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CONFIRMED: Trump ends CIA arms to Salafists in Syria

The race for Raqqa is now increasingly a two-horse race between US backed Kurdish forces and the Syrian Arab Army which relies on support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

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Today, two reports emerged within minutes of each other which indicate that under Donald Trump, the United States has fully shifted its policies in Syria away from arming and aiding Salafist/jihadist terrorist fighters and is now allying exclusively with Kurdish.

To a less extent, America is also politically allied with Russia in a limited capacity in south western Syria, something which is more significant due to the shift it represents rather than in terms of size or scope.

Here are the key events:

1. US media reports that Trump ends CIA arming of terrorists 

The deeply anti-Trump Washington Post has reported the following,

“President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.

The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later.

Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgement of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power”.

The report adds,

“Officials said Trump made the decision to scrap the CIA program nearly a month ago, after an Oval Office meeting with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and national security adviser H.R. McMaster ahead of a July 7 meeting in Germany with Russian President Vladimir Putin”.

While the Washington post calls this a win for Russia, in reality this will not directly effect Russia one way or another. It is however, a win for Syria.

By most reasonable accounts, the conflict in Syria could have ended far earlier if not for the CIA and other US actors arming, funding and training Salafist jihadist fighters in Syria (often referred to as moderate rebels by the western mainstream media).

As even the Washington Post admits, almost in a gloating fashion, arming such jihadists was a flagship policy of the United States under Barack Obama.

This will take a substantial deal of pressure off the Syrian Arab Army and their fight against remaining terrorists in Syria.

Ever since Trump took office, the general trajectory of US meddling in Syria shifted from arming jihadists to arming, funding and working in close military coordination with Kurdish forces.

Today’s revelation simply affirms what was long the apparent on the ground policy of the United States since February of 2017.

It is key to remember that even after this announcement, the US presence in Syria is still illegal according to international law.

2. FSA jihadists withdraw from front-line in Raqqa 

Almost simultaneous to the Washington Post report, Al-Masdar which is generally the most reliable source of on the ground information in Syria, reported the following,

“The Quwwat al-Nukhba sub-group of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which fights within the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has been dismissed from any and all front-line duties in the ongoing Raqqa operation.

About one week ago, word came out that the FSA-linked group was to give up its positions within Raqqa city and retreat to the SDF’s rear areas outside the urban center. However, contradictory reports then came in suggesting that a compromise was reached whereby the Arab faction could retain its positions within the city – this was supported by some photo evidence.

However, according to the latest reports, Quwwat al-Nukhba has officially withdrawn from all of its front-line positions within Raqqa city and handed them over to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

 Information on why the Arab militia has been booted out of the operation remains officially unclear. Nonetheless, some sources suggest that the group showed repeated incompetence during Raqqa battle, advancing quickly within the city but then withdrawing from all gains, abandoning them to ISIS, almost as soon as they were taken.

In any case, the United States – who has overall command of the SDF – represents the party that gave the order for the Arab FSA-linked faction to withdraw (perhaps at the behest of Kurdish recommendations).

This now means that the battle to capture Raqqa from ISIS has become an almost exclusively Kurdish operation”.

Raqqa is now officially a two-horse race between US backed Kurdish forces from the north and the Syrian Arab Army approaching from the west and from the south via Dier Ez-Zor, which is fast becoming a bigger hotspot of remaining ISIS fighters in Syria vis-a-vis Raqqa.

The upside of this for Syria is that the danger of a kind of semi-permanent style US funded Salafist insurgency is reduced to almost nil. This is especially true due to Syria’s strong central government vis-a-vis that of Iraq in the mid-2000s and into recent years.

With the US garrison in southern Syria located in At-Tanf now effectively cut off from the rest of the country via strong lines of control by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies, the US would have hit a logistical brick wall if it expended its resources continuing to arm increasingly encircled and materially ineffective jihadist groups like the FSA and its splinter groups and off-shoots.

This move also removes any scant Turkish influence from the race to Raqqa as the few FSA fighters participating in the surge represented the only people who are loyal to a group that is in great part, a Turkish proxy.

Thus, the American decision to force the withdrawal of the minor contingent of the FSA from front-line fighting in Raqqa is close to a de-facto admission that incorporating such jihadists into the final battle with the jihadists of ISIS would be an exercise in futility, one that Kurds themselves also likely oppose.

3. The Russia connection 

At present, there is no overt linkage to these events and Donald Trump’s meeting at the G20 summit with Vladimir Putin. One can however, infer a conclusion that in order to work more effectively with Russia, the United States has dropped the last vestiges of support for jihadists such as the FSA, knowing that it would have reached a similar conclusion based on sheer logistics, even if Russia and the US did not strike a deal to mutually enforce the current ceasefire in south-western Syria along with Jordan.

