Category Archives: Syria

Examining the Syria War Chessboard: Interview with Dr. Vijay Prashad

The war in Syria is an unparalleled crisis. Having gone far beyond an internal political struggle, the war is marked by a complex array of forces that the U.S. Empire hopes to command: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and more. To simplify this web of enemies and friends in the regional war, Abby Martin interviews Dr. Vijay Prashad, professor of International Studies at Trinity College and author of several books including The Poorer Nations, A People’s History of the Third World and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. (The Empire Files)

How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2015?

Micah Zenko reports for the Council on Foreign Relations:

Sources: Estimate based upon Combined Forces Air Component Commander 2010-2015 Airpower Statistics; Information requested from CJTF-Operation Inherent Resolve Public Affairs Office, January 7, 2016; New America Foundation (NAF); Long War Journal (LWJ); The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).The primary focus—meaning the commitment of personnel, resources, and senior leaders’ attention—of U.S. counterterrorism policies is the capture or killing (though, overwhelmingly killing) of existing terrorists. Far less money and programmatic attention is dedicated to preventing the emergence of new terrorists. As an anecdotal example of this, I often ask U.S. government officials and mid-level staffers, “what are you doing to prevent a neutral person from becoming a terrorist?” They always claim this this is not their responsibility, and point toward other agencies, usually the Department of State (DOS) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where this is purportedly their obligation internationally or domestically, respectively. DOS and DHS officials then refer generally to “countering violent extremism” policies, while acknowledging that U.S. government efforts on this front have been wholly ineffective.

The primary method for killing suspected terrorists is with stand-off precision airstrikes. With regard to the self-declared Islamic State, U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that the pathway to “destroying” the terrorist organization is by killing every one of its current members. Last February, Marie Harf, DOS spokesperson, said, “We are killing them and will continue killing ISIS terrorists that pose a threat to us.” Then in June, Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, Combined Forces Air Component commander, stated, “We kill them wherever we find them,” and just this week, Col. Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolvespokesman, claimed, “If you’re part of ISIL, we will kill you. That’s our rule.”

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Syria: The U.N. Knew for Months That Madaya Was Starving

Roy Gutman reports for Foreign Policy:

Until the beginning of this month, Madaya was an obscure town in southwestern Syria, overshadowed by nearby Zabadani, where opposition rebels had fought a fierce battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and more recently Hezbollah. But today, as international relief convoys arrive with food and medicine to lift a starvation siege, Madaya has become the focal point of Syrian aid workers’ anger at the United Nations, who accuse the international body of giving higher priority to its relationship with Damascus than to the fate of Madaya’s beleaguered residents.

Madaya was the worst off of all the besieged towns in Syria, relief workers say. As early as October, locals in the town had been raising alarms about the dire humanitarian situation there. At least six children and 17 adults starved to death in December, and hundreds more risked starvation.

U.N. officials knew this — but until shocking images of starving infants started circulating and news media sounded the alarm, it remained silent, reserving alarm for an unpublished internal memo.

The “Flash Update” issued on Jan. 6 by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which negotiates aid deliveries, spoke of “desperate conditions,” including “severe malnutrition reported across the community,” and said there was an “urgent need” for humanitarian assistance. In October, community leaders reported some 1,000 cases of malnutrition in children under the age of 1, it said.

But the general public could not have known this, because OCHA classified the bulletin as “Internal, Not for Quotation.” OCHA had no immediate comment on why the update, leaked to Foreign Policy, wasn’t published.

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The Arab Spring began in hope, but ended in desolation

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

arab-spring-graphic-2.jpgArab Spring was always a misleading phrase, suggesting that what we were seeing was a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy similar to that from communism in Eastern Europe. The misnomer implied an over-simplified view of the political ingredients that produced the protests and uprisings of 2011 and over-optimistic expectations about their outcome.

