Tuesday, December 08, 2015

U.S. Gambling On War With Russia In Syria?

Obama continues to provoke WWIII with Russia in nuclear game of chicken    

By Finian Cunningham

As US Secretary of State John Kerry convenes with diplomats from Russia and other nations for a second round of political talks on the Syrian conflict in Vienna this weekend, it is becoming clear that Washington is gambling on a two-prong strategy. But the US gamble carries a grave risk of blowing up into a war with Russia.

The New York Times reported this week: "For the first time in the four-year Syrian civil war, President Barack Obama is beginning to execute a combined diplomatic and military approach to force President Bashar al-Assad to leave office and end the carnage."

Forcing Syria’s leader Assad "to leave office" is the key objective. 

That is, regime change. While "ending the carnage" is only a bit of public relations window-dressing.

The NY Times explains further what this combined diplomatic and military approach entails. "As 50 Special Operations [American] troops arrive in Syria to bolster the most effective opposition groups, the [Obama] administration is gambling that Secretary of State John Kerry will have more leverage to push Russia, Iran and other players toward two objectives: a cease-fire to limit the cycle of killing and the establishment of a timeline for a transition of power."

When Kerry met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Vienna two weeks ago, along with diplomats from 18 other states, that summit came with the surprise announcement by Washington that it was planning to send 50 special forces troops into Syria. 

Kerry said then that the move was merely "a coincidence." We know now, from the above NY Times report this week, that Kerry was either dissembling or out of the loop, because the military decision is reportedly part of a "combined approach."

Furthermore, Ashton Carter, the US Secretary of Defence, said last weekend that it was likely that more American troops would be sent into Syria.

What other military leverage is being contemplated? This week, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that a joint ground force was being prepared to set up "safe zones" within Syria. Erdogan said he had discussed this contingency with Obama in a phone call. Of course, Erdogan couched the planned invasion of Syria as a measure to counter the extremist Islamic State group (also known as ISIS,ISIL or Daesh).

Again, that is just public relations window-dressing since Erdogan’s Turkey has been a main sponsor and facilitator of extremist groups infiltrating Syria from Turk territory.

Erdogan said: "We are insisting on a no-fly zone in Syria as a safe zone. Our allies are getting closer to the idea. Some progress has also been made on conducting a ground operation against ISIL… Yesterday [Monday], I had a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama on the issue." The idea of annexing Syrian territory has long been pushed by Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian conflict more than four years ago. 

Hawkish pundits and politicians in Washington have also been advocating safe zones or no-fly zones in Syria. But up to now, the Obama administration has baulked at that intervention owing to perceived military risks of large-scale commitment.

According to Erdogan, the White House seems to be finally warming to the idea of annexing Syrian territory. That concurs with the apparent U-turn by the Obama administration to put boots on the ground with the dispatch of special forces and the promise of more troops, as indicated by Carter. 

Exhausted U.S. military personnel have had it 
with Obama's illegal, immoral wars on "terror"
The stated purpose of these troops being sent to organise anti-IS local forces among Kurdish and Syrian Arab does not hold water. 

A recent report by the New York Times admitted that this local Kurd-Arab coalition was an American "invention" that "existed in name only."

Besides, such a US-supported ground coalition that bolstered Kurdish militia and their aspirations for a separatist state on the southern Turkish border would be anathema to the Erdogan regime in Ankara.

That Washington is now calculating on throwing its weight behind the Turkish plan to carve out Syrian territory may also account for the recent assignment of US F-15 fighter jets to Turkey’s southwest Incirlik NATO base. As other observers have noted, the F-15s are air-to-air combat planes. They would have no role in launching ground attacks supposedly against Islamic State militants. But the fighter jets would have a role in patrolling the skies over the would-be safe zones annexed by Turk and US ground forces. That would inevitably pit these US warplanes against Syrian and Russian aircraft.

Meanwhile, in southern Syria the Israelis appear to consulting with the Obama administration over their own annexation plans. The Times of Israel reported that during his White House meeting with Obama this week, Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue of formally annexing the Golan Heights. 

The territory has been held by Israel since the 1967 war. Obama reportedly did not mention the matter publicly, but Netanyahu made it clear that he is looking for formal US recognition of Israel’s annexation, according to the Times of Israel.

Note that this de facto break-up of Syrian territory, in the north and south, is officially contrary to what US Secretary of State John Kerry said at the first Vienna summit two weeks ago. 

Kerry appeared then to agree with Russia’s position that Syria should remain a unified state. However, as argued here, the erosion of Syrian sovereign territory by Turkey and Israel, with US support, appears to be part of the military leverage that Washington is seeking to exert on Russia in order for Moscow to accede to American demands for political transition in Damascus.

Washington’s plans for increasing military leverage in Syria does not end there. 