In this sense, it is wise to remember that hyperbolic linkages of items 1 and 2 with the Trump-Putin meeting are at best circumstantial rather than causal–pragmatic rather than overtly strategic.

This still does not solve the crisis of what Kurdish forces might want as a result of their participation in the race for Raqqa, assuming they partly or wholly win the race.

Furthermore, if Kurds demand further concessions from Damascus including increased autonomy or even independence, many suspect that the United States will strongly back Kurdish demands rather than play the part of a neutral party. This would of course be opposed not only by Syria, Iraq and Iran but most strongly by Turkey which is a traditional US ally, although one which hardly sees eye-to-eye with the US on major Middle Eastern issues ranging from Qatar to Syria.

In this sense, the United States has chosen to infuriate Turkey further, make life slightly less difficult for Syria in terms of battle-field logistics, vaguely placate Russia and most importantly, declare an increased measure of loyalty to Kurds at the expense of the many anti-Kurdish actors in the region, including several technical US allies, namely both Turkey and Iraq.

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Trudeau’s Top Bureaucrat Unexpectedly Quits Amid Growing Corruption Scandal

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

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Via Zerohedge


Since it was exposed by a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this month, the scandal that’s become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair has already led to the firing of several of Trudeau’s close advisors and raised serious questions about whether the prime minister was complicit in pressuring the attorney general to offer a deferred prosecution agreement with a large, Quebec-based engineering firm.

And according to the first round of polls released since the affair exploded into public view…

…it could cost Trudeau his position as prime minister and return control to the conservatives, according to the CBC.

Campaign Research showed the Conservatives ahead with 37% to 32% for the Liberals, while both Ipsos and Léger put the margin at 36% to 34% in the Conservatives’ favour.Since December, when both polling firms were last in the field, the Liberals have lost one point in Campaign Research’s polling and four percentage points in the Ipsos poll, while the party is down five points since November in the Léger poll.

Meanwhile, as the noose tightens around Trudeau, on Monday another of the key Canadian government officials at the center of the SNC-Lavalin scandal has quit his post.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council, the highest-ranking position in Canada’s civil service and a key aide to Justin Trudeau, announced his retirement Monday. Trudeau named Ian Shugart, currently deputy minister of foreign affairs, to replace him.

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” he said, citing the need for impartiality on the issue of potential foreign interference. According to Bloomberg, the exact date of his departure is unclear.

As we reported in February, Canada’s former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit following allegations that several key Trudeau government figures pressured her to intervene to end a criminal prosecution against Montreal-based construction giant SNC. Wernick was among those she named in saying the prime minister’s office wanted her to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Wernick has since twice spoken to a committee of lawmakers investigating the case, and during that testimony both defended his actions on the SNC file and warned about the risk of foreign election interference, as “blame Putin” has become traditional Plan B plan for most politicians seeing their careers go up in flames.

“I’m deeply concerned about my country right now, its politics and where it’s headed. I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election,” he said in his first appearance before the House of Commons justice committee, before repeating the warning a second time this month. “If that was seen as alarmist, so be it. I was pulling the alarm. We need a public debate about foreign interference.”

Because somehow foreign interference has something to do with Wenick’s alleged corruption.

Incidentally, as we wonder what the real reason is behind Wernick’s swift departure, we are confident we will know soon enough.

Anyway, back to the now former clerk, who is meant to be non-partisan in service of the government of the day, also criticized comments by a Conservative senator and praised one of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers.

Wernick’s testimony was criticized as overly cozy with the ruling Liberals. Murray Rankin, a New Democratic Party lawmaker, asked the clerk how lawmakers could “do anything but conclude that you have in fact crossed the line into partisan activity?” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said he seemed “willing to interfere in partisan fashion for whoever is in power.”

Whatever Wernick’s true motives, he is the latest but not last in what will be a long line of cabinet departures as the SNC scandal exposes even more corruption in Trudeau’s cabinet (some have ironically pointed out that Canada’s “beloved” prime minister could be gone for actual corruption long before Trump). Trudeau had already lost a top political aide, Gerald Butts, to the scandal. A second minister, Jane Philpott, followed Wilson-Raybould in quitting cabinet.

Separately, on Monday, Trudeau appointed a former deputy prime minister in a Liberal government, Anne McLellan, as a special adviser to investigate some of the legal questions raised by the controversy. They include how governments should interact with the attorney general and whether that role should continue to be held by the justice minister.

