Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Monday, April 21, 2014
War Watch April 21 - 22 , 2014 -- France backs claims that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons recently François Hollande says France has 'information' that toxic gases have been used against opposition in recent attacks .........At Least 46 Killed in Two Days of US Drone Strikes in Yemen Most 'Suspects' But Some Confirmed Civilian Deaths ......Foreign Suicide Bombers Kill Thousands and Bring Iraq to the Brink of Civil War Isis using Twitter to publicise nationalities of jihadists it has brought across Syrian border ..... Afghanistan Election appears set for a Run off between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf ghani , the question of with whom the other candidates align will probably determine the outcome .....
The latest reports from administration officials suggest that they are looking to the Pentagon to put together another option for them to consider for Afghan troop levels,one that is an “under 10,000″ option.
The Pentagon won’t like that – they presented 10,000 troops as the “bare minimum” for Afghanistan repeatedly, and have been push for even bigger options for the residual force occupying Afghanistan from 2015 on.
Reports have emerged from time to time of lesser options, but they have all been shouted down by the Pentagon as far too little, and they continue to tell Congress that anything less than their envisioned residual force would see Afghanistan quickly crumble under Taliban offensives.
The latest report could well just be an exercise in pro-war rhetoric for the administration too, as they couched the lower option as being a result of how well they reckon the Afghan election went. Though the US hasn’t conceded it, Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission has documented even more corruption in this vote than the 2009 version, which saw millions of ballots thrown out.
The vote count for Afghanistan’s presidential election is now about half way through and Abdullah Abdullah’s lead is growing, at a strong 44.4% compared to runner-up Ashraf Ghani’s 33.2%.
While that’s good news for Abdullah, his lead is not expected to get him over the 50 percent threshold, which means he and Ghani are still heading for a runoff vote some time in late May.
The politics of a run-off in the Afghan system change the strategy quite a bit, and Abdullah and Ghani, rather than running a second public campaign, are likely to focus primarily on winning endorsements from the six candidates that didn’t make it to the runoff, hoping their voters will follow the endorsement.
Of course, all of this coalition-building as a run-off tactic remains hypothetical, as Afghanistan has never seen a proper runoff. President Hamid Karzai won the first (heavily disputed) vote without a runoff, and while Abdullah and Karzai were set for a runoff in 2009′s (even more heavily disputed) vote, Abdullah withdrew before the vote, citing Karzai’s refusal to enact reforms to prevent fraud.
At least 105 people were killed and 127 more were wounded today when bombers struck deep into the Shi’ite south again. Baghdad also suffered from multiple bombing attacks. The now usual violence also occurred in Anbar and in the north.
Six militants were killed during a clash on a highway linking Amiriyat al-Fallujah withJurf al-Sakhar. A Saudi national who was also a militant leader was among them. This is a border area between Babel and Anbar provinces.
A wave of suicide bombings carried out by foreign volunteers entering Iraq from Syria is killing some 1,000 civilians a month, bringing the country back to the brink of civil war. Many of the bombers are likely to have entered Syria across the 500-mile border with Turkey in the expectation that they would be giving their lives to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government.
The foreign jihadists are brought to Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which in recent weeks has started to publicise on its Twitter feed the national origins of the bombers. According to a study by Bill Roggio, of the Long War Journal website, of 26 Isis bombers in one much-fought over Iraqi province, Diyala, north-east of Baghdad, no less than 24 were foreigners whose noms de guerre indicate that the majority came from North Africa, with 10 from Tunisia, five from Saudi Arabia, two each from Libya and Egypt, and one each from Denmark, Chechnya, Iran and Tajikistan.
Isis, which is seeking to establish an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, does not recognise the border between the two countries. The bombers carried out their missions between September 2012 and today, but there has been a sharp escalation in bombings, usually aimed at killing as many Shia as possible, over the past year, with 9,571 civilians killed in 2013 and 3,630 killed so far in 2014.
The Iraqi government has for the first time become more open about which foreign states it holds responsible for supporting foreign jihadists fighting on its territory. In an interview last month with France 24 television, the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, directly accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of being “primarily responsible for the sectarian, terrorist and security crisis in Iraq”. He said allegations that his government was marginalising the Sunni Arab community were made by “sectarians with ties to foreign agendas, with Saudi and Qatari incitement”.
Isis should have little problem transporting suicide bombers from Syria because it controls much of the north-east of the country, but their transit through Turkey in large numbers would require at least the passive consent of the Turkish forces. The Syrian government now controls almost all of its border with Lebanon, while Iraq’s other neighbours – Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran – tightly control their frontiers.