There are credible reports that the US is stepping up its supply of greater fire power to the various militant networks. In addition to anti-tank TOW missiles, Washington appears to be moving towards giving the go-ahead for the supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). This has long been a request from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but as with the idea of no-fly zones the Obama administration has reportedly up to now held back on SAMs. The Saudis have been threatening, according to the BBC, to unleash their US stocks to the mercenaries in Syria ever since Russia embarked on its military air campaign to support the Assad government.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting US officials, reports: "In the past month of intensifying Russian airstrikes, the CIA and its partners have increased the flow of military supplies to rebels in northern Syria, including of US-made TOW anti-tank missiles… In addition to the arms the US has agreed to provide, Saudi and Turkish officials have renewed talks with their American counterparts about allowing limited supplies of shoulder-fired man-portable air-defence systems, or Manpads, to select rebels. Those weapons could help target regime aircraft, in particular those responsible for dropping barrel bombs, and could also help keep Russian air power at bay, the [US] officials said."

The WSJ quotes its US official source further: "Assad is not going to feel any pressure to make concessions if there is no viable opposition that has the capacity, through the support of its partners, to put pressure on his regime."

Obama has said, publicly at least, that he has no intention for the US to become embroiled in a proxy war with Russia in Syria. But Obama’s words on other issues do not carry much credibility. He is putting American boots on the ground after vowing not to do so previously. And his avowed commitments to maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria also appears now to be unwinding, as Turk and Israeli moves to annex northern and southern areas suggests.

The two-prong US strategy of combining diplomatic and military levers to effect its objective of regime change in Syria may not be contemplating a proxy war with Russia – at least as far as Obama and Kerry are concerned. But the hawks in the Pentagon and the CIA, along with the Saudi and Turk client regimes, seem to be willing to push the risk of a two-prong vice to its logical conclusion – a war with Russia in Syria.

This news bureau contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

How The U.S. "Counters" Terrorism In Southeast Asia

The U.S. has no say in countering terrorism in ASEAN, and no business pretending to as the main perpetrator and funder of terrorism in the Middle East  

By Natalia Rogozhina

In its global anti-terrorism strategy, developed in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the administration of the then-president George W. Bush assigned the countries of the Southeast Asia the role of a “second front” in this battle. 

Afghan invasion protests, U.S. Embassy Jakarta
This decision was adopted since:

- the region is known as a place with a concentration of Islamist terrorist groups supported and financed by al-Qaeda.

- they are mostly fighting the “external enemy” — the US and its allies, and are to a lesser extent pursuing the goal of overthrowing democratic regimes and subduing parts of the region to the authority of the Caliphate.

- Southeast Asia is vulnerable to the spread of terrorism because it is home to a large number of Muslims, constituting 25% of the total global Muslim population; it also is known for harboring Islamist separatist movements; there is no tight border control, which facilitates interactions between global terrorist organizations; and its counter-terrorism services are unproductive.

Based on the above observations, American experts have tagged this region “a breeding ground for the flourishing of terrorism.”

Protests at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia
The global war on terrorism declared by the US put the countries of the Southeast Asia in a rather difficult position where they have to teeter between the need to cooperate with the most influential political power on the international arena on the matter, which for each is of a different priority level, and at the same time exercise caution dealing with that part of the Muslim society, which shows anti-American sentiment because it believes that the US anti-terrorist operations are aimed at weakening Islam. This tricky situation predefines the different forms of cooperation with the US, based on the assessed “advantages” and “disadvantages” of specific actions.

Nevertheless, none of the countries of Southeast Asia that has had problems with terrorism have declined to collaborate with the US. Their decision to collaborate was driven not so much by the realization that they would be backed by the US in their attempt to cope with this threat, but mostly due to economic and geopolitical considerations — strengthening ties with the US and ensuring the balance of power in the region remains unchanged.

The US chose Indonesia and the Philippines as its priority subjects of interaction on this matter based on the assessed potential terroristic threat. Indonesia put emphasis on the development of its institutional basis for the successful countering of terrorism. In 2002, after an attack on Bali, a special anti-terrorist police unit “Special Detachment 88″ was created with the financial and logistics support of the US. Annually, the US allocates $40 million to support the operation of this unit. Judging by the results of a meeting between Barack Obama and Joko Widodo held in October 2015, the US intends to continue its cooperation with Indonesia in the field of terrorism suppression.

Bali Bombing, Jalan Legian Kuta Beach 2002:     Photo by Robert S. Finnegan Corbis/Sygma

As for the Philippines, another form of counter-terrorism cooperation was introduced there. Unlike in Indonesia, the duty of combating groups of terrorists and separatists acting in the Islamic South of the country was imposed on the army. To entrench military cooperation between the two countries, a rapid-deployment task force was created and 1,200 American soldiers joined Filipino troops. They were tasked with supporting Filipino military personnel, but their mission had to be limited only to the rendition of advisory and reconnaissance services because of the increasing public discontent with the presence of American troops in the country.

