Max Forte's List: Syria
about 10 hours ago
State Dept, Pentagon push back on reports of US-trained fighters being abducted, killed in Syria
The State Department and Pentagon pushed back Friday on claims made by multiple media outlets that the leader of a U.S.-backed Syrian rebel group and as many as 60 other fighters under him were abducted and killed by al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda offshoot operating in that country.
State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters at a daily briefing that he could not confirm that any members of the U.S.-trained moderate Syrian opposition had been abducted.
Toner said he learned Friday that a battle took place between the New Syrian Forces, which include U.S.-trained fighters and an “unknown” force of 50 fighters.
A day earlier, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said everyone in the training program had been “all present and accounted for” and that “none have been detained or captured.”
The denials from State and the Department of Defense are in sharp contrast to what The Washington Post, The New York Times, Reuters, BBC and The Associated Press have been reporting.
By Friday afternoon, the BBC was reporting that al-Nusra claimed to have captured a number of rebel fighters who were trained by the U.S. The militant group issued a warning to other groups against taking part in “the American project.”
The Washington Post reported al-Nusra claimed the U.S.-backed rebel group allegedly abducted were acting “as agents of America” in Syria.
The claim comes a day after media outlets reported the U.S.-trained force, called Division 30, announced its own commander, Nadam al-Hassan, had been captured by al-Nusra just north of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
They say the rebels were abducted where a new group of U.S.-trained Syrian opposition fighters entered the country in July from Turkey.
The Post reported members of Division 30 asked al-Nusra to release its members but that al-Nusra refused and accused Division 30 of working with Americans to coordinate airstrikes on the al-Nusra position in the area.
Reuters, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported war planes believed to be part of the U.S.-led alliance, had bombed Nusra Front positions near Azaz. SOHR said at least 13 people had been killed on both sides.
On Friday, both sides clashed again near the Turkish border at Kilis.
“Syrian activists posted images of what they said were coalition strikes on an Nusra command center in Azaz on Friday morning,” The Washington Post reported.
Division 30 said in a statement Friday that five of its fighters were killed on Friday, 18 were wounded and another 20 were captured.
It was not immediately clear whether the 20 abducted included the members captured a day earlier.
The conflicting reports are just the latest blow to the nearly yearlong American strategy in Syria and highlights the challenges facing the Obama administration.
Division 30 was pitched to play a role in the ambitious joint push by the U.S. and Turkey to help less radical insurgent groups fight the Islamic state.
However, the strict vetting process in place to recruit – and weed out certain fighters – has only been able to green light a few dozen men willing to take on terrorist cells.
In all, the first contingent of U.S.-backed trained fighters has just 54 members.
The Kurdish militias (YPG, PKK) have been Washington’s most effective weapon in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But the Obama administration has sold out the Kurds in order to strengthen ties with Turkey and gain access to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. The agreement to switch sides was made in phone call between President Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan less than 48 hours after a terrorist incident in the Turkish town of Suruc killed 32 people and wounded more than 100 others.
The bombing provided Obama with the cover he needed to throw the Kurds under the bus, cave in to Turkey’s demands, and look the other way while Turkish bombers and tanks pounded Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. The media has characterized this shocking reversal of US policy as a “game-changer” that will improve US prospects for victory over ISIS. But what the about-face really shows is Washington’s inability to conduct a principled foreign policy as well as Obama’s eagerness to betray a trusted friend and ally if he sees some advantage in doing so.
Turkish President Erdogan has launched a war against the Kurds; that is what’s really happening in Syria at present. The media’s view of events–that Turkey has joined the fight against ISIS–is mostly spin and propaganda. The fact that the Kurds had been gaining ground against ISIS in areas along the Turkish border, worried political leaders in Ankara that an independent Kurdish state could be emerging. Determined to stop that possibility, they decided to use the bombing in Suruc as an excuse to round up more than 1,000 of Erdogans political enemies (only a small percentage of who are connected to ISIS) while bombing the holy hell out of Kurdish positions in Syria and Iraq. All the while, the media has been portraying this ruthless assault on a de facto US ally, as a war on ISIS. It is not a war on ISIS. It is the manipulation of a terrorist attack to advance the belligerent geopolitical agenda of Turkish and US elites. Just take a look at these two tweets from CNN Turkey on Saturday and you’ll see what’s going on under the radar:
#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night Turkish jets made 159 sorties against #PKK camps in N.Iraq&hit 400 targetspic.twitter.com/oGVJmKsGbs
#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night there was no air strike against #ISIS, targets were hit by tank fire near #Kilis.
(The tweets first appeared at Moon of Alabama)
Repeat: 159 air attacks on Kurdish positions and ZERO on ISIS targets. And the media wants us to believe that Turkey has joined Obama’s war on ISIS?
The Turks know who they’re bombing. They are bombing their 30-year long enemy, the Kurds. Here’s more on the topic from Telesur:
“A decades-old conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish PKK has been reignited. Turkey vowed Saturday to continue attacks against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), along with strikes against the Islamic State group.
“The operations will continue for as long as threats against Turkey continue,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.
