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World War could begin in north-east Syria

The Turkish incursion into Syria to capture the ISIS held town of Jarablus is the product of the growth of Kurdish and ISIS influence in north east Syria. It is also the result of US backing for the Kurds, which by encouraging them to seize territory is uniting the Turkish and Syrian government against them.

Alexander Mercouris

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The security situation in north eastern Syria is becoming increasingly complicated with clashes between the Kurdish militia and the Syrian army in the town of Al-Hasakah, a US warning that it will respond to Syrian air strikes against its troops in the area, and a Turkish incursion into Syria to capture the border town of Jarablus.

All this comes shortly after the capture by Kurdish militia (calling themselves the “Syrian Democratic Forces”) of the previously ISIS controlled town of Manbij. 

That town was captured following heavy US air strikes, which caused severe losses to the local population, and are of a sort which when allegedly carried out by the Syrian air force in Aleppo can be relied upon to provoke a media storm in the West and the harsh condemnation of the US and the UN.

What lies behind this sudden deterioration of the situation in north east Syria?

Though there were doubtless various factors behind the outbreak of clashes between the Syrian army and the Kurdish militia in Al-Hasakah, the underlying cause appears to be the desire of the Kurdish militia to carve out an autonomous region for itself in north east Syria. 

It seems that following the capture of Manbij the Kurdish militia has felt emboldened to try to take control of the whole of this territory, and has moved to oust the Syrian government troops who were still present in the area.  This has led directly to the clashes in Al-Hasakah, which in turn provoked the Syrian air strikes, which led in turn to the warning from the US.

The major complicating factor is the role of the US.  The US warning which has attracted so much attention is not in fact a departure from standard US policy, which is to protect its troops wherever they are.  However it does show how complicated and dangerous because of US involvement the situation in north east Syria has become. 

Having committed itself simultaneously to the overthrow of the Syrian government and the defeat of ISIS, and having also branded the other major player in the Syrian war – Al-Qaeda’s local franchise Jabhat Al-Nusra – a terrorist organisation, the US is short of effective allies on the ground in Syria. 

Accordingly it has embraced the Kurds, who do possess an effective militia, but whose interests are ultimately focused on securing autonomy for their own region rather than gaining power in Damascus.

This is very much in the style of US “third force” strategies, pursued by the US in various conflicts during and since the Cold War, which the US still from time to time ventures into despite their almost invariable record of failure.

The result is that though the Kurdish militia and the Syrian army were sometime uneasy allies in the Syrian war, they are now in conflict with each other, with the Russians however trying to broker a ceasefire between them.

US policy meanwhile has alarmed Turkey, for whom Kurdish separatism is an existential issue.  Coming on top of the Kurdish advances in Manbij and Al-Hasakah, and following the recent ISIS terror attack in Gaziantep, this has provoked the Turkish incursion into Syria to capture Jarablus from ISIS, presumably before the Kurds do.

The main focus of the war in Syria is not in the north east.  It is further west in Aleppo. 

What is happening in the north east of Syria is in military terms a sideshow, though one which has had an impact on the fighting in Aleppo with reports of clashes between Syrian troops and Kurdish militia who were previously cooperating with each in the city. 

The very latest reports however suggest that Russian mediation has managed to end these clashes.

Whilst it is in Aleppo and further west in Idlib (held by Jabhat Al-Nusra) that the outcome of the war in Syria will be decided, that does not mean that the fighting in north east Syria is without consequences.

It is difficult to avoid the feeling that the US has been deliberately building up the Kurdish militia and encouraging it to seize territory, not just or even principally in order to fight ISIS, but in order to use the Kurds to gain influence in Syria. 

The strategy seems to be similar to the one the US eventually followed in the 1990s in Iraq, where the US helped the Kurds carve out an autonomous zone in the north of the country, allowing the US to maintain a presence on the ground in Iraq even after the 1991 war had ended. 

The effect of this policy is however to escalate the violence, feed the alarm of the US’s erstwhile Turkish ally – provoking the Turkish advance on Jarablus which is now underway – and paradoxically giving the Turkish and Syrian governments a shared interest with each other.

This follows the pattern of other conflicts where the US has followed “third force” strategies.  US sponsorship of “third forces” has never decided the outcome of any conflict in the US’s favour.  What it invariably does is complicate and exacerbate the conflict, escalating the violence and making a lasting solution more difficult.

If the Syrian government is able to recapture eastern Aleppo and ultimately Idlib, and if it also manages to relieve the desert city of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria (currently besieged by ISIS) then it will have won the war. 