Five years later it is clear that the result of the uprisings has been calamitous, leading to wars or increased repression in all but one of the six countries where the Arab Spring principally took place. Syria, Libya and Yemen are being torn apart by civil wars that show no sign of ending. In Egypt and Bahrain autocracy is far greater and civil liberties far less than they were prior to 2011. Only in Tunisia, which started off the surge towards radical change, do people have greater rights than they did before.

What went so disastrously wrong?

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Syrian civil war: No end in sight for terrorism or the refugees fleeing to safety

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

It was a year of dramatic events in the war in Syria and Iraq, but the political and military stalemate at the beginning of 2015 was still there at the end of it. The most important change on the ground was the start of the Russian air campaign on 30 September which ended a series of significant defeats for the Syrian army. So far the Russians have helped to restabilise the military situation, but they have not transformed it by capturing the rebel-held half of Aleppo or sealing the Syrian-Turkish border.

The outside world’s perception of the war and its consequences has gone through strange gyrations. After the massacre of 130 people in Paris by an Isis suicide squad on 13 November, there was wall-to-wall coverage of the killings by the media. Television bulletins and newspapers issued apocalyptic warnings about how the slaughter had changed the world, but in the event there was not much new in the policies of the United States and its allies towards Isis and the war.

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Up to 55,000 Syrians killed in 2015, monitoring groups reveal

Adam Withnall reports for The Independent:

Up to 55,000 people have died in Syria in 2015, according to monitoring groups assessing the death toll from the country’s conflict at the hands of the regime, Isis, rebel groups, Russia and the international coalition.

It takes the total number of deaths since the start of the conflict in 2011 up to more than 260,000, including more than 13,000 civilians this year alone.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the number killed is lower than the 76,000 in 2014, and again was made up mainly of fighters on the various sides.

Of the civilians killed, 2,574 were children under the age of 18 and a further 1,944 were women. More than 17,600 regime fighters died this year, compared to 7,800 opposition rebels and 16,000 Isis and Nusra Front jihadists.

In a separate report released today, the Syrian Network for Human Rights – a pro-opposition monitoring group – said it believed more than 16,000 civilians had been killed in Syria this year, more than 12,000 at the hands of the Assad regime.

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RSF Report: 110 journalists killed in 2015, most in ‘peaceful’ countries

Middle East Eye/AFP reports:

A total of 110 journalists were killed around the world in 2015, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Tuesday, noting that while many died in war zones the majority were killed in supposedly peaceful countries.

Sixty-seven journalists were killed in the line of duty this year, the watchdog group said in its annual roundup, listing war-torn Iraq and Syria as most dangerous places for journalists with 11 and 10 fatalities respectively, followed by France, where eight journalists were killed in an assault on a satirical magazine.

A further 43 journalists around the world died in circumstances that were unclear and 27 non-professional “citizen-journalists” and seven other media workers were also killed, RSF said.

The high toll is “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists” and demonstrates the failure of initiatives to protect media personnel, the report said, calling for the United Nations to take action.

In particular, the report shed light on the growing role of “non-state groups” – such as the Islamic State group – in perpetrating atrocities against journalists.

In 2014, it said, two-thirds of the journalists killed were in war zones. But in 2015, it was the exact opposite, with “two-thirds killed in countries ‘at peace'”.

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U.S. State Department Claims It Brought Peace to Syria in 2015

Sarah Lazare reports for Common Dreams:

"The United States and many members of the international community have stepped up to aid the Syrian people during their time of need," wrote State Department Spokesperson John Kirby. (Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)State Department spokesperson John Kirby is raising eyebrows after he released a recap of 2015 “success stories” in which he credits the United States for bringing “peace” and “security” to Syria and “stepping up” to help the country’s people at a difficult time.

“The United States and many members of the international community have stepped up to aid the Syrian people during their time of need,” wrote Kirby in his laudatory year-in-review released late last week. He went on to claim that “the United States has led the world in humanitarian aid contributions since the crisis began in 2011.”

