Autocratic Turkish President Fosters Global Crises

 

The U.S. State Department last week ordered American military and diplomatic families to withdraw from Turkey. The pullout shows the West's growing concerns about the NATO member's shift to authoritarian, belligerent and pro-Islamic policies.

Regarded just a few years ago as a stable, prosperous nation with a rare combination of pro-democratic traditions and a Muslim majority, Turkey's geo-political position and internal security are rapidly declining and fostering threats to a larger region.

Today's column summarizes these developments, documented by a long appendix of news stories since Turkey's ruling AKP party won a surprisingly strong (and some say suspicious) election victory Nov. 1 with just short of 50 percent of the announced vote. The news reports are drawn from a mixture of alternative and mainstream sources and present a far different view of ISIS, Turkey and United States-led activities than Western audiences normally see.

The gist is that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ambitions have boomeranged, thereby diminishing his clout and country.

He has helped his allies foster the disgraceful covert actions enabling the civil war in Syria, thereby generating the massive refugee crisis destroying many lives and undermining the European Union. His fatal shootdown of a Russian fighter in Syria last November could have prompted a much Recep Erdoganwider war involving NATO but instead seems merely to have strengthened Russian resolve to punish Turkey, expose its ties to ISIS and other jihadists — and otherwise ensure that the ambitions of Turkey and its allies are thwarted in the key battlefield of Syria.

A columnist in Newsweek last month described Erdoğan, shown in a file photo, "as out of control" and in danger of overthrow, as described more fully below.

For years, however, Western media have failed for the most part to report except in isolated instances how Turkey, the United States and other allies have secretly supported a rebellion in Syria by smuggling in arms and foreign fighters to foster the illusion that the intended overthrow was domestic unrest.

At this point, Turkey's troubles include two major terrorist atrocities recently in major cities and reprisals by government. The mayhem includes its ongoing covert war against neighboring areas of Syria, plus crackdowns on accused terrorists, journalists, dissidents, religious and ethnic minorities. 

Turkey's flailing and repressive responses carry huge implications for both its population as well as for NATO, and regional players that include Israel, the Persian Gulf Monarchies, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon 

A major part of the decline in Turkey's global position stems from Erdoğan's zeal for his multi-nation alliance to keep trying to overthrow Syria's government. Since the effort began in 2011Turkey has supported rebels that include ethnic Turks located in northern Syria, the so-called Free Syrian Army, and radical jihadists whom Turkey has helped smuggle into Syria from elsewhere around the world.

How Many Nations Will Be Destroyed?

The war has killed hundreds of thousands and created millions of refugees, including two million now living in Turkey. Turkey, located partly in Asia minor and partly in Europe, has recently allowed smuggling operations sending many refugees northward to Europe. More than a million refugees (including from North Africa and central Asia, not simply from Syria) have flooded into Germany alone in 2015.

Suffering, resentment and fear are running high, as reported in a Washington Post article, which focused on just one German city: At least 21 asylum seekers suspected in New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Germany.

More generally, Turkey is now taking much of the blame for the disastrous attempted regime-change attempt in Syria even though many other nations have been complicit in the U.S.-led effort.

Turkey over-extended itself, especially because its president has doubled down on his country's losses and risks.

President Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Susan Rice confer in Turkey 11-15-15Meanwhile, President Obama and Western Europeans have adapted to changing circumstances, including Russia's military intervention that has enabled Syria's government and its allies from Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah to secure many of Western Syria's vital areas. This evolution is reflected in an important cover story published by The Atlantic Magazine in mid-March based on a long interview by its correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg with President Obama: The Obama Doctrine.

The Syrian government and its allies are now begin to destroy ISIS in eastern and central Syria — much to the secret dismay of regime-change enthusiasts in surrounding nations and allied circles in Western capitals.

The beginnings of the Obama administration's adjustments to this new reality are illustrated by the adjoining White House photo, which shows the president meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 Summit Nov. 15 at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey. National Security Advisor Susan Rice listens at left. Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met briefly with Turkey's president, generating little news, during his visit in early April to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC skipped by Putin.

The relevant military, politic and strategic developments are summarized in this column's long appendix. It excerpts recent news columns and portend major problems both for the current governments of Turkey and many Western European nations being overwhelmed with refugees far exceeding the previous norms. The European Union has an open border policy for the most part.

The refugee crisis could help blow apart the essence of EU, beginning with a referendum later this spring in the United Kingdom.

European governments recently reached a near-desperation deal with Turkey to pay an estimated 6 billion euros if Turkey would take back some recent refugees and restrict future smuggling.

Under that deal, Greece is scheduled April 4 to begin returning refugees to Turkey. But the arrangement seems likely to patch merely in stopgap fashion the immense problems generated by the regional wars. Additionally, it smacks of blackmail by Turkey against other nations, even though Turkey undoubtedly needs and deserves more help after housing so many refugees from the hellish war in Syria.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin with ISIS backdrop (Press TV image/DCMA)Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin with ISIS backdrop (Press TV image via DCMA)

Can Turkey's President Retain Power?

Several publications have recently floated the possibility that a leadership change in Turkey could be in the works. Newsweek's headline March 24 was: Will There Be a Coup Against Erdoğan in Turkey?  Columnist Michael Rubin, publishing also with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote:

The situation in Turkey is bad and getting worse. It’s not just the deterioration in security amidst a wave of terrorism. Public debt might be stable, but private debt is out of control, the tourism sector is in free-fall and the decline in the currency has impacted every citizen’s buying power.

There is a broad sense, election results notwithstanding, that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is out of control. He is imprisoning opponents, seizing newspapers left and right and building palaces at the rate of a mad sultan or aspiring caliph. In recent weeks, he has once again threatened to dissolve the constitutional court.

Corruption is rife. His son Bilal reportedly fled Italy on a forged Saudi diplomatic passport as the Italian police closed in on him in an alleged money laundering scandal. His outbursts are raising eyebrows both in Turkey and abroad. Even members of his ruling party whisper about his increasing paranoia which, according to some Turkish officials, has gotten so bad that he seeks to install anti-aircraft missiles at his palace to prevent airborne men-in-black from targeting him in a snatch-and-grab operation.

Turks — and the Turkish military — increasingly recognize that Erdoğan is taking Turkey to the precipice. By first bestowing legitimacy upon imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan with renewed negotiations and then precipitating renewed conflict, he has taken Turkey down a path in which there is no chance of victory and a high chance of de facto partition.

In response to such developments, Erdoğan has ramped up purges of suspected opponents, especially in the military, politics, media and among minority Kurds and Christians, as reported by the Associated Press March 31, Turkish army threatens legal action over anti-Erdoğan coup rumours.

Additionally, his AKP nationalist and Islamic party has fostered stronger relations the Gulf monarchies that badger the United States to overthrow Syria's non-religious government and even threaten to do so themselves when the Saudis, for example, cannot seem to defeat Yemen's Houthis insurrectionists despite a year of near-genocidal scale bombing with allied help.

In November, the former soccer star Erdoğan (pronounced Er-do-wan) picked a fight with Russia in November by shooting down a Russian warplane. This occurred in what was at most a momentary overflight over a peninsula of Turkish territory into Syria. Turkey's actions sent a signal that its president was relying on its NATO membership to force a confrontation with Russia's Putin that might lead to Russian retreat, or escalation to a wider war.

Russia responded with longer term strategies: hurting Turkey with trade restrictions, and ramping up firepower and military victories at the invitation of Syria's government, whereas Turkey and other allied infusions of foreign fighters, arms, and air flights are on extremely dubious grounds under international law.

Erdoğan and his allies are infuriated by Russian and U.S. cooperation with Kurds in extending Kurdish control over Syrian territory across much of Turkey's southern border.

That Kurdish control, especially if extended further, empowers a historic minority that and curtails Turkey's ability foster the rebellion in Syria with smuggling operations that help Al Qaeda, Free Syrian Army and, many have argued, ISIS operations against Syria's government.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad with wife Asma at ceremony for deceased soldiers March 21, 2016 SANA Photo

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with wife Asma at ceremony for deceased Syria soldiers March 21, 2016 (SANA Photo)

 

US Goal: Overthrow Assad

For years, many key players in the U.S. government and private sector have convinced President Obama and other top officials that the main U.S. priority for Syria should to oust its president in part via covert action, including media messaging that the West and Syria's neighbors merely seek what's best for Syria's oppressed population.

Those talking points are harder to sustain except in elite neo-conservative or liberal interventionist circles after six years of war that has caused such immense suffering.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose wife Asma is of Sunni background, clearly could not have survived without significant support from others of diverse backgrounds. These include the majority Sunnis, as well as Kurds, Alawites, Druze, Yazidi, Turkmen and Arab Christians alarmed at the kind of radical Islamist governments represented by ISIS and Al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf monarchies have scant claim to Western-style democracy or freedoms, and have been entirely ineffective as opponents of ISIS, shown in its glory in a 2014 photo parading in their capital of Raqqa in eastern Syria.

ISIS members marching in Raqqa, January 2014

ISIS members marching in Raqqa, January 2014

Increasingly at odds with Western rhetoric on democratic institutions, Erdoğan's government this year seized the nation's biggest circulation daily on a Friday, ousted its editors, and by Sunday fielded a government-installed team providing pro-government spin to readers.

Additionally, Western human rights groups are protesting the Erdoğan government's treason charges against prominent journalists who have reported that Erdoğan's son, the nation's energy minister, personally oversees and profits from oil that ISIS smuggles through Turkey for resale to finance the Islamic State's rebellion against Assad.

Indeed, alternative U.S. media (including our Justice Integrity Project) began reporting years ago that some of the main Western arguments against Assad are based on suspect if not bogus claims voiced by top officials and dutifully broadcast by their mainstream media allies.

bo-erdogan-baseball-bat-7-30-2013-wh-photoThe 2012 photo at left was officially published on the White House website with this caption:  “President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey in the Oval Office, July 30, 2012.” White House representative Jay Carney stated after being pressed by reporters about a possible hidden meaning to the Obama baseball bat photo that the US president Barack Obama was a baseball fan and a dedicated Chicago White Sox supporter.

As we (among others) began reporting in the fall of 2012, the 2012 Benghazi killings of American personnel stemmed from that city's role as a transit point for arms and fighters being smuggled through Turkey in a covert, CIA/State Department-led operation to overthrow Assad in under the rationale that he faced purely domestic opposition.

Similarly, we and others began reporting in the late summer of 2013 that Obama's top military advisers were telling him that the gas attack that killed more than thousand persons in a rebel held-sector of Damascus could not be tied to Assad and therefore did not justify a U.S.-led  military intervention as advocated by many of Obama's civilian appointees.

Those interventionists included then and some extent currently Democratic Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and UN Ambassador David PetraeusSamantha Power, as well as kindred spirits in intelligence and military sectors, including CIA Director John Brennan, former CIA Director David Petraeus (shown in his official photo) and the latter's longtime colleague John Allen, whom Obama replaced as anti-ISIS czar last fall in a change of policy from Allen's go-slow approach against ISIS.

Alternative and web media have increasingly reported that important motives for regime change in Syria include a desire for land grabs and similar "security" motives by Syria's neighbors, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Western powers, including the United States.

Important also has been a desire by anti-Assad nations to thwart find rationales to gain access to oil-rich lands and establish military bases in and around Syria as part encircling Russia as part of a new emphasis on Cold War. Author and former Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen alleged such motives in an April 4 column published by the Russia-based Strategic Culture Foundation and headlined, America's Insatiable Appetite for Foreign Bases. Assad opponents want also to curtail Iran's influence and enable a new pipeline linking the Gulf Monarchies to Europe via Turkey, thereby limiting opportunities for Russia, Iran and their allies.

Those are, in sum, a collection of extremely selfish alleged motives for Assad's overthrow. So, it is little wonder that almost none of them are ever seriously reported in the mainstream media, whose reporters are dependent on government sources and many of whose financiers are heavily invested in the kind of empire-building at issue. Petraeus, for example, is CEO of KKR Global Initiatives, and Amazon.com (founded by Washington Post owner Jeffrey Bezos) holds a contract for a reported $600 million to help the CIA with its computing needs.

Barack Obama and Congressional Leaders 93-3-13The White House photo at left shows Obama meeting with members of Congress to discuss Syria in the Cabinet Room on Sept. 3, 2013, one of the key junctures of the war against Syria. Obama unsuccessfully sought a vote from Congress to provide him political cover for allied military action against Assad, ostensibly because of a sarin gas attack the previous month that killed more than a thousand persons in a rebel-held section of Damascus.

As the  Washington Post reported, House leaders back Obama on Syria strike. But Obama was hearing also from the military advisors that the claim of Assad complicity was dubious. In the end, most in Congress have never wanted to give him political cover for decisive action and so there has never been a clear-cut vote authorizing the administration to take specific actions against that Syria.

Fortunately, the United States and many of its most important allies have a margin for error and thus ability to react to unfolding events.

Obama, for example, benefits from a personal background of covert intelligence and similar relationships almost never reported aside from in the alternative media and in a few books, including our own Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. This background has enabled the president to pivot from implementing the foreign policies of his powerful backers to becoming, on occasion, a more independent spirit now that he is nearing the end of his second term and can survey, at least privately, such disasters as his team's Syria policy and their long term threats to United States stature and security.

Therefore, Obama's administration has not only pulled out American families from Turkey but has also withdrawn from Turkey a dozen F-15 fighters, as reported by Air Force Tmes Air Force Times. The action U.S. pulls F-15 fighter jets from Turkey, doubtless signaled Erdoğan that his NATO membership is not a license to risk a wider war even if some anti-Assad zealots within Western governments still yearn for escalation against Russia in Syria.

Who Is In Charge? And for What Purpose?

A not-so-secret fact of life is that even presidents do not control their governments entirely. The term "Deep State" arose to describe a hidden government that has long operated in Turkey, ostensibly a non-religious democracy but also a nation of ancient traditions and several military coups.

As for the United States, Obama stands virtually alone among recent major party presidential contenders in daring to oppose the "no fly zone" over Syria's war zones that Hillary Clinton and almost all of the 17 GOP candidates advocated. Democrat Bernie Sanders and GOP contenders Donald Trump and Rand Paul, before he dropped out, occasionally expressed dismay with military adventures in the Middle East but failed to mount a sustained criticism of no fly zones.

Because the top media owners and news managers support pro-war interests so strongly they almost never ask the candidates to explain precisely how they would destroy Russian and Syrian aircraft to enforce a no fly zone without creating a wider war.

Instead, the much-maligned Obama has quietly adjusted course. This brought upon him criticism as being "weak." In reality, he was being strong in the face of criticism because he understood that war-mongers' interest in a bigger war in Syria did not meet United States true security interests.

In sum, the news and commentary excerpts below — drawn from varied U.S. and global sources -- show a momentous series of Syria-related events that affect Turkey's future.

We are not yet ready to predict Erdoğan's departure from power, especially after his party won a suspiciously larger vote in November's elections than in those the previous June.

Even so, Erdoğan should wonder whether he will outlast Assad in office. As a former soccer star would know, a crowd follows winners, not victims.

 

Barack Obama and James Clapper (White House Photo)

 

 

 

 

 
 
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Related News Coverage of Turkey and Syria (Reverse Chronological Order Selected from JIP Archives Since November) 

April

Politika via South Front, New collision of Turkey and Russia, now in the Caucasus, Staff report translated by A. Djurich, April 8, 2016. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh will further strain relations between Ankara and Moscow, which were damaged at the end of last year after the shooting down of the Russian aircraft in the border area of Syria. Armenia and Azerbaijan are again on the brink of war .... the fiercest one since twenty years ago when the province Nagorno-Karabakh seceded from Baku and declared independence. The two sides, under pressure from the international community, two days ago reached an agreement on a cease-fire. Occasionally shooting is going on, but so far there is no movement of units. Analysts warn that the conflict in the Caucasus could escalate.

Strategic Culture Foundation, America's Insatiable Appetite for Foreign Bases, Wayne Madsen, April 4, 2016. Author and columnist Wayne Madsen, shown in a file photo, is a former Navy intelligence officer. The Obama administration will be remembered for the extension of American military bases to the Wayne Madsenmost far-flung parts of the world in a manner not seen since the early days of the Cold War. The Pentagon, under Obama, drew up a plan for a worldwide network of military "hubs" with smaller dependent bases or "spokes" coordinating their activity with the hubs. One such hub is a large airbase being constructed by the United States in Erbil, in what is the all-but-declared independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Recently, it became clearer what "spoke" bases would be built in the Middle East that would coordinate their activities with the US Central Command installation in Erbil.

Taking advantage of the battlefield success of the Syrian Kurds, the US built an airbase in Rmeilan, which is now part of the embryonic Syrian Kurdish state known as the Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava. The Rmeilan base is designed as one of the spokes from the Erbil hub. The United States justifies its military bases in the largely unrecognized Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) territory and Northern Syria-Rojava by claiming the bases are needed to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an organization of America’s making. However, anyone in the Middle East with common sense realizes that the new bases are to create zones of protection for US oil interests who want to exploit the oil reserves of both Iraq and Syria.

Another spoke for the Erbil hub is the not-so-secret US training base located in the northern Jordanian desert town of Safawi. At this base, US, Jordanian, British, French, and Turkish troops jointly trained Syrian rebel forces, many of which, when entering Syria, immediately defected to ISIL and its affiliates. Jordan’s King Abdullah, at a January 2016 meeting in Washington with congressional officials, bemoaned the fact that Turkey was aiding ISIL in Syria and that Jordanian Special Forces units were required to enter Syria to clean up the mess caused by the Turks. Obama, who continues to maintain his friendship with Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, canceled his previously scheduled meeting at the White House with Abdullah.

The Obama administration has had no desire to expose Erdoğan as a supporter of ISIL, primarily because Washington wants to maintain its large airbase at Incirlik. Again, the maintenance of bases by the United States trumps all other concerns, diplomatic and even counter-terrorism issues included.

The National (Abu Dhabi), Turkey runs risk of losing control of southern border, Jesse Rosenfeld, April 3, 2016. In the Kurdish city of Nusaybin, on Turkey’s frontier with Syria, rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are leading an armed urban uprising against the Turkish government that is transforming a border region already gripped with strife. Hastily made barricades have left the streets bare of paving stones. Behind them, the guerrillas and the neighborhoods’ working-class occupants are the new front line of the reignited three-decade-old conflict between Turkey and its Kurdish minority.

Militias inspired by the Kurdish fight for autonomy in Syria launch incessant hit-and-run attacks on Turkish police and soldiers, while residents hang blankets on clotheslines to try to obstruct the line of fire from Turkish snipers. The irregular war engulfing the cities of south-east Turkey since the collapse of the peace process between Ankara and the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, threatens the entire stability of Turkey and especially the border that should separate it from the multifaceted war in Syria.

Ankara’s expanding war with the Kurdish rebels is obliterating the border and blurring the lines of conflict. Turkish Kurds have flowed into the ranks of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria since the 2014 battle for Kobane against ISIL. This fueled concern in Ankara that these fighters, who have been armed and aided by the US, will return to take up arms against Turkey. It seems that those fears have become reality.