The Danish suicide bomber was identified by Isis as Abu Khattab al Dinmarki but, as with the other foreign jihadists, his real name was not revealed and his face was blurred in a picture. Isis is eager to publicise its pan-Islamic support, and two other of its units have also given details of their foreign volunteer bombers.
Isis has increased spectacularly in strength in Iraq over the past year. In March it staged a parade of vehicles, some of them military Humvees taken from security forces, in Fallujah.
The Iraqi government has recently evacuated the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, just west of the capital, which Isis stormed last summer, freeing hundreds of its militants. Iraqi government forces have not launched a counter-attack to retake Fallujah despite Isis filming the execution of 20 of its soldiers captured there.
Some 380,000 people have fled Anbar and other provinces to escape the surge in fighting, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees.
A barrage of US drone strikes across Yemen’s south and east has entered its third day today, and shows no signs of slowing down, as the latest US attacks targeted the Shabwa Province.
With so many of the attacks occurring against remote villages in the hills of Yemen’s rural interior, the death toll is difficult to ascertain, but at least 68 are believed to be dead over the past three days.
Yemeni officials say the strikes are targeting “top leader” of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and that they have high hopes they may kill one such leader, but they can’t confirm anything of the sort so far.
Indeed, while all of the official statements from Yemen have termed the slain “militants” or at the very least “suspects,” not a single person has been identified at all so far officially, and many civilians were confirmed among the slain on Saturday.
(Salqeen, Syria) – Tensions between Syrian rebel forces stationed in civilian areas are causing problems for residents, who say they risk being caught in crossfire or regime strikes.
People in towns and villages far from the front lines say there is no need for large numbers of fully-armed fighters to remain in their areas.
An opposition fighter in Salqeen. Photography: Issam Abdulhamid
These civilians are not only scared of government air strikes on houses in residential areas used as military headquarters; they also fear confrontations between the various armed factions in their neighborhoods.
Abou Ali, a 47-year-old resident of the town of Salqeen in Idlib governorate, said, “After the fighters of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] united to rid the city of ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] about two months ago, they returned from the fighting and split up once again because of disagreements between battalions regarding the administration of the city, or for personal reasons.”
He explained that many disputes turn into armed battles in residential neighbourhoods, which put the lives of civilians at risk. Sometimes members of armed factions are killed or wounded, causing reprisals from the other side, and further exacerbating tensions.
In February, according to opposition security forces, the Sharia court in Salqeen issued a summons for one battalion leader after a complaint was filed against him. But he disobeyed the order, pulling his gun on patrol officers and causing a fight in which three members of the security forces were killed.
Yasser, 37, who works in a grocery shop, said frequent gunfire was a source of irritation.
At its closest the Syrian army is 40 kilometres away, and has not had a presence in Salqeen for more than a year-and-a-half, so there is no question of it being responsible for small-arms fire.
“Whenever we hear the sound of gunfire, we consider one of two possibilities – either there are clashes between the battalions, or they are rejoicing at to a wedding celebration,” Yasser said.
There have been assassination attempts on FSA fighters as well as murders of civilians that have never been solved.
In the face of the disastrous security situation, the residents of the city keep in constant contact with Salqeen’s armed forces. One of their communication channels is a Facebook page initiated by the local opposition security force, where residents can make requests and record complaints. However, the security situation is too complex to be so easily resolved by a social media initiative.
Many young fighters are astonished at the actions of some of their colleagues, who have taken to smuggling goods to Turkey instead of being preoccupied with fighting regime forces. Disillusioned fighters complain of the lack of any oversight to regulate combatants and punish wrongdoers, and have stepped back from fighting so as to avoid getting involved in such situations.
Ahmad, a 22-year-old from Salqeen, defected from the Syrian army in October 2011, eight months after the outbreak of the revolution. He joined an FSA battalion in the Damascus outskirts, taking part in several battles against regime troops in Eastern Ghouta.
Ahmad said he had also participated in battles in the city of Aleppo, in Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib governorate and in Jabal al-Akrad in the governorate of Latakia.
Morale among those who fought alongside him in these battles against government forces was high, he said.
After the opposition took Salqeen, he returned to be close to his family, and joined another FSA faction.
Ahmad is currently living alone in his home, as his relatives have moved to Lebanon due to the continual air strikes on the town.
He returned to construction work about two months ago, his main employment before he joined the Syrian army. For a nine-hour work day, he earns 1,500 Syrian pounds (ten US dollars).
“I haven’t abandoned the revolution, but I have avoided conflict with my people and with those with whom I fought together against the regime which we set out to topple,” Ahmad said. “I am still ready to fight the regime any time, if those who have deviated from the course of the revolution come to their senses and use their weapons to fight for victory for the Syrian people.”
