the Nusra Front, and the attacks on Thursday and Friday seemed to catch the unit off guard. Though the Nusra Front is allied with Al Qaeda, it is seen by many insurgents in Syria as preferable to the Islamic State, and it sometimes cooperates with other less radical groups against both the Islamic State and Syrian government forces.

    A senior Defense Department official acknowledged that the threat to the trainees and their Syrian recruiters had been misjudged, and said that officials were trying to understand why the Nusra Front had turned on the trainees. The defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence reports, described what he called “silver linings” to the attack on Friday: that the trainees had fought effectively in the battle, and that coalition warplanes responded quickly with airstrikes to support them.

    Witnesses described the attack as an all-out assault, with medium and heavy weapons, on a Division 30 encampment west of the town of Azaz in Aleppo Province, near the border with Turkey.

    In a statement on Friday, Division 30’s leaders called on all nationalist Syrian insurgents to “stand firm and proactively” against what they called an unprovoked attack, and asked “the brothers in the Nusra Front” to “stop the bloodshed and preserve the unity.”

    Yet witnesses to the attack on Friday and insurgent leaders said that most of the other groups in the area failed to come to Division 30’s aid. By staying out of the fight, they may have signaled that they have not accepted a central feature of the Pentagon’s program: that it be directed only at the Islamic State and not at the Syrian government forces of President Bashar al-Assad, against whom the rebels originally took up arms.

    At a minimum, it appears that other insurgent groups were not ready to directly take on the Nusra Front, one of the strongest and best-financed forces on the ground in Syria. Neither did they join in the Nusra Front’s attack on Division 30, perhaps because of the coalition airstrikes. The Islamic State does not have a significant presence in that area.

    Ahrar al-Sham, another powerful Islamist insurgent group, stayed on the sidelines, according to a spokesman, Ahmad Kara Ali. Ahrar al-Sham has often aligned with the Nusra Front, but it has been at odds with the group in some places lately over power and over how to govern areas they have conquered.

    One group that apparently did side with Division 30 was Jaysh Al-Thuwar, a coalition based west of Azaz that includes several Arab and Kurdish factions. The group said in a statement that it, too, had come under attack after Division 30 fighters had fallen back to areas under its control, and that it tried to assist Division 30 during the battle.

    Division 30 said in a statement that five of its fighters were killed in the firefight on Friday, 18 were wounded and 20 were captured by the Nusra Front. It was not clear whether the 20 captives included the six fighters and two commanders captured a day earlier.

    Division 30 was formed from a number of smaller groups to streamline the recruitment and training of fighters by the Pentagon to fight the Islamic State. The program has produced only a handful of graduates so far, in part because of a screening process to root out suspected extremists that Division 30’s leaders say is too stringent.

    Its first contingent of trained fighters — just 54 in all — recently re-entered Syria to join the rest of the division. An American official said that none of those 54 were among the eight captured on Thursday by the Nusra Front.

    But the captives did include Nadeem Hassan, a defector from the Syrian Army who helped organize Division 30’s 1,200 fighters, and Farhan Jasem, a deputy who commanded the 54 trained fighters, according to a statement from Division 30.

    The Nusra Front’s statement offered its view of the American role in Syria. Referring to the C.I.A. program, the group said that when the United States tried to “plant its hands inside Syria,” the Nusra Front “cut those hands off,” and that Division 30 was merely another proxy “aiming to advance the projects and interests of America.”

    Sunni Arabs have formed the backbone of the revolt against Mr. Assad’s rule, which exploded into civil war after his security forces cracked down on protesters. As the conflict has dragged on, more groups have come to frame it the way the Nusra Front does, as a sectarian struggle.

    The group’s statement said Sunnis would not hand the sacrifices of four years of war “on a plate of gold” to the United States “for it to establish its feet in the region over the graves of hundreds of thousands of the people of Syria.”

    The war has killed at least 230,000 Syrians, wounded more than a million and displaced more than nine million, half the country’s population.

    “As the conflict has dragged on, more groups have come to frame it the way the Nusra Front does, as a sectarian struggle.”

    And note the apparent shock and surprise within the US intelligence community that groups that view the conflict in Syria a sectarian battle aren’t very keen on having the US attempt to shift the focus of that battle away from a sectarian ‘Sunnis vs everyone else’ conflict and towards an ‘everyone else vs ISIS’ conflict even though those are two fundamentally different conflicts with VERY different potential outcomes. “In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State”:


    While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.

    “This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.

    The Nusra Front said in a statement on Friday that its aim was to eliminate Division 30 before it could gain a deeper foothold in Syria. The Nusra Front did much the same last year when it smashed the main groups that had been trained and equipped in a different American effort, one run covertly by the C.I.A.

    A spokesman for the American military, Col. Patrick S. Ryder, wrote in an email statement that “we are confident that this attack will not deter Syrians from joining the program to fight for Syria,” and added that the program “is making progress.”

    Division 30’s leaders expected to play a role in an ambitious new joint push by the United States and Turkey to help less radical Syrian insurgent groups seize territory from the fundamentalist militant fighters of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.

    But the unit had no known plans to fight the Nusra Front, and the attacks on Thursday and Friday seemed to catch the unit off guard. Though the Nusra Front is allied with Al Qaeda, it is seen by many insurgents in Syria as preferable to the Islamic State, and it sometimes cooperates with other less radical groups against both the Islamic State and Syrian government forces.

    “This wasn’t supposed to happen like this.” Yep.

    And all of this is happening at a time when, as the War Nerd points out, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Turkey has absolutely no interest in weakening ISIS at all with its new anti-ISIS campaign and just wants to bomb the Kurds:

    Pando Daily
    The War Nerd: Don’t be fooled — Turkey is attacking the Kurds

    By Gary Brecher

    July 29, 2015

    If you’re a trusting type, you might be cheering for the Turkish Air Force, which according to the more gullible news services has finally decided to strike Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria.

    Don’t believe it.

    It’s not IS the Turkish planes have been bombing. Here’s a breakdown of the actual targets of the Turkish airstrikes:

    The attack on IS was a single sortie against limited targets and closer to the Turkish border, while the one against the PKK was much different. The air force dispatched 75 F-16s and F-4E 2020s in three waves during July 24-26. Some 300 smart bombs were dropped in 185 sorties against approximately 400 PKK targets.

    The Turkish raids were almost insulting in their bait-and-switch: One little strike on Islamic State, or a nice vacant lot that might once have been visited by IS . . . and then 300 sorties, with the best US air-to-ground ordnance you can buy, killing God knows how many hundreds or thousands of Kurdish socialist fighters.

    Oh, and by the way, don’t expect most Western leftists to shed any tears over those dead Socialist fighters. You’d think Western lefties would be happy that a radical-feminist, non-sectarian, aggressively pro-LGBT, egalitarian/socialist militia is taking back ground from the most reactionary, sectarian killers on earth. Nah. The most you can hope for is guarded silence. Kurds make them nervous for reasons I’d rather not think about.

    Nobody much likes the Kurds, especially Erdogan’s AK party. In fact, the AKP hates the Kurds so much that this shared hobby of Kurd-killing has been the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the Turkish military and IS. IS fighters have always been able to move easily over the Turkish border, and there are persistent reports that Erdogan’s daughter herself is playing their Florence Nightingale, patching up those rapists’ boo-boos in one of the quasi-secret hospitals along the border.

    The AKP’s position is simple: They hate the Kurds, period. Islamic State also hates the Kurds. So Erdogan has to force himself to mouth even the slightest objection to IS, whereas the spittle really flies when he starts ranting against the Kurdish PKK/YPG.

    And what makes Erdogan maddest of all is that the young women and men of the YPG/J keep winning. That’s the real reason Turkey has launched every fighter-bomber it’s got, after years of watching indifferently as IS spread over Syria and Iraq: Because the Kurds were coming closer to Raqqa and Jarabulus every day, and had to be stopped.

    The Kurds have been gaining ground in Turkey itself too, and that upsets the AKP more than anything the Kurdish militia is doing south of the border. The Turkish/Kurdish party HDP took a huge chance in the 2015 Turkish elections, and won. The gamble was that the party could draw some non-Kurdish voters sick of Erdogan’s quasi-fascist antics to cross the 10% margin it needed to get seats in parliament. The HDP’s best previous showing was 9.77%; if it stayed at that level, it would end up with nothing based on the election rules, and put the AKP back in power.

    But the HDP passed the 10% hurdle, winning over many Turks and Alevi, getting more than 13% of the vote, winning 80 seats.

    Thanks mostly to the success of the HDP, Erdogan’s AKP lost its majority for the first time in more than ten years. They were seriously pissed off, and they’re not over-delicate people. Erdogan’s demographic is Turkey’s redstaters, inland reactionary hicks, like I said a long time ago.

    People like that don’t mind a little blood. Red-staters like a good killer; Lt. “Rusty” Calley was everybody’s friend in the Georgia hinterlands.

    Actually, it’s a good exercise, transferring what’s happening in Turkey/Syria to the US. Imagine (and it takes some imagining, I admit) that a truly noble, progressive, socialist movement took over Northern Mexico. It would be a godsend for the people there, but you think the US would stand for it? Nah. The F-16s would be flying day and night to wipe those do-gooders out.

    And that’s what the Turkish AF is busy doing right now, while pretending to attack IS. In reality, the Turkish military has stepped in to keep IS in power from total collapse against the Kurdish advance. It was the Kurds’ military victories, combined with the HDP’s electoral success, that finally drove Erdogan’s AKP right over the edge.

    You may recall a little town called Kobane kicked up some dust last winter, when the Kurdish kids of the YPG/J stopped the supposedly unstoppable IS forces dead, killing something like 3000 of them in the ruins before the Caliph finally pulled his brain-dead war tourists from Dusseldorf and Marseille back south.

    Welp, the Kurds pursued. They pushed out from Kobane, west, south, and east—every direction except north, because that’s Turkey, where the very existence of Kurds was denied until recently.

    When Kobane failed to fall on schedule, the Kurds held three “cantons” in northern Syria, separated by hostile turf.

    But they kept pushing, and there were signs that the jihadis of IS, always bragging about how eager they were to get their precious deaths, weren’t in such a hurry to die anymore. In fact, they were starting to break.

    In mid-June 2015, YPG units pushing east from Kobane and west from Hasakeh took Tal Abyad, uniting two out of the three cantons of Syria in one continuous strip of land along the Turkish border.

    This was not supposed to happen, in the smug little world inhabited by Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist buddies. The idea was to sic IS on the Kurds, then mop them up when they’d killed those crazy socialist kids. Now those kids were in charge of a huge stretch of Northern Syria, waving to their Kurdish kin across the border in Turkey, where hating Kurds is a national sport.

    After the YPG/J took Tal Abyad, Islamic State was in a hopeless position . . . unless the Turks intervened. No more wave-throughs across the border, no more easy delivery of munitions and medicines to the boys in Raqqa. And the Kurds soon turned south, pushing against Raqqa itself. They took Ayn Issa, the only major town between Kobane and Raqqa, a week after meeting up in Tal Abyad.

    Suddenly IS was breaking in every front where it faced the Kurds. Failing on the battlefield, they went back to what they do best—killing 32 young Kurdish socialists in a suicide bombing in Suruc, just across the border from Kobane. Turkish collusion was all over that massacre, but that shit only works on people who haven’t been through the Hell which is Kurdish history. The YPG/J vowed revenge and marched on.

    So the Turkish Air Force is sending the best planes and munitions the US can send them to wipe out these pesky kids in YPG/J, while making noises about giving their IS clients a good spanking. At the moment, the Turkish generals are claiming they’re only hitting PKK/YPG in northern Iraq, but there are already reports of Turkish strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria.

    It’s inevitable that the Turkish military will focus on those targets once it’s done its job of distracting the gullible media with this pantomime strike on IS.

    YPJ/G is the most heroic group I’ve seen since I started writing about war. So it makes perfect sense that everybody wants to wipe them out.

    As depressing as it is to see governments across the middle east ‘secretly’ back ISIS in their war against ISIS as part of a proxy war on everyone but ISIS in the Syria and Northern Iraq, if there’s one major source of hope for the future at this point is the fact that, despite the fact that almost EVERYONE hates them and wants to wipe them off the planet, “a radical-feminist, non-sectarian, aggressively pro-LGBT, egalitarian/socialist militia is taking back ground from the most reactionary, sectarian killers on earth” . As far as trends that give one hope for the future goes, you could do a lot worse than that. Except for the fact that almost everyone hates a group that should be seen a model for how we can all better live together. That’s pretty depressing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 1, 2015, 1:32 pm
  32. With reports of a growing Russia military presence in Syria, speculation is growing that Russia might be about to take its involvement in Syrian civil-war to the next level. Speculation but also concerns, including concerns from the Pentagon that that a growing Russia military presence in Syria might destabilize the situation…where destabilization is presumably brought about by Russia’s prevention of the simultaneous collapse of both ISIS and the Assad regime. It’s the kind of situation that you don’t really want to destabilize, but can’t really continue either:

    AFP

    Huge Russian military planes land in Syria
    9/8/2015

    Washington (AFP) – At least three Russian military transport planes have landed in Syria in recent days, US officials said Tuesday, as Washington worries about the sort of assistance Moscow is providing to Damascus.

    The aircraft have landed at the airport in Latakia on Syria’s Mediterranean coast over the past several days, US officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.

    Two of the aircraft were giant Antonov-124 Condor planes and a third was a passenger flight, one of the officials said.

    The Russians have installed modular housing units — enough for “hundreds” of people — at the airport, as well as portable air traffic control equipment, the official noted.

    “All of this seems to be suggesting that Russia is planning to do some sort of forward air-operating hub out of this airfield,” the official said.

    Washington has expressed concern following reports suggesting Moscow may be boosting military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and had sent a military advance team to the war-torn country.

    “Our concern would be that any effort to bolster the Assad regime right now would potentially be destabilizing,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Tuesday.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov over the weekend to warn of the dangers of stoking a conflict which has already cost nearly 250,000 lives.

    Russia rejects the charge, insisting that any deliveries are in keeping with its traditional links to long-time ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Bulgaria has refused permission for Russian aircraft to enter its airspace, and Greece said Tuesday that Washington had asked it to also deny Russian overflights.

    “Our concern would be that any effort to bolster the Assad regime right now would potentially be destabilizing,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Tuesday.

    In other news…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 9, 2015, 1:55 pm
  33. Following a missile attack that killed dozens of troops from the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Yemen last week, the coalition of Gulf states fighting in that country are about to put a lot more boots on the ground:

    Bloomberg Business
    Gulf Nations Expand Yemen War After Worst Troop Loss

    by Nafeesa Syeed Mohammed Hatem Mohammed Sergie
    September 7, 2015 — 3:08 AM CDT
    Updated on September 7, 2015 — 6:49 AM CDT

    Gulf Arab nations are expanding the ground war in Yemen, pouring more troops into the country to defeat Houthi rebels they say are backed by regional rival Iran.

    About 1,000 troops from Qatar entered Yemen on Sunday from the Wadia post on the border with Saudi Arabia, the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera television reported. The soldiers, backed by armored vehicles and missile launchers, were on their way to Yemen’s oil-rich central Marib province, it said. Qatar’s foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

    The deployment comes after 45 troops from the United Arab Emirates and 10 Saudi soldiers were killed in Marib on Friday, the worst setback to date for the Saudi-led coalition since it began its offensive in March. Mounting losses will test the will of the Gulf states to extend their involvement after helping the internationally recognized government of President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi retake parts of southern Yemen.

    Expanding the ground war carries a “huge risk of heavy casualties” for the Gulf Arab monarchies, said Ibrahim Fraihat, senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. “Yemen has historically proved to be a very tough spot for foreign armies to fight and win.”

    Bahrain, another member of the coalition, said five of its soldiers were also killed on Friday defending Saudi Arabia’s southern border. The broader ground offensive follows five months of coalition airstrikes as it seeks to restore Hadi to power. The Houthis seized the capital, Sana’a, in September, and his government fled to Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

    Capital Advance

    Western diplomats and analysts have expressed skepticism about the level of Iranian involvement in Yemen’s conflict, the primary motivation for the Gulf states’ involvement. The Houthis, meanwhile, say they’ve suffered discrimination from successive Yemeni governments.

    Gulf Arab troops may face a long deployment, as it could take years to stabilize and reconstruct Yemen, according to Michael Stephens, head of the Royal United Services Institute for Security and Defence Studies in Qatar.

    “It’s very easy to go into a country but very difficult to get out,” Stephens said by phone, citing the experience of the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. “If you invade, get rid of the Houthis and then leave, that doesn’t solve anything.”

    Well that was ominous. Especially this part:


    Western diplomats and analysts have expressed skepticism about the level of Iranian involvement in Yemen’s conflict, the primary motivation for the Gulf states’ involvement. The Houthis, meanwhile, say they’ve suffered discrimination from successive Yemeni governments.

    Gulf Arab troops may face a long deployment, as it could take years to stabilize and reconstruct Yemen, according to Michael Stephens, head of the Royal United Services Institute for Security and Defence Studies in Qatar.

    But ominous or not, thousands of coalition troops may be Yemen for years to come, at least if the “Pottery Bar Rule” of regime change is abided by. We’ll see if that happens over the medium term, but at least in the short term it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a shortage of foreign troops in Yemen:

    International Business Times
    Yemen Crisis: Egypt, Morocco To Send Ground Troops To Battle Houthi Rebels With Saudi Arabia

    By Alessandria Masi

    on September 09 2015 11:17 AM EDT

    BEIRUT — For the first time since Saudi Arabia formed a 10-country coalition in March to battle the Yemeni Houthi rebels, Egypt and Qatar have expanded their involvement — previously limited to airstrikes — by sending hundreds of ground troops to Yemen this week. Nine coalition members are expected to have forces fighting on the ground alongside Saudi troops before the end of the week, according to Yemen local news.

