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Washington does the unthinkable, kills Syrian troops and helps ISIS

U.S. air strikes on Syrian army positions at Deir Ezzor looks like the U.S. is warning Russia, as the Lavrov – Kerry agreement unravels.

Alexander Mercouris

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News of the US air strikes on the Syrian military positions near the besieged eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor comes as Russian criticism of the US failure to abide by the terms of last Sunday’s Lavrov – Kerry agreement is intensifying.

The first point to make about this attack is that though the US immediately backed off after receiving a Russian warning, the US claim that the attack was a mistake stretches credulity to breaking point.

The US says the situation in Syria is complicated, which is true, and says that this is the reason for the attack, which it insists was a mistake.  The key point however is that though the situation may be complicated in other parts of Syria, it is not complicated in Deir Ezzor at all. 

There are only two parties fighting each other in this part of Syria: the Syrian army and ISIS.  Other Jihadi groups in this part of Syria have either been driven out by ISIS or have been absorbed by ISIS, which is the only military force fighting the Syrian army in this area.

It is just possible that the US confused Syrian troops with ISIS troops, and attacked them by mistake in this area.  However given the comprehensive surveillance means the US has at its disposal, that hardly seems likely.  

Besides it is not clear why the US is carrying out air strikes against ISIS in the area of Deir Ezzor at all, when the only force which is fighting ISIS in this area is not any one of the US’s allies or supposed allies but the Syrian army.

As it happens, the Russians and the Syrians say the attack was made near a Syrian air force base which ISIS was attacking, enabling ISIS to capture a defence line near the base.  If so, it is all but inconceivable the US didn’t know this, and didn’t know who it was attacking.

The second point to make about this attack is that it appears to have been followed almost immediately by an ISIS attack on the Syrian troops who were targeted by the air strike. 

On the face of it that makes it look like a US military air strike carried out to provide air support to an attack on the Syrian army carried out by ISIS troops.

Though that would be shocking if it were true, it is not the first time that there has been an air attack by US led coalition aircraft on Syrian troops fighting ISIS in this area. Exactly the same thing happened in this same area on 6th December 2015.

On that occasion the Russians did not disclose the nationality of the aircraft that attacked the Syrian army positions near Deir Ezzor on 6th December 2015, though they made it fairly clear that they knew who they were.  They did however say that the aircraft belonged to the US led coalition.   The US denied carrying out the strike, and claimed that the Russians had carried out the strike by mistake themselves.

On this latest occasion the Russians have publicly identified the attacking aircraft as American.  It seems four aircraft were involved: two F16s and two A10s.  Moreover the US on this occasion has admitted carrying out the strike.

What is going on?

It is very difficult to see this as anything else other than as an intended warning by the US to the Russians.  The events of the last few days leading up to the strike show why such a warning might have been given.

In the last few days, and in the last few hours especially, the Russians have been stepping up their criticism that the US is not abiding by the terms of the Lavrov – Kerry agreement that was reached on 9th September 2016. 

The Russian military has publicly complained that only the Syrian army is abiding by the cessation of hostilities that was agreed by Lavrov and Kerry last Sunday.  RT reports a senior Russian General Staff official, Viktor Poznikhir, saying the following at a briefing in Moscow.

“After five days of the ceasefire, it has to be noted that only the Russian and Syrian sides have been fully implementing their commitments. On its own initiative, Russia prolonged the cessation of hostilities for 48 hours, and yesterday it was extended for another 72 hours.  The US and the so-called moderate groups under their control didn’t fulfil a single commitment undertaken in the framework of the Geneva arrangements.  The main priority of the Russian-American agreements of September was the division of territories controlled by IS (Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra, and the areas controlled by the ‘moderate opposition,’ as well the separation of the ‘moderate opposition’ from Jabhat al-Nusra.  [Such a division is essential for the implementation of the ceasefire in Syria because] without it, the hands of the government forces are tied. They can’t fight the terrorists without knowing which of them joined the truce and who didn’t.

