Saturday, 13 June 2015

General Your Tank is A Powerful Vehicle

Image result for Syrian civil war: Can Assad's regime survive the onslaught from Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra?

 Robert Fisk shows how embedding himself in Assad's propaganda machine has completely detached him from reality.

 "The Syrian army, outgunned and at times frighteningly outnumbered by its Islamist enemies, is not about to collapse...The insurgents have hundreds of anti-armour wire-guided TOW and Milan anti-tank missiles...Dr Mekdad spoke of new weapons for the army – it sorely needs them to replace the clapped-out Warsaw Pact tanks that litter Syria."
Assad has tanks, the rebels at best have anti-tank weapons, and it is Assad who is outgunned. Who do you think you are kidding, Mr.Fisk? This is a war in which Assad has been armed to the teeth by Russia, has had tens of thousands of Iranian troops and proxy forces like Hezbollah back him up since the popular insurgency had him on the ropes in 2013, not "scattered in twos and threes around the battlefield, learning rather than fighting," as Fisk claims. In fact to take priority over Syrian troops, to give them orders, to have their remains exchanged for prisoners when Syrians can rot where they lie, to be given priority treatment in hospitals. Meanwhile the Syrian rebels have been prevented from getting the most effective defensive measures to Assad's bombing and shelling, and have had to rely on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to survive at all. When they finally got a decent supply of anti-tank weapons they took Idlib quickly, and have had a string of other victories, not because of mythical Turks and Chechens, but because the Syrian Army is a disorganised rabble, only continuing because of the arrest and torture facing them if they do not, so as to keep Assad in power even if it destroys Syria.

 "But here are a few grim facts. Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra are now attacking the Syrian military in rows of suicide trucks."
Not facts, things Fisk has been told by his Syrian Army handlers. Jabhat al-Nusra only attack one suicide bomber at a time as far as I am aware. Incidentally, before the anti-tank weapons, suicide bombing was one of the few ways the rebels could attack fortified government positions at all. That's why the lack of support for the Free Syrian Army has led to support going to more jihadi groups, because they had the tactics that could prevail in a war of survival against a genocidal government. Which is again why much of their support and indeed membership can be seen as practical rather than purely ideological, these are people who want to free Syria, and go home when that is done.

 "Rebel logistics are hi-tech and better than the Syrian army’s, and a lot of their communications systems are American."
How does Fisk know what rebel communications are like, when he is embedded on the government side? This is by the way the only evidence he has of any American aid to the rebels, which hardly equates to the billion dollars worth a month from Russia that have been arriving throughout the war. If they don't communicate well, it scarecly seems like a financial problem.

 "American “experts” talk glibly now of how the Syrian army will make a “planned retreat” to the mountains of the Alawites."
Fisk doesn't bother to name any of them. I suspect he is talking about Joshua Landis, who is more of a fan of the Syrian régime than he is of the opposition. It is indicative that the only debate he acknowledges is over the options for Assad to maintain his power.

 "Syrian “experts” – a lot closer to the battle than the think-tank boyos in Washington – speak of a more political strategy. What the regime must do, they say, is hold on to the major cities in a line from Aleppo south through Hama and Homs to Damascus (Deraa in the south may or may not be included in the plan) and deprive either Nusra or Isis of a potential capital in Syria."
Again no names, though Fisk's experts are going to be régime supporters arm deep in the carnage. It is a fantasy that they could hold on to everything they've got given the way the battles have been going, but it's Fisk's job to retail that fantasy. Deraa of course isn't threatened by Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS, but by the Southern Front coalition that fights ISIS and Assad, and has excluded Jabhat al-Nusra until their behaviour improves. But that doesn't fit the Assadist claim that it is Assad or the terrorists, so it isn't relevant to Fisk's mission.

 "Execution is as important to the rebels as the suicide bomb. Army sources in Damascus say that 250 army families were taken for execution when Palmyra fell."
To ISIS perhaps, not to the actual rebels Fisk wishes to confuse them with. Daily there are defections from Assad's army to the rebels. And those families were forced by Assad's commanders to stay in Palmyra while they and their families hotfooted it to Damascus, and so are another important way in which Assad and his ruling circle are showing that they protect nobody but themselves.

 "With perhaps 50,000 dead, the Syrian army needs men. Conscripted troops now serve indefinitely. And if that army falters or ceases to exist, no other force is capable of holding Syria together."
If you a priori rule out the groups fighting to free Syria from Assad's tyranny.

 “President Assad has not put himself as the No 1. He will work for Syria – and the most important thing is for Syria to survive.”
An exact reverse of the truth from Dr. Mekdad, but Fisk laps it up.

