They wear the latest and most advanced body armour and helmets, camouflage gear and anti-ballistic sunglasses: the fashion statement favoured by frontline private security companies across the world’s combat zones. But Malhama Tactical is not from the West like most of the others. Its fighters are in Syria training Islamists: a “Blackwater of jihad” who have found a new way of cashing in on the self-styled “caliphate”.
Blackwater became the most high-profile of Western security contractors in Iraq, gaining notoriety as the most violent and aggressive of the corporate military firms that spotted a highly lucrative trade following the “liberation” of the country in 2003. Such firms were largely immune from scrutiny or prosecution: that changed after a particularly bloody day in Baghdad.
One late morning in September in 2007, I watched as Blackwater’s guards opened fire from their armoured cars into families out on a Sunday in a popular location, Nisoor Square: 17 civilians were killed and more than were 40 injured. Four of the guards were later convicted in connection with the deaths. Blackwater changed its name, first to Xe Services and then Academi and continues to receive US government contracts.
Winners and losers are emerging in what may be the final phase of the Syrian civil war as anti-Isis forces prepare for an attack aimed at capturing Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital in Syria. Kurdish-led Syrian fighters say they have seized part of the road south of Raqqa, cutting Isis off from its other territory further east.
Isis is confronting an array of enemies approaching Raqqa, but these are divided, with competing agendas and ambitions. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose main fighting force is the Syrian Kurdish Popular Mobilisation Units (YPG), backed by the devastating firepower of the US-led air coalition, are now getting close to Raqqa and are likely to receive additional US support. The US currently has 500 Special Operations troops in north-east Syria and may move in American-operated heavy artillery to reinforce the attack on Raqqa.
This is bad news for Turkey, whose military foray into northern Syria called Operation Euphrates Shield began last August, as it is being squeezed from all sides. In particular, an elaborate political and military chess game is being played around the town of Manbij, captured by the SDF last year, with the aim of excluding Turkey, which had declared it to be its next target. The Turkish priority in Syria is to contain and if possible reduce or eliminate the power of Syrian Kurds whom Ankara sees as supporting the Kurdish insurrection in Turkey.
Full details of the plan have not been released yet, but the long-promised Pentagon proposal to escalate the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been delivered today, and is said to includes options for large deployments of additional troops to Syria, as well as increased targeting of ISIS the world over.
The plan for the Pentagon is to “rapidly” defeat ISIS, with the assumption that throwing more US troops at the situation will make it go faster. Officials at the Pentagon conceded this strategy might need to be further refined before implemented on the ground.
It is particularly noteworthy that we don’t really know any more about the plan today, beyond the talking points, than we did about it in recent weeks when officials started hyping its upcoming delivery, with the recommendations still apparently boiling down to straightforward additions of a number of combat troops.
Amy Goodman speaks to Nicolette Waldman, an Amnesty International researcher who specialises in detention issues, about the report she co-authored which claims that as many as 13,000 people have been hanged in a Syrian government military prison in recent years. (Democracy Now!)
The American military has failed to publicly disclose potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes conducted over several years in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, a Military Times investigation has revealed. The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures documenting everything from costs to casualty counts.
In 2016 alone, U.S. combat aircraft conducted at least 456 airstrikes in Afghanistan that were not recorded as part of an open-source database maintained by the U.S. Air Force, information relied on by Congress, American allies, military analysts, academic researchers, the media and independent watchdog groups to assess each war’s expense, manpower requirements and human toll. Those airstrikes were carried out by attack helicopters and armed drones operated by the U.S. Army, metrics quietly excluded from otherwise comprehensive monthly summaries, published online for years, detailing American military activity in all three theaters.
Most alarming is the prospect this data has been incomplete since the war on terrorism began in October 2001. If that is the case, it would fundamentally undermine confidence in much of what the Pentagon has disclosed about its prosecution of these wars, prompt critics to call into question whether the military sought to mislead the American public, and cast doubt on the competency with which other vital data collection is being performed and publicized. Those other key metrics include American combat casualties, taxpayer expense and the military’s overall progress in degrading enemy capabilities.
