Category Archives: Syria

Turkey’s Intentions Behind the Downing of a Russian Jet: Interview with Baris Karaagac

Jessica Devereux interviews Baris Karaagac, a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. (The Real News)

Obama to Hollande: Stay the course against Russia

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

obama_francois_hollande_AP.jpgWhen President Barack Obama hosts French President François Hollande on Tuesday, he’ll have more on his agenda than demonstrating solidarity against terrorism. He’ll also be working to make sure Hollande sticks with the international effort to punish and isolate Vladimir Putin for his aggression in Ukraine.

Privately, Obama officials say they are concerned about whether key European leaders are prepared to extend sanctions on Moscow, which expire in late January. And they are wary of any effort by Putin — who will host Hollande in Moscow later this week — to link events in Syria and Ukraine. The fear is that Putin might try to trade more aggressive Russian action against the Islamic State for France’s backing in reducing or ending the sanctions.

A premature end to sanctions in Europe “is always our worry,” said Evelyn Farkas, who served until last month as the Pentagon’s top official for Russia and Ukraine. “They can’t back away from sanctions. Ukraine is a separate situation” from Syria.


No, Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane will not spark World War III

Max Fisher writes for Vox:

Only three short hours of Turkey announcing it had shot down a Russian warplane for violating its airspace, an unusual phrase appeared as a new trending topic on Twitter: “World War 3.” The conversation is both joking and not joking.

You can see why people might worry. Turkey is a NATO ally, meaning that at least in theory the other members of NATO — the United States and most of Europe — can be obliged to come to its defense against an external attack. A theoretical slide into conflict between Turkey and Russia could thus also become a conflict between Russia and NATO, dragging the world’s top four nuclear powers into war. Tensions between NATO and Russia have been rising for two years, and now both are bombing on opposite sides in Syria. With fears of some unintended escalation in Ukraine or now Syria sparking a larger conflagration, it sounded scarily possible.

But I am here to reassure you: This is not the start of World War III.


 Will Paris Melt the New US-Russian Cold War? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussion of the new East-West Cold War. Accelerating a trend already evident as a result of the Syrian crisis, according to Cohen, the savage terrorist acts on Paris almost immediately resulted in a French-Russian military alliance against the Islamic State in Syria, with French President Hollande and most of Europe dramatically breaking with the Obama Administration’s nearly two-year-old policy of “isolating Putin’s Russia” over the Ukrainian crisis. (The Nation)

Glenn Greenwald on “Shameless” U.S. Officials Exploiting Paris Attacks, “Submissive” Media’s Drumbeat for War and “Despicable” Anti-Muslim Scapegoating

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh talks to Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who exposed NSA mass surveillance based on Snowden’s leaks. Greenwald discusses the Paris attacks and the response by U.S. officials and how the media has covered the events since 13th November. (Democracy Now!)

Europe Is Harbouring The Islamic State’s Backers

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Insurge Intelligence:

[…] The ripple effect from the attacks in terms of the impact on Western societies is likely to be permanent. In much the same way that 9/11 saw the birth of a new era of perpetual war in the Muslim world, the 13/11 Paris attacks are already giving rise to a brave new phase in that perpetual war: a new age of Constant Vigilance, in which citizens are vital accessories to the police state, enacted in the name of defending a democracy eroded by the very act of defending it through Constant Vigilance.

Mass surveillance at home and endless military projection abroad are the twin sides of the same coin of national security, which must simply be maximized as much as possible.

“France is at war,” Hollande told French parliament at the Palace of Versailles.

“We’re not engaged in a war of civilizations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism which is threatening the whole world.”

Conspicuously missing from President Hollande’s decisive declaration of war however, was any mention of the biggest elephant in the room: state-sponsorship.


How the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Aided Growth of the Islamic State: Interview with Abdel Bari Atwan

Amy Goodman speaks to Abdel Bari Atwan, a longtime journalist and the author of Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate. (Democracy Now!)

Could Islamic State Be Strengthened by U.S., French, Russian Bombing? Interview with Abdel Bari Atwan

Amy Goodman speaks to Abdel Bari Atwan, a longtime journalist and the author of Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate. (Democracy Now!)

