Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What's Happening in Syria

Martin Hirst, at Independent Australia, has written an analysis of recent events in Syria.

While getting some things right, he is woefully wrong on too many issues. In my view it is an unsatisfactory political analysis, uncritically reproducing many commonly promoted falsehoods and US propaganda.

The US attack on Deir ez-Zor.

Martin Hirst --

"The Syrian/Russian response to the fatal weekend mistaken bombing raid on Assad Government troops was swift and brutal."

There was no "fatal mistake" at all.
It was a planned attack at Deir ez-Zor. There were only IS/Daesh and Syrian armed forces in the area.
An anonymous Centcom official told the New York Times that US surveillance aircraft tracked the Syrian army units "for several days" before US fighters attacked them.
The exercise was almost certainly conducted by the US military specifically in order to sabotage the Kerry-Lavrov ceasefire agreement. The Pentagon is running its own policy in defiance of the White House and killing the ceasefire deal

Remarks by Def.Sec Ash Carter and Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces Central Command, are not only at odds with Kerry-Obama policies for Syria they are openly defiant of those policies.

Even the Israelis are saying the US Generals are running their own show:

This assessment was echoed by the DEBKA File publication, which has close ties to Israeli intelligence. 
"The Pentagon and US army are not following the orders of their Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama in the execution of the military cooperation accord in Syria concluded by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Sept. 12," it wrote.

It cited concerns by top US defense officials that the terms of the cease-fire give Russia too much of an "opportunity to study the combat methods and tactics practiced by the US Navy and Air force in real battlefield conditions." 
For this reason, the Pentagon is opposing it even after it was agreed to by Kerry: "Washington sources report that Defense Secretary Carter maintains that he can't act against a law enacted by Congress. He was referring to the law that prohibits all military-to-military relations with Russia as a result of Moscow's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine."

The attack on Deir ez-Zor was a conscious exercise by the Pentagon in derailing the Syrian ceasefire.

The Pentagon and CIA are at war with Obama and Kerry over the ceasefire deal. They know that implementing the provisions of the deal would have required al Nusra and allied jihadists to leave Aleppo or be bombed. 

If implemented, the ceasefire deal would have effectively handed the Syrian Armed Forces a win in Eastern Aleppo (they already have the rest of it). 

So the Pentagon and CIA chose to sabotage the ceasefire, primarily by initiating a military attack against the Syrian Army, and baseless claims that Russia was refusing or obstructing humanitarian aid.


Australian Involvement in Deir ez-Zor attacks

ustralian operations in Syria can only be run with US approval because of the high level of military systems coordination. Australian military in Iraq (and now in Syria) are there under diplomatic passports, specifically designed to provide legal cover for what are flat out illegal war activities in Syria. (Also here). Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop refuses any FOI requests for the legal advice to her on Australia's military presence in Iraq and Syria -- almost certainly because they would reveal that we shouldn't be there. There are no "murky" legal issues -- on well established principles of international law we have no legal authority to be in Syria.

The US has not been able to sell the lie that the attack on Deir ez-Zor was an innocent "mistake". So they have now roped in their allies, including Australia, which is now putting up its hand and claiming direct involvement. This lie -- of one in, all in -- has been put up in order to mute any claims of illegality or war crimes and to provide a fig leaf of political credibility for the attack.


UN Relief Convoy Attacks (20 Sep)

The ABC has updated its latest account of the bombing of relief convoys to reflect the fact that there has been no confirmation that these were attacked by fighter aircraft. Russia and Syria have claimed the convoys have been attacked by rebel mortars and shelling in order to derail the ceasefire. The UK Telegraph has previously noted that armed rebels have recently been blocking humanitarian relief convoys in order to obtain political advantage.

Also, the US has recently embedded 40 Special Forces into Turkish military units in Syria, supposedly to assist in the war against ISIS, in reality to limit the possibility of Russian attacks on the Turkish forces. The US forces have also clashed with Free Syrian Army (FSA) elements who resent US support for Kurdish militia fighting against them.