Washington Post, U.S.-led strikes putting a financial squeeze on the Islamic State, Joby Warrick and Liz Sly, April 2, 2016. The Islamic State is facing an unprecedented cash crunch in its home territory, U.S. counterterrorism officials say, as months of strikes on oil facilities and financial institutions take a deepening toll on the group’s ability to pay its fighters or carry out operations.

Washington Post, Turkey’s president helps celebrate opening of Turkish cultural center in Maryland, Hamil R. Harris, April 2, 2016. The $100 million Diyanet Center of America is designed to support and honor Flag of TurkeyTurkish people and those of the Muslim faith living in the U.S. It includes a 20,236-square-foot mosque and a sports complex.

Two decades of praying, planning and building came to fruition Saturday as thousands from across the country and beyond gathered to celebrate the official opening of a $110 million facility in suburban Maryland designed to support and honor Turks and those of the Muslim faith living in the United States.

The Diyanet Center of America, which bills itself as the largest Islamic campus “in the Western Hemisphere,” welcomed Turkish immigrants from Canada and Muslims from the Washington region to the facility, which includes a 20,236-square-foot mosque, a cultural center, guest quarters and an underground sports complex.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been a big backer of the cultural center, was the featured speaker. He spoke of the more than 20-year effort to complete the complex.

Washington Post, Greece: We really will start sending refugees back to Turkey on Monday, William Booth, April 1, 2016. European officials said the first ferries are scheduled to take migrants back to Turkey next week, but aid organizations warn that the returns are being rushed and that people traumatized by war in Syria and Iraq may balk at being herded onto boats and sent to uncertain conditions.

South Front, International Military Review – Syria & Iraq, Staff report, April 1, 2016. The Syrian Arab Army’s engineering units have started repairing and reconstructing of Palmyra military airport in order to resume its routine activities and operations. The airport will likely become an important air base for the Syrian army’s military choppers and fighter jets, especially, in case of advances on Deir Ezzor and Raqqa. Meanwhile, Russian and Syrian warplanes continued air raids against ISIS positions at Al-Sukhnah and along the Palmyra-Deir Ezzor road.

March

Foreign Policy, Chaos Outside of Turkish President Erdogan’s Washington Speech, Yochi Dreazen, Paul McLeary, David Francis, March 31, 2016. A planned speech by the controversial Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan descended into violence and chaos Thursday, with one journalist physically removed from the event site by Turkish security personnel, another kicked by a guard, and a third — a woman — thrown to the sidewalk in front of a Washington think tank where he was to speak. A small group of protesters gathered across the street from the Brookings Institute near Dupont Circle in Washington, with one holding a large sign reading “Erdogan: War Criminal On The Loose.”

Associated Press via the Guardian, Turkish army threatens legal action over anti-Erdoğan coup rumours, Staff report, March 31, 2016. Statement says army has no plans to oust president and that such ‘baseless news’ is damaging morale. The Turkish army says it has no plans to stage a coup against the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and has threatened legal action against anyone who suggests otherwise. The rare statement aims to quash speculation over the possibility of a military coup in Turkey as Erdoğan visits the US. The military said on its website such “baseless news” was hurting morale in its ranks without naming specific publications.

The Turkish army, historically seen as a defender of secular principles, has ousted three elected governments and one prime minister. The institution saw its power reduced through a series of measures after Erdoğan came to power as prime minister in 2003.

National Press Club via PR Newswire, National Press Club Alarmed About Reported Abuses in DC by Turkish Security, NPC Freedom of the Press Committee, March 31, 2016. National Press Club leaders expressed Recep Tayyip Erdoganalarm about reports that security personnel guarding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had physically abused journalists here on Thursday. According to published news reports and multiple tweets from eyewitnesses, Erdoğan's security team manhandled reporters at the Brookings Institution ahead of a speech by Erdoğan (shown in a file photo).

The Turkish leader's bodyguards sought to physically remove one journalist from the event, kicked another and threw a third, a woman, to the sidewalk, the reports said. Smart phone footage posted on Twitter appeared to corroborate some of the allegations of violence. "Turkey's leader and his security team are guests in the United States," said Thomas Burr, the National Press Club president. "They have no right to lay their hands on reporters or protesters or anyone else for that matter, when the people they were apparently roughing up seemed to be merely doing their jobs or exercising the rights they have in this country.

"We have increasingly seen disrespect for basic human rights and press freedom in Turkey," Burr added. "Erdoğan doesn't get to export such abuse." Independent observers have documented a deterioration of press freedom in Turkey as Erdoğan has become more and more authoritarian. Turkey is among the world's top jailers of journalists. Reporters there have also been increasingly subject to harassment, intimidation and physical attack."

RT, Assad says ‘Erdoğan's army of terrorists’ fighting in Syria, Staff report, March 31, 2016. Turkey’s direct support for terrorists fighting in Syria makes them President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s own army, Syrian  President Bashar Assad said in an exclusive interview with Sputnik, adding that his country is ready to counter the aggression. Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia, have "crossed all possible red lines, possibly from the first weeks of the Syrian war," Assad said. "Today, the war against Erdoğan and against Saudi Arabia is a war against terrorists. The Turkish army, which is not even Turkish, is Erdoğan's army that is fighting today in Syria," he added.

Everything that Ankara and Riyadh “have done from the very beginning can be considered aggression. Aggression in a political sense or in a military sense – providing terrorists with arms – or direct aggression with the use of artillery, and other military violations," he stressed. However, Assad stressed that there was no dispute between the peoples of Syria and Turkey.

Foreign Policy in Focus, Donald Trump: Foreign Policy’s Useful Idiot? John Feffer, March 30, 2016. It might take someone of Trump’s vapid visibility to drive home the point that "world’s policeman" is not a viable role for the U.S. to play. The man is an incoherent, misogynistic bully. But his foreign policy vision, a kind of fun-house version of Reaganism, is upsetting Beltway mandarins, shaking up the Republican Party, and pointing to a potential rupture in the informal liberal-conservative consensus on foreign policy that has prevailed in Washington since the end of the Cold War.

Al Jazeera, Palmyra is a major turning point in Syria's Civil War, Ibrahim Al-Marash, March 29, 2016. Ibrahim al-Marashi is an assistant professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos. He is the co-author of "Iraq's Armed Forces: An Analytical History." Bashar al-Assad had said for years to both Syrians and the international community that only his regime could prevent the spectre of ISIL taking over Syria. Damascus finally invested in amassing enough military forces to defeat ISIL in a battle for territory.

Washington Post, Pentagon and State Department order families of U.S. troops and diplomats to leave Turkey, Dan Lamothe, March 29, 2016. Several Turkish cities have been bombed in recent months.

Strategic Culture Foundation, Brussels Attack: Another Chapter in NATO's Gladio Strategy? Wayne Madsen (shown in a file photo), March 27, 2016. Europe has experienced another Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist Wayne Madsenattack. This time terrorists set off bombs at Brussels International Airport in Zaventem, a stone’s throw away from NATO headquarters, and the Maelbeek Metro station, in the heart of the European Union’s Brussels office building complex. The Brussels attack was linked to the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris, which targeted the Bataclan concert hall and restaurants and cafés in the heart of the city, as well as the Stade de France football stadium.

In almost a replay of the Paris attacks, the news media began reporting that the Brussels attack was carried out by two brothers – Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui – who were linked to the November 13 attacks in Paris.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, himself has suspicious connections to ISIL fighters in Syria, claimed that one of the Brussels terrorist brothers, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, had been deported by Turkey to the Netherlands in July 2015, some four months before Abdeslam’s cell carried out the Paris attacks. Erdogan said that Turkey deported Ibrahim el-Bakraoui because he was a militant foreign fighter in Syria.

Turkey has aided and abetted other militant foreign fighters, including terrorists, traveling to and from Syria. So why Erdoğan singled out el-Bakraoui is a mystery. It also stands to reason that if Turkey was such a valued member of NATO, why did it deport a security threat to the Netherlands, also a NATO member?

American Enterprise Institute via Newsweek, Will There Be a Coup Against Erdogan in Turkey?  Michael Rubin, March 24, 2016. Erdoğan long ago sought to kneecap the Turkish military. For the first decade of his rule, both the U.S. government and European Union cheered him on. But that was before even Erdoğan’s most ardent foreign apologists recognized the depth of his descent into madness and autocracy.

So if the Turkish military moves to oust Erdoğan and place his inner circle behind bars, could they get away with it? In the realm of analysis rather than advocacy, the answer is yes. At this point in election season, it is doubtful that the Obama administration would do more than castigate any coup leaders, especially if they immediately laid out a clear path to the restoration of democracy.

Nor would Erdoğan engender the type of sympathy that Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi did. When Morsi was ousted, his commitment to democracy was still subject to debate.
That debate is now moot when it comes to the Turkish strongman. Neither the Republican nor Democratic front-runners would put U.S. prestige on the line to seek a return to the status quo ante. They might offer lip service against a coup, but they would work with the new regime.

Coup leaders might moot European and American human rights and civil society criticism and that of journalists by immediately freeing all detained journalists and academics and by returning seized newspapers and television stations to their rightful owners.

Turkey’s NATO membership is no deterrent to action: Neither Turkey nor Greece lost their NATO membership after previous coups. Should a new leadership engage sincerely with Turkey’s Kurds, Kurds might come onboard.

Neither European nor American public opinion would likely be sympathetic to the execution of Erdoğan, his son and son-in-law, or key aides like Egemen Bağış and Cüneyd Zapsu, although they would accept a trial for corruption and long incarceration.

Armenian Weekly, Breaking: Surp Giragos Armenian Church among Expropriated Properties in Diyarbakir, Staff report, March 28, 2016. A list of lands and buildings in Diyarbakir’s Sur district — including the Surp Giragos Armenian Apostolic and the Armenian Catholic Churches — have been expropriated by the Turkish government.

Reuters, Russia flies out almost half Syria strike force: Reuters analysis, Andrew Osborn, March 16, 2016. Just under half of Russia's fixed-wing strike force based in Syria has flown out of the country in the past two days, according to a Reuters calculation which suggests the Kremlin is accelerating its partial withdrawal. President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the bulk of the Russian military contingent in Syria to be pulled out after five months of air strikes, saying the Kremlin had achieved most of its objectives. The precise number of planes Russia kept at its Hmeymim base in Syria's Latakia province is secret. But analysis of satellite imagery, air strikes and defense ministry statements suggested it had about 36 fixed-wing military jets there. They carried out 75-80 percent of the more than 9,000 sorties flown by Russian pilots, said Maksim Shepovalenko, a former Russian military officer who is now deputy director of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST).

Russian television has shown four Su-25 and five Su-24 jets leaving in the past two days. Russia is thought by defense analysts to have had 12 of each in Syria. Five Su-34s, and one Su-30 have also been seen leaving.

Reuters, Kurdish moves on federalism cloud Syria peace drive, Rodi Said and Stephanie Nebehay, March 16, 2016. Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria are expected to declare a federal system on Thursday, a move likely to further complicate peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending more than five years of war.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets with PM Ahmet Davutoglu Nov. 24, 2015 AFP

A handout photo released by the Turkish Presidential Palace Press Office shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu
in the capital, Ankara, on November 24, 2015. (AFP photo).

Independent, President Erdoğan wants to change definition of ‘terrorist’ to include journalists and politicians, Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, March 16, 2016. Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed the definition of a terrorist should be changed to include their "supporters" -- such as MPs, civil activists and journalists. It comes after three academics were arrested on charges of terrorist propaganda after publicly reading out a declaration that reiterated a call to end security operations in the south-east of Turkey, a predominantly Kurdish area.

Mr. Erdoğan has said the academics will pay a price for their “treachery.” A British national was also detained on Tuesday despite having ordered the arrests after he was found with pamphlets printed by the Kurdish linked People’s Democratic Party (HDP). “It is not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made that possible who should also be defined as terrorists, regardless of their title,” President Erdogan said on Monday, adding that this could be a journalist, an MP or a civil activist.

President Obame "The Obama Doctrine" April 2016 Atlantic coverThe Atlantic, The Obama Doctrine, Jeffrey Goldberg, Photographs by Ruven Afanador, March 15, 2016, April 2016 Issue. The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world. If you are a supporter of the president, his strategy makes eminent sense: Double down in those parts of the world where success is plausible, and limit America’s exposure to the rest. His critics believe, however, that problems like those presented by the Middle East don’t solve themselves — that, without American intervention, they metastasize.

Middle East Eye, Turkish newspaper gets Erdoğan makeover after police raid, Staff report, March 6, 2015. Zaman, a traditionally anti-government newspaper, includes articles supporting president a day after its offices were seized by police. A traditionally anti-government Turkish newspaper has printed several positive articles featuring President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the first edition since its offices were seized in a late-night police raid. Sunday's Zaman newspaper included a positive article about about Erdogan joining Turkish women for International Women’s Day, complete with a smiling picture of the president, and a front-page headline about a $3bn government project to connect the Asian and European sides of Istanbul with a third bridge.

The newspaper also mirrored language seen in pro-government newspapers in which Turkish soldiers killed fighting Kurdish rebels were described as "martyrs." Journalists on Saturday reported being "prisoners in their own newsroom" after arriving for work to find the newsroom occupied my armed police.

 

February

Unz Review, Week Eighteen of the Russian Intervention in Syria: A Dramatic Escalation Appears Imminent, The Saker, Feb. 14, 2016. The situation in Syria has reached a watershed moment and a dramatic escalation of the war appears imminent. Let’s look again at how we reached this point.

Syria's Flag This strategic Russian and Syrian victory meant that all the nations supporting Daesh, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the USA were facing a complete collapse of their efforts to overthrow Assad and to break-up Syria and turn part of it into a “Jihadistan.” The Americans could not admit this, of course; as for the Saudis, their threats to invade Syria were rather laughable. Which left the main role to Erdoğan, who was more than happy to provide the West with yet another maniacal ally willing to act in a completely irresponsible way just to deny the “other side” anything looking like a victory.

What is clear is that in any war between Russia and Turkey NATO will have to make a key decision: is the alliance prepared to go to war with a nuclear power like Russia to protect a lunatic like Erdoğan? It is hard to imagine the US/NATO doing something so crazy but, unfortunately, wars always have the potential to very rapidly get out of control.

The current situation is full of dangerous and unstable asymmetries: the Russian task force in Syria is small and isolated and it cannot protect Syria from NATO or even from Turkey, but in the case of a full-scale war between Russia and Turkey, Turkey has no chance of winning, none at all. In a conventional war opposing NATO and Russia, I personally don’t see either side losing (whatever ‘losing’ and ‘winning’ mean in this context) without engaging nuclear weapons first. This suggests to me that the US cannot allow Erdoğan to attack the Russian task force in Syria, not during a ground invasion and, even less so, during an attempt to establish a no-fly zone.

The latest news strongly suggests to me that the White House has taken the decision to let Turkey and Saudi Arabia invade Syria. Turkish officials are openly saying that an invasion is imminent and that the goal of such an invasion would be to reverse the Syrian army gains along the boder and near Aleppo. The latest reports are also suggesting that the Turks have begun shelling Aleppo. None of that could be happening without the full support of CENTCOM and the White House.

Reuters, Syrian army gains ground around Aleppo, looks to Raqqa, Paul Carrel, Shadia Nasralla and Tom Perry, Feb. 14, 2016. Russia said on Saturday a Syria ceasefire plan was more likely to fail than succeed, as Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes took rebel ground near Aleppo and set their sights on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa province. The Syrian army looked poised to advance into the Islamic State-held province of Raqqa for the first time since 2014, apparently to pre-empt any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces into Syria to fight the jihadist insurgents.

OpEdNews, The Neoconservatives Are Brewing A Wider War In Syria, Paul Craig Roberts, Feb. 14, 2016. While you are enjoying your Sunday, the insane neoconservatives who control Western foreign policy and their Turkish and Saudi Arabian vassals might be preparing the end of the world. Any person who relies on Western media has no accurate idea of what is happening in Syria. I will provide a brief summary and then send you to two detailed accounts.

BBC, Syria calls for UN action on Turkish attacks on Kurds, Staff report, Feb. 14, 2016. Syria has condemned Turkish military action against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria described it as a violation of its sovereignty. It called on the UN Security Council to take action. Turkey carried out a second day of shelling on Sunday of Kurdish forces advancing in northern Aleppo province.

Ankara views the Kurdish militia in Syria as allied to the outlawed PKK, which has carried out a decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey. But the United States and others back the Kurdish militia in Syria, the YPG, in its fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Syria has accused Turkey of violating its sovereignty by backing "al-Qaeda-linked terrorists" in the north and has warned it has a right to respond.

Southfront, Why is Aleppo important for Turkey?  Predrag Ćeranić, translated by A. Đurić, Feb. 22, 2016. Turkey made plans along with the Gulf countries about new energy routes and selling exclusively Sunni Flag of Turkeyoil and gas to western countries and China. Turkey plans to establish a “buffer zone” in northern Syria alongside its border.

Care about the “moderate rebels” was just a cover for Turkey to provide a route for the [energy] corridor. Turkey made it clear to EU that, if it is forced to open borders [again] for migrants, about a million of them could be on way to Greece or Bulgaria. The focus of Turkey’s worries now are refugees from Aleppo. Why? Because the trio of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar see the high economic possibilities in the pipeline which would go from Qatar via Saudi Arabia to Syria and through Aleppo and Turkey to the EU.

 

January

Guardian, Discord intensifies at Syria talks after dozens killed in Damascus blasts, Ian Black, Jan. 31, 2016. Fifty people were killed and dozens more injured on Sunday in coordinated bombings near a Shia Muslim shrine in Damascus as Syrian government and opposition officials exchanged accusations at long-awaited UN peace talks in Geneva.

OpEdNews, You have now landed in Geneva, Syria, Pepe Escobar (shown at right), Jan. 30, 2016. The alleged Syrian peace process now enters its Geneva charade stage. This could last months; get ready for Pepe Escobarlavish doses of posturing and bluster capable of stunning even Donald Trump. So in the interest of providing context, here's an extremely concise recap of recent, crucial facts on the Syrian ground which the "new capital" Geneva may ignore at its own peril.

The Russian Air Force campaign turned out to be the ultimate game-changer. It is in the process of securing the Damascus-Homs-Latakia-Hama-Aleppo network -- the urban, developed Western Syria that holds 70 percent of the country's population. ISIS/ISIL/Daesh and/or Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria, have zero chances of taking over this territory. The rest is mostly desert.

As if this was not messy enough, U.S. "Think Tankland" is now spinning there is an "understanding" between Washington and Ankara for what will be, for all practical purposes, a Turkish invasion of northern Syria, under the pretext of Ankara smashing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in northern Aleppo. This is utter nonsense. None of this has anything to do with fighting ISISL/ISIL/Daesh.

Staffan de Mistura UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréSpecial Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to the press on the Intra-Syrian discussions which will take place in Geneva on 29 January 2016. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

BBC, Syria conflict: Key opposition group to join Geneva talks, Staff report, Jan. 29, 2016. Syria peace talks are due to get under way in Geneva amid confusion over whether opposition groups will attend. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said he would open the talks by meeting the Syrian government's delegation.