“Led by Secretary Kerry, the United States also continues to push for a political transition in Syria, and under his stewardship, in December, the [United Nations] Security Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that puts forward a roadmap that will facilitate a transition within Syria to a credible, inclusive, nonsectarian government that is responsive to the needs of the Syrian people,” the report continued.

Using the hashtag #2015in5words to highlight America’s wins last year, Kirby boasted: “Bringing Peace, Security to Syria.”

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U.S. Military Undermined Obama on Syria with Tacit Help to Assad: Interview with Seymour Hersh

Amy Goodman speaks to Pulitzer-winning veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh about his latest article in the London Review of Books in which he reports President Obama’s Joints Chiefs of Staff has indirectly supported Bashar al-Assad in an effort to help him defeat jihadist groups like the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. Hersh also discusses his views of Hillary Clinton supports of ousting Assad. (Democracy Now!)

Military To Military: U.S. Intelligence Sharing In The Syrian War

Seymour Hersh writes for the London Review of Books:

Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.

The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefsof Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’

‘Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and actually having a negative impact,’ the former JCS adviser said. ‘The Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by fundamentalists. The administration’s policy was contradictory. They wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So who was going to replace him? To say Assad’s got to go is fine, but if you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It’s the “anybody else is better” issue that the JCS had with Obama’s policy.’ The Joint Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama’s policy would have ‘had a zero chance of success’. So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.

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Think Tank: Most Syrian Rebel Groups Ideologically Similar to ISIS

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

A new report from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics, a think tank that is part of the “Tony Blair Faith Foundation,” is warning that the military defeat of ISIS, while nominally desirable in and of itself, will do materially nothing to stop the Islamist takeover of the region.

The report says a third of the rebel factions, representing roughly 60% of rebel fighters, are ideologically similar to ISIS, and that 15 different rebel factions would eagerly step in and fill the vacuum if ISIS was defeated militarily.

Exactly how broadly they define “ideologically similar” is unclear, but the report appears to focus on Salafist movements, which would include several major rebel factions, including al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra and the Saudi-backed Ahrar al-Sham.

Ironically, at times a lot of these Salafist groups have been presented by Western officials as “moderates,” and as the allies who could be used to defeat ISIS. While that may be technically true, the think tank warns the defeat of ISIS doesn’t really end anything, but simply props up another, ideologically compatible faction in their place.

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Obama Touts U.S. Strikes on ISIS, But Can Military Escalation Make Up for Failed Strategy? Interview with Gilbert Achcar

Amy Goodman talks to Gilbert Achcar, Middle East expert, author and professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. (Democracy Now!)

Syria in 2016 will be like the Balkans in 1914

Patrick Cockburn, author of Chaos and Caliphate, writes for The Independent:

Adwo / Shutterstock.comThe CIA analyst is confident about what is likely to happen in Syria. He says that “Assad is playing his last major card to keep his regime in power”. He believes that the Assad government will step up its efforts to prove that its enemies “are being manipulated by outsiders”. The probable outcome is a split within Syria’s ruling elite leading to Assad being ousted, though he admits that there is no obvious replacement for him.

The reasoning in the CIA special analysis, entitled “Syria: Assad’s Prospects”, is sensible and convincing, though overconfident that Assad’s days are numbered. The extent of this overconfidence is highlighted by a glance at the date of the document, which is 17 March 1980, or 35 years ago, and the President Assad, whose imminent political demise is predicted as likely, is not Bashar al-Assad but his father, Hafez al-Assad, who died in 2000. The analysis was released by the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act in 2013.

The CIA paper is an interesting read, not least because it shows how many ingredients of the present crisis in Syria have been present for decades, but had not yet come together in the explosive mix which produced the present horrific war. In 1980, the writer assumed that Syrian politics revolved largely around the sectarian differences between the Alawites, the Muslim sect to which the Assads and Syria’s rulers generally belong, and the Sunni Arab majority. The analysis is written in an upbeat tone as it forecasts that splits between the two communities may bring Assad down.

