Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Globe Special: The Great Game

The "21st-century version." 

Ah, Zbig, we hardly knew ye (must be the 21$t-century version of war drums)!

"Beyond Raqqa, an even bigger battle to defeat ISIS looms" by Anne Barnard New York Times   June 10, 2017

BEIRUT — There are signs that US-backed forces could recapture Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in northern Syria and a long-sought target, with relative ease, yet the militant group’s commanders, who have withdrawn their toughest forces from the city, and most everyone else in Syria’s multifaceted war are looking ahead to an even more decisive battle in the south.

There, a complex confrontation is unfolding, with far more geopolitical import and risk. Whoever lays claim to the sparsely populated area in this 21st-century version of the Great Game not only will take credit for seizing what is likely to be the Islamic State’s last patch of a territorial caliphate in Syria, but also will play an important role in determining Syria’s future and the postwar dynamics of the region.

Can't we leave that up to the Syrian people (70% of which backed Assad in last election)?

On Saturday, the activist coalition Raqqa24 said seven people were killed when coalition aircraft bombed al-Nour street in the city, the Associated Press reported. There was no immediate confirmation from US forces, who are providing battlefield support to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 Raqqa civilians were killed in coalition air raids over the past 24 hours.

There was no immediate comment from the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group.

With the stakes so high in the southern border region, the United States, Iran, and Russia are all scrambling for advantage. They are building up their forces and proxy fighters and, increasingly, engaging in inflammatory clashes that threaten to escalate into a larger conflict.

On Thursday, a US pilot shot down an Iranian-made drone as big as an American Predator, which had fired on US-backed Syrian fighters and US Special Forces advisers.

All have their eyes on Deir el-Zour province, where Islamic State forces surround an estimated 200,000 people in a government-held section of the provincial capital of the same name.

The contested area also includes desert regions farther south with several border crossings, among them the critical highway connecting Damascus and Baghdad — coveted by Iran as a land route to Lebanon and its ally, the Shi'ite militia Hezbollah.

You mean like China's new $ilk Road?

But what is really at stake are even larger issues. Will the Syrian government re-establish control of the country all the way to its eastern borders? Will the desert straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border remain a no man’s land ripe for militant control? If not, who will dominate there — forces aligned with Iran, Russia or the United States? Which Syrian factions will wield the most influence?

The moment is a “major crossroads” in the conflict, said Kamel Wazne, who studies Hezbollah, the United States and the Middle East and teaches at the American University of Beirut.

That is where my print copy ended, and what I noticed was no mention of the attack on Iranian troops. How lame.

The Americans want to prevent the establishment of a “Shi’ite crescent” of influence from Iran to Lebanon, Wazne said, and to maintain “a piece of what is taking place in Syria.” 

That's why they are funding and directing Al-CIA-Duh and ISIS!

“They will not allow the Iranians and those they support to have a victory at the expense of the Americans in the whole region,” he added.

That, Wazne said, puts the United States at loggerheads with the pro-government alliance in Syria, especially Hezbollah and Iran.

With President Trump and his newly emboldened Sunni partners in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf turning up the heat against Iran, Tehran and its allies will be determined, he said, to show they cannot be intimidated.

“They can drive the confrontation,” he said. “This camp is actually more determined to carry through with the fight, in their minds the ultimate confrontation.”

So when is the nuclear false flag within the United States, with ma$$ media narrative being it was an Iranian bomb they never had smuggled in by Syrian terrorists disguised war refugees?

Or does some Israeli sub simply sink an American aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, a la the USS Liberty?

Moving east from the heart of Syria is the alliance backing President Bashar Assad, consisting of the Syrian army and Iran-backed militias, supported by Russian air power and Iranian advisers. Some reports even suggest that Russian advisers are active on the battlefield.

Indeed, on Friday, progovernment forces struck what could be a major blow to US plans, making a surprise advance to the Iraqi border that cut off US-backed troops, blocking their way to the front against Islamic State in Deir el-Zour.

The lineup of combatants is dizzying. Moving north from the Jordanian border are Syrian rebels who have long fought the government but are now being trained to fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by US, British and Norwegian forces.

They have a garrison near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders and the Baghdad highway, and receive air support from the US-led, anti-ISIS coalition.

A safe haven?

Then there are the SDF, also US-backed forces, which are attacking the Islamic State in Raqqa. There are signs that to take Raqqa without an all-out fight, they will let more Islamic State fighters escape to the south. And their leaders have voiced ambitions to follow the fight south to Deir el-Zour.