United Nations, Ahead of Geneva talks, UN envoy addresses all Syrians in video message, Staff report, Jan. 29, 2016. On the eve of scheduled intra-Syrian talks in Geneva to seek an end to five years of internecine fighting, the top United Nations official for the war-torn country took to the airwaves today to speak directly to the Syrian people, vowing that the world Organization will never abandon them. “My message today is meant to reach every single man, woman, child of Syria, inside Syria and outside, in the refugee camps, or wherever you are,” Special UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said in a video recording.

RT, 500 families returning home as ISIS & Nusra jihadists withdraw from Damascus suburbs, Staff report, Jan. 21, 2016. Some 500 families are set to return to the devastated southern suburbs of Damascus, Syria's Flagafter ISIS and Al-Nusra fighters were allowed to withdraw from the area unharmed, as part of a “national reconciliation” deal with the Syrian government. More than 1,000 jihadists on Wednesday were provided with a safe passage to the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria. Al-Nusra fighters are making their way to Idlib, also in the north of the country, RR Arabic reports. Overall some 4,000 people, including the family members of extremist fighting units, were placed on the buses to head north. Fighters had to surrender their arms. Besides leaving the southern suburbs of Damascus, IS and Al-Nusra militants, mostly of foreign nationalities, have also moved out of the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp, which the fighters had been holding under their control since April 2015.

Los Angeles Times, Backed by Russian air power, Syria's army builds on gains, Nabih Bulos, Jan. 18, 2016. Syrian army units, backed by dozens of Russian airstrikes, soon swept through a onetime rebel bastion, Salma. Government forces have consolidated their hold over strategic swaths of mountainous territory while driving the rebels back to their rear-guard bases across the Turkish border. The Latakia attack mirrors similar government gains across the country, as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, backed by Russian air power, have been on the offensive.

Even Islamic State, whose fighters are regarded as some of the fiercest in the conflict, appears to be on its back foot. In November, the Syrian army broke a crippling three-year siege by Islamic State at Kuweires military airport outside Aleppo and is now poised to move in on nearby Al Bab, a city held by the extremist group since late 2013.

Business Insider, The US is considering a new plan for Syria — and the Kurds 'will not be happy about it,'  Natasha Bertrand, Jan. 15, 2016. The Pentagon is weighing a new request from Turkey to train and equip Arab rebels battling government forces in northern Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. The request, which reportedly came just one week before an ISIS-linked suicide bomber killed 10 people in Istanbul, is evidently an attempt to seal a vulnerable stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border that continues to serve as a transit point for foreign fighters and weapons.

A newly empowered, US-backed Arab rebel brigade aimed at enabling larger groups of Arab forces fighting in Syria would presumably serve as a counterweight to Kurdish territorial ambitions in the north. That's according to Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert and senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council who spoke with Business Insider on Wednesday.

Washington Post, Deadly suicide blast hits Istanbul tourist area; Officials claim Islamic State links, Erin Cunningham and Brian Murphy, Jan. 12, 2016. A Syrian suicide bomber believed linked to the Islamic State set off a powerful blast Tuesday in the heart of one of Istanbul’s main tourist districts, officials said, killing at least 10 people and injuring 15 with reports citing Germans as among the main casualties.The attack was a further sign of the country’s deepening instability in a region wracked by war and the widening reach of groups such as the Islamic State. The blast also struck directly at a hub of Istanbul’s important tourism trade, reflecting similar tactics used by militants against popular internationally known sites in countries including Tunisia and Egypt.

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Bomb blast near Hagia Sophia in Istanbul targets Western tourists, Wayne Madsen (former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst shown below), Jan. 12, 2016 Wayne Madsen(Subscription required for reading. Excerpt used with permission). A jihadist suicide bomber struck a group of Western tourists near the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople (what the Muslims now call "Istanbul") with deadly results.

The Hagia Sophia is the one-time seat of Eastern Christianity and it is the target of the Islamist government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be re-converted into an active mosque.

The suicide bomber is claimed to have been a Syrian, one of thousands of jihadists armed and supported by the Erdogan government in its attempt to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al Assad.

The bombing occurred less than 24 hours after WMR reported [in Monday's WMR column, The coming war over Hagia Sophia] that there is a coming war between Turkey and Eastern Christian Orthodoxy over Erdogan's plans to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

P. 10Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Saud

Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Independent, Prince Mohammed bin Salman: Naive, arrogant Saudi prince is playing with fire, Patrick Cockburn, Jan. 10, 2016. German intelligence memo shows the threat from the kingdom’s headstrong Saudi Arabian flagdefense minister. At the end of last year the BND, the German intelligence agency, published a remarkable one-and-a-half-page memo saying that Saudi Arabia had adopted “an impulsive policy of intervention.” It portrayed Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the powerful 29-year-old favorite son of the aging King Salman, who is suffering from dementia – as a political gambler who is destabilizing the Arab world through proxy wars in Yemen and Syria.

The BND lists the areas in which Saudi Arabia is adopting a more aggressive and warlike policy. The overreaching gets worse by the day. At every stage in the confrontation with Iran over the past week Riyadh has raised the stakes. The attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad might not have been expected but the Saudis did not have to break off diplomatic relations. Then there was the air strike that the Iranians allege damaged their embassy in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

Atlantic Council via Newsweek, Christians Face Total Purge From Syria, Flavius Mihaies, Jan. 10, 2016. Flavius Mihaies is a consultant at the World Bank and a journalist. In May and August 2015 he traveled to Syria, where he visited Damascus, Homs and the Kurdish-controlled region in northwest Syria. Syrian Christians face the difficult question of how to preserve their communities. ISIS and other Islamist groups target Christians for a variety of reasons, including to gain credibility as the implementers of “true” Islam and for economic reasons, forcing Christians to pay higher taxes (Jizya), seizing their property and even capturing Christians as slaves. Christians in regime territories are safe from immediate danger, but struggle to keep their communities together.

The Guardian, ISIS 'ran sophisticated immigration operation' on Turkey-Syria border, Shiv Malik, Alice Ross, Mona Mahmood and Ewen MacAskill, Jan. 10, 2016. Exclusive: Passenger manifests seized by Kurdish forces at Tel Abyad have same stamp marks as other ISIS documents the Guardian has been able to verify.

Washington Post, At least 21 asylum seekers suspected in New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Germany, Anthony Faiola and Stephanie Kirchner, Jan. 8, 2016. The mounting scandal over a rampage of sexual German Flagassaults and thefts in Cologne was quickly threatening to ignite a new wave of anti-refugee sentiment in Europe. In Germany, a record 1.1 million asylum seekers and economic migrants arrived last year. Their numbers slowed as winter set in, but a surge is expected again by spring. Chancellor Angela Merkel has resisted calls to follow other European nations by tightening border controls and limiting entries. But in the wake of the New Year’s Eve attacks, she is facing mounting pressure to act.

 

 

Bashar Al-Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

RT, State Dept confirms ‘working document’ laid out timeline for Syria regime change, Staff report, Jan. 7, 2016. A “working paper” written by US diplomats envisions Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ceding power to a new government by March 2017. The State Department confirmed the document was authentic, but denied that it represented official US policy. The key points of the policy paper were published on Wednesday by the Associated Press. It envisions an 18-month political process, starting with talks in Vienna next month and ending in Assad’s resignation next year.

According to the document, by April there would be a “security committee” composed of members of the current government and opposition groups. By May, the Syrian parliament would be dissolved John Kirby shown in file photo from his post as Pentagon spokesmanand a new transitional authority established, with the mission to draft a new constitution and pass reforms. The Syrians would vote on the constitution in a referendum scheduled for January 2017. Two months later, the paper says, Assad “relinquishes presidency; inner circle departs.” At the press conference on Wednesday, State Department spokesman John Kirby (shown in a Wikimedia photo from his previous post as Pentagon spokesman) acknowledged the paper was authentic, but tried to dismiss it as a working-level document written by a staff member.

Kirby’s efforts to dismiss the document, and AP’s coverage of it, as somehow irrelevant irked AP diplomatic correspondent Matt Lee, who at one point asked: “Isn’t it time to recognize these things for what they are and not live in this in this illusion, or fantasy, where you pretend that things that are, are not?” Lee asked, to chuckles in the briefing room.

“The short answer is, no,” Kirby retorted, denying that Washington lived in a fantasy world.

RT, Turkey confesses fears to US of Syrian Kurds making territorial gains, Staff report, Jan. 7, 2016. Turkey has expressed its fears to the US concerning Kurdish expansion in northern Syria. Ankara is worried about Kurdish territorial gains, but Washington wants to ensure Turkey’s southern border is sealed to stop Islamic State fighters getting into Syria. Ankara is not happy as it believes the Syrian Kurds are looking to create a corridor along the northern border with Turkey, which would cut off Turkey from sharing a boundary with Syria. The Hurriyet Daily reports that Ankara has brought the matter up with General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is Washington’s top military figure.

New York Times, European Sympathies Lean Toward Iran in Conflict with Saudi Arabia, Sewell Chan, Jan. 4, 2016. In the days since Saudi Arabia inflamed tensions with Iran by executing 47 people, including a Shiite cleric, European observers have been quick to condemn the action, reflecting broader concern across the Continent about Saudi policy and its role in the tumult rolling through the Middle East.

Saudi Arabian flagOpposition in Europe to the death penalty — and harsh corporal punishment, including the flogging of a Saudi blogger who has become something of a cause célèbre in Europe — is just one element of the criticism of the Saudi monarchy. Even as European governments continue to view Saudi Arabia [whose flag is shown] as a vital if problematic stabilizing force in the region, as well as a rich market for European arms and other products, European opinion has grown increasingly critical of Saudi support and financing for Wahhabist and Salafist preachers who have contributed to the Sunni extremist ideology that has fueled Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In addition, the European Union and six major world powers reached a deal in Vienna over the summer to contain Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran is seen as essential to ending the five-year-old civil war in Syria, which has fueled a surge of migrants to the Continent, the highest number since World War II.

Deutsche Welle, #SueMeSaudi: Twitter users taunt Saudi Arabia, Staff report, Jan. 4, 2016. Deutsche Welle (DW) is Germany’s international broadcaster, with 3,000 employees and freelancers from 60 countries. The hashtag #SueMeSaudi is soaring after a source at the Saudi Arabian justice ministry reportedly said he would sue a Twitter user who compared Saudi Arabia to the terror group 'Islamic State.'

The justice ministry official was quoted by the government-aligned Al Riyadh newspaper as saying "The justice ministry will sue the person who described ... the sentencing of a man to death for apostasy as being 'ISIS-like,'" Reuters reports. The official did not define who the Twitter user was or what the potential punishment would be, but he did succeed in accidentally creating two hashtags: #SaudiArabiaIsISIS and #SueMeSaudi.

Middle East Eye, US military leadership resisted Obama's bid for regime change in Syria, Libya, Gareth Porter, Jan. 4, 2016. Seymour Hersh’s recent revelations about an effort by the US military leadership in 2013 to bolster the Syrian army against jihadist forces in Syria shed important new light on the internal bureaucratic politics surrounding regime change in US Middle East policy. Hersh’s account makes it clear that the Obama administration’s policy of regime change in both Libya and Syria provoked pushback from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Independent (London), Saudi Arabia's executions were worthy of ISIS – so will David Cameron and the West now stop their grovelling to its oil-rich monarchs?  Robert Fisk, Jan. 3, 2015. Saudi Arabia’s binge of head-choppings – 47 in all, including the learned Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, followed by a Koranic justification for the executions – was worthy of ISIS. Perhaps that was the point. For this extraordinary bloodbath in the land of the Sunni Muslim al-Saud monarchy – clearly intended to infuriate the Iranians and the entire Shia world – re-sectarianised a religious conflict which ISIS has itself done so much to promote.

Strategic Culture Foundation via OpEdNews, Russia's military intervention to help its Arab ally at the end of September has been the seminal event of the year, Finian Cunningham (shown in a file photo), Jan. 1, 2015. After three Finian Cunninghammonths of sustained Russian aerial operations in support of the Syrian Arab Army against an array of foreign-backed mercenaries, there is an unmistakable sense that the terrorist backbone has been broken, as Russian President Vladimir Putin recently put it.

This past week sees several local truces being implemented across Syria with evacuation of militants from towns which they have held under armed siege. The civilian populations in these locations have been effectively held hostage as human shields by the militants, thus preventing Syrian army advances up to now. The Western media, such as US government-owned Voice of America, invert reality by claiming that it is the mercenaries themselves who have been under siege from the Syrian army. Thousands of anti-government insurgents are being bused out of locations around Damascus.

December

Washington Times, Putin’s new defense strategy declares NATO a threat, L. Todd Wood, Dec. 31, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a document this week which updates Russia’s national security Vladimir Putinposture and declares the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a threat to Russia’s national security. The document states that NATO’s expansion and the approach of Russia’s borders is justification for this new defense strategy, according the Russian state news agency, TASS.

“The buildup of the military potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and vesting it with global functions implemented in violations of norms of international law, boosting military activity of the bloc’s countries, further expansion of the alliance, the approach of its military infrastructure to Russian borders create a threat to the national security,” the document says.

CBS News, Trump mocks State Department's 2015 boast of peace in Syria, Reena Flores, Dec. 31, 2015. When State Department spokesperson John Kirby listed "bringing peace, security to Syria" as one of the administration's pivotal foreign policy moments of the year, it drew widespread criticism -- from conservative commentators, mainstream media outlets, and now Donald Trump. Right-leaning website RedState deemed the post a "blatant" lie. Of the headline, Foreign Policy magazine derided it as "hard to argue that the United States brought any significant 'peace' or 'security' to the Syrian people."

Truthout, How False Stories of Iran Arming the Houthis Were Used to Justify War in Yemen, Gareth Porter, Dec. 31, 2015. Peace talks between the Saudi-supported government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels ended in late December without any agreement to end the bombing campaign started by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies with US support last March. The rationale for the Saudi-led war on Houthis in Yemen has been that the Houthis are merely proxies of Iran, and the main alleged evidence for that conclusion is that Iran has been arming the Houthis for years.

RT, Seymour Hersh on conflicting interests in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 29, 2015 (14 min. video). Journalist Seymour Hersh's new report on contradictions between President Obama and the US military regarding rebels in Syria was a bombshell. Hersh spoke with RT about the US military's view of Syria's Bashar Assad and Obama's relationship with Turkey. Writing for the London Review of Books, Hersh reported that, in a classified document from Summer 2013, the highest echelons of the US military establishment outlined their opposition to the Obama administration’s strategy of arming so-called "moderate" rebels to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. From 2013 to September 2015, in an effort to truly counter extremists in Syria, US military leaders fed US intelligence to Russia, Germany, and Israel, which then sent it to Assad, he reported.

The removal of Assad from power would be a gift to fundamentalist extremists, the military report said, as US defense officials compared a potential Assad ouster to ill-advised US eliminations of secular leaders Moammar Gaddaffi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Turkey – which the Obama administration has held close as an ally – is "a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy," Hersh wrote of the 2013 military report.

Business Insider, Turkey may finally be 'accepting the inevitable' in Syria, Natasha Bertrand, Dec. 29, 2015. A Kurdish militia with ties to an organization waging an insurgency in Turkey's southeast region violated Turkey's "red line" in Syria over the weekend by crossing the Euphrates River during an anti-ISIS operation. The operation to take back Tishrin Dam from ISIS was staged by the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG — the military arm of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

It served as a huge blow to ISIS. But ISIS was not the only loser. The operation was also a major affront to Turkey, which declared the Euphrates a "red line" for Kurdish territorial expansion over the summer. Indeed, Turkey struck the YPG twice in October after it defied Ankara's warning not to cross the river. So far, however, the Turks' response to the weekend incident has been relatively muted.

Naji Jerf

Naji Jerf, Murdered Journalist In Turkey

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Annual round-up: 110 journalists killed in 2015, Staff report, Dec. 29, 2015. At least 67 killed while reporting or because of their work; RSF condemns failure to protect journalists, calls for “response to match the emergency.” A total of 110 journalists were killed in connection with their work or for unclear reasons in 2015, according to the round-up published today by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which is in a position to say that 67 of them were targeted because of their work or were killed while reporting.

RT, Syrian journalist exposing ISIS Aleppo atrocities assassinated in Turkey, Daniel Hawkins and Ilya Petrenko, Dec. 28, 2015. A prominent Syrian journalist and filmmaker who produced anti-Islamic State documentaries, was gunned down by unknown assailants in broad daylight in Gaziantep, Turkey. The death of Naji Herf is the third assassination of a journalist in the country over the last three months.

Sputnik via RT, Captured ISIS fighter says 'trained in Turkey,' Staff report, Dec. 28, 2015 (with video). Turkey is training Islamic State terrorists in a camp disguised as a training ground for the Free Syrian Army, a 20-year-old jihadist captured by the Kurdish YPG told Sputnik. The prisoner said Ankara’s help to the “moderate” Syrian opposition is not as innocent as portrayed. Captured by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters in Northern Syria in November, Abdurrahman Abdulhadi, a Syrian national-turned Daesh (Islamic State) fighter, says he was trained in Turkey before receiving his first assignment with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“In August 2014, I was training in the Turkish town of Adana with one of ISIL’s Emirs,” Abdulhadi said, adding his month-long training was completed with 60 other fighters in a camp “not far from the airport.”

The captured IS soldier said military training was conducted by two officers and one of them only “spoke Turkish, so another one had to translate for him.” “Once a week we had shooting classes where we were taught to use Kalashnikovs, machine guns and other arms,” the 20 year-old said. “We were trained in Turkey because ISIL's command thought it was safer here than in Syria because of the bombardments there.”

While the camp was officially declared to be one of the training grounds for the Free Syrian Army, the YPG prisoner says, “all sixty of those who were there were ISIL members.”

AP via New York Times, Wounded Fighters, Civilians Evacuated From Syria, Albert Aji and Suzan Fraser, Dec. 28, 2015. Hundreds of people from opposite sides in Syria's civil war were evacuated from contested areas on Monday under a U.N.-backed truce, with one group headed to Turkey and another en route to areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

One group, with more than 100 rebels and family members, crossed from Syria into Lebanon in buses and ambulances, and then took off from Beirut airport for Turkey, a main ally of fighters battling to overthrow Assad. The other group, residents of two insurgent-besieged Shiite villages in northern Syria, was evacuated first to Turkey in similar vehicles before departing for Beirut from Hatay airport. The truce deal reached in September, which provides for the transfer of thousands of Shiite and Sunni civilians and fighters, is one of a number of ground-level deals to end fighting in parts of Syria. Earlier this month, scores of fighters and their families began leaving a rebel-held neighborhood in the central city of Homs after several years of combat.

Huffington Post, The Cost of Turkey's Self-Interest, Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi, Dec. 28, 2015. Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi is a researcher at the Near Eastern Department of UC Berkeley. Turkey's assistance to the Islamic State goes beyond providing open borders for ISIS militants. By the end of 2015, Turkey is expected to host as many as nearly 2 million Syrian refugees.

