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Friday, October 09, 2015

Wesley Clark on Syria and Russia

Intervention leaves the U.S. with three alternatives to counter Assad resurgence.

With Russia's intervention in Syria, it is time to skip the blame game, move quickly to take stock of where we are and count our blessings, and then act on the opportunity to recalibrate our regional strategy.
From the start, the rising against Bashar Assad in Syria was a leaderless, popular revolt, driven by economic and social issues, against ‎a despotic leader and his avaricious retinue. It occurred at a time of regional instabilities driven in large measure by Iran's hegemonic aspirations against Saudi Arabia and TurkeySectarianism was less a cause and more a motif of the struggle.
And so our friends and allies aided the uprising, using zealous Sunni fighters to combat Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Assad regime. In a war among the civilian populace, terrorism was a common and often successful tactic.
Along the way, some of the fledgling Sunni resistance transformed Frankenstein-likeinto the Islamic State, driven by former Baathist generals, sucking in tens of thousands of recruits from abroad and posing a threat not only to its Iranian-backed enemies but also to other Sunni fighters, Sunni states in the region and even beyond.
Russia's forceful intervention last week to assist Assad injects a new and potentially transformative element into the mix.
Naturally, Russia has gone after the strongest threats to Assad's regime first, the non-ISIL Sunni groups near Aleppo and the western, more prosperous reaches of Syria — the very forces the U.S. and its friends are supporting. ‎For Russia, biding its time against ISIL has a certain logic: By eliminating more Western-amenable opponents, Russia can prevent the emergence of any leadership capable of challenging Assad. This will lead to a foregone but ultimately disastrous reinvigoration of Assad's regime.
In such circumstances, the U.S. has three alternatives:
  • Maintain our limited involvement, continuing minimal airstrikes against ISIL and working to strengthen Iraqi ground forces, whatever their putative relationships with Russia and Iran and continuing support for Kurdish fighters in Syria.
  • Intervene more forcefully, to include substantial ground forces inserted through Turkey into Syria to crush ISIL at its base, deprive it of its economic resources and then work against remaining strongholds in Iraq.
  • As a middle course, create a safe zone in northern Syria, secured by U.S. air power and some international ground presence, to nurture a new Syrian leadership.
No course of action is without risk. Maintaining the present strategy — the first course of action — risks ceding Russia a new, more powerful role in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. This isn't helpful to Europe, Israel or our Sunni friends. It virtually ensures Assad's continuation in power or his replacement by a like-minded authoritarian. And it also ensures continued refugee flow toward Europe.
The second course of action is big, expensive and slow. It risks substantial U.S. ground combat, including losses, in an effort to finish off ISIL in Syria, and in so doing strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition, provide assurances to minorities and generally undercut Assad's ability with Russian help to reestablish control over the region. It also poses a direct obstacle to Russian designs. It provides bargaining leverage for an eventual diplomatic settlement that includes Assad's departure. It will be complicated by massive civil affairs, refugee and migrant issues.
The third alternative — establishing a safe zone in northern Syria, accommodating refugees under protection, building the Syrian opposition — also has risks. Terrorist organizations such as the al-Nusra Front can be expected to resist. Russia will be tempted to encroach. Airspace and terrain must be protected, even with risk to U.S. forces and the danger of inadvertent encounters with the Russian military.
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
Of the three, the last alternative, forging a safe area, probably with NATO engagement and participation of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia, offers the best, lowest cost and the surest means of regaining some stability in the region. A safe zone, secured by NATO, assisted by other international organizations, and housing the nascent Free Syrian government and its military arm, would provide maximum diplomatic leverage as well as point toward the eventual destruction of ISIL.
Make no mistake, Russia's intervention is all about advancing Russia's interests — a strong presence in the Middle East, leverage over the U.S. and Europe, and eventually sanctions relief and re-established influence over Ukraine and Eastern Europe. None of this will promote our values or interests. For this reason, there must be no relaxation of sanctions against Russia.
‎President Vladimir Putin must be disabused of any hope of gaining leverage over Europe and greater influence over Ukraine by his Syrian gambit. Also, we must recognize that the viability of the recently negotiated Iran nuclear agreement is dependent on the credibility of American power; to go passive now in the face of Russian action is to jeopardize the agreement at the very outset.
The Middle East remains a region of vital interests for the U.S. and our allies. However misguided the original invasion of Iraq, we find ourselves today in a new situation. We needn't repeat the mistakes of a decade ago — but neither can we fail to react to the new circumstances and their implications. This is the time for smart American action, in concert with our allies in Europe and the region.
Retired general Wesley K. Clark, a former supreme commander of NATO, led alliance military forces in the Kosovo War. He is a senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA and author of Don't Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership.
In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors. To read more columns like this, go to the Opinion front page.

From the First Two Minutes of The Waco Police “Twin Peaks” Press Conference, It Was Obvious That It Was a Police Massacre and Coverup

Where is the US DOJ?

Waco Biker Massacre: GQ Writer Paints a Picture of Likely Police Misconduct

With the police still withholding evidence, their behavior during and after the "biker massacre" and mass arrests still very suspicious.