However Abu Abdallah, a 32-year-old from Salqeen who joined a fighting group in Aleppo, says that anyone who abandons the fight because of others’ mistakes must never have been part of the revolution in the first place.
Abu Abdallah’s only desire is to topple the regime, and he visits his wife and child for just a few days at a time to check on them and make sure they have what they need before he returns to the front line in Aleppo.
He says he took up arms to protect himself and his property, adding that fighting the Assad regime was the duty of anyone capable of bearing arms.
Others say the rivalries between factions make it almost impossible to coordinate military activities.
A military commander who calls himself Abu Hassan says he has left the Salqeen security headquarters founded by opposition factions in the city, although he still leads his fighters and participates in battles outside the town.
“Every time one group or battalion is in charge and is running the HQ so as to seriously manage the security situation in the town in a neutral way, without bias or favouritism, someone comes up and protests, saying the administration should be in the hands of some other group,” he said. “That is why it is very difficult for us to run the HQ and to punish wrongdoers among the militants.”
Abu Hassan continued, “We held many meetings to reach agreement between the groups in Salqeen, in order to unite the administration of the HQ, but to no avail. We also demanded a reduction in the military presence on the ground, and the removal of military headquarters from residential neighbourhoods. But in reality, we have been unable to make any agreement work.”
(Raqqa, Syria) – Suad stands alone for hours outside the headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in the city of Raqqa in northern Syria, holding up a sign bearing the brightly-coloured inscription, “No to kidnapping, no to detention, no to theft in the name of religion.”
A placard written by Suad says: “No to kidnapping, no to detention, no to theft in the name of religion.” Photography by Zaina Erhaim
There are only a few people on the street, which is blocked at either end. One man averts his gaze as he walks past. Suad spots him and turns her sign so that it is facing him. He lowers his head and walks faster to avoid reading it.
Another passer-by, a young man, has the courage to look at the sign despite the watchful eyes of eight security guards, and gives a thumbs-up sign.
“This is the sixth day, no – maybe the seventh.” Suad is lost in counting off the days of her solitary protest outside the headquarters of the strongest armed faction in the city.
“I started my protest after civil activists known for opposing the regime were kidnapped on July 24. Because ISIS is the prime suspect, I decided to protest outside its headquarters,” Suad told me.
he was happy to have her full name given, but after seeing the fear in her sister’s eyes, I decided not to do so.
Suad is a primary school teacher who was sacked at the start of the Syrian revolution two years ago because of her overt opposition to the regime and because she took part in demonstrations calling for its downfall.
Holding solitary protests is “nothing new to me”, Suad said. “I’ve done it before, when the city was under regime control, and the first sign I held up back then said, ‘Do not detain me – kill me before killing the children of Homs’.”
That was a year-and-a-half ago, when Suad held her protest in the middle of Tal Abyad Street, a crowded market in the city centre, challenging the security forces.
Suad holds up a placard that says “ISIS prisons= regime prisons.” Photography by Zaina Erhaim.
TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN
Suad decided to resume her protest when, in her words, “the country came under the control of a new regime, which needs to be resisted in the same way.”
“We started with a placard, and we will go back to it,” she added.
The sensation of fear disappeared with the first bullet that the security forces fired at a demonstration she was in over a year ago, she said.
Suad has a set of placards that she stores away carefully when she comes back from protesting. One says, “How did you enslave people when their mothers begot them free?”, and on others she has written, “We are the Syrian people – who are you?”, “A candle to light the darkness of your prisons – freedom for our kidnapped people” and, “We want all the kidnapped people”.
This last sign enraged one of the guards at ISIS headquarters.
“You want all the detainees?” he yelled. “They are all drunkards, thieves who break the [Ramadan] fast.”
Suad told him she wanted the honest ones, but he replied from behind his facemask, “There are no honest detainees with us.”
Suad points out that the oldest of the ISIS security guards is no more than 17.
Raqqa province has seen rising numbers of kidnappings, starting with Abdullah al-Khalil, head of the provincial council; then all the members of the Tal Abyad village council; the activists Firas al-Haj Saleh and Ibrahim al-Ghazi – the latter was behind the “Our Flag” campaign to paint the banner of independence on the city’s walls; and finally Jesuit priest Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, and Abu Tayf, commander of the Omana al-Raqqa brigade.