Recently, Turkey was accused of being one of the main sources of financial backing for the Islamic State, as well as of providing the majority of the group's training and weaponry. The Islamic State, for its part, has been making a profit smuggling oil across the border into Turkey. ISIS makes between $1-2 million a day from oil revenues, and Reyhanli, one border village, made a profit of more than $800 million in oil sales over the course of 16 months. Residents near the Syrian border reported witnessing Turkish ambulances going into combat zones during clashes between Kurdish militias and the Islamic State. These ambulances would evacuate ISIS casualties and would treat them in Turkish hospitals.

AFP via Yahoo News, IS leader linked to Paris attacks 'mastermind' killed in Syria: Pentagon, Staff report, Dec. 28, 2015. An Islamic State leader with "direct" ties to the alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks was among 10 senior figures in the group killed in Syria and Iraq this month, the Pentagon said Tuesday. Baghdad-based US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters that French national Charaffe al Mouadan was killed in a US-led coalition air strike on December 24. Mouadan had been actively plotting further attacks against the West, Warren said, without giving additional details. "He was a Syrian-based ISIL member with a direct link to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Paris attacks cell leader," Warren said in a video call, using an alternative acronym for the IS group. 

Zero Hedge, 12,000 Oil Tanker Trucks Parked At Iraq-Turkey Border Aren't Carrying ISIS Crude, Kurds Swear, Tyler Durden, Dec. 27, 2015. Less than 48 hours ago, Russia said it spotted some 12,000 tankers and trucks on the Turkish-Iraqi border. As for the Kurds, well they swear it's [their] oil and not Islamic State's that's tied up at the border. Of course, Kurdish crude is just as "undocumented" as ISIS oil given that technically it belongs to Baghdad and not Erbil. The Kurds want you to believe is that none of the nearly 12,000 tankers parked at Zakho contain any ISIS crude. Note the timing. ISIS is losing ground and is on the verge of relinquishing Ramadi to Iraqi forces. One certainly wonders if the group's funding needs are rising just as the Russians are cutting off their revenue stream forcing Baghdadi to get as much of the oil through as possible while he still can.

Channel 9 News (Australia), ISIL oil smugglers trapped as Russian bombs rain down, Staff report, Dec. 26, 2015. Russian bombers have conducted deadly raids on thousands of trucks believed to be smuggling illegal oil for ISIL over the Iraq-Turkey border on the same day a Syrian rebel chief was killed in similar air strikes. An estimated 12,000 heavy-duty trucks were seen backed up on both sides of the Zakho checkpoint, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq bordering Turkey, according to aerial footage released by the Russian Defense Ministry.

With the threat of an impending attack, hundreds of drivers can be seen frantically trying to flee to safety or abandon their trucks as bombs rain down. Many tankers lie destroyed, smoke and flames billowing out. The Russian Air Force is estimated to have destroyed more than 2,000 tankers used by ISIL for smuggling oil since starting a bombing campaign in late September. The crippling effect of the raids has forced ISIL to disguise their trucks, as well as transport cargo mainly at night.

New York Times, U.N. Sets Syrian Peace Talks as Fighting Complicates Task, Somini Sengupta and Anne Barnard, Dec. 26, 2015. The United Nations said Saturday that it intended to move ahead with peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel forces in late January, a signal to all parties that a tenuous political process aimed at ending the war would not be quashed by gains and losses on the battlefield.

ISIS truck convoyISIS truck convoy (file photo)

RT, Intel spots 12,000 oil tankers & trucks on Turkey-Iraq border: General Staff, Kevin Owen, Dec. 25, 2015. Russian intelligence has spotted up to 12,000 tankers and trucks on the Turkish-Iraqi border, the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces has reported. “The [aerial] imagery was made in the vicinity of Zakho (a city in Iraqi Kurdistan), there were 11,775 tankers and trucks on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border,” Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy told journalists on Friday. The Russian Air Force in Syria has destroyed about 2,000 tankers used by the Islamists for oil transportation. In the last week, Russian warplanes eliminated 17 convoys of oil tankers and a number of installations used by terrorists for oil extraction and processing.


Reuters, Top Syrian rebel leader killed in air strike in Damascus suburb, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Dec. 25, 2015. A top Syrian rebel leader and head of the most powerful insurgent group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus was killed in an aerial raid that targeted the group's headquarters, rebel sources and the Syrian army said on Friday. The death of Zahran Alloush, 44, head of Jaysh al Islam, is a big blow to rebel control of the rural eastern suburban area of Damascus known as al Ghouta, the rebels said. Defense experts say the disarray among the rebel forces could also consolidate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's control over the rest of the area. The rebel sources said that in the raid Russian planes fired at least 10 missiles at a secret headquarters of the group, which is the largest rebel faction in the area and has about 15,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to Western intelligence.

U.S. Department of Defense, Coalition Forces Continue Attacks on ISIL Targets in Syria, Iraq, Staff report, Dec. 25, 2015. U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today. Officials reported details of the latest strikes, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports. Attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 12 strikes in Syria.

RT, Apocalyptic scenes of Damascus suburb obliterated by violent clashes, Murad Gazdiev, Dec. 23, 2015. The Jobar neighborhood of Damascus is the epicenter of some of the fiercest fighting in Syria with Islamist rebels refusing to give up their only stronghold. Once densely populated, the area has now been completely obliterated. Before the conflict in Syria erupted in 2011, the neighborhood was home to some 300,000 residents, most of whom were Sunni Muslims. The suburb contained a number of ancient landmarks, most notably the Green Synagogue, the oldest Jewish synagogue in the world. It also contained the Grand Jobar Mosque in addition to the tomb of the Prophet Elijah. Jobar also housed ancient baths that were built during Ottoman times.

Reuters, Russia hosts pro-Kurdish Turkish politician who condemns Ankara, Dmitry Solovyov, Dec. 23, 2015. The leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday and criticized Ankara for shooting down a Russian warplane last month. Russia, which imposed economic sanctions on Turkey after the Nov. 24 incident, and has sharply criticized President Tayyip Erdogan and would be keenly aware of the sensitivity of Ankara to any contacts between Moscow and Kurdish politicians. The visit by Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), is likely to further damage ties between Moscow and Ankara. Erdogan has accused the HDP of connections with armed Kurdish rebels fighting in Turkey's southeast.

Corbett Report, West Prepares to Replace Their Puppet in Turkey, James Corbett interviews former FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, Dec. 22, 2015 (video 31:01 min.). Sibel Edmonds of BoilingFrogsPost.com joins us once again to discuss the ongoing "reverse engineering" of Erdoğan by the NATO/CIA/Kurdish/Israeli/Russian forces that oppose him. We talk about the hypocritical and nearly-unanimous coverage of Erdoğan's abuses -- and how and why this narrative is converging now to finish the US/NATO task of removing him from office to usher in a more pliable puppet.

Shadowproof, Report: 60 Percent Of Syrian Rebels Are Sympathetic To ISIS, Dan Wright, Dec. 22, 2015. So much for the “moderate rebels.” A report from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics, a think tank run by the Tony Blair Foundation, finds that ISIS represents the mainstream of the Syrian rebels groups trying to overthrow the Assad government. According to the think tank linked to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, roughly 60% of the rebel fighters in Syria are sympathetic to ISIS’ political and religious beliefs and practices. While there may be personal disputes between ISIS and the other rebels, most find little problem with ISIS’ ideology and governing style.

These findings stand in considerable contrast to earlier claims made by the Obama Administration, about which groups constituted the Syrian rebels. President Obama had, at one point, pushed to train a so-called moderate rebel force in Syria and spent $500 million to do so. After the failures of the program became evident, Obama switched his position and labeled the belief in the moderate rebels as a viable force to take on ISIS and Assad as a “fantasy.”

Democracy Now! Seymour Hersh's Latest Bombshell: U.S. Military Undermined Obama on Syria with Tacit Help to Assad, Amy Goodman, Dec. 22, 2015. A new report by the Pulitzer-winning veteran journalist Seymour Hersh says the Joint Chiefs of Staff has [sic] indirectly supported Bashar al-Assad in an effort to help him defeat jihadist groups. Hersh reports the Joint Chiefs sent intelligence via Russia, Germany and Israel on the understanding it would be transmitted to help Assad push back Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State.

Hersh: Well, it began, actually, as I wrote, with a very serious, extensive assessment of our policy, that was completed by June — let’s say by middle of 2013, two-and-a-half years ago. It was a study done by the Joint Chiefs and the Defense Intelligence Agency that came to three sort of conclusions, that may seem obvious now but were pretty interesting then.

One is that they said Assad must stay, at least through — through the resolution of the war, because, as we saw in Libya, once you get rid of a leader, like Gaddafi — same, you can argue, in Iraq with the demise of Saddam Hussein — chaos ensues.

Consortium News, Sarin Attack at Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), Dec. 22, 2015. One reason why Official Washington continues to insist that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go” is that he supposedly “gassed his own people” with sarin on Aug. 21, 2013, but the truth of that allegation has never been established and is in growing doubt, U.S. intelligence veterans point out. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 30, 2013, claims to have proof that the Syrian government was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21, but that evidence failed to materialize or was later discredited.

Washington Post, What’s freedom worth? Less than 3 billion euros, apparently, Can Dündar, Dec. 21, 2015. The writer is the imprisoned editor in chief of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet. With its Flag of Turkeyhigh-dollar refugee deal with Turkey, the European Union abets Turkey’s abuse of its own citizens. Last month, while accommodating world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Antalya, the Turkish government observed this tradition, taking a break from exerting certain “domestic pressures.” But as soon as the guests left, it added Erdem Gül, Ankara bureau chief at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and me to the more than 20 journalists it has already put in jail.

In today’s world, which long ago became a global village, one would think that such despotic acts would attract notice and invite repercussions. On Nov. 26, I was imprisoned for publishing a news article on trucks being used by the Turkish intelligence service to illegally transport arms into Syria. Then, just days later, the European Union and Turkey came together for a summit on the migration crisis. In a letter written on behalf of all imprisoned journalists, Gül and I reminded European leaders of the core values of Western civilization, such as freedom of the press, thought and expression. As these leaders walked into the summit in Brussels, they had our letter in one pocket and the 3 billion euros they would give to Turkey in the other. The money in the right pocket was deemed more important than the letter in the left.

McClatchy, What really happened to the U.S. train-and-equip program in Syria? Roy Gutman, Dec. 21, 2015. Participants’ descriptions suggest trainees and trainers never agreed on mission. There were arguments and walkouts over goals, escorts, food supplies, expenses. Fifty-four U.S.-trained Syrian fighters arrived at the Bab al Salama crossing in Syria in mid-July 2015 in a convoy of pickup trucks after completing a two-month training course in Turkey. But after they reached their base, the men decided to take a home leave. On returning to base two weeks later, calamity struck when many walked into a trap set by the Nusra Front, the Al Qaida affiliate in Syria.

Ten weeks later, the Pentagon announced that it had halted the program, which until that moment had been the keystone of the Obama administration’s policy to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in Syria. The program’s demise has been ascribed to a number of factors, including the participants, the Turkish intelligence agency MIT and a Syrian militia, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, better known as the YPG. But a McClatchy investigation shows that the primary factor may well have been the United States itself, which conceived of a program that didn’t have the support of the people it was intended to train and was viewed with deep skepticism by its key training partner, Turkey.

Shadowproof, London Review of Books (LRB), Military to Military, Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war, Seymour Hersh (shown in file photo) Dec. 21, 2015 (print publication dated Jan. 7, 2016) (6,831 words). Barack Obama’s repeated Seymour Hershinsistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.

Shadowproof, Vox’s Max Fisher is Wrong About Seymour Hersh, Explained, Kevin Gosztola, Dec. 21, 2015. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a report on how the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff deviated from President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria by sharing military intelligence indirectly with Bashar al-Assad’s government. It also indicated the Joint Chiefs dissented against Obama’s “insistence that ‘moderate’ rebel groups” could defeat Assad because they were all primarily extremists.

Well over twenty-four hours later, there are zero establishment media outlets that have run follow-ups or coverage of Hersh’s reporting. Only “Democracy Now!” had Hersh on their December 22 show and asked him about what he uncovered. Instead, a critique produced by Max Fisher and published at Vox has given U.S. journalists the justification to dismiss all of the major claims and issues raised in Hersh’s report. Fisher, who is Vox’s resident Seymour Hersh critic, outlines in an op-ed or “explainer” why he believes Hersh’s report is nothing but a “bizarre conspiracy theory.” His representation of the claims in the report is entirely overwrought.

Reuters via Huffington Post, Russian Warplanes Allegedly Kill Scores In Syrian City, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Dec. 20, 2015. Rescue workers said they had confirmed 43 dead but that at least 30 more bodies had been retrieved that had still to be identified. Over 150 people were wounded with some of the serious cases sent to hospitals in Turkey. Separately, the Syrian army with the backing of Russian air power said on Sunday it had seized the rebel held town of Khan Touman in southern Aleppo, a major gain that opened the way for advances further to the west in Idlib province. The advances brought the army only a few kilometers from the major rebel-controlled Aleppo-Damascus highway, whose capture would be a big boost to the Syrian army.

Zero Hedge, Turkey Blasts "Breakthrough" UN Resolution On Syria: "It Lacks Perspective. Assad Must Go!" Tyler Durden, Dec. 19, 2015. Well, for anyone who thought Turkey might be set to bow to Flag of Turkeyinternational pressure by moving its troops north and thus back towards the Turkey-Iraq border, think again. Because on Saturday, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu was out with a series of declarations that seem to suggest Turkey is going full-belligerent-retard as Erdogan scrambles to preserve the “Assad must go” narrative on the way to securing whatever Ankara’s interests are in both Iraq and Syria.

First, Davutoglu said that the provision of training to the Peshmerga and Mosul militiamen is “in line with a request from Iraq authorities and as such, the mission in Iraq will continue “until Mosul is freed” from ISIS. Next, Davutoglu claims that the Islamic State attacks on Turkish positions in Bashiqa prove Turkey “is right.” Davutoglu then slammed a UN Security Council resolution agreed in New York on Friday. Diplomats adopted a resolution which purports to draw a road map for ending the war in Syria. For Turkey, the absence of a decision on Assad's future is maddening. The Security Council resolution "lacks realistic perspective," Davutoglu said on Saturday, before adding that the "Syria crisis can only be solved if Bashar al-Assad leaves power."

Consider that, and consider the fact that, as we reported yesterday, Ankara is now establishing a military base in Qatar in order that the two countries might work more closely on tackling "common enemies."

What we're beginning to see here is the formation of three alliances in the Mid-East: 1) Russia, Iran, Syria, and Iraq; 2) Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar; 3) Britain, France, and Germany. The first alliance is pro-Assad, anti-terror. The second is anti-Assad, pro-Sunni extremist. The third is anti-Assad (although less vehemently so). Note that we've left the US out. Why? Because Washington is now stuck. The US wants desperately to maintain coordination with Ankara, Riyadh, and Doha, but between stepped-up media coverage of Saudi Arabia's role in underwriting extremism (via the promotion of Wahhabism) and heightened scrutiny on Erdogan's role in financing terrorists, the position is becoming increasingly untenable. But aligning solely with the UK, France, and Germany entails adopting a more conciliatory approach to Assad. The US is now thoroughly confused as to what to do next.

Guardian, Turkish troops move out of northern Iraq after Obama appeal for calm, Staff report, Dec. 19, 2015. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (shown in file photo) agrees to pull troops out of Iraq to de-escalate tensions with Baghdad, Recep Tayyip Erdoganwhich had accused Turkey of an ‘illegal incursion.’ Turkey has said said it would “continue” to pull its troops out of northern Iraq after US president Barack Obama urged president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to do so in order to de-escalate tensions with Baghdad over the deployment.

Reuters, Assad makes rare visit to church in Damascus, Kinda Makieh, Dec. 19, 2015. Syrian President Bashar al Assad attended Christmas choir preparations in an ancient church close to a frontline area in the Bashar and Asma Assadcapital Damascus where his army is engaged in heavy fighting with rebels, state media said on Saturday. State television showed footage of Assad and his wife Asma (shown together in a file photo) making the visit overnight to the Notre Dame de Damas Church, where he was shown chatting to the choir. He took a seat near the altar and listened to a recital of Christmas poems in the main cathedral hall. The surroundings of the church in the old part of the ancient capital were hit by mortar fire on Friday, officials said.

Washington Post, U.N. Security Council approves plan for Syrian peace process, Karen DeYoung, Dec. 19, 2015. But the resolution avoids details and papers over key differences among nations backing various combatants. The U.N. ­Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a peace process that is designed to end Syria’s civil war and to allow the international community to focus its attention more fully on defeating the Islamic State. The resolution gave Security Council backing to a process that begins with negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents to establish a transitional government that will write a new constitution and hold elections, all within 18 months.

The resolution instructs U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura to guide the government and opposition groups toward talks to begin as early as next month. Among the pitfalls he will have to navigate are the opposition’s insistence that no talks can be held with [Syrian President Barshar al-Assad’s] participation and Russia’s demand that Assad be included. The two sides and their international supporters also disagree about which opposition groups can take part in the negotiations, with Russia seeking to ban as “terrorists” Islamist forces who are among the strongest and most numerous opposition fighters.

Middle East Eye, Why the US pushes the illusory Syrian peace process, Gareth Porter, Dec. 18, 2015. The anti-Assad coalition led by the United States continues to stagger toward the supposed objective of beginning peace negotiations between the Syrian government and what has now been blessed as the politically acceptable “opposition.” The first such meeting was scheduled for 1 January, but no one on either side believes for a moment that any such negotiations are going to happen any time in the foreseeable future.

Zero Hedge, Treason! Lawmaker Discovers It's Bad Idea To Accuse Erdoğan Of Supplying Sarin Gas To ISIS. Tyler Durden, Dec. 17, 2015. Two weeks ago, CHP lawmaker Eren Erdem said he, like Moscow, will soon provide proof of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s role in the smuggling of Islamic State oil. "I have been able to establish that there is a very high probability that Berat Albayrak is linked to the supply of oil by the Daesh terrorists,” Erdem said, referencing Erdoğan’s son-in-law who just happens to be the country’s energy minister. That wasn’t the first time Erdem has accused the Erdoğan government of engaging in nefarious activities. Recall that back in October, Erdem and fellow CHP deputy Ali Seker claimed an investigation into Turkey's role in a 2013 sarin gas attack that killed more than a thousand civilians in Syria was being obstructed.

"The MKE [Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation] is also an actor that is mentioned in the investigation file. Here is the indictment. All the details about how sarin was procured in Turkey and delivered to the terrorists, along with audio recordings, are inside the file," Erdem said, at a press conference held on October 21.

"Wiretapped phone conversations reveal the process of procuring the gas at specific addresses as well as the process of procuring the rockets that would fire the capsules containing the toxic gas. However, despite such solid evidence there has been no arrest in the case. Thirteen individuals were arrested during the first stage of the investigation but were later released, refuting government claims that it is fighting terrorism," he continued.

As Today’s Zaman reported at the time, “...over 1,300 people were killed in the sarin gas attack in Ghouta and several other neighborhoods near the Syrian capital of Damascus, with the West quickly blaming the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia claiming it was a ‘false flag’ operation aimed at making US military intervention in Syria possible.”