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The ISIS papers: Leaked documents show how ISIS is building its state

Shiv Malik reports for The Guardian:

The leaked document sets out a blueprint for a building a state.A leaked internal Islamic State manual shows how the terrorist group has set about building a state in Iraq and Syria complete with government departments, a treasury and an economic programme for self-sufficiency, the Guardian can reveal.

The 24-page document, obtained by the Guardian, sets out a blueprint for establishing foreign relations, a fully fledged propaganda operation, and centralised control over oil, gas and the other vital parts of the economy.

The manual, written last year and entitled Principles in the administration of the Islamic State, lays bare Isis’s state-building aspirations and the ways in which it has managed to set itself apart as the richest and most destabilising jihadi group of the past 50 years.

Together with other documents obtained by the Guardian, it builds up a picture of a group that, although sworn to a founding principle of brutal violence, is equally set on more mundane matters such as health, education, commerce, communications and jobs. In short, it is building a state.

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Chancellor George Osborne says Britain has ‘got its mojo back’ with Syria air strikes

The Scottish Herald reports:

the Chancellor said it was a Britain has “got its mojo back” and stands alongside the United States in the fight to “reassert Western values”, George Osborne has said.

Speaking in the US, the Chancellor said it was a “source of real pride” for him that MPs had overwhelmingly backed air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.

Mr Osborne said Britain, in partnership with the US, was taking the fight to IS by cutting off financing and tackling extremist ideology.

He told the Council on Foreign Relations think tank: “Britain has got its mojo back and we are going to be with you as we reassert Western values, confident that our best days lie ahead.”

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ISIS wants an insane, medieval race war – and we’ve decided to give them one

Frankie Boyle writes for The Guardian:

An airstrike against Isis this week.So we decided to stop children drowning on the beaches by killing them in their beds. It’s hard to think of a more poetic metaphor for our utter lack of ideas than spending several years dropping high explosives on to a desert. Dropping something from a great height can never be precise – this is why Santa still parks up the sleigh. I have to admit that I was sort of disturbed by the palpable excitement in parliament, and couldn’t escape the feeling that our politicians like wars because they make them feel important.

The motion they voted on was a vague list of “necessary measures” and “requests for assistance”, with “specifically airstrikes” at the very bottom – as if someone had shouted it out of the front door as they were starting the car: “Oooh! Don’t forget eggs, milk – and airstrikes!!” One MP argued that IS need a lot of space to move and that airstrikes would limit their territory. The Paris shooters lived in one room with a mattress; we could bomb Syria to the average size of a London flat and they’d still find room to manoeuvre. Bombing Syria will achieve nothing. Let’s at least take a swing at China and have these dull winter skies replaced with a curtain of incendiary light.

What is Cameron’s problem with IS? Ordinary people who in their spare time have formed a huge multinational oil trade and a workforce of thousands willing to be paid in rice and fear – that’s the Big Society right there. Cameron called them “Women-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters” – he carefully avoided saying “child molesters” in case one of the backbench shouted: “Present!” This is before we get to the fact that he used the word “medieval” to justify a military expedition into the Middle East. Of course bombing will cause delight in Islamic State, where it will form the only entertainment. There’s no music, no dancing, and we’re spending a couple of million quid a night providing the mise en scènefor these sadists’ fantasy life.

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Western Firms Primed to Cash in on Syria’s Oil and Gas ‘Frontier’

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Insurge Intelligence:

US, British, French, Israeli and other energy interests could be prime beneficiaries of military operations in Iraq and Syria designed to rollback the power of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and, potentially, the Bashar al-Assad regime.

A study for a global oil services company backed by the French government and linked to Britain’s Tory-led administration, published during the height of the Arab Spring, hailed the significant “hydrocarbon potential” of Syria’s offshore resources.

The 2011 study was printed in GeoArabia, a petroleum industry journal published by a Bahrain-based consultancy, GulfPetroLink, which is sponsored by some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Total, and BP.

GeoArabia’s content has no open subscription system and is exclusively distributed to transnational energy corporations, corporate sponsors and related organisations, as well as some universities.