[Numerous Russian appeals to the American side remain unanswered, which] raises doubts over the US’s ability to influence opposition groups under their control and their willingness to further ensure the implementation of the Geneva agreements.  Russia is making every possible effort to hold off government troops from the use of force in return [to opposition attacks]. If the US does not implement the necessary measures to fulfill their obligations under the September 9 agreements, the responsibility for the failure of the ceasefire will be solely America’s.

Tensions are rising in Syria, especially in the provinces of Aleppo and Hama, where opposition groups are using the cessation of hostilities to regroup forces, refill their stocks of ammunition and weapons and are preparing an offensive in order to capture new territories.  In the past 24 hours, the number of attacks has increased drastically. The positions of government troops, the people’s militia, and civilians were fired at on 55 occasions”.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Lavrov and Kerry spoke on the telephone on Saturday to discuss the deteriorating situation. Putin himself then added to the growing sense of crisis by weighing in.  In answer to journalists’ questions at the CIS Council of Heads of State in Bishkek he is reported by Russia’s Presidential website to have said

“We agreed that Jabhat al-Nusra and others of their ilk have to be separated and it has been shown where they are and where these so-called “healthy” forces are. What do we see now? We see no separation of terrorists from this “healthy” part of the opposition, instead we see these terrorists making attempts to regroup, replace one set of signboards with another, replace one name with another and preserve their military potential. This is what we see.”

(note the use of quotation marks qualifying the word “healthy” is in the original text published by Russia’s Presidential website and was presumably authorised by Putin himself)

However the single thing that may have infuriated the US most is that the Russians have been publicly supporting the mounting demands from around the world – including from some of the US’s allies like France – to have the full text of the Lavrov – Kerry agreement published.

During his press conference in Bishkek Putin not only confirmed that it was the US that had insisted that the text of the agreement be kept secret, but also dropped heavy hints as to why this might be so

“Our US partners have always stood for openness and transparency. There is nothing surprising for me that in this case they proceed from their postulate. I can tell you why: this has to do with the difficulties that the United States is facing on the Syrian track. The difficulty is that they can in no way separate the so-called “healthy” part of the opposition from the semi-criminal and terrorist elements.

In my opinion, this is dictated by the desire to preserve the military potential in the fight against the lawful government of President Assad. However, this is a slippery slope; we have often spoken about this. Our US partners seem to be again falling into the same trap they have fallen into so many times. This is a dangerous scenario.”

It is very easy to see how the US might construe comments like this as a threat by the Russians to publish the Lavrov – Kerry agreement unless the US complies with it. 

What may have made the US particularly angry is that on Friday the Russians attempted to use a joint US – Russian presentation at the UN Security Council as a device to get the text of the agreement published.  The US flatly rejected this, and the presentation and joint discussion that had been scheduled to take place at the UN Security Council had to be called off.

Behind the US refusal to publish the text of the agreement is doubtless US embarrassment that the agreement effectively requires the evacuation of Jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo. 

It is universally accepted by all objective observers of the Syrian conflict that the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo belong either to Jabhat Al-Nusra or to groups closely affiliated with it.  the Lavrov – Kerry agreement, which requires that Syrian opposition fighters separate themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra, whom the agreement brands terrorists, is therefore tantamount to US agreement that the Jabhat al-Nusra fighters occupying eastern Aleppo withdraw from the city.  It is very likely the Lavrov – Kerry agreement or one of its annexes or protocols spells this out. 

Since that is tantamount to an agreement that eastern Aleppo be surrendered to the Syrian government, it is not surprising the US is reacting fiercely to demands the text of the agreement be made public.