In part because my father was murdered by an Arab, I’ve made an effort to understand the impact of U.S. policy in the Mideast and particularly the factors that sometimes motivate bloodthirsty responses from the Islamic world against our country. As we focus on the rise of the Islamic State and search for the source of the savagery that took so many innocent lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology. Instead we should examine the more complex rationales of history and oil — and how they often point the finger of blame back at our own shores.
America’s unsavory record of violent interventions in Syria — little-known to the American people yet well-known to Syrians — sowed fertile ground for the violent Islamic jihadism that now complicates any effective response by our government to address the challenge of ISIL. So long as the American public and policymakers are unaware of this past, further interventions are likely only to compound the crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry this week announced a “provisional” ceasefire in Syria. But since U.S. leverage and prestige within Syria is minimal — and the ceasefire doesn’t include key combatants such as Islamic State and al Nusra — it’s bound to be a shaky truce at best. Similarly President Obama’s stepped-up military intervention in Libya — U.S. airstrikes targeted an Islamic State training camp last week — is likely to strengthen rather than weaken the radicals. As the New York Times reported in a December 8, 2015, front-page story, Islamic State political leaders and strategic planners are working to provoke an American military intervention. They know from experience this will flood their ranks with volunteer fighters, drown the voices of moderation and unify the Islamic world against America.
To understand this dynamic, we need to look at history from the Syrians’ perspective and particularly the seeds of the current conflict. Long before our 2003 occupation of Iraq triggered the Sunni uprising that has now morphed into the Islamic State, the CIA had nurtured violent jihadism as a Cold War weapon and freighted U.S./Syrian relationships with toxic baggage.
Airstrikes by the United States and its allies against two Syrian army positions Sept. 17 killed at least 62 Syrian troops and wounded dozens more. The attack was quickly treated as a non-story by the U.S. news media; U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) claimed the strikes were carried out in the mistaken belief that Islamic State forces were being targeted, and the story disappeared.
The circumstances surrounding the attack, however, suggested it may have been deliberate, its purpose being to sabotage President Obama’s policy of coordinating with Russia against Islamic State and Nusra Front forces in Syria as part of a U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement.
Normally the U.S. military can cover up illegal operations and mistakes with a pro forma military investigation that publicly clears those responsible. But the air attack on Syrian troops also involved three foreign allies in the anti-Islamic State campaign named Operation Inherent Resolve: the United Kingdom, Denmark and Australia. So, the Pentagon had to agree to bring a general from one of those allies into the investigation as a co-author of the report. Consequently, the summary of the investigation released by CENTCOM on Nov. 29 reveals far more than the Pentagon and CENTCOM brass would have desired.
Thanks to that heavily redacted report, we now have detailed evidence that the commander of CENTCOM’s Air Force component attacked the Syrian army deliberately.
The Pentagon has once again offered a new statement on the civilian casualties which have resulted from the US-led coalition air war against ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria, adding 15 more “unintentional civilian deaths” in the month of November, bringing the official death toll overall to 188.
As has been true throughout the war, the official US figures are dramatically lower than the estimates from monitor groups, and indeed far lower than what has been documented by the media, with most of the incidents not even being fully investigated by the US, but just deemed “non-credible.”
Exactly how much larger the death toll is remains a matter of some speculation, but monitors like Air Wars have suggested the toll at about 2,100 civilians killed overall, and even more conservative estimates put the figure around 1,000 reflective of just how absurdly low the official figure is.
[…] The dominance of propaganda over news in coverage of the war in Syria has many negative consequences. It is a genuine civil war and the exclusive focus of on the atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces on an unarmed civilian population gives a skewed picture of what is happening. These atrocities are often true and the UN says that 82 civilians may have been summarily executed in east Aleppo last month. But, bad though this is, it is a gross exaggeration to compare what has happened in Aleppo to genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or the massacre in Srebrenica the following year.