    Egypt, which has one of the strongest armies in the Arab world, sent 800 troops armed with tanks and military transport vehicles into the war-torn country Tuesday night. The day before, Qatar sent 1,000 troops into Yemen. Morocco, Sudan, Jordan and Kuwait are expected to follow suit and join the thousands of troops already on the ground from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Some reports claim that many of the countries listed had already sent troops into Yemen as of Wednesday.

    “We have sent these forces as part of Egypt’s prominent role in this alliance. … The alliance fights for the sake of our brotherly Arab states, and the death of any Egyptian soldier would be an honour and considered martyrdom for the sake of innocent people,” a senior Egyptian military source told Reuters.

    “There is no geopolitical strategy or even a battle plan that can survive long on the ground in Yemen,” according to a report from the Soufan Group. “Success in one part of the rugged country yields to losses in another.”

    Saudi Arabia launched a coalition to battle the Iran-backed Houthi rebel groups in March after the rebels seized the capital Sanaa and forced U.S.- and Saudi-backed Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to resign. In addition to the nine countries involved in ground operations, Somalia is also a member of the coalition. The U.S. is providing logistical support and intelligence to Saudi Arabia, but it is not militarily engaged.

    Airstrikes and fighting have turned Yemen into a “humanitarian crisis,” according to the United Nations. More than 4,500 people have been killed in the conflict. Nearly 2,000 of them were civilians, 400 of which were children. That is an average of eight children killed or injured every day, according to Unicef.

    “Nine coalition members are expected to have forces fighting on the ground alongside Saudi troops before the end of the week, according to Yemen local news.”
    Yes, a 10-nation ground force is converging on Yemen right now. And it’s not at all looking like this is going to be a “cakewalk“, despite the fact that Western analyst don’t even see Iran as providing much more than verbal support for the Houthi rebels.

    So it’s looking like Yemen, a nation that was arguably the most screwed in the world before the outbreak of civil war simply due to its shrinking water supplies, is about to face years of foreign occupation that’s presumably going to include some sort of insurgency. Will the rest of the world care? Probably, but probably not as soon as it should:

    The Nation
    Yemen, the World’s Next Great Refugee Crisis
    As the civil war heats up amid intervention by the Gulf monarchies, thousands are fleeing every day.

    By Juan Cole
    9/8/2015 4:42 pm

    Many of the thousands of refugees now crossing from Greece and Hungary on their way to more welcoming countries such as Germany are Syrians and Kurds, fleeing the wars and political repression in the Levant. Another large refugee problem may now loom, which is unlikely to leave Europe unaffected. The war in Yemen, already highly destructive, may be getting hotter as it reaches an endgame, with the potential for putting a large proportion of its 24 million people—a slightly larger population than pre-war Syria—on the road (or, more likely, the seas).

    On Friday, the Saudi-led coalition taking one side in Yemen’s civil war faced a potential disaster for morale. A rocket hit a weapons depot on a base where United Arab Emirates and Bahrain troops were stationed, killing 45 from the UAE and five from Bahrain, in addition to producing an unstated number of casualties. It was the biggest troop loss for the coalition of Gulf Cooperation Council states since they launched the war in late March out of a fear of the Houthi brand of popular politics. With the exception of Saudi Arabia, the GCC countries have small populations and even smaller citizen populations. The UAE has about 9 million people, but only a little over a million of them are thought to be Arab, UAE citizens. The troop deaths were thus taken very hard in the UAE (a popular soccer player was among the dead); proportionally, this toll was like 13,500 American troops killed in one engagement.

    The base hit by the rocket, in Maarib Province, was set up by the anti-Houthi coalition after the Houthis were largely expelled from it. It is intended as a launching pad for an eventual invasion of the capital, Sana, a Houthi, Zaydi Shiite power base. After the depot was hit, the Saudis and their allies launched a massive campaign of bombing raids on the capital that continued for days.

    The Houthis, mainly a northern, Shiite tribal force allied with deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh and a rump of government troops still loyal to him, extended their sway down to Sunni Aden from last April. They’d hoped to block the GCC from using it to offload arms and goods for the southern forces opposing them. At the beginning of August, an undisclosed number of troops from the UAE landed at Aden after a successful effort by southern forces loyal to elected President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to oust the Houthi rebels from the Arabian Sea port. As long as the Houthis held it, it would have been difficult for the six-nation GCC effort to make real headway in Yemen.

    The dispatch of ground troops, however, changed the character of the war, since up until that time the Saudi-led coalition had mainly intervened from the air. Moreover, analysts have raised fears that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is taking advantage of the chaos to infiltrate the port; AQAP is the Qaeda affiliate most determined to inflict damage on the West. The Saudis and their allies allege that the Houthis are backed by Iran and that their attempted tribal takeover of Yemen was plotted in Tehran, which is a vast exaggeration, as President Obama has admitted. In reality, although Iran has given the Houthis verbal support, there is no reason to think they are a mainly foreign phenomenon, as opposed to being an indigenous tribal movement.

    By this August, with the outbreak of civil war in January and a major foreign intervention, the number of internally displaced Yemenis alone is thought to have risen to about 1.5 million, about 6 percent of the population, proportionally equivalent to more than 19 million Americans—the entirety of Florida or New York. The number is five times what it was just last December.

    The war has affected even those not forced to flee their homes. Yemen is dry or hilly and water-poor, so the country had been importing nine-tenths of its food before the Houthi coup in January. The ensuing fighting has interfered with such imports. Some 6 million Yemenis are severely food insecure, which means that any further problem, even a small one, could push them to the brink of starvation. In total, some 60 percent of the population faces some form of food insecurity. Only half of Yemenis now have access to potable water. The country’s hospitals have closed in droves and the physicians and nurses have fled, so millions have been left without medical care.

    By spring, already some 25,000 Yemenis had fled abroad, but in the course of the GCC air campaign and indiscriminate Houthi shelling this summer, another 100,000 have left the country. Thousands are leaving every week, taking passage in cargo ships across the Red Sea to Djibouti and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, and then some are making their way north to places like Egypt. The only limiting factor so far has been the high cost of passage, but human traffickers are likely to set up shop on the Yemen coast if they smell money. The chaos in Libya makes it a favored launching place for Afro-Asian refugees attempting to get to Europe, and a stream of Yemenis could make their way to the Mediterranean coast.

    If the Saudi-led coalition does manage to conquer Sana by main force and then go after the Houthi leadership in their traditional area of Saada, it will be the Zaydi Shiites’ (a third of the population) turn to flee in the tens or hundreds of thousands. On top of declining water aquifers, desertification from climate change, and the threat of terrorism, Yemenis face a hard year. International pledges of aid have largely been empty promises, and proposed cease-fires for humanitarian corridors have typically broken down almost immediately. Because Yemen is so much farther from Europe, its tragedy has received less press attention than Syria’s, but its wars could be even more disruptive.

    And once again:

    Many of the thousands of refugees now crossing from Greece and Hungary on their way to more welcoming countries such as Germany are Syrians and Kurds, fleeing the wars and political repression in the Levant. Another large refugee problem may now loom, which is unlikely to leave Europe unaffected. The war in Yemen, already highly destructive, may be getting hotter as it reaches an endgame, with the potential for putting a large proportion of its 24 million people—a slightly larger population than pre-war Syria—on the road (or, more likely, the seas)

    By this August, with the outbreak of civil war in January and a major foreign intervention, the number of internally displaced Yemenis alone is thought to have risen to about 1.5 million, about 6 percent of the population, proportionally equivalent to more than 19 million Americans—the entirety of Florida or New York. The number is five times what it was just last December.

    If the Saudi-led coalition does manage to conquer Sana by main force and then go after the Houthi leadership in their traditional area of Saada, it will be the Zaydi Shiites’ (a third of the population) turn to flee in the tens or hundreds of thousands. On top of declining water aquifers, desertification from climate change, and the threat of terrorism, Yemenis face a hard year. International pledges of aid have largely been empty promises, and proposed cease-fires for humanitarian corridors have typically broken down almost immediately. Because Yemen is so much farther from Europe, its tragedy has received less press attention than Syria’s, but its wars could be even more disruptive.

    Millions of Yemenis are already internally displaced and the coalition ground war is just getting started. So with many scratching their heads and asking why it is that the Gulf states haven’t taken in more Syrian refugees, the whole world had better hope it’s because they’re saving that space for the next mega-refugee crisis. Or, rather, the whole world had better hope the lack of open arms for the region’s many refugees is because the Gulf states are planning on saving that space for the next mega-refugee-crisis-in-making and also planning on eventually recognizing the legal concept of refugeehood.

    And the world had better hope the rest of the rest of world figures out new win-win ways of allowing for regular influxes of refugees from wherever too because the refugees of the future are coming sooner or later. Or more likely, soon and later. Because the ongoing and emerging refugees crises in the middle east are just a mega-crisis. They’re a warm up.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 9, 2015, 6:26 pm
  34. Saudi Arabia’s representative was appointed to a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) five-member consultative group, one from each of five regions of the world, that interview and short-list the experts that go on to examine specific human rights violations. Outraged? Well, as the article below points out, the outrage is certainly understandable, but it’s worth keeping in mind that, given the way the UNHRC is broken up in to regions and each region generally rotates its leadership, it was sort of an inevitability that this would happen once Saudi Arabia was made a member of the 47 member UNHRC in the first place. So the outrage you feel is appropriate, but also probably belated unless you were already pissed about this.

    Also keep in mind that any UNHRC recommendations to specific states found to be violating human rights are purely option:

    The Daily Beast
    Why Is Saudi Arabia Heading the UN Human Rights Council?
    The Human Rights Council is beholden to outmoded protocols that allow rotating member-states to assume control of issues they’re least qualified to address.

    Salil Tripathi
    09.22.15 10:05 PM ET

    In a normal world, Saudi Arabia would be arraigned for its appalling human rights record, not appointed to head an international human rights monitor. And yet, it was revealed Monday that over the summer Saudi Arabia was appointed to a panel at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that would interview and short-list experts, from among whom successful candidates would then be nominated to examine specific human rights challenges. These challenges may include the human rights record of a particular country or a specific theme, and those themes can include violence against women, the rights of migrants, religious freedom, or sexual orientation.

    The hypocrisy behind this decision need hardly be stated. The Saudi government is unelected and run by one large family, or clan. Not only does it have the death penalty on its statute, it executes prisoners with particular relish, turning their executions into a public spectacle. Torture is routine in its prisons and offenders of certain crimes are flogged in public. The denial of the right to drive is among the least of the abuses women suffer in the country. Foreigners who live in Saudi Arabia—be they well-paid expatriates or construction workers living in slavery-like conditions—have to be on the guard constantly so that they don’t fall foul of its laws that violate the norms of free and fair trials. Its vast wealth is used to acquire weapons at home and finance fundamentalist movements abroad which cause havoc in distant societies, transforming native forms of Islam into Wahhabism which bears little relation to the universal declaration of human rights.

    Given Saudi Arabia’s record, the rage is understandable—it would get to recommend experts who may not be experts, or whose understanding of human rights is at variance with the vast majority of those who care for human rights.

    But the global fury is directed at the wrong target. Agnes Callamard, director of Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression and Information initiative (disclosure: I am part of its team of experts), told The Daily Beast: “What has happened is that Saudi Arabia is now a member of the advisory committee that produces recommendations to the president of the Human Rights Council who makes final decisions regarding the appointing of mandate holders. The composition of the advisory group is five representatives from all regions. It is a rotation within regions, so nobody appoints anybody. The real problem is that Saudi Arabia was appointed to the Human Rights Council and its being a member of the advisory committee is just a logical consequence. And the UN is not responsible for the appointment in any way.”

    What has given rise to such ire is Saudi Arabia’s appointment to the UNHRC’s consultative group. This group is made up of five members, one from each of the five regional groups recognized by the United Nations. This group interviews and recommends candidates for dozens of experts, called “special rapporteurs” or “independent experts” whose job it is to examine specific human rights challenges and make non-binding recommendations to the human rights council. The recommendations are not binding.

    These appointments represent important work; the mandates help set the norms about how the world can enhance respect for, and protection and fulfillment of human rights, and how that should be at the core of every action. But changes are gradual. A special rapporteur on violence against women, for example, may produce path-breaking research and offer advice on how states can stop that, but states are under no legal obligations to implement those recommendations. If a special rapporteur criticizes a particular country’s conduct against minorities, the country can brazen it out—it can even deny the rapporteur the right to visit the country to undertake investigations. As important the mandates are, they are toothless. And that is because the member-states want it that way, just as it is the member-states which want Saudi Arabia to be in the consultative group and in the UNHRC.

    Within the Council, Saudi Arabia is part of the Asian group, and as per standard UN practice, the groups nominate their representatives, usually by rotation and by consensus. According to reports, the other current members of the consultative group are Algeria, Chile, Lithuania, and Greece. These countries are drawn from 47 members of the UNHRC, who are elected according to their regions, and the regions represent Cold War-era thinking and geopolitics—13 from Africa, 13 from Asia, six from Eastern Europe, eight from Latin America and the Caribbean, and seven from Western Europe and other countries.

    While the UN General Assembly is expected to consider the candidate states’ contribution towards promoting and protecting human rights as well as their commitments to uphold international human rights standards, it is clear that realpolitik prevails. Current members include countries with a poor human rights record, including China. It also includes the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Japan, but it is nobody’s case that these Western states have a perfect record on human rights, nor have they necessarily ratified most human rights instruments, such as covenants and conventions that form the body of human rights laws.

    By all means the international community needs to take a long and hard look at how it elects members to the UNHRC. By all means that process needs serious reform. Indeed, countries with a poor human rights record should not be part of such a council. And, indeed, there should be clear criteria to determine whose record is worse than others’, and countries that are politically strong should not get a free pass, and countries that are convenient to dislike are not excluded. Those are far bigger issues, and far more significant concerns, than arguing whether Saudi Arabia should be the temporary chair of an advisory panel, whose recommendations would simply be that—recommendations.

    “As important the mandates are, they are toothless. And that is because the member-states want it that way, just as it is the member-states which want Saudi Arabia to be in the consultative group and in the UNHRC.”

    In other news…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 23, 2015, 10:24 am
  35. The US moderate rebel training program just faced another setback. It’s not quite as demoralizing a setback as the recent attack on the group by al Nusra, but pretty close:

    McClatchy
    In about-face, Pentagon says U.S.-trained Syrians gave trucks, weapons to al Qaida

    Admission comes just two days after U.S. officials denied reports

    Second time Pentagon has seemed out of touch with what trainees were up to

    Training program is budgeted to spend $500 million

    BY JAMES ROSEN

    September 25, 2015

    WASHINGTON

    In another embarrassing setback for one of President Barack Obama’s centerpiece strategies for defeating the Islamic State, the Pentagon said Friday that the commander of U.S.-trained Syrians appears to have turned over his pickup trucks and weapons to al Qaeda militants in exchange for protection within days of re-entering his homeland.

    The Pentagon admission represented an abrupt reversal of its position as recently as Wednesday, when American military officials firmly denied social media reports that a U.S.-backed commander had defected to Nusra Front, Syria’s al Qaida affiliate, and provided trucks and weapons to the radical Islamic group.

    “Unfortunately, we learned today that the New Syrian Force unit now says it did in fact provide six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front (representative),” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday evening.

    Two days earlier, Davis had stated: “The folks that are part of the New Syrian Force are accounted for, as are their weapons.”

    The new revelations angered American military leaders.

    “If accurate, the report of New Syrian Force members providing equipment to al Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip program guidelines,” said Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, chief spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs American military operations in the Middle East.

    People claiming to be Nusra members or supporters had posted online photographs of what they said were U.S. weapons handed over to them by the pro-American Syrians, but Davis had dismissed the pictures, saying they were old images that had been “re-purposed.”

    On Friday, the Pentagon was forced to backtrack.

    “We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response,” Ryder said.

    The distressing episode was the most recent in a series of perplexing problems for a program that Obama had heralded as a key response to Islamic State territorial gains in Iraq and Syria, and one for which Congress appropriated $500 million last December.

    Following several months of training in Turkey by U.S. special forces, the first group of Syrian fighters was dispatched back into the country in late July, only to be ambushed by Nusra combatants July 31, with some of them fleeing and others being killed, wounded or captured.

    Then, too, the Pentagon denied initial reports of problems but later changed course..

    However the Pentagon decides to respond to the new setback, senators from both parties already castigated the Syria train-and-equip program, casting doubt on its future viability.

    Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, called the program “a failure;” Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, labeled it “ a joke.”

    Other lawmakers and analysts have criticized virtually every aspect of the training program, from how Syrian candidates are vetted to how they are trained and whether the U.S.-led air campaign provides sufficient protection once the American-trained troops are back in their homeland.

    Pentagon officials in recent weeks have acknowledged past errors and said that the train-and-equip program is being re-evaluated.

    “There were some mistakes made, initially, with the first class,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said. “I think they’ve been documented pretty well”

    Regarding the second class of New Syrian Force fighters who entered the country Saturday and future U.S.-trained troops, Cook said that “we’re doing what we can to provide support for these forces as they go back into Syria.”

    At a more recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, on Tuesday, retired Gen. David Petraeus, who commended American and allied forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said the training program should be completely overhauled. He advocated allowing the U.S.-backed Syrians to take on soldiers loyal to President Bashar Assad and creating “safe zones” in Syria protected by American special forces, two ideas that the Pentagon and the White House have repeatedly rejected.

    The new controversy with the train-and-equip program was sparked by a series of Facebook and Twitter posts on Tuesday.

    On a Facebook page claiming to belong to Maj. Anas Obaid, commander of a Syrian military unit called Division 30, Abu Zayd (his battlefield name) said that he and some of his men had severed ties with the U.S. program and were going to fight the Islamic State on their own.

    “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, we, the grouping of revolutionaries of Atareb and its countryside, announce that we are outside Division 30 infantry and we are an independent faction working on the Syrian lands in isolation from coordination with the international (U.S.-led) coalition.”

    In a separate Facebook post purporting to belong to Division 30, unidentified posters said they had lost contact with Abu Zayd, could not confirm that he had defected to Nusra and vowed to “submit him to the military court on charges of high treason” if he is found to have joined the al Qaida group.