Authored by Steven A. Bowman, a Senior Geoscientist for the French energy company CGGVeritas, the study identified “three sedimentary basins, Levantine, Cyprus, and Latakia, located in offshore Syria” and highlighted “significant evidence for a working petroleum system in offshore Syria with numerous onshore oil and gas shows, DHIs (direct hydrocarbon indicators) observed on seismic, and oil seeps identified from satellite imagery.”

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Are Tory MPs Moderately Rebelling on the Syria Vote? Interview with former Tory deputy leader Peter Lilley

Afshin Rattansi talks to former Tory deputy leader Peter Lilley about the reasons why he could be voting no on British bombs in Syria. Lilley explains that his views are based on the failure of past interventions in Iraq and Libya, fears of mission creep, and questions about the existence of 70,000 moderate rebels. (Going Underground)

What More Airstrikes Will Mean For Islamic State: Interview with journalist Jürgen Todenhoefer

Sky News talks to author and journalist Jürgen Todenhoefer who spent 10 days embedded with Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria last year. (Sky News)

The Case For Bombing ISIS In Syira

CASE-FOR-BOMBING-SYRIA-ISIS-570

Former ISIS Hostage Says Airstrikes On Syria Are A Trap

Caroline Davies reports for The Guardian:

A French journalist held hostage by Islamic State for 10 months, has made an impassioned plea against bombing Syria, saying it was a trap that would only benefit Isis.

Nicolas Hénin, previously held hostage by Mohammed Emwazi, implored the international community to seek a political solution. Engaging with Syrians, not bombing them, was the surest way to bring about the collapse of Isis, he said.

In a five-minute video said to have been recorded in the past few days in Paris and posted on YouTube by the Syria Campaign, Hénin said: “Strikes on Isis are a trap. The winner of this war will not be the parties that have the newest, most expensive, most sophisticated weaponry, but the party that manages to have the people on its side.”

In his message, apparently timed to coincide with Wednesday’s UK parliament debate on joining Syria airstrikes, he said: “At the moment, with the bombings, we are more likely pushing the people into the hands of Isis. What we have to do, and this is really key, we have to engage the local people.

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David Cameron accuses Jeremy Corbyn of being a ‘terrorist sympathiser’

Nicholas Watt reports for The Guardian:

David Cameron and Jeremy CorbynDavid Cameron has appealed to Conservative MPs to give him an overall parliamentary majority in favour of military action in Syria by warning them against voting alongside “Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”.

Amid Downing Street concerns that support among backbench Labour MPs is weakening, the prime minister told a meeting of the 1922 committee that he needed to win the vote solely on the basis of Tory MPs’ support to achieve his goal of securing a clear consensus.

“You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers,” the prime minister reportedly told the committee.

His remarks, echoing an attack on Corbyn at the Tory conference in October, were confirmed to the Guardian by a senior MP who attended the meeting and came as the Labour leader accused Cameron of adopting a “bomb first, talk later” approach.

In a Guardian article Corbyn asks Labour MPs to think of the “terrible consequences” of the wars in the Middle East over the last 14 years.

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Why ISIL Will Fail on Its Own

Eli Berman and Jacob N. Shapiro write for Politico:

20151116_Stern_ISISAppealGrows_AP.jpgIn the accelerating public discussion of ISIL, it’s easy to become focused on what we don’t know: its elusive leader, its shadowy connections abroad, the gruesome propaganda emanating from somewhere on the Internet. Much about the group suggests a mysterious terrorist entity with an apocalyptic ideology that aspires to strike everywhere, including here in America. Reporting on ISIL is extremely inconsistent, its leaders rarely appear in public and its extensive social media machine makes it hard to tell its propaganda from fact.

Deciding how we think about ISIL is critical to deciding how to fight it. President Obama said he plans to stay the course by intensifying his current policy, which you might call containment plus: contain the group’s expansion in Syria and Iraq, and hasten its demise with steady air strikes and support to regional allies. His critics, meanwhile, call for a range of options, from allowing local forces to defeat the group, to easing the rules of engagement for airstrikes, to deploying U.S. special forces, to a large-scale campaign using 20,000 or more U.S. troops in direct combat ground roles.