As Bloomberg notes, the increasingly shaky Liberal government hasn’t ruled out helping SNC by ordering a deferred prosecution agreement in the corruption and bribery case, which centers around the company’s work in Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Doing so would allow the company to pay a fine and avoid any ban on receiving government contracts. That decision is up to the current attorney general, David Lametti; of course, such an action would only raise tensions amid speculation that the government is pushing for a specific political, and favorable for Trudeau, outcome.

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France To Ban Yellow Vest Protests In Neighborhoods With “Ultra” Radicals

Philippe added that he has asked the State Judicial Agent to “systematically seek the financial responsibility of troublemakers.”

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Via Zerohedge


France is cracking down on “yellow vest” protesters following a weekend of renewed violence – as the Macron administration announced on Monday that it would ban demonstration in several areas of france – including the Champs Elysees in Paris, if “ultra elements” are present, according to Interior Minister Edouard Philippe.

‘We will ban demonstrations if ultra elements’ are present, said Philippe, according to CNEWS.

The ban will apply to “neighborhoods that have been most affected as soon as we have knowledge of” the “ultras.”

“I am thinking of course the Champs-Elysees in Paris, the place Pey-Berland in Bordeaux, the Capitol Square in Toulouse”, Philippe added, where “we will proceed to the immediate dispersal of all groups.

Philippe added that he has asked the State Judicial Agent to “systematically seek the financial responsibility of troublemakers.”

Saturday marked a significant escalation in violence during the group’s 18th straight week of protests – which began as a revolt against a climate-change gas tax and expanded into a general anti-government movement.

As we noted on Sunday, 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 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

Sounds like things are about to get a lot more violent in Gay Paree.

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The Destabilisation Of Algeria: The Influx Of New Refugees To Europe And A Threat To Its Energy Security

The destabilisation of Algeria will undoubtedly cause problems for Europe. 

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Via Oriental Review:


The president of Algeria, 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power for almost 20 years, has declared that he will not be running for what would have been his fifth term. The announcement was made against the backdrop of widespread protests that have been rocking the country for days. Thus, the latest revolution in the Arab world has succeeded. The question is, what will come next?

Despite being laid to rest countless times, the Arab Spring has continued where it was least expected. Algeria has the same explosive cocktail as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, of course: a young, rapidly growing urban population deprived of jobs and opportunities; corruption and poverty amid opulent wealth and luxury; uneasy relationships between ethnic groups (in Algeria’s case, between the Arabs and the Kabyle people, a Berber ethnic group); Islamist activity; and, finally, an unchanging authoritarian leader who rules with the same unchanging palette of ideas as every other dictatorship – “Who else if not me?”, “It will be worse without me”, “You don’t change horses in midstream” and so on. But judging by how calmly the country endured the turbulent events in nearby Tunisia and Libya, with only localised pockets of unrest, many experts were under the impression that the elderly Bouteflika would simply be able to retire by handing the presidency to whomever he wants – namely Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who has the unspoken title of “successor”. Something has gone wrong, however.

It is unclear why, on 10 February, Bouteflika announced that he would be taking part in the presidential election scheduled for April. It is even unclear how much say he had in this decision. In 2013, Bouteflika suffered a stroke. A year later he was re-elected amid myriad accusations of election fraud and stopped appearing in public. Until last Sunday, that is, when Bouteflika delivered an address to the nation in which he announced he had changed his mind and no longer wanted to run for re-election.

“There won’t be a fifth mandate and it was never on the table as far as I am concerned,” he said. “Given my state of health and age, my last duty towards the Algerian people was always contributing to the foundation of a new Republic.”

On Monday, the government, including Ahmed Ouyahia, resigned. A “cabinet of technocrats” is being put together in its place headed by the now former interior minister, Noureddine Bedoui, and the streets of the country’s capital are filled with cheering crowds.

The biggest potential powder keg for the situation in Algeria, of course, is the fact that the presidential election has been postponed indefinitely. Exactly when it will take place will become clear after the national conference tasked with drafting a new constitution. The presidential election and the voting on it has to take place at the same time.

So, for the time being there is political uncertainty: a president who has either resigned or hasn’t; an emerging government; and a people inspired by what seems to be a victory. There is also the bulldog fight going on behind the scenes at the highest levels of government about which little is known, but which has been hampered by the presence of the country’s unquestioned leader, Bouteflika.