Activists have staged several sit-ins in protest at the spate of abductions, most recently to demand the release of Father Paulo, who disappeared on July 30 after entering ISIS headquarters for a meeting with the group’s leader or “emir”. Despite being warned not to, Father Paulo insisted on meeting the emir to discuss, among other things, the fate of those abducted. Before going to the appointment, he asked supporters to wait three days before declaring him kidnapped, as he planned to stay until he accomplished what he had come for.
ABDUCTIONS TAKE TOLL ON ACTIVISTS
“Many of my friends warn me against dealing with the ISIS as it is worse than the regime,” Suad said. “They try to change my mind, but I am stubborn and I insist on protesting so that the kidnappers know that the people of Raqqa are here and aren’t afraid of them.”
Among other city residents, including even anti-regime activists, the fear is tangible. Some have opted to remain silent and postpone conflict until the Syrian regime collapses, while others believes it is up to the gunmen to fight it out between themselves.
As she holds her one-woman protest, Suad gets to hear the pleas of the dozens of people who come to ISIS to ask for their kidnapped sons and daughters.
“I’m standing a meter away from them [ISIS members] and I just wish someone would come to them to ask for a solution to a [normal] issue or a to complain about a theft,” she said.
In turn, the wife of kidnapped activist Firas al-Haj Saleh is concerned about Suad. “I am sure they will harm her if she carries on protesting, just as they did to Firas, his brother Mohammad and others,” she said.
Suad’s friend agreed, saying, “I am on her side but am afraid she is putting her safety at risk, and they won’t respond anyway.”
Even the protester acknowledges that. “My placard won’t change their actions, I know that, but I want to a deliver a message that this country is for its people, and that we’re still alive.”
One of her former school pupils, now an ISIS member, came up to her one day and asked, “You taught us religion and manners – how can you stand here?”
She replied, “I didn’t teach you to be terrorists or to kidnap those who disagree with you.”
At this, someone with a Saudi accent shouted at the man and ordered him to come back, telling Suad, “Go away! Don’t stay standing here.”
When she asked, “Why? Who does this street belong to?” the man answered, “It used to belong to Bashar [al-Assad] and now it’s ours.”
Suad never stays silent. She plans to carry on as long as the kidnappings continue.
She believes being female is a strength. “If I was a man, I surely wouldn’t be able to protest. They would have detained me within the first minute,” she says.
Her friend adds, “We couldn’t prevent her going out against the regime. She was never afraid of the regime, so why would she be afraid now? We have made a photo album for the web page that [if she is arrested] will call for her release.”
The biggest strikes hit late Sunday in the Ferdous District, a marketplace district where 29 people, including several civilians, were killed in the air strikes according to rebels.
Other attacks targeted the Baedeen neighborhood and Tlajabin, a village on the city’s outskirts, which were both attacked by barrel bombs from helicopters.
Barrel bombs have become increasingly notorious during the civil war for their inaccurate nature and powerful destructive potential. They amount to little more than an oil drum packed full of explosives and rolled out of a helicopter, and tend to careen out of control when the explosives start going off, sometimes taking out bystanders blocks away from the intended target.
Yesterday’s deadly US drone strike against a highway in Yemen’s Bayda Province was followed up by a similar round of separate strikes in the Shabwa Province today, sending the death tolls over the past 48 hours spiraling.
After yesterday’s attack, which killed 21, reports of today’s strikes are still murky, but at least 25 more were killed, sending the figure to 46, and likely to rise even further as the figures continue to come in from remote areas.
Officially, the Yemeni government referred to the slain today as “leading and dangerous” al-Qaeda figures, but tellingly offered not a single name of a single victim of the attacks.
While today’s victims remain a mystery, a number of civilian bystanders were confirmed killed in yesterday’s attack, which targeted a truckload of “suspects” and destroyed some nearby cars.
A woman, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathes through an oxygen mask at a field hospital in Kfar Zeita, Syria. Photograph: Reuters
Allegations that Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons in recent attacks gained traction on Sunday when France said it had "information" of toxic gases being used against opposition targets.
The claim, by the French president, François Hollande, follows accusations by the exiled Syrian opposition and rebel groups in the west and south of the country that gas has been used nine times in the past two months, killing more than 10 people and affecting hundreds more.
Hollande was not specific about the basis for his claims, which he said had not been proved. However, France has remained in close contact with opposition leaders and previously used its own government laboratories to verify that sarin had been used in a mass attack near Damascus last August.
The French leader told Europe Radio 1 that whatever had taken place was "much less significant than those in Damascus … but very deadly".
France, the US and Britain vehemently blamed the Syrian regime for that attack, which killed between 355 and 1,400 people in rebel-held suburbs of the capital and led Barack Obama to threaten a military strike against Assad.
