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Syrian endgame? “De-escalation areas” turn out to be “destroy Al-Qaeda areas”

Russian plan for de-escalation areas revealed to be plan to isolate, fragment and ultimately destroy Al-Qaeda in Syria.

Alexander Mercouris

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Publication of the Memorandum setting up the ‘de-escalation areas’ signed by the representatives of Russia, Turkey and Iran at the Astana conference, together with certain comments about them by representatives of the Russian and Syrian governments, have clarified their intended purpose.

It is now clear that the ‘de-escalation areas’ have nothing in common with the ‘safe havens’ constantly advocated by various people in the West – including at different times by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – and by the Jihadi themselves, and by Turkish President Erdogan.  Erdogan’s attempt at the joint press conference with Putin to pretend that they were was misleading in the extreme and plain wrong.

Nor is it correct to suppose (as I did) that the Russian proposal to set up the ‘de-escalation areas’ was prompted by Donald Trump’s recently re-discovered enthusiasm for ‘safe havens’.  On the contrary it is clear that the Russians have been working on this proposal for some time, almost certainly from before the alleged Khan Sheikhoun attack and the US missile strike on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base.

It is now also clear that the ‘de-escalation areas’ are envisaged by the Russians as a mechanism to achieve two objectives that they set themselves from the moment they first intervened in Syria in the autumn of 2015, and which were the subject of repeated failed negotiations between the Russians and US Secretary of State John Kerry over the course of 2016.  These objectives are

(1) the separation of what the Russians construe as ‘legitimate’ rebel groups from Al-Qaeda and ISIS; and

(2) a ceasefire between these groups and the Syrian Arab Army – and their eventual disarmament – so that the full force of the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian air force can be concentrated against the main terrorist enemies: Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

There is already supposed to be a Russian-Turkish backed ceasefire in existence in Syria, which is backed by a Resolution of the UN Security Council.  That ceasefire has however been only sporadically honoured, with the Turkish backed Jihadi groups who have supposedly joined the ceasefire repeatedly joining Al-Qaeda in attacks on the Syrian army.

What the ‘de-escalation zones’ are intended to do is build on this ceasefire by concentrating these groups in four designated areas in (Idlib province, parts of Homs province, eastern Ghouta near Damascus and in an area in southern Syria), and compel them there to cease all military activity, whilst surrounding them there with a network of observation posts and checkpoints in what is being called a ‘security zone’, which will control entry and exit from these areas, in order to ensure that that is what they actually do.

The key provision of the memorandum is the one which sets up these ‘security zones’

4.  The security zones shall include

Checkpoints to ensure unhindered movement of unarmed civilians and delivery of humanitarian assistance as well as facilitate economic activities;

Observation posts to ensure compliance with the provisions of the ceasefire regime;

The functioning of the checkpoints and observation posts as well as the administration of the security zones shall be ensured by the forces of the Guarantors by consensus.  Third parties might be deployed, if necessary, by consensus of the Guarantors.

(bold italics added)

In other words the three Guarantor Powers – Russia, Iran and Turkey – will directly supervise the administration of the ‘security zones’ – which will encircle the ‘de-escalation zones’ – and the ceasefire between the Syrian Arab Army and those Jihadi groups who have joined it.  They will have forces present on the ground to do this, though they may in theory seek help with additional forces from other countries.  Those ‘third party’ troops  can however only come from those states which are acceptable to all three Guarantor Powers.  That in effect excludes these troops coming from the US, NATO, or the Gulf Arab states, since that would be unacceptable to Iran.

Unofficially it seems that the ‘third parties’ that are being talked about are Egypt and Algeria (both allies of the Syrian government) and possibly Pakistan.

A commentary on the memorandum published by Syria’s official news agency SANA suggests that the Syrian Arab Army will also have a role in policing the ‘security zones’ and in manning the check points

It added that the de-escalation areas will include checkpoints to ensure the free movement of unarmed civilians and the delivery of humanitarian assistance as well as economic activities and monitoring posts to ensure the implementation of the provisions of the cessation of hostilities regime.

The document noted that the representatives of the Syrian Arab Army and the armed opposition groups, which have joined the cessation of hostilities agreement, will carry out their tasks at checkpoints and monitoring posts.

(bold italics added)

This provision does not appear in the text of the memorandum which has been published.  It may however appear in a separate document.  If this is correct then the Syrian Arab Army by agreement of all three of the Guarantor powers will be reintroduced into areas currently under Jihadi control in order to help police the ceasefire there.  Supposedly it will do so alongside “representatives of the armed opposition groups”.  Whether that is actually possible remains to be seen.