ISIS will be confined to a pocket of north east Syria around Raqqa, fighting the Kurds in the same area, and with both the Kurds and ISIS in conflict with neighbouring Turkey, which will have a vested interest in achieving the defeat of both. 

It is not difficult to see how at that point the Turkish and Syrian governments might finally come together, with Turkey supporting the restoration of the Syrian government’s authority in north east Syria.  From Turkey’s point of view that would be a far preferable outcome to having either ISIS or the Kurds in continued control of areas of north east Syria adjoining Turkey.

The recent signals of possible Turkish plans for a rapprochement with the government of Syria that have attracted so much attention do not seem to signal any weakening of Turkish support for the Syrian rebels fighting the Syrian government in Aleppo and Idlib. 

Rather they look to be a case of Turkey positioning itself for a scenario of a Syrian army victory in Aleppo and Idlib, paving the way for Turkey in that case to support the Syrian government as it seeks to regain control in north east Syria from ISIS and the Kurds.

In the meantime the Iranian news agency Fars reports that the deputy head of Turkish military intelligence – the same organisation that saved Erdogan’s government during the recent coup attempt, and which was tipped off by the Russians about the coup – is visiting Damascus for apparently not so secret talks with the Syrian government.

If these reports are true then it is likely that it was the situation in north east Syria that was discussed, with the Turks possibly informing the Syrians of their intended advance on Jarablus, and with the Syrians conceivably even giving the green light for it.

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Media meltdown hits stupid levels as Trump and Putin hold first summit (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 58.

Alex Christoforou

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It was, and still remains a media meltdown of epic proportions as that dastardly ‘traitor’ US President Donald Trump decided to meet with that ‘thug’ Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Of course these are the simplistic and moronic epitaphs that are now universally being thrown around on everything from Morning Joe to Fox and Friends.

Mainstream media shills, and even intelligent alternative news political commentators, are all towing the same line, “thug” and “traitor”, while no one has given much thought to the policy and geo-political realities that have brought these two leaders together in Helsinki.

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou provide some real news analysis of the historic Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, without the stupid ‘thug’ and ‘traitor’ monikers carelessly being thrown around by the tools that occupy much of the mainstream media. Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

And if you though that one summit between Putin and Trump was more than enough to send the media into code level red meltdown, POTUS Trump is now hinting (maybe trolling) at a second Putin summit.

Via Zerohedge

And cue another ‘meltdown’ in 3…2…1…

While arguments continue over whether the Helsinki Summit was a success (end of Cold War 2.0) or not (most treasonous president ever), President Trump is convinced “The Summit was a great success,” and hints that there will be a second summit soon, where they will address: “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”

However, we suspect what will ‘trigger’ the liberal media to melt down is his use of the Stalin-esque term “enemy of the people” to describe the Fake News Media once again…

 

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While US seeks to up the ante on pressure on the DPRK, Russia proposes easing sanctions

These proposals show the dichotomy between the philosophy of US and Russian foreign policy

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The United States last week accused the DPRK of violating refined petroleum caps imposed as a part of UN nuclear sanctions dating back to 2006, and is therefore submitting a proposal to cut all petroleum product sales to North Korea.

The Trump administration is keen on not only preserving pressure on North Korea over its nuclear arms development, but in increasing that pressure even as DPRK Chairman, Kim Jong-Un, is serially meeting with world leaders in a bid to secure North Korea’s security and potential nuclear disarmament, a major move that could deescalate tensions in the region, end the war with the South, and ease global apprehensions about the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Russia is proposing to the UNSC sanctions relief in some form due to the North’s expressed commitment to nuclear disarmament in the light of recent developments.

Reuters reports:

MOSCOW/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia’s envoy to North Korea said on Wednesday it would be logical to raise the question of easing sanctions on North Korea with the United Nations Security Council, as the United States pushes for a halt to refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.

“The positive change on the Korean peninsula is now obvious,” said the ambassador, Alexander Matsegora, according to the RIA news agency, adding that Russia was ready to help modernize North Korea’s energy system if sanctions were lifted and if Pyongyang can find funding for the modernization.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

China tried late last month to get the Security Council to issue a statement praising the June 12 Singapore meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressing its “willingness to adjust the measures on the DPRK in light of the DPRK’s compliance with the resolutions.”

North Korea’s official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

But the United States blocked the statement on June 28 given “ongoing and very sensitive talks between the United States and the DPRK at this time,” diplomats said. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the importance of sanctions enforcement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to informally brief U.N. Security Council envoys along with South Korea and Japan on Friday.