There is nothing wrong or surprising about the Syrian opposition demonising its enemies and hiding negative news about itself. The Iraqi opposition did the same thing in 2003 and the Libyan opposition in 2011. What is much more culpable is the way in which the Western media has allowed itself to become a conduit for propaganda for one side in this savage conflict. They have done so by rebranding it as authentic partisan information they cannot check, produced by people living under the authority of jihadi movements that tortures or kills any critic or dissenter.
News organisations have ended up being spoon-fed by jihadis and their sympathisers who make it impossible for independent observers to visit areas they control. By regurgitating information from such tainted sources, the media gives al-Qaeda type groups every incentive to go on killing and abducting journalists in order to create and benefit from a news vacuum they can fill themselves.
So there was Samantha Power doing her “shame” bit in the UN. “Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit?”, America’s ambassador to the UN asked the Russians and Syrians and Iranians. She spoke of Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica “and, now, Aleppo”.
Odd, that. For when Samantha talked about “barbarism against civilians” in Aleppo, I remembered climbing over the dead Palestinian civilians massacred at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, slaughtered by Israel’s Lebanese militia friends while the Israeli army – Washington’s most powerful ally in the Middle East – watched. But Samantha didn’t mention them. Not enough dead Palestinians, perhaps? Only 1,700 killed, including women and children. Halabja was up to 5,000 dead. But Sabra and Chatila certainly “creeped me out” at the time.
And then I recalled the monstrous American invasion of Iraq. Perhaps half a million dead. It’s one of the statistics for Rwanda’s dead. Certainly far more than Srebrenica’s 9,000 dead. And I can tell you that Iraq’s half million dead “creeped me out” rather a lot, not to mention the torture and murders in the CIA’s interrogation centres in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. It also “creeped me out” to learn that the US president used to send innocent prisoners off to be interrogated in… Assad’s Syria! Yes, they were sent by Washington to be questioned in what Samantha now calls Syria’s “Gulags”.
Amy Goodman hosts a debate between Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, and Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who discuss the fall of Aleppo and US-Russia relations under a Trump presidency. (Democracy Now!)
In 2007, Syrians could only access the internet through state-run servers, and services like Microsoft Hotmail and Facebook were sometimes blocked. But Bashar al-Assad, who had been head of the Syrian Computer Society before becoming president, knew the internet would inevitably spread more, and he knew he had to tighten his grip over it.
On October 2, 2007, the head of the government-owned Syria Telecommunications Establishment, or STE, put out a call for companies to develop a surveillance system that would monitor all data flowing on the Syrian internet.
The tender listed a series of “services that must be monitored,” including web browsing, email, chat rooms, instant messaging, internet VOIP calls, encrypted HTTPS web connections, and the use of VPNs.
The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month.
Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different.
In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.
Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage.
[…] Trump’s instincts generally seem less well-informed but often shrewd, and his priories have nothing to do with the Middle East. Past US leaders have felt the same way, but they usually end up by being dragged into its crises one way or other, and how they perform then becomes the test of their real quality as a leader. The region has been the political graveyard for three of the last five US presidents: Jimmy Carter was destroyed by the consequences of the Iranian revolution; Ronald Reagan was gravely weakened by the Iran-Contra scandal; and George W Bush’s years in office will be remembered chiefly for the calamities brought on by his invasion of Iraq. Barack Obama was luckier and more sensible, but he wholly underestimated the rise of Isis until it captured Mosul in 2014.
The US no longer enjoys the superpower hegemony it had between the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008. Its strength was further limited by failure to gain its ends in Iraq and Afghanistan and the return of Russia as a rival power, but it remains far-and-away the most powerful state in the world. It is a position full of pitfalls such as the prolonged effort by US allies like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel to lure the US into wars in Syria and Iran that will serve their own interests.