    Yet still another source, claiming to be a Dutch member of Nusra, told The Daily Beast, an online American news outlet, that Abu Zayd had been arrested by Nusra and had offered to give the al Qaida group his vehicles and weapons in exchange for his release and protection.

    “He spoke out against the U.S. and will fight against the Assad regime despite his deal with the U.S. (not to combat Assad forces),” the Dutchman allegedly said.

    Considering what just happened, it will be interesting to see how David Petraeus’s recent suggestion to allow the US-backed fighter to target Assad’s forces too is receieved in policy-making circles:


    At a more recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, on Tuesday, retired Gen. David Petraeus, who commended American and allied forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said the training program should be completely overhauled. He advocated allowing the U.S.-backed Syrians to take on soldiers loyal to President Bashar Assad and creating “safe zones” in Syria protected by American special forces, two ideas that the Pentagon and the White House have repeatedly rejected.

    Especially given his other recent suggestion: try to splinter al Nusra by peeling off its ‘moderate’ members to create a new alternative “no al Nusra, but still jihadi” rebel force:

    The Daily Beast
    Petraeus: Use Al Qaeda Fighters to Beat ISIS
    To take down the so-called Islamic State in Syria, the influential former head of the CIA wants to co-opt jihadists from America’s arch foe.

    Shame Harris and Nancy A. Youssef
    08.31.15 9.00 PM ET

    Members of al Qaeda’s branch in Syria have a surprising advocate in the corridors of American power: retired Army general and former CIA Director David Petraeus.

    The former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quietly urging U.S. officials to consider using so-called moderate members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria, four sources familiar with the conversations, including one person who spoke to Petraeus directly, told The Daily Beast.

    The heart of the idea stems from Petraeus’s experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency the U.S. persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military.

    The tactic worked, at least temporarily. But al Qaeda in Iraq was later reborn as ISIS, and has become the sworn enemy of its parent organization. Now, Petraeus is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Nusra, particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy.

    However, Petraeus’s play, if executed, could be enormously controversial. The American war on terror began with an al Qaeda attack on 9/11, of course. The idea that the U.S. would, 14 years later, work with elements of al Qaeda’s Syrian branch was an irony too tough to stomach for most U.S. officials interviewed by The Daily Beast. They found Petraeus’s notion politically toxic, near-impossible to execute, and strategically risky.

    It would also face enormous legal and security obstacles. In 2012, the Obama administration designated al Nusra a foreign terrorist organization. And last year, the president ordered airstrikes on al Nusra positions housing members of the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda cadre that was trying to recruit jihadists with Western passports to smuggle bombs onto civilian airliners.

    Yet Petraeus and his plan cannot be written off. He still wields considerable influence with current officials, U.S. lawmakers, and foreign leaders. The fact that he feels comfortable recruiting defectors from an organization that has declared war on the United States underscores the tenuous nature of the Obama administration’s strategy to fight ISIS, which numerous observers have said is floundering in search of a viable ground force.

    According to those familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, he advocates trying to cleave off less extreme al Nusra fighters, who are battling ISIS in Syria, but who joined with al Nusra because of their shared goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

    Petraeus was the CIA director in early 2011 when the Syrian civil war erupted. At the time, he along with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly urged the Obama administration to work with moderate opposition forces. The U.S. didn’t, and many of those groups have since steered toward jihadist groups like the Nusra Front, which are better equipped and have had more success on the battlefield.

    How precisely the U.S. would separate moderate fighters from core members and leaders of al Nusra is unclear, and Petraeus has yet to fully detail any recommendations he might have.

    Petraeus declined a request to comment on his views from The Daily Beast.

    “This is an acknowledgment that the U.S. stated goal to degrade and destroy ISIS is not working. If it were, we would not be talking to these not quite foreign terrorist groups,” Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst with the Middle East Security Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Daily Beast. “Strategically, it is desperate.”

    Privately, U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that any direct links with al Nusra are off the table. But working with other factions, while difficult, might not be impossible.

    Still, the very forces that Petraeus envisions enlisting, and who may have once been deemed potential allies when they were fighting Assad, now may be too far gone. Moreover, there is no sign, thus far, of a group on the ground capable of countering ISIS, at least without U.S. assistance.

    “As prospects for Assad dim, opposition groups not already aligned with the U.S. or our partners will face a choice,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “Groups that try to cater to both hard-liners and the West could find themselves without any friends, having distanced themselves from groups like al Qaeda but still viewed as extremists by the moderate opposition and their supporters.”

    News of Petraeus’s proposal comes at a potentially opportune moment for the Obama administration as it looks toward some resolution of the civil war in Syria. On Friday, Ambassador Michael Ratney, the newly-minted U.S. special envoy to Syria, set out to meet with Russian, Saudi, and United Nations officials in search of a political settlement to the conflict.

    Like Petraeus, Ratney is in search of partners. He’s “trying to come up with options for some sort of political process, a political process that we know is going to have to include opposition groups and try to work through what that means and what that’s going to look like,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week. Kirby stopped short of saying just which opposition groups should be part of the discussion.

    The U.S. has insisted that any negotiated settlement must not include Assad, even as Russia has hinted Assad must be a part of a deal. Assad himself said in a television interview last week that he will not work with U.S. allies in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

    On the ground, the two most powerful anti-Assad forces are ISIS and al Nusra, and the U.S. won’t negotiate with either.

    Petraeus’s strategy depends on a number of key assumptions, chiefly that U.S. intelligence and military officials would be able to distinguish who among al Nusra’s ranks is truly moderate and doesn’t share the terrorist group’s goal of replacing Assad with an Islamist government.

    The former general isn’t the only ex-official who wants to talk to jihadist-linked fighters who share some, if not all, of the United States’ goals.

    Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, has called for dialogue with Ahrar al Sham, a jihadist force he has called “probably the most important group fighting the Syrian regime now.”

    In a recent article for the Middle East Institute, Ford said that the capture of the Syrian provincial capital of Idlib last March, which was attributed by some to al Nusra, really should be credited to Ahrar, which had more fighters in the battle.

    “Ahrar is a key force on the battlefield, but Western media allots little space to describe it beyond saying it is hard-line or jihadi,’” Ford wrote. That label, he acknowledged, stems from Ahrar calling for an Islamic state in Syria, as well as its collaboration with al Nusra against Assad and ISIS. The group was also founded by a former deputy to the current al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

    But, Ford insisted, “Ahrar is not a junior partner of Nusra; there are ideological and political differences between them.”

    Some U.S. intelligence officials disputed that, and said Ahrar is currently on a charm offensive, trying to distance itself from Islamic groups like al Nusra and thus win support in Washington while it looks forward to grabbing power after Assad falls.

    “Some groups will look to pave their way to a seat at the post-Assad table by seeking public support, such as Ahrar al Sham, while others will affirm their choice through their actions,” the U.S. intelligence official said.

    The extent to which the U.S. opposes working with Ahrar, a group that swears it’s independent, points out just how difficult it would be to recruit members of al Nusra, which is al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria.

    And yet that’s not out of the question. The more extreme ISIS becomes, the more other hard-line groups seem to soften by comparison. ISIS, with its filmed executions, organized kidnappings, and enslavement of women and girls, has become so barbaric that it has been isolated from other fighting groups on the ground, said Harmer, the military analyst.

    “Alliances of convenience that would have been impossible two years are now plausible, and in some ways inevitable, because we are not willing to put boots on the ground,” Harmer said.

    Al Nusra has played an arguably helpful role to the U.S. already, albeit indirectly and behind the scenes. In 2014, officials in Qatar reached out to their contacts with al Nusra to help free American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, multiple sources, including former U.S. officials familiar with the negotiations, have told The Daily Beast. Al Nusra elements were operating so closely with the American-backed Free Syrian Army at that time that American warplanes almost hit the moderate rebels as it was targeting the jihadists.

    The U.S. has tried other means to field a sustainable ground force to confront ISIS. So far, none of them have worked reliably. The most successful ground force so far has been the YPG, a Kurdish element, which drove ISIS out of the northern Syrian city of Kobani and other nearby cities under the cover of U.S. airstrikes.

    But since the U.S. struck a deal to allow combat flights from Turkey, which opposes emboldening Kurdish forces, doubts have surfaced over whether the U.S. would keep providing air support for the YPG as its seeks to take Syrian territory. So far, the YPG has not pushed for any more land, instead defending what it already has.

    U.S. efforts to train local forces in Syria have faltered, as well. The first batch of 54 fighters trained by American military forces dissolved in August. Some fighters fled back to their homes in Syria. Others were captured by al Nusra. While the U.S. military has said it’s still training fighters, privately officials concede the group has fallen far short of expectations. At one point, the U.S. planned to train 15,000 fighters in three years.

    Petraeus spoke on the record about his plans in a statement to CNN on Tuesday, after The Daily Beast published its report.

    “We should under no circumstances try to use or co-opt Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as an organization against ISIL,” Petraeus said. “But some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra today have undoubtedly joined for opportunistic rather than ideological reasons: they saw Nusra as a strong horse, and they haven’t seen a credible alternative, as the moderate opposition has yet to be adequately resourced.”

    Petraeus said the U.S. should try “splintering [Al Nusra’s] ranks by offering a credible alternative to those ‘reconcilable’ elements of those organizations.”

    And note the “we’re moderate, there’s nothing to be scared of” charm offensive going on:


    The former general isn’t the only ex-official who wants to talk to jihadist-linked fighters who share some, if not all, of the United States’ goals.

    Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, has called for dialogue with Ahrar al Sham, a jihadist force he has called “probably the most important group fighting the Syrian regime now.”

    In a recent article for the Middle East Institute, Ford said that the capture of the Syrian provincial capital of Idlib last March, which was attributed by some to al Nusra, really should be credited to Ahrar, which had more fighters in the battle.

    “Ahrar is a key force on the battlefield, but Western media allots little space to describe it beyond saying it is hard-line or jihadi,’” Ford wrote. That label, he acknowledged, stems from Ahrar calling for an Islamic state in Syria, as well as its collaboration with al Nusra against Assad and ISIS. The group was also founded by a former deputy to the current al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

    But, Ford insisted, “Ahrar is not a junior partner of Nusra; there are ideological and political differences between them.”

    Some U.S. intelligence officials disputed that, and said Ahrar is currently on a charm offensive, trying to distance itself from Islamic groups like al Nusra and thus win support in Washington while it looks forward to grabbing power after Assad falls.

    “Some groups will look to pave their way to a seat at the post-Assad table by seeking public support, such as Ahrar al Sham, while others will affirm their choice through their actions,” the U.S. intelligence official said.

    But also note that this charm offensive is happening in the context of a push for a political resolution to the conflict. A political resolution that the US insists must not include Assad or ISIS, but appears to be rather flexible regarding the other participants:


    News of Petraeus’s proposal comes at a potentially opportune moment for the Obama administration as it looks toward some resolution of the civil war in Syria. On Friday, Ambassador Michael Ratney, the newly-minted U.S. special envoy to Syria, set out to meet with Russian, Saudi, and United Nations officials in search of a political settlement to the conflict.

    Like Petraeus, Ratney is in search of partners. He’s “trying to come up with options for some sort of political process, a political process that we know is going to have to include opposition groups and try to work through what that means and what that’s going to look like,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week. Kirby stopped short of saying just which opposition groups should be part of the discussion.

    The U.S. has insisted that any negotiated settlement must not include Assad, even as Russia has hinted Assad must be a part of a deal. Assad himself said in a television interview last week that he will not work with U.S. allies in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

    On the ground, the two most powerful anti-Assad forces are ISIS and al Nusra, and the U.S. won’t negotiate with either.

    And that leaves us with this:

    ….
    The extent to which the U.S. opposes working with Ahrar, a group that swears it’s independent, points out just how difficult it would be to recruit members of al Nusra, which is al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria.

    And yet that’s not out of the question. The more extreme ISIS becomes, the more other hard-line groups seem to soften by comparison. ISIS, with its filmed executions, organized kidnappings, and enslavement of women and girls, has become so barbaric that it has been isolated from other fighting groups on the ground, said Harmer, the military analyst.

    “Alliances of convenience that would have been impossible two years are now plausible, and in some ways inevitable, because we are not willing to put boots on the ground,” Harmer said.

    “Alliances of convenience that would have been impossible two years are now plausible, and in some ways inevitable, because we are not willing to put boots on the ground.”

    So it’s looking like we might be seeing a “team up with al Nusra ‘moderates’ fighting Assad or it’s ‘boots on the ground'” meme emerging from some policy-making circles while the ‘moderate’ partners of al Nusra jockey for “we’re to radical zealots, trust us with power”-status in preparation for a post-Assad political resolution.

    Will this joint charm-offensive result in a real divide between the anti-ISIS Islamist groups and a genuine moderation of the al Nusra ‘moderates’? We’ll find out sooner or later. But one outcome is looking increasingly likely: There’s probably going to be a lot more Sryian refugees soon.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 26, 2015, 1:21 pm
  36. Behold, six of the scariest words in the English language: “It’s a proxy war by happenstance”:

    The Washington Post
    Did U.S. weapons supplied to Syrian rebels draw Russia into the conflict?

    By Liz Sly
    October 11 at 8:20 PM

    BEIRUT — American antitank missiles supplied to Syrian rebels are playing an unexpectedly prominent role in shaping the Syrian battlefield, giving the conflict the semblance of a proxy war between the United States and Russia, despite President Obama’s express desire to avoid one.

    The U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW missiles were delivered under a two-year-old covert program coordinated between the United States and its allies to help vetted Free Syrian Army groups in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad. Now that Russia has entered the war in support of Assad, they are taking on a greater significance than was originally intended.

    So successful have they been in driving rebel gains in northwestern Syria that rebels call the missile the “Assad Tamer,” a play on the word Assad, which means lion. And in recent days they have been used with great success to slow the Russian-backed offensive aimed at recapturing ground from the rebels.

    Since Wednesday, when Syrian troops launched their first offensive backed by the might of Russia’s military, dozens of videos have been posted on YouTube showing rebels firing the U.S.-made missiles at Russian-made tanks and armored vehicles belonging to the Syrian army. Appearing as twirling balls of light, they zigzag across the Syrian countryside until they find and blast their target in a ball of flame.

    The rebels claim they took out 24 tanks and armored vehicles on the first day, and the toll has risen daily since then.

    “It was a tank massacre,” said Capt. Mustafa Moarati, whose Tajamu al-Izza group says it destroyed seven tanks and armored vehicles Wednesday.

    More missiles are on the way, he said. New supplies arrived after the Russian deployments began, he said, and the rebels’ allies have promised further deliveries soon, bringing echoes of the role played by U.S.-supplied Stinger antiaircraft missiles in forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

    The hits also plunged Washington into what amounts to a proxy war of sorts with Moscow, despite Obama’s insistence this month that “we’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.”

    “It’s a proxy war by happenstance,” said Jeff White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who counted at least 15 tanks and vehicles destroyed or disabled in one day. “The rebels happen to have a lot of TOWs in their inventory. The regime happened to attack them with Russian support. I don’t see it as a proxy war by decision.”

    Whether it will become one is one of the key questions confronting the Obama administration in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to throw Russia’s support behind Assad’s regime.

    The TOW missile program overseen by the CIA is entirely separate from a failed program run by the Pentagon that was intended to influence the outcome of the other war being waged in Syria, the one in the northeastern part of the country against the Islamic State.

    The CIA program got underway before the Pentagon one, in early 2014, with the goal of propping up the flagging rebellion against Assad’s rule by delivering training, small arms, ammunition and the antitank missiles, which have proved instrumental in eroding the government’s key advantage over the lightly armed rebel force — its tanks and heavy armor.

    Supplied mostly from stocks owned by Saudi Arabia, delivered across the Turkish border and stamped with CIA approval, the missiles were intended to fulfill another of the Obama administration’s goals in Syria — Assad’s negotiated exit from power. The plan, as described by administration officials, was to exert sufficient military pressure on Assad’s forces to persuade him to compromise — but not so much that his government would precipitously collapse and leave a dangerous power vacuum in Damascus.

    Instead, the Russian military intervened to shore up the struggling Syrian army — an outcome that was not intended.

    “A primary driving factor in Russia’s calculus was the realization that the Assad regime was militarily weakening and in danger of losing territory in northwestern Syria. The TOWs played an outsize role in that,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a Dubai-based consultant who used to work with the Syrian opposition.

    “I think even the Americans were surprised at how successful they’ve been,” he added.

    It was no accident, say U.S. officials and military analysts, that the first targets of Russian airstrikes in Syria were the locations where the rebels armed with TOW missiles have made the most substantial gains and where they most directly threaten Assad’s hold over his family’s heartland in the coastal province of Latakia.

    What the TOWs have done, White said, is “offset the regime’s advantage in armor. The TOWs have cut away at that edge, and that’s what we’ve seen playing out. It’s like the Stingers in Afghanistan.”

    It is unclear whether the TOWs will be able to change the course of the war, as did the Stinger antiaircraft missiles introduced in the 1980s by the CIA in Afghanistan, where they were used by the mujahideen to shoot down Russian helicopters and paralyze the Soviet army.

    Now that the Russians have introduced more intensive and heavier airstrikes and, for the first time, combat helicopters have been seen in videos strafing villages in the Hama area, the TOW missiles may only be able to slow, but not block, government advances.

    The rebels have appealed for the delivery of Stinger missiles or their equivalents to counter the new threat from the air, but U.S. officials say that is unlikely. The Obama administration has repeatedly vetoed past requests from the rebels, as well as their Turkish and Saudi allies, for the delivery of antiaircraft missiles, out of concerns that they could fall into extremist hands.

    But the TOW missile program is already in progress, and all the indications are that it will continue. Saudi Arabia, the chief supplier, has pledged a “military” response to the Russian incursion, and rebel commanders say they have been assured more will arrive imminently.