Strikes on Raqqa in Syria Lead to More Questions Than Results

Anne Barnard reports for The New York Times:

First France and then Russia answered Islamic State attacks on their citizens with a strategy of direct reprisal: intensified airstrike campaigns on Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital within Syria, meant to eliminate the group’s leadership and resources.

But on Tuesday in the early hours of those new campaigns, there seemed to be more questions than decisive results. Chief among them: Why, if there were confirmed Islamic State targets that could be hit without killing civilians, were they not hit more heavily long ago? And what, in fact, was being hit?

More broadly, the Raqqa airstrikes are renewing a debate about how effective such attacks can be in defeating or containing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, without more commitment to measures like drying up its financial support, combating its ideology or — what outside forces on all sides so far appear to have ruled out — conducting a ground assault.

Several people in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey who have been able to make contact with relatives in Raqqa say the recent French airstrikes — a barrage of about 30 on Sunday night and seven more on Monday — did not kill any civilians. But neither did they inflict serious military damage, those people said, instead hitting empty areas or buildings, or parts of the territory of factory complexes or military bases used by the Islamic State.


False Flag: Syrian Passport in Paris Meant to Fuel Fear of Refugees

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Though at present all indications are that every single attacker in Friday’s Paris attacks was a European national with a passport from an EU member nation, the discovery of a Syrian passport at one of the sites fueled a lot of anti-refugee backlash across the world, including a flurry of US governors seeking to crack down on Syrian refugees.

According to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, this probably wasn’t an accident, and rather the passport was likely a false flag operation meant to fuel fear of the refugees. It appears to have worked.

The passport belongs to Ahmad al-Mohammad, or at least that’s what it says. It is believed to be a forgery, though possibly also simply stolen. The man in question is a soldier loyal to the Assad government, and not a refugee.


Paris Attack ‘Mastermind’ a Known Terrorist, Knew ISIS Chief

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

New reports are emerging identifying Abdel-Hamid Abu Oud, a 28-year-old Brussels-born ISIS member, as the probable “mastermind” behind Friday’s attacks in Paris. Abu Oud was said to have been talking up plans to “attack a concert hall” after returning from Syria.

Abu Oud joined ISIS back in 2013 and was reportedly a close confidantof ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He was also a long-time associate of Saleh Abdeslam, the lone surviving attacker in the Paris strike, who is still at large.

French officials say previously arrested ISIS members had told them Abu Oud was a very senior figure in the movement, and was plotting attacks inside France. ISIS members captured in a Belgian raid back in January also had phone contact with him.

Abu Oud had also given an interview to ISIS’ English-language magazine back in February, bragging about his ability to go from Syria to Europe at will, saying his name and picture were all over the news but he never seemed to have problems coming and going.


How Western Militarists Are Playing Into the Hands of ISIS

Max Blumenthal writes for AlterNet:

imageThe Islamic extremists who killed over 125 Parisians on November 14 were heartless murderers, but they were also political operators implementing a carefully conceived strategy. A February 2015 article in Dabiq, the official magazine of ISIS, offers a clear window into their agenda. Published in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the essay was titled, “The Extinction of the Grayzone.”

“The presence of the Khilafa [Islamic Caliphate] magnifies the political, social, economic, and emotional impact of any operation carried out by the mujahadin [freedom fighters] against the enraged crusaders,” Dabiq stated. “This magnified impact compels the crusaders to actively destroy the grayzone themselves, the zone in which many of the hypocrites and deviant innovators living in the West are hiding….”

Here, ISIS revealed its intention to unravel the fabric of Western civil society — what it calls the “grayzone” — by provoking governments into carrying out disproportionate military reprisals and adopting draconian security measures.

Once repression and Islamophobia in Western societies reaches sufficiently unbearable levels, the author wrote, “The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the kufri [infidel] religion propagated by Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Hollande in the name of Islam so as to live amongst the kuffar [infidels] without hardship, or they perform hijrah [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.”

In the mind of the Dabiq author, who appeared to be among the ideological vanguard of ISIS, the West’s descent into full-blown fascism would force Muslim immigrants to flee for the sanctuary provided by the Islamic State.

To bring this scenario to fruition, IS has aimed to cultivate favorable terrain for the Western political elements most likely to incite against Muslims, campaign for repressive surveillance laws, and ultimately play out an apocalyptic clash of civilizations. Indeed, IS is doing everything in its power to propel the militarists also seeking to extinguish the grayzone.