At the time, each government based its assessments on signals intelligence, which tracked rocket launches on the night of the attack, as well as intercepts of frantic conversations between field commanders and senior officials in the immediate aftermath.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was tasked with removing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, which Assad surrendered in a deal brokered by Russia to avoid being bombed. It later found that samples taken from where the rockets landed matched those of the regime's supply of sarin.
The OPCW last week said 80% of Syria's chemical weapons had so far been handed over for destruction. The organisation told the Guardian recently that it would not investigate the new claims unless they were referred to it by a signatory state.
Syria has acknowledged that casualties in at least two recent attacks showed symptoms of being gassed. However, as was the case in the mass chemical strike, it blamed the al-Qaida-aligned rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Syrian National Coalition called for an international investigation after the most recent incident. It said samples of blood and clothing from people reporting symptoms of gassing had been transferred to Turkey for analysis. It also said it had passed on information to the United Nations and the OPCW.
Before the mass chemical weapons strike, opposition groups in frontline areas of Damascus had regularly alleged that fighters and citizens were dying of gas-like symptoms. The precise substance was never identified. However, British and US officials believed a diluted form of sarin, or industrial strength pesticides and chemicals such as chlorine, were likely culprits.
Residents of areas struck in recent months have reported a strong smell of a chlorine-like substance. In two cases they recorded video of a large bomb dropped from a helicopter exploding as it hit the ground and emitting a large grey cloud that was deemed to be unusual. Residents reported symptoms of nausea and respiratory distress in the hours afterwards.
Israeli defence officials also said this month they believed chemicals had been used in a recent attack near Damascus. However, they offered no details.
Pressed on what he could add, Hollande said: "What I do know is what we have seen from this regime is the horrific methods it is capable of using and the rejection of any political transition."
Assad made a rare public appearance on Sunday in the Christian town of Maaloula, which was captured from rebels last week. One returning resident told Reuters the village had been destroyed in the fighting. "The houses are totally destroyed, the whole village was destroyed. I can't describe the amount of damage to the village," said the villager, who gave her name as Lorain.
http://www.infowars.com/al-qaeda-in-syria-gets-manpads/ ( The point here is the Rebels already have had manpads and anti- aircraft missiles for years and surely by now the stronger jihadist fighters have those weapons.... )
Obama admin. floats PR campaign for weapons sent years ago
Kurt Nimmo Infowars.com April 21, 2014
Time reported Monday officials at the White House are seriously considering sending manpads – man-portable air defense systems – to terrorist mercenary groups operating in Syria. Discussion is reportedly underway, but “strong doubts remain about the wisdom of providing missiles to the rebels.”
Syrian mercenaries use Manpad in July, 2013.
Earlier this month, we reported the United States delivered its sophisticated BGM-71 TOW anti-tank weapon to “moderate” mercenary forces in Syria.
Islamists in Syria, aka al-Qaeda and its al-Nusra affiliate, now dominate the proxy war against Bashar al-Assad. “The moderates, often underfunded, fragmented and chaotic, appear no match for Islamist units, which include fighters from organizations designated ‘terrorist’ by the United States,” Reutersreported last June.
In late March, Obama floated the idea of sending the advanced anti-aircraft system. He also reassured the Saudis, who are the primary benefactors of the mercenaries attempting to overthrow the Syrian government, the United States has not abandoned the effort to arm al-Qaeda and other fanatical Islamic groups.
“The introduction of manpads could be a game-changer in Syria, like it was in Afghanistan in the 1980s with Stinger missiles,” an Arab official told Time.
Stinger missiles would eventually be used against the United States military in Afghanistan. In 2007, the Pentagon covered up a reported surface-to-air missile strike by the Taliban that shot down a Chinook helicopter over Helmand, killing seven soldiers.
“The war logs detail at least 10 near-misses by missiles in four years against coalition aircraft, one while refueling at 11,000ft and another involving a suspected Stinger missile of the kind supplied by the CIA to Afghan rebels in the 1980s,” The Guardian reported in 2010.
The latest “discussions” and reservations on the part of the intelligence community cited by Time are nothing more than a calculated public relations campaign for a fait accompli.
On September 14, 2012, three days after ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered in Benghazi, Libya, Sheera Frenkel, a correspondent for the Times of London, reported from Antakya, Turkey that a “Libyan ship carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria since the uprising began has docked in Turkey and most of its cargo is making its way to rebels on the front lines.”
Frenkel reported that “more than 400 tonnes of cargo the vessel was carrying were SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which Syrian sources said could be a game-changer for the rebels.”
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported on April 17 that for “months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbors, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups.”