Obama resisted the temptation to fight new wars, but if Hillary Clinton had been in charge her record suggests that she might well have done so. How would Donald Trump have responded? There is a bigger gap between his words and deeds than there are with most politicians. But words create their own momentum and his constant beating of the patriotic drum will make it difficult for him to exercise the degree of caution necessary to avoid ensnarement in the Middle East. Over-heated nationalism cannot be turned on and off like a tap. He may want to concentrate on radical change at home, but the vortex of crises in the Middle East will one day suck him in.
If humanity ever suffers a Third World War, chances are good it will start in some locale distant from the United States like the Baltic or South China Seas, the Persian Gulf, or Syria, where Washington and its rivals play daily games of “chicken” with lethal air and naval forces.
Far from enhancing U.S. security, the aggressive deployment of our armed forces in these and other hot spots around the world may be putting our very survival at risk by continuously testing and prodding other military powers. What our military gains from forward deployment, training exercises, and better intelligence may be more than offset by the unnecessary provocation of hostile responses that could escalate into uncontrollable conflicts.
Documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis released on 16th October 2016 exclusively on BBC iPlayer. (BBC)
Paul Jay speaks to Max Blumenthal and Medea Benjamin after the conclusion of the third presidential debate where host Chris Wallace challenged Clinton by saying a no-fly zone would lead to confrontation with Russia in Syria. (The Real News)
In an election cycle that has pushed American politics to new heights of partisan acrimony, the Washington foreign-policy elite has represented a singular bastion of bipartisan comity. A large segment of the GOP’s neoconservative wing broke with Donald Trump in the early days of his general-election campaign. A significant number took shelter in Hillary Clinton’s coalition, where they’ve gotten along amiably with liberal interventionists who share their belief that Obama has betrayed America’s obligation to lead.
That point of agreement has now been ratified in a flurry of new reports — from an array of think tanks that span partisan divide — all calling for an escalation in U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war.
[…] The foreign-policy elite’s frustration with President Obama’s reluctance to engage in a large-scale military intervention in Syria is nothing new. And the desire to do something to ameliorate the suffering of the Syrian people is, of course, understandable.
But there are a few problems with the narrative advanced by the papers and foreign-policy thinkers quoted in the Washington Post
Much was made in this week’s Commons debate on Syria of the need for a no-fly zone over Aleppo. Given that the Syrian government and the Russians have a monopoly of air power over the city, the idea of denting or deterring it might seem attractive. Hillary Clinton also advocated such a zone in Sunday’s presidential TV debate.
In 1991 the US and Britain imposed a successful no-fly zone over northern Iraq to protect the Kurds. But they were already at war with Saddam Hussein, having just defeated him in Kuwait. Saddam was on his own internationally, despised and isolated. He had no support from Russia or any Arab allies. The last thing he wanted was to confront the US any further. Enforcing a no-fly zone (even though it had no clear UN security council authorisation) involved no risk to the US or UK. Saddam made little effort to resist and not one of their manned aircraft was shot down.
Today’s situation in Syria is different. The Syrian air force is fully engaged and will not back down in its campaign to defeat its enemies in Aleppo. After three years of military stalemate, Bashar al-Assad feels he has regained the upper hand and is determined to retake his country’s largest city.
More importantly, the Russians are also active in the air. Imposing a no-fly zone unilaterally (it would never gain a security council mandate) would be a declaration of war on Russia as well as on Assad.
With the collapse of the US-Russian ceasefire agreement and the resumption and escalation of the massive Russian bombing campaign in Aleppo, the frustration of hawks in Washington over the failure of the Obama administration to use American military power in Syria has risen to new heights.
But the administration’s inability to do anything about Russian military escalation in Aleppo is the logical result of the role the Obama administration has been playing in Syria over the past five years.