President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika

It should be remembered, however, that, no matter what you think of him, the current Algerian leaderdid actually bring stability to the country. It was during his presidency that the so-called “Black Decade” – a civil war instigated by Islamists in 1991 – came to an end. After winning the 1999 presidential election, Bouteflika secured an amnesty for the militants and the wave of terror gradually subsided. At the beginning of his time in office, he pursued a fairly flexible policy, didn’t persecute his opponents as long as they didn’t resort to violent methods, and tried to make it so that rising energy prices had a positive impact on the well-being of the people and not just the ruling elite. The system began to stiffen in 2008, however, when a law was passed allowing the president to be re-elected an infinite number of times. This process has now gone so far that opponents of the regime are only going to be happy with serious, rather than cosmetic, changes, and this kind of attitude always spells danger for the future of a country.

If the situation in Algeria comes to bloodshed, then it is unlikely that other countries will stay on the sidelines. Europe will be forced to intervene, if only to prevent a new wave of refugees from Arab countries.

Meanwhile, the situation in Algeria remains tense. The president’s announcement that he will not run for a fifth term has not quelled the protests. The unrest of the people is now directed against the introduction of a transition period and the creation of a new government that they believe will contain all the same people who are running the country now. The protesters are demanding a regime change, although they are not formulating their position very well. What’s more, following Bouteflika’s decision not to run for re-election on 18 April, no one is ready – there are no other candidates, no one has carried out an election campaign and it would be virtually impossible to do so in the time remaining. It therefore seems that the different sides will now have to talk to each other.

A possible split in the Algerian elite could be dangerous. In fact, that’s why Bouteflika was put forward for president – he united them. The balance among the parties close to power is extremely fragile, but the feelings of unrest and discontent are strong. A number of organisations are taking part in the street protests, including various parties and NGOs, and the longer the protests continue, the more various forces will try to take advantage of them.

Prime Minister of Algeria Noureddine Bedoui

Algeria’s political parties and movements have been divided in their assessment of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decisions. The National Liberation Front has supported the head of state, who “heeded the calls of the Algerian people”. In a statement, the ruling party said: “It allows politicians and members of civil society to take part in the construction of a new Algeria.” Abdelamajid Munasyra, the deputy leader of the moderate Islamist party Movement for the Society of Peace, said that Bouteflika “withdrew his candidacy from the presidential election but remained in power, which violates the constitution”. The Algerian newspaper Elkhabar quotes the politician as saying:

“The political opposition is waiting for the response of the people, whether these decisions will be accepted by the people. But if these steps are not taken, which is likely, then we will stand with the people.”

In a video statement, the head of the Union for Reform and Progress, Zubaidah Assul, called the president’s actions “a political manoeuvre and an attempt to avoid meeting the demands of the demonstrators”. The Algerian politician continued: “From what we have heard, it appears that the president has extended his term in office, and he has not given any indication of how long the transition period will last.” She also noted that the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister have been filled by representatives of the “old regime”. At the same time, Assul believes that the people will quietly continue trying to oust “the entire regime from power”.

The dissatisfaction of Algerians is being spurred on by the unfavourable social and economic situation in the country. The protesters are demanding pro-Western reforms and they’re demanding changes in the country. According to unofficial sources, more than one million people took part in the protests in Algeria on 1 March.

The lack of a viable successor and the inability of the current elite to solve the economic crisis are contributing to the uncertainty of Algeria’s political future, something that the current regime’s main opponents – the Islamists – will inevitably try to take advantage of. The weakening of the vertical power structure and the continuing protests are creating a breeding ground for the resurrection of Islamist organisations. In particular, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb recently published a talk entitled “Algeria…Getting Out From The Dark Tunnel”, which states that the organisation is ready to take advantage of the unrest when the time is right.

The destabilisation of Algeria will undoubtedly cause problems for Europe. Besides the inevitable influx of new refugees, Europe could also face a threat to its energy security, given that Algeria provides a third of the gas consumed in Europe and as much as half of the gas consumed in Spain. At the same time, the weakness of the current government during a possible civil conflict will be exacerbated by the situation in the bordering countries of Libya and Mali. ISIS jihadists have strong positions in both countries, while the lengthy and poorly controlled border with Mali and Libya risks the spread of Islamic fundamentalism into the vast territories of north and north-west Africa.

The US will also not fail to take advantage of the complex situation in Algeria. Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, Washington will easily be able to implement plans to penetrate and consolidate its positions in the Sahel-Sahara Region. A large-scale military presence will also allow the US to secure its interests in reorienting Algeria’s energy policy towards the development of shale gas and implementing its strategic objective of organising the supply of this raw material to Europe.

Whatever happens, Algeria is facing several serious challenges at once and its ability to respond is being severely hampered by a lack of any notable potential leaders either within government or within the ranks of the opposition.

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