This is probably what is behind the air strike in Deir Eizzor.  It looks like a threat to the Russians by the US – or at any rate by the hardliners in Washington – that any move by Moscow to blame the US for the failure of the agreement or to publish its terms will result in an immediate escalation of US military action on behalf of the Jihadis in eastern Syria.  That this means aligning the US with ISIS – as Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova is rightly pointing out  – is a price that some people in Washington seem prepared to pay.

As of the time of writing the US is desperately rowing back.  It seems the US underestimated the strength of the Russian reaction to the Deir Ezzor attack, and did not anticipate that the Russians would complain about it to the UN Security Council, which is what the Russians have done. 

Since the attack the Russians are saying that the ceasefire now hangs by a thread.  Even before the attack there were reports of Syrian troops returning – apparently with Russian agreement – to their previous positions on Aleppo’s Castello road.

The US of course knows that with the Jihadi offensive on south west Aleppo defeated, and with the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo surrounded, the result of the collapse of the ceasefire would be the eventual defeat of the Jihadi force in eastern Aleppo.  It was this knowledge which caused the US to agree to the Lavrov – Kerry agreement in the first place.

The US action in Deir Ezzor however shows how unreconciled to this reality powerful sections of the US bureaucracy – including especially Ashton Carter’s Pentagon – are.  It seems that there are some people in Washington who are prepared to go to almost any lengths to undermine the Lavrov – Kerry agreement in order to avoid surrendering eastern Aleppo and so as to prevent what many in Washington obviously see as the ultimate humiliation of a joint military campaign with the Russians against ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra. 

The prospects for the Lavrov – Kerry agreement depend on the realists in Washington facing down the hardliners. Despite the apologies and regrets currently pouring out of Washington, after the attack on Deir Ezzor the prospects for them succeeding don’t look good.

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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Second Canadian Citizen Disappears In China

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea.

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Via Zerohedge…


For a trade war that was supposed to be between the US and China, Canada has found itself increasingly in the middle of the crossfire. And so after the arrest of a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing in retaliation for the detention of the Huawei CFO in Vancouver, Canada said a second person has been questioned by Chinese authorities, further heightening tensions between the two countries.

The second person reached out to the Canadian government after being questioned by Chinese officials, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, at which point Canada lost contact with him. His whereabouts are currently unknown and Global Affairs Canada said they are in contact with his family.

“We haven’t been able to make contact with him since he let us know about this,” Freeland told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. “We are working very hard to ascertain his whereabouts and we have also raised this case with Chinese authorities.”

According to the he Globe and Mail, the man was identified as Michael Spavor, a Canadian whose company Peaktu Cultural Exchange brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea. He gained fame for helping arrange a visit to Pyongyang by former NBA player Dennis Rodman, and he met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on that trip, the newspaper reported. Attempts to reach Spavor on his contact number either in China, or North Korean went straight to voicemail.

Spavor’s personal Facebook page contains several images of him with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un including one of him with both Jong-un and former Dennis Rodman at an undisclosed location.

Michael P. Spavor, right, pictured here with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, second from right, and Dennis Rodman.

Another image shows the two sharing a drink on a boat.

The unexplained disappearance takes place after China’s spy agency detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in Beijing on Monday, who was on leave from the foreign service. The arrest came nine days after Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. DOJ. While Canada has asked to see the former envoy after it was informed by fax of his arrest, Canada is unaware of Kovrig current whereabouts or the charges he faces.

“Michael did not engage in illegal activities nor did he do anything that endangered Chinese national security,” Rob Malley, chief executive officer of the ICG, said in a written statement. “He was doing what all Crisis Group analysts do: undertaking objective and impartial research.”

One possibility is that Kovrig may have been caught up in recent rule changes in China that affect non-governmental organizations, according to Bloomberg. The ICG wasn’t authorized to do work in China, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing in Beijing Wednesday.

“We welcome foreign travelers. But if they engage in activities that clearly violate Chinese laws and regulations, then it is totally another story,” he said, adding he had no information on Kovrig specifically.