The problem is that the administration has pursued policy objectives that it lacked the means to achieve. When Obama called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down in September 2011, the administration believed, incredibly, that he would do so of his own accord. As formerHillary Clinton aide and Pentagon official Derek Chollet reveals in his new book, The Long Game, “[E]arly in the crisis, most officials believed Assad lacked the necessary cunning and fortitude to stay in power.”
Administration policymakers began using the phrase “managed transition” in regard to US policy toward the government, according to Chollet. The phrase reflected perfectly the vaulting ambitions of policymakers who were eager to participate in a regime change that they saw as a big win for the United States and Israel and a big loss for Iran.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be out front pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a “transition” in Syria.
But US regional Sunni allies – Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – would provide the arms to Syrian fighters. The only US role in the war would be a covert operation devised by then CIA director David Petraeus to provide intelligence and logistical assistance to those allies, to get arms to the groups chosen by the Sunni regimes that would pay for them.
Given the United States’ disastrous record in the Middle East—most critically the invasion and occupation of Iraq—and the manifold lies coming out of Washington to justify its policies, many Americans are understandably skeptical about U.S. interventions and the rationalizations used to defend them. This leads many Americans to oppose both direct intervention in Syria and the arming of rebel factions—and rightly so.
But while there is room for debate on some aspects of the conflict, certain elements of the anti-war movement and the anti-imperialist Left—such as the U.S. Peace Council, the ANSWER Coalition, some Green Party leaders and even Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire—go beyond opposing U.S. intervention and implicitly (and in some cases, explicitly) defend the corrupt and autocratic regime of Bashar al-Assad. They minimize or deny its responsibility for war crimes, attempt to discredit the reputable human rights organizations that document these crimes, treat virtually the entire Syrian opposition as its most extreme and violent components and attack fellow Leftists who disagree with them.
Many of the arguments used to defend the Syrian regime’s devastating attacks on rebel-held cities are eerily similar to those used by U.S. politicians, in their public statements and in a series of bipartisan Congressional resolutions, to defend Israel’s massive assaults on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. By combining segments of these statements and resolutions supporting Israel’s “right to self-defense” with certain anti-imperialists’ writings on Syria, I was able to put together the ultimate guide to defending war crimes.
[…] That argument has been made in a number of places over the last few years, but the most widely republished version is an essay by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in Politico, arguing that the Obama administration began to lay the groundwork for overthrowing the Assad regime in 2009 after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected a pipeline proposed by Qatar. That planned pipeline agreed to by Qatar and Turkey, Kennedy argues, would have linked Qatar’s natural gas to European markets through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, so it would have deprived Russia of Europe’s dependence on its natural gas.
But Assad not only prevented the realization of the Qatari plan but signed up with Iran for an alternative pipeline that would make Iran, not Qatar, the principal Middle East supplier of natural gas to European energy markets, according to the “pipeline war” account, so the Obama administration decided that Assad had to be removed from power.
It’s easy to understand why that explanation would be accepted by many anti-war activists: it is in line with the widely accepted theory that all the US wars in the Middle East have been “oil wars” — about getting control of the petroleum resources of the region and denying them to America’s enemies.
But the “pipeline war” theory is based on false history and it represents a distraction from the real problem of US policy in the Middle East — the US war state’s determination to hold onto its military posture in the region.
Violently intervening in the affairs of other countries has brought the United States much grief over the last century. We are hardly the only ones who do it. The club of interventionist nations has a shifting membership. During the current round of Middle East conflict, two new countries have joined: Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Both have succumbed to the imperial temptation. Both are paying a high price. They are learning a lesson that Americans struggle to accept: Interventions have unexpected consequences and often end up weakening rather than strengthening the countries that carry them out.
