Greater Middle East
Human rights organizations on Sept. 1 claimed mounting evidence shows Russia is behind the increasing number of cluster bombings in Syria. The accusations were levied in response to the annual Cluster Munition Monitor report (PDF) which found that Syrian government forces used 13 types of cluster munitions in more than 300 attacks. The cluster munition report maintains that civilians instead of opposition forces are often killed or harmed during munition usage, as some of the bombs have delayed detonation devices, essentially making them landmines. The report claims that not only are most of the munitions manufactured by Russia but also that the spike in their usage did not occur until after the joint Russian-Syrian military partnership began in September 2015.
The Nation magazine's avid Putin propagandist Stephen F. Cohen was featured in an online audio interview Aug. 17, once again dutifully parroting the Moscow line on Syria and Ukraine. But the Syria discussion reached a unprecedented nadir, even for him: echoing the standard Russian propaganda trick of conflating all rebel forces with ISIS—even as the Syrian rebels are actually fighting ISIS. This is another one to file under "Orwell would shit." But sincere "leftists" who only get their news from places like The Nation will never know they are being lied to. Reads the introductory text for the interview: "Putin needs a decision by Obama now as the crucial battle for Aleppo intensifies. Under his own pressure at home, Putin seems resolved to end the Islamic State's occupation of Syria, Aleppo being a strategic site, without or with US cooperation, which he would prefer to have." What does the Putin-Assad war on Aleppo have to do with the fight against ISIS? Absolutely nothing. ISIS is not in Aleppo. Its attempts to establish an enclave in the city were, in fact, repulsed by the very rebel forces that Moscow and Damascus are now savagely bombing.
"Left" media in the US continue to portray a massive Washington program of support for the Syrian rebels to destabilize the regime of Bashar Assad—in spite of the utter baselessness of this thesis. We recently had to call out the ironically-named Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) for spreading such empty dogmatism in a piece entitled "Down the Memory Hole: NYT Erases CIA's Efforts to Overthrow Syria's Government." Despite the sketchy media accounts it cites of supposed CIA expenditures on Syrian rebels, we have repeatedly documented how the US is actually tilting to Assad in Syria's war. What limited aid is being made available is explicitly for use against ISIS—not Assad. We noted last year reports that the US is actually constraining the rebel forces from fighting Assad as a condition of receiving aid, insisting they fight only ISIS. Last week another such report ran on Lebanon's Now Media. Once again, a rebel commander from the FSA's Southern Front is quoted asserting that his forces were ordered by the US Military Operations Center in Jordan not to launch an offensive to retake the town of Sheikh Maskin—which had fallen to the regime when the MOC earlier this year ordered the Southern Front to concentrate on an offensive against ISIS rather than defending its territory. So the price of such arms that the US does provide the rebels is ceding territory to the regime. Let us know how you want your crow prepared, FAIR.
Turkey launched a major military intervention in Syria on Aug. 24, dispatching tanks and warplanes to assist rebel forces in taking the city of Jarabulus from ISIS. But it is assumed that their next target will be the Kurdish forces also fighting ISIS—and establishment of the long-anticipated Turkish "buffer zone" in northern Syria. It is telling that this happened one day after Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Seemingly in coordnation with the Turkish intervention, Biden warned the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—the most effective anti-ISIS force on the ground—that they must retreat east of the Euphrates River if they want to continue receiving US aid. "We have made it absolutely clear...that they must go back across the river," he said. "They cannot, will not, and under no circumstances, get American support if they do not keep that commitment." (The Guardian, BBC News, Bloomberg, Aug. 24; Reuters, Aug. 23)
After four years of siege and bombardment, the evacuation is underway of civilians and rebels from Daraya, the Damascus suburb that was an early cradle of the revolution. Rebel forces agreed to hand over control of the city to the regime in exchange for safe passage. Under terms of the deal, about 4,000 civilians will be transported to temporary shelter outside Damascus, while some 700 fighters will head to rebel-held Idlib after surrendering their weapons. But many residents are choosing to retreat to Idlib with the rebels. It seems no residents are being allowed to remain in the town. (NPR, BBC News, Aug. 26)
It requires a really special kind of cynicism to pull this one off—the kind born of complete impunity, when the world gives you a blank check to carry out any kind of atrocity. Saudi fighter jets on Aug. 21 carried out air-strikes on a peaceful rally in Yemen's capital Sanaa that had been called to protest Saudi air-strikes. Most recent accounts put the death toll at three, but it seems very likely to rise. The protesters were mostly armed, and began firing on the warplanes with their AK-47s after the air-strikes, in a useless act of defiance. The rally was called after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) withdrew its staff from six Yemen hospitals in response to a Saudi sir-strike on a hospital that left 19 people dead in the northern province of Hajja. It was the fourth health facility supported by MSF to be hit by Saudi-led coalition air-strikes over the course of the war, now in its 17th month. The US continues to have military advisors directly supporting the Saudis' air war in Yemen. This week, their number was cut from about 45 to five, although US officials said this was not due to concern over civilian casualties. (Nine News, Australia, Aug. 21; BBC News, Aug. 20; NYT, Aug. 18)
How telling that just as all the Great Powers were making nice and divding their turf in Syria, it starts to look like the US could get drawn into the war against Assad—against its will. Until now, the US has been giving Bashar Assad a wide berth, not interfering with his relentless campaign of aerial terror, but instead concentrating its battle on ISIS. But on Aug. 18, the US for the first time scrambled jets (presumably from Incirlik air base in Turkey) in response to Assad regime aggression after its Kurdish anti-ISIS partners came under bombardment. The US has special forces troops embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which were bombed by regime warplanes near Hasakah, Aleppo governorate. (BBC News, Aug. 20; WP, NBC, EA Worldview, Aug. 19) This should put paid to the persistent calumny that the Kurds are collaborating with Assad. But it obviously also holds the risk of direct superpower confrontation, as Russian warplanes are backing up the Assad regime.
The latest in continuing reports of chemical weapons attacks by the Bashar Assad regime comes from besieged Aleppo Aug. 11. The UN is investigating evidence of an apparent chlorine attack on a rebel-held area of the city, which reportedly left several dead and many injured. The UN special envoy for Syria said a chlorine attack, if confirmed, would amount to a "war crime." Footage obtained by the BBC shows people with breathing difficulties being treated at a hospital. Men, women and children are shown being fitted with oxygen masks by medical staff. This at one of the few hospitals still functioning in Aleppo following the vicious campaign of bombing hospitals by the Assad regime and its Russian partners.