“We Shouldn’t Play into the Hands of ISIS”: Vijay Prashad on Danger of Military Escalation in Syria

Amy Goodman speaks to Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College and columnist for the Indian magazine Frontline, about the danger of military escalation in Syria after the ISIS attacks in Paris, France this past Friday. (Democracy Now!)

Paris attacks change focus of meeting in Vienna on Syria

Al Jazeera America reports:

High-level talks on the future of Syria have produced an agreement to seek meetings between the opposition and the government of President Bashar al-Assad by year’s end, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added that there will be efforts to create a new constitution for the war-torn country and attempts to create a transitional government within 18 months.

Kerry and Steinmeier spoke at the end of a daylong meeting in Vienna of nearly 20 countries represented by foreign ministers and their deputies seeking to end Syria’s war.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, talk of Syria as a breeding ground for violence moved to the foreground of the meeting on the war in that country, with participants linking the devastating shooting and bombing attacks to the Middle East turmoil and the opportunities it gives for attacks.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the attacks as they met with senior representatives from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries with strongly conflicting views on how to end the more than four-year war. Key differences include what role, if any, Assad should play in a transitional government.

Such differences appeared to be put aside at least temporarily at the meeting.


After Paris attacks, pressure builds for big military response to Islamic State

Phil Stewart, Warren Strobel and Matt Spetalnick report for Reuters:

French military patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves HermanThe Paris terror attacks are likely to galvanize a stronger global military response to Islamic State, after a U.S.-led air war that has lasted more than a year has failed to contain a group now proving itself to be a growing worldwide threat.

The United States, long accused of taking an incremental approach to the struggle, is under growing political pressure at home and abroad to do more and it is expected to examine ways to intensify the campaign, including through expanded air power.

U.S. officials say Washington will look in particular to European and Arab allies to step up their military participation in the war in Iraq and Syria.

It remains far from clear whether Paris and Washington would be willing to radically expand the scope of their current military engagement, given a deep aversion to getting dragged into a large-scale ground war in the Middle East. But President Barack Obama has been committing more to the fight in recent months, and lawmakers and counter-terrorism experts see the Paris attacks strengthening arguments for additional military might.


U.S. Spies Root for an ISIS-Russia War

Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef report for Daily Beast:

In the days following the crash of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, which mounting evidence suggests was felled by an ISIS bomb, many U.S. intelligence and security officials weren’t panicking about the so-called Islamic State unleashing a new campaign of attacks on civilian airliners. Instead, they were wondering how the bombing might hurt Vladimir Putin, and potentially help the United States.

Ever since Putin started dropping bombs on militants in Syria, officials have privately been arguing that the Russian leader committed a major strategic blunder, and that his intervention in Syria would weaken both his military and his reputation and likely ignite a backlash from Islamist militants, who have attacked inside Russia in the past.

One U.S. intelligence official, speaking prior to the airliner crash, called the Russian campaign in Syria “Putin’s folly.”

Now, six U.S. intelligence and military officials told The Daily Beast that they hoped an ISIS attack on Russian civilians would force Putin to finally take the gloves off and attack the group, which the U.S. has been trying to dislodge from Iraq and Syria for more than a year, without success.


Obama: ISIS ‘Contained,’ No Longer Gaining Strength

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

An interview recorded Thursday and aired Friday morning saw President Obama claiming that ISIS has been successfully “contained” by the US military, and that the group is no longer capable of gaining ground in either Iraq or Syria.

Obama conceded that ISIS hadn’t been fully “decapitated” by the military operations, but credited US forces with keeping them from taking new territory, even though they’ve taken a massive amount of new territory in both Iraq and Syria since the US airstrikes began.

US officials are hyping their “progress” against ISIS, citing what they believe is “reasonable certainty” that a drone strike Thursday killed “Jihadi John” a British ISIS member who they’d sought to kill for some time.

The timing of Obama’s claim of containment likely couldn’t have been worse, however, as Thursday saw a massive ISIS dual suicide bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, and Friday evening saw an even bigger round of attacks in Paris, with speculation ISIS was involved there as well.