Ankara also confirmed it carried out airstrikes against PKK sites in Iraq. While Davutoglu said any organizations that “threaten” Turkey would be targeted in a crackdown on militants, on Friday President Tayyip Erdogan said the PKK would be the main focus of attacks.” (“Turkey Says More Anti-PKK Strikes to Come“, Telesur)
Repeat: “Erdogan said the PKK would be the main focus of attacks.”
For Washington, it’s all a question of priorities. While the Kurds have been good friends and steadfast allies, they don’t have a spanking-new air base for launching attacks on Syria. Turkey, on the other hand, has a great base (Incirlik ) that’s much closer to the frontlines and just perfect for launching multiple sorties, drone attacks or routine surveillance fly-overs. The only glitch, of course, is that Washington will have to bite its tongue while a former ally is beaten to a pulp. That’s a price that Obama is more than willing to pay provided he can use the airfield to prosecute his war.
It’s worth noting, that Turkey’s relationship with jihadi groups in Syria is a matter of great concern, mainly because Turkey appears to be the terrorists biggest benefactor. Check this out from Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News:
“Naturally, one has to ask who fathered, breastfed and nourished these Islamist terrorists in hopes and aspirations of creating a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood Khalifat state? Even when Kobane and many Turkish cities were on fire, did not the Turkish prime minister talk in his interview with CNN about his readiness to order land troops into the Syrian quagmire if Washington agreed to also target al-Assad?
This is a dirty game….” (Editorial, “Kobane and Turkey are Burning“, Hurriyet Daily News)
And here’s more from author Nafeez Ahmed:
“With their command and control centre based in Istanbul, Turkey, military supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular were transported by Turkish intelligence to the border for rebel acquisition. CIA operatives along with Israeli and Jordanian commandos were also training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, other reports show that British and French military were also involved in these secret training programmes. It appears that the same FSA rebels receiving this elite training went straight into ISIS – last month one ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, said, “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.” (“How the West Created the Islamic State“, Nafeez Ahmed, CounterPunch)
Then there’s this from USA Today:
“Militants have funneled weapons and fighters through Turkey into Syria. The Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, have networks in Turkey….
Turkish security and intelligence services may have ties to Islamic State militants. The group released 46 Turkish diplomats it had abducted the day before the United States launched airstrikes against it. Turkey, a NATO member, may have known the airstrikes were about to begin and pressured its contacts in the Islamic State to release its diplomats.
“This implies Turkey has more influence or stronger ties to ISIS than people would think,” Tanir said.” (“5 reasons Turkey isn’t attacking Islamic State in Syria”, USA Today)
The media would like people to believe that the bombing in Suruc changed everything; that Erdogan and his fellows suddenly saw the light and decided that, well, maybe we shouldn’t be supporting these ISIS thugs after all. But that’s just baloney. The only one who’s changed his mind about anything is Obama who seems to have realized that his takfiri proxy-warriors aren’t ruthless enough to remove Assad, so he’s decided to team up with Sultan Erdogan instead. That means Erdogan gets a green light to butcher as many Kurds as he wants in exchange for boots on the ground to topple Assad. That’s the deal, although, at present, the politicians are denying it. Now check out this blurb from Foreign Policy “Situation Report”:
“The nominee to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, didn’t really get off to a great start in his relationship with Senate Armed Services Committee chief Sen. John McCain. The general drew the ire of the Arizona lawmaker by telling the panel on Thursday that the Islamic State is essentially fighting to a draw in Iraq and Syria. McCain took the opportunity and ran with it, telling the Iraq vet that “I’m very disappointed in a number of your answers,” on the Islamic State, promising to send along more questions to push the general on his views. It was an unexpected ending to what had been a hum-drum confirmation hearing, and if McCain wants to press the issue, it could hold up a vote on Neller’s confirmation until after the August congressional recess.” (Situation Report“, ForeignPolicy.com)
The point is, the Big Brass is telling US policymakers that ISIS is not going to win the war, which means that Assad is going to stay in power. That’s why Obama has moved on to Plan B and thrown his lot with Erdogan, because the Pentagon bigshots finally realize they’re going to need boots on the ground if they want regime change in Syria. But “whose boots”, that’s the question?
Not U.S. boots, that’s for sure. Americans have had it up to here with war and are not likely to support another bloody fiasco in the Middle East. That’s where Erdogan comes into the picture. Washington wants Turkey to do the heavy lifting while the US provides logistical support and air cover. That’s the basic gameplan. Naturally, the media can’t explain what’s really going on or it would blow Obama’s cover. But who doesn’t know that this whole campaign is aimed at removing Assad? You’d have to be living in a cave for the last three years not to know that.
The bottom line is that Erdogan has three demands. He wants a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border to protect Turkey from ISIS and Kurdish attacks. He wants a no-fly zone over all or parts of Syria. And he wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power. That’s what he wants and that’s what Obama has agreed to (as part of the Incirlik deal ) although the media is refuting the claim. To help explain what’s going on, take a look at this article in Reuters that was written back in October, 2014. Here’s an excerpt:
“Turkey will fight against Islamic State and other “terrorist” groups in the region but will stick to its aim of seeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday…
“We will (also) continue to prioritise our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary government system which embraces all (of its) citizens.”…
But it (Turkey) fears that U.S.-led air strikes, if not accompanied by a broader political strategy, could strengthen Assad and bolster Kurdish militants allied to Kurds in Turkey who have fought for three decades for greater autonomy.