"As turf shrinks, Islamic State focuses on expanding reach" by Rukmini Callimachi New York Times   June 10, 2017

LONDON — The strikes in the past week against London and Tehran followed back-to-back attacks, by an assailant who used an SUV to smash into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in March and a suicide bomber at a pop concert in Manchester in May. “This is for Allah!,” the attackers were heard screaming in the latest bloodshed in London as they plunged knives into their victims.


From a publicity standpoint, the attacks in Britain and Iran are a lift to the Islamic State as it loses ground steadily in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. Some analysts have interpreted the strikes as a bid by the group to demonstrate its resilience, even as its territory-holding caliphate slowly disappears, but a review of court records and statements by officials suggests that the violence in London and Tehran was more than just a message.

It reflected persistent efforts by the Islamic State since its rise in 2014 to hit targets once thought unassailable — especially in Britain. During this period, officials in the United Kingdom intercepted and foiled more than a dozen plots – including five just in the past three months.

Yeah, they are doing a great job.

The number of disrupted plots appears to be far greater in Iran, a Shiite-majority country loathed by the militant Sunni extremists of the Islamic State, which has aimed to hit Iran since at least 2007.

A day after the deadly assault last week on the Parliament building and the tomb of Iran’s revolutionary founder, Iranian intelligence officials said they had thwarted 100 terrorist plots in the past two years.

Hours after the violence in Iran, the Islamic State released its glossy, online magazine, directly challenging skeptics who have questioned the group’s stamina as its territory shrinks. 

That's when this all starts a-stinkin'.

While little detail has been shared with the public about thwarted attacks in Iran, plots neutralized in Britain show how the Islamic State’s reach grew with each attempt.....

Yeah, nice try, NYT. 


You know, the "rhetoric is loud and menacing but ultimately empty."


"State-run Qatar Petroleum sought to reassure the public Saturday, saying its production of oil and gas has not been impacted by tensions in the Gulf that saw several Arab states block their airspace, ports, and shipping lanes to Qatar. Several Arab states, including Saudia Arabia and Egypt, have accused the country to fostering terrorism. Qatar Petroleum said it has taken steps to supply its customers. More than a third of the world’s liquefied natural gas trade comes from Qatar (AP)."

Whose helping them?

Two migrants die, 1,000 saved at sea

Court ruling helps embattled leader

They threw him a lifeline amid widespread calls that he resign.

Muslim executed in blasphemy case

"Ethiopia’s government is warning it will run out of emergency food aid starting next month as the number of drought victims in the East African country has reached 7.8 million. An international delegation visited one of the worst-affected areas Friday near the border with Somalia, which is also affected (AP)."

Related: Lunch Break


"Northern Irish party will prop up British government" by Jill Lawless Associated Press  June 10, 2017

LONDON — The election result has demolished British Prime Minister Theresa May’s political authority, and she has also lost her two top aides, sacrificed in a bid to save their leader from being toppled by a furious Conservative Party, but the ballot-box humiliation has seriously — and possibly mortally — wounded her leadership just as Britain is about to begin complex exit talks with the European Union.

The announcement came after May lost chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who resigned Saturday. They formed part of May’s small inner circle and were blamed by many Conservatives for the party’s lackluster campaign and unpopular election platform, which alienated older voters with its plan to take away a winter fuel allowance and make them pay more for long-term care.

In a resignation statement on the Conservative Home website, Timothy conceded that the campaign had failed to communicate ‘‘Theresa’s positive plan for the future,’’ and missed signs of surging support for the opposition Labour Party. Some senior Tories had made the removal of Hill and Timothy a condition for continuing to support May.

Conservative legislator Nigel Evans said the Conservative election manifesto — which Hill and Timothy were key in drafting — was ‘‘a full assault on the core Tory voters, who are senior citizens. It was a disaster. Our manifesto was full of fear and the Labour Party’s manifesto was full of promises.’’

Martin Selmayr, senior aide to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, responded to the resignations by tweeting the word ‘‘bauernopfer’’ — German for the sacrifice of a pawn in chess.

May called the early election when her party was comfortably ahead in the polls, in the hope of increasing her majority and strengthening Britain’s hand in exit talks with the EU. Instead, the result has sown confusion and division in British ranks, just days before negotiations are due to start on June 19.

May wanted to win explicit backing for her stance on Brexit, which involves leaving the EU’s single market and imposing restrictions on immigration while trying to negotiate free trade deal with the bloc. Some say her failure means the government must now take a more flexible approach to the divorce.


The EU won, huh?