Why Jihadi John’s ‘Assassination’ Is Not Very Important

Patrick Cockburn wrote for The Independent before the Paris attacks:

Mohammed Emwazi as a teenager, left, and in his role as Isis murderer[…] State-sponsored assassinations by drone and special operations forces on the ground have a long history of failure stretching back to the Vietnam War. They depend on the assumption that the organisation targeted has a finite number of leaders who cannot be replaced if eliminated. But the outcome of assassination campaigns has invariably been disappointing, if not counter-effective. A US study of 200 cases in Iraq between June and October in 2007 when a local insurgent leader was assassinated or captured showed that the number of IED attacks on US troops did not go down, but increased by 40 per cent. The dead leaders were being rapidly replaced by more violent and effective insurgents.

President Obama’s administration has much favoured the use of drones as a central element in its “War on Terror”, notably in Yemen, where drones have been used since 2002. The target has been Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) which has lost many of its leaders, but this has not prevented it expanding rapidly over the last year and playing an increasingly important role in the Yemeni civil war. In recent weeks it has been leading the struggle for control of Taiz, one of the largest cities in Yemen.

The assassination of a single individual in a guerrilla organisation like Isis or AQAP is very difficult if the person is careful about their security. There is also the problem that drones, air strikes or killings by ground forces will eliminate an indeterminate number of innocent villagers, wedding parties or local gatherings. The temptation is then for those who carried out the attack to go on insisting that the casualties all came from a “terrorist” group, but the claim has frequently been shown to be false.


The Sham Syrian Peace Conference

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

I have always been enthusiastic in my support for peace negotiations, which have been neglected all too often in internal and international conflicts. But it is clear that the international conference on Syria that held its first meeting in Vienna on October 30 is a sham conference that is not capable of delivering any peace negotiations, and that the Obama administration knew that perfectly well from the start.

The administration was touting the fact that Iran was invited to participate in the conference, unlike the previous United Nations-sponsored gathering on Syria in January and February 2014. That unfortunate conference had excluded Iran at the insistence of the United States and its Sunni allies, even though several states without the slightest capacity to contribute anything to a peace settlement – as well as the Vatican – were among the 40 non-Syrian invited participants.

Iran’s participation in the Vienna conference represents a positive step. Nevertheless, the conference was marked by an even more fundamental absurdity: none of the Syrian parties to the war were invited. The 2014 talks at least had representatives of the Assad regime and some of the armed opposition. The obvious implication of that decision is that the external patrons of the Syrian parties – especially Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – are expected to move toward the outline of a settlement and then use their clout with the clients to force the acceptance of the deal.


Stop the War Debate: The uncomfortable truth about Syria is that Assad is still popular

Alastair Sloan writes for

Stop the War[…] One of the many uncomfortable truths about the Syrian conflict is that Assad still has many fans… The reasons are obvious. If you were peering out from the ramparts of Assad-held territory in the early to middle stages of the war, witnessing a sea of Islamist fighters apparently backed by foreign powers, you might be nervous. The “good guys,” the Free Syrian Army, soon became the minority. The obvious comparison was and is with President Saddam Hussein, who had fallen in the country next door a decade before, also at the hands of foreign powers. When Hussein fell, the Iraqi people lost out, big time. Many Syrians fear the same will happen to their country.

[…] It is therefore imperative that room be given in the Western debate for those Syrians who support Assad, alongside those who do not. No political settlement is possible without their voice being heard, nor is it possible without Assad’s own consent. If he wants to – Assad can hold on for many more years. The killings will go on. It may be that we end up with a smaller Syria, an Assad enclave where his supporters can gather. Carrots can be offered for democratic reform, if necessary. If Assad ends up in power over a smaller Syria – he will need money. Neither Iran nor Russia can afford a Marshall plan – but the West can, and with offers of aid they can attach strong conditions. As for whether Assad will ever face a war crimes tribunal – it seems unlikely. Most alleged war criminals never do.

Stop the War were wrong not to let Syrian refugees speak. If they ever offered a platform to pro-Assad voices, they would be smeared as apologists. Yet the reality is – like many dictators, Assad has his supporters. Political settlement means settlement with them too.


Is the US Abetting World Order or Disorder? Interview with Stephen F. Cohen

From The Nation:

Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. This installment begins with reflections on a recent article by Henry Kissinger analyzing the breakdown of order in the Middle East and Russian President Putin’s rational policy in the region.