    Under the terms of the program, the missiles are delivered in limited quantities, and the rebel groups must return the used canisters to secure more, to avoid stockpiling or resale.

    The system appears to have helped prevent the missiles from falling into extremist hands. Robert Ford, who was serving as U.S. envoy to Syria when the program got underway, said he was aware of only two TOWs obtained by the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, while “dozens and dozens” have been fired by moderate groups.

    “Nusra made a big public display of having these two missiles,” said Ford, who is now a fellow at the Middle East Institute. Had they acquired more, he said, “they would be using them now.”

    The supplies of the missiles, manufactured by Raytheon, are sourced mainly from stocks owned by the Saudi government, which purchased 13,795 of them in 2013, for expected delivery this year, according to Defense Department documents informing Congress of the sale. Because end-user agreements require that the buyer inform the United States of their ultimate destination, U.S. approval is implicit, said Shahbandar, a former Pentagon adviser.

    But no decision is required from the Obama administration for the program to continue, Shahbandar said. “It doesn’t need an American green light. A yellow light is enough,” he said. “It’s a covert effort and it’s technically deniable, but that’s what proxy wars are.”

    Yes, we’re looking at a sort of proxy war between the US and Russia, but note that it’s the Saudis that appear to be taking the lead in actually purchasing the missiles and delivering them to the rebels. And there’s A LOT more missiles slated for delivery to the Saudis this years which are, in turn, probably ended up in the hands of Syrian rebels:


    The TOW missile program overseen by the CIA is entirely separate from a failed program run by the Pentagon that was intended to influence the outcome of the other war being waged in Syria, the one in the northeastern part of the country against the Islamic State.

    The CIA program got underway before the Pentagon one, in early 2014, with the goal of propping up the flagging rebellion against Assad’s rule by delivering training, small arms, ammunition and the antitank missiles, which have proved instrumental in eroding the government’s key advantage over the lightly armed rebel force — its tanks and heavy armor.

    Supplied mostly from stocks owned by Saudi Arabia, delivered across the Turkish border and stamped with CIA approval, the missiles were intended to fulfill another of the Obama administration’s goals in Syria — Assad’s negotiated exit from power. The plan, as described by administration officials, was to exert sufficient military pressure on Assad’s forces to persuade him to compromise — but not so much that his government would precipitously collapse and leave a dangerous power vacuum in Damascus.

    The supplies of the missiles, manufactured by Raytheon, are sourced mainly from stocks owned by the Saudi government, which purchased 13,795 of them in 2013, for expected delivery this year, according to Defense Department documents informing Congress of the sale. Because end-user agreements require that the buyer inform the United States of their ultimate destination, U.S. approval is implicit, said Shahbandar, a former Pentagon adviser.

    But no decision is required from the Obama administration for the program to continue, Shahbandar said. “It doesn’t need an American green light. A yellow light is enough,” he said. “It’s a covert effort and it’s technically deniable, but that’s what proxy wars are.”

    So ~14k TOW missiles are probably on their way to Syria’s revels this year, assuming they haven’t already arrived. And given their effectiveness so far against Assad’s tanks and armor, it’s looking like this could be a “game changer” weapon for the rebels. Except, of course, for the fact that Russia just changed the game dramatically and is now directly intervening in the conflict and appears intent in not allowing a collapse of the Assad regime and has now focused its attack on the very same rebel groups wielding these missiles. And this is all less than two years after the reported threat issued by Prince Bandar to Vladimir Putin to pull support for Assad or face the wrath of Chechen terrorists.

    All in all, and ominously, it’s looking like Syria’s civil war might be on the verge of seeing some significant upgrades in terms of military firepower on multiple sides of conflict. Well, except ISIS. Hopefully ISIS isn’t about to see a significant upgrade in their military hardware from some outside sponsoring state. Hopefully.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 12, 2015, 2:44 pm
  37. Turkey recently summoned the US ambassador to rebuke him for the US’s military support for the Kurds in Syria. In particular, the support for the Kurds of Kobani, who have been one of the more militarily successful forces against ISIS, is really pissing off Erdogan’s government:

    Bloomberg Business
    Turkey Rebukes U.S. Envoy Over Support of Kurdish Group in Syria

    Isobel Finkel
    Selcan Hacaoglu
    October 14, 2015 — 7:58 AM CDT

    * Davutoglu says Turkey won’t accept aid to groups linked to PKK
    * Turkey is concerned about spillover from war in neighbor Syria

    Turkey said it summoned the U.S. ambassador to issue a rebuke over America’s support for Kurds fighting Islamic State in Syria.

    The government won’t tolerate international support for ethnic Kurdish militants in Syria, including the PYD, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart in Istanbul. Weapons given to the groups, which have “organic links” to autonomy-seeking Kurdish PKK militants in Turkey, can be used against security forces at home, he said.

    “Allied countries wouldn’t tolerate arms shipments to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda,” he said. “No one can guarantee that weapons won’t fall into the hands of the PKK tomorrow, and that they won’t be used against Turkey.”

    Long-running tensions between Turkey’s government and the Kurds flared again after inconclusive elections in June gave the pro-Kurdish HDP parliamentary representation for the first time, ending the 13-year majority enjoyed by the AK Party founded by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That internal strife is now complicating relations with Turkey’s allies, in particular the U.S., which relies on Syria-based Kurdish fighters on the ground to back up its airstrikes against Islamic State.

    While Turkey and the U.S., both members of NATO, consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization, they disagree on the status of the PYD.

    Turkey fears the growing strength of the group, and its armed unit YPG, will lead to an independent Kurdish state on its border. Erdogan said last month the U.S. should reconsider its “wrong” stance on the group, calling it “unthinkable” that it would ignore Turkey’s views. Both the PYD and YPG are terrorist groups affiliated with the PKK, he said.

    Yes, Turkey’s Prime Minister actually said this, apparently non-sarcastically too!


    Allied countries wouldn’t tolerate arms shipments to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda,” he said. “No one can guarantee that weapons won’t fall into the hands of the PKK tomorrow, and that they won’t be used against Turkey.”

    LOL! Well, allied countries may not “tolerate” sending arms to groups affiliated with al Qaeda, but that doesn’t appear to stop them from actually doing it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 17, 2015, 9:41 am
  38. Just a heads up: Following earlier warnings that Turkey “cannot endure” Russian violations of its airspace and NATO warnings to Russia, Turkey’s prime minister just publicly declared that it won’t hesitate to shoot down any Russian or Syrian jets flying over turkey, which is a rather alarming in a “hey, let’s not start WWIII here” way since Russian jets are routinely flying combat missions along that border:

    Reuters
    Turkey would shoot down planes violating its air space – PM

    ISTANBUL

    Sat Oct 17, 2015 9:44pm IST

    Turkey would not hesitate to shoot down planes violating its air space, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday, a day after the NATO member shot down an unidentified drone near its border with Syria.

    Syrian, Russian and U.S. coalition aircraft are flying combat missions near Turkey’s borders as part of the Syrian civil war. The drone incident highlights the danger that Turkey, with the second largest army in NATO, could be drawn into a military confrontation.

    Turkey had already complained of Russian warplanes violating its air apace along the border with Syria earlier this month.

    “We downed a drone yesterday. If it was a plane we’d do the same. Our rules of engagement are known. Whoever violates our borders, we will give them the necessary answer,” Davutoglu told a rally of his ruling AK Party in the central city of Kayseri.

    A U.S. official said on Friday Washington believed it was of Russian origin, but the Russian defence ministry said all of its planes in Syria had safely returned to base and that all its drones were operating “as planned”.

    The Turkish military said it shot down the unmanned aircraft after it continued on its course despite three warnings, in line with its rules of engagement. Broadcaster NTV said it had come 3 km (2 miles) into Turkish air space.

    The Russian Defence Ministry said on Friday it had established direct contact with the Turkish military to avoid incidents with flights near the border, Interfax news agency reported.

    It’s starting to feel like déjà vu all over again.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 17, 2015, 1:41 pm
  39. Turkey’s President Ben Carson Tayyip Erodogan has a message to both the Syrian Kurds and the US: Any attempts to set up an independent Kurdish canton on the Turkish border will result in a military response, whether they’re backed by the US as part of the anti-ISIS campaign or not:

    Reuters
    Erdogan says Turkey may hit U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds to block advance

    ISTANBUL | By Ayla Jean Yackley
    Wed Oct 28, 2015 5:42pm EDT

    Turkey will “do what is necessary” to prevent U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish rebels from declaring autonomy in the town of Tel Abyad near the Turkish border, including conducting further military operations, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

    NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Syria, but it sees advances by autonomy-seeking Kurds, led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), as a threat to its own national security, fearing they could stoke separatism among Turkish Kurds.

    Turkish jets recently hit the Syrian Kurds’ armed People’s Protection Units (YPG) targets twice after they defied Ankara and crossed west of the Euphrates River.

    “This was a warning. ‘Pull yourself together. If you try to do this elsewhere – Turkey doesn’t need permission from anyone – we will do what is necessary,'” Erdogan said, signaling he could defy Washington’s demand that Ankara avoid hitting Syrian Kurds and focus its military might on Islamic State targets.

    Erdogan, in remarks broadcast live on the Kanal 24 television station, also accused the PYD of carrying out “ethnic cleansing” in the area and said Western support for the Syrian Kurdish militias amounted to aiding terrorism.

    Backed by U.S.-led air strikes, YPD fighters captured Tel Abyad in June from Islamic State, and this month a local leadership council declared the town part of the system of autonomous self-governing “cantons” run by the Kurds.

    “The PYD is committing ethnic cleansing here (of) Arabs and Turkmen,” Erdogan said. “If the Kurds withdraw and don’t form a canton, there’s no problem. But if the mindset continues, then what is necessary will be done or we face serious problems.

    “We are determined to (combat) anything that threatens us along the Syrian border, inside or out.”

    Turkey does not want to see an autonomous Kurdish entity resembling Iraqi Kurdistan emerging on its southern flank, said Erdogan, speaking days before a Turkish parliamentary election that has aggravated political and security tensions.

    Western allies are now arming the Kurds, he added.

    “They don’t even accept the PYD as a terrorist organization. What kind of nonsense is this?” he said. “The West still has the mentality of ‘My terrorist is good, yours is bad.'”

    Within Turkey, the armed forces have resumed their 30-year fight with militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which wants autonomy for the Turkish Kurds and also has close links with their ethnic brethren across the border in Syria.

    The United States and Europe, like Turkey, classify the PKK as a terrorist organization but regard the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish groupings as valuable allies in the fight against Islamic State and other jihadis.

    “The West still has the mentality of ‘My terrorist is good, yours is bad.'”
    Wow. That was rather blunt way of putting things.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 29, 2015, 1:14 pm
  40. It appears that Turkey decided to make good on its previous threats to shoot down any Russian jets that violate Turkey’s airspace.

    Or, to put it all another way, it appears that the Doomsday Clock is running a little behind again:

    The Los Angeles Times
    Putin calls downing of Russian jet by Turkey’s military ‘a stab in the back’

    By Jeremiah Baily-Hoover
    November 24, 2015, 8:15 AM | Reporting from instanbul, Turkey

    The Turkish military shot down a Russian SU-24 warplane near the Syrian border early on Tuesday after saying it had crossed into Turkey’s air space, an action Russia’s leader called a “stab in the back.”

    According to a statement released by the Turkish Armed Forces Command, an unidentified jet was shot down by F-16 fighter jets after violating Turkish airspace in the southern province of Hatay. The plane was attacked in line with Turkey’s military rules of engagement, the statement said, after being warned 10 times in a five-minute period in line that it had crossed into Turkish territory.

    Turkey quickly called for a meeting with NATO allies to discuss the downing of the jet.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly and emphatically condemned the attack. He said the SU-24 was downed by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16 despite having never strayed from Syrian territory, reiterating that “neither our pilots nor our jet threatened the territory of Turkey.”

    “The loss today is a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists,” he declared. “I can’t describe it in any other way.”

    “Today’s tragic event will have significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations,” he added. “Instead of immediately getting in contact with us, as far as we know, the Turkish side immediately turned to their partners from NATO to discuss this incident, as if we shot down their plane and not they ours.”

    Both Turkey and Russia are involved in the multinational military campaign in Syria but often with conflicting goals. While saying it is battling international terrorism, Russia’s intervention two months ago is largely seen as an effort to prop up the government of embattled President Bashar Assad.

    Turkey’s aim is, at least in part, to prevent the strengthening of Kurdish forces, which are battling Assad’s government and also have made gains against Islamic State fighters. Turkey has been battling a Kurdish insurgency for decades.

    Footage released by Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu new agency showed the jet crashing into a wooded mountainous area followed by a plume of smoke. Further footage from Anadolu showed the two pilots parachuting to the ground after having ejected.

    According to Turkish news agency DHA, a Turkmen rebel brigade operating in that area shot to death the two pilots after they reached the ground. The report could not be immediately verified.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that a Russian helicopter apparently searching for the crew members in a nearby area was hit by an anti-tank missile after being forced to make an emergency landing. A YouTube video uploaded in the afternoon by a rebel group known to be operating in the same area shows an American supplied anti-tank TOW missile striking a helicopter after it had landed.

    Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu defended the actions of the Turkish military stating it was their duty to defend Turkish territory. “The world needs to know that it is our international right and our national duty to take measures against anybody who violates our borders on the land and in the air, in spite of our many warnings,” he said.

    The downing of the Russian jet comes after over nearly two months of escalating tension between Turkey and Russia over the sovereignty of Turkish airspace. One week after Russia began it’s air campaign, Russian airplanes twice violated Turkish airspace and harassed Turkish fighter jets patrolling the Turkish-Syrian border with anti-aircraft radar.

    On Oct. 16, an unidentified drone was shot down on the Turkish-Syrian border. Davutoglu stated that the drone was of Russian origin but that Russia had denied that they were operating the drone.

    The Russian bombing campaign in Syria further raised the ire of Turkish leaders several days ago when Russian bombs hit targets in the northwest Syrian province of Lattakia. The area targeted by Russian strikes is heavily populated by the Turkmen ethnic group. Turkey has traditionally supported and expressed solidarity with Syria’s Turkmen population, which is of Turkish descent.

    Davutoglu quickly condemned the strikes saying they were strikes against civilians and “against our Turkmen siblings.”

    According to the Turkish Newspaper Hurriyet, the attacks led to Turkey summoning Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov and stating that Turkey “has every right to retaliate and take necessary measures in the event its border security is threatened as a result of the Russian military’s operations targeting civilian Turkmen Syrians on the Turkish-Syrian border.”

    Speaking from Jordan after meeting Jordanian King Abdullah, Putin continued to escalate his rhetoric with Turkey, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

    “We have long been recording the movement of a large amount of oil and petroleum products to Turkey from ISIS-occupied territories,” he said, referring to Islamic State by one of its acronyms. “This explains the significant funding the terrorists are receiving.”

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was due to pay an official visit to Turkey on Wednesday to discuss regional security and energy issues, cancelled his trip. Lavrov also advised Russian tourists not to visit Turkey, saying the threat of terrorism in Turkey was no less than in Egypt, where a Russian passenger jet was shot down Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board.

    Now that the war of words between Russia and Turkey over Turkey’s well-documented support and financing for ISIS and other extremist militant groups operating in Syria has resulted in downed planes and dead pilots, it will be interesting to see how that war of words evolves. Putting aside how this incident might complicate any potential anti-ISIS alliance between Russia, France, and the US, you have to wonder what is going to happen to Turkey’s standing in the world and its various alliances if Russia’s form of retaliation is to simply and endlessly point out that Turkey’s government is one of the biggest supporters of ISIS in the world. Because when Putin says:


    “We have long been recording the movement of a large amount of oil and petroleum products to Turkey from ISIS-occupied territories,” he said, referring to Islamic State by one of its acronyms. “This explains the significant funding the terrorists are receiving.”

    He’s presumably not bluffing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 24, 2015, 3:36 pm
  41. The war of words between Russia and Turkey took another twist following the rescue of one of the downed Russian pilots who claims that he never strayed into Turkey airspace and never heard a warning, let alone 10 warnings, from the Turkey pilot. And the Kremlin is now characterizing it as a ‘planned provocation’:

    The Telegraph
    Turkey shooting down plane was ‘planned provocation’ says Russia, as rescued pilot claims he had no warning – latest
    Russian and Syrian special forces free second pilot of a Russian warplane shot down by Turkey, says defence minister

    By Isabelle Fraser, and Raziye Akkoc

    8:29PM GMT 25 Nov 2015

    Latest
    What has happened today so far?

    Russia hit back at Turkey and its Nato allies today, announcing it was deploying high-end anti-aircraft missiles to its military facilities in the country, write Roland Oliphant in Moscow and Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor.

    There were also major air attacks, said to be by Russian jets, across northern Syria against rebel groups backed by Turkey in what appeared to a calculated show of strength.

    Rebels said among the targets was an aid convoy belonging to a Turkish aid group, IHH, with links to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). But IHH denied this on Twitter.

    Western powers urged a de-escalation of tensions, but Vladimir Putin suggested he was in no mood to take Tuesday’s shooting down of a Russian fighter bomber by Turkish F-16 jets lightly.

    Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, accused the Turks of a “planned provocation” that would cause Moscow to “seriously reassess” relations with Ankara.

    “We have no intention to go to war with Turkey,” Mr Lavrov said at a televised briefing. “Yet we can’t but react to what has happened.”

    The decision by Mr Putin to deploy S-400 missiles to the Russian air base in Latakia is one of several counter measures announced by Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister.

    With a range of 250 miles, the S-400s would easily be able to destroy any hostile aircraft operating in the border areas of Turkey and Syria where the Russian SU-24 was shot down

    Its deployment also sends a message to Nato. Mr Putin’s decision to send a fleet of war-planes to the base has already turned what was previously a minor Syrian outpost to a front-line Russian base on Nato’s south-eastern edge.

    Just as the ease with which Turkey’s advanced American jets shot down their Russian adversary is a warning to Mr Putin not to over-reach himself, the counter-deployment of air defence missiles is intended to deter any Nato move to implement a no-fly zone over Syria.