The Times of London said in an editorial that ‘‘the election appears to have been, among other things, a rejection of the vague but harshly worded prospectus for Brexit for which Mrs. May sought a mandate.’’

Her weakened position in the party rules out big changes, and May’s office has said that the most senior Cabinet members — including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd — will keep their jobs, but she is expected to shuffle the lower ranks of ministers.

The arrangement with the DUP will make governing easier, but it makes some Conservatives uneasy. The DUP is a socially conservative pro-British Protestant group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, and once appointed an environment minister in Northern Ireland’s government who believes human-driven climate change is a myth.

The DUP was founded in the 1970s by the late firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, and in the 1980s was a key player in the ‘‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’’ campaign, which unsuccessfully fought against the legalization of gay sex.

Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, said she had asked May for assurances that there would be no attack on gay rights after a deal with the DUP.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK in which same-sex marriage is illegal.

‘‘It’s an issue very close to my heart and one that I wanted categoric assurances from the prime minister on, and I received [them],’’ said Davidson, who is engaged to be married to her female partner.

I think you have bigger problems right now, no?

DUP leader Arlene Foster recently denied the party was homophobic.

‘‘I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality. That’s not a matter for me,’’ she said. ‘‘When it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage.’’

A deal between the government and the DUP could also unsettle the precarious balance between Northern Ireland’s British loyalist and Irish nationalist parties.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, riding a wave of acclaim for his party’s unexpectedly strong showing, called on May to resign, but she seems secure for the immediate future, because senior Conservatives don’t want to plunge the party into a damaging leadership contest.....

On Saturday she was lame duck, but by Sunday she is unimpeachable?



"Afghan soldier opens fire on US troops, killing two servicemen" by Annie Gowen Washington Post  June 10, 2017

KABUL — An Afghan soldier opened fire on US troops in a restive eastern province of Afghanistan on Saturday, killing three and injuring another, authorities said.

The shooting occurred in the Achin district of Afghanistan’s Nangahar province, according to a US defense official, an area where both Taliban and Islamic State insurgents are contesting territory.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Early media reports suggested the assailant was an elite Afghan commando, although that is not confirmed. The gunman was killed by American troops, according to a security official in the province.

Achin has been the site of heavy fighting in recent months as US Special Operations forces — including elite Army Rangers and Green Berets — have been working alongside Afghan commandos to force the Islamic State from the area. Three US soldiers had died there this year before Saturday’s shooting.

The Taliban are also active in the area, and there have been reports of clashes between the two insurgent groups in recent weeks. A Taliban spokesman sent a text message to journalists Saturday claiming the alleged assailant was an ‘‘infiltrator’’ of the Afghan army.

Allied commanders provided limited details.

They would be lies anyway.

Also Saturday, two Afghan border policemen were killed by US aircraft fire during a joint operation in the southern province of Helmand. The US military in a statement apologized for the deaths and said the incident was under investigation....

They call it friendly fire.



Wasn't Achin where they dropped the MOAB on a purported cave complex where insurgents were believed to be hiding?

Just call it McMaster’s War (cue music).


"US spy planes help Philippine troops halt siege" by Todd Pitman Associated Press  June 10, 2017

ILIGAN, Philippines — American spy planes are helping Philippine troops quell a nearly three-week siege by Muslim militants in a southern city where 13 Philippine marines were killed in the biggest single-day loss for government forces, officials said Saturday.

A US Navy aircraft provided surveillance for the local troops as the battle raged in Marawi on Friday, confirming the involvement of the US military in helping to end the urban insurrection at the request of the Philippine government, Philippine military officials said.

How nice of them after starting it.

A US Navy P3 Orion plane hovered in cloudy skies above Marawi on Friday. The aircraft flew above rocket-firing Philippine helicopters that struck militant positions, causing plumes of smoke to billow skyward.

‘‘We don’t have adequate surveillance equipment, so we asked the US military for assistance. It’s noncombat assistance,’’ military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said by phone, citing a Philippine government policy that bars foreign troops from local combat.

The US Embassy in Manila said without elaborating that US special operations forces were providing help to Filipino troops battling the Maute and Abu Sayyaf militants in Marawi.

‘‘The United States is a proud ally of the Philippines, and we will continue to work with the Philippines to address shared threats to the peace and security of our countries, including on counterterrorism issues,’’ the embassy said in a statement.

Looks like the Filipinos are back in line again.

Philippine marines were conducting a house-to-house search for militants allied with the Islamic State group who are still occupying parts of Marawi when the battle erupted Friday, said Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman for the Philippine army’s 1st Infantry Division.

