Ex-CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles, wanted by Cuba and Venezuela for deadly armed attacks, died a fee man in Miami on May 23 at the age of 90. In the news reports of his passing, he was called a "militant" by the Miami Herald, more forthrightly (and predictably) a "terrorist" by TeleSur, and, with extreme perversity, an "actvist" by the BBC. Exiled from his native Cuba after the 1959 Revolution, Posada Carriles dedicated his life to armed counter-revolutionary activity. He was wanted by Cuba for a string of bombings of Havana hotels, and by Venezuela for masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner in which 73 were killed. The US refused to extradite, and he had been for years living openly in the Miami area. In 2014, he was given a medal by the Cuban History Academy at Miami Dade College. He did face some legal trouble when he was accused of lying to immigration officers about how he got into the US before applying for asylum in 2005, but was acquitted in 2011 and spent his remaining years in a comfortable South Florida existence. In the 1980s, he worked with the CIA in covert resupply operations for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Two months after it was first reported that President Trump had issued an order to freeze over $200 million in "reconstruction aid" to what media accounts called "US-backed rebels" in Syria, details are finally emerging on which groups have had their aid cut. And the first to be mentioned isn't a "rebel" group at all, but the White Helmets—the volunteer unarmed civil defense force that operates in areas under bombardment by the Assad regime and its Russian backers. A spokesperson for the US State Department, which is said to provide some third of the White Helmets' budget, said the group's funding is "under active review." But speaking to Al Jazeera, White Helmets leader Raed Saleh pledged to persevere. He said the group "did not receive any direct funding from the US or any other country"—presumably meaning money was funneled through NGOs. "The White Helmets receives funding from organizations and associations. Our work has not been disrupted and all the projects we are working on will not be halted. Our volunteers are still operating on the ground."
Dictator Bashar al-Assad flew to Vladimir Putin's summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks on the prosecution of the Syrian war and their future plans for the country. Assad congratulated Putin on his new term as president, following his March re-election (amid waves of protest), and (of course) thanked the Russian military for its support in re-conquering Syria. "Stability is improving," Assad told Putin at he opening press conference. Invoking the intermittent Russia-brokered peace talks in Kazakhstan (now largely irrelevant, that most of the country has been re-conquered), Assad added that "we have always wholeheartedly supported the political process, which should proceed in parallel with the war on terrorism." (Reuters) As Assad arrived in Sochi, Putin announced that Russian military vessels with Kalibr cruise missiles would be on permanent stand-by in the Mediterranean to counter what he called the "terrorist threat" in Syria. (Moscow Times)
The independent Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has released the findings of its own investigations into the twin chemical attack in Douma that took place April 7. Drawing on accounts from survivors, eye-witnesses and paramedics as well as an analysis of forensic evidence, the report finds that the Assad regime was "probably implicated in attacking Douma City using chemical weapons." Based on its own review of accounts from the field, the report also charges that the regime has carried out no less than 216 chemical attacks in Syria—only a small handful of which won media coverage or international response. The report stresses that the regime "has demonstrated its utter disregard for the international community," repeatedly violating UN resolutions condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria. By the SNHR's count, the regime carried out 183 chemical attacks after Security Council Resolution 2118, 114 chemical attacks after Security Council Resolution 2209, and 58 attacks after Security Council Resolution 2235. The report notes that the attacks on Douma city took place just 72 hours after a Security Council meeting was held to discuss the status of the regime's chemical stockpiles and assess the implementation of Resolution 2118. (SNHR, May 11)
After all the talk we've heard in recent years about how depressed oil prices are now permanent, in the wake of Trump's announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Bank of America is predicting that the price of Brent crude could go as high as the once-dreaded $100 per barrel in 2019. The report also cited collapsing production in Venezuela due to the crisis there. Brent prices have risen above $77 per barrel since Trump's announcement. Prices have jumped more than 8% over the past month and 15% since the beginning of the year. According to the analysis, investors fear that renewed sanctions on Iran could lead to supply disruptions. (CNNMoney, May 10) Although the report failed to mention it, the Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have doubtless contributed to the jitters.
Reports have been mounting for months that Assad is replacing those (mostly Sunni Arabs) displaced from his reconquered territories with Iranians and Iraqi Shi'ites, in a form of "sectarian cleansing." Now come reports that Turkey is replacing the Kurds displaced from its conquered "buffer zone" in Syria's north with those displaced by Assad—specifically, the Kurdish residents who fled the town of Afrin are being replaced by Sunni Arabs that fled Eastern Ghouta, according to Middle East Eye. Alarmingly, the Kurdish YPG militia tweeted in reference to the Ghouta displaced now resettled in Afrin: "We reiterate that these terrorists and their families are the main targets of our forces." (Emphasis added.) The tweet was apparently deleted after an outcry, but a screenshot of it remains online. The Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria that we have long warned of now seems to be arriving.
Since the Douma chemical attack terrorized the rebel defenders of Eastern Ghouta enclave into accepting a "surrender deal" and evacuating to Idlib province, the Assad regime and its Russian allies have been preparing a final offensive on the last remaining areas of Syria still under rebel control. These of course include Idlib in the north, the last full governorate (province) held by the rebels. But an Associated Press report suggests the regime may first focus its firepower on Daraa governorate in the south, where the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front continues to hold territory. And while the rebel militias that hold Idlib are mostly conservative Islamists, the Southern Front is secular-nationalist in its leadership.
Just over a year after Trump's air-strikes on an Assad regime airbase in response to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, we've witnessed a repeat of this episode—although this time the air-strikes were on wider targets, and carried out in conjunction with British and French forces. In response to last week's chemical attack on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, missiles and warplanes from the USS Donald Cook in the eastern Mediterranean carried out the first Western strikes on targets around the Damascus area. The following targets are reported to have been hit: the Damascus Scientific Research Center, said to be linked to production of chemical and biological weapons; another purported chemical weapons lab in Barzeh; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and headquarters of various elite military units. Iranian forces were apparently also targeted, with a base used by the Republican Guard struck. However, this military action looks like it will be no more sustained than that of last April. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called it a "single shot," and is believed to have put the brakes on the scope "to keep this from escalating." He told reporters after the initial sorties: "Right now we have no additional attacks planned." There are no reports of any deaths in the air-strikes, and the few known casualties are all military personnel. (American Military News, Middle East Eye, Reuters, NYT, CNBC, BBC News)