As Bloomberg further notes, foreign non-governmental organizations are now required to register with the Chinese authorities under a 2017 law that subjects them to stringent reporting requirements. Under the law, organizations without a representative office in China must have a government sponsor and a local cooperative partner before conducting activities. ICG said this is the first time they’ve heard such an accusation from the Chinese authorities in a decade of working with the country. The company closed its Beijing operations in December 2016 because of the new Chinese law, according to a statement. Kovrig was working out of the Hong Kong office.

Meanwhile, realizing that it is increasingly bearing the brunt of China’s retaliatory anger, Trudeau’s government distanced itself from Meng’s case, saying it can’t interfere with the courts, but is closely involved in advocating on Kovrig’s behalf.

So far Canada has declined to speculate on whether there was a connection between the Kovrig and Meng cases, with neither Freeland nor Canadian Trade Minister Jim Carr saying Wednesday that there is any indication the cases are related. Then again, it is rather obvious they are. Indeed, Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016 and worked with Kovrig, says the link is clear. “There’s no coincidence with China.”

“In this case, they couldn’t grab a Canadian diplomat because this would have created a major diplomatic incident,” he said. “Going after him I think was their way to send a message to the Canadian government and to put pressure.”

Even though Meng was granted bail late Tuesday, that did not placate China, whose foreign ministry spokesman said that “The Canadian side should correct its mistakes and release Ms. Meng Wanzhou immediately.”

The tension, according to Bloomberg,  may force Canadian companies to reconsider travel to China, and executives traveling to the Asian country will need to exercise extra caution, said Andy Chan, managing partner at Miller Thomson LLP in Vaughan, Ontario.

“Canadian business needs to look at and balance the reasons for the travel’’ between the business case and the “current political environment,’’ Chan said by email. Chinese officials subject business travelers to extra screening and in some case reject them from entering, he said.

Earlier in the day, SCMP reported that Chinese high-tech researchers were told “not to travel to the US unless it’s essential.”

And so, with Meng unlikely to be released from Canada any time soon, expect even more “Chinese (non) coincidences”, until eventually China does detain someone that the US does care about.

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Multipolar World Order in the Making: Qatar Dumps OPEC

Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The decision by Qatar to abandon OPEC threatens to redefine the global energy market, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s growing difficulties and the growing influence of the Russian Federation in the OPEC+ mechanism.

In a surprising statement, Qatari energy minister Saad al-Kaabi warned OPEC on Monday December 3 that his country had sent all the necessary documentation to start the country’s withdrawal from the oil organization in January 2019. Al-Kaabi stressed that the decision had nothing to do with recent conflicts with Riyadh but was rather a strategic choice by Doha to focus on the production of LNG, which Qatar, together with the Russian Federation, is one of the largest global exporters of. Despite an annual oil extraction rate of only 1.8% of the total of OPEC countries (about 600,000 barrels a day), Qatar is one of the founding members of the organization and has always had a strong political influence on the governance of the organization. In a global context where international relations are entering a multipolar phase, things like cooperation and development become fundamental; so it should not surprise that Doha has decide to abandon OPEC. OPEC is one of the few unipolar organizations that no longer has a meaningful purpose in 2018, given the new realities governing international relations and the importance of the Russian Federation in the oil market.

Besides that, Saudi Arabia requires the organization to maintain a high level of oil production due to pressure coming from Washington to achieve a very low cost per barrel of oil. The US energy strategy targets Iranian and Russian revenue from oil exports, but it also aims to give the US a speedy economic boost. Trump often talks about the price of oil falling as his personal victory. The US imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, which is why Trump wrongly believes that a decrease in the cost per barrel could favor a boost to the US economy. The economic reality shows a strong correlation between the price of oil and the financial growth of a country, with low prices of crude oil often synonymous of a slowing down in the economy.

