World War 5
In the wake of the Paris attacks, the centripetal tendency in world affairs seems to hold sway—a further Great Power convergence against ISIS. When the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaches its position off Syria's coast, it joins a Russian guided missile cruiser already there—and cooperation between the two powers appears imminent. "Under the Russian president's decree, the General Staff is working out joint anti-terrorism operations with the French Navy," said Col-Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, deputy chief of staff, according to Moscow's state news agency Tass. "With the arrival of the Charles de Gaulle warship to the Syrian shore we will organize joint military operations." Citing Kartapolov, Tass also claimed, "Russian warplanes have destroyed about 500 fuel tank trucks that were illegally transporting oil from Syria to Iraq for refining." While not stated, this presumably means ISIS oil. (NPR)
NATO is just winding up its biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War—Operation Trident Juncture, involving 36,000 troops and more than 140 aircraft and 60 ships from over 30 countries over a month-long span. The maneuvers were centered around Sardinia, where hundreds of local residents attempted to block the troops and craft in a civil disobedience action. They were angered by rising cancers, leukemia and birth defect rates on the island, where the soil and groundwater are contaminated with heavy metals, jet fuel and depleted uranium from decades of military operations and weapons testing there. Maneuvers were also held in Spain, Portugal, Norway and the Atlantic. (Gizmodo, Nov. 10; Revolution News, Nov. 3; ANSA, Oct. 21; NATO, July 15)
The Pentagon announced on Oct. 29 that the US State Department has approved a $70 million sale of "smart bombs" to Turkey—one day after the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress that the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) systems would be sold. Lawmakers have 15 days for any block. The package to be sold to Turkey includes BLU-109 "bunker-busters" as well as 900 "smart bomb kits," 100 laser kits and 200 warheads. "It is vital to the US national interest to assist our NATO ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability," the DSCA stated on its website. (Hurriyet Daily News, Oct. 30)
Here we go. Another step towards open US embrace of genocidal war criminal Bashar Assad and his regional sponsors. AP reports today that Iran has been invited to participate the next round of Syria peace talks set to open this week in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats in attendance. State Department spokesman John Kirby said "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting." While paying brief lip service to supposed White House disapproval of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said US officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."
There was brief media splash last month after Germany's ZDF TV reported that the US is planning to replace 20 nuclear bombs deployed at Büchel airbase. According to the reports, the current B61 bombs are to be replaced this year with B61-12s, a newer version that is said more accurate and less destructive (potentially making their use more "thinkable"). Alarmingly, reports indicated that the new variants can also be fired as missiles, while B61s had to be dropped from aircraft. Moscow of course immediately responded by threatening "countermeasures"—including deployment of Iskander ballistic missiles to Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. (The Telegraph, Reuters, Sept. 23; Washington's Blog, Sept. 23)
US Air Force C-17 cargo planes air-dropped arms and other supplies to Syrian rebels on Oct. 13—as Russia continued to carry out air-strikes on Syrian rebels. Media reports are vague on whether the US is dropping aid to the same factions that Russia is bombing. But the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) have announced a new alliance with militias affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to fight ISIS in the country's northeast. The Pentagon has now officially dropped its failed $500 million plan to train a Syrian rebel proxy force, and will instead use those funds for air-drops to already existing rebel forces.
Moscow's military intervention in Syria took a sobering turn this weekend as Turkey scrambled fighter jets, accusing Russian warplanes of violating its air space. Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador over the matter, and NATO condemned the incursions as an "extreme danger." (Al Jazeera, CNN, Daily Sabah) Apart from the obvious dangers to world peace (such as it is), this development holds grim implications for the Syrian Kurds—the most effective military force on the ground against ISIS. Turkey, afraid that a Kurdish autonomous zone on its southern border will inspire its own Kurdish population to rise up, has been cynically labelling the anti-ISIS Syrian Kurds as "terrorists," and seeking to establish a military "buffer zone" in Kurdish territory in norther Syria. Since Turkey and Russia are bitter regional rivals, Moscow's intervention risks drawing the Kurds into the geopolitical game.