I've been reporting information that casts doubt on the official police story of what supposedly happened outside the Waco restaurant Twin Peaks back in May—a mad biker gun-firing melee shut down by brave cops—for months now.
A reporter from GQ who got to spend some face to face time down in the area with eyewitnesses tells pretty much the same story that seems likely to me: a situation where at best a shot or two from biker on biker led to a brutal police massacre of the innocent—9 dead, 18 wounded (GQ reports 20, but on the day of the event the reported wounded was 18)—followed by face-saving illegitimate arrests of 177.
Excerpts with comments, after reporter Nathaniel Penn delivers some interesting scene-setting explaining the background of the feuds and conflicts between area biker clubs the Bandidos and the Cossacks that likely at least began the violence outside a politically-oriented multi-club biker meeting, the Confederation of Clubs and Independents:
The police were already there as the rest of the clubs arrived that morning. “They're circling like buzzards on a dead deer,” one biker told me. “I look at the people I was riding with, and I said, ‘This don't look right.’ ” Afterward, said the Cossacks' John Wilson, “a Waco spokesman was touting the quick 40-second response time of the police, when that was obviously false. They were here.
The bikers believe this provides a clue to the Waco P.D.'s ongoing silence: The cops know their response was overzealous, possibly unlawful, and now they're covering it up. Some bikers believe there's an even more sinister explanation: that a firefight of some kind was supposed to happen—that it was all part of a plan by the Waco P.D. to provoke bitter rivals into a public brawl that could be violently crushed and then used as a basis for sweeping RICO indictments.....
Wilson: I didn't see who fired the first shot. I was told it was a Bandido firing into the ground, trying to break up a fistfight....
Anonymous motorcycle-club member: We heard a pop. Then a few more pops. Your feet start to act. There's pops from the rear, from the front, on the far side. It's like being in a war zone.
Anonymous Cossack #2: I heard projectiles zinging past me, but I didn't hear no gun going off. It was either a silenced weapon or a very suppressed weapon in the distance. I've never been so scared in my life....
Anonymous motorcycle-club member: Now, the first two or three pops—me and half my crew being ex-military, we know what small-arms fire from pistols sounds like. We also know what squad automatic weapons [typically used by the military and law enforcement] sound like. After the third pop, it was nothing but squad automatic weapons....
The police showed little care for the victims:
Wilson: Not a single law-enforcement person lifted a finger to help any of the wounded. And they made it pretty clear that they were going to be violent if we tried to take our guys to the ambulance. Three men were bleeding out before our eyes. If those men were still alive 30, 40 minutes after being shot, they could have been saved. A prospect named Trainer from out of Tarrant County chapter was shot. They zip-tied him and laid him on the ground next to a Bandido they had handcuffed. I noticed him jerk a few times, laying there. We were sitting there, 30 feet from him, and weren't able to help him. About two hours later, somebody walked over, looked at him, and covered him with a yellow sheet.
The official police narrative quickly became that this was an entire gathering of organized criminals who were wildly killing each other and shooting at cops, and the arrest of so many people there was buttressed with initial one million bonds set for everyone. And likely in order to justify that crazy, and soon reversed, decision:
The Texas Department of Public Safety did its part to ramp up hysteria, leaking a “confidential bulletin” to CNN alleging that Bandidos in active military service were arming their chapters with grenades and C4 explosives so that they could retaliate against the police. One of the DPS's sources was a club called the Black Widows, which does not exist except in the 1978 movie Every Which Way But Loose. In response, one biker blog jeered: “Waco Police Now Claim They Are Being Attacked by Clint Eastwood and An Orangutan Named Clyde.”
Some on the scene claim that some supposed Cossacks were in fact undercover cops who even took off their club colors and began behaving as police in the middle of the chaos.
According to Waco police chief Brent Stroman, only three of his 16 officers discharged their weapons, firing a total of 12 rounds. But eyewitnesses dispute that figure, as does the owner of the adjacent Don Carlos restaurant, who has claimed that “thousands of bullet rounds” were fired. Could it be that the department's numbers don't include shots from its undercover officers? And if the bikers were firing at police, as alleged, why hasn't the Waco P.D. released any hard evidence to prove it?
“Harried handgun fights are usually a pretty inaccurate situation,” says Cossacks chapter president John Wilson. “Head shots happen by mistake, if at all. Someone got lucky. To have that many guys hit with torso shots and head shots—in my experience, I would say that indicates you had trained people with long rifles and optical sights. That's accurate, aimed fire.” 
A rival Bandido, who declined to be named, reached the same conclusion: “Seven of the nine [dead] were head shots or chest shots. Who trains for that? Who?
The rest of the story is about the level of stress the mass arrests put on the Waco jail and court system, and how many of the likely completely innocent men had their professional lives ruined by being locked up for weeks on suspicion of being part of mass murder.
Anonymous motorcycle-club member: When you get out of jail after being gone for 30 days, you don't have a job anymore. I got fired. Nobody wants to hire an electrician with a class 1 felony charge pending above his head.
There is a chance for real justice for the likely illegitimately arrested:
“The city of Waco is looking at paying out hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Michael White, Wilson's attorney. “I don't think we've ever seen something on the scale of 175-plus people being arrested for something they did not do.” To survive the storm, the city's legal strategy seems to be to pressure the Waco 177 into pleading guilty to minor infractions for time served; this would preclude the bikers from being able to sue for wrongful imprisonment.
Of course, the bad cliches about small town justice hang over the scene; 
The judge in the case, Matt Johnson, is the former law partner of district attorney Abel Reyna. Incredibly, the foreman of the first grand jury to be convened, James Head, is a Waco P.D. detective. “He was chosen totally at random, like the law says,” Reyna insisted to local reporters. If this seems brazen, consider that the commission to appoint jurors was originally going to be led by Reyna's own father. Reyna only backed down under pressure, acquiescing to the process that led to Head's selection. Asked why he'd permit an active police officer to lead a grand jury investigating possible police misconduct, state district judge Ralph Strother said, “I just thought, ‘Well, he's qualified. He knows the criminal-justice system.’ ”