Diplomats say they expect Pompeo to stress the need to maintain pressure on North Korea during his briefing on Friday.

In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said he elicited a promise from Russian President Vladimir Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. He also said: “There is no rush, the sanctions remain!”

The United States accused North Korea last week of breaching a U.N. sanctions cap on refined petroleum by making illicit transfers between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

The United States submitted the complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to decide by Thursday whether it will tell all U.N. member states to halt all transfers of refined petroleum to Pyongyang.

Such decisions are made by consensus and some diplomats said they expected China or Russia to delay or block the move.

When asked on June 13 about whether sanctions should be loosened, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “We should be thinking about steps in that direction because inevitably there is progress on the track that should be reciprocal, that should be a two-way street. The other side should see encouragement to go forward.”

The proposals of both the United States and Russia are likely to be vetoed by each other, resulting no real changes, but what it displays is the foreign policy positions of both nuclear powers towards the relative position of the DPRK and its rhetorical move towards denuclearization. The US demonstrates that its campaign of increased pressure on the North is necessary to accomplishing the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, while Russia’s philosophy on the matter is to show a mutual willingness to follow through on verbal commitment with a real show of action towards an improved relationship, mirroring on the ground what is happening in politics.

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Europe divided over possible trade compromise with Trump

Even if a European proposal could score a trade cease fire, the war isn’t over

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US President Donald Trump has just lectured NATO on it member’s commitment performance and held a controversial meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and is next week to receive EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with trade matters being high up on the agenda.

Juncker is expected to present Trump with a package of proposals to help smooth relations and potentially heal areas of division, particularly those surrounding Europe’s trade relationship with America. Those proposals are precisely what is cropping up as another area of divergence between some members of the EU, specifically France and Germany, just after a major contention on migration has been driving discord within the Union.

This gets down to whether Europe should offer concessions to Trump on trade while Trump is admittedly describing the Union as a ‘foe’ and has initiated a trade spat with the Union by assessing trade tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, spurring retaliatory tariff measures from the EU Commission.

France, specifically, is opposed to any sort of compromise with Trump on the matter, where Trump is perceived as an opponent to the Union and its unity, whereas Germany is economically motivated to seek an end to the trade dispute under the threat of a new round of tariffs emanating from the Trump administration, and is therefore seeking to find some sort of proposal that Trump will accept and therefore back down on his protectionism against the EU, and Germany in particular.

Politico reports:

Only a week before European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker flies to Washington, France and Germany are divided over how much he should offer to U.S. President Donald Trump to end a deepening trade war, say European diplomats and officials.

But, they add, Germany has the upper hand. Berlin is shaping Juncker’s agenda, suggesting three offers that he could take to Trump on July 25 to resolve the dispute, according to people familiar with the plans.

The French are uneasy about the wisdom of such a conciliatory approach, however, and publicly accuse Trump of seeking to splinter and weaken the 28-member bloc, which he has called his “foe.”

Despite Paris’ reservations about giving away too much to the increasingly hostile U.S. president, the diplomats say that the European Commission’s powerful Secretary-General Martin Selmayr supports the German attempt at rapprochement, which makes it more likely that Juncker will offer some kind of trade fix next week.

“It’s clear that Juncker can’t go to Washington empty-handed,” one diplomat said. He stressed that Juncker’s proposals would be a political signal to Washington and would not be the formal beginning of negotiations, which would have to be approved by EU countries.

European ambassadors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the scope of Juncker’s offer — and indeed whether any offers should be made at all. France’s official position is that Europe must not strike any deal with a gun to its head, or with any country that has opted out of the Paris climate accord, as Trump’s America has done.

While Berlin is terrified by the prospect of 20 percent tariffs on cars and is desperate for a ceasefire deal, France has more fundamental suspicions that the time for compromise is over and that Trump simply wants to destroy EU unity. Paris is concerned that Trump’s next target is its sacred farm sector and is putting more emphasis on the importance of preserving a united political front against Washington.

Two diplomats said Berlin has a broad menu of offers that should be made to Trump: a bilateral deal to cut industrial tariffs, a plurilateral agreement to eliminate car duties worldwide, and a bigger transatlantic trade agreement including regulatory cooperation that potentially also comes with talks on increasing U.S. beef exports into Europe.