Cohen argues that we are witnessing more generally Washington’s failing but persistent effort to maintain its “only superpower” status from Asia to Europe and the Middle East, as exemplified by its refusal to join France, Germany and Russia in a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian crisis and to join Putin’s coalition against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Cohen also argues that a multi-polar world is an emerging reality being driven by history, economics, political, national traditions, trans-national crises, and that by opposing it the US is becoming part of the problem, not the solution. In this regard, he asks, was Putin really wrong in suggesting that American policymakers have “mush for brains”? Recent developments in Ukraine and in the European Union are also discussed.


The US-Russia Gas Pipeline War in Syria Could Destabilise Putin

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

[…] Faced with overlapping economic, food and energy crises, Russia is well and truly on the brink.

Russia’s intervention in Syria is Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical trump card, heading off the imminent defeat of Syrian president Bashir al-Assad’s regime under multiple Western-backed rebel forces.

His goal was explained this October in Foreign Affairs, the distinguished journal of Washington DC’s Council on Foreign Relations.

“Most of the foreign belligerents in the war in Syria are gas-exporting countries with interests in one of the two competing pipeline projects that seek to cross Syrian territory to deliver either Qatari or Iranian gas to Europe,” wrote Professor Mitchell Orenstein of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

I had reported on the competing gas pipeline plans for the Guardian in 2013. Two years later, Foreign Affairs is finally catching up.


Too Weak, Too Strong: The State of the Syrian War

Patrick Cockburn writes for the London Review of Books:

[…] Innumerable victories and defeats on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq have been announced over the last four years, but most of them haven’t been decisive. Between 2011 and 2013 it was conventional wisdom in the West and much of the Middle East that Assad was going to be overthrown just as Gaddafi has been. In late 2013 and throughout 2014, it was clear that Assad still controlled most populated areas, but then the jihadi advances in northern and eastern Syria in May revived talk of the regime’s crumbling. In reality, neither the government nor its opponents are likely to collapse: all sides have many supporters who will fight to the death. It is a genuine civil war: a couple of years ago in Baghdad an Iraqi politician told me that ‘the problem in Iraq is that all parties are both too strong and too weak: too strong to be defeated, but too weak to win.’ The same applies today in Syria. Even if one combatant suffers a temporary defeat, its foreign supporters will prop it up: the ailing non-IS part of the Syrian opposition was rescued by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in 2014 and this year Assad is being saved by Russia, Iran and Hizbullah. All have too much to lose: Russia needs success in Syria after twenty years of retreat, while the Shia states dare not allow a Sunni triumph.

The military stalemate will be difficult to break. The battleground is vast, with front lines stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean. Will the entrance of the Russian air force result in a new balance of power in the region? Will it be more effective than the Americans and their allies? For air power to work, even when armed with precision weapons, it needs a well-organised military partner on the ground identifying targets and relaying co-ordinates to the planes overhead. This approach worked for the US when it was supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and the Iraqi peshmerga against Saddam’s army in northern Iraq in 2003. Russia will now hope to have the same success through its co-operation with the Syrian army. There are some signs that this may be happening; on 18 October what appeared to be Russian planes were reported by independent observers to have wiped out a 16-vehicle IS convoy and killed forty fighters near Raqqa, Islamic State’s Syrian capital.

But Russian air support won’t be enough to defeat IS and the other al-Qaida-type groups, because years of fighting the US, Iraqi and Syrian armies has given their fighters formidable military expertise. Tactics include multiple co-ordinated attacks by suicide bombers, sometimes driving armoured trucks that carry several tons of explosives, as well as the mass use of IEDs and booby traps. IS puts emphasis on prolonged training as well as religious teaching; its snipers are famous for remaining still for hours as they search for a target. IS acts like a guerrilla force, relying on surprise and diversionary attacks to keep its enemies guessing.


Phyllis Bennis On Obama Sending U.S. Forces to Syria, Reversing Pledge of No Boots on the Ground

Amy Goodman talks to Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, author of several books, including Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror. (Democracy Now!)

US Special Forces in Syria Are Obama’s Latest Broken Foreign Policy Promise

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

[…] In 2012, Obama unequivocally said he would end the war in Afghanistan, and chided Mitt Romney the Republican nominee for not promising that. In 2013, Obama said: “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.” In 2014, Obama said: “We will not be sending US troops back into combat in Iraq”. At this point, all of those promises have been completely broken.