“Tons of air bombs will only delay the threat and danger,” Erdogan said…..
We are open and ready for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism. However, it should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it.” (“Turkey will fight Islamic State, wants Assad gone: President Erdogan“, Reuters)
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Either the US helps Turkey get rid of Assad or there’s no deal. The Turkish president’s right-hand man, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, said the same thing in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in February, 2015. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“Turkey would be willing to put its troops on the ground in Syria “if others do their part,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Monday.
“We are ready to do everything if there is a clear strategy that after ISIS, we can be sure that our border will be protected. We don’t want the regime anymore on our border pushing people against — towards Turkey. We don’t want other terrorist organizations to be active there.”…
He said that American airstrikes in Syria were necessary but not enough for a victory.
“If ISIS goes, another radical organization may come in,” he said. “So our approach should be comprehensive, inclusive, strategic and combined … to eliminate all brutal crimes against humanity committed by the regime.”
“We want to have a no-fly zone. We want to have a safe haven on our border. Otherwise, all these burdens will continue to go on the shoulder of Turkey and other neighboring countries.”…
Turkey is trying to dispel the idea that the United States can become involved in Syria by going after ISIS but not al-Assad.” (“Turkey willing to put troops in Syria ‘if others do their part,’ Prime Minister says“, CNN)
Repeat: “Turkey would be willing to put its troops on the ground in Syria”, but Assad’s got to go. That’s the trade-off. Davutoglu has since backed off on this demand, but the basic deal hasn’t changed. Leaders in the US and Turkey have just decided to be more discreet about what they tell the press. But the plan is moving forward. For example, officials from the Obama administration have denied that they will provide a no-fly zone over Syria. According to the New York Times, however, the US has agreed to create an “Islamic State-free zone” or “safe zone… controlled by relatively moderate Syrian insurgents.” (“Turkey and U.S. Plan to Create Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Free of ISIS“, New York Times)
So the question is: Will the US provide air cover over this “Islamic State-free zone”?
Yes, it will.
Will Assad send his warplanes into this zone?
No, he won’t. He’d be crazy to do so.
Okay. Then what the US has created is a no-fly zone, right? And this actually applies to all of Syria as well, now that US warplanes and drones are less than 500 miles from Damascus. The Incirlik deal means that the US will control the skies over Syria. Period. Here’s more from the Times trying to occlude the obvious details:
“American officials say that this plan is not directed against Mr. Assad. They also say that while a de facto safe zone could indeed be a byproduct of the plan, a formal no-fly zone is not part of the deal. They said it was not included in the surprise agreement reached last week to let American warplanes take off from Turkish air bases to attack Islamic State fighters in Syria, even though Turkey had long said it would give that permission only in exchange for a no-fly zone…..” (“Turkey and U.S. Plan to Create Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Free of ISIS”, New York Times)
What does this gibberish mean in English? It means that, yes, the US has created a no-fly zone over Syria, but, no, the administration’s public relations doesn’t want to talk about it because then they’d have to admit that Obama caved in to Turkish demands. Got that?
And just to show that the NYT hasn’t lost its sense of humor, here’s more in the same vein:
“American officials in recent months have argued to Turkish counterparts that a formal no-fly zone is not necessary, noting that during hundreds of American-led strike missions against Islamic State in Syria, forces loyal to Mr. Assad have steered clear of areas under concerted allied attack….” (NYT)
In other words, “American officials” are telling Erdogan that ‘We don’t need to call this a no-fly zone, because once the F-16s start circling the skies over Damascus, Assad will get the message pretty quick.’
Can you believe that they would publish such circular palavering in the nation’s top newspaper?
And the same is true with the massive expropriation of Syrian sovereign territory, which the US and Turkey breezily refer to as an “Islamic State-free zone”. This just proves that Obama caved in to another one of Erdogan’s three demands, the demand for a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border. Not surprisingly, this blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty hasn’t even raised an eyebrow at the United Nations where delegates have gotten so used to Washington’s erratic behavior that they don’t even pay attention anymore.
By the way, this issue of setting up buffer zones, shouldn’t be taken lightly. As State Department spokesman Mark Toner opined just weeks ago, “We’d essentially be opening the door to the dissolution of the Syrian nation-state.”
Indeed, isn’t that the point? Aside from the fact, that these “protected areas” will be used as launching grounds for attacks on the central government, they’ll also become autonomous regions consistent with the US strategy to redraw the map of the Middle East by breaking Iraq and Syria into smaller, tribal-governed cantons incapable of challenging regional hegemon, Israel, or global superpower, the US. Author Thomas Gaist provides a little background on this phenom in a post at the World Socialist Web Site:
“In a brief published Tuesday, “Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America’s most hopeless war,” the Brookings Institution detailed the application of this neocolonial strategy in Syria….The Brookings report argued that a “comprehensive, national-level solution” is no longer possible, and called for the carving out of “autonomous zones.”
“The only realistic path forward may be a plan that in effect deconstructs Syria,” the report argued. The US and its allies should seek “to create pockets with more viable security and governance within Syria.”