Turkey’s long intervention in Syria has failed to bring about its intended result, the fall of President Bashar Assad. Instead it has intensified the Syrian conflict, fed a regional refugee crisis, set off terrorist backlash, and deeply strained relations between Turkey and its NATO allies. As this blunder has unfolded, Saudi Arabia has also been waging war outside its territory. Its bombing of neighboring Yemen was supposed to be a way of asserting regional hegemony, but it has aroused indignant condemnation. The bombing campaign has placed Saudi Arabia under new scrutiny, including more intense focus on its role in promoting global terror, which the Saudi royal family has managed to keep half-hidden for years.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia intervened in foreign conflicts hoping to establish themselves as regional kingmakers. Both miscalculated. They overestimated their ability to secure quick victory and failed to weigh the strategic costs of failure or stalemate. If the Turks and Saudis had studied the history of American interventions, they would have been more prudent. We know the sorrows of empire. From Iran to Cuba to Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq, the legacy of our interventions continues to haunt us. Ambitious powers, however, continue to ignore the stark lesson that American history teaches. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the latest to repeat our mistake. It is the same mistake that has undermined many nations and empires. They overestimated their ability to shape events in foreign lands. Now they are paying for their delusional overreach.
[…] I was last in Damascus two-and-a-half years ago when security was worse than today in the government-held parts of the city. I stayed in Bab Touma, a Christian district in the Old City which was regularly mortared by a nearby rebel district called Jobar producing a trickle of casualties every day. The thunder of government artillery on Mount Qasioun firing into besieged opposition areas boomed across the city every night. Even then, people were getting used to this, but not as accustomed as they are now when many forget what it is like to live a normal life. The present mood in Damascus reminds me of Beirut halfway through the 15-year civil war (1975-1989)
Earlier still in the conflict, people in Damascus were inexperienced in assessing the degree of danger they were in and would under or over-react to each episode of fighting. I remember in early 2012 taking refuge from sniper fire in a shop selling wedding dresses in the Jaramana district close to the airport road. The owner and I were both crouching down by the counter when three young women came into the shop, oblivious of the shooting outside, and excitedly discussed which of the flame-coloured dresses they would like to buy.
Four years later those same young women would be more likely to spend what little money they have left on food rather than dresses. After the Syrian pound plunged in value and salaries were raised by a much smaller margin, a family that lived on the equivalent of $400-500 a month must now make do with $100. The definition of what is a luxury has changed radically since the start of the war. “Many families no longer eat chicken or lamb because they are so expensive,” commented one friend. “And, if they do buy them, the quantity is a couple of hundred grams just to have a taste of the meat. They may buy locally grown fruit for their children, but not bananas, which are imported and cost too much.” Holding a good job himself, the friend added that he has spent $300 to replace a broken car mirror which would have cost him $70 before the war.
In the National Museum of Damascus are antique books of black magic or witchcraft listing curses and spells designed to dumbfound or destroy whatever enemy is targeted by the user. Alongside these tattered works lie a bible made out of copper, religious works from the Crusader period and, elsewhere in the museum, a striking stone statue of a falcon.
These look like impressive survivals from Syria’s past, but in reality all are fakes confiscated from smugglers on their way out of the country for sale to foreign customers and dealers. Expertly manufactured in workshops in Damascus and Aleppo or elsewhere in Syria, these fraudulent antiquities are flooding a market full of unwary or unscrupulous buyers who find it easy to believe that great masterpieces are being daily looted in Syria in the midst of the chaos and war. “It started happening in 2015,” says Dr Maamoun AbdulKarim, the general director of antiquities and museums in Damascus. “The looters had attacked all the ancient sites in 2013-14, but they did not find as much as they wanted, so they switched to making fakes.”
There is a strong tradition of craftsmanship in Syria and, in addition, though Dr AbdulKarim does not say so, many unemployed archaeologists and antiquarians are prepared to give expert advice to fakers. The results are often magnificently convincing and come from both government and rebel held areas. In rebel-controlled Idlib province the speciality is making Roman and Greek mosaics, which may be then reburied in ancient sites to reinforce belief in their authenticity and so the buyer can be shown persuasive film of them being excavated.
In a seemingly full-throated promise to voters in Scranton, Pa. on Monday, Hillary Clinton said adding “American ground troops” in the war against ISIS in Syria “is off the table.”