    Mr Shoigu also said all future bombing missions would be accompanied by fighter escorts, and ordered the country’s most powerful missile cruiser, the Moskva, to patrol in-shore waters near the Turkish-Syrian border.

    “She will be ready to destroy any aerial target posing a potential danger to our aircraft,” he said.

    The Kremlin accused Ankara of conspiring in advance to “ambush” the SU-24 jet as it carried out a bombing mission against rebel groups near the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday morning.

    The pilot, Lt Col Oleg Peshkov, was shot dead by rebels as he parachuted to earth. The navigator, Capt Konstanin Murakhin, survived, despite initial reports that he too had been killed.

    He was rescued from behind rebel lines by a Russian-Syrian mission. Speaking publicly for the first time this evening (see video below), Capt Murakhin denied that his aircraft had entered Turkish airspace “even for a single second.”

    He also rejected the Turkish claim that its F-16 had repeatedly warned the Russian jet before opening fire.

    “There have been no warnings whatsoever,” said Capt Murakhtin, who added that he wanted to keep flying missions from the base “to pay them back for my commander”.

    In response, the Turkish authorities released what they said was a recording of the warnings being issued.

    ….

    We appear to have a ‘he said/she said’ situation developing over whether or not the Russian bomber even entered Turkish airspace and whether the Turkish F-16 issued any warnings at all as opposed to the 10 repeated warnings that Turkish authorities say were issued.

    So it’s worth nothing that the Turkish authorities did release an audio recording of that warning. The recording is only 15 seconds and only includes a single warning about the Russian bomber approaching Turkish airspace, so we’ll see if they release a longer audio recording of a more extensive warning in the future. Although it’s unclear how much longer that recording could be since, according to Turkish authorities, that Russian bomber only entered Turkish airspace for 17 seconds:

    Associated Press

    Turkey Shoots Down Russian Jet It Says Violated Its Airspace

    By jim heintz and suzan fraser,
    MOSCOW — Nov 24, 2015, 5:41 PM ET

    Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on Tuesday that it said ignored repeated warnings and crossed into its airspace from Syria, killing at least one of the two pilots in a long-feared escalation in tensions between Russia and NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced what he called a “stab in the back” and warned of “significant consequences.”

    The shoot down — the first time in half a century that a NATO member has downed a Russian plane — prompted an emergency meeting of the alliance. The incident highlighted the chaotic complexity of Syria’s civil war, where multiple groups with clashing alliances are fighting on the ground and the sky is crowded with aircraft bombing various targets.

    “As we have repeatedly made clear we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference after the meeting of the alliance’s decision-making North Atlantic Council, called at Turkey’s request.

    Before Tuesday’s incident, Russia and the West appeared to be moving toward an understanding of their common strategic goal of eradicating IS, which gained momentum after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, as well as the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai desert. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks.

    Turkey said its fighter pilots acted after two Russian Su-24 bombers ignored numerous warnings that they were nearing and then entering Turkish airspace. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turkey said the Russian warplanes violated its airspace “to a depth of 1.36 miles and 1.15 miles … for 17 seconds” just after 9:24 a.m.

    It said one of the planes then left Turkish airspace and the other one was fired at by Turkish F-16s “in accordance with the rules of engagement” and crashed on the Syrian side of the border.

    Turkey has complained repeatedly that Russian planes supporting Assad are straying across the border. On Friday, Turkey summoned the Russian ambassador demanding that Russia stop operations in the Turkmen region.

    Last month, Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that it said had violated Turkey’s airspace.

    The country changed its rules of engagement a few years ago after Syria shot down a Turkish plane. According to the new rules, Turkey said it would consider all “elements” approaching from Syria an enemy threat and would act accordingly.

    Following earlier accusations of Russian intrusion into Turkish airspace, the U.S. European Command on Nov. 6 deployed six U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters from their base in Britain to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to help the NATO-member country secure its skies.

    “Turkey said its fighter pilots acted after two Russian Su-24 bombers ignored numerous warnings that they were nearing and then entering Turkish airspace. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turkey said the Russian warplanes violated its airspace “to a depth of 1.36 miles and 1.15 miles … for 17 seconds” just after 9:24 a.m.”
    Note that US radar confirms that 17 second estimate.

    It’s also worth noting that Turkey is now claiming that it did not know the nationality of the jet at the time of the shootdown which raises the obvious question as to whether or not knowing it was a Russian bomber would have made a difference in their decision to shoot it down. Because, if so, that’s quite an admission of some extremely itchy trigger fingers and a massive screw up. But if not, what’s the point of even bringing it up?

    So Russia is asserting that the plane never entered the airspace and never got a warning and that this was all a planned provocation. And Turkey is charging that many warnings were issued, they’ve warned Russia before, and they didn’t even know if it was a Russian aircraft. Since it’s still possible that enough data is eventually going to be released to confidently determine what happened, it could be worse as far as ‘he said/she said’ situations go. A lot worse.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 25, 2015, 3:58 pm
  42. The verbal pissing match between Russia and Turkey continue as accusations and counter-accusations of support for terrorism continues. And, not surprisingly, it looks like Putin’s public charges of clandestine Turkish support for ISIS hit a nerve:

    CNN
    Turkey won’t apologize for downing Russian warplane, Erdogan says

    By Eliott C. McLaughlin, Don Melvin and Jethro Mullen, CNN

    Updated 9:27 PM ET, Thu November 26, 2015

    (CNN)Turkey will not apologize for downing a Russian fighter jet it says violated Turkish airspace near the Syrian border, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an exclusive CNN interview Thursday in Ankara.

    “I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us,” he said from the Turkish capital. “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to … violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”

    In a meeting with community leaders in Ankara, Erdogan said, “If the same violation occurs today, Turkey has to react the same way.”

    Charges of terrorism

    Tensions in the Middle East have escalated since the downing of the Russian warplane, with Erdogan accusing Russia of deceit and Moscow announcing it will deploy anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. A post on the Russian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page showed an S-400 missile system being unloaded from a Russian cargo plane.

    The post said the system will be installed at Syria’s Hmeymin airbase near Latakia, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, as Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu promised Wednesday on his ministry’s Twitter feed.

    The missiles have a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles), according to Missile Threat, which monitors ballistic missile capabilities around the world. The Turkish border is fewer than 45 kilometers (30 miles) away.

    The countries’ militaries officially suspended their channels of cooperation, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, a move they had announced Wednesday.

    Russia and Turkey have each accused the other of supporting terrorism. Speaking at an event in Moscow, prior to CNN’s interview with Erdogan, Putin said Turkey had not apologized or offered compensation for the downed warplane. He charged that Turkey was trying to bring its relations with Russia to a “dead end.”

    Erdogan dubbed a “huge mistake” Putin’s claim that Turkey is an accomplice to terrorism and that shooting down Russia’s plane “represents a stab in the back.”

    He also addressed a claim — repeated Thursday afternoon by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova — that Turkey had oil and financial ties to ISIS.

    “If Mr. Putin is saying that we are cooperating with Daesh, that we are accomplices, I think that would be a huge mistake, because we are doing the exact opposite,” he told CNN, using another name for ISIS. “Yesterday there was a declaration which was very unacceptable. Some people claimed that we were buying oil from Daesh — and the fact that people in positions of authority in Russia said this is very, very unacceptable.”

    He said Russia has no room to talk because it is not taking on the terrorist outfit itself: “Russia is not engaged in a fight against Daesh in Syria. On the contrary, they are actually targeting moderate opposition.”

    The assertion is supported by CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who said, “None of the targets that … the Russians were going after had anything to do with ISIS. Those were all those Turkmen groups.”

    Late Thursday, however, Russia insisted again it had taken out “all terrorists” in the area where the navigator of the Russian jet crash was rescued, Konashenkov said. Russia’s air force conducted “massive airstrikes” and the Syrian army had provided artillery support, giving full control of the mountainous area in north Latakia governorate to Syrian troops, he said, claiming that Russia now controls all ISIS supply routes in north Syria.

    “If Mr. Putin is saying that we are cooperating with Daesh, that we are accomplices, I think that would be a huge mistake, because we are doing the exact opposite…Yesterday there was a declaration which was very unacceptable. Some people claimed that we were buying oil from Daesh — and the fact that people in positions of authority in Russia said this is very, very unacceptable.”
    Yep, Putin definitely pissed on a nerve. And part of what makes this particular form of retaliation by Russia so interesting is that the nerve Putin hit is a highly exposed nerve that just about anyone can hit and the only thing that was protecting that nerve in the past was a general willingness to largely ignore it. But if Putin can goad Erdogan this easily into saying things like like “we are doing the exact opposite [of supporting ISIS],” it’s going to be a lot harder for the rest of the world avoid pissing on that highly exposed nerve:

    Vision Times
    Russian Jet Shot Down: Is Putin Right Regarding Turkey’s Support for ISIS?

    James Burke

    11/27/2015

    The downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish military on Tuesday has again put the spotlight on Ankara’s role in the Syrian civil war, most notably their supposed support for the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

    The Turks say two of their F-16s shot down the Russian Su-24 after it crossed into their airspace, a charge that Russian President Vladimir Putin denies.

    The incident threatens to escalate the conflict, putting the Western NATO alliance — which Turkey is a part of — in a precarious position. The downing of the Su-24 has also fractured any post-Paris attack hopes for better coordination between Russia and NATO to destroy ISIS.

    While the Russians have been previously accused of violating Turkish airspace on multiple occasions, Putin said that the downing of their jet was a stab in the back.

    According to the BBC video below, Putin accused the Turks of being “accomplices of terrorists,” that meaning ISIS.

    See Putin’s response to the downing of the Russian jet:

    Russia has also accused Turkey of buying oil and gas from ISIS in Syria, a charge backed up by a former NATO commander, retired General Wesley Clark.

    “All along there’s always been the idea that Turkey was supporting ISIS in some way,” Clark said, before adding that Ankara is also channeling ISIS jihadis through Turkey.

    “Someone’s buying that oil that ISIS is selling; it’s going through somewhere. It looks to me like it’s probably going through Turkey,” said Clark in the CNN report further below.

    Recently, Russian aircraft bombed an ISIS oil refinery and tanker trucks somewhere near the Turkish border.

    “That means [ISIS is] serving the interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, even as it poses a threat to them because neither Turkey or Saudi Arabia want an Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon bridge that isolates Turkey, and cuts Saudi Arabia off,” Clark said.

    See Clark talking with CNN below:

    Turkey, the Gulf States, and most of the West want the the Syrain regime of President Basher al-Assad out of power.

    But al-Assad has the support of the Russians, Shia Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Putin has been in the past accused of focusing on destroying other rebel groups who are fighting al-Assad’s forces, while ignoring ISIS.

    Similar accusations of avoiding fighting ISIS have been leveled at Turkey, who some say have been bombing Kurdish forces, and leaving ISIS jihadists relevantly unharmed.

    “Turkey has made only a token handful of strikes against ISIS,” stated Gwynne Dyer, an independent journalist, writing for The Sydney Morning Herald.

    “Almost all [of Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan’s bombs have actually fallen on the Turkish Kurds of the PKK (who had been observing a ceasefire with the Turkish government for the past four years), and above all on the Syrian Kurds,” stated Dyer.

    Turkey denies the claims that it supports ISIS, and say they instead back moderate rebels in Syria, and Turkmen fighters battling al-Assad’s regime.

    See Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defend the downing of the Russian warplane in this The Sydney Morning Herald video:

    But according to a report in Newsweek, a former ISIS member said that the Turkish military allows the jihadist group to travel freely through Turkish territory so they can reinforce the jihadists fighting Kurdish forces.

    “ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” the former ISIS member said, in reference to border crossings into Turkey, “and they reassured us that nothing will happen, especially when that is how they regularly travel from Raqqa and Aleppo to the Kurdish areas further northeast of Syria because it was impossible to travel through Syria, as YPG [National Army of Syrian Kurdistan] controlled most parts of the Kurdish region.”

    Dyer wrote that Ankara is determined to see its interests in Syria fulfilled, that being there is no establishment of an independent Kurdish state, and that the regime of al-Assad is vanquished.

    “Erdogan is utterly determined that Assad must go, and he doesn’t really care if Assad’s successors are Islamist extremists,” wrote Dyer.

    See this video report by The Young Turks about other claims, recently made, that Turkey helps ISIS:

    Does Erdogan really want to get into a high-profile verbal pissing match with Putin over whether or his government is covertly supporting ISIS? Because, if so, that’s a pissing match that could easily begin to draw in all sort of supplemental pissers, including former NATO commander Wesley Clark, who have been documenting or observing the growing volume of evidence of that support for years:

    Russia has also accused Turkey of buying oil and gas from ISIS in Syria, a charge backed up by a former NATO commander, retired General Wesley Clark.

    “All along there’s always been the idea that Turkey was supporting ISIS in some way,” Clark said, before adding that Ankara is also channeling ISIS jihadis through Turkey.

    “Someone’s buying that oil that ISIS is selling; it’s going through somewhere. It looks to me like it’s probably going through Turkey,” said Clark in the CNN report further below.

    Recently, Russian aircraft bombed an ISIS oil refinery and tanker trucks somewhere near the Turkish border.

    “That means [ISIS is] serving the interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, even as it poses a threat to them because neither Turkey or Saudi Arabia want an Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon bridge that isolates Turkey, and cuts Saudi Arabia off,” Clark said.

    See Clark talking with CNN below:

    That looks like kind of pissing match that’s going to create quite a bit of backslash and dirty laundry. And yes, the obvious counter-dirty-laundry that the Assad regime is also buying ISIS’s oil is also being aired. Great! Cut that off too. What a useful pissing match!

    So it will be very interesting to see who starts pissing on whom. Don’t forge that Erdogan hasn’t yet played the “hey, it’s not like we’re the only ones covertly supporting ISIS. Look at all the Gulf Monarchies!”-card yet, but he could. So let’s hope we see a lot more piss and vinegar coming from the mouths of world leaders because it’s hard to think of a strategy for undermining a wannabe upstart state fighting an expensive war with an army of foreign militant than bankrupting it.

    But even of this pissing match can somehow pressure ISIS’s various state-sponsors to stop sponsoring the group and agree to the strangulation of ISIS’s economy, there’s still the question of what comes next for Syria and that raises another very big question that’s alluded to in the above article. Because when we read:


    But according to a report in Newsweek, a former ISIS member said that the Turkish military allows the jihadist group to travel freely through Turkish territory so they can reinforce the jihadists fighting Kurdish forces.

    “ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” the former ISIS member said, in reference to border crossings into Turkey, “and they reassured us that nothing will happen, especially when that is how they regularly travel from Raqqa and Aleppo to the Kurdish areas further northeast of Syria because it was impossible to travel through Syria, as YPG [National Army of Syrian Kurdistan] controlled most parts of the Kurdish region.”

    Dyer wrote that Ankara is determined to see its interests in Syria fulfilled, that being there is no establishment of an independent Kurdish state, and that the regime of al-Assad is vanquished.

    “Erdogan is utterly determined that Assad must go, and he doesn’t really care if Assad’s successors are Islamist extremists,” wrote Dyer.

    you have to ask whether or not Erdogan simply “doesn’t really care if Assad’s successors are Islamist extremists” or if installing an Islamist extremist government is actually key strategic goal. Because we can’t forget that, despite his ‘moderate’ label, Erdogan is an Islamist extremist just like the rest of the supposedly ‘moderate’ Muslim Brotherhood. They’re just not as extreme as ISIS or al Qaeda. Whoopie!

    And since countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the key forces behind the drive to remove the Assad regime and replace it with a Sunni-dominated government, we really need to ask the question of whether or not Turkey or Saudi Arabia would tolerate a secular democracy, or if it MUST be a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Islamist government at best (and an ISIS/al Qaeda government at worst). Will ISIS’s many state sponsors even consider a new secular, democratic state that is explicitly not Islamist at all but instead a new model secular democracy for the Middle East?

    For instance, let’s say a miracle happened a deal was worked out between the Assad regime and the non-ISIS rebel groups that avoided reprisals against Assad and his supporters, guaranteed major international assistance for the country for the foreseeable future and a new secular democratic constitution gets hammered out that explicitly bans ANY group turning the country into a sectarian experiment (so we don’t see a repeat of what the Muslim Brotherhood tried to do to Egypt). Keep in mind that most of the “moderate” rebel groups are basically Muslim Brotherhood-ish in terms their goals (the Free Syrian Army’s leadership was characterized as “Islamist” back in 2012), so this would be a miracle if the vast majority of them could be brought to the table and agree to terms that guarantee a secular future, but let’s say that happened. Would supporting such a deal even an option for Turkey and the Gulf monarchies?

    Hopefully the evolving pissing match will address such topics.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 27, 2015, 4:41 pm
  43. Posted by X-Man | November 28, 2015, 2:19 pm
  44. Wow, so during a Skype interview back in October, Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s intelligence, railed against Russia trying to suppress Syria’s Islamist revolution and asserted that “ISIS is a reality and we have to accept that we cannot eradicate a well-organized and popular establishment such as the Islamic State; therefore I urge my western colleagues to revise their mindset about Islamic political currents, put aside their cynical mentalité and thwart Vladimir Putin’s plans to crush Syrian Islamist revolutionaries.” He also suggested that the way to deal with the flow of foreign fighters flowing through Turkey to fight in Syria is for ISIS to set up a consulate in Instanbul. That doesn’t seem like the kind of stance Turkey’s chief of intelligence would suddenly admit in response to Russia’s decision to get directly involved in the conflict so, as The War Nerd puts it, you have to give points for honesty:

    AWD News
    Turkish intelligence chief: Putin’s intervention in Syria is against Islam and international law, ISIS is a reality and we are optimistic about the future

    Top News
    18 October 2015

    Ankara— Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known by the MIT acronym, has drawn a lot of attention and criticism for his controversial comments about ISIS.