This “confederal Syria” would be composed of “highly autonomous zones,” the report said, and would be supported militarily by the deployment of US-NATO forces into the newly carved-out occupation areas, including deployment of “multilateral support teams, grounded in special forces detachments and air-defense capabilities.”
“Past collaboration with extremist elements of the insurgency would not itself be viewed as a scarlet letter,” the Brookings report argued, making clear the extremist militant groups which have served as US proxy forces against the Assad government will not be excluded from the new partition of Syria.” (“Turkey, Jordan discuss moves to seize territory in Syria“, Thomas Gaist, World Socialist Web Site)
Isn’t this precisely the strategy that is unfolding in Syria and Iraq today?
Of course, it is. Everything you’ve been reading about “Islamic State-free zones”, “safety zones”, or “no-fly zones” is lies. I won’t even dignify it by calling it propaganda. It’s not. It’s 100 percent, unalloyed bullshit. Just like the idea that this new buffer zone (carved out of Syrian territory) is going to be administered by “relatively moderate Syrian insurgents”. (which is the NYT’s new innocuous-sounding sobriquet for al-Qaida terrorists.) That’s another lie that’s intended to divert attention from the real plan, which is the Turkish occupation of Syrian territory consistent with Erdogan’s and Davutoglu’s commitment to put boots on the ground if the US agrees to their demands. Which Obama has, although the media denies it.
The US is not going to entrust this captured territory to “relatively moderate Syrian insurgents”, because as Gen. Robert Neller already admitted to McCain, the jihadis aren’t winning. In other words, the jihadi plan is a flop. That’s what this whole Turkey-US alliance-thing is all about. It is a major shift in the fundamental policy. There’s going to be a ground invasion, and the Turks are going to supply the troops. It’s only a matter of time. Here’s how analyst Gaist sums it up:
“Having failed to remove Assad using proxy militia forces alone, Washington is now contemplating the direct invasion of Syria by outside military forces for the purpose of carving out a large area of the country to be subsequently occupied by US and NATO troops. Plans for a new imperialist division of Syria and the broader Middle East have been brewing within the US ruling elite for decades.” (“Turkey, Jordan discuss moves to seize territory in Syria“, Thomas Gaist, World Socialist Web Site)
Naturally, Obama’s not going to tell the media what he’s up to. But that’s the plan.
Jul 29, 15
NATO vows solidarity with Turkey over ISIS threat but urges peace with Kurds
Turkish airstrikes targeted Kurds this week
The Associated Press Posted: Jul 28, 2015
NATO declared its "strong solidarity" with Turkey on Tuesday as ambassadors gathered for a rare emergency meeting about the threat faced by a member.
Turkey requested the extraordinary meeting to gauge the threat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group poses to Turkey, and the actions Turkish authorities are taking in response, including attacks on Kurdish rebels.
"We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against Turkey, and express our condolences to the Turkish government and the families" of victims killed in recent terrorist actions, NATO ambassadors said in a statement after the meeting.
While public statements stressed unity, a NATO official said members also used the closed-door meeting to call on Turkey not to use undue force and to continue peace efforts with representatives of the Kurdish minority. The official was not authorized to speak on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In a series of cross-border strikes, Turkey has not only targeted ISIS but also Kurdish fighters affiliated with forces battling ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, in Syria and Iraq.
Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty empowers member states to seek emergency consultations when they consider their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" to be in jeopardy. This was only the fifth such meeting in NATO's 66-year history.
"All allies stand in solidarity with Turkey," NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the session, which lasted a little over an hour.
Stoltenberg said the Turks did not use Tuesday's meeting to request military assistance from other NATO members.
"What we all know is that Turkey is a staunch ally. Turkey has very capable armed forces — the second largest army within the alliance," the NATO chief said.
The alliance official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Turkey's allies unanimously spoke at the meeting in favour of its "right to defend itself." One outside analyst said eliciting such support may have been why Turkey sought the unusual forum in the first place.
"I think the main purpose is to give them some reassurance in terms of their bombing campaign in Syria and northern Iraq so that they won't be accused of violating international law," said Amanda Paul, a senior policy analyst and specialist on Turkey at the European Policy Center, a Brussels think-tank . "They wanted to cover their backs basically by having NATO say, 'OK it's fine."'
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish and U.S. officials were discussing the creation of a safe zone near Turkey's border with Syria, which would be cleared of ISIS presence and turned into a secure area for Syrian refugees to return.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday before leaving for China, Erdogan also said it was impossible to advance a peace process with the Kurds as attacks on Turkey continue.
Recently, an ISIS suicide bombing near Turkey's border with Syria left 32 people dead and an IS attack on Turkish forces killed a soldier. And on Tuesday, Turkey said a soldier who was wounded in an attack along the border with Iraq has died. Turkey said the soldier was shot by a Kurdish militant in the town of Semdinli.
After months of reluctance, Turkish warplanes last week started striking militant targets in Syria and agreed to allow the U.S. to launch its own strikes from Turkey's strategically located Incirlik Air Base.
The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling ISIS and have been backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears a revival of the Kurdish insurgency in pursuit of an independent state.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, has fought Turkey for autonomy for Kurds in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984. The Kurds are an ethnic group with their own language living in a region spanning present-day Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia.