On the heels of Erdem’s allegations surrounding Erdoğan’s role in Islamic State’s illicit oil smuggling business, the lawmaker said he intends “to carry this investigation through to the end,” to which we replied: “..we can only hope that, for the sake of exposing the truth, ‘the end’ doesn’t end up being a Turkish jail cell, or worse.”

Well sure enough, Erdem now faces “treason” charges. Here’s Today’s Zaman again: "The Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation into Republican People's Party (CHP) Istanbul deputy Eren Erdem for 'treason,' following his claims on the Russia Today (RT) TV station [excerpted below] that radical groups used Turkey as a transit route for the shipment of sarin gas.

 

Turkish media reported on Wednesday that the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office will send a summary of proceedings to the Ministry of Justice on Thursday. If the summary of proceedings is sent to Parliament, the process for stripping Erdem of his parliamentary immunity will begin. Erdem might be prosecuted over treason if Parliament votes in favor of the removal of his parliamentary immunity.

Cem Kucuk, a columnist at the pro-government Star daily, said on a program on Kanal 24 on Tuesday that Erdem's appearance on RT and his claims regarding sarin gas were “treason.” Kucuk argued that Erdem's immunity should be removed by Parliament for him to “pay for his deeds.”

For his part, Erdem repeated his contention that he's the subject of a smear campaign. “The paramilitary organization Ottoman Hearths is sharing my address [on Twitter] and plans a raid [on my house]. I am being targeted with death threats because I am patriotically opposed to something that tramples on my country's prestige,” he says.

The charges come just two days after Erdem gave the following interview to RT in which he says ISIS "received all necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas via Turkey." He insists there are grounds to believe a cover up is in the offing.

And so, just as Erdogan arrested Can Dundar, editor in chief of Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s capital correspondent in Ankara on charges of spying and aiding a terrorist organization after they published video depicting an MIT truck transporting weapons to Syria, and just as Ankara arrested the generals who stopped the truck, AKP will now try a member of the opposition for treason.

CNN, On board the warship Moskva: The naval power behind Russia's air war in Syria, Matthew Chance, Dec. 17, 2015. Several miles off the Syrian coast, the Moskva, a Russian warship laden with long-range guided missiles, is a formidable symbol of Russian naval might in this stretch of the eastern Mediterranean. I've been given rare access on board this 11,500-ton, 186-meter (610-foot) missile cruiser to witness the key role it plays in Russia's air war against jihadist rebels in Syria's grinding civil war. Equipped with a powerful air defense system, the Moskva has been situated off the Syrian city of Latakia to provide support to the Russian warplanes crisscrossing Syrian skies in an unrelenting schedule of sorties from the Hmeymim air base.

Washington Post, On regime change in Syria, the White House capitulates to Russia, Editorial board, Dec. 17, 2015. Russian planes are still bombing Western-backed forces in Syria every day and targeting hospitals, bakeries and humanitarian corridors. Moscow is still insisting that blood-drenched dictator Bashar al-Assad remain in power indefinitely while trying to exclude opposition groups from proposed peace negotiations by claiming they are terrorists.

Nevertheless, Secretary of State John F. Kerry insisted Tuesday after meeting with Vladi­mir Putin that the Russian ruler and the Obama administration see Syria “in fundamentally the same way.” Unfortunately, that increasingly appears to be the case — and not because Mr. Putin has altered his position.

President Obama meets Turkey Prime Minister Recep Erdorgan Dec. 7, 2009President Erdoğan’s shown meeting President Obama at the White House, Dec. 7, 2009 (White House Photo)

Washington Post, U.S.-led airstrikes kill 180 Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq, Missy Ryan and Loveday Morris, Dec. 17, 2015. Islamist militants also launched four coordinated attacks against Kurdish forces in that area. The assault shows the group’s resilience despite a year-long air campaign by the United States and allies. American-led airstrikes killed at least 180 Islamic State fighters as local Kurdish forces­ scrambled to repel a bold, multi-pronged assault by the militants, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday. At least four coordinated attacks by more than 300 heavily armed militants kicked off the most intense fighting that northern Iraq has seen this year, illustrating the extremist group’s continued potency despite a year-long air campaign by the United States and its allies.

New York Times, ISIS Carries Out First ‘Serious’ Attack in Northern Iraq in Months, U.S. Says, Michael R. Gordon, Dec. 17, 2015. Islamic State fighters conducted their most significant military operation in northern Iraq in more than five months when they mounted a three-pronged attack on Wednesday night north and east of Mosul, American officials said Thursday. The attack appeared to have been intended to show that the group is still a potent fighting force despite setbacks in Sinjar, Iraq, and in northern Syria. It may have also been intended to disrupt efforts by the American-led coalition to prepare for the eventual battle to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which was captured by the Islamic State in June 2014. The assault, which took place on the eve of a visit here by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter on Thursday, was beaten back by pesh merga fighters, as the Kurdish forces are known.

Air Force Times, U.S. pulls F-15 fighter jets from Turkey, Aaron Mehta and Jeff Schogol, Dec. 16, 2015. The U.S. is withdrawing a dozen F-15 fighters from the key Turkish air base of Incirlik, less than two months after their arrival. The fighters — six F-15Cs from the 48th Fighter Wing and six F-15Es from the 48th Fighter Wing — will be returning to Europe. The U.S. will still maintain a dozen A-10 Warthog close-air support fighters at the base, located about 100 miles from the border with Syria. The six F-15Cs from the 48th Fighter Wing arrived at Incirlik on Nov. 6 to help protect Turkish airspace. When the F-15s’ arrival was first announced, Pentagon officials emphasized having the capability located so close to Syria was vital for the fight against the Islamic State. However, on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis downplayed the removal of the fighters, noting that capability would still be in Europe and able to flow down if necessary.

OpEdNews, You Want War? Russia is Ready for War, Pepe Escobar, Dec. 16, 2015. Pepe Escobar, shown in a file photo, is an independent geopolitical analyst. Nobody needs to read Zbigniew "Grand Chessboard"  Brzezinski's 1997 Pepe Escobaropus to know US foreign policy revolves around one single overarching theme: prevent -- by all means necessary -- the emergence of a power, or powers, capable of constraining Washington's unilateral swagger, not only in Eurasia but across the world. Syria is leading all these assumptions to collapse like a house of cards.

"Tense" does not even begin to describe the current Russia-Turkey geopolitical tension, which shows no sign of abating. If Ankara opts for a suicide mission of knocking out yet another Su-24, or Su-34, Russia will simply clear the airspace all across the border via the S-400s. If Ankara under the cover of NATO responds by launching the Turkish Army on Russian positions, Russia will use nuclear missiles, drawing NATO into war not only in Syria but potentially also in Europe.

Since mid-2014 the Pentagon has run all manner of war games -- as many as 16 times, under different scenarios -- pitting NATO against Russia. All scenarios were favorable to NATO. All simulations yielded the same victor: Russia. And that's why Erdogan's erratic behavior actually terrifies quite a few real players from Washington to Brussels.

The Pentagon is very much aware of the tremendous heavy metal Russia may unleash if provoked to the limit by someone like Erdoğan. Let's roll out an abridged list. Russia can use the mighty SS-18 -- which NATO code names "Satan"; each "Satan" carries 10 warheads, with a yield of 750 to 1000 kilotons each, enough to destroy an area the size of New York State. The Topol M ICBM is the world's fastest missile at 21 Mach (16,000 miles an hour); against it, there's no defense. Launched from Moscow, it hits New York City in 18 minutes, and L.A. in 22.8 minutes.

 

ISIS Smuggling Routes (Russia chart)

Three Alleged ISIS Smuggling Routes (in blue) from Central Syria Via NATO-member Turkey (Russian military chart)

Infowars, Obama Concedes to Putin After NATO’s Support of ISIS Exposed, Kit Daniels, Dec. 16, 2015. White House stops demanding Assad's removal after news reports reveal West backing ISIS. The Obama administration is no longer publicly asking for “regime change” in Syria after multiple news reports revealed how NATO and its allies have spent years supporting Islamic jihadists to try and topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he accepted Russia’s request that the U.S. let the Syrian people decide Assad’s political fate.

“The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” Kerry told reporters on Tuesday after meeting President Vladimir Putin. This is a huge concession from the Obama administration considering the president spent the past several years stating “Assad must go.” But why this sudden shift in public policy? Well, Czech President Milos Zeman recently stated that Turkey is friendly to the Islamic State, and there’s truth to that. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi said nearly the exact same thing.

A major scandal erupted in Turkey last year when Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was caught shipping arms to ISIS, then attempted to cover it up by ordering a media blackout. Not long after, the Obama administration signed an agreement with Turkey to openly train and arm “moderate” Syrian rebels, but virtually all of the rebels fighting Assad in Syria have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State since at least 2013.

RT, Washington's 'Plan B' in Syria: Renewed military intervention to oust Assad? Finian Cunningham, Dec. 16, 2015. US top diplomat John Kerry appeared to offer cooperation during lengthy talks in Moscow this week with President Vladimir Putin. Kerry said that US policy was not trying to isolate Russia, neither was it seeking regime change in Syria. Washington and its NATO partners have been seeking regime change against Russia’s long-time Syria ally going back to 2007 during the George W Bush presidency. The whole foreign-backed war in the Arab country – resulting in 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees over the past five years – has been orchestrated for the precise purpose of destabilizing Syria.

Like Kerry’s coy claim that the US is not trying “to isolate Russia as a matter of policy,” the bottom line is that Washington has imposed unilateral economic sanctions on Russia as a result of provable US regime change in Ukraine in February 2014, and cajoled its European allies to follow suit. Withdrawing unilaterally from arms control treaties and expanding NATO forces on Russian territory are hardly the actions of a party “not seeking isolation” of Moscow.

Business Insider, The epicenter of the Syrian war is shifting — and it could mean 'a near total defeat' for Turkey's Syria policy, Natasha Bertrand, Dec. 16, 2015. Russian airstrikes across northern Syria have been steadily shifting the epicenter of the war toward a corridor north of Aleppo, through which Turkey smuggles aid and supplies to the rebel groups it supports. A stepped-up Russian bombing campaign in the Bayirbucak region of northwest Syria, near the strategically important city of Azaz, has primarily targeted the Turkey-backed Turkmen rebels and civilians — and the Turkish aid convoys that supply them.

As a result, Turkey's policy in Syria of bolstering rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime — and establishing a "safe zone" for displaced Syrians that might hinder the regime's efforts to take Aleppo — is quickly unraveling. Another important component of Turkey's strategy in Syria is also at risk of collapse as a result of Russia's campaign in the north — namely, restricting the movements of the Kurdish YPG, with whom Turkey has clashed, along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Guardian, Now the truth emerges: how the US fueled the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Seumas Milne, Dec. 16, 2015. The sectarian terror group won’t be defeated by the western states that incubated it in the first place. The war on terror, that campaign without end launched 14 years ago by George Bush, is tying itself up in ever more grotesque contortions. On Monday the trial in London of a Swedish man, Bherlin Gildo, accused of terrorism in Syria, collapsed after it became clear British intelligence had been arming the same rebel groups the defendant was charged with supporting.

The prosecution abandoned the case, apparently to avoid embarrassing the intelligence services. The defence argued that going ahead with the trial would have been an “affront to justice” when there was plenty of evidence the British state was itself providing “extensive support” to the armed Syrian opposition.

AP via Yahoo, Assad can stay, for now: Kerry accepts Russian stance, Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper, Dec. 15, 2015. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday accepted Russia's long-standing demand John Kerrythat President Bashar Assad's future be determined by his own people, as Washington and Moscow edged toward putting aside years of disagreement over how to end Syria's civil war. "The United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change," Kerry told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting President Vladimir Putin.

A major international conference on Syria would take place later this week in New York, Kerry announced. Kerry reiterated the U.S. position that Assad, accused by the West of massive human rights violations and chemical weapons attacks, won't be able to steer Syria out of more than four years of conflict. But after a day of discussions with Assad's key international backer, Kerry said the focus now is "not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad." Rather, it is on facilitating a peace process in which "Syrians will be making decisions for the future of Syria."

Kerry's declarations crystallized the evolution in U.S. policy on Assad over the last several months, as the Islamic State group's growing influence in the Middle East has taken priority. President Barack Obama first called on Assad to leave power in the summer of 2011, with "Assad must go" being a consistent rallying cry. Later, American officials allowed that he wouldn't have to resign on "Day One" of a transition. Now, no one can say when Assad might step down.

Cannon Fire, Assad is more popular in Syria than Obama and Hillary are in the United States, Joseph Cannon, Dec. 15, 2015. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton refuse to countenance any solution to the Syrian civil war in which the elected, lawful, secular leader Bashar Assad is not removed from office. Despite this talk of democracy, the White House insists that Bashar Assad must not allowed to participate in any future election. Why? For one simple reason: Assad would win. A new poll proves the point. The survey, conducted by ORB International, a company which specializes in public opinion research in fragile and conflict environments, found that 47 percent of Syrians believe that Assad has a positive influence in Syria, compared to only 35 percent for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and 26 percent for the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Bashar Assad is the most popular man in Syria, according to ORB international, a credible UK polling organization whose clients have included the BBC and the Conservative party. The persistence of the myth that Assad lacks support calls to mind an article written by Jonathan Steele in the British newspaper the Guardian on 17 January 2012, less than one year into the war. Under a lead titled, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know it from western media,” Steele wrote: Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that most Syrians are in favor of Bashar al-Assad remaining as president, would that not be major news? Especially as the finding would go against the dominant narrative about the Syrian crisis, and the media consider the unexpected more newsworthy than the obvious. Alas, not in every case. When coverage of an unfolding drama ceases to be fair and turns into a propaganda weapon, inconvenient facts get suppressed. So it is with the results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll…ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.

Let's take matters further. If Assad has a 47% approval rating in Syria, how does his popularity compare to Barack Obama's? According to the most recent Gallup poll, Obama's favorability rating is exactly the same as Assad's: 47%. Gallup's poll offers the highest number I could find. If we average out these findings, we may fairly say that Barack Obama's number is worse than Bashar Assad's. And what of Hillary Clinton's approval ratings? Here's a Gallup poll from last September: Currently, 41% of U.S. adults say they have a favorable opinion of the Democratic front-runner, while 51% hold an unfavorable view.

RT via Russia Insider, NATO Is Going for Bust in Syria, Pepe Escobar, Dec. 15, 2015. The new plan is Northern Syria controlled by anti-Assad 'moderate rebels' (dominated by al Qaeda) with ISIS beaten but tolerated and solidified in western Iraq. NATO’s Syria intervention is of course absolutely illegal. UN Security Council resolution 2249 does not fall under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Yet once again creative language – French-style rhetorical artifice - blurs the non-justification of military might by conveying the impression the UNSC approves it. Resolution 2249 is yet another case of international law reduced to rubble. For these – sporadic - UK and French air strikes, covered by the pretext of hitting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, were never authorized by Damascus, and the UNSC was not even consulted. Russia, on the other hand, has been fully authorized by Damascus.

OpEdNews, Syria: The Deadly Game of Ignorant Fools, Peter Kellow, Dec. 15, 2015. When Turkey sees its natural, non-Sunni enemy in Assad team up with its ancient enemy in Russia, the advantage of siding with ISIS is all Flag of Turkeytoo evident. Hence, its purchase of ISIS oil. Hence its downing of the Russia fighter.

ISIS is very strongly Sunni and the sworn enemy of Shiites and so for Turkey to have a Sunni ally on its border as a buffer between Assad in Syria and the Shiite dominated Iraq is clearly to its advantage. Turkey is out of control. The days of it being a slightly wayward, but non-threatening ally, eager to participate in the fruits of EU membership seem a long time ago. We could yet find ourselves in a deadly military pact with the new caliphate pretender confronting not only the whole Middle East but Russia as well. The very strong commitment we give by signing the military pact of NATO will drag us in on Turkey's side whether we like it or not.

Middle East Eye, Turkey ex-general testifies over 'coup' threat, Staff report, Dec. 15, 2015. Turkish prosecutors on Monday took testimony from a former top army general who warned the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2007 in a memorandum not to erode the country's secular values. The ailing Yasar Buyukanit, 75, testified to prosecutors at his Istanbul residence as a suspect in the case which was launched in 2012, the private Dogan news agency reported.

Buyukanit, Turkey's chief of the general staff from 2006-2008, is being investigated for "crimes against the constitutional order," it added. He wrote the hugely unusual document that appeared on the website of the Turkish armed forces late on April 27, 2007 and said the armed forces were following with concern the debate over secular values under the rule of the Islamic-rooted AKP, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The statement, sometimes dubbed the "e-memorandum" or even attempted "e-coup," threatened intervention to protect secular supporters who were being denounced in pro-AKP demonstrations.

Buyukanit, who has admitted writing the memorandum, and other key commanders were placed under investigation by prosecutors in 2012. But this was the first time he gave evidence.

Erdogan, who became premier in 2003 and is now president, moved to clip the wings of the military which had in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 staged coups to remove incumbent governments.

USA Today, Russian airstrikes are bolstering Syrian dictator's grip on power, Jim Michaels, Dec. 14, 2015. Russian airstrikes aimed at rebel groups in Syria have strengthened the regime of Bashar Assad, undercutting President Obama's hope of using diplomatic pressure to force the Syrian dictator’s removal. The Russian airstrikes, which began more than two months, have helped Syrian ground forces retake territory and consolidate power for Moscow's long-time ally Assad, who had been suffering defeats as Syria's civil war drags on well into its fifth year.

Reuters, Biden, in call with Turkey PM, urges cooperation with Iraq, Susan Heavey, Dec. 14, 2015. Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R), accompanied by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, speaks to the media before their meeting in Istanbul November 21, 2014. Reuters/Murad Sezer U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday welcomed the reported withdrawal of Turkish troops from a camp in northern Iraq and urged Turkey to continue trying to cooperate with Baghdad, the White House said on Monday. In a call with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Biden said the move of Turkish troops from Camp Bashiqa was "an important step to de-escalate recent tensions," the White House said in a statement. Biden reiterated that Iraq's government must consent to any foreign military presence there. "The Vice President encouraged the Turkish government to continue its dialogue with Baghdad on additional measures to improve relations between Turkey and Iraq," it said.

Telesur, Bush Military Official: The Empire's Ship is Sinking, Abby Martin, Dec. 13, 2015. Abby Martin interviews retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former national security advisor to the Reagan administration, who spent years as an assistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell during both Bush administrations. Today, he is honest about the unfixable corruption inside the establishment and the corporate interests driving foreign policy.

Strategic Culture Foundation, CIA-Islamic Jihadist Alliance Against Russia is 63 Years’ Old, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 11, 2015. Author, political commentator and former Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen, shown in a file photo, this month was elected president of the Tampa Bay Press Club. The dalliance of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency with Islamic jihadist forces is nothing new. Today, the CIA provides weapons, training, and other support to jihadist-aligned domestic Syrian and foreign mercenary forces attempting to overthrow the government of the secular Syrian president, Bashar al Assad. Among the recipients of CIA largesse are jihadist opposition forces in Syria that include Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda, the Khorasan Group, the Levant Front, and more. All of these groups have had alliances with or are part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and have sworn fealty to ISIL’s elf-proclaimed caliphate.

