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IDLIB: Where sectarian wars, proxy wars and international cooperation collide

The battle for Idlib will likely be the most fraught of all remaining fights to liberate Syria.




Ankara has announced that as part of its rights and obligations, in line with the most recent Astana agreement, Turkey will be sending further troops into Syria’s fraught Idlib Governorate. According to Ankara, Turkish troops in Idlib will work along with long-time Turkish proxy forces in the governorate who tend to call themselves FSA, although as with all proxy forces in Syria, the names of any given set of militants is highly fluid.

Idlib is unique among the Governorates of the western half of Syria, insofar as it is the one part of the region which remains almost totally controlled by terrorist factions. What’s more is that as al-Qaeda and FSA terrorists have been shoved out of much of western and southern Syria, competing terrorist factions within Idlib, have turned on one another in what amounts to a civil war between terrorist factions, each vying for control of land, resources and international attention.

Added to this mix, the geographic location of Idlib makes it well placed to act as a kind of buffer zone against Kurdish attempts to annex or else dominate the northern frontier of Syria. Earlier this year, Kurdish groups in Syria confirmed their ambitions to create Kurdish enclaves which stretch along the Turkish border to the Mediterranean. Such a development, were it to come to fruition, would be equally opposed by both Turkey and Syria.

While much of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric on his new operation in Idlib sounds markedly similar to that which he employed during the height of Operation Euphrates Shield, an illegal Turkish incursion into Syria designed to destabilise the Syrian government, the facts of Turkey’s current operation are greatly different, albeit in subtle yet profound ways. When it comes to testing Erdogan’s rhetoric against his foreign policies, one only needs to see how closely Turkey is currently cooperating with the Shi’a dominated government in Iraq, a country which is a close Iranian ally. Furthermore, Turkey and Iran are cooperating closely in Iraq and other areas concerning economic and security matters. If Erdogan was purely a Sunni extremist as some of his domestic rhetoric suggests, he would not be cooperating with Iran or Iraq, but he is. This reality speaks for itself: Erdogan is more pragmatic in his executions of policy than he is when describing them to his base at home.

First of all, while Euphrates Shield was illegal, openly anti-Syrian and for all intents and purposes serving the interests of both the US and Israel, Turkey’s current operations in Idlib are part of the legal framework of the Astana Agreements which were reached with Syria’s long time allies Russia and Iran. Furthermore, Damascus gave its approval to the recent Astana Agreement as it has done in respect of all previous such agreements.

Turkey has said openly and in some respects even pridefully, that its Idlib operation is being coordinated with Russia and Iran. Furthermore, Russian Aerospace Forces are working with Turkish troops on the ground against targets in the region.

The practical difference between the current Turkish operation and Euphrates Shield is that Turkey has swapped a dangerous and unrealistic goal of destabilising Syria through the use of proxy Sunni supremacist terrorists, for a realistic and legitimate goal of creating a buffer zone on the Syria-Turkey border which will contain the Syria based Kurdish YPG, an armed group which is allied with the Turkey based Kurdish terrorist organisation PKK.

Today, the Turkish President admitted that this is a major goal of his current operation in Syria. He said,

“YPG is a terrorist organization, which wants to create a terrorist corridor from Afrin to the Mediterranean Sea. We will not allow that and are forced to destroy this corridor. We do not want to seize these territories but we will ensure the security of our borders”.

With Russia acknwoelding that the YPG dominated US proxy force SDF is both colluding with and in other places failing to fight ISIS and with Iran being consummately opposed to the SDF: Turkey, Iran and Russia, along with Syria, all now have a common enemy in the form of the Kurdish led US proxy militia SDF. In this sense, one ought to realistically see Turkey’s new operation in Idlib as a preemptive and possibly soon, an active battle between Turkish and Turkish proxies, against Kurdish positions in Syria, all being done with the direct approval of Russia and Iran and also the tacit approval of Syria.

