Greater Middle East
This is about as sick as it gets. US air-strikes in Syria's Deir al-Zour governorate, aimed at ISIS positions, accidentally wiped out 62 Assad regime troops. The White House immediately issued a statement expressing "regret" for the "unintentional loss of life." Prompted by Russia, the UN Security Council has called an emergency meeting to discuss the incident. A US official even said "condolence payments" would be offered to the families of the slain troops. (BBC News, The Guardian, CNN's Barbara Starr via Twitter, Sept. 17)
Two days after the supposed Syria "ceasefire" took effect, Assad regime and Russian warplanes carried out multiple air-strikes on rebel-held towns in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Damascus governorates, leaving some 20 dead and many more wounded. (Orient Net, Sept. 12) Pro-Moscow news sources (Sputnik, Al Masdar News) boast that the regime has "liberated" territory in these areas from "jihadists"—but without actually naming which "jihadist" factions were engaged, leaving open the possibility that Moscow and Assad are continuing their propaganda trick of conflating all rebel forces with ISIS. Especially hyped by these sources is the regime's taking of Handarat, Aleppo, a Palestinian refugee camp whose residents seem to be factionalized and drawn into the fighting on both sides.
We've repeatedly pointed out the sinister side of Great Power cooperation in Syria: previous ceasefires and "peace deals" have only meant an escalation of the conflict—most recently, the siege of Aleppo and other regime gains. So the utmost cynicism is called for in viewing the pact announced Sept. 10 between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. Another fictional "ceasefire" is to take effect in two days, dependent on compliance by Bashar Assad's Russian-backed forces and "US-supported" rebel groups (although we question how "US-supported" they really are). If the truce holds for a week, the US and Russia will actually begin coordinating on air-strikes. "We believe the plan as it is set forth—if implemented, if followed—has the ability to provide a turning point, a moment of change," Kerry said, according to AP. But a "turning point" toward what?
The Turkish intervention in northern Syria has set off open war between Free Syrian Army factions and the Rojava Kurds—which will only serve the interests of ISIS and Assad. Portrayed as an offensive against ISIS, the intervention has at least equally targeted the Kurds—the most effective anti-ISIS in Syria. Turkey, long accused of conniving with ISIS to weaken the Kurds, is now making a bid for its own "buffer zone" in north Syria, reducing or completely usurping the Rojava autonomous zone. The US is now torn between its NATO ally Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) it has been backing against ISIS. US Central Command on Aug. 30 claimed it hads secured a "loose agreement" for a ceasefire between Turkish and Kurdish forces. This was immediately refuted by Ankara, with cabinet minister Omer Celik saying flatly: "We do not accept in any circumstances a 'compromise or a ceasefire reached between Turkey and Kurdish elements." (MEE, Aug. 31)
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)