An essential point to understand about the ‘de-escalation areas’ is that they do not envisage the complete cessation of military activities inside them.  It it is only the Syrian Arab Army and the Jihad groups which have joined the ceasefire which must cease fighting each other within the ‘de-escalation areas’.  This is made clear by the following provision in the memorandum

2.     Within the lines of the de-escalation areas:

hostilities between the conflicting parties (the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the armed opposition groups that have joined and will join the ceasefire regime) with the use of any kinds of weapons, including aerial weapons, shall be ceased

(bold italics added)

By contrast military operations will continue against any Al-Qaeda and ISIS forces within the ‘de-escalation areas’

5.  The Guarantors shall:

……

take all necessary measures to continue the fight against DAESH/ISIL, Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups,undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or DAESH/ISIL as designated by the UN Security Council within and outside the de-escalation areas

(bold italics added)

Al-Qaeda and ISIS (especially Al-Qaeda) are heavily embedded in all four ‘de-escalation areas’.  What the memorandum requires is that the Jihadi groups in these areas stand down, separate themselves from Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and cease interfering in the military operations in these areas of the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian air force against Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

In order to ensure this happens ‘security zones’ controlled in theory by the three Guarantor Powers but ultimately – since it is much the strongest power of the three – by Russia, will be set up to observe and police the areas in order to make sure that the Jihadi groups observe the ceasefire and do not interfere in the fight against Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Moreover in order to tighten control of these areas, entry and exit from them – including for humanitarian assistance and economic aid, which Al-Qaeda and ISIS have manipulated in the past to their advantage – will be controlled by the setting up of a network of observation posts and checkpoints manned by troops from a variety of sources (the Syrian Arab Army, those Jihadi groups participating in the ceasefire, and various friendly states) but which will again be ultimately controlled by Russia.

Needless to say these checkpoints are also intended to obstruct the movements of the Al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorists within the ‘de-escalation areas’ and to prevent them either escaping from or reinforcing themselves in these areas.

The ‘de-escalation zones’ are not therefore by any stretch of the imagination ‘safe havens’.  Nor are they really ‘de-escalation areas’.  Rather they are a device to isolate and break up the terrorist concentrations of Al-Qaeda and ISIS within these areas in order to destroy them there.

It remains to be seen whether this plan will ever be put into effect.  However if it is then it is the end of Al-Qaeda in Syria.

The four ‘de-escalation areas’ cover precisely those areas of Syria where Al-Qaeda is strongest, and where it has concentrated most of its forces.  If the plan is ever implemented they will be surrounded and divided from each other, making it possible for the Syrian army and the Russians to destroy them piecemeal.

Al-Qaeda has proved exceptionally skilled up to now at thwarting all previous Russian attempts to isolate it in Syria. This is however the most ambitious and thought-through Russian plan to do it to date.  Moreover it seems Turkey (historically Al-Qaeda’s primary backer in Syria) is going along with it.  Much will depend on whether Turkey continues to do so.  If it does then it is likely this plan will succeed.

As for ISIS, though it has a significant presence in all four ‘de-escalation areas’, its primary base areas lie outside them.  Even if the ‘de-escalation areas’ are thoroughly cleansed of Jihadi terrorists, ISIS can in theory continue to survive in its strongholds in eastern Syria, in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.  It will however be severely weakened and isolated, and as pressure on its strongholds mounts, its destruction will be just a matter of time.

It is because the ‘de-escalation area’ plan – if it is ever implemented – spells the doom of Al-Qaeda in Syria that the Jihadi groups represented in Astana opposed it so strenuously.

Al-Qaeda is by far the strongest Jihadi group in western Syria, and makes up the backbone of what is euphemistically called ‘the armed opposition’.  If Al-Qaeda in Syria is destroyed, then the Jihadis’ war against the Syrian government will have ended in defeat.  The Jihadi leaders know this, which is why the voiced such strong objection to the plan in Astana.  Their objections were however brushed aside, with Turkey – their biggest backer – signing up to the plan.

For the same reason the plan has been strongly welcome in Tehran and Damascus.  If it is ever implemented it represents for them victory in the war.

It remains to be seen whether the plan ever will be implemented.  The person on whom that depends is President Erdogan.  He has proved throughout the Syrian war to be a treacherous and unreliable partner.  However the fact that he has signed up to the plan – even if he seeks to misrepresent it – suggests that he too now finally realises that the Jihadis’ war in Syria is lost, and that it is in Turkey’s interests that it be brought to a close.

If that is indeed the case then it is justifiable to talk of the endgame being reached in Syria, with the prospect of the Syrian war being finally brought to an end.

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Trump Weighs In On The Single Worst Mistake In American History

Trump hits Bush: Invading Iraq ‘the single worst decision ever made’.