 "The further you travel from Syria, the more imaginative become the stories to convince you of its destruction. The Americans have done a deal with the Russians to ship Assad off to exile in Moscow. The Iranians will “close down” the Syrian war if the nuclear talks are successful. The Iranians don’t have confidence in the Syrian army. The most extraordinary theory suggests that the “moderate” rebels will destroy both Isis and Assad."
Probably not true, ridiculous, probably true, hopefully true.

 "There is no point in romanticising any side in this war. The government militias and the barrel-bombers and the torture chambers eliminate the use of pink eye-shades."
So it's alright to support the rape gangs, the barrel bombers, and the torture, as long as you don't romanticise them, or pretend not to. What a scumbag.

 There was a far more reasoned analysis this week of the military situation and the growing dominance of Iran in Syria by Josef Olmert*, though when I read, "No Islamist group in Syria, whether ISIS, al-Nusra, the Fath army, or the Free Syria Army [FSA], will give up on Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad dynasty [661-750 A.D]. The rebels are divided between themselves and fighting each other, which surely something that the regime will be happy to see happening in the areas that are falling under their control, but they are united about one cherished desire: the need for an historic revenge exacted from the hated Nusayris [a derogatory term for the Alawites]," I did think he may have a fairly primitive understanding of the relationship of religion to political action, such as many Western and Israeli political commentators suffer from. Still, unlike Fisk, trying to understand what is going on in Syria, and communicate that understanding.

If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed

The subtitle of yesterday's piece by Robert Fisk - 'Our Man in Syria' as the Independent calls him - is, "One glance through the broken windows of this famous old cafe illustrates the Dresden-like ruins – all that remains of Homs." Nobody would think of talking about the destruction of Dresden without mentioning the cause was massive Allied firebombing, or the horrors of Auschwitz without placing responsibility on the Nazis. Fisk however does not see fit to refer to the shelling and bombing by Assad's army and airforce that has reduced Homs to rubble.* Instead we get a suggestion that this was all the rebels' fault, "Many of the streets are roofless facades, the houses undermined by the tunnels which the rebel Farouq Battalion dug amid their ever-shrinking ghetto."
When a Muslim does something wrong in this country, Muslims are collectively expected to condemn it. When a white person does something wrong, it is the action of an individual. This is the method Fisk takes to Syria. His government-supporting interviewees are just people, although I might guess that Elias sounds like a Christian name, and Rani Khoury is from the Alawite-majority (even more so given the Assad régime's ethnic cleansing) city of Tartous. But the invisible rebels are Islamists, even though they drank and smoked. And that they preserved old newspapers where you can find columns saying that Islam is better than Christianity, and it's bad if people insult Islam, means they are the cause of sectarianism and civil war in the Middle East. Robert Fisk isn't a reporter, he's a racist and colonialist apologist for oppression.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Documenting Evil: Inside Assad’s Hospitals of Horror

  ' “The alternate E.R. had four rows of beds with two people in each bed,” al-Abdallah recalled. “They were chained to each other and to the bed, and they were blindfolded. Every night the soldiers would get up on the beds and start walking on the patients. It was a ritual.” Another ritual, he said, was wrapping men’s genitals so tightly with a rubber glove that the pressure would cut off circulation. According to Abu Odeh, intelligence agents would walk up to patients recovering from surgery to repair bone fractures and would literally rip external fixations—used to hold bones in place—from their broken limbs. “So many times we had to do operations twice,” he said. “They weren’t doing this torture to get patients to talk—it was just torture. Sometimes the Mukhabarat guys would pee on the wounds. Other times they would dip a prisoner’s bandages in toilet water and put them back on.” '

'We are the child': the anti-Assad slogan spreading across the Middle East

A man evacuates a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on May 30, 2015. Barrel bombs dropped from regime helicopters killing more than 70 civilians in Aleppo, while government forces in neighbouring Iraq retook an area west of the jihadist-controlled city of Ramadi. AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI

'People across the Arab world have been expressing solidarity with child victims of barrel bomb attacks in Syria - and opposing President Assad - with the hashtag "we are the child, you are the barrel".

One of the first people to tweet the hashtag was Mahmoud Owaimer. As a Palestinian living in Gaza, Mahmoud told BBC Trending that the suffering of Syrians reminds him of the recent war with Israel and the shelling of Gaza. "What hurts is that we've seen the war in Syria going on for four years and we can't see any end to it. It would move anyone, wherever they are, to want to speak out." '

Tartus, the Mother of Martyrs

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'Within the city, there is a growing perception that President Bashar al-Assad is intent on staying in power no matter how many Alawite deaths it takes. The Alawites, who in 2011 trumpeted their support for al-Assad, now threaten him with a different chant altogether: "God willing, we will witness the funeral of your sons," they say.'