Bush attempts to sanitise then AU PM John Howard 
with phoney "Peace Medal" 
In addition to the US military assistance, the Philippines received a financial incentive for joining the global war on terrorism in the form of an annual bonus of $100 million to fund its counter-terrorism operations and also enjoyed some economic and trade benefits. 

But in 2015 the established form of the counter-terrorism partnership between the US and Philippines had to be readjusted to reflect new security priorities — the regions of the Middle East and the South China Sea. 

This is why the US took the decision to cut its military assistance to the Philippines. According to the official explanation of the reason for which the cut had to be implemented, the Philippines had allegedly achieved a significant breakthrough in this field (though this explanation contradicts the reports showing an increased number of acts of terrorism committed by Abu Sayyaf—the most notorious Islamist organization) and that due to the revamping of the Philippines counter-terrorism strategy, the duty to combat terrorists was transferred to the police forces.

As for Thailand—another main non-NATO ally—initially, the US declared they would not get directly involved in the fight against terrorist groups in the Muslim South of the country since they did not want Thailand to turn into yet another international front of the war on terrorism. Besides, unlike the extremist groups in Indonesia and Philippines, their peers in Thailand did not have ties with international terrorist groups. Nevertheless, the US (which traditionally perceived Thailand as its main outpost in Southeast Asia) believed it was its duty to help the country in its struggle against terrorism as part of the operations of a joint counter-terrorism reconnaissance center established back in 2001. The US also wanted to expand military and technical cooperation with the country. Although the US suspended military aid to Thailand in response to the May 2014 military coup, no data has been published on how such suspension affected the counter-terrorism cooperation of the two countries. Thailand still participates in the U.S. Department of State counter-terrorist program.

As for Malaysia, its attitude toward accession to the American anti-terrorist bloc was rather ambiguous. Though the country’s officials and Mahathir Mohamad himself openly criticized the US military policy pertaining to the suppression of terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan, in reality they were interested in a more profound military cooperation with the US, which expanded significantly after September 11, 2001. Anti-terrorist cooperation with the US, which has been improving in the recent years, is, however, limited to only legal support of the counter-terrorism operations and the training of personnel.

The US has been working closely with Singapore, which conducted a series of successful large-scale anti-terrorist operations after September 11. The countries shared intelligence information concerning the activities of terrorist organizations. The Singapore authorities, which traditionally advocate the presence of the US in the region, use the war on terrorism as an excuse to expand military cooperation with America and boost national security.

The efforts of Washington in the creation of a system of bilateral relations with the countries of Southeast Asia (to combat terrorism), based on the principle of a “hub and spokes,” have paid off. The war on terrorism has opened new possibilities for the US to increase its military and diplomatic presence in the countries of the Southeast Asia, which, in turn, benefited from this cooperation as they received additional financing, expanded trade and economic collaboration and strengthened their operational capabilities. From 2002 to 2013, the US granted $262 million to Indonesia in financial aid to support the country’s security. The Philippines received $441 million.

It seems that the task the US has set for itself in the global war on terrorism has ultimately been accomplished in Southeast Asia: terrorist organizations are disorganized and have been degraded to something more like criminal structures; their leaders have either been eliminated or sentenced to long-term imprisonment; there have been no major terrorist attacks since 2009. 

However, with the emergence of ISIS, the threat of the revitalization of terrorism and it spreading in the region has become real again.

The reaction of the US to the changes in the situation in Southeast Asia is expressed in the September 2015 report, issued by the International Authority on the Development of Indonesian and Malaysian Support of the Islamic State. The report shows that the US and the countries of the Southeast Asia have similar assessments of how ISIS can threaten their security. However, today, unlike in the previous years, the US no longer defines Southeast Asia as the second front in the war on terrorism and limits its cooperation mainly to the: (1) support of moderate Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia where religious tolerance has been on the decline in recent years; (2) rendering support in the monitoring of the activities of extremist groups and in the research of this problem. These activities are regarded as the means for the deradicalisation of Islamists and are seen by the countries of Southeast Asia as priority in their countering of terrorism. They recommend that the US use their experience of a “low-key approach” in combating terrorism.

The fact that the leaders of the countries of Southeast Asia were reluctant to support the attempts of Barack Obama at the November 2015 summit of the ASEAN to enhance the anti-terrorist component of the program of the meeting, despite the information suggesting that acts of terrorism were being plotted in Kuala Lumpur, is noteworthy. And not only because another problem — the conflict in the South China Sea — surfaced as a paramount issue, but mostly because the countries of Southeast Asia do not demonstrate the determination or desire to fight a new global war on terrorism (with the exception of Singapore) in the framework of an international coalition organized by the US.

Natalya Rogozhina, PhD, Senior Researcher of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

This news bureau contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.



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