For some NATO members and independent observers, it's unclear whether Turkey's No. 1 target is ISIS or the Kurds, said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank.
What's more, Turkish leaders "have actually been arguing that the Kurds in Syria are more of a threat to Turkey," Kearns told The Associated Press.
On Monday, Syria's main Kurdish militia and an activist group said Turkish troops shelled a Syrian village near the border, targeting Kurdish fighters.
"There is no difference between PKK and Daesh," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Monday, using an Arabic acronym to refer to ISIS.
"You can't say that PKK is better because it is fighting Daesh," Cavusoglu said during a visit to Lisbon, Portugal.
Apr 26, 15
It has been confirmed that TV journalist Richard Engel’s kidnapping/rescue in norther Syria in late 2012 was a hoax. NBC management knew the story was probably false but proceeded to broadcast it anyway.
There are at least two good things about “Engelgate”.
* It is clear evidence of mainstream media bias in their reporting and characterization of the conflict in Syria. The kidnapping was meant to show that “bad” Assad supporters had kidnapped Richard Engel only to be rescued by the Western/Turkey/Gulf supported “good” rebels. NBC management knew the scenario was dubious but promoted it anyway.
* Engelgate is also proof that Syrian anti-government rebels consciously manipulated western media for political gain. An elaborate ruse was performed to demonize the Syrian government &supporters and to encourage more support for the anti-government rebels.
Some analysts have noted that the Engel/NBC deception is more serious than that of Brian Williams. In the Williams case a TV journalist was puffing himself up; in the Engel deception, public policy involving war and bloodshed was being influenced.
Will this confirmation of deception lead to any more skepticism about reports from and about Syria? Will there be any more critical or skeptical look at stories that demonize the Syrian government and favor the western narrative? We have a test case right now.
HRW report on “Chlorine Gas Attacks”
On April 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report “Syria: Chemicals Used in Idlib Attacks”. It begins: “Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces used toxic chemicals in several barrel bomb attacks in Idlib”. HRW Deputy Director Nadim Houry accuses the Syrian government of “thumbing its nose at the (UN) Security Council and international law yet again”.
We note that the reported chlorine gas attacks took place in the exact same area where Richard Engel was kidnapped. As shown in the map below, the Engel hoax took place near Maarat Misrin. The alleged Chlorine attacks took place in the adjacent towns of Binnish, Qmenas and Sarmin. The rebel/terrorists were aware of the political ramifications of the kidnapping and rescue hoax in 2012. And now, in 2015, they are very aware of the political implications of the use of chlorine gas.
Certainly, opposition fighters have the motive and the incentive to implicate or “frame” the Syrian government in the use of chlorine gas. Do they have the means? This area is very close to the border with Turkey. Just as opposition brought in Richard Engel and many other western journalists via Turkey, so could they bring in chlorine gas or just about any other weapon.
Eight Significant Problems with the Report
Let us now look at specific problems with the HRW report.
1. The HRW report relies heavily on testimony and video/photo evidence from a biased source known as “Syria Civil Defence”. This organization is not what one might assume. Syria Civil Defence was funded and created by UK and USA. Initial training was provided in Turkey by former British military officer and current contractor based in Dubai. In the past year Syria Civil Defence has been rebranded as “White Helmets” by “The Syria Campaign” which itself is the creation of corporate PR firm. Syrian Civil Defence (aka White Helmets) is heavily into social media and actively campaigning for a No Fly Zone. The HRW report does not include any of the preceding information on Syria Civil Defence, its origins and obvious bias. Shouldn’t “evidence” received from them be considered with a skeptical eye?
2. The photos and videos referenced in the HRW report are unconvincing. Many of the video links in the HRW report do not work. However, many of the videos can be viewed at the Syrian research wiki A Closer Look at Syria. (See the discussion page of the Alleged March 16 Chlorine Attack for video links and comments regarding anomalies in the videos.)
Video of the three dead children is tragic but it’s questionable how they actually died. Scenes from the medical clinic indicate illness but not the cause. Scenes showing the “proof” of a “barrel bomb” containing “chlorine cylinders” is highly dubious. Some of the scenes are almost comical with one person in full hazmat gear, another with mask and another casually with hands in pocket and no mask at all. Then we have someone talking to camera with a bulldozer and some scrap metal on the ground. Then there is the figure holding what they report as a container with a “red liquid”. See sample photos at bottom.
3. The HRW report includes assertions without reference or evidence. For example, “Syrian forces have previously dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas.” and “Syrian government’s previous use of chlorine, suggest this chemical.” What is the source and evidence to support these debatable assertions?
4. The HRW report includes false assertions. For example, the report says “First responders saw and filmed remains of barrel bombs, which can only be delivered by aircraft.” This is not true. Bombs can be exploded on the ground and rebel/terrorists routinely fire gas cylinders from launchers on the ground. See photo below. The implication that chlorine gas attacks can only be done from the air is, of course, nonsense. Chemical warfare and chlorine gas attacks, as excecuted in World War 1, were entirely done from ground based projectiles.