    Mr. Hakan Fidan, Turkish President’s staunchest ally, condemned Russian military intervention in Syria, accusing Moscow of trying to ‘smother’ Syria’s Islamist revolution and serious breach of United Nations law.

    “ISIS is a reality and we have to accept that we cannot eradicate a well-organized and popular establishment such as the Islamic State; therefore I urge my western colleagues to revise their mindset about Islamic political currents, put aside their cynical mentalité and thwart Vladimir Putin’s plans to crush Syrian Islamist revolutionaries,” Anadolu News Agency quoted Mr. Fidan as saying on Sunday.

    Fidan further added that in order to deal with the vast number of foreign Jihadists craving to travel to Syria, it is imperative that ISIS must set up a consulate or at least a political office in Istanbul. He underlined that it is Turkey’s firm belief to provide medical care for all injured people fleeing Russian ruthless airstrikes regardless of their political or religious affiliation.

    Recently as the fierce clashes between Russian army and ISIS terrorists raging across the war-torn Syria, countless number of ISIS injured fighters enter the Turkish territory and are being admitted in the military hospitals namely those in Hatay Province. Over the last few days, the Syrian army with the support of Russian air cover could fend off ISIS forces in strategic provinces of Homs and Hama.

    Emile Hokayem, a Washington-based Middle East analyst said that Turkey’s Erdogan and his oil-rich Arab allies have dual agendas in the war on terror and as a matter of fact they are supplying the Islamist militants with weapons and money, thus Russian intervention is considered a devastating setback for their efforts to overthrow Syrian secular President Assad.

    Hokayem who was speaking via Skype from Washington, D.C. highlighted the danger of Turkish-backed terrorist groups and added that what is happening in Syria cannot be categorized as a genuine and popular revolution against dictatorship but rather it is a chaos orchestrated by Erdogan who is dreaming to revive this ancestor’s infamous Ottoman Empire.

    “Emile Hokayem, a Washington-based Middle East analyst said that Turkey’s Erdogan and his oil-rich Arab allies have dual agendas in the war on terror and as a matter of fact they are supplying the Islamist militants with weapons and money, thus Russian intervention is considered a devastating setback for their efforts to overthrow Syrian secular President Assad.”

    And in other news…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 29, 2015, 7:00 pm
  45. The war of words between Putin and Erdogan continues to get more and more interesting: Putin is now asserting that Turkey shot down that Russian jet out of a desire by Erdogan’s government to protect the “industrial scale” oil production ISIS relies on to finance itself. And he has the evidence to prove it:

    Irish Times
    Russia accuses Turkey of downing its jet to protect illegal ISIS oil pipeline

    Denis Dyomkin

    Published
    30/11/2015 | 19:11

    Russia says it has proof that Islamic State is transferring its oil on an “industrial scale” through Turkey.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that he had received “more information” showing that Turkey’s downing of a Russian plane was “dictated by a desire to defend this oil pipeline”.

    “At the moment we have received additional information confirming that that oil from the deposits controlled by Islamic State militants enters Turkish territory on industrial scale,” he said while attending a global climate conference in Paris.

    “We have every reason to believe that the decision to down our plane was guided by a desire to ensure security of this oil’s delivery routes to ports where they are shipped in tankers.”

    Mr Putin added that the downing of its Su-24 by Turkish jets on November 24 was a “huge mistake”.

    “As a result of this criminal action two of our soldiers died – a crew commander and a marine, who was part of the rescue team of the [Su-24] crew,” he said.

    The body of the pilot who died was flown back to Russia from Turkey on Monday after the Turkish authorities took possession of it from an unknown group.

    Mr Putin’s words come after it was revealed that Russian jets in Syria are now carrying air-to-air missiles “for self defence”.

    Russia imposed a series of economic sanctions against Turkey last Thursday, which included banning several Turkish organisations and the import of certain goods, as well as cancelling the visa-free regime for Turkish citizens travelling to Russia.

    Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his country would act “patiently, not emotionally” before imposing any counter-measures.

    That’s quite an assertion. And given the volume of media reports over the last year or so from a wide variety of sources around the globe documenting Turkey’s support for ISIS it’s also quite a reasonable assertion. You almost have to wonder if Putin’s new information is coming from an intelligence agency or an online news search.

    But keep in mind that Putin’s claim is specifically that Turkey is facilitating an “industrial scale” oil trade with ISIS, and that opens up a bit of wiggle room for Erdogan. Big enough, apparently, for Erdogan to respond to Putin’s claims with a counter-taunt: If Putin can prove his claim, Erdogan will resign. But if the claim can’t be proven, Putin should resign:

    BBC
    Turkey challenges Russia over IS oil trade claim

    1 December 2015

    Turkey has challenged Russia to prove its claim that Ankara shot down a Russian plane in order to protect its oil trade with Islamic State (IS).

    “If you allege something you should prove it,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

    He was responding to the accusation by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also said last week’s downing of the plane was a “huge mistake”.

    The Turkish government has refused to apologise for the incident.

    One Russian pilot was killed and the other rescued after Russia’s Su-24 bomber was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter on the Syrian border on 24 November.

    A Russian marine was killed during the rescue operation in north-western Syria.

    Turkey says the jet entered its airspace – an accusation Russia denies.

    The US state department has said evidence from Turkish and US sources indicates the aircraft did violate Turkish airspace.

    Turkey has denied any ties to IS and is part of a US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the militant group.

    “You should put your documents on the table if you have any. Let’s see the documents,” Mr Erdogan said.

    “We are acting with patience. It is not positive for the two countries which have reached a position which could be regarded as a strategic partnership to make emotional statements.”

    President Erdogan also vowed to step down if the allegation that Turkey was buying oil from IS proved true, suggesting that President Putin should do the same if he was wrong.

    Russia has been carrying out air strikes in Syria, targeting rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including IS.

    Turkey is a vehement opponent of Mr Assad and has been accused of turning a blind eye to jihadist fighters crossing from its territory into Syria.

    Until a few months ago, Turkey was reluctant to play an active role in the coalition against IS. However, in August it allowed the US-led coalition to begin using its airbase at Incirlik.

    “You should put your documents on the table if you have any. Let’s see the documents.”
    Grab your popcorn because it is on! Yep, instead of countering Putin’s claims with a standard mix of dismissal and bluster, Erdogan is begging Putin to make a detailed case to the world of Turkey’s support of ISIS. And since an online news search pretty much provides all of the supplementary evidence you need to establish that, yes, Turkey’s government has long been tolerating, if not outright facilitating, the vital flows of fighters, arms, and oil into and out of ISIS-held territory, it’s really just up to Putin to make the case that the volume of ISIS’s oil trade qualify as “industrial scale” and the Turkish government has known about it. And while “industrial scale” is inevitably going to be subjective term given the circumstances, it’s not like non-industrial scale oil sales aren’t still wildly scandalous given the group doing the selling.

    And keep in mind that Erdogan’s pledge to resign if Putin can prove Turkish complicity in ISIS’s oil trade is going to inevitable apply to any assistance to ISIS in the court of public opinion. At least the court of public opinion of Erdogan’s domestic opponents. So let’s say proof of state backing of oil smuggling doesn’t pan out and the government success convinces the public that any oil sales were done without the state’s knowledge…well, how about arms smuggling to ISIS? Might that result in calls for Erdogan’s resignation? If so, Erdogan might need to start working on that resignation speech:

    Agence France-Presse

    Turkish journalists charged over claim that secret services armed Syrian rebels

    Two editors from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper face lengthy jail sentences for alleging that Ankara’s intelligence agency was supplying weapons

    Thursday 26 November 2015 23.54 EST

    A court in Istanbul has charged two journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper with spying after they alleged Turkey’s secret services had sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria.

    Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief, and Erdem Gul, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief, are accused of spying and “divulging state secrets”, Turkish media reported. Both men were placed in pre-trial detention.

    According to Cumhuriyet, Turkish security forces in January 2014 intercepted a convoy of trucks near the Syrian border and discovered boxes of what the daily described as weapons and ammunition to be sent to rebels fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

    It linked the seized trucks to the Turkish national intelligence organisation (MIT).

    The revelations, published in May, caused a political storm in Turkey, and enraged president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who vowed Dundar would pay a “heavy price”.

    He personally filed a criminal complaint against Dundar, 54, demanding he serve multiple life sentences.

    Turkey has vehemently denied aiding Islamist rebels in Syria, such as the Islamic State group, although it wants to see Assad toppled.

    “Don’t worry, this ruling is nothing but a badge of honour to us,” Dundar told reporters and civil society representatives at the court before he was taken into custody.

    Reporters Without Borders had earlier on Thursday urged the judge hearing the case to dismiss the charges against the pair, condemning the trial as “political persecution”.

    The Cumhuriyet daily was awarded the media watchdog’s 2015 Press Freedom Prize just last week, with Dundar travelling to Strasbourg to receive the award.

    Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 in its 2015 press freedom index last month, warning of a “dangerous surge in censorship”.

    Wow, those journalists exposing state secrets sure touched a nerve:


    The revelations, published in May, caused a political storm in Turkey, and enraged president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who vowed Dundar would pay a “heavy price”.

    He personally filed a criminal complaint against Dundar, 54, demanding he serve multiple life sentences.

    So considering Erdogan’s response to a pair of journalists just doing their job and exposing something that should have surprised no one, you have to wonder how enraged he’s going to be if Putin actually responds to his “show me the evidence” challenge with actual evidence of oil sales and arm shipments. Heck, maybe Putin even has some additional information on that particular arms shipment by the MIT that got the two jailed journalists thrown in jail. It’s certainly a possibility, since Reuters apparently saw evidence of it back in May:

    Reuters
    Exclusive: Turkish intelligence helped ship arms to Syrian Islamist rebel areas

    ADANA, Turkey | By Humeyra Pamuk and Nick Tattersall
    Thu May 21, 2015 2:43pm EDT

    Turkey’s state intelligence agency helped deliver arms to parts of Syria under Islamist rebel control during late 2013 and early 2014, according to a prosecutor and court testimony from gendarmerie officers seen by Reuters.

    The witness testimony contradicts Turkey’s denials that it sent arms to Syrian rebels and, by extension, contributed to the rise of Islamic State, now a major concern for the NATO member.

    Syria and some of Turkey’s Western allies say Turkey, in its haste to see President Bashar al-Assad toppled, let fighters and arms over the border, some of whom went on to join the Islamic State militant group which has carved a self-declared caliphate out of parts of Syria and Iraq.

    Ankara has denied arming Syria’s rebels or assisting hardline Islamists. Diplomats and Turkish officials say it has in recent months imposed tighter controls on its borders.

    Testimony from gendarmerie officers in court documents reviewed by Reuters allege that rocket parts, ammunition and semi-finished mortar shells were carried in trucks accompanied by state intelligence agency (MIT) officials more than a year ago to parts of Syria under Islamist control.

    Four trucks were searched in the southern province of Adana in raids by police and gendarmerie, one in November 2013 and the three others in January 2014, on the orders of prosecutors acting on tip-offs that they were carrying weapons, according to testimony from the prosecutors, who now themselves face trial.

    While the first truck was seized, the three others were allowed to continue their journey after MIT officials accompanying the cargo threatened police and physically resisted the search, according to the testimony and prosecutor’s report.

    President Tayyip Erdogan has said the three trucks stopped on Jan. 19 belonged to MIT and were carrying aid.

    “Our investigation has shown that some state officials have helped these people deliver the shipments,” prosecutor Ozcan Sisman, who ordered the search of the first truck on Nov. 7 2013 after a tip-off that it was carrying weapons illegally, told Reuters in a interview on May 4 in Adana.

    Both Sisman and Aziz Takci, another Adana prosecutor who ordered three trucks to be searched on Jan. 19 2014, have since been detained on the orders of state prosecutors and face provisional charges, pending a full indictment, of carrying out an illegal search.

    The request for Sisman’s arrest, issued by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and also seen by Reuters, accuses him of revealing state secrets and tarnishing the government by portraying it as aiding terrorist groups.

    Sisman and Takci deny the charges.

    “It is not possible to explain this process, which has become a total massacre of the law,” Alp Deger Tanriverdi, a lawyer representing both Takci and Sisman, told Reuters.

    “Something that is a crime cannot possibly be a state secret.”

    More than 30 gendarmerie officers involved in the Jan. 1 attempted search and the events of Jan. 19 also face charges such as military espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, according to an April 2015 Istanbul court document.

    An official in Erdogan’s office said Erdogan had made his position clear on the issue. Several government officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment further. MIT officials could not immediately be reached.

    “I want to reiterate our official line here, which has been stated over and over again ever since this crisis started by our prime minister, president and foreign minister, that Turkey has never sent weapons to any group in Syria,” Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Wednesday at an event in Washington.

    Erdogan has said prosecutors had no authority to search MIT vehicles and were part of what he calls a “parallel state” run by his political enemies and bent on discrediting the government.

    “Who were those who tried to stop MIT trucks in Adana while we were trying to send humanitarian aid to Turkmens?,” Erdogan said in a television interview last August.

    “Parallel judiciary and parallel security … The prosecutor hops onto the truck and carries out a search. You can’t search an MIT truck, you have no authority.”

    ‘TARNISHING THE GOVERNMENT’

    One of the truck drivers, Murat Kislakci, was quoted as saying the cargo he carried on Jan. 19 was loaded from a foreign plane at Ankara airport and that he had carried similar shipments before. Reuters was unable to contact Kislakci.

    Witness testimony seen by Reuters from a gendarme involved in a Jan. 1, 2014 attempt to search another truck said MIT officials had talked about weapons shipments to Syrian rebels from depots on the border. Reuters was unable to confirm this.

    At the time of the searches, the Syrian side of the border in Hatay province, which neighbors Adana, was controlled by hardline Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham.

    The Salafist group included commanders such as Abu Khaled al-Soury, also known as Abu Omair al-Shamy, who fought alongside al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and was close to its current chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Soury was killed in by a suicide attack in Syrian city of Aleppo in February 2014.

    A court ruling calling for the arrest of three people in connection with the truck stopped in November 2013 said it was loaded with metal pipes manufactured in the Turkish city of Konya which were identified as semi-finished parts of mortars.

    The document also cites truck driver Lutfi Karakaya as saying he had twice carried the same shipment and delivered it to a field around 200 meters beyond a military outpost in Reyhanli, a stone’s throw from Syria.

    The court order for Karakaya’s arrest, seen by Reuters, cited a police investigation which said that the weapons parts seized that day were destined for “a camp used by the al Qaeda terrorist organization on the Syrian border”.

    “I want to reiterate our official line here, which has been stated over and over again ever since this crisis started by our prime minister, president and foreign minister, that Turkey has never sent weapons to any group in Syria,”
    That is indeed the official line. It’s so official that journalists get jailed if they contradict it. Along with prosecutors:


    Testimony from gendarmerie officers in court documents reviewed by Reuters allege that rocket parts, ammunition and semi-finished mortar shells were carried in trucks accompanied by state intelligence agency (MIT) officials more than a year ago to parts of Syria under Islamist control.

    Four trucks were searched in the southern province of Adana in raids by police and gendarmerie, one in November 2013 and the three others in January 2014, on the orders of prosecutors acting on tip-offs that they were carrying weapons, according to testimony from the prosecutors, who now themselves face trial.

    And like the journalists those prosecutors are facing life in prison:

    Agence France-Presse
    Turkey court slaps secrecy order on ‘arms to Syria’ trial
    Four prosecutors and a former military commander face life in prison for exposing alleged government weapons shipment to rebels

    October 1, 2015, 4:48 pm

    ANKARA, Turkey — Four former senior Turkish prosecutors and an ex-military commander went on trial Thursday over the interception last year of an alleged consignment of arms bound for Syria, with the court immediately imposing a secrecy order on the hugely controversial case.

    The case goes to the heart of claims — repeated on occasion by the West but denied by Turkey — that Ankara has worked far too closely with Islamist rebels in the hope of ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    The five, who were arrested earlier this year, are charged with seeking to overthrow the government and revealing state security information. They could face life in prison if found guilty.

    The trial opened at a criminal court within Turkey’s Supreme Court in Ankara under heavy security, with the judge immediately imposing the secrecy order, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

    The order means the trial will be held behind closed doors and its proceedings with not be made public.

    The trial relates to the stopping and searching of trucks near the Syrian border in January 2014 which were suspected of smuggling arms into Syria.

    Local security forces found the trucks were taking not only a consignment of arms but also Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) personnel.

    Also standing trial is former Turkish military gendarmerie colonel Ozkan Cokay, who is believed to have implemented the search order on the ground.

    Dozens of rank-and-file soldiers and police have also been arrested in the investigation but it is not immediately clear when they will go on trial.

    The Turkish authorities have sought to link the affair to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of running a parallel state through supporters in the judiciary and police with the aim of usurping him.

    But in May, Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet published footage of the alleged arms delivery showing mortar shells, grenade launchers and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition.

    Erdogan threatened Cumhuriyet’s editor in chief Can Dundar over the story, vowing he “will pay a heavy price.”

    “The five, who were arrested earlier this year, are charged with seeking to overthrow the government and revealing state security information. They could face life in prison if found guilty.”

    So prosecutors and journalists revealed arms shipments by Turkish intelligence to militant Islamist radicals, which may have included not just ISIS but other al Qaeda-linked groups (imagine that), were taking place shipments and they’re now charged with trying to overthrow the government. That sure sounds like Erdogan’s barely secret bromance with Syria’s Islamist militants is viewed as one of the worst possible things anyone could reveal and a threat to the Turkish government.

    And in the midst of a high profile trial over Turkey’s alleged arming of groups like ISIS, Erdogan shoots down a Russian jet and then, when faced with charges that its secretly selling ISIS’s oil, issues a pledge to resign if the charges of proven! Is he planning on taking Putin to court to shut him up or something?! Presumably not, but stranger things have happened.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 1, 2015, 7:25 pm
  46. Ouch. The Russian defense ministry just took the allegations of Turkey’s covert sponsorship of ISIS to a new level: The Deputy Defense Minister noted during a briefing in Moscow where ministry officials showed satellite images of ISIS-controlled tanker trucks crossing the Turkish border that they had received information about senior Turkish political leaders who are apparently direct beneficiaries of this illicit trade. Specifically, Erdogan and his family:

    Reuters
    Russia says it has proof Turkey involved in Islamic State oil trade

    MOSCOW | By Maria Tsvetkova and Lidia Kelly
    Wed Dec 2, 2015 1:33pm EST

    Russia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday it had proof that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his family were benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq.