The use of Uzbek mercenaries by the CIA is almost as old as the American spy agency itself. In fact, CIA-Uzbek jihadist cooperation dates back some 63 years. According to its own formerly TOP SECRET Central Intelligence Bulletin, dated December 4, 1952, during the waning days of the Harry Truman administration, the CIA embarked on a program to foment nationalism tinged with jihadism among the Uzbek tribes of northern Afghanistan in order that it might spill across the border into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, a constituent republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

This 1952 CIA policy of coopting Muslim radicals means that the current attempt by such anti-Russian U.S. official and quasi-official intelligence policy makers, including former Jimmy Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, hedge fund tycoon George Soros, and CIA director John Brennan, to bring about a radical Muslim destabilization of the Russian Federation is merely a continuation of past practice. Presently, this cabal of American Russophobes see a victory by jihadist forces in Syria, and ultimately in Iraq, will spill over into Russia’s southern Caucasus region where jihadists have already been active, to central Asia.

AP via ABC News, US State Department Gets Undiplomatic with Russian TV Reporter, Bradley Klapper, Dec. 10, 2015. U.S.-Russian tensions broke out in undiplomatic fashion in an unlikely place Thursday: the State Department briefing room. What began with a series of tough, if suggestive, questions from a correspondent for Russian government-funded news ended with department spokesman John Kirby delivering an uncharacteristically severe indictment of Russian military activity in Syria and press conduct. Kirby also unloaded on the RT television channel and its reporter, Gayane Chichakyan.

"I can't believe that you aren't embarrassed to ask these questions," Kirby said several minutes into the back-and-forth with Chichakyan, whose questioning has previously prompted sharp — if more restrained — exchanges. "You have to be looking at these questions and almost laughing to yourself, don't you? They're absolutely crazy."

See also related column: Information Clearinghouse, US State Department Gets Undiplomatic with Russian TV Reporter, Dec. 11, 2015 (10-min. video). RT Reporter Gayane Chichakyan shows US reporters how real questioning is conducted and the proof of her effectiveness is shown by US State Department representative John Kirby losing his composure and insulting the reporter and the TV network she works for along with the country of Russia.

 

Syria Air Strikes as of 12-3-15 according to Western military sources via BBC

 

BBC, Turkey PM accuses Russia of wanting 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 9, 2015. Turkey's prime minister has accused Russia of attempting "ethnic cleansing" with its air strikes in northern Syria. Ahmet Davutoglu said Russia's campaign had targeted Turkmen and Sunni communities around the Latakia region. President Vladimir Putin has asked UK specialists to help analyse the flight recorder in a phone conversation with PM David Cameron, the Kremlin says. Turkey insists that its F-16 fighters shot down the Russian Su-24 on 24 November because the bomber had trespassed into its airspace. Russia denies this. Russia says its bombers are attacking IS and other jihadist groups in Syria, helping the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

Reuters via CBC News, Russia calls Turkey's accusations of 'ethnic cleansing' in Syria groundless, Staff report, Dec. 10, 2015. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on Thursday that accusations by Turkey of Moscow allegedly conducting ethnic cleansing in Syria are "groundless".

BBC, Syria conflict: Rebels leave Homs under truce, Lyse Doucet, Dec. 9, 2015. Syrian rebels have begun evacuating the last district they control in the city of Homs under a ceasefire deal reached with the government.Those leaving al-Wair, under siege for almost three years, will travel to rebel-held areas of Idlib province. Homs was once dubbed the "capital of the revolution" and saw some of the first protests of the 2011 uprising. But the truce means the entire city returns to government control, in a boost for President Bashar al-Assad. About 700 people, including rebel fighters and civilians, are due to depart throughout Wednesday, Homs governor Talal Barazi said.

RT, Russia strikes ISIS targets in Syria from sub in Mediterranean for first time, (VIDEO), Staff report, Dec. 8, 2015. Russia has, for the first time, targeted Islamic State targets in Syria with Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles launched from a submarine in the Mediterranean Sea. The 3M-54 Kalibr missiles were launched from the Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine “Rostov-on-Don”, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. Russia’s warships based in the Caspian and Mediterranean seas launched similar missiles targeting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) positions in late November. This is the first time that Russia has targeted IS in Syria from a submarine.

Shoigu stated that in the past three days Russian Air Forces have carried out over 300 sorties hitting 600 terrorist targets. Shoigu also said that the flight recorder of the Russian Su-24, recently downed by Turkey near the Syrian-Turkish border, has been found and presented it to Putin. Putin told Shoigu that it should be opened only in the presence of international experts. Russia has been conducting airstrikes targeting Islamic State (IS, former ISIS, ISIL) militants and other terrorist groups in Syria since September 30. The air campaign was launched after a formal request from Damascus.

Syria CENTCOM Map via Reuters

Syria CENTCOM Map via Reuters

Guardian, At least 26 Syrian civilians killed in suspected US-led airstrike, Staff report, Dec. 7, 2015. Anti-ISIS strikes launched by US-led coalition on village of Al-Khan in Syria have left only civilians dead, according to monitoring group. At least 26 Syrian civilians have been killed in an airstrike suspected to have been launched by the US-led coalition against the so-called Islamic State, piling pressure on the alliance after allegations another bombing raid left regime soldiers dead. The coalition has been bombarding the Islamic State group for more than a year in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, where the jihadists have declared a self-styled caliphate. But according to a monitoring group, strikes on Monday on the village of Al-Khan in north-eastern Syria only left civilians dead.

Business Insider, Russia appears to have 'gone ballistic' in Syria — and it may be helping ISIS, Natasha Bertrand, Dec. 7, 2015. Russia is showing no signs that it intends to forgive and forget Turkey's decision to down a Russian warplane two weeks ago. The Russians appear to have "gone ballistic" in their determination to wipe out Turkish influence in northern Syria and help regime forces reach Aleppo, a UN official told McClatchy on Monday. A stepped-up Russian bombing campaign in the Bayirbucak region of northwest Syria, near the strategically important city of Azaz, has primarily targeted the Turkey-backed Turkmen rebels and civilians — and the Turkish aid convoys that supply them.

Zero Hedge, Turkey Detains Russian Ships In Black Sea, Blasts Moscow For Brandishing Rocket Launcher In Strait, Tyler Durden, Dec. 6, 2015. Exactly a week ago, we warned that Turkey does have one trump Flag of Turkeycard when it comes to dealing with an angry Russian bear that’s hell bent on making life miserable for Ankara in the wake of Erdogan’s brazen move to shoot down a Russian Su-24 near the Syrian border. Turkey, we explained, could move to close the Bosphorus Strait, cutting one of Moscow’s key supply lines to Latakia. We went on to explain, that such a move would probably be illegal based on the 1936 Montreux Convention, but as Sputnik noted, "in times of war, the passage of warships shall be left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish government."

Obviously, Turkey and Russia haven’t formally declared war on one another, but the plane “incident” marked the first time a NATO member has engaged a Russian or Soviet aircraft in more than six decades and given the gravity of that escalation, one would hardly put it past Erdogan to start interfering with Moscow’s warships, especially if it means delaying their arrival in Syria where the Russians are on the verge of restoring an Assad government that’s Turkey despises.

Well sure enough, the tit-for-tat mutual escalation that’s ensued since the Su-24 crash has spilled over into the maritime arena with Moscow and Ankara detaining each other's ships.

Zero Hedge, Iraq May Seek "Direct Military Intervention From Russia" To Expel Turkish Troops, Tyler Durden, Dec. 6, 2015. Turkey just can’t seem to help itself when it comes to escalations in the Mid-East. First, Erdogan intentionally reignited the conflict between Ankara and the PKK in an effort to scare the public into nullifying a democratic election outcome. Then, the Turks shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border. Finally, in what very well might be an effort to protect Islamic State oil smuggling routes, Erdogan sent 150 troops and two dozen tanks to Bashiqa, just northeast of Mosul in a move that has infuriated Baghdad.

We discussed the troop deployment at length on Saturday in “Did Turkey Just Invade Iraq To Protect Erdogan's ISIS Oil Smuggling Routes? Here was our conclusion:The backlash underscores the fact that Iraq does not want help from NATO when it comes to fighting ISIS. Iraqis generally believe the US is in bed with Islamic State and you can bet that Russia and Iran will be keen on advising Baghdad to be exceptionally assertive when it comes to expelling a highly suspicious Turkish presence near Najma.

 

Kurdish Peshmerga prepare for battle against ISIS AP photo uncreditedKurdish peshmerga forces prepare for battle against the ISIS. Turkish official have said Turkish soldiers have been sent to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters. (Photograph: Uncredited/AP)

AFP via The Guardian, Iraq orders Turkey to 'immediately' withdraw troops sent across border, Staff report, Dec. 5, 2015. Prime minister’s office says the deployment of an armoured regiment ‘is considered a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty.'

Zero Hedge, Did Turkey Just Invade Iraq To Protect Erdogan's ISIS Oil Smuggling Routes? Tyler Durden, Dec. 5, 2015. On Friday, Turkey sent troops into Iraq. What’s different this time around, is that this isn’t a Kurd-chasing mission. In fact, if you believe the official line, it’s the exact opposite. Turkey has apparently had some 90 troops on the ground in Bashiqa “for two years” on a mission to “train” the Peshmerga. The new troops -- around 150 personnel supported by two dozen tanks -- will “take over the mission,” according to Hurriyet. “Turkey will have a permanent military base in the Bashiqa region of Mosul as the Turkish forces in the region training the Peshmerga forces have been reinforced,” the daily continues, adding that “the deal regarding the base was signed between Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani and Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu, during the latter’s visit to northern Iraq on Nov. 4.”OK, so what’s important to remember here is that although Erdogan is no “fan-o’-Kurds,” Ankara is friendly with the KRG.

For his part, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi has called for Turkey to "immediately" withdraw its troops. He also calls Ankara's incursion a "violation of sovereignty." That would seem to indicate that Baghdad has never approved the "training mission" that Ankara claims has been going on east of Mosul for two years. Furthermore, this underscores the fact that Iraq does not want help from NATO when it comes to fighting ISIS. As we reported last week, Iraqis generally believe the US is in bed with Islamic State and you can bet that Russia and Iran will be keen on advising Baghdad to be exceptionally assertive when it comes to expelling a highly suspicious Turkish presence near Najma.

Unz Review, Week Nine of the Russian Intervention in Syria: The Empire strikes back, The Saker, Dec. 5, 2015. Considering the remarkable success of the Russian intervention in Syria, at least so far, it should not have come as a surprise that the AngloZionist Empire would strike back. The only question was how and when. We now know the answer to that question.

On November 24th, the Turkish Air force did something absolutely unprecedented in recent history: it deliberately shot down another country’s military aircraft even though it was absolutely obvious that this aircraft presented no threat whatsoever to Turkey or the Turkish people.

US AC-130 Gunship Defense Department PhotoThe USA and NATO immediately took “ownership” of this attack by giving their full support to Turkey. NATO went as far as to declare that it would send aircraft and ships to protect Turkey as it it had been Russia who had attacked Turkey. As for the USA, not only did it fully back Turkey, it now also categorically denies that there is any evidence that Turkey is purchasing Daesh oil. Finally, as was to be expected, the USA is now sending The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group into the eastern Mediterranean, officially to strike Daesh but, in reality, to back Turkey and threaten Russia.

So what is really going on here?

Simple: the Empire correctly identified the weakness of the Russian force in Syria, and it decided to use Turkey to provide itself an element of plausible deniability.

This attack is probably only the first step of a much larger campaign to “push back” Russia from the Turkish border. The next step, apparently, includes the dispatching of western forces into Syria, initially only as ‘advisors,’ but eventually as special forces and forward air controllers. The US and Turkish Air Forces will play the primary role here, with assorted Germans and UK aircraft providing enough diversity to speak of an “international coalition.” As for the French, stuck between their Russian counterparts and their NATO “allies,” they will remain as irrelevant as ever: Hollande caved in, again (what else?). Eventually, NATO will create a de facto safe heaven for its “moderate terrorists” in northern Syria and use it as a base to direct an attack on Raqqa. Since any such intervention will be completely illegal, the argument of the need to defend the Turkmen minority will be used, R2P and all. The creation of a NATO-protected safe heaven for “moderate terrorists” could provide the first step from breaking up Syria into several smaller statelets.

If that is really the plan, then the shooting down of the SU-24 sends a powerful message to Russia: we are ready to risk a war to push you back – are you ready to go to war?

JIP Editor's Note: The predictions above did not come to pass. Shown above, a US AC-130 Gunship (Defense Department Photo).

Dec. 4

Harper's, Mountain Ambush, Andrew Cockburn, Dec. 4, 2015. “Looking at the detailed Russian timeline of what happened,” says defense analyst Pierre Sprey, “I’d say the evidence looks pretty strong that the Turks were setting up an ambush.”  

On November 24, a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber near the border of Turkey and Syria. In the immediate aftermath, officials from the two countries offered contradictory versions of what transpired: Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that the plane (typical of that shown) was flying over Syrian territory when it was downed; Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan countered that it was inside Turkey’s border and had been warned ten times to alter its course. Hours later, President Obama threw his support behind Erdogan. “Turkey,” he said, “has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.”

I asked Pierre Sprey, a longtime defense analyst and member of the team that developed the F-16, to examine what we know about the downing and determine what actually occurred that morning.

Antiwar.com, How Erdogan’s Adventurism Has Opened a Fissure Within NATO and in US Presidential Politics, Jim Jatras, Dec. 4, 2015. In an astonishingly short time, the ill-considered decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ambush a Russian jet has had far reaching consequence far beyond those apparent in the initial days following the fatal attack. (For the situation in the immediate aftermath of the Su-24 downing, see my “‘With Us or with the Terrorists’: It’s Clear Which Side Turkey Is On”.)

The fundamental problem with U.S. policy in seeking to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq (let’s remember that ISIS was originally just an al-Qaeda offshoot) and other jhadists is that the US is still taking its cues from regional allies who are essentially on the other side: with the terrorists, not against them. (Combining journalism and analysis with political activism, on December 2 I launched on the White House site a petition to “LIST ERDOGAN’S TURKEY AS STATE SPONSOR OF TERRORISM; VOID US ALLIANCE WITH TURKEY.” In only one day, the petition collected well over 100 signatures. This is more than two-thirds of the number needed in the first month to keep this petition as a publicly posted black eye for Turkey on the official White House website.)

 

ISIS truck convoyISIS truck convoy

OpEdNews, NATO Defending Turkey, ISIS Oil Trade, Michael Collins, Dec. 3, 2015. By reinforcing the Turkish military presence along the routes of ISIS oil to Turkey, NATO is protecting the illicit ISIS oil trade that supports the reviled terrorist organization. NATO announced Tuesday that it would send patrol aircraft and missile defense systems to bolster Turkey's air defenses at that nation's border with Syria. This announcement was made on the same day that the Russian Defense Ministry produced satellite imagery and other evidence showing what has been claimed for months, namely that Turkey is receiving oil sent by truck from ISIS oil wells in Iraq and Syria.

The United States government dismissed the Russian evidence consisting of images of miles of oil trucks originating at ISIS oil wells then crossing the Turkish border. ISIS oil ends up at two primary destinations, the Batman oil refinery in southeastern Turkey and Mediterranean ports near Turkey's Adana province. The value of the oil trade via Turkey is estimated between $50 and $100 million a month. Without this income, ISIS would face considerable obstacles to its ongoing military aggression, terrorist activities around the world, and subjugation of Syrians and Iraqis living under ISIS rule.

The inevitable conclusion of this series of events is simple: By reinforcing the Turkish military presence along the routes of ISIS oil to Turkey, NATO is protecting the illicit ISIS oil trade that supports the reviled terrorist organization. Remarkably, NATO defense ministers endorsed the move without reference to the oil issue. If ISIS is truly an enemy of NATO countries, why does NATO protect a member state that, at the very least, enabled nearly $1.0 billion of ISIS oil sales? That sounds more like trading among allies than trading with the enemy.

Reuters, Britain joins Syria air war; Putin vows more sanctions on Turkey, Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn, Dec. 3, 2015. Britain joined U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State in Syria on Thursday, but Vladimir Putin issued bitter new denunciations of Turkey for shooting down a Russian plane, demonstrating the limits to international solidarity. British Tornado jets took off from the Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri in Cyprus before dawn, hours after parliament in London voted 397-223 to support Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to extend air strikes from Iraq to Syria. Britain said they struck oil fields used to fund Islamic State. Although the British vote adds negligible new military capability to the coalition, it took on outsized political and diplomatic significance since gunmen and bombers killed 130 people last month in Paris. Russia is bombing Syria outside the U.S.-led coalition. Moscow and Tehran support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States and its European, Arab and Turkish allies want him gone and back his enemies.

BBC, Putin: Turkey 'will regret' downing Russian bomber in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 3, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin has castigated Turkey's leaders, warning that they will regret shooting down a Flag of TurkeyRussian Su-24 bomber in Syria. In a state of the nation speech, broadcast live on Russian television, he said that "if anyone thinks Russia's reaction will be limited to trade sanctions, they are deeply mistaken." "We'll remind them again what they did -- they will regret it."

Turkey insists that its F-16 fighters shot down the Su-24 because the bomber had trespassed into its airspace. Mr. Putin scorned them, saying "probably Allah alone knows why they did it. "And evidently Allah decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey, by depriving it of any reason or logic."

"We know who in Turkey is stuffing his pockets and letting the terrorists prosper," Mr Putin said.

On Wednesday Russia's defense ministry displayed satellite images it said showed columns of trucks loaded with oil crossing from IS territory in Iraq and Syria into Turkey. Comparing Russia's campaign with the World War Two struggle against Nazism, Mr Putin said "we are facing a destructive, barbaric ideology… we need a single powerful fist, a united front" against IS. "Each civilized state should contribute to routing the terrorists," he said.

AFP via Yahoo, IS child soldiers kill captives in gruesome video, Staff report, Dec. 3, 2015. The Islamic State group on Thursday posted online a gruesome video showing six of its child soldiers killing Syrian security forces held captive by the jihadists. Titled "To the Sons of Jews," the slickly-produced video shows dozens of boys, who appeared to be about 10 years old, studying religious texts and learning hand-to-hand combat.

Six of the boys are chosen by their instructor to "send a message" to IS's opponents by executing security forces held by the group. IS's "Cubs of the Caliphate" program provides intense military and religious training to children throughout the jihadist group's areas of control in Syria. In the video, each of the six selected boys is depicted individually running through a crumbling fortress, with dramatic music and grim action shots, until he finds a captive. Footage appears of each captive giving his name, his year of birth and describing his role in the security forces or in pro-government militia. The boys are then each shown killing the captives. Five are shot to death, and one has his throat slit.