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Via Zerohedge


In a wide ranging interview with The Hill on Tuesday conducted in the Oval Office, President Trump was asked to give his take on the biggest mistake in American history.

Considering just how open-ended a question that is, it’s perhaps surprising that he merely went back less than a couple decades into the Bush presidency, though Trump’s base will certainly welcome it as it hearkens back to his “America First” foreign policy vision of the campaign trail.

“The worst single mistake ever made in the history of our country: going into the Middle East, by President Bush,” the president during his interview with Hill.TV.

“Obama may have gotten them (U.S. soldiers) out wrong, but going in is to me the biggest single mistake made in the history of our country,” he said.

Trump explained the reasoning behind this choice, and why it wasn’t something like the civil war or another defining and devastating event reaching far into American History.

“Because we spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. Now if you wanna fix a window some place they say, ‘oh gee, let’s not do it. Seven trillion, and millions of lives — you know, ‘cause I like to count both sides. Millions of lives,” the president explained.

Some scholars and humanitarian groups estimate that over one million Iraqis were killed in the US invasion and occupation of Iraq starting in 2003. A 2008 Opinion Research Business (ORB) poll, for example, found that approximately 1.03 million people had died as a result of the war.

“To me it’s the worst single mistake made in the history of our country. Civil war you can understand. Civil war, civil war. That’s different. For us to have gone into the Middle East, and that was just, that was a bad day for this country, I will tell you.”

Various estimates on the Iraq war’s cost have put the total taxpayer bill as low as near $2 trillion, but none dispute that it is in the multiple trillions, and estimates will vary widely depending on if veteran care is factored into it.

The comments echo things Trump said on the campaign trail in 2016. For example during one of his first major foreign policy speeches then candidate Trump said, “I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary, and I mean absolutely necessary, and will only do so if we have a plan for victory with a capital V.” And referencing the famous quote of John Quincy Adams, he said during the same speech, “The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies.”

He had previously shocked pundits for being the first Republican nominee for president to trash George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, and has more recently likened it to “throwing a big fat brick into a hornet’s nest”.

All of this is a hopeful sign considering the extremely heightened and dangerous tensions over Syria this week, and given Trump seems to have vacillated between “bringing the troops home” and getting more involved. On Monday Trump hinted that a decision on the U.S. role in Syria is coming soon.

Commenting on the over 2,000 troops now in Syria ostensibly as part of the “anti-ISIL” coalition campaign, Trump indicated this mission could end soon: “We’re very close to being finished with that job,” he said. He followed with: “And then we’re going to make a determination as to what we’re going to do.”

We consider it a hopeful and a good sign that Trump is possibly revisiting his “America First” foreign policy pledges by identifying the Iraq War as the worst mistake in US history.

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Brett Kavanaugh eleventh hour smear begins to fall apart (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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US President Trump is urging the woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh to testify and be heard.

Trump said he wants to hear from Christine Blasey Ford, noting that it would be “unfortunate” if she does not testify before a Senate committee. Trump told reporters Wednesday as he left the White House to view hurricane damage in North Carolina…

“If she doesn’t show up, that would be unfortunate.”

“If she shows up and makes a credible showing, that would be very interesting.”

From Trump’s lips to God’s ear…Blasey Ford came out to issue a statement essentially saying that she will not testify to Congress, either in an open or closed door session.

Furthermore it appears that Ford will not even allow Senate investigators to fly to California and obtain her statement from the comfort of her own home (as Senator Grassley has offered to do).

Ford is demanding an FBI investigation into an allegation with no date, time or place attached to it. 

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss the dangerous game of identity politics being played by the establishment, Democrat left, and their mainstream media minions.

The premise that a four decades old accusation is all that is needed to destroy a person’s entire life, threatens to tear down the most basic foundational values adhered to from within the US Constitution, and propel the United States of America towards a fascist state where censorship, citizen surveillance, and evidence free accusations are used to keep the establishment left in power and the American population cowered in fear.

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According to Zerohedge, Democrats’ Hail Mary play to stymie the confirmation of Trump SCOTUS pick Brett Kavanaugh is beginning to fizzle out. As angry Dems demanded that a Monday hearing on the allegations against Kavanaugh be delayed until the FBI has a chance to investigate, turncoat Republicans (on whom the Dems had been depending for votes) instead withdrew their support and fell in line after Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley declared that he would not honor Democrats’ request. Grassley revealed his intention to stand firm late Tuesday after lawyers for Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey, who is claiming that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her 35 years ago when the two were 17-year-old high school students, said their client wouldn’t be wiling to appear at Monday’s hearing.