    Moscow and Ankara have been locked in a war of words since last week when a Turkish air force jet shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border, the most serious incident between Russia and a NATO state in half a century.

    Erdogan responded by saying no one had the right to “slander” Turkey by accusing it of buying oil from Islamic State, and that he would stand down if such allegations were proven to be true. But speaking during a visit to Qatar, he also said he did not want relations with Moscow to worsen further.

    At a briefing in Moscow, defense ministry officials displayed satellite images which they said showed columns of tanker trucks loading with oil at installations controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and then crossing the border into neighboring Turkey.

    The officials did not specify what direct evidence they had of the involvement of Erdogan and his family, an allegation that the Turkish president has vehemently denied.

    “Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we’ve received, the senior political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – are involved in this criminal business,” said Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov.

    “Maybe I’m being too blunt, but one can only entrust control over this thieving business to one’s closest associates.”

    “In the West, no one has asked questions about the fact that the Turkish president’s son heads one of the biggest energy companies, or that his son-in-law has been appointed energy minister. What a marvelous family business!”

    “The cynicism of the Turkish leadership knows no limits. Look what they’re doing. They went into someone else’s country, they are robbing it without compunction,” Antonov said.

    Erdogan last week denied that Turkey procures oil from anything other than legitimate sources.

    He has said Ankara is taking active steps to prevent fuel smuggling, and he challenged anyone who accused his government of collaborating with Islamic State to prove their allegations.

    On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said Turkey had made progress in sealing its border with Syria, but Islamic State was still exploiting gaps to bring in foreign fighters and sell oil.

    WEAPONS FLOW

    The Russian defense ministry also alleged that the same criminal networks which were smuggling oil into Turkey were also supplying weapons, equipment and training to Islamic State and other Islamist groups.

    “According to our reliable intelligence data, Turkey has been carrying out such operations for a long period and on a regular basis. And most importantly, it does not plan to stop them,” Sergei Rudskoy, deputy head of the Russian military’s General Staff, told reporters.

    The defense ministry said its surveillance revealed that hundreds of tanker trucks were gathering in plain sight at Islamic State-controlled sites in Iraq and Syria to load up with oil, and it questioned why the U.S.-led coalition was not launching more air strikes on them.

    “It’s hard not to notice them,” Rudskoy said of the lines of trucks shown on satellite images.

    Officials said that the Russian air force’s bombing campaign had made a significant dent in Islamic State’s ability to produce, refine and sell oil.

    The defense ministry officials said the information they released on Wednesday was only part of the evidence they have in their possession, and that they would be releasing further intelligence in the next days and weeks.

    “The defense ministry officials said the information they released on Wednesday was only part of the evidence they have in their possession, and that they would be releasing further intelligence in the next days and weeks.”
    Fun times ahead! Although it’s going to hard to out do something like this:

    “Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we’ve received, the senior political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – are involved in this criminal business,” said Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov.

    “Maybe I’m being too blunt, but one can only entrust control over this thieving business to one’s closest associates.”

    Yes, that was rather blunt. But too blunt? That’s an open question. But at least he didn’t compare Erdogan to Gollumn from the Lord of the Rings. That wouldn’t have gone over well:

    The Guardian
    Turkish court asks ‘Gollum experts’ if Erdogan comparison is insult

    Trial of man who compared president to Lord of the Rings character reportedly adjourned after judge says he hasn’t seen films

    Kareem Shaheen in Beirut

    Wednesday 2 December 2015 06.53 EST

    The trial of a Turkish man accused of insulting the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, by comparing him to Gollum has been adjourned so that a group of experts can study JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings character, Turkish media has reported.

    Bilgin Çiftçi was fired from his job at Turkey’s public health service in October after sharing images comparing Erdogan’s facial expressions to those of Gollum.

    According to a report in the daily newspaper Today’s Zaman, a court in Aydin has adjourned Çiftçi’s trial as the chief judge had not seen the Lord of the Rings films. The court-appointed experts have reportedly been asked to determine whether the comparison is indeed an insult.

    Gollum is known for his grotesque appearance, his split personality, eating raw fish and disliking rabbit stew and potatoes, but also for assisting the hobbits Frodo and Sam in their quest to reach Mount Doom to destroy the Ring of Power, thereby defeating the evil Lord Sauron and ushering in an era of peace in the fictional world of Middle Earth.

    Some social media users have accused Erdogan of being “precious” – a favourite word of Gollum – over any mockery. Others pointed out that a more apt comparison would be to compare Erdogan to Denethor or Saruman, two tragic characters in JRR Tolkein’s trilogy who are undermined by their own ambitions.

    “Some social media users have accused Erdogan of being “precious” – a favourite word of Gollum – over any mockery. Others pointed out that a more apt comparison would be to compare Erdogan to Denethor or Saruman, two tragic characters in JRR Tolkein’s trilogy who are undermined by their own ambitions.”
    Is Erdogan more like hyper-ambitious and powerful Denethor, Saruman? Or more like Gollum? Well, as the evidence of Erdogan’s sponsorship of ISIS grows it would seem that any of those three are probably an appropriate comparison, although the parallels with Gollum are indeed hard to ignore.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 2, 2015, 3:37 pm
  47. There are reports of leaked comments made by Jordan’s King Abdullah to US Congress members back in January that are going to be particularly controversial in the wake of Brussels attacks: Not only does Turkey have a policy of promoting ISIS in Syria, but the flow of ISIS members into Europe is also part of Turkey’s policy. So says the King. Yikes:

    The Independent
    Turkey is deliberately ‘unleashing’ Isis terrorists into Europe, says Jordan’s King Abdullah
    ‘The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy’

    Matt Broomfield

    March 27, 2016, 12:27 London

    Turkey is exporting Isis-linked terrorists to Europe, according to King Abdullah of Jordan.

    The monarch’s remarks came in a meeting with members of the US Congress, in which he said that Islamist militants were being “manufactured in Turkey” and “unleashed” into Europe.

    He also used the debriefing, held after a cancelled rendezvous with US President Barack Obama, to remind the US politicians of Turkey’s alleged complicity in buying Isis oil.

    “The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy,” said King Abdullah. “Turkey keeps on getting a slap on the hand, but they are let off the hook.”

    Arguing that the autocratic Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan believes in a “radical Islamic solution to the region”, King Abdullah said.

    “Turkey sought a religious solution to Syria, while we are looking at moderate elements in the south and Jordan pushed for a third option that would not allow a religious option.”

    The meeting was held on 11 January, but details of the King’s opinions have only just been leaked by Middle East Eye.

    Although Turkey and Jordan are officially allies, the refugee crisis has heightened tensions between the two nations. King Abdullah is understood to have been angered by the EU’s generous offer of cash and diplomatic ties in return for Turkey limiting the onward flow of refugees into the continent.

    At roughly 75 million, Turkey’s population is over ten times that of Jordan’s, meaning the Arab nation is hosting a proportionately greater number of refugees.

    Though the presence of Jordanian soldiers could not be confirmed, the nation has certainly been involved in training opposition fighters, espionage, providing weapons and ammunition and a limited number of air strikes.

    But if their role in the conflict increases, they are likely to come into further friction with other key players in the region, particularly Turkey and Russia. In his debriefing with the American politicians, the Jordanian monarch described a tense stand-off between Turkish, Israeli and Russian war planes.

    “The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy…Turkey keeps on getting a slap on the hand, but they are let off the hook.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 27, 2016, 6:22 pm
  48. Remember Erdogan’s lawuit against the Turkish doctor who posted an image comparing Erdogan to Gollum from the Lord of the Rings? Well, it’s proceeding along. Along with a few thousand similar cases:

    Bloomberg

    Erdogan Sees Evil in `Lord of the Rings’ Where Others See Good

    * Character analysis of Gollum presented to Turkish court
    * Thousands have been charged with insulting President Erdogan

    Isobel Finkel

    April 14, 2016 — 11:20 PM CDT

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s lawyers are about to come face to face with “The Lord of the Rings.”

    Six months ago, family doctor Bilgin Ciftci lost his job for posting photographs online that appeared to liken Erdogan to Gollum, one of the most infamous creatures from J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel. The doctor was charged with insulting the president. Now, his freedom hinges on a Turkish court’s reading of an existential question about good and evil: Was Gollum “bad?” Or was he simply corrupted by power?

    The affair might seem like a quirky one-off, except it’s one of thousands of cases that Erdogan’s lawyers are pursuing against alleged insults to the president, a crime punishable by more than five years in jail. Like many of them, this one concerns what a private individual can — and cannot — say on social media. And with the case drawing more and more publicity, it’s becoming emblematic of a broader debate.

    “It’s only the absurd tip of a very large iceberg. There are thousands of insult cases like this being opened up at the moment in Turkey, and often on very shaky ground,” said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and formerly an opposition member of Turkey’s parliament. “This is not a trivial matter.”

    Jail Time

    Ciftci’s case was opened after he re-posted an image consisting of three pairs of side-by-side photos on Facebook. In two of them, Erdogan and the film character exhibit similar facial expressions; in the third, Erdogan eats a chicken drumstick and the other chews on a live fish. The case is being tried in the city of Aydin and will convene next on May 12. Erdogan’s lawyers are asking the court to punish the defendant with up to two years in jail.

    “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson and actor Elijah Wood are among those who’ve weighed in on the case. Jackson said the pictures weren’t even of Gollum, but of his alter-ego, Sméagol. “That Bilgin Ciftci faces jail time for comparing Erdogan to Gollum/Smeagol, regardless of wether he’s good or bad, is horrifying,” Wood said on Twitter on Dec. 3.

    Character Analysis

    Erdogan, 62, rules Turkey de facto from a 1,150-room palace he had built in Ankara, and is pushing to change the nation’s political system to one governed by the president from the current parliamentary model. Never known for tolerance of criticism during 12 years as prime minister, he’s become increasingly litigious since becoming president in 2014, opening nearly 2,000 insult cases against Turkish citizens, or more than three a day. This month he also asked German authorities to press charges against a comedian who lampooned him.

    The verdict of the experts on Gollum is that he was good at core, yet became corrupted after encountering the power of a magical ring, according to a 12-page character analysis submitted to the court and reviewed by Bloomberg. “Good and evil can’t be so clearly distinguished in the film,” according to an academic paper it cites. “Some of the supporting heroes succumb to the desire to have the power pass to them, and become bad characters; that is, they change,” it said.

    Political Dominance

    Erdogan founded Turkey’s ruling AK Party in 2001, the same year that the first part of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy hit movie theaters. He became prime minister soon after, riding a wave of optimism based on his tenure as a mayor of Istanbul and his plans to unite discordant sections of Turkish society.

    While he remains unbeatable at the ballot box, in later years Erdogan’s approval ratings have dipped, as he encountered a slowing economy, abandoned a peace process with Kurdish militants that his party pioneered, and began lashing out at internal opponents, accusing many of trying to overthrow him. Thousands of people have lost their jobs in purges in the last three years.

    The doctor’s defense in the Gollum case rests largely on semantics, as it keys in on the assertion of Erdogan’s lawyers that Gollum represents a “bad” character. Poking holes in the premise, the expert testimony echoes Jackson’s statement that the charges actually hinge on a case of mistaken identity.

    Gollum’s split personality alternates in the film between the creature he’s become and the Hobbit called Sméagol that he once was, before being entranced by the ring and taking on a new name and personality. The shots posted by Ciftci all show Sméagol, according to the court documents, meaning the character to which Erdogan has been implicitly compared isn’t the greedy, corrupt Gollum but one who’s “good, peace-loving, loyal and brings to mind positive associations.”

    That argument is missing the point, says Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University and anti-censorship activist, who’s writing an expert opinion for the defense ahead of the next part of the trial.

    “Gollum or Sméagol, it really doesn’t matter because comparing the former prime minister or the president of Turkey to these well-known characters is not an insult,” Akdeniz said. “The comparison is well within the limits of acceptable criticism of political figures.”

    “Erdogan, 62, rules Turkey de facto from a 1,150-room palace he had built in Ankara, and is pushing to change the nation’s political system to one governed by the president from the current parliamentary model. Never known for tolerance of criticism during 12 years as prime minister, he’s become increasingly litigious since becoming president in 2014, opening nearly 2,000 insult cases against Turkish citizens, or more than three a day. This month he also asked German authorities to press charges against a comedian who lampooned him.
    More than three Turkish citizens are getting sued by Erdogan for insulting him every day. And the longer he’s been in power, the more authoritarian and controlling he gets. Is it possible that Erdogan’s profound need for power and control actually induced a deep psychological schism that’s resulted in a Gollumn-style “Good”/”Bad” split personality disorder? Well, that would be fitting, although we don’t really see “Good” Erdogan take over his body. So perhaps the Ring of Power has completely subsumed “Good” Erdogan, or maybe something else is going on:

    The Huffington Post UK

    Could the 10 Year Illness Be Afflicting Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan?

    By Professor Ian Robertson

    Author of The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure, Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin and Visiting Professor at University College London

    Posted: 10/06/2013 22:45 BST Updated: 09/08/2013 10:12 BST

    Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has held power for 10 years, during which period his country has experienced unprecedented economic growth and international prestige.

    Power and success are two of the biggest brain-changing drugs known to mankind, however, and no human being’s brain can survive unchanged such large infusions of these two drugs. Edrogan’s response to this week’s demonstrations in Turkey show that he may not be an exception.

    Power’s effects on the brain have many similarities to those of drugs like cocaine: both significantly change brain function by increasing the chemical messenger dopamine’s activity in the brain’s reward network. These changes also affect the cortex and alter thinking, making people more confident, bolder – and even smarter.

    But these same changes also make people egocentric, less self-critical, less anxious and less able to detect errors and dangers. All of these conspire to make leaders impatient with the “messiness” of opposition and contradictory opinions, which we can see clearly in Prime Minister Erdogan’s intransigent and aggressive response to the demonstrators, including his infamous claim that “there is an evil called twitter” and that “social media is the evil called upon societies”.

    The neurological effects of unconstrained power on the brain also inhibit the very parts of the brain which are crucial for self-awareness and what Erdogan has to realize for the sake of Turkey’s future is actually the hardest thing for any human being to appreciate – that his own judgment is in danger of being distorted by 10 long years in power.

    It is my judgment that no leader can survive more than 10 years in power without encountering massive distortion of judgment of the sort we are witnessing in Erdogan’s response to the current unrest. No-one – but no-one – is immune to these neurological effects of power and I do not think it is a coincidence that 10 years is the maximum term in office for leaders of many countries, including USA and even the Republic of China.

    Former British Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen has proposed the existence of a “Hubris Syndrome” – an acquired personality disorder which arises in some leaders because of the effects of power on their brains. Among others, he diagnosed UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher as having succumbed to this disorder, both of whom ingested the power drug for that crucial 10 years.

    The symptoms of Owen’s ‘Hubris Syndrome’ include the following:
    • A narcissistic preoccupation with one’s image (eg, about not being seen to back down and lose ‘strong man’ image).
    • A tendency for the leader to see the nation’s interests and his own as identical, including a tendency to talk in the third person about himself.
    • An excessive confidence in the leader’s own judgment and contempt for the advice or criticism of others, along with a sense of omnipotence.
    • A tendency to feel accountable to History or God rather than to more mundane political or legal courts.
    • A tendency towards a loss of contact with reality and progressive isolation.
    • “Hubristic incompetence”, where things go wrong because of over-confidence and impaired judgment

    Turkey is a vibrant nation, incredibly important to Europe, the USA and the Middle East and it is of paramount importance that its stability is not threatened by a brain distorted by power: there are enough countries surrounding Turkey which have been brought to their knees by precisely this neuropsychological affliction in their leaders and the world does not need any more.

    “But these same changes also make people egocentric, less self-critical, less anxious and less able to detect errors and dangers. All of these conspire to make leaders impatient with the “messiness” of opposition and contradictory opinions, which we can see clearly in Prime Minister Erdogan’s intransigent and aggressive response to the demonstrators, including his infamous claim that “there is an evil called twitter” and that “social media is the evil called upon societies”.”

    Well that would certainly help explain Erdogan going off the litigious deep end: he overdosed on power years ago and damaged his brain. Now it all makes sense. So let’s hope Erdogan gets the help he needs. Soon. Because as much as one might like to believe the Gollum lawsuit should be absurd enough (and personally applicable enough) to make him realize he’s hit “rock bottom”, he just keeps digging:

    The Washington Post

    A German comedian read a lewd poem about Turkey’s Erdogan. Now he could face jail time.

    By Adam Taylor April 7, 2016

    Activists have long criticized the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for being thin-skinned in the face of criticism and for unfairly targeting journalists. Now a television host is facing potential jail time for reading a satirical poem about Erdogan that suggested the Turkish leader engaged in bestiality, among other things.

    This case has a twist, however. The host is German. And the jail time he faces would be in Germany.

    Jan Boehmermann, a comedian and writer known for his acerbic style, read the poem March 31 on his satirical talk show “Neo Magazin Royale,” which is broadcast by German public broadcaster ZDF. Sitting in front of a Turkish flag and a small framed portrait of Erdogan, Boehmermann recited the poem, which suggested the president had sex with goats and that he also loved to “repress minorities, kick Kurds and beat Christians while watching child porn,” Deutsche Welle reports.

    Addressed directly to Erdogan, the poem also included subtitles for Turkish viewers.

    Boehmermann’s decision to recite the poem hadn’t come out of the blue. Last month, Turkey had summoned Germany’s ambassador to complain about a song aired by a rival satire program on another German public broadcaster, NDR. That video, “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan,” had shown protesters clashing with Turkish forces. “Equal rights for women: beaten up equally,” the song went.