Whether so-called FSA fighters who in Idlib are little more than mercenaries working for Turkey, actually fight al-Qaeda groups or not, remains to be seen. As it is, Idlib is already a blood bath whose contents are a mixture of blood spilt in a manifold conflict between rival elements of al-Qaeda, the FSA and armed Muslim Brotherhood factions. Put simply, there are no ‘good guys’ in Idlib and haven’t been for some time.

The fact remains that it will not be until the kind of Russo-Syrian cooperation that has been successful in Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Deir-ez-Zor, commences in Idlib, that the world will witness a meaningful liberation of Idlib. Furthermore, because of the manifold nature of the sectarian conflict between terrorist groups in Idlib, there is increasingly little to liberate at this point in time. Here, one can point to Syria and Russia playing a long game, waiting for others, including Turkey, to weed out various factions in order to make the fighting to liberate Idlib more straightforward at a later (but not that much later) date.

Another important factor to remember is how meaningless the title FSA really is. Throughout Syria, various factions call themselves FSA simply to allude to the fact that they are jihadists who are not necessarily directly aligned with the command structure of al-Qaeda nor ISIS. That being said, many of the fighters between various groups are interchangeable.

Just as the US toys with various names for its jihadist proxies ranging from FSA to NSA (New Syrian Army), Turkey is playing the same game of misleading and ultimately inconsequential alphabet soup. What is important to remember is that on the whole, Turkish proxies in Idlib are little more than Turkish mercenaries. So long as Turkey provides the money and/or weapons, they will fight under Turkish orders and at present, in spite of the typical militant Sunni rhetoric that Erdogan offers to his domestic base, in reality. the Turks are going back into Idlib to create a buffer zone against the Kurds and this means, so too will their proxies/mercenaries.

There is always the chance that some factions of the Turkish proxies in Idlib will ‘go rogue’, perhaps even with the tacit consent of some Turkish commanders and align with al-Qaeda as they have done in the past. While this would be an objectively harmful thing, the fact remains that the scope of any such operation would be limited by the prevailing circumstances in Syria.

Everyone from elements of the US State Department to the leaders of France and Germany to the Turks themselves, to the Saudi Foreign Minister, now acknowledge that the Syrian government is not going to fall.

Instead of asking weather Erdogan will revert to his ‘old ways’, a more pertinent set of questions is as follows:

–Will Idlib become a second Golan Heights only substituting Israel for Turkey? 

–Will Idlib fall to Kurdish militants who are on the whole, little more than US and by extrapolation, Israeli proxies? 

–Will Idlib eventually be liberated by legitimate actors and returned to a part of a unitary Syria in line with Syria’s legal position and the stated aims of Russia and Iran? 

The answers to the questions depend on first of all, how successful Turkey is at restraining Kurdish ambitions along the Syrian border and secondly, how committed all of the Astana parties are to respecting Syrian territorial unity.

The best outcome is the full restoration of Idlib under Syrian control. The worst that could happen is a perpetuation of the long time status quo of Idlib being a terrorist no-man’s land. As the US continues to be squeezed out of Syria, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Washington or Tel Aviv will be able to fully get its hands on Idlib, not least because Turkey is now an adversary of both in all but name and right now Turkey is boss in Idlib, along with two other opponents of US ambitions against Syria, Russia and Iran.

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Rod Rosenstein resigns from his post before President Trump can fire him

Rosenstein’s comments about secretly recording the President backfire, and resignation may throw the Mueller Russiagate probe into question.

Seraphim Hanisch



The Washington Times broke the story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resigned from his post. He submitted his resignation to Chief of Staff John Kelly.  At present the breaking story says the following:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out at the Department of Justice.

Axios reported that Mr. Rosenstein verbally resigned to White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly, but CNN said that he is expecting to be fired.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment on the reports.

Mr. Rosenstein’s departure immediately throws Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe into chaos.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, leaving Mr. Rosenstein in charge.

President Trump mulled firing the No. 2 at the Department of Justice over the weekend.