According to the HillGrassley said Tuesday that there was “no reason” to delay the hearing now that Republicans have invited both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, his accuser, to testify publicly. However, while Ford’s attorneys have insisted that their client has taken a polygraph test and “deserves to be heard”, Ford has bizarrely insisted that the FBI should have an opportunity to investigate her claims before she appears before the committee in order to spare her the “trauma” of confronting her alleged assailant.

Ford’s lawyers conveyed her request in the form of a letter sent to the committee, a copy of which was obtained by CNN.

Senator Grassley said he would refuse this request as several Republicans who had appeared to be on the cusp of defecting said they wouldn’t support further delays should Ford prove unwilling to testify.

Via the Hill…

“Republicans extended a hand in good faith. If we don’t hear from both sides on Monday, let’s vote,” said GOP Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), who was one of the first Republicans to call for the Judiciary Committee to hit pause on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Sunday.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) told reporters earlier Tuesday that Ford’s lack of response to the committee about testifying was “puzzling.”

And GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, who had threatened to vote against Kavanaugh if Ford wasn’t given the chance to be heard, told CNN that he expected the committee to move on if she doesn’t appear.

“I think we’ll have to move to the markup,” he told CNN. “I hope she does (appear). I think she needs to be heard.”

Via Zerohedge…

Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s allegations and insisted he didn’t attend the party where the physical assault allegedly took place. Patrick Smyth, a fellow former Georgetown Prep student whom Ford alleges was also in attendance during the party issued a statement via his lawyer standing up for Kavanaugh. And in a separate letter to Grassley and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, not only does Smyth repudiate Ford’s allegations, but he adds that he doesn’t remember this party even taking place.

Of course, Feinstein – who admitted last night that she couldn’t say for certain that Ford’s story is entirely truthful – sat on Ford’s allegations for three months before referring them to the FBI and sharing them with other lawmakers (who purportedly “leaked” it to the press). President Trump on Tuesday said that he “feels sorry” for Kavanaugh, adding that he doesn’t want to “play into [Democrats] hands”, presumably by giving them more time to drag out the confirmation process.

“They should have done this a long time ago, three months ago, not now. But they did it now. So I don’t want to play into their hands,” Trump said.

Without the support of their Republican allies, Democrats will lack the votes on the committee to hold up the nomination past Monday. Though bizarrely, Kavanaugh himself hasn’t said yet whether he would or wouldn’t testify, which begs the question: If neither Kavanaugh nor Ford appear at the hearing, what exactly will lawmakers discuss?

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‘Hell on Earth’: MSF doctor tells RT of rape, violence, inhumane conditions in Lesbos refugee camp

One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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Via RT


One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

The overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos, built to accommodate 3,100, houses around 9,000 people. “It’s a kind of hell on Earth in Europe,” Dr. Alessandro Barberio, an MSF clinical psychiatrist, said, adding that people in the camp suffer from lack of water and medical care. “It is impossible to stay there,” he said.

According to Barberio, asylum seekers are subjected to violence “during night and day.””There is also sexual violence”which leads to “mental health issues,” he said, adding that all categories of people at the camp may be subjected to it. “There is rape against men, women and children,” and the victims of sexual violence in the camp often have nightmares and hallucinations, Barberio told RT.

Asylum seekers in Moria “are in constant fear of violence,” and these fears are not groundless, the psychiatrist said. “Such cases [of violence] take place every week.”

There is “one toilet for 72 people, one shower for 84 people. The sanitation is bad. People are suffering from bad conditions,” Michael Raeber, an aid worker at the camp, told RT. They suffer from mental health problems because they are kept for a long time in the camp, according to Raeber.

“There is no perspective, they don’t know how their case will go on, when they will ever be able to leave the island.” The camp is a “place where there is no rule of law,” with rampant violence and drug addiction among the inhabitants, Raeber said.

In its latest report, MSF, which has been working near Moria since late 2017, criticized the unprecedented health crisis in the camp – one of the biggest in Greece. About a third of the camp population consists of children, and many of them have harmed themselves, and have thought about or attempted suicide, according to the group.

Barberio was behind an MSF open letter on the state of emergency in Moria, released on Monday, in which he writes that he has never “witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions.”

Calling the camp an “island prison,” he insisted that many of his patients in the camp are unable to perform basic everyday functions, “such as sleeping, eating well, maintaining personal hygiene, and communicating.”

A number of human rights groups have strongly criticized the conditions at the camp and Greece’s “containment policy”regarding asylum seekers.

Christina Kalogirou, the regional governor of the North Aegean, which includes Lesbos, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the facility unless the government improves the conditions. On Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that Greece will move 2,000 asylum seekers out of the severely overcrowded camp and send them to the mainland by the end of September.

Greece, like other EU states, is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. According to International Organization for Migration estimates, 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece since the start of this year alone.

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