    Before reading his poem, Boehmermann said that the previous video was defensible under Germany’s concept of freedom of speech. Then, as he began to read, he suggested that his own “abusive” poem would not be covered by this concept.

    A spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel released a statement Monday that condemned the poem, explaining that “satire takes place within our country’s press and media freedom, which — as you know — is not unlimited.”

    Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu welcomed Merkel’s comments on Tuesday but said that any insult to Erdogan was an insult to all Turkish people’s honor. It would not go without a “response,” Davutoglu explained. Such comments likely rang alarm bells for anyone who follows Turkish politics: Turkish law bars insults to the president, and at least 1,845 cases have been opened under this law since Erdogan became president in 2014, according to the Associated Press.

    Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu welcomed Merkel’s comments on Tuesday but said that any insult to Erdogan was an insult to all Turkish people’s honor. It would not go without a “response,” Davutoglu explained. Such comments likely rang alarm bells for anyone who follows Turkish politics: Turkish law bars insults to the president, and at least 1,845 cases have been opened under this law since Erdogan became president in 2014, according to the Associated Press.”
    Ok, someone needs to like Angela Merkel know that she’s not helping! We have a brain damaged individual suffering from some sort of narcissistic personality disorder and in the middle of an extended “hubris syndrome” tantrum. The last thing you want to do is treat him like a king. It’s not in the best interest of anyone, including Erdogan. The guy is sick. He needs help, not fealty.

    Of course, since this is Merkel we’re talking about here, doing the last thing you want to do is the first thing she does:

    The Washington Post

    Merkel allows prosecution of German comedian who mocked Turkish president

    By Rick Noack April 15 at 9:30 AM

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cleared the way for the prosecution of German comedian Jan Böhmermann, whose poem mocking Turkey’s president has become the centerpiece of a clash between Germany’s free-speech traditions and the government’s efforts to safeguard its important relations with Turkey.

    In a news conference Friday, Merkel emphasized that it will now be up to German courts to decide whether Böhmermann is guilty of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But critics — including members of her own government — have described it as a betrayal of values protecting open expression.

    “In a country under the rule of law, it is not up to the government to decide,” Merkel said. “Prosecutors and courts should weight personal rights against the freedom of press and art.”

    Although Böhmermann could face several years in jail if convicted, lawyers familiar with similar cases expect that the comedian would have to pay a fine, if at all.

    The stakes are potentially higher for Merkel.

    Criticism of her reaction to the incident had mounted ahead of the announcement. Opponents have said the chancellor made a glaring misstep earlier by calling the poem “deliberately offending” — a comment interpreted by some as support for Erdogan, who has been accused of cracking down on press freedom in Turkey.

    Not allowing the charges to proceed could have jeopardized a refugee deal with Turkey, which was recently negotiated. Turkish officials had publicly pressured Merkel to allow the charges. Earlier this week, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, said that the poem was a slap against all Turks.

    “That is why the Republic of Turkey demands that this impertinent man is immediately punished for insulting a president, within the scope of German law,” Kurtulmus said. He went on to call the poem a “serious crime against humanity” that had “crossed all lines of indecency.”

    In her statement Friday, Merkel tried to appease critics by announcing that she would seek to repeal the controversial German law against insulting heads of state.

    Merkel was forced to decide on the matter after the Turkish president had officially filed charges against Böhmermann earlier this week. The mock poem in question aired during a segment of ZDF Television’s Neo Magazin Royale show last week. Some of the lines included accusations of bestiality and other unsavory things.

    Germany’s Social Democrats, the chancellor’s coalition partners, wanted to prevent a court trial. One of the party’s leading politicians, Thomas Oppermann, said prosecution for satire “does not fit into a modern democracy.”

    Another dissenter, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called free expression “among the most important values protected by our constitution.”

    Udo Vetter, a defense lawyer and blogger, commented that Merkel’s decision sends the wrong message. “It forces Germany’s legal authorities to act on behalf of Mr. Erdogan,” Vetter argued. But an internal report commissioned by the foreign ministry concluded that Böhmermann was most likely guilty of a criminal offense, according to Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper.

    “”That is why the Republic of Turkey demands that this impertinent man is immediately punished for insulting a president, within the scope of German law,” Kurtulmus said. He went on to call the poem a “serious crime against humanity” that had “crossed all lines of indecency.”
    Well, considering we now have to scrub our minds of images of Erdogan engaged in bestial acts, yes, perhaps it could be classified as a mini-crime against humanity’s psyche, because ewww. But a serious crime against humanity? WTF?! Is that going to be taken seriously by Germany? Yep!


    Not allowing the charges to proceed could have jeopardized a refugee deal with Turkey, which was recently negotiated. Turkish officials had publicly pressured Merkel to allow the charges. Earlier this week, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, said that the poem was a slap against all Turks.

    “That is why the Republic of Turkey demands that this impertinent man is immediately punished for insulting a president, within the scope of German law,” Kurtulmus said. He went on to call the poem a “serious crime against humanity” that had “crossed all lines of indecency.”

    Udo Vetter, a defense lawyer and blogger, commented that Merkel’s decision sends the wrong message. “It forces Germany’s legal authorities to act on behalf of Mr. Erdogan,” Vetter argued. But an internal report commissioned by the foreign ministry concluded that Böhmermann was most likely guilty of a criminal offense, according to Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper.

    Again, NOT HELPING! The guy already has a mental disorder and this can only make things worse. It’s already pretty clear Erodogan’s power trip isn’t going to end well. Let’s just hope he isn’t allowed to turn Turkey into Mount Doom before his journey comes to an end.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 15, 2016, 3:55 pm
  49. @Pterrafractyl–

    In addition to the obvious attempt at stifling what would be viewed as free speech in any society (albeit dicey free speech to an extent), this gives the absolute lie to Merkel/Germany/EU’s self-righteous posing as defenders of free-speech/civil liberties/privacy.

    Hell, what does she think she is? A republican?

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | April 16, 2016, 2:33 pm
  50. @Dave: Who does Merkel think she is? Probably Erdogan. And it’s an identity crisis apparently shared by the rest of the EU leadership:

    The Telegraph

    EU refuses to defend German comic who mocked Turkish president

    Matthew Holehouse, Brussels

    18 April 2016 • 4:17pm

    The EU’s leadership has refused to condemn Germany’s decision to prosecute a comedian who ridiculed the Turkish president.

    Amid growing criticism of Europe’s “dirty deal” with Turkey, Jean-Claude Juncker’s office said they would not comment on German legal proceedings against Jan Böhmermann.

    He faces five years in prison after the government approved a prosecution under a lèse majesté law dating back to 1871, which prohibits insulting a foreign head of state.

    Mr Böhmermann read a poem in which he described Racep Tayyip Erdogan as a “goat f——“ who watches child pornography, as part of a television sketch designed to test the limits of German free speech laws.

    Mrs Merkel is accused of kowtowing to the increasingly authoritarian Turkish regime in order to hold together a deal in which Ankara has agreed to curtail migrant flows over the Aegean in exchange for €6 billion in aid and fast-tracked visa free travel.

    Mr Juncker’s spokesman brushed off suggestions that Mr Böhmermann was entitled to protection under the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which enshrines freedom of expression “without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

    “I know that you come from a political culture that is particularly attached to the notion of subsidiarity,” Margaritis Schinas told the Telegraph. “You will understand when we say we do not think it is our role to intervene in national proceeding of national penal law, which are better left at national level.”

    He added: “We are discussing a specific case taken under national law under a specific national judicial context.”

    Mr Juncker had previously condemned a call by Ankara to withdraw a satirical song about Erdogan from German airwaves. His office said it “moves Turkey further from the EU rather than closer to us,” and “doesn’t seem to be in line with upholding the freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which are values the EU cherishes a lot.”

    Mr Böhmermann’s skit, broadcast late at night on the ZDF, was intended to satirise that row. As he read the poem, another actor dressed as a lawyer told him it was not satirical and therefore illegal.

    Mrs Merkel said it was up to the court to judge the case, but the move split the coalition government.

    “It is our view that the prosecution should not have been authorised,” said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the social democrat foreign minister. “Freedom of the press, freedom of expression and artistic freedom are the highest goods requiring protection in our constitution.”

    The European Commission has been critical of reforms to Polish and Hungarian media law, which it said endangered freedom of expression. In January the Commission launched a major probe into whether Polish reforms of press ownership amounted to a breach of the rule of law.

    Sander Loones, a Flemish N-VA MEP said: “The European Commission is being incredibly selective on when it cares about freedom of speech.

    “If it is to challenge Hungary or Poland then it should challenge even the mighty Mrs Merkel as well, otherwise it rightly leaves itself open to accusations of hypocrisy.”

    It came as the European Union’s border agency declared that the Turkish deal was working. Some 3,500 migrants attempted to reach the Greek islands in 11 days since the new deportation plan came into force on March 20, and arrivals have dwindled to under 100 per day in April.

    The figure for March – 26,460 – is half that recorded for February. At the height of the crisis last October up to 5,000 people a day were making the short journey by dinghy from Turkey.

    “Mr Juncker had previously condemned a call by Ankara to withdraw a satirical song about Erdogan from German airwaves. His office said it “moves Turkey further from the EU rather than closer to us,” and “doesn’t seem to be in line with upholding the freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which are values the EU cherishes a lot.””
    Somehow those previous condemnations just withered away. It’s not actually surprising given Europe’s inability to come to grips with the refugee crisis. Erdogan’s offer to the stem the flow of refugees in exchange for financial aid and visa-free EU movement for Turkish citizens is quite possibly the only solution the EU is going to be able to unite behind. Or, rather, pretry much any offer Erdogan comes up with, as long as it involves blocking refugees from reaching Europe, becomes an offer the EU can’t refuse.

    So if Erdogan wants to prosecute comics it’s no joke. He’s got the power and he wants his ring kissed. And the same is true for just about any other demand Erdogan might make as long as the demand isn’t more costly than the potential consequences of a breakdown in the Schengen Area of free movement and that’s what the EU is looking it if it can’t find another solution to the refugee crisis. And as the article below points out, if the Schengen Area collapses that could get pretty expensive. Especially for Germany. Why? Because if there’s no free-movement of people, there’s no free-movement of truckers too. And that means the German “just-in-time” manufacturing supply-chain based heavily on Eastern European supplies could grind to a halt too:

    Bloomberg

    The Trucker’s Nightmare That Could Flatten Europe’s Economy
    Three decades of borderless travel at risk with new checks — permanent curbs could cost 470 billion euros over 10 years.

    John Follain
    Carolynn Look
    Matthew Campbell
    April 17, 2016 — 6:01 PM CDT
    Updated on April 18, 2016 — 8:12 AM CDT

    Peering through his rain-lashed windshield, Zoltan Unczorg alternates edgily between the brake and the gas pedal of his 18-wheeler. “It’s very tiring,” the sturdy Hungarian complains as he crawls along in a line of vehicles approaching the Austria-Germany border.

    After more than eight hours carrying fan parts, Unczorg has no more patience for delays. And this day was better than usual. He’s had to endure waits of about four hours at this checkpoint, set up last September to hunt for migrants on the A3 highway near the German city of Passau. It’s a route he plies daily for electric-motor maker EBM-Papst Group.

    “The worst was last summer, when migrants were walking on the highway heading for Germany,” he says. “It was too dangerous to drive quickly, you could hit them by accident.”

    What infuriates Unczorg may herald a sea change for Europe’s economy, business and even society: the erosion of a decades-old system that has allowed borderless travel across 26 countries. Bringing back widespread controls would be a blow for the most visible – or invisible – victory in the 60-year quest for a united Europe, conceived in the rubble of World War II. Free movement in what is called the Schengen area, for the town in Luxembourg where the treaty was signed, took over where bunkers and artillery stood on the Franco-German border and guard towers and barbed wire defined the Iron Curtain between eastern and western Europe.

    Now, Germany, Austria, France and Sweden, among others, have reintroduced border checkpoints in some places. They are pressured by Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II – about 1 million migrants arrived in Greece and Italy in 2015 – terrorist attacks, and the growth of anti-immigration movements. But the economic cost of dumping Schengen, at a time when growth across the continent is still weak, would be massive.

    A permanent return to border controls could lop 470 billion euros ($530 billion) of gross domestic product growth from the European economy over the next 10 years, based on a relatively conservative assumption of costs, according to research published by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation. That’s like losing a company almost the size of BMW AG every year for a decade.

    The open borders power an economy of more than 400 million people, with 24 million business trips and 57 million cross-border freight transfers happening every year, the European Parliament says. Firms in Germany’s industrial heartland rely on elaborate, just-in-time supply chains that take advantage of lower costs in Hungary and Poland. French supermarket chains are supplied with fresh produce that speeds north from Spain and Portugal. And trans-national commutes have become commonplace since Europeans can easily choose to, say, live in Belgium and work in France.

    For many Europeans, passport-free travel is part of being, simply, European. For the company hiring driver Unczorg, the security checks increase costs in terms of delays, storage and inventory.

    Permanent controls would destroy the business model of German industry, says Rainer Hundsdoerfer, chairman of EBM-Papst.

    “You get the products you need for assembly here in Germany just in time,” he said by phone. “That’s why the trucks go nonstop. They come here, they unload, they load, and off they go. The cost isn’t the only prime issue” in reinstating border checks. “It’s that we couldn’t even do it.”

    Nor could anyone else, he adds: “Nothing in German industry, regardless of whether it’s automotives or appliances or ventilators, could exist without the extended workbenches in eastern Europe.” Based in Mulfingen in central Germany, Hundsdoerfer’s company has been making electric motors and fans since it was founded in 1963, and has factories in countries including Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The parts Unczorg was carrying originated in Tapolca and Celldomolk, Hungary, and traveled more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) before being offloaded in Mulfingen for further manufacturing.

    Whether controls are here to stay depends on migrant flows. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said earlier this month that his country may end passport monitoring on the Austrian border by May 12 if the number of refugees trying to cross remains low, following closer scrutiny along the western Balkans route.

    But Austria is considering new checks on the Brenner Pass, a key highway link with northern Italy. Such a barrier would have serious economic and symbolic consequences for Europe, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Monday, according to Italian news wire Ansa. Thousands of migrants are expected to cross the Mediterranean, especially from Libya, in coming months.

    The European Union on March 18 reached a deal with Turkey in which some refugees will be sent back to there across the Aegean Sea – although European Union President Donald Tusk says he’s hearing concerns about the accord and the new border controls.

    “The deal with Turkey and closing the western Balkans route raised doubts of an ethical nature and also legal as in the case of Turkey,” Tusk told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on April 13.

    Tusk warned that the bloc would be “unable to prevent political catastrophes” if it failed to stem irregular migration to Europe or restore authority over migration policy. “Here I mean the collapse of Schengen, loss of control over our external borders with all its implications for our security, political chaos in the EU, a widespread feeling of insecurity, and ultimately the triumph of populism and extremism.”

    The impact of refugee migration is visible at the Austria-Germany checkpoint near Passau. A hut squats in the middle of the two-lane highway and a line of trucks stretches back some six kilometers, exhaust fumes mixing with the stench of manure spread on nearby fields.

    Under a large white canvas tent, four police officers search a large gray van. Two are armed with machine guns in addition to their service pistols, under orders issued following the terror attacks on Brussels in March.

    “You have no idea how many ways I’ve seen the smugglers hide people,” says Karsten Eberhardt, a police commissioner, as he sits at a picnic table. “If you carve out a hollow space under the seat and put a board in front, you can hide a pretty large person.”

    The flow of migrants has dwindled since January, when as many as 12,000 reached the checkpoint daily. On the last weekend in March, police in the region found 70 migrants who were being smuggled.

    Peter Sonnleitner, head of foreign trade at the chamber of industry and commerce for Lower Bavaria, based in Passau, says several firms in the region have complained about delays but they have so far been “understanding” because transport companies have absorbed most of the extra cost.

    Also threatened are the companies whose goods or supplies are being shipped.

    German auto-parts manufacturer Continental AG, for instance, has 15 to 20 trucks running across Europe on a typical day. Their longest trips take about 1 1/2 to 2 days and cross multiple borders. If full customs and immigration checks were restored, leading to average waits of four hours at each frontier, that could mean another 160 hours of extra journey time a day across 20 trucks, said supply-chain head Juergen Braunstetter: “Over a year, you can imagine the cost.”

    The economic costs of more controls might ultimately be manageable, says Michala Marcussen, global head of economics at Societe Generale SA in Paris. Political costs are another matter.

    “We’ve just been through the euro crisis and rebuilding institutions,” she said. “It’s better to fix Schengen as it shows the capacity to do things. If we were really able to have well-coordinated borders, that would give people confidence we could deal with shocks in the future.”

    “The open borders power an economy of more than 400 million people, with 24 million business trips and 57 million cross-border freight transfers happening every year, the European Parliament says. Firms in Germany’s industrial heartland rely on elaborate, just-in-time supply chains that take advantage of lower costs in Hungary and Poland. French supermarket chains are supplied with fresh produce that speeds north from Spain and Portugal. And trans-national commutes have become commonplace since Europeans can easily choose to, say, live in Belgium and work in France.”
    Is the era of just-in-time EU supply chains coming to an end if the refugee deal with Turkey breaks down? That would appear to be possible since there are no other big plans in the pipeline, but it’s a plan that depends quite heavily on Erodgan and his willingness to commit Turkey to taking in millions more refugees for basically the foreseeable future and those numbers could easily swell as the Syria civil-war continues.

    So given Erodogan’s outsized leverage over the EU economy at the moment and the rapid concessions to Erdogan’s wounded ego first by Berlin and then the EU, the EU satirists living in nations with “don’t insult foreign leaders” laws should probably start saving for their legal defense funds. Or just avoid anything other than extreme praise for Turkey’s dear leader. Because as we now know, nowhere is safe in Europe when Erdogan’s ears start burning.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 18, 2016, 1:23 pm

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