It must be remembered that to keep oil prices low, OPEC countries are required to maintain a high rate of production, doubling the damage to themselves. Firstly, they take less income than expected and, secondly, they deplete their oil reserves to favor the strategy imposed by Saudi Arabia on OPEC to please the White House. It is clearly a strategy that for a country like Qatar (and perhaps Venezuela and Iran in the near future) makes little sense, given the diplomatic and commercial rupture with Riyadh stemming from tensions between the Gulf countries.

In contrast, the OPEC+ organization, which also includes other countries like the Russian Federation, Mexico and Kazakhstan, seems to now to determine oil and its cost per barrel. At the moment, OPEC and Russia have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day, contradicting Trump’s desire for high oil output.

With this last choice Qatar sends a clear signal to the region and to traditional allies, moving to the side of OPEC+ and bringing its interests closer in line with those of the Russian Federation and its all-encompassing oil and gas strategy, two sectors in which Qatar and Russia dominate market share.

In addition, Russia and Qatar’s global strategy also brings together and includes partners like Turkey (a future energy hub connecting east and west as well as north and south) and Venezuela. In this sense, the meeting between Maduro and Erdogan seems to be a prelude to further reorganization of OPEC and its members.

The declining leadership role of Saudi Arabia in the oil and financial market goes hand in hand with the increase of power that countries like Qatar and Russia in the energy sectors are enjoying. The realignment of energy and finance signals the evident decline of the Israel-US-Saudi Arabia partnership. Not a day goes by without corruption scandals in Israel, accusations against the Saudis over Khashoggi or Yemen, and Trump’s unsuccessful strategies in the commercial, financial or energy arenas. The path this doomed

trio is taking will only procure less influence and power, isolating them more and more from their opponents and even historical allies.

Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi, the Eurasian powerhouses, seem to have every intention, as seen at the trilateral summit in Buenos Aires, of developing the ideal multipolar frameworks to avoid continued US dominance of the oil market through shale revenues or submissive allies as Saudi Arabia, even though the latest spike in production is a clear signal from Riyadh to the USA. In this sense, Qatar’s decision to abandon OPEC and start a complex and historical discussion with Moscow on LNG in the format of an enlarged OPEC marks the definitive decline of Saudi Arabia as a global energy power, to be replaced by Moscow and Doha as the main players in the energy market.

Qatar’s decision is, officially speaking, unconnected to the feud triggered by Saudi Arabia against the small emirate. However, it is evident that a host of factors has led to this historic decision. The unsuccessful military campaign in Yemen has weakened Saudi Arabia on all fronts, especially militarily and economically. The self-inflicted fall in the price of oil is rapidly consuming Saudi currency reserves, now at a new low of less than 500 billion dollars. Events related to Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) have de-legitimized the role of Riyadh in the world as a reliable diplomatic interlocutor. The internal and external repression by the Kingdom has provoked NGOs and governments like Canada’s to issue public rebukes that have done little to help MBS’s precarious position.

In Syria, the victory of Damascus and her allies has consolidated the role of Moscow in the region, increased Iranian influence, and brought Turkey and Qatar to the multipolar side, with Tehran and Moscow now the main players in the Middle East. In terms of military dominance, there has been a clear regional shift from Washington to Moscow; and from an energy perspective, Doha and Moscow are turning out to be the winners, with Riyadh once again on the losing side.

As long as the Saudi royal family continues to please Donald Trump, who is prone to catering to Israeli interests in the region, the situation of the Kingdom will only get worse. The latest agreement on oil production between Moscow and Riyad signals that someone in the Saudi royal family has probably figured this out.

Countries like Turkey, India, China, Russia and Iran understand the advantages of belonging to a multipolar world, thereby providing a collective geopolitical ballast that is mutually beneficial. The energy alignment between Qatar and the Russian Federation seems to support this general direction, a sort of G2 of LNG gas that will only strengthen the position of Moscow on the global chessboard, while guaranteeing a formidable military umbrella for Doha in case of a further worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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