National Press Club, Air Force secretary cites air power success against ISIS, but sees strains on the smallest force since 1947Deborah Lee James, Dec. 2, 2015. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James underlined the importance of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the fight against Daesh, the Arabic acronym for the terrorist organization ISIS, in a National Press Club luncheon speech Dec. 2. James, just returned from a tour of the Middle East, Africa and Europe, said that Air Force commanders in war zones are asking for more “ISR,” as she termed the three information-gathering activities. The information forms the basis of the daily Air Targeting Orders that control air strikes against the terrorists, she said.

Targeting, she explained, begins with study and collection of data, which commanders analyze to form assessments of the prospects for success of individual sorties. s evidence, she cited the diminished size of the Daesch area of operation. It has been reduced by 20 percent to 25 percent from a year ago, she said.

Washington Post, Obama defends his Syria strategy to defeat Islamic State, Steven Mufson, Juliet Eilperin and Greg Jaffe, Dec. 1, 2015. President Obama laid out his case once again for his Syria strategy built around a combination of military air power to degrade the Islamic State and diplomatic pressure to push out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Obama was in Paris on Tuesday for a major summit on climate change in which he voiced optimism that the world was moving toward a solution to the global problem.  He expressed confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin could alter his strategy in Syria and ultimately support a political solution there that includes the exit of Assad.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), RSF launches international appeal for release of Cumhuriyet journalists, Staff report, Dec. 1, 2015. At a press conference held in partnership with the Turkish Association of Journalists (TGC) today in Istanbul, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) launched an international appeal for the release of Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül and all their fellow journalists unjustly detained in Turkey. The list of initial signatories, consisting of NGOs and international public figures, has been posted on RSF’s website. The general public can support the appeal by signing the petition in English, Turkish and French at this address. Editor's Note: The Justice Integrity Project is among petition signers.

The signatories accuse the Turkish authorities of “persecuting journalists of all colors in an increasingly ferocious manner” and urge them “to free Can Dündar and Erdem Gül without delay, to drop all charges against them, and to free all other journalists who are currently detained in connection with their journalism or the opinions they have expressed.” They also condemn this spiral of oppression in “a country that is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.”

“The Turkish authorities are targeting the wrong enemy,” RSF secretary¬general Christophe Deloire said. “The judicial system seems to prosecute journalists more often than the accomplices of Daesh (Islamic State). Turkey is a great country, with democratic institutions and a very open civil society. We appeal to the government, as a matter of honour, to restore all the conditions of pluralism, starting with freedom for journalists.” TGC president Turgay Olcayto added: “With globalization, the Turkish media’s problems could one day become the problems of western journalists. It is vital that we join forces to defend free journalism before it is too late.”

Shadowfront, Libya’s Collapse Proves Hillary Clinton Learned Nothing From Iraq War, Dan Wright, Nov. 24, 2015. In October 2002, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York voted to authorize the Iraq War. In fact, Senator Clinton went beyond just voting for the bill; she took to the Senate floor and made an impassioned speech accusing then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of having weapons of mass destruction and providing sanctuary to Al Qaeda. Clinton also made it clear in her speech that she knew her vote could very well lead to war, but she would still “cast it with conviction.”

ISIS members marching in Raqqa, January 2014

ISIS members marching in Raqqa, January 2014

Defense One, Allen Quits ISIS War Envoy Job, One Year After Calling for Group’s Destruction, Kevin Baron, Sept. 22, 2015. Kevin Baron is executive editor of Defense One. He is also national security/military analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. The retired general begged President Obama to “destroy” ISIS and was then appointed to help do it. More than a year after publicly pressing President Barack Obama to “destroy” the Islamic State with swift and decisive American military intervention in Iraq and Syria, retired Gen. John Allen reportedly will step down from the special-envoy job created to do just that. Allen John R. Allen CNAS photoleaves behind an arguably more powerful and influential ISIS and a White House once again searching for a new strategy. Obama tapped Allen (shown below in a file photo) with the title of special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL following Allen’s war cries in 2014.

First seen as the leader of the ISIS effort, Allen quickly faded from spotlight as he went to work building the coalition while ISIS continued to win territory, resources and tens of thousands of recruits from the region to its fight. Allen, 61, was retired from uniform and serving the Pentagon as a go-between for Israeli and Palestinian defense leaders for the Middle East peace process in August 2014. He was on his way to the Pentagon to resign that post and begin as co-director of a new Brooking Institute security center when Secretary of State John Kerry called him with a new command: help put together the anti-ISIS coalition. Allen never shied from public attention, but was not a war general in the vein of Gens. Norman Schwarzkopf or David Petraeus. The war’s top commander remains U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Lloyd Austin, in Tampa, Fla, who rarely appears in public or speaks to the media about his wartime command. Mostly, Allen continued quietly as a warrior-diplomat working in the Middle East.

November

Guardian (London), Syria airstrikes: Jeremy Corbyn gives Labor MPs free vote, Patrick Wintour and Rowena Mason, Nov. 30, 2015. Labor leader says party policy is to oppose airstrikes and calls for vote to be delayed but tells his MPs they can vote with their consciences.

Al Jazeera, Debate about Syria is missing one thing: Syrians, Staff report, Nov. 30, 2015. Increasing Western involvement in Syria shifts the conversation further away from the realities on the ground. The Western intervention in Syria is not aimed at alleviating the suffering of Syrians or addressing the root causes of the conflict, according to a new book by Syrian researcher Samer Abboud. In the book titled Syria, Abboud provides an in-depth analysis of Syria's descent into civil war: The Western intervention is not aimed at alleviating the suffering of Syrians or addressing the root causes of the conflict but, rather, to pursue their very narrow interests in containing and eliminating ISIL.

BBC (London), Jeremy Corbyn: Syria strikes will not solve the problem, BBC host Andrew Marr, left, interviews to UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on the debate over air strikes in Syria, Nov. 29, 2015 (17 min. video).

Telegraph (London), Jeremy Corbyn tells shadow Cabinet 'I will choose position on Syrian air strikes, Ben Riley-Smith, Nov. 29, 2015. Jeremy Corbyn has warned his shadow cabinet that only he will make the final decision about whether to back Syrian air strikes as the civil war raging inside Labor intensified. Despite previously insisting he would listen to colleagues, the Labor leader declared he would choose the party’s policy on Syria, saying: “It is the leader who decides.”

He also hit back at Labor MPs plotting his downfall by saying they failed to realize the party had “changed” since his election, warning the rebels: “I am not going anywhere.” Mr. Corbyn's defiant David Cameronappearance on BBC One’s Andrew Marr program escalates the public row at the top of the Labor Party about whether to back Syrian air strikes. Around two-thirds of the Labor shadow cabinet are convinced by the argument for bombing ISIL targets in the country – but Mr. Corbyn and a handful of close senior allies are fiercely opposed. Mr. Corbyn warned that there could be jihadists among the 70,000 opposition forces in Syria which [UK Prime Minister] David Cameron, shown in a file photo, cited in his 36-page case for war and warned that striking the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa could “make the situation worse.”

New York Times, Predatory Islamic State Wrings Money From Those It Rules, Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Kulish and Steven Lee Myers, Nov. 29, 2015. Three times a month, Mohammad al-Kirayfawai hands $300 to fighters from the Islamic State for the privilege of driving his refrigerated truck full of ice cream and other perishables from Jordan to a part of Iraq where the militants are firmly in charge. The fighters who man the border post treat the payment as an import duty, not a bribe. Across wide expanses of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State, with the goal of building a credible government, has set up a predatory and violent bureaucracy that wrings every last American dollar, Iraqi dinar and Syrian pound it can from those who live under its control or pass through its territory.

Middle East Eye, The real reason for Turkey's shoot-down of the Russian jet, Gareth Porter, Nov. 29, 2015. The data supports Putin's assertion that the shoot-down was prepared in advance due to Russian bombing of Turkey-linked rebels in Syria. Although the Obama administration is not about to admit it, the data already available supports the Russian assertion that the Turkish shoot-down was, as Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted, an “ambush” that had been carefully prepared in advance.

The Turkish threat to retaliate – not against Russian penetration of its airspace but in response to very broadly defined circumstances on the border – came amid the latest in a series of battles between the Syrian government and religious fighters. The area where the plane was shot down is populated by the Turkmen minority. They have been far less important than foreign fighters and other forces who have carried out a series of offensives in the area since mid-2013 aimed at threatening President Assad's main Alawite redoubt on the coast in Latakia province.

The Turkish shoot-down was thus in essence an effort to dissuade the Russians from continuing their operations in the area against al-Nusra Front and its allies, using not one but two distinct pretexts: on one hand a very dubious charge of a Russian border penetration for NATO allies, and on the other, a charge of bombing Turkmen civilians for the Turkish domestic audience.

New York Times, E.U. Offers Turkey 3 Billion Euros to Stem Migrant Flow3 Billion Euros to Stem Migrant Flow, James Kanter and Andrew Higgins, Nov. 28, 2015. European Union leaders met with Turkey’s prime minister on Flag of TurkeySunday, promising aid and other inducements in exchange for Turkish action to clamp down on asylum seekers. Under heavy pressure from Germany to get a grip on Europe’s migrant crisis after months of dithering, European Union leaders met in Brussels on Sunday with Turkey’s prime minister to complete a deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes will slow the chaotic flood of asylum seekers into the 28-nation bloc.

The meeting, the seventh gathering of European leaders since the spring regarding the highly divisive question of migration, took place days after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane and added a new element of uncertainty to a crisis that has overwhelmed Europe’s slow decision-making process.  Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, according to diplomats, will be promised 3 billion euros in European aid and other inducements in exchange for Turkish action to stop migrants, most of them from the Middle East and Afghanistan, from reaching Greece and other countries on Europe’s outer fringe. Mr. Davutoglu is standing in for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at the Brussels meeting. Some 1.5 million migrants entered the European Union this year.

Washington Post, Putin signs sweeping economic sanctions against Turkey, Andrew Roth, Nov. 28, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed into law sweeping economic sanctions against Turkey as relations between the two countries plummet after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over the Syrian border this past week. Putin, who called the attack a “stab in the back,” struck back with the sanctions, taking aim at more than $30 billion in trade ties between the two countries. The sanctions bill, posted on the Kremlin’s Web site, targets Turkey’s tourism industry, cancels visa-free travel between the two countries, bans many Russian companies from hiring Turkish citizens and blocks imports of some Turkish goods. Russian government agencies are expected to submit lists of banned goods and exclusions from the new sanctions on Monday.

The fallout will be particularly painful for Turkish tourism. More than 3 million Russian tourists visit Turkey each year, many of them traveling on all-inclusive, week-long resort vacations starting at $1,000, for a couple, including airfare. Putin on Saturday banned charter flights to Turkey, and travel companies were ordered not to sell tours to the country. Last week, Russian Finance Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said the sanctions would also freeze some prestige projects between the two countries, including a joint venture to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and a Russian-Turkish gas pipeline called Turkstream. Putin signed the gas deal with Turkey in December after the European Union blocked the pipeline.

King World News, Paul Craig Roberts: Putin And The Russians Crushing The U.S. As The West Destroys Itself, Eric King interview of Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, Nov. 28, 2015. Roberts (shown in a file photo):  “It could well be that this is Paul Craig Robertsgoing to work out so much in Russia’s favor that Putin will send a letter of thanks to the Turkish President and say, ‘Thank you very much. You’ve done us a huge favor. We lost a pilot and a naval marine but we sure have gained a lot. That was only two deaths for winning a war....Europeans have put a big deal of distance between themselves and Turkey. This has scared the State Department to death. It could make the NATO alliance undone. Now the State Department is learning how dangerous NATO can be be....There's really nothing Washington can do except make a fool out of itself by supporting ISIS."

Russian S-400 antiaircraft systemRT, No US airstrikes in Syria since Russia deployed S-400 systems, Staff report, Nov. 28, 2015. An S-400 air defense missile system is deployed for a combat duty at the Hmeymim airbase to provide security of the Russian air group's flights in Syria. Both the American and Turkish air forces halted their strikes on Syrian territory around the time Russia deployed S-400 air defense complexes at the Khmeimim airbase, from which it stages its own incursions against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). A spokesperson of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) told Sputnik on Friday that the absence of anti-IS coalition airstrikes “has nothing to do with the S400 deployment” in Syria. As CJTF-OIR reported on Friday, the US-led coalition had made no sorties against targets in Syria since Thursday, while airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq continued, with the coalition making 18 strikes on terrorist positions. 

AP via Huffington Post, Turkey's Erdoğan Expresses Regret Over Russian Plane Downing, Staff report, Nov. 28, 2015. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday voiced regret over Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane, saying his country was "truly saddened" by the incident and wished it hadn't occurred. It was the first expression of regret by the strongman leader since Tuesday's incident in which Turkish F-16 jets shot down the Russian jet on grounds that it had violated Turkey's airspace despite repeated warnings to change course. It was the first time in half a century that a NATO member shot down a Russian plane and drew a harsh response from Moscow.

He renewed a call for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a climate conference in Paris next week, saying it would be an opportunity to overcome tensions. Erdogan's friendly overture however, came after he again vigorously defended Turkey's action and criticized Russia for its operations in Syria. "If we allow our sovereign rights to be violated ... then the territory would no longer be our territory," Erdoğan said.

Putin has denounced the Turkish action as a "treacherous stab in the back," and has insisted that the plane was downed over Syrian territory in violation of international law. He has also refused to take telephone calls from Erdogan. Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said Friday that the Kremlin had received Erdogan's request for a meeting, but wouldn't say whether such a meeting is possible. On Friday, Reuters reported that Erdogan warned Russia not to "play with fire," comments that look more likely to inflame than quell the dispute over a downed Russian bomber this week. Russia's lower house speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, said on Friday that Moscow had the right to make a military response, calling the incident an "intentional murder of our soldiers."

Russia Insider, Here Is Why Erdoğan's Ambush of Russian Jet Was a Massive Blunder, Alexander Mercouris, Nov. 27, 2015. Turkish president actually undermined his Western support. In shooting down the Russian FlagRussian SU24 Turkey’s President Erdoğan has blundered badly. He has caused the Russians to reinforce in Syria and is feeding Western doubts about him. He has exposed himself to his Western allies as a dangerous and unpredictable ally.

Washington Post, Russia plays down idea of coalition with West to strike ISIS, Andrew Roth, Nov. 27, 2015. The Kremlin on Friday played down the possibility of a grand coalition with the West to strike the Islamic State in Syria, despite personal visits by French President François Hollande to both Washington and Moscow following a spate of horrific terrorist attacks tied to the terrorist group. “At the moment, unfortunately, our partners are not ready to work as one coalition,” Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman, told reporters during a conference call on Friday. Peskov’s comments came less than 24 hours after Putin himself sounded hopeful notes at a meeting with Hollande in the Kremlin, where he said Russia “was ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States.” But Russia has sought cooperation on its terms, providing diplomatic and now military shelter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and attacking rebel groups that include the Islamic State but also more moderate opponents of Assad backed by Western countries. President Obama and other Western leaders have sought to bring Putin into a U.S.-led coalition instead, a force that Putin has called illegal because it is launching airstrikes in Syria without Assad’s permission.

Antiwar.com, Stumbling to War With Russia? Pat Buchanan, Nov. 27, 2015. Conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan (shown in a file photo) is the author of "Churchill, Hitler, and The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World." Turkey’s decision to shoot down a Russian warplane was a provocative and portentous act. That Sukhoi Su-24, which the Patrick J. BuchananTurks say intruded into their air space, crashed and burned – in Syria. One of the Russian pilots was executed while parachuting to safety. A Russian rescue helicopter was destroyed by rebels using a U.S. TOW missile. A Russian marine was killed. "A stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists," said Vladimir Putin of the first downing of a Russian warplane by a NATO nation in half a century. Putin has a point, as the Russians are bombing rebels in northwest Syria, some of which are linked to al-Qaida.

As it is impossible to believe Turkish F-16 pilots would fire missiles at a Russian plane without authorization from President Tayyip Recep Erdoğan, we must ask: Why did the Turkish autocrat do it? Why is he risking a clash with Russia?

Answer: Erdoğan is probably less outraged by intrusions into his air space than by Putin’s success in securing the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, whom Erdoğan detests, and by relentless Russian air strikes on Turkmen rebels seeking to overthrow Assad. Imperiled strategic goals and ethnicity may explain Erdoğan. But what does the Turkish president see down at the end of this road? And what about us? Was the U.S. government aware Turkey might attack Russian planes? Did we give Erdoğann a green light to shoot them down?

These are not insignificant questions. For Turkey is a NATO ally. And if Russia strikes back, there is a possibility Ankara will invoke Article V of NATO and demand that we come in on their side in any fight with Russia. And Putin was not at all cowed. Twenty-four hours after that plane went down, his planes, ships and artillery were firing on those same Turkmen rebels and their jihadist allies.

OpEdNews, Why did Turkey shoot down a Russian Air Force jet? George Abert, Nov. 26, 2015. Sergey Lavrov Turkey is so militarily inferior to Russia that it is unlikely Turkey would commit an act of war against Russia without encouragement from Washington. We might think that Turkey would feel shielded by NATO, but it is doubtful that many European members of NATO would risk nuclear annihilation by going to war with Russia in order to save Turkey from the consequences of such a reckless and irresponsible act as shooting down a Russian military aircraft and lying about it.

Turkey has issued no apology and no believable explanation. Unless Erdoğan has lost his mind, Washington is behind the shootdown, and the reason is Washington's desperation to decode the new Russian technology that gives Russian forces total control over a battlefield, whether on land, sea, or air. When the Russians deployed their forces to Syria they also deployed some new stealth technology.

So far as I know they've only used this technology in Syria twice, once during their first sortie and one other time when some Israeli Air Force jets entered what they knew was Russian operational airspace. I suspect somebody wants the Russians to start using this stealth technology more often, often enough for its weaknesses to be exposed. Shooting down that Russian jet might just get the Russians motivated to do that.

Fox News via Alex Jones Radio Show, Top U.S. Air Defense Commander: Turkey’s Shootdown of Russian Jet “Had to Be Pre-Planned,"  Nov. 26, 2015. McInerney knows how to tell innocent from hostile incursions by foreign fighter jets. Lt. General Tom McInerney is an expert on handling threats from fighter jets. In his role as Norad commander for Alaska, McInerney dealt with more Russian fighter jet incursions (which he calls “bear penetrations”) than anyone else in the world. So McInerney knows how to tell innocent from hostile incursions by foreign fighter jets, standard rules of engagement of foreign fighter jets, how to read radar tracks, and the other things he would need to know to form an informed opinion about the shootdown of a foreign jet. Yesterday, McInerney told Fox News – much to the surprise of the reporter interviewing him – that assuming the Turkish version of the flight path of the Russian jet is accurate, Russia wasn’t threatening Turkey, and that Turkey’s shoot down of the Russian jet “had to be pre-planned”, as the jet wasn’t in Turkish air space long enough for anything other than a premeditated attack to have brought it down.

Times of Israel, Russia deploys S-400 missile battery in Syria, state media says, Judah Ari Gross, Nov. 26, 2015. Placing of sophisticated system in Latakia would grant Russia aerial control over Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, and stretch as far as Israel’s international airport. The Russian military has deployed its sophisticated S-400 missile battery and radar array in Syria, a Russian state-run media outlet claimed Thursday. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had announced Wednesday that the system would be deployed in Latakia, in northwest Syria, in response to Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane the day before. 

