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The Trump administration and Syria: targeting ISIS or working towards Syria’s partition?

Whilst talk of ISIS relocating from Raqqa to Deir Ezzor may be intended to prepare Syria’s partition that looks unrealisable and unrealistic.

Alexander Mercouris




Recent US media reports – obviously sourced from the US military – that ISIS has been relocating its ‘bureaucrats’ from Raqqa to  Al-Madayin, a town in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province, actually replicate information the US military was already circulating back in February.

This information is almost certainly true.  Raqqa is a provincial capital, but it is a relatively small place of no intrinsic significance, which only became ISIS’s ‘capital’ by chance because it has been under Jihadi control for a long time.

There is no inherent reason why ISIS should fight to the death for it, as opposed to relocating is ‘capital’ to Deir Ezzor.  Indeed there is a longstanding view that Deir Ezzor – relatively isolated from the rest of Syria and inherently more defendable – is a more logical location for ISIS’s ‘capital’ than Raqqa.

The one significant advantage Raqqa has for ISIS over Al-Madayin is that Raqqa has the prestige of being a provincial capital, which Al-Madayin is not.

That almost certainly explains ISIS’s relentless attempts since January to capture the town of Deir Ezzor, the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor province.  It seems that having lost hope of holding on to Raqqa, ISIS has been intent on capturing the city of Deir Ezzor so as to make it its new ‘capital’, and in anticipation of that it began to transfer its ‘bureaucrats’ from Raqqa to a location close to the city of Deir Ezzor in February.

What has prevented this plan from being put into effect is that the Syrian army garrison in Deir Ezzor has put up a much stiffer resistance than ISIS appears to have expected, so that contrary to the expectations of ISIS’s leadership the city of Deir Ezzor is still under the Syrian government’s control.  Indeed the very latest reports from the city suggest that the Syrian troops there have been gaining ground against ISIS recently.

The unanswered question is whether the relocation of ISIS’s ‘capital’ from Raqqa to Deir Ezzor is something which is actually wanted by the US.

The theory – discussed at length by the Moon of Alabama site – is that if ISIS captures Deir Ezzor and formally declares it its ‘capital’, then the US has a pretext to attack ISIS there, and – once Deir Ezzor is freed from ISIS – make Deir Ezzor the centre of a ‘liberated” ‘Free Syrian army’ Sunni controlled ‘safe area’ independent of the Syrian government in Damascus.

In that way the project of partitioning Syria would have been put into effect, with the advantage of placing the ‘Free Syrian army’ astride the lines linking the western part of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ – the Syrian government and Hezbollah – with its eastern part – Iran in the east  (see Afra’a Dagher’s detailed discussion of the strategic importance of Deir Ezzor, and its relation to all this).

Believers in this theory point to an apparent gathering of US backed ‘Free Syrian army’ Jihadi militia groups in Jordan, who it is supposed are being readied for an advance against ISIS in Deir Ezzor, with the real objective being to bar the advance of the Syrian army into this region, and to set up a US backed ‘Free Syrian army’ Jihadi “Sunnistan” once ISIS has been defeated there.

It is certainly possible that there are people in Washington who think this way.  The project of partitioning Syria by creating a Jihadi ‘Sunnistan’ in its eastern regions has been discussed in the US in the past, and it is certainly possible that there are officials in the US foreign policy and security bureaucracy who are still working towards achieving it.  Moreover the US air strike in September on Syrian army positions defending Deir Ezzor is consistent with this theory.

I would however make a number of important qualifications.

Though I am perfectly willing to believe that there are people within the US bureaucracy who think in this way, I strongly doubt that President Trump is one of them.  He does not come across to me as the sort of calculating strategist who would come up with or support this sort of plan, and his loathing of ISIS seems genuine, making it unlikely that he would consciously set out to use ISIS in this manipulative way.  In that important respect President Trump seems to me to be a very different person to his predecessor President Obama, who we know because of things former Secretary of State Kerry has said did indeed try to use ISIS as a tool against the Syrian government (see my detailed discussion here).

President Trump is not however the only official in the US government.  It is perfectly conceivable that there are others within the US government more cynical and ruthless than he is who are continuing with a strategy in Syria he probably doesn’t know about and wouldn’t approve of if he did.

However for the strategy to work ISIS has to capture Deir Ezzor.  So long as the Syrian garrison holds out there the Syrian army and the Russian air force have all the justification they need to engage ISIS there.  Moreover in doing so they now have the support of the Iraqi military.

The ‘Free Syrian army’ has consistently failed in any operation it has mounted against ISIS or the Syrian army in which it did not have external support.  It is very difficult to see it succeeding in territory contested between the Syrian army and ISIS, which is what Deir Ezzor province remains so long as the city of Deir Ezzor remains under the Syrian government’s control.  Would the US be prepared to challenge the Syrian army and the Russian air force to support a ‘Free Syrian army’ advance against ISIS, the Syrian and the Russian and Iraqi air forces in order to achieve some complicated plan for Syria’s partition?  That would be a massive escalation if it were to happen, and one which might be difficult to explain or justify.  President Trump has repeatedly ruled such an idea out, and frankly I don’t think it will happen.