5. The HRW report ignores the issue of motivation and incentive. Normally an investigation will consider the issue of motivation and who benefits from an event or crime. In this case, the Syrian government has nothing to gain and everything to lose by using chlorine gas. Especially after the UN Security Council made a specific resolution regarding use of this industrial gas, why would they arouse world ire and hostility against themselves by using this weapon? Why would they do that when they have conventional explosive weapons which are more deadly? On the other hand, the ones to benefit from such an accusation against the Assad government are the armed opposition and other proponents of a No Fly Zone in northern Syria. How better to frame an adversary in the arena of public opinion? These considerations are curiously lacking in the HRW report. Perhaps that is because the conclusions of the report are at odds with common sense and objective inquiry.
6. The HRW report attempts to buttress new accusations by referring to old and discredited accusations. After the highly publicized events in Ghouta in August 2013, “Human Rights Watch concluded that the evidence strongly suggested that Syrian government authorities used the nerve agent Sarin in attacks on two Damascus suburbs”. Since that time, the HRW analysis has been effectively discredited. Seymour Hersh wrote a two part series of articles which concluded that the chemical attack in Ghouta was by anti-government rebels assisted by Turkey. Another investigative reporter with a proven track record, Robert Parry, directly addressed and discounted HRW’s analysis. Parry concisely summed up the HRW analysis as a “junk heap of bad evidence”. Even the head of the UN Inspection Team, Ake Sellstrom, has acknowledged that the early predictions of missile distance were mistaken. Why has HRW not reviewed and updated its analysis, which they rushed out ahead of the UN report? Instead, it seems they are relying on an old faulty report to justify a new faulty report.
7. The HRW report ignores history of Nusra/Al Queda usage of chemical weapons. The HRW report ignores the evidence that Nusra rebels previously used chemical weapons. For example, UN investigator Carla del Ponte reported there was “strong, concrete evidence” pointing to Nusra rebels having used sarin. There were numerous credible reports of Nusra and other rebel/terrorist organizations possessing sarin.
8. The HRW report ignores the fact that Nusra rebels had control of the major chlorine gas producing factory and stockpile in northern Syria. As reported in a Time magazine article, the major chlorine gas producing factory in northern Syria was over-run and seized by Nusra rebels/terrorists in late 2012. The owner of the factory said “ if it turns out chlorine gas was used in the attack, then the first possibility is that it was mine. There is no other factory in Syria that can make this gas, and now it is under opposition control.” The factory owner reported there were about 400 steel cylinders of chlorine gas, one Ton each, captured by Nusra/Al Queda along with the factory.
The article included the following prescient comments, delivered when chlorine gas usage was first reported: “To Faris al-Shehabi, head of the Aleppo Chamber of Industry and a strong government supporter, it was obvious from Day One that the rebels had their eyes on the gas. “Why else would they capture a factory in the middle of nowhere? For the sniper positions?” he asks sarcastically while meeting TIME in Beirut, where he is traveling for business. “We warned back then that chemical components were in the hands of terrorists, but no one listened.”
Was HRW not aware of these important facts or did they think them not relevant?
Hopefully the Engel/NBC hoax will increase public skepticism and critical examination of claims by Syrian “rebels” and their advocates. It should also lead to more scrutiny of media stories, human rights group reports and the words and actions of U.S.government officials.
Unfortunately, since the exposure of the Engel/NBC hoax, Western media and US diplomatic staff have not reduced their bias. A forthcoming article will expose lies and blatant bias on Syria by Robert Siegel of NPR and Ambassador Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
As for Human Rights Watch, their previous bias and “revolving door” with U.S. Government was criticized in a devastating letter to HRW from numerous Nobel Peace Laureates.
It would be a positive sign for HRW to change their staff policy as proposed by the Nobel Laurate group. It would mark another dramatic and positive sign for HRW to reconsider their report on Chlorine Gas Attacks in Syria taking into account the serious shortcomings identified in this article.
As it stands, the biased and faulty conclusions of the HRW report are much more serious than either Engelgate or the Brian William pretense. The HRW report is receiving wide coverage and is being used to justify actions which might move the region closer to even greater war and bloodshed.
Rick Sterling is a founding member of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTOS REFERENCED IN ARTICLE
Engel Hoax (Maarat Misrin) and “Chlorine Attack” (Binnish, Sarmin)
Nusra Video of “Syria Civil Defence.”
Syria Civil Defence Evidence in HRW Report.
Nusra Video – Tragic but what really happened?
Turkey Accused of Shelling Kurdish Positions in Syria
Officials says Ankara is investigating
ByAyla Albayrak in Sanliurfa, Turkey andEmre Peker in Istanbul
Kurdish fighters on Monday accused Turkey of shelling their positions in Syria, highlighting the difficult situation Ankara faces as it presses forward with its first direct fight against Islamic State there.
The Kurds’ People’s Defense Units, or YPG, has emerged as a key partner to the U.S. in fighting Islamic State. That has complicated matters for Turkey, which is concerned about Kurdish territorial ambitions and fears an emboldened Kurdish minority seeking more autonomy at home.
The YPG, which controls a swath of territory in northeast Syria and successfully ousted Islamic State from the flash point Syrian city of Kobani, accused the Turkish army of hitting positions in the area with tank fire on Friday and injuring four Syrian rebel fighters with whom it is allied.
Late Sunday, the Turkish military shelled the same village and fired on a vehicle nearby, it said in a statement on Monday.