The advanced missile system, completed in 2007, is capable of detecting and destroying aircraft some 400 kilometers (250 miles) away. Its deployment in Latakia will grant Russia aerial control over practically all of Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus, over half of Turkey, parts of Iraq and Jordan — and, of course, Israel: Planes flying in and out of Ben Gurion International Airport — approximately 395 kilometers (245 miles) from Latakia — would be within Russian sights.

“Do we have something to fear? The answer is: yes and no,” Russia expert Zvi Magen told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “If [the S-400] is indeed deployed,” Magen explained before Moscow’s state-run media announced the system’s deployment, “it will be a game-changer.” Anything from an F-15 fighter jet to a B-2 stealth bomber that comes into the range of the S-400 is at risk of being blown out of the sky. For Israel, the threat is not one of inevitable conflict: Russia is, after all, not an enemy. The threat is in the potential, said Magen, now a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies. If the state-run Russian media reports are true, Israel will not have the freedom to send in aircraft to Syria unannounced; nor will the United States, United Kingdom, France and the other members of the coalition bombing the Islamic State in Syria.“Maybe he’ll take advantage of an opportunity to hit them here and there,” Magen said, “but the response will likely be political and economic, not a military conflict.”

Times of Israel, France, Russia to tighten cooperation, Staff, wire reports, Nov. 26, 2015. The presidents of France and Russia agreed Thursday to tighten cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group, although they remained at odds over their approach toward Syrian President Bashar Assad. IS has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against both of the countries’ citizens in recent weeks: the November 13 shootings and suicide bombings in Paris which killed 130 people, and the October 31 bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that claimed 224 lives.

French President Francois Hollande has been on a diplomatic drive since the Paris attacks to increase cooperation in tackling IS, which holds swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq. He has met this week with President Barak Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi before flying to Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hollande and Putin agreed on increasing intelligence sharing, intensifying their airstrikes against IS in Syria and cooperating on selecting targets — two days after Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the Syrian border. “We agreed on a very important issue: To strike the terrorists only, Daesh and the jihadi groups only, and not to strike the forces and the groups that are fighting against the terrorists,” Hollande said after the meeting, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym. “And we are going to exchange some information about that: what can be struck, and what must not be struck.”

Israel National News, Game changer? Russia says it deployed S-400 in Syria, Ari Yashar, Nov. 26, 2015. Despite US concerns that it will put all aircraft -- including those in Israel -- under Russian threat, Moscow Israel Flagdeploys system to its base. Flaunting the concerns of the US, Russia's state-owned RIA Novosti news agency announced on Thursday that Moscow has deployed its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missile system to a base in Syria. The S-400 anti-missile system, known to NATO as the SA-21 "Growler," is said to have a maximum range of 250 miles, and can bring down airplanes at up to 90,000 feet - more than double the height of a cruising commercial airliner. The range puts Israel squarely in the system's sights.

Russia's decision to deploy the system to its base in Latakia, located in western Syria where it is propping us Bashar al-Assad's regime, comes after Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 fighter jet on Tuesday near the Turkish-Syrian border, killing one pilot. The system has been placed in a region some 50 kilometers (just over 30 miles) from Turkey, adding extra urgency to the tensions between Russia and Turkey.

An American official on Wednesday said there are "significant concerns" over the deployment, and spokesperson William Stevens of the US Embassy in Moscow said earlier on Thursday that the deployment "will further complicate an already difficult situation in the skies over Syria." The S-400's range covers most of Syria, southern Turkey, the eastern portion of the Mediterranean Sea, much of Israel and the British airbase of Akrotiri in Cyprus. No less than 300 targets can be tracked simultaneously by the radar complex of the S-400, which sports six anti-aircraft missile launchers.

South Front via The Saker, The air navigator of the SU-24: 'I have a debt to repay for the commander,' video pool interview, Nov. 26, 2015. Today at the Latakia air base [in Syria near Turkey], Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin, an air navigator of the Russian SU-24 frontline bomber that was shot down by the Turks, gave his first interview with Russian media. He stated that there is no way that his plane violated Turkish airspace. "No. It is not possible, not even for one second," he said, as translated.

"Especially," he continued, "because we were flying at around 6,000 meters, the weather was clear, as we say in our jargon, 'a day in a million,' our whole flight up to the moment that the rocket hit us was completely under my control. I saw the border and our exact location perfectly both on the map and on the surroundings. There was not even the threat of crossing over into Turkey," he told reporters. "We have carried out combat missions there many times, we know the area inside out, we perform combat missions and return on the reverse route to the air base. As the navigator, I know practically every elevation over there. I can even navigate without instruments," he said.

The pilot said that the Turkish missile hit the plane suddenly and it was not possible for the crew to avoid it and there was no advance warning from the Turkish side. In fact there were no warnings at all – not by radio traffic and not visually, there was just no contact. For this reason we went on combat course in regular mode. You need to understand how fast a bomber is and how fast a F16 fighter is. If they had wanted to warn us, they could have shown themselves, by holding a parallel course, but there was nothing like that. In effect, the missile suddenly came at the tail of our plane anyway. We didn't even observe it visually, which might have allowed us to carry out an anti-missile maneuver, said the pilot.

Captain Murakhtin added that he himself feels, all in all, OK now. "I wait impatiently for them to discharge me to return to duty immediately," he continued. "I will ask command headquarters to leave me at this airbase. I have a debt to repay for the commander."

Bilal ErdoganBilal Erdoğan, son of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Zero Hedge, Meet The Man Who Funds ISIS: Bilal Erdoğan, The Son Of Turkey's President, Tyler Durden, Nov. 26, 2015. Russia's Sergey Lavrov is not one foreign minister known to mince his words. Just earlier today, 24 hours after a Russian plane was brought down by the country whose president three years ago said "a short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack," had this to say: "We have serious doubts this was an unintended incident and believe this is a planned provocation" by Turkey.

But even that was tame compared to what Lavrov said to his Turkish counterparty Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier today during a phone call between the two (Lavrov who was supposed to travel to Turkey has since canceled such plans). As Sputnik transcribes, according to a press release from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lavrov pointed out that, "by shooting down a Russian plane on a counter-terrorist mission of the Russian Aerospace Force in Syria, and one that did not violate Turkey’s airspace, the Turkish government has in effect sided with ISIS."

It was in this context when Lavrov added that "Turkey’s actions appear premeditated, planned, and undertaken with a specific objective." More importantly, Lavrov pointed to Turkey’s role in the propping up the terror network through the oil trade. Per the Russian statement: "The Russian Minister reminded his counterpart about Turkey’s involvement in the ISIS’ illegal trade in oil, which is transported via the area where the Russian plane was shot down, and about the terrorist infrastructure, arms and munitions depots and control centers that are also located there."

Others reaffirmed Lavrov's stance, such as retired French General Dominique Trinquand, who said that "Turkey is either not fighting ISIL at all or very little, and does not interfere with different types of smuggling that takes place on its border, be it oil, phosphate, cotton or people," he said.

Mirror (London), Turkey moves 20 tanks to its border and sends 18 fighter jets on patrol as Russia crisis continues, Anthony Bond, Nov. 26, 2015. Military sources from Turkey said the tanks were moved by rail to an armored brigade at its western border with Syria. Reports also say 18 fighter jets were sent on a patrol exercise near the border. A military source told Turkey’s Anadolu agency: "Accompanied by police and gendarmes, 20 tanks were sent by rail from Turkey’s western provinces by railway to Gaziantep in the south of the country, and then redirected to the Syrian border." Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on Tuesday morning close to the Syrian border leading to a crisis between the two countries.

Russia yesterday started bombing Syrian rebels in the area close to where its fighter jets was shot down. Missiles have been fired from Russian warships in the Mediterranean and fighters jets have also been launching raids in Syria's Latakia province. At least 12 air strikes hit Latakia's northern countryside, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A Turkmen commander said missiles fired from Russian warships in the Mediterranean were also hitting the area, as well as heavy artillery shelling.

Telegraph (London), Turkey arrests editors over reports Ankara supplied weapons to Syrian fighters, Raziye Akkoc, Nov. 26, 2015. Two journalists from an opposition Turkish newspaper have been arrested, accused of spying by an Istanbul court following reports that Turkey's intelligence agency sent weapons to Islamist rebel groups in Syria. In another case of journalists facing criminal charges and censorship, editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the newspaper's Ankara bureau chief, were taken into custody on Thursday night, Turkish media reported. The two men are accused of spying and "divulging state secrets," according to reports, as well as being members of a terror organization. Another charge included the violation of state security after the release of the footage. In January 2014, Turkish security forces intercepted the trucks sent by National Intelligence Agency (MIT) twice following tip-offs to prosecutors that they were illegally taking arms to Syria. The stories made the front page and since then, Turkey has often been accused of supporting Islamist Syrian rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

Turkey disputes the front-page allegations, claiming the arms were aid for Syrian Turkmen, a Turkic minority in the country's northern areas, and described the actions of the security forces as "treason" and "espionage," according to the English-language Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman. In the video released in May, authorities can apparently be seen opening crates in the trucks and finding what Cumhuriyet described as weapons and ammunition, it was reported. When the two men were arrested on Thursday night, Dundar tweeted: "We have been arrested" in Turkish. The two men appeared in court on Thursday and before their appearance, defended their actions as "journalistic activity," adding they were not spies.

"We are accused of ‘spying.’ The president said [our action is] ‘treason.' We are not traitors, spy, or heroes; we are journalists. What we have done here was a journalistic activity,” Dundar said before appearing in court to testify on Thursday, in comments carried by Hurriyet Daily News. “We came here to defend journalism. We came here to defend the right of the public to obtain the news and their right to know if their government is feeding them lies. We came here to show and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activity and defend this,” Dundar added. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, said the reports by the newspaper were an act of "betrayal," adding that whether they had weapons or not was irrelevant. He has repeated the claims by authorities that Bayırbucak Turkmens were the intended recipients of aid from the truck.

Washington Post, Russian foreign minister calls warplane downing ‘planned provocation,’ Andrew Roth, Hugh Naylor and Brian Murphy, Nov. 25, 2015. The Kremlin sharpened its accusations Wednesday in the Sergey Lavrovwake of Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane, as Moscow’s top diplomat called the incident a “planned provocation” that has dealt a major blow to already fragile relations with NATO. But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (shown in a file photo) also tamped down speculation of a military response by Russia after the jet broke apart in flames along the Turkish-Syrian border. “We’re not going to war against Turkey,” he said after talks with his Turkish counterpart.

Still, Russia moved to strengthen its forces in Syria, saying new anti-missile systems would be deployed at an air base less than 20 miles from the Turkish frontier. Lavrov’s comments offered the clearest signals that Moscow views the downing as more than an accidental mishap while Russia steps up its airstrikes in Syria to support the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad. In a show of Russia’s deepening military involvement, it plans to deploy powerful S-400 anti-missile systems to Russia’s Khmeimim airbase in northwestern Syria. The batteries — with a range of 250 miles — has the potential to create headaches for Turkish and other aircraft in the U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State.

London Review of Books, Too Weak, Too Strong, Patrick Cockburn, Nov. 3, 2015. Patrick Cockburn reports regularly from the Middle East. He is the author of "The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution," among other books. The military balance of power in Syria and Iraq is changing. The Russian air strikes that have been taking place since the end of September are strengthening and raising the morale of the Syrian army, which earlier in the year looked fought out and was on the retreat.

The drama of Russian military action, while provoking a wave of Cold War rhetoric from Western leaders and the media, has taken attention away from an equally significant development in the war in Syria and Iraq. This has been the failure over the last year of the US air campaign – which began in Iraq in August 2014 before being extended to Syria – to weaken Islamic State and other al-Qaida-type groups. By October the US-led coalition had carried out 7323 air strikes, the great majority of them by the US air force, which made 3231 strikes in Iraq and 2487 in Syria. But the campaign has demonstrably failed to contain IS, which in May captured Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria. The US failure is political as much as military: it needs partners on the ground who are fighting IS, but its choice is limited because those actually engaged in combat with the Sunni jihadis are largely Shia. As a result the US can only use its air force in support of the Kurds.

BBC, Commons committee warns David Cameron against Syria vote, Staff report, Nov. 3, 2015. An influential Commons committee has urged David Cameron (shown in file photo) not to press ahead with a vote on UK air strikes David Cameronagainst Islamic State militants in Syria. The Foreign Affairs Committee -- which has a Conservative majority -- said the prime minister should instead focus on efforts to end Syria's civil war. It also raised concerns about the legal basis for any UK action. Downing Street has strongly denied reports Mr Cameron has abandoned plans for a vote altogether. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there had to be a political solution and he did not believe that "more bombing is going to help in this."

CNN, Caged and in danger: Syrian soldiers become human shields for rebels, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Ed Payne, Nov. 3, 2015. Rebels are caging captured Syrian soldiers and others loyal to the regime and using them as human shields to fend off government attacks, Human Rights Watch and a Syrian opposition group reported. Videos posted to social media over the weekend show trucks transporting cages filled with up to eight men or women, the opposition Shaam News Network reported. "Rebels ... have distributed 100 cages, with each cage containing approximately seven people and the plan is afoot to produce 1,000 cages to distribute ... in different parts of Douma city, particularly in public places and markets that have been attacked in the past by the regime and Russian air-force," text in one of the videos says, according to the opposition network.

National Press Club, Club calls on Turkish government to protect press freedom, John Hughes, Nov. 2, 2015. The National Press Club is deeply concerned the Oct. 28 raid on the Koza-Ipek media group in Ankara is politically motivated and is another sign of the deteriorating press freedom in Turkey. An Ankara court recently ordered the seizure of the company's assets as part of an ongoing investigation that accuses it of financing terrorism and promoting terrorism propaganda.

“This isn't the first time the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has clamped down on news media in the country,” said NPC President John Hughes. “We are deeply concerned this pattern shows a continued disregard for a free and independent press that are cornerstones of democracy and a civil society.” The Koza-Ipek media group is linked to Fethullah Gulen, a political rival of Erdoğan. After Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in June in a general election the government called for a snap election set for Nov. 1. Since then however, the Intercept reports at least 40 journalists have been detained. That's a sixfold increase compared to last year in a country where press freedom has already been a concern for international observers.

OpEdNews, Erdogan Gang Heist: Election Fraud in Turkey, Michael Collins, Nov. 2, 2015. The Erdoğan gang, also known as the AK Party (AKP), stole the snap elections held in Turkey on Nov. 1. This was a Flag of Turkeymake-or-break election for Turkish President Recep ErdogŸan. Any outcome other than single party rule by the AKP threatened ErdogŸan with prosecution for well-documented financial crimes and support for terrorists in Syria. Against the record of recent elections and against public opinion polling results, AKP increased it vote share over the June elections just enough to assure an absolute majority in parliament. The would-be Sultan was saved, at least for now. The implications for Turkey are profound. The lessons learned about the decline of the rulers and elites in Europe and the United States are of great interest as well.

To believe that ErdogŸan's AKP won the election, you need to believe the following: AKP party support increased 16% above the public opinion poll predictions and 20% over the June general election total.  The two-week period to the election when public polling is legally banned should have held the AKP at its high point of 42% or degraded its support somewhat. A clear majority of Turkish citizens oppose Turkey's support for Syrian rebels, including ISIS. Two public events were bombed killing nearly 200 HDP (Kurdish party) demonstrators. Both of these bombings were linked to ISIS, the worst of the Syrian rebel factions supported by the ErdogŸan gang. How can a party gain 20% in two weeks when its policies, support for Syrian rebels, came home in the form of terrorist bombings?

Jerusalem Post, What’s Syrian about the Syrian war? Hakim Khatib, Nov. 2, 2015. After five years of the Syrian civil war, four conflicting parties can be identified on the ground: the Assad regime, Islamic State, Syria's Flagrebel groups and the Kurds. Each of these conflicting parties has regional and international backers, who ironically do not agree with each other about who they are fighting for or against. The Syrian regime is backed by Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias. Islamic State (IS) is backed by the flood of global jihadists from all over the world. Rebel groups are backed by Gulf States, Turkey, Jordan and the US. The Kurds are supported by the US. The war has been waged in Syria, it’s true, leading to over 50 percent of Syria’s population being displaced, over 220,000 killed and many more wounded or imprisoned. According to Amnesty International, more than 12.8 million Syrians are in “urgent need of humanitarian assistance.” In addition to this humanitarian catastrophe, most of Syria’s infrastructure has been destroyed.

By 2014, foreign jihadists fighting in Syria were estimated to number between 10,000 and 12,000, with more than 3,000 coming from Western countries. Accompanied by constant calls from mainly non-Syrian, Sunni clergymen for “material and moral” support for the Syrian rebels, thousands of foreign fighters flood into Syria for jihad every year. Not a single Syrian citizen has been left unaffected by the crisis; Syria is the site of a bloody war with no prospect of reconciliation in sight. So what is Syrian about the Syrian war? Perhaps, it is only the humanitarian catastrophe.

New York Times, New U.S.-Backed Alliance to Counter ISIS in Syria Falters, Ben Hubbard, Nov. 2, 2015. Weeks after the Obama administration canceled a failed Pentagon program to train and arm Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State, American officials announced a new effort to equip newly named ground forces in Syria to fight the jihadists. But 10 days of interviews and front-line visits across northern Syria with many of the forces in the alliance made clear that so far it exists in name only, and that the political and logistical challenges it faces are daunting.

Beyond the early logistical factors, the new alliance faces what is perhaps a more serious challenge in the long term: Though it is intended to begin clawing back territory from the Islamic State in mostly Arab areas, nearly all of the group’s fighting power comes from ethnic Kurdish militias. That demographic reality is likely to further alarm Turkey, a vital American ally that considers Kurdish autonomy near its southern border a security threat. It also limits the forces’ ability to strike the jihadists in predominantly Arab communities — Kurdish fighters have less motivation to fight for those areas, and could deeply anger residents by doing so.

 

Turkey Election Results Nov. 1, 2015 Anadolu Agency

Turkey's Election Results Nov. 1, 2015 Anadolu Agency

BBC, Turkey election: Ruling AKP regains majority, Staff report, Nov. 1, 2015. Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won a critical parliamentary election, regaining the majority it lost in June. With almost all ballots counted, state-run Anadolu Agency said AKP had won 49.4% of the vote, with the main opposition CHP on 25.4%. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the result was a "victory for our democracy and our people." The pro-Kurdish HDP crossed the 10% threshold needed to claim seats. The nationalist MHP will also take seats in Ankara. Polls had indicated the AKP would received only between 40-43% of the vote, in line with how it fared in June when it lost its majority for the first time in 13 years.

Attempts to form a coalition government after the June election failed. With almost all of the results counted, the AKP is set to win substantially more than the 276 seats needed to win a majority, allowing it to form a government on its own. However, it will fall just short of the amount of seats needed to call a referendum on changing the constitution and increasing the powers of the president, AKP founder Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AKP's opponents had said the vote was a chance to curb what it sees as the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Mr. Erdogan.