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Syrian army “just 700 metres” from ISIS-held Al-Sukhnah as final battle for Deir Ezzor approaches

Syrian army on brink of capturing Al-Sukhnah, bringing closer final decisive battle with ISIS in Deir Ezzor.

Alexander Mercouris

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According to the reliable and well-informed Al-Masdar news agency, the Syrian military is now just 700 metres from the “city gates” of the key ISIS held town of Al-Sukhnah on the road from Palmyra to Deir Ezzor.

Here is Al-Masdar’s latest report

Led by the 5th Corps and 18th Tank Division, the Syrian Arab Army stormed the western outskirts of Al-Sukhnah this morning, while receiving heavy air support from their Russian allies.

According to a military source in Palmyra, the Syrian Arab Army is steadily advancing on the Islamic State stronghold, leaving only 700 meters between their front-lines and the city’s gates.

Despite the recent gains, the Syrian Army has been struggling to break the Islamic State’s main line of defense west of Al-Sukhnah, as the terrorist group uses the rough terrain to their advantage.

It is not clear exactly what “the city gates” of Al-Sukhnah means exactly.  However Al-Sukhnah is an old city with an Ottoman fort, which before the fall of the Ottoman empire used to house an Ottoman garrison.  One way of reading this Al-Masdar report is that the Syrian army has successfully stormed the the town’s western suburbs but that ISIS is holding out in this fort.

An Al-Masdar report of 24th July 2017 reported that Al-Sukhnah was just a week from being liberated by the Syrian army.  It is now clear that this will not happen as ISIS resistance has stiffened as the Syrian army advances deeper into ISIS held territory in Deir Ezzor province, and as the Syrian army – after its whirlwind advances on multiple fronts of the previous weeks – has focused on consolidating its gains by bringing up reinforcements and strengthening its supply lines.

This pattern of lighting advances followed by pauses and consolidations as enemy resistance stiffens is very typical of “blitzkrieg” war, as any student of the history of the Second World War in Europe knows.

The recent slow down in the Syrian army’s offensives into central and eastern Syria is however likely to be only temporary.

On the northern front in southern Raqqa attempts by ISIS to wrest back the initiative from the Syrian by staging ‘do-or-die’ counter-attacks have all ended in failure, with the Syrian army’s elite Tiger Forces – who are leading the Syrian army’s advance in this area – having successfully penetrated into Deir Ezzor province.

The British journalist Robert Fisk has recently toured the Syrian army’s northern front and he has provided a glowing account of its performance there for the British newspaper the Independent, which includes lengthy and highly informative passages likes this one

The highway east from Homs was expected to have been the route of the Syrian attack this month. Hence the vast earth “berms” and defensive sand walls erected by Isis along the length of the road. But for Isis, the now-infamous Syrian army tactic of assaulting its enemies from the rear and flank drove the caliphate from hundreds of square miles of land west of the Euphrates.

General Saleh, the one-legged commander of the Syrian division on the Euphrates – who has adapted this policy many times, along with his fellow officer and friend, Colonel “Tiger” Suheil – says that his forces could, if he wished, be in the centre of Raqqa within five hours “if we decided to do that”. He described how his men had first driven al-Qaeda and Isis from the Sheikh Najjar industrial city outside Aleppo back to the Assad lake, how they had protected the water supply to the city at great loss to their own forces, how they had moved east from the Koyeress airbase to capture Deir Hafer and Meskane and other towns in the Aleppo countryside – and then suddenly surged south east, south of the Euphrates towards Raqqa.

“Our forces are now seven miles from the Euphrates between Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour, 14 miles from the centre of Raqqa and 10 miles from the old Thabqa airbase,” the general almost shouted. “How many Daesh did we kill? I don’t care. I am not interested. Daesh, Nusrah, al-Qaeda, they are all terrorists. Their deaths do not matter. It’s war.”

But, I suggested to General Saleh – because I had been studying my sand-blasted maps and had listened to many a military lecture in Damascus of late – surely his next target would be not Raqqa (already partly invested by American-backed forces) but the huge surrounded Syrian garrison city of Deir ez-Zour with its thousands of trapped civilians.

“Our President has said we will recover every square inch of Syria,” the general replied, repeating the mantra of all Syrian officers of the regime. “Why do you say Deir ez-Zour?” Because, I said, that would release the 10,000 Syrian soldiers in the city to fight on the war front. There was just a hint of a grin on the officer’s face, but then it faded. In fact, I don’t think the Syrians will get involved with the American-supported force fighting for Raqqa – that, after all, was the point of the little “coordination” centre I saw in the desert – but I do believe the Syrian army are heading for Deir ez-Zour. As for the general, of course, he was saying nothing about this. Nor, obviously, did he believe in body counts.