“Instead of targeting Islamic State terrorists’ occupied positions, Turkish forces attack our defenders’ positions,” the YPG said in a statement. “We are telling the Turkish Army to stop shooting at our fighters and their positions.”
A Turkish official in Ankara said that Turkey isn't targeting Syrian Kurdish groups in its current military operations, but that Ankara would investigate the situation.
The finger pointing over the shelling underscores how Turkey’s weekend policy shift to more directly confront Islamic State is adding an additional layer of complexity to the patchwork of alliances vying for influence along Turkey’s war-torn southern borderlands.
As Turkey fights the jihadists on one side, it is also cracking down on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. The group—which is closely affiliated with the YPG—is fighting for autonomy in Turkey, but has for decades been based just across the border in northern Iraq.
The official in Ankara said the Turkish military is strictly targeting Islamic State in Syria and the PKK.
On Friday, Prime Minister <!-- --> Ahmet Davutoglu<!-- --> said Turkey was launching a campaign against all terrorist organizations, not just Islamic State. Over the weekend, Turkish forces launched airstrikes on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, destroying warehouses, barracks and logistically important positions of the PKK.
Turkey has also agreed to open up air bases to U.S.-led coalition forces to strike Islamist militants, and detained nearly 1,000 suspects in a nationwide crackdown targeting outlawed organizations, including alleged jihadist and Kurdish militants.
There's no agreement to establish no-fly zone in Turkey, senior U.S. official says
Updated 9:34 AM ET, Mon July 27, 2015
(CNN)Ahead of a hastily called NATO meeting, a senior Obama administration official told CNN on Monday there is no agreement with Turkey to establish a no-fly zone in the country.
But, the official said, Turkey has granted the U.S. access to its air bases to push back ISIS militants, so essentially that arrangement creates "nearly the same effect" as a no-fly zone.
"What we are talking about with Turkey is cooperating to support partners on the ground in northern Syria who are countering ISIL," a second senior administration official said. "The goal is to establish an ISIL-free zone and ensure greater security and stability along Turkey's border with Syria."
ISIL -- the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- is sometimes used instead of the acronym ISIS.
Turkey requested the NATO meeting under Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty, which allows countries to ask for consultations when they believe their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.
The talks will come as Turkey grapples with violence near its southern border with Syria. A car bomb exploded Sunday in southern Turkey, killing two security officers and wounding four other people, according to officials.
On Thursday, at least five ISIS militants in northern Syria approached the border and fired on a Turkish border unit, killing a soldier and wounding two others, the Turkish military said.
Authorities say ISIS is also to blame for the July 20 suicide blast that killed more than 30 people in Suruc, a Turkish city on the Syrian border.
The Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, killed two Turkish police officers Wednesday. Turkish leaders believe the PKK, which has been fighting for independence since 1984, is exploiting ISIS' gains.
'UK Govt priorities were wrong over Libya'Sun, 26/07/2015 - 12:17
The UK government spent 13 times more bombing Libya than securing peace in the years afterwards, it has been revealed.
The House of Commons library has released information which shows the UK government spent around £320 million in a bombing campaign against Libya, and just £25 million in re-building programmes following the conflict.
The revelations follows serious concerns raised by the SNP over the UK’s current involvement in Syria -which had been taken forward despite a vote against bombing Syria in the House of Commons two years ago.
Stephen Gethins MP said:
“These figures are eye-watering. The amount of money the UK government will spend bombing a country dwarves the re-building programme thirteen to one.
“The lessons of Libya, like Iraq, is that you cannot just bomb somewhere and move on. The figures are especially alarming given the UK government’s current involvement in Syria.
“The case for bombing in Syria has simply not been made – and the involvement of British service personnel in bombing without the approval of Parliament clearly flouts the democratic decision taken by the House of Commons.
"We urgently need honesty and transparency about the UK intentions in Syria- and a strong commitment to the country following the conflict.”
Commenting on UK intervention in Syria on the Marr show this morning, SNP Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alex Salmond said:
“Parliament has to be consulted and Parliament would have to be persuaded. And I’ve heard nothing yet from the Prime Minister that would persuade me that there’s an integrated strategy that would justify a bombing campaign.
“Spending £320m on a bombing campaign and £25m to help restore the country is one reason perhaps that we have a failed state in Libya.”
Note to Editor:
Operation Ellamy- Libya
The total cost of Operation Ellamy is estimated at around £320 million:
A PQ answered in June 2014, giving a figure of £25 million:
Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much (a) military and (b) humanitarian aid the UK provided to the Libyan Government in (A) 2011, (B) 2012 and (C) 2013.
Hugh Robertson: Owing to our accounting structures we are only able to provide exact spending figures for financial years rather than calendar years. In this time, the UK has provided military aid to Libya in the form of the defence portion of the tri-departmental (MOD, FCO, DFID) conflict pool, and core defence funding for defence engagement activity. This has been:
The United States and Turkey are finalizing plans for a military campaign to push the Islamic State group out of a strip of Syrian territory along the Turkish border, a move that would further embroil Turkey in Syria's civil war and set up a potential conflict with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.