But every message coming from her surrogates in the media and in the Washington defense establishment has been that she will “lean in” harder in Syria, and whether you want to call it “added ground troops” or something else, everyone in her orbit is calling for expanded U.S. intervention—including personnel and firepower—in the region, even at the risk of confrontation with Russia.
For weeks, a parade of high-stepping national-security officials—some barely out of government service—have been rattling their sabers passionately for a Hillary Clinton presidency. From Michael Vickers, a former intelligence official most celebrated for his promotion of hunt-to-kill operations in the War on Terror, to (Ret.) Gen. John Allen and ex-CIA Chief Mike Morrell, there is a growing backbench of Washington establishment macho men—and women—who testify to Clinton’s “run it up the gut” security chops, and more than one has noted her well-publicized break with President Obama on Syria. She, of course, having been more hawkish than the other from the start.
Her advisors say Syria will take top priority in her first days in office, and, in addition to ISIS, President Bashar Assad must go. So it is important to examine what a real Clinton Syria policy might look like despite her rhetoric on the campaign trail.
[…] A black spot on the human rights map, the high-security prison has been off limits to journalists and monitoring groups in recent years. It stands 25km north of Damascus, near the ancient Saydnaya monastery where Christians and Muslims have prayed together for centuries. A mute concrete trefoil is discernible from Google Earth, standing in the centre of a 100-hectare desert compound. Nothing has been known about what goes on inside until now.
To coincide with the launch of a damning new report, which estimates that 17,723 people have died in custody in Syria since the crisis began in March 2011, Amnesty has collaborated with the Forensic Architecture agency at Goldsmiths, University of London, to reconstruct the site.
“As we pieced together the model, we realised the building isn’t only a space where incarceration, surveillance and torture take place,” says Eyal Weizman, director of Forensic Architecture, “but that the building is, itself, an architectural instrument of torture.”
Nearly 18,000 people have died in government prisons in Syria since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, according to Amnesty International.
A new report by the charity, based on interviews with 65 “torture survivors”, details systematic use of rape and beatings by prison guards.
Former detainees described so-called welcome parties – ritual beatings using metal bars and electric cables.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied such allegations.
The report estimates that 17,723 people died in custody across Syria between March 2011, when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, and December 2015 – equivalent to about 10 people each day or more than 300 a month.
According to the report, new detainees are subjected to “security checks” that often involve women being sexually assaulted by male guards.
Aleppo may get the lion’s share of the coverage in Syria’s Civil War recently, but the presentation of the conflict by both sides (ironically as they have been for years) as the decisive battle for Syria, the reality is that Syria has no shortage of different conflicts, with myriad different factions fighting largely independent wars.
Five years ago, Syria may have been a loose collection of rebels against a government, but today it’s common for two rebel factions to end up fighting one another, and there are several wholly distinct battles across the country, from the US-backed rebels at the Tanf border crossing to the fight between Nusra and the Syrian military over Idlib and Latakia Province.
The Nusra Front’s adoption of the new name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and claim that it has separated itself from al-Qaeda was designed to influence US policy, not to make the group any more independent of al-Qaeda.
The objective of the manoeuvre was to head off US-Russian military cooperation against the jihadist group, renamed last week, based at least in part on the hope that the US bureaucratic and political elite, who are lining up against a new US-Russian agreement, may block or reverse the Obama administration’s intention to target the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria.
The leader of the Syrian jihadist organisation Mohammad al-Golani and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri both made a great deal of the public encouragement that Zawahiri gave to separation from the parent organisation. The idea was that the newly rebranded and supposedly independent jihadist organisation in Syria would be better able to fulfill its role in the Syrian revolution.
But to anyone who has followed the politics of Nusra Front’s role in the Syrian war, the idea that Zawahiri would actually allow its Syrian franchise to cut loose from the central leadership and function with full independence is obviously part of a political sham.