Which is right? The answer depends at least in part on what kind of an enemy we think ISIL really is. Is it a tremendously well-resourced terrorist group that controls substantial territory, which it uses to plan attacks, vet operatives and manage a complex financial network? Or is it a fledgling nation-state that sponsors terrorist attacks? If we view ISIL as the former, then containment seems like an odd strategy, since even if contained it could continue to support terrorist attacks. But if we view it as a state, then it looks very different: a desperately poor nation trying to fight a three-front war—Iraq to the East, the Kurds to the North and Syria and other insurgents to the West.

While the uncertainty about ISIL is real, we actually do know a lot about it as a nation. It doesn’t publish statistics or communicate with the United Nations, but it’s definitely a bureaucracy, and a large number of documents from the group have been captured and published. Remote satellite sensing lets us make estimates of the population in its territory, as well as its pre-war economic activity and trends in oil production. And a range of excellent reporting has illuminated many of the group’s day-to-day governance practices.

Taken together, this evidence suggests to us that ISIL is most usefully thought of as a state. Not a state with recognized borders, but an entity that needs to control territory in order to sustain its message, validate its propaganda and maintain much of its capacity. And if it’s is a state, then the good news is that it’s an extremely weak one: geographically vulnerable, with an unsustainable resource base and a grave problem with its population. As we decide how to confront it, there are three crucial points to understand.

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Chair of UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Bombing Syria: Interview with Crispin Blunt

Afshin Rattansi talks to Crispin Blunt, Chairman of the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee, in his Westminster office, about the military intervention in Syria. (Going Underground)

In Defence of Jeremy Corbyn

Freddy Gray, deputy editor, writes for The Spectator (?!?):

(Photo: Getty)What strange people we Brits are. We spend years moaning that our politicians are cynical opportunists who don’t stand for anything. Then along comes an opposition leader who has principles — and appears to stick by them even when it makes him unpopular — and he is dismissed as a joke.

Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed in recent days for the feebleness of his foreign policy. It is widely agreed that his positions on terrorism and Isis show how unelectable and useless he is. At the same time, we say he is a grave threat to national security.

But what has Corbyn said that is so stupid or dangerous? In the wake of the attacks in Paris, he declared that Britain ‘must not be drawn into responses that feed the cycle of violence and hate’. He has urged his country not to ‘keep making the same mistakes’ in the Middle East, something he has been saying for decades. ‘Enthusiasm for interventions has only multiplied the threats to us,’ he says, not unreasonably. He has said he will not support airstrikes in Syria unless it is clear that military action will help us achieve our strategic objective of defeating Isis.

If you look at Corbyn’s actual words — rather than the Twitter feeds of the organisations he is affiliated with or the outbursts of his crazy fans — his response to the difficult and frightening problem of terrorism has been sensible, cautious and moral.

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David Cameron Has Enough Tory Votes For Syria Air Strikes

Peter Dominiczak and Kate McCann report for The Telegraph:

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to the media during a press conference on day two of the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit on November 16, 2015 in Antalya, TurkeyDavid Cameron now has the Parliamentary numbers required to allow him to send British warplanes to bomb targets in Syria as senior sources said that the vote will be held on Thursday.

Downing Street is said to be confident that a motion to bomb Isil jihadists in Syria will pass in a vote in Parliament.

The Tories had previously been concerned that Conservative rebels could defeat plans for a military intervention in Syria if Labour decided to oppose Mr Cameron’s plans for actions.

In 2013, 30 Conservative rebels humiliated the Prime Minister by joining with Labour to block his plans to bomb Syrian targets.

However, in recent days, dozens of those Tory rebels have made clear that they will now support the Government position.