What that means is that so long as Deir Ezzor remains in Syrian army hands this whole plan for Syria’s partition is a non-starter.  The Russians and the Syrians presumably understand this, which is why they have made defending the city a priority.

Beyond that there is the question of what would happen even if the plan were eventually to be ‘successfully’ carried out.

As the Moon of Alabama says, partitioning Syria in this way would leave the ‘Free Syrian army’ in possession of a poor, thinly populated desert region, sandwiched between the hostile powers of the Syrian army to the west and the Iraqi military to the east, with Iraq bound to oppose strongly the creation of a semi-independent Jihadi “Sunnistan” on its western border.

Sustaining such an entity would require a huge commitment of US resources.  Even if it were only intended to provide the US with leverage to strengthen the US’s hand in the negotiations for a political settlement of Syria’s future (in other words to remove President Assad from power) it hardly seems worthwhile.  Realistically, it would be far more likely to drain US resources, and to strengthen opposition against the administration’s Syrian policy within the US, than it would be to weaken the positions in the negotiations of the Syrian and Russian governments.

The extent of the US and Western fixation with President Assad means that it is not impossible – indeed it is very likely – that there are obsessive and hardline people in Washington and elsewhere who think in this way, and who come up with these over-complicated and dangerous plans, in this case of willing ISIS to capture Deir Ezzor in order to lay the groundwork for a Jihadi “Sunnistan” that can be used leverage the ouster of President Assad.  Possibly the latest moves should indeed be interpreted as intended to carry out such plans.

However these plans do not look to me at all realistic.  On the contrary they seem overcomplicated and unrealisable.  If they are seriously attempted they look certain to me to backfire on their creators.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran



“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch



Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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Saudi Arabia trying to squirm free of Khashoggi murder (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 2.

Alex Christoforou



RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at Saudi Arabia’s possible admission to killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi…accidentally, while they were torturing the man inside the consulate in Istanbul.

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Via Zerohedge

Even before the publication of last night’s Saudi trial balloon hinting that the kingdom would soon acknowledge that the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi – the insider-turned dissident journalist who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week and never walked back out – was the result of a “botched” kidnapping attempt carried out by “rogue killers” (despite reports that the US intelligence community knew that Khashoggi was being “targeted”), two realities had become increasingly clear. One: That the Saudis would avoid responsibility for the killing by pinning it on some unfortunate underling, and two: that there would be few, if any, lasting diplomatic repercussions.

And as more media organizations confirmed reports about Saudi’s plans to spin Khashoggi’s murder as a botched interrogation (we can only imagine what was said in that room to justify the use of such extreme violence), CNN calculated the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh for approximately 15 minutes early Tuesday, following his 12-hour-plus flight to the kingdom.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia lasted no more than 15 minutes, CNN estimates based on the time the top US diplomat’s motorcade arrived at the royal court and departed.

The motorcade arrived at the royal court at 11:42 a.m. (4:42 a.m. ET) and left 26 minutes later. There is a fair distance to walk from where the motorcade dropped Pompeo off to where he met the king.

While Trump said on Monday that Pompeo would travel to Turkey “if necessary”, the Saudi’s decision to “come clean” about Khashoggi’s death pretty much rendered Pompeo’s fact-finding mission unnecessary.More important are developments in Turkey, where the joint Saudi-Turkish “investigation” is turning its attention toward the home of the Saudi consul, where a black diplomatic van that departed the Saudi consulate just under two hours after Khashoggi entered was captured on camera disappearing into a garage. Some speculate that this is where the killers finished disposing of Khashoggi’s body. This comes after a “nine-hour” search of the Saudi consulate building that, according to leaks published in Al-Jazeera, turned up “evidence of tampering” by the Saudis. On Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister clarified that Saudi had yet to admit its role in Khashoggi’s disappearance and probable death.

Turkish investigators will carry out a search of the Saudi Consul General’s residence on Tuesday as the probe into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

CCTV footage released to the media from the day the Washington Post writer vanished show movement of vehicles from the consulate building to the Consul General’s residence nearby.

As speculation mounts that the incident could unseat the increasingly authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (who has already marginalized or incapacitated nearly every threat to his rule), it’s looking more likely that neither the US nor the rest of the Western world will do much to punish the world’s most important oil exporter, which can “weaponize” the oil market seemingly on a whim.

Any punishment for this flagrant violation of human rights will need to come, therefore, from the private sector, which, according to Bloomberg, could sabotage MbS’s grand Vision 2030 plan, which aims to remake the Saudi economy via a flood of foreign direct investment:

The economic strategy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, is to make investment the main engine of economic growth instead of government spending, but the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi could frustrate these ambitions. Foreign direct investment, a key part of the plan to reinvent Saudi Arabia’s economy, declined sharply in 2017 and is unlikely to return to previous levels, leaving the government’s target for 2020 beyond reach, according to analysis by Bloomberg Economics. Increased policy uncertainty and, after the Khashoggi incident, the risk of reputational damage to foreign companies working in Saudi Arabia won’t help.



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