A U.S. official said Monday that the creation of an "Islamic State-free zone" would ensure greater security and stability in the Turkish-Syrian border region. However, the official said any joint military efforts with Turkey would not include the imposition of a no-fly zone. The official insisted on anonymity because this person was not authorized to publicly discuss the talks with Turkey.
The U.S. has long rejected Turkish and other requests for a no-fly zone to halt Syrian government air raids, fearing it would draw U.S. forces further into the civil war.
The discussions come amid a major tactical shift in Turkey's approach to the Islamic State. After months of reluctance, Turkish warplanes started striking militant targets in Syria last week, following a long-awaited agreement allowing the U.S. to launch its own strikes from Turkey's strategically located Incirlik Air Base.
On Sunday, Turkey called a meeting of its NATO allies for Tuesday to discuss threats to its security, as well as its airstrikes.
A Turkish-driven military campaign to push IS out of territory along the Turkish border is likely to complicate matters on the ground. Kurdish fighters in Syria control most of the 910 kilometers (565 miles) boundary with Turkey, and have warned Ankara against any military intervention in northern Syria.
In a series of cross border strikes since Friday, Turkey has not only targeted the IS group but also Kurdish fighters affiliated with forces battling the extremists in Syria and Iraq. The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling the IS group and have been aided by U.S.-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears they could revive an insurgency against Ankara in pursuit of an independent state.
Syria's main Kurdish militia — the YPG or the People's Protection Units — is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and maintains bases in remote parts of northern Iraq.
It was not immediately clear how an IS-free zone would be established along the Turkish-Syrian border. In comments published Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey and the United States had no plans to send ground troops into Syria but wanted to see Syria's moderate opposition forces replace IS near the Turkish border.
In a reflection of the complexities involved, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday refused to draw a distinction between the Islamic State group and the PKK.
"There is no difference between PKK and Daesh. You can't say that PKK is better because it is fighting Daesh," Cavusoglu said. The PKK is fighting the IS group "for power, not for peace, not for security."
Cavusoglu, who spoke to reporters during an official visit to Lisbon, Portugal, said he would inform Turkey's NATO partners about the security threats his country is facing at the Brussels meeting Tuesday. "We expect solidarity and support from our NATO allies," he said, without elaborating.
A Turkish official said Turkey and the US were discussing "the formation of a de-facto safe zone" which would facilitate the return of Syrian refugees from Turkey. He said Turkey, was prepared to provide all necessary assistance to the zone, including "air support."
He would not elaborate or say where the zone would be located, citing operational concerns. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
In other developments Monday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and Syrian rebels captured the town of Sareen in northern Syria, which had been held by the Islamic State group, according to The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center in Syria, two activist groups that track the civil war.
Also, the YPG and an activist group said Turkish troops had shelled a Syrian village near the border, targeting Kurdish fighters. They said the Sunday night shelling on the border village of Til Findire targeted one of their vehicles. Til Findire is east of the border town of Kobani, where the Kurds handed a major defeat to the Islamic State group earlier this year.
But Turkish officials dismissed the claims, insisting their forces were only targeting the IS group in Syria, and the PKK in neighboring Iraq.
An Ankara official said Turkey returned fire after Turkish soldiers at the border were fired upon, in line with Turkey's rules of engagement. "The Syrian Kurds are not a target of the operations. Our operations only target IS in Syria and PKK in Iraq," he said.
He said earlier that authorities were "investigating claims that the Turkish military engaged positions held by forces other than ISIS." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar officials from speaking to journalists without authorization.
The YPG did not say whether there were casualties in the shelling. The YPG said Turkey first shelled Til Findire on Friday, wounding four fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army and several local villagers. It urged Turkey to "halt this aggression and to follow international guidelines."
But the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four fighters were wounded in the village of Zor Maghar, which is also close to the Turkish border. Conflicting reports are common in the aftermath of violent incidents.
Earlier this month, Syria's main Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, warned Turkey that any military intervention would threaten international peace and said its armed wing, the YPG, would respond to any "aggression."
Turkish police meanwhile raided homes in a neighborhood in the capital on Monday, detaining at least 15 people suspected of links to the Islamic State group, the Turkish state-run news agency said. The Anadolu Agency said those detained in Ankara's Haci Bayram neighborhood include a number of foreign nationals, without naming their home countries.
Turkey has arrested hundreds of people with suspected links to violent extremists.
Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, said Turkey and the United States had no plans to send ground troops into Syria but said they had agreed to provide air cover to moderate Syrian fighters.
"If we are not going to send land units to the ground — and we will not — then those forces acting as ground forces cooperating with us should be protected," Davutoglu told a group of senior journalists over the weekend. His comments were published in Hurriyet newspaper.
Davutoglu also said Turkey wanted to clear its border of IS extremists. "We don't want to see Daesh at our border," Hurriyet quoted him as saying, using the Arabic acronym of the group. "We want to see the moderate opposition take its place."
The Turkish leader also said Turkey's action against the IS has "changed the regional game."
Despite the U.S. and Turkey's shared interests in fighting the Islamic State, the Turks have also prioritized defeating Syrian President Bashar Assad. While the U.S. says Assad has lost legitimacy, it has not taken direct military action to try to remove him from office.
Pace reported from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Zeina Karam in Beirut and Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal contributed to this report.