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Watch the moment rebels say locals in Daraa gave them sweets to celebrate a victory over Assad


From Scott Lucas' more detailed account of the day*:'A Druze activist at the Suweida national hospital said he saw many regime dead and wounded, with soldiers “in a state of terror and panic”. He indicated that Iranians had also been at Brigade 52, saying their injured were being treated before the Syrians.In a series of tweets this morning, Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, saying the Assad regime is “finished”, has called for reconciliation with the Syrian opposition and rebels. He has asked the Druze of Suweida Province to “unite” with their neighbours in Daraa Province.'


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Comprehensive Analysis of Spoils Captured in Idlib Salient and Sahal al-Ghab, Apr. 22 to Present

"The amount of war material captured has brought the Jaish al-Fateh coalition and other groups in Idlib into first parity of arms with the SAA as tanks and armored vehicles began to fall and eventually superiority of arms in all categories besides airpower. While the Syrian government maintains a monopoly on the use of air power in the Idlib salient, the opposition forces have gained the equipment, experience, and momentum necessary to overpower remaining government positions and forces without a drastic change in the combat environment. Furthermore, the amount of material captured, particularly the logistical abilities and tremendous amount of munitions, equate to enough material to sustain an understrength SAA tank battalion, understrength SAA mechanized regiment, several artillery batteries, tremendous anti-tank assets, and small arms to equip a tremendous amount of new defectors/foreign fighters/local recruits. The balance of power in north west Syria has shifted tremendously and the coming months are likely to see offensives commensurate with this shift."
A Syrian rebel prepares a rocket launcher in the Deraa countryside (12 May 2015)

Syria conflict: Rebels seize major army base in Deraa

 "This base was one of the main lines of defence for the regime forces. It was a nightmare, because they used it to shell all the areas to the east of the province." 

Monday, 8 June 2015

Conspiracy theories that “the US fuelled the rise of ISIS”: Why they are a back-handed attack on the Syrian uprising

Michael Karadjis

"I can say with confidence that Milne’s assertion that Britain had been involved in the secret supply of “arms on a massive scale” to Syrian rebels is entirely made up; actually no evidence of any arms being supplied by the US, let alone Britain, appears anywhere. But to the extent any kind of “training” or logistical help occurred, or to the extent that the US allowed other countries to supply a certain amount of light arms, in every case it was to some described as secular or defected Syrian military with the specific objective of blocking any Islamist forces, and especially al-Qaida.

 When the FSA rebels said their current priority was fighting the regime, the US agents told them they had to fight Nusra now, and worry about the regime later.
In the awkward world of anti-Syrian revolution conspiracy theory, the FSA and other Syrian rebels are “US-backed jihadists.” To deal with the “US-backed” part first, while they are entitled to try to get arms from whoever they can, it is notable that the FSA rejected this US condition for getting arms, understanding it to be what it was: not an expression of US preference for secular rebels, nor any honest move to arm them, but rather an attempt to get the democratic-secular and jihadist wings of the uprising to slaughter each other while the Assad regime laughs.
Most of this conspiracism is not motivated by showing that imperialist powers tried to derail the revolution by backing ISIS, but on the contrary, they want to claim that the US and the West “backed ISIS” in order to overthrow the Syrian tyranny, a laughable idea.
In particular, this leads them into these grossly dishonest and fact-free amalgam between ISIS and its arch-enemies among the Syrian revolutionary forces; and hence the continuous assertion, backed by the flimsiest of evidence or none at all, that the US and the West have backed other parts of the Syrian rebellion (something regarded to be bad) is also described as part of the how the West allegedly helped “fuel the rise of ISIS,” as if the FSA, the force in the region that has most successfully beat back ISIS, is in some way related to ISIS or gave rise to it.

Yes, the US created ISIS alright – by invading Iraq and launching an apocalyptic occupation and then bolstering a Shiite-sectarian regime allied with Iran which launched a sectarian war against the Sunni population. Why is it so difficult to see that exactly the same dynamic occurred in Syria, not from some non-existent US invasion, but due to the similar apocalyptic sectarian war the Assad regime waged against the Syrian revolution and also specifically against the Sunni majority, precisely in order to turn the non-sectarian uprising into a sectarian war?"
A checkpoint that belonged to the forces of Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad is seen after a coalition of rebel groups called the Jaysh Al-Fatah said they took control of it, on a highway that connects Aleppo to Latakia, in the Idlib countryside, Syria, on June 6, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamad Bayoush)