Worse, the Obama administration has effectively removed the democratic process (and Congress) from any decision making on whether to go to war. We now have ground troops inside Syria without any sort of legal authorization from Congress. Obama explicitly campaigned in 2012 on ending the Afghanistan war, which he has now extended beyond his term. The Obama administration also went into Libya and removed Muammar Gaddafi, despite the House voting against it beforehand.

The White House, as of today, is still clinging to the preposterous notion that the 2001 Authorization of Military Force against al-Qaida – meant for the war in Afghanistan – gives them the authority to wage indefinite war against Isis (a group that did not exist in 2001) in Syria, whether through airstrikes or, now, forces on the ground.


Syria Burning: Interview with Charles Glass on the Roots and Future of the Deadly Conflict

Amy Goodman talks to Charles Glass, former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent and the author of Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring. Glass gets into the roots of the conflict, the players involved and where it goes from here. He also discusses his recent trip to Iraq and Tony Blair’s comment regarding the rise of ISIS. Glass recently published a piece in the New York Review of Books titled: In the Syrian Deadlands(Democracy Now!)


War on Islamic State Part of a New Cold War

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

Russia is bombing “terrorists” in Syria, and the US is understandably peeved.

A day after the bombing began, Obama’s Defence Secretary Ashton Carter complained that most Russian strikes “were in areas where there were probably not ISIL (IS) forces”.

Anonymously, US officials accused Russia of deliberately targeting CIA-sponsored “moderate” rebels to shore-up the regime of Bashir al-Assad.

Only two of Russia’s 57 airstrikes have hit ISIS, opined Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in similar fashion. The rest have hit “the moderate opposition, the only forces fighting ISIS in Syria,” he said.

Such claims have been dutifully parroted across the Western press with little scrutiny, bar the odd US media watchdog.

But who are these moderate rebels, really?


US Scraps $500 Million Program to Train Syrian Rebels

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In a move that officials said was likely coming weeks ago, the Pentagon today announced that it is formally ending its $500 million “train and equip” program, which was meant to create a new, pro-US rebel faction, dubbed the New Syrian Forces (NSF).

The NSF program was a disastrous failure, with two “classes” of rebels sent to Syria, numbering around 125 in all, and accomplishing nothing. The first class was 54 people, and quickly routed by al-Qaeda, leaving “four or five” left in recent testimony to Congress.

Incredibly, that was probably less of a failure than the second class, which saw roughly 70 fighters show up in Syria from Turkey and more or less immediately give all their US-made weapons and vehicles to al-Qaeda. Adding to the confusion about “US-trained rebels,” the Pentagon insisted they’d never trained the second class leader.


Did U.S. weapons supplied to Syrian rebels draw Russia into the conflict?

Liz Sly reports for The Washington Post:

American antitank missiles supplied to Syrian rebels are playing an unexpectedly prominent role in shaping the Syrian battlefield, giving the conflict the semblance of a proxy war between the United States and Russia, despite President Obama’s express desire to avoid one.

The U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW missiles were delivered under a two-year-old covert program coordinated between the United States and its allies to help vetted Free Syrian Army groups in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad. Now that Russia has entered the war in support of Assad, they are taking on a greater significance than was originally intended.

So successful have they been in driving rebel gains in northwestern Syria that rebels call the missile the “Assad Tamer,” a play on the word Assad, which means lion. And in recent days they have been used with great success to slow the Russian-backed offensive aimed at recapturing ground from the rebels.


Brzezinski Urges US to ‘Retaliate’ Against Russian Forces in Syria

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In a newly published op-ed for the Financial Times, former official in the Johnson and Carter Administrations Zbigniew Brzezinski urged that US to use “strategic boldness” in confronting Russia, potentially militarily, over their involvement in Syria.

Brzezinski presented Russian airstrikes against Syrian rebel factions as at best a display of “Russian military incompetence” and at worst a “dangerous desire to highlight American political impotence,” saying America’s credibility is at stake from allowing Russia to strike the rebels the US previously armed, terming them “American assets.”

He called for the US to openly demand Russia unconditionally halt all such moves, saying Russian warplanes in Syria are “vulnerable, isolated geographically from their homeland” and could be “disarmed” by force if the Russians don’t comply with US demands.