There is, in reality, another intriguing tactic being deployed by the Syrian administration. The local Rif Raqqa governor – “rif” indicates the countryside around a city, not to be confused with the town itself – is now setting up headquarters near General Saleh’s caravan. It’s a real campaign caravan, by the way, which rocks when you step aboard, his office and bedroom combined in one small room, his black walking stick by the bed-head. The local governor, however, is scarcely a mile away, planning the restoration of water and electricity supplies, the financing of public works and relief for refugees.

When I left the area, 29 families – cartloads of children and black-shrouded women and upturned sofas – had just arrived in Rasafeh from Deir ez-Zour to seek the Raqqa governor’s assistance. Another 50 had arrived the previous day. It seemed perfectly obvious that if the Syrian army lets America’s largely Kurdish friends occupy Raqqa, it is going to help the Syrian government civilian administration take over the city by the force of bureaucracy. How would that be for a bloodless victory?

But military self-confidence is often the handmaiden of misadventure. The highway that forms the tip of the Homs-Aleppo triangle has now been extended 60 miles to Resafeh, and General Saleh makes no secret that Isis and its fellow cultists return across the desert after dark to attack his soldiers. These men – many of whom are teenagers – are billeted in tent encampments beside the road, protected by tanks and anti-aircraft guns. And their battles are constant, Isis still placing IED bombs beside the highway today. When I later travelled across the desert to Homs, I followed for some time a truck carrying a 155mm artillery piece so overused that its barrel had split apart.

Yet already, Syrian engineers are restoring electricity capacity from the desert generating stations which have only recently been hideouts for Isis leaders, a power system intimately connected to the Syrian oil fields, slowly being recovered from the Isis enemy, which remain – modest though they are in comparison with the great Gulf, Iraqi and Iranian oil resources – Syria’s “pearl in the desert”. Who controls these wealth machines – how their product will be shared now it has been freed from the Isis mafia – will determine part of Syria’s future political history.

This report provides an interesting insight into Russian and Syrian government thinking on the Kurdish question.

As Robert Fisk has seen for himself political tensions between the Kurdish leadership and the Syrian government are belied by Russian brokered cooperation between the Kurdish and Syrian militaries on the ground.

For the moment the Syrian government has decided – probably following Russian and perhaps Iranian advice – to work with the Kurds in the area rather than against them, whilst using the time provided by Kurds’ focus on fighting ISIS in Raqqa to rebuild the Syrian state’s administrative structures in the area.

The calculation appears to be that once the Kurds have finally ousted ISIS from Raqqa they will have to look to the Syrian government to provide the essential services necessary for the successful administration of  this large Arab (not Kurdish) populated area.  The Syrian government apparently hopes that this will give it decisive leverage in its future negotiations with the Kurds.

Putting aside the tangled question of the future settlement of the Kurdish question, and notwithstanding Robert Fisk’s wise words about the dangers of over-confidence, it is clear that the Syrian army now holds a decisive advantage over ISIS in this area, even if General Saleh’s boast that he could be at the centre of Raqqa in five hours if given the order should not be taken too seriously.

Despite the Syrian army’s extraordinary march across northern Syria, and its recent penetration from southern Raqqa into Deir Ezzor province – which is rapidly becoming ISIS’s last major territorial bastion in Syria – it remains likely that the main advance on Deir Ezzor will not come from the north but from the west ie. along the main road from Palmyra through Al-Sukhnan to Deir Ezzor.

Though neither the Syrians nor the Russians say it openly, the primary purpose of the Syrian army’s advance across southern Raqqa province to the Euphrates river was probably not to prepare the ground for an advance on Deir Ezzor from there but to prevent the Kurds at the US’s instigation from doing that very thing.

That presumably explains General Saleh’s refusal to be drawn by Robert Fish into talking of an advance by his troops towards Deir Ezzor.  General Saleh refused to tell Robert Fisk that he was preparing to do such a thing because that is almost certainly not the plan.

With the Syrian army having apparently now reached the Euphrates river – at least in some places – it seems that this part of the Syrian army’s mission may in large measure have been successfully accomplished.

The focus therefore is on the fighting at Al-Sukhnah.

Though it is clear that the battle for the town is fierce, once it is captured the last major urban centre between the Syrian army and Deir Ezzor will have been taken.  Though on a map the distance between Al-Sukhnah and Deir Ezzor looks greater than the distance between Al-Sukhnah and Palmyra, the road from Palmyra to Al-Sukhnah crosses rugged and easily defended country, whilst east of Al-Sukhnah the country becomes flatter and more open, and better adapted to a rapid advance by motorised troops.

That of course is why ISIS is defending its positions in Al-Sukhnah so fiercely, and why the expectations of some people in the Syrian military of a week ago that the town would be liberated quickly have not so far been fulfilled.

The latest Al-Masdar report however points to the final liberation of Al-Sukhnah being no more than days or possibly even hours away.

If so then the final climactic battle between the Syrian army and ISIS in Deir Ezzor leading to the collapse of ISIS’s Caliphate will begin.

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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