Rebels strike biggest blow against

'Rami Dalati, a member of the armed opposition group the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Military Command Higher Council, toldAsharq Al-Awsat the rebels, comprised of the Jaysh Al-Fatah, a coalition of Jihadist groups, had successfully captured a number of strategic checkpoints used by the Syrian army on the Latakia–Aleppo highway.
This had now left a total of 25,000 government troops “essentially trapped” inside Aleppo, he said, adding that “this counts as the biggest military loss for the government in Syria since the beginnings of the conflict in 2011.”
Meanwhile, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict via a series of correspondents on the ground, said that Jaysh Al-Fatah had captured Syrian government troop positions around the city of Idlib, which lies roughly halfway between Latakia and Aleppo.
Al-Nusra posted on its Twitter account that it had successfully captured the positions, posting pictures of its fighters and those of others in the Jaysh Al-Fatah in the locations, with others of Syrian government troops fleeing their posts.
The official pro-government Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted a military source saying that Syrian troops had indeed withdrawn from the positions around Idlib, but only to redeploy in areas more “appropriate for fulfilling their military objectives.” '

Sunday, 7 June 2015

They fled to Scotland... now refugees fear IS will target their families

'Ali had been travelling through Syria in a bid to cross the Turkish border when he was caught by IS at Deir al-Zour. The teenager's death sparked protests in his home town of Jasim, which Alkhalef said prompted the distribution of leaflets warning residents that IS would take over the area.
"They [residents] said, 'It's not fair, a child of 17 was killed with no crime,'" said Alkhalef, through a translator. "It really confirmed to people that IS was criminal. In the flyers it said: 'We're going to rule Daraa, we're going to overcome, and we're going to apply Sharia law - Islamic Law - on you."
She said the Free Syrian Army, which was set up by officers and soldiers who defected from the Syrian Armed Forces during the country's civil war, gathered the leaflets and asked people to hand them in.
Alkhalef believes IS fighters tried to shoot her eldest brother in March. She said clashes between IS and the Free Syrian Army also took place in April.
"The reason we know it's Daesh is as the Free Syrian Army caught the men who tried to shoot my brother," said Alkhalef.'

People are still dying in the besieged Al Ghota – video


Syrian Rebels Give Shout-Out to Caitlyn Jenner

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"We would be free, and liberate Syria from Assad and ISIS."

War with Isis: As the militant threat grows, so does the West's self-deception

Image result for War with Isis: As the militant threat grows, so does the West's self-deception

 Patrick Cockburn is a magician, he has made Bashar al-Assad disappear. After a year of telling us the only way to defeat ISIS¹ was to ally with a régime bombing, raping and torturing its people to the max, this latest fantasy ignores him altogether. Even in Hasakah, where Assad's army has been holding the town and a few surrounding villages, we get this, 

 "Isis routed the Syrian army and captured Palmyra and has since struck at Syrian opposition units north of Aleppo and at the north-eastern city of Hasaka."

 Maybe it is the awkward fact that the Syrian Arab Army barely exists now, and exists "for a single man's benefit."². Maybe it is that the Syrian airforce has been bombing rebel positions in support of an attempted ISIS advance in Aleppo province³, while the US ignores ISIS there in favour of bombing those fighting Assad in Idlib⁴. Meanwhile Assad carries out a massacre by bombing a town centre in Idlib⁵, as much a barbarian as the barbarians of ISIS Cockburn used to present him as the alternative to.
 It is a disgrace that Patrick Cockburn, and indeed Robert Fisk⁶, are still employed by the Independent, without their output being clearly labelled as fiction.

¹As Muhammed Idris Ahmad wrote in his exposure of Cockburn's lie about witnessing an alleged massacre of Christians in Adra, 'For Cockburn, the situation in Syria is stark: you are with the regime or you are with the terrorists. He is an enthusiast for the war on terror—Bashar al-Assad’s war on terror. He criticizes the U.S. for excluding from its anti-ISIS coalition “almost all those actually fighting ISIS, including Iran, the Syrian army, the Syrian Kurds and the Shia militias in Iraq.” “The enemy of our enemy”, he insists, “must be our friend”—and those who reject this formula are “glib” and “shallow”.' []





⁶See the first link, "Cockburn is only following the precedent of his illustrious colleague Robert Fisk who, in August 2012, after a massacre of 400-500 people in Daraya, rode a Syrian Army armoured personnel carrier to the scene, interviewed survivors—“in the company of armed Syrian forces”—and concluded that, contrary to initial reports, “armed insurgents rather than Syrian troops” were responsible for the massacre." []
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Syria Army's Weakness Exacerbated by Draft Dodgers

'That weakness was most apparent during recent defeats in the northwest province of Idlib and the city of Palmyra; rebels and opposition groups said regime forces withdrew quickly rather than fight a prolonged battle...
"Every man in Syria...tries his best not to serve in the army," the young engineer said. "He can't imagine himself being a part of what's happening, part of a long war that doesn't seem to have an end."
"I don't want to be a part of a conflict which is for a single man's benefit," said a 29-year-old who has a good job in Damascus but is making plans to flee the country anyway. "This is a conflict that we, the normal people, have nothing to do with." '