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This report came after Fox News reported that the Deputy AG was summoned to the White House. Fox reported a little more detail:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is heading to the White House expecting to be fired, sources tell Fox News, in the wake of a report that he suggested wearing a wire against President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office last year.

This is a developing story, however one major factor that comes under consideration is the fate of Robert Mueller and his Russiagate investigation, which was authorized by Rosenstein. CNBC had this to say in their piece:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is resigning Monday, according to Axios, which cited a source familiar with the matter.

NBC News’ Pete Williams, however, reported that Rosenstein would not resign of his own accord, and that he will only depart if the White House fired him. He will refuse to resign if asked to do so, Williams added.

Rosenstein was at the White House when Williams reported this on the air. However, President Donald Trump is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Bloomberg later reported that the White House accepted Rosenstein’s resignation, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Rosenstein’s expected resignation will immediately raise questions about the fate of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Rosenstein’s job security was called into question after The New York Times reported last week that the No. 2 DOJ official had discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump, and had also talked about surreptitiously recording the president.

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel investigation, and has appointed Mueller to run the Russia probe last year, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the report.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Axios’ report. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly blasted Mueller’s inquiry, which also is focused on possible collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign.

He has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and has repeatedly vented frustration about Sessions’ recusal, which directly led to Mueller’s appointment by Rosenstein.

Rosenstein’s expected departure comes on the heels of a guilty plea by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to conspiracy charges related to his consulting work in Ukraine, which predates his role on the campaign.

As part of the investigation, Mueller’s team has been locked in an ongoing back-and-forth with Trump’s legal team over an in-person interview with the president.

Trump’s lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have signaled that Trump is unwilling to sit for an interview, calling it a “perjury trap” and setting up a potential challenge for Mueller to subpoena the president.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.



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European Council crushes Theresa May’s soft Brexit dream (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou



UK Prime Minister Theresa May hoped that the European Council was ready to see things her way, in terms of proceeding with a soft Brexit, which was essentially no Brexit at all…at least not the hard Brexit that was voted on in a democratic referendum approximately two years ago.

Much to May’s surprise, European Council President Donald Tusk delivered a death blow verdict for May’s Brexit, noting that EU leaders are in full agreement that Chequers plan for Brexit “will not work” because “it risks undermining the single market.”

Without a miracle compromise springing up come during the October summit, the UK will drift into the March 29, 2019 deadline without a deal and out of the European Union…which was initially what was voted for way back in 2016, leaving everyone asking, what the hell was May doing wasting Britain’s time and resources for two years, so as to return back to the hard Brexit terms she was charged with carrying forward after the 2016 referendum?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss what was a disastrous EU summit in Salzburg for UK PM Theresa May, in what looks to be the final nail in May’s tenure as UK Prime Minister, as a hard Brexit now seems all but certain.

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Via Zerohedge

Tusk was speaking at the end of an EU summit in Salzburg, where the leaders of the 27 remaining states in the bloc were discussing Brexit. He said that while there were “positive elements” in May’s Chequers plan, a deal that puts the single market at risk cannot be accepted.

“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Tusk said. He also said that he could not “exclude” the possibility that the UK could exit the EU in March with no deal.

May has been urging her European counterparts to accept her controversial Chequers plan which has split both the Conservative party and the broader UK population after it was thrashed out back in July. However, despite the painfully-slow negotiation process, which appears to have made little headway with just a few months left, the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019 – with or without an exit deal.

The main sticking point that has emerged, and left May and the EU at loggerheads, has been how to avoid new checks on the Irish border. May has claimed that her proposals were the “only serious, credible” way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. She said during a press conference after the Salzburg meeting that she would not accept the EU’s “backstop” plan to avoid a Northern Ireland hard border. She said the UK would shortly be bringing forward its own proposals.

May also said that there was “a lot of hard work to be done,” adding that the UK was also preparing for the eventuality of having to leave the EU without a deal. Tusk, meanwhile, said that the upcoming October summit would be the “moment of truth” for reaching a deal, and that “if the conditions are there” another summit would be held in November to “formalize” it.