About 30 to 40 militants used civilians as human shields, making it hard for troops to operate, and also positioned themselves in the city’s many mosques.

Forty other marines were wounded, Herrera said.

Philippine military officials say the violence has left at least 138 militants and 58 government troops dead. At least 21 civilians have been killed, including a boy who was hit by suspected militant gunfire inside a Marawi mosque where his family had taken refuge, Padilla said.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the city, parts of which were reduced to rubble by fighting and government airstrikes in an attempt to dislodge the rebels.

‘‘This temporary setback has not diminished our resolve a bit,’’ military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said. ‘‘It instead primed up our determination to continue our prudent advances to neutralize the enemy, save the innocent lives trapped in the fight, and set the conditions for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi.’’

Filipino forces, meanwhile, captured Friday the mother of two top militant leaders leading the siege.

Ominta Romato Maute, who is also known as Farhana, was arrested with two wounded men and several women allegedly with assault rifles and other weapons in Masiu town in Lanao del Sur province.

Maute’s husband, Cayamora, was arrested at a police checkpoint in the southern city of Davao on Tuesday. The two were detained on suspicion of providing financial and other support to their children who are involved in the fighting in Marawi, officials said.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines and home to a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the designated administrator of martial law, has ordered the arrest of nearly 200 militants, politicians, and other suspected civilian backers of the unprecedented uprising in Marawi, the mosque-studded heartland of Islamic faith in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The Marawi siege followed a May 23 army raid that failed to capture a top terror suspect, Isnilon Hapilon, who has been designated by the Islamic State group as its leader in Southeast Asia.

The raid, however, preempted a plot by hundreds of militants waving Islamic State group-style black flags to capture Marawi and kill Christians, military officials say. 



"Saudi Arabia is destabilizing the world" by Stephen Kinzer   June 11, 2017

Successive American presidents have assured us that Saudi Arabia is our friend and wishes us well. Yet we know that Osama bin Laden and most of his 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and that, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a diplomatic cable eight years ago, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

And also the Clinton Foundation as it turns out.

Recent events in Indonesia shine a light on a Saudi project that is even more pernicious than financing terrorists. Saudi Arabia has used its wealth, much of which comes from the United States, to turn entire nations into hotbeds of radical Islam. By refusing to protest or even officially acknowledge this far-reaching project, we finance our own assassins — and global terror.

I think he is on to something there despite advancing the conventional narrative.

Some Indonesians are pushing back against the Saudi assault on their traditional values, but it is difficult to deny permission for new religious schools when the state is not able to provide decent secular alternatives. In Indonesia, as in other countries where the Saudis are actively promoting Wahhabism — including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bosnia — the weakness and corruption of central governments create pools of rootless unemployed who are easily seduced by the promises of free food and a place in God’s army.

The surging fundamentalism that is transforming Indonesia teaches several lessons. First is one that we should already have learned, about the nature of the Saudi government. It is an absolute monarchy supported by one of the world’s most reactionary religious sects. The clerics refrain from criticizing the Saudi monarchy or its thousands of high-living princes. Saudis with close ties to the ruling family give crucial support to groups like Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. This fact should be at the front of our minds whenever we consider our policy toward the Middle East — including when we decide whether to side with the Saudis in their new dispute with neighboring Qatar.

Saudi Arabia’s success in reshaping Indonesia shows the importance of the global battle over ideas. Many in Washington consider spending for cultural and other “soft power” projects to be wasteful. The Saudis feel differently. They pour money and resources into promoting their world view. We should do the same.

The third lesson that today’s Indonesia teaches is about the vulnerability of democracy. In 1998 Indonesia’s repressive military dictatorship gave way to a new system, based on free elections, that promised civil and political rights for all. Radical preachers who would previously have been imprisoned for whipping up religious hatred found themselves free spread their poison. Democracy enables them to forge giant mobs that demand death for apostates. Their political parties campaign in democratic elections for the right to come to power and crush democracy. This is a sobering reality for those who believe that one political system is best for all countries under all circumstances.

The Saudi campaign to radicalize global Islam also shows that earth-shaking events often happen slowly and quietly. The press, focused intently on reporting today’s news, often misses deeper and more important stories. Historians of journalism sometimes point to the northward “great migration” of African-Americans after World War II as an epochal story that few journalists noticed because it was a slow process rather than one-day news event.

The same is true of Saudi Arabia’s long campaign to pull the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims back to the 7th century. We barely notice it, but every day, from Mumbai to Manchester, we feel its effects.....


Related: Fun in the Sun in Saudi Arabia

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