Making such generous offers is contentious when Trump crystallized his trade position toward Brussels on CBS news on Sunday: “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”

This undiplomatic bombshell came not long after he reportedly advised French President Emmanuel Macron to quit the EU to get a better trade deal than he was willing to offer the EU28.

In announcing Juncker’s visit on Tuesday, the White House said that he and Trump “will focus on improving transatlantic trade and forging a stronger economic partnership.”

Talking to the enemy

Diplomats note that a French-led camp in Brussels reckons Trump’s goals are strategic, and that he’s not after the sort of deal Germany is offering.

A French government official said that Washington quite simply wants to shift the EU off the stage: “Trump’s objective is that there are two big blocs: The United States and China. A multipower world with Europe as a strong player does not fit in.”

France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this month also issued a stark warning that Trump is seeking to drive a wedge between France and Germany — courting Paris, while simultaneously attacking Berlin’s trade surplus with the U.S. “In this globalized world, European countries must form a bloc, because what our partners or adversaries want is to divide us,” Le Maire said at an economic conference in Aix-en-Provence. “What the United States want, that’s to divide France and Germany.”

Despite these remarks from Le Maire, Anthony Gardner, former ambassador to the EU under the Barack Obama administration, said that he suspects the full magnitude of the threat has not sunk in. “Europe wake up; the U.S. wants to break up the EU,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Remember Belgium’s motto: L’union fait la force. [Unity creates strength]. Especially on trade. No side deals.”

One EU diplomat insisted that Brussels is not blind to these dangers in the run-up to Juncker’s visit.

Trump thinks that Europe is “too big to be controllable by DC, so it’s bad for America. Simple logic. And therefore the only deal that will bring the president to stop the trade war is the deal that breaks up the European market. I don’t quite think that’s the legacy Juncker is aiming for,” the diplomat said.

Europe is source of a deep frustration for Trump, as it runs a massive goods surplus with the U.S., at $147 billion in 2016. In particular, the U.S. president blames Germany’s mighty car exporters for this imbalance.

Leveling the field is not easy, however. With its market of 510 million consumers, Europe not only has the clout to stand up to the United States, but is increasingly setting global standards — particularly on food. This not only limits U.S. exports in Europe but also means that the European model is used in a broader trading ecosystem that includes Canada, Mexico and Japan.

New world order

Marietje Schaake, a liberal Dutch member of the European Parliament, observed that the U.S. trade strategy meshed with Trump’s political agenda.

“You could say there’s a new transatlantic relation emerging, of nationalists, populists and protectionists,” she said, pointing out that Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast doubt on America’s commitment to supporting European security.

Trump’s opposition to the EU partly builds on an long-standing American discomfort about the EU’s economic policies.

“We already saw problems during the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, where the U.S. didn’t like EU demands such as on geographical indications [food name protections], and certainly didn’t like that we had ambitious requests in areas like public procurement,” said Pascal Kerneis, managing director of the European Services Forum and a member of the now defunct TTIP advisory group.

Kerneis said that Trump’s trade attacks are shifting the tensions to a completely new level: “He’s attacking on all fronts, hoping to break our unity, particularly between Germany and France.”

France particularly fears that Trump’s duties on Spanish olives could only be the first salvo on Europe’s whole system of farm subsidies.

EU lawmaker Schaake said that France is right to worry about a conflagration. “Once we give in in one area, he will attack at the next one,” she said. “If we allow Trump to play Europeans against each other, sector by sector, it will be a losing game.”

Even if Europe goes about capitulating to Trump’s gripes about the Union, whether it gets back to NATO defense spending or the trade deficit, the question remains whether this will satiate Trump’s political appetite and result in an improved trade perspective and politically acceptable position with Washington, and France’s concern that the matter runs deeper and has a foreign policy agenda behind it, and that caving to Trump’s pressure will only end in defeat for the EU would therefore appear reasonable.

But Germany is staring down the barrel of a possible new round of tariffs that would hurt some of their largest industries and is therefore under a lot of pressure to find a solution, or at least some sort of agreement that could deescalate the situation.

However, Germany’s recent record of resolving international issues is such that Germany is really only scoring cease fire agreements, rather than ending the real political conflicts, referring mainly to the immigration issue which recently resulted only in diffusing some inter Union tensions, but without resolving the problem itself.

In this context, Germany could promise the moon and stars to Trump, possibly avert further trade tensions, but yet fail to address the core political and trade conflicts that have already broken out. Essentially, then, such a compromise would only serve to function as damage control, while leaving Germany and the Union at a further disadvantaged political position relative to the States at the political table.

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