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Syria: David Cameron Challenged Over ‘Magical’ Claim of 70,000 Moderate Fighters

Matt Dathan reports for The Independent:

A senior Conservative MP has challenged David Cameron over his “magical” claim that there are 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria who could seize Isis-held territory following a bombing raid on the Islamic extremists in the north of the country.

The claim has also become a sticking point for Labour, with Jeremy Corbyn expected to demand clarification over the 70,000 figure before deciding his party’s position on air strikes.

Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Committee, said he was “extremely surprised” to hear the Prime Minister tell MPs that there were “about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups” when he set out the case for launching air strikes against Isis targets in Syria.

Mr Lewis said he was tabling a question in the House of Commons demanding Mr Cameron clarify the claim.

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The U.S. Air Campaign in Syria Is Suspiciously Impressive at Not Killing Civilians

Micah Zenko writes for Foreign Policy:

The U.S. Air Campaign in Syria Is Suspiciously Impressive at Not Killing Civilians […] The first problem with this theory is that large militant armies are not defeated, either exclusively or primarily, with air power. Military and civilian policymakers repeat the mantra that “you can’t kill your way out” of the problem posed by such adversaries, but then continue to call upon air power to do just that. This is despite the fact that all of the militant armies and terrorist groups that have been bombed and droned for the past 14 years have survived. None have been completely destroyed, which is allegedly the strategic objective against the Islamic State. Moreover, the size of the al Qaeda-affiliated groups that the United States claims to be at war with have either stayed flat or grown, while the total number of State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations has grown from 34 in 2002 to 59 in 2015.

However, the larger concern with this mindset is the assured growth of collateral damage and civilian casualties that will accompany significantly loosened ROEs. Last month, Lt. Gen. Bob Otto, the U.S. Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, observed that the coalition was “challenged in finding enough targets that the airplanes can hit that meet the rules of engagement.” However, he added an important caveat: “If you inadvertently — legally — kill innocent men, women, and children, then there’s a backlash from that. And so we might kill three and create 10 terrorists.”

There was a revealing indicator made public last week of just how challenging it is for pilots to prevent civilian harm while conducting “dynamic targeting” strikes — meaning against unplanned and unanticipated targets in a compressed timeline — despite all the checks and balances in place.

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Is Bilal Erdogan, Son Of Turkey’s President, The Man Who Helps Fund ISIS?

Zero Hedge reports:

[…] While we patiently dig to find who the on and offshore “commodity trading” middleman are, who cart away ISIS oil to European and other international markets in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars, one name keeps popping up as the primary culprit of regional demand for the Islamic State’s “terrorist oil” – that of Turkish president Recep Erdogan’s son: Bilal Erdogan.

His very brief bio:

Necmettin Bilal Erdogan, commonly known as Bilal Erdogan (born 23 April 1980) is the third child of Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, the current President of Turkey.

After graduating from Kartal Imam Hatip High School in 1999, Bilal Erdogan moved to the US for undergraduate education. He also earned a Masters Degree in John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2004. After graduation, he served in the World Bank as intern for a while. He returned Turkey in 2006 and started to his business life. Bilal Erdogan is one of the three equal shareholders of “BMZ Group Denizcilik “, a marine transportation corporation.

Here is a recent picture of Bilal, shown in a photo from a Turkish 2014 article, which “asked why his ships are now in Syria”:

In the next few days, we will present a full breakdown of Bilal’s various business ventures, starting with his BMZ Group which is the name implicated most often in the smuggling of illegal Iraqi and Islamic State through to the western supply chain, but for now here is a brief, if very disturbing snapshot, of both father and son Erdogan by F. William Engdahl, one which should make everyone ask whether the son of Turkey’s president (and thus, the father) is the silent mastermind who has been responsible for converting millions of barrels of Syrian Oil into hundreds of millions of dollars of Islamic State revenue.

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John Pilger on the War on Terror and Western Foreign Policy

Afshin Rattansi interviews award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on the War on Terror, the birth of the Islamic State and Western foreign policy. (Going Underground)