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Russia makes HUGE strides in drone technology



The US and Israel are universally recognized leaders in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Thousands of American and Israeli UAVs are operating across the world daily.

The US military has recently successfully tested an air-to-air missile to turn its MQ-9 Reaper drone into an effective long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance unmanned spy aircraft capable of air-to-surface as well as air-to-air missions. This is a major breakthrough. It’s not a secret that Russia has been lagging behind in UAV development. Now its seems to be going to change with tangible progress made to narrow the gap.

Very few nations boast drones capable of high-altitude long endurance (HALE) missions. Russia is to enter the club of the chosen. In late 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry awarded a HALE UAV contract to the Kazan-based Simonov design bureau.

This month, Russian Zvezda military news TV channel showed a video (below) of Altair (Altius) heavy drone prototype aircraft number “03”, going through its first flight test.

Propelled by two RED A03/V12 500hp high fuel efficiency diesel engines, each producing a capacity of 500 hp on takeoff, the 5-ton heavy vehicle with a wingspan of 28.5 meters boasts a maximum altitude of 12km and a range of 10,000km at a cruising speed of 150-250km/h.

Wingspan: about 30 meters. Maximum speed: up to 950 km/h. Flight endurance: 48 hours. Payload: two tons, which allows the creation of a strike version. The vehicle is able to autonomously take off and land or be guided by an operator from the ground.

The UAV can carry the usual range of optical and thermal sensors as well as synthetic-aperture ground-surveillance radar with the resolution of .1 meter at the range of 35km and 1 meter at the range of 125km. The communications equipment allows real-time data exchange.

Russia’s UAV program currently underway includes the development of a range of large, small, and mid-sized drones. The Orion-E medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV was unveiled at the MAKS 2017 air show. Its developer, Kronstadt Technologies, claims it could be modified for strike missions. The one-ton drone is going through testing now. The Orion-E is capable of automatic takeoff and landing.

It can fly continuously for 24 hours, carrying a surveillance payload of up to 200 kg to include a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) turret, synthetic aperture radar and high resolution cameras. The drone can reach a maximum altitude of 7,500 m. Its range is 250 km.

The Sukhoi design bureau is currently developing the Okhotnik (Hunter) strike drone with a range of about 3,500km. The drone made its maiden flight this year. In its current capacity, it has an anti-radar coating, and will store missiles and precision-guided bombs internally to avoid radar detection.

The Kazan-based Eniks Design Bureau is working on the small T-16 weaponized aerial vehicle able to carry 6 kg of payload.

The new Russian Korsar (Corsair) tactical surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be upgraded to receive an electronic warfare system. Its operational range will be increased from 150km to 250km. The drone was revealed at Victory Day military parade along with the Korsar unmanned combat helicopter version.

The rotary wing drone lacks the speed and altitude of the fixed wing variant, but has a great advantage of being able to operate without landing strips and can be sea-based. Both drones can carry guided and unguided munitions. The fixed-wing version can be armed with Ataka 9M120 missiles.

The first Russian helicopter-type unmanned aerial vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells was presented at the Army-2018 international forum. With the horizontal cruising speed of the drone up to 60 kph, the unmanned chopper can stay in the air at least 2.5 hours to conduct reconnaissance operations. Its payload is up to 5 kg.

Last November, the Kalashnikov Concern reported that it would start production of heavy unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying up to several tons of cargo and operating for several days at a time without needing to recharge.

All in all, the Russian military operate 1,900 drones on a daily basis. The multi-purpose Orlan-10 with a range of 600km has become a working horse that no military operation, including combat actions in Syria, can be conducted without. Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov,
the head of the Russian General Staff’s Office for UAV Development, Russian drones performed over 23,000 flights, lasting 140,000 hours in total.

Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027 puts the creation of armed UAVs at the top of priorities’ list. Looks like the effort begins to pay off. Russia is well on the way to become second to none in UAV capability.

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Via Strategic Culture

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