Russia and Syria complained about the last ceasefire in April, that it was used by the US and its allies to replenish the military supplies of jihadist rebel groups. The same process has happened again.

There is no question that the US military is not seeking a ceasefire but political cover while arming and assisting anti-Assad forces of every stripe.


  A (False) History of the Syrian Insurgency

Martin Hirst says:

"But you may have actually forgotten what’s happened in Syria and why the place is still such a mess. In 2011, an uprising against the Assad regime began in Syria, linked to the explosion of popular anger against a number of undemocratic regimes in the region. The Syrian revolution became a civil war very quickly. After decades of vicious autocracy, the Assad regime was not willing to cede power to the opposition."

There had been civil protests in Syria during the first half of 2011. But it is not true that most Syrians wanted the Assad government to fall. On March 29 over two million people marched in the streets in support of Assad (this in a population of only 22.5 million), just two weeks after the launch of a NATO led covert war against Syria, marches that Western media by and large refused to report.

An anti-government protest on March 17-18 in the southern city of Daara  was the pivotal event. At least 20 protesters (out of 100,000) were killed, and Western media blamed Assad police for firing on defenceless civilians. The reality, as reported by Lebanese and Israeli media at the time, was that rooftop snipers were shooting both protesters and police. More police died than the demonstrators. Moreover, the "peaceful protesters" had been torching buildings.

The US, NATO and Israel were almost certainly behind the deaths at Daara. President Bashar al Assad was falsely blamed for killing his own people and the Western media was up and away with its howls of outrage.

This was a US-Israeli enforced Syrian regime change exercise from early on. According to Israeli intelligence sources (Debka, August 14, 2011):

"NATO headquarters in Brussels and the Turkish high command are meanwhile drawing up plans for their first military step in Syria, which is to arm the rebels with weapons for combating the tanks and helicopters spearheading the Assad regime's crackdown on dissent. … NATO strategists are thinking more in terms of pouring large quantities of anti-tank and anti-air rockets, mortars and heavy machine guns into the protest centers for beating back the government armored forces."

Assad has been defending against Western sponsored attacks since 2007.

For a more fact based historical analysis readers can go here, here or here.


Aleppo Allies

Martin Hirst says:  "On paper the rebels of Aleppo are our allies."

No, they are NOT!! They are mostly al Nusra (or its latest rebranding) and al Nusra is listed by the Australian government as a banned terrorist organization.

"In fact, the Syrian opposition is fighting DAESH and Assad."

Wrong again. The West has publicly backed the (effectively non-existent ) Free Syrian Army (FSA). Journalists David Haines, James Foley and Steven Sotloff were all kidnapped by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) before being passed to Islamic State and subsequently beheaded

The idea that the FSA represents a morally legitimate insurgency alternative to al Qaeda or Islamic State is a nonsense.

The FSA was initially founded with the assistance of Turkish Intelligence and today has few members, in disparate groups, embedded with al Nusra and allowed to exist only so they can pass on US military supplies officially intended for so-called 'moderates'.

The FSA has had a long standing deal with ISIS and they have previously conducted joint military operations.

"But the bulk of the rebels are not jihadists. For the most part they are anti-clerical and secular in outlook and were not trying to create a caliphate in Syria. The rebels wanted to defeat Assad and put Syria on a path to democratic reform."

I am sorry to be rude but this is absolute garbage.

The 2013 Ghouta sarin gas attack which killed over 500 civilians was conducted by al Nusra aligned fighters, currently the lead fighters in East Aleppo. (see below).
"So why then is Australia apologizing for bombing Assad’s forces when the very same forces are attacking our allies in Aleppo?"

You said it, Martin Hirst! You consider murderous, head-lopping jihadists who hate
democracy and are committed to a religious caliphate to be "our allies." Go figure.


Chemical Weapons

Martin Hirst -- "Assad has used chemical weapons, including the now notorious barrel bombs and chlorine gas attacks against civilians."

(1) We hear a lot about Assad's chlorine bombs. It's curious, isn't it, that chlorine gas can be manufactured in any backyard operation using a refrigerator, and that Assad must be off his game when he has much more lethal weapons available to him. And I suppose we should overlook the fact that many of the jihadists have had chemical weapons training courtesy of the CIA and Turkey, or that they have actually been captured seeking those banned chemicals (1 2 3 4 5), but that would be too much logic for some.

No, instead, we should run with endlessly feel-good fiction that a political leader under attack from 30,000 foreign head-loppers should stop off to exercise a bit of gratuitous personal malice against his own civilian population. Because -- after all -- where the hell would we be without crude stereotypes?


The 2013 Ghouta sarin gas attack

This attack which killed over 500 people has repeatedly been attributed to the Assad government by Western governments and media. Yet the available evidence points repeatedly and compellingly to an action by al Nusra aligned jihadists.

(2) The UN Weapons Inspector

Richard Lloyd is a former UN weapons Inspector. On Jan 14, 2014 he published a detailed technical analysis of the Ghouta sarin gas attacks entitled "Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013."

His key points:

[i] The Syrian improvised chemical munitions that were used in the August 21, nerve agent attack in Damascus have a range of about 2 kilometers

[ii] The UN Independent assessment of the range of the chemical munition is in exact agreement with his findings.

[iii] This indicates that these munitions could not possibly have been fired at east Ghouta from the 'heart', or from the eastern edge, of the Syrian government controlled area shown in the intelligence map published by the White House on August 30, 2013.

(3) UK and US Defense Intelligence Agencies

Pres.Obama, was (initially) facing considerable public pressure, was all set to conduct US military operations in Syria over the Ghouta attack. Only a face-saving offer by Pres.Putin to remove all chemical weapons from the Syrian government stockpile averted that US attack.

According to journalist Seymour Hersh US intelligence feared that Turkey was supplying sarin gas to rebels months before the attack took place. This information was never made public.

Hersh writes that "the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page 'talking points' briefing on June 19th which stated the Syrian rebel group al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell". 

According to the paper "Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators, 'were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria'."
The UK military defence laboratories had analyzed the sarin from Ghouta and found that it did not fit any known Assad government samples, and was crudely manufactured, suggesting a local jihadist origin. This was passed to US Intelligence.

There's a lot more in the Hersh expose that is compelling, by any reasonable standard, for the case that the Ghouta attack was committed by rebels.

(4)  US Intelligence officials

In mid-November, Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer who writes on foreign and defense affairs for The American Conservative first broke the story of a threatened mass resignation by top intelligence analysts over Syria chemical weapons claims. "Quitting Over Syria," was written by an insider who keeps extensive intel community contacts. Yet it got no exposure in major network news, failing to reach the Western public. Giraldi’s reporting was consistent with Hersh revelations.

US Intelligence officials were being pressured by the White House to make a finding that the Syrian government was behind the Ghouta sarin attack. The Intelligence community refused and key officials threatened to resign over the issue. They were not going to be used to promote lies as they were in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. In the end, the White House could not cite "US Intelligence" in their claims, merely "White House assessment". It was as good as an admission that the Intelligence community was rejecting the allegation that Assad had used sarin gas at Ghouta.


(5) Detailed blog analysis of the Ghouta incident.

The website whoghouta.blogspot.co.uk has done a detailed forensic analysis of the Ghouta attack and reached conclusions similar to those of Richard Lloyd -- that the attack was conducted by the rebels aligned to al Nusra.

(6) History

Australian academic Prof. Tim Anderson has provided a detailed historical account of the Ghouta chemical weapons claims, reaching the same conclusions.


In conclusion, al Nusra jihadists -- Syrian rebel forces -- used chemical weapons on a defenceless civilian population.