IDF Thugs Busted Posing As Palestinians In a False Flag Agent Provocateur Operation

Footage has emerged showing members of the Israeli army disguised as Palestinian stone throwers before turning on and aiming firearms at demonstrators.
The video above shows undercover soldiers disguised in plain clothes embedded in a crowd of Palestinian youths that are throwing rocks at an Israeli checkpoint near Ramallah.
After a few moments, the undercover soldiers turn on protesters and shoot their firearms in the direction of the crowd.
Most managed to escape but footage shows three men were arrested, one of whom appears to be shot at point-blank range and struck repeatedly during his arrest.
It has been reported that the soldiers are part of the “Duvdevan” unit, known for carrying out high-risk counter-terror operations.
Israel Defence Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner announced the arrests on Twitter and posted this video.
The incident is the latest in a week of violent clashes across Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Syrian forces begin ground offensive backed by Russia air and sea power

Nato ready to ‘defend' Turkey as Russia strikes Syria 

Alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, makes comment after violations of Turkish airspace by Russian jets conducting airstrikes in Syria 


Kareem Shaheen in Beirut and agencies 
Thursday 8 October 2015 05.46 EDT 
Last modified on Thursday 8 October 2015 06.58 EDT 

 Nato is ready to send troops to Turkey to defend against threats on its southern flank, the head of the alliance has said following violations of Turkish airspace by Russian jets conducting airstrikes in Syria. 

 Moscow’s growing military involvement in the Syria conflict – which on Wednesday involved its jets backing an offensive by ground troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad – is expected to be high on the agenda of a meeting of the alliance’s defence ministers. 

 “Nato is ready and able to defend all allies, including Turkey against any threats,” Jens Stoltenberg, the organisation’s secretary general, told reporters before the Brussels meeting on Thursday. 

 Britain to station troops in Baltic region 'to deter Russian aggression' Read more “In Syria, we have seen a troubling escalation of Russian military activities. We will assess the latest developments and their implications for the security of the alliance. This is particularly relevant in view of the recent violations of Nato’s airspace by Russian aircraft. 

 “Nato has already responded by increasing our capacity, our ability, our preparedness to deploy forces including to the south, including in Turkey.” 

 The ground offensive backed by Russian airstrikes was an escalation in Moscow’s week-long campaign, which had previously been restricted to bombing runs to soften up rebel positions near major loyalist strongholds. 

Syria’s chief-of-staff, General Ali Ayoub, on Thursday declared a wide-ranging ground offensive by Syrian troops was underway that he said had been facilitated by Russian air strikes. 

 Russian warships also fired missiles into Syria from the Caspian Sea for the first time on Wednesday. The Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said four warships launched 26 rockets at Isis targets. 

The missiles would have passed over Iran and Iraq to reach their targets, covering what Shoigu described as a distance of almost 900 miles. The terrain-hugging Kalibr-NK cruise missiles, known by Nato by the codename Sizzler, fly at an altitude of 50 metres and are accurate to within three metres, the Russian defence ministry said. 

 Syrian state television quoted a military source as saying the missiles targeted 11 Isis positions in Raqqa, Aleppo and Idlib. 

 Russia’s air campaign in Syria has caught the US and its allies on the back foot and alarmed Syria’s northern neighbour Turkey, which says its air space has been repeatedly violated by Russian jets. 

 Turkey summoned Russia’s ambassador for the third time in four days on Wednesday over the reported violations, which Nato has said appeared to be deliberate and were extremely dangerous. 

 Turkey said Syria-based missile systems harassed its warplanes on Tuesday while eight F-16 jets were on a patrol flight along the Syrian border. The Russian ministry of defence said it was continuing to consult with Turkey to ensure there would be no repetition of the incident. 

 The Syrian push on the ground is the first time Assad’s forces have coordinated with the Russian airforce in an attempt to seize lost territory from opposition forces, leading to some of the fiercest fighting in months in a civil war that has now lasted four and a half years and killed more than 250,000 people. 

 The assault mirrors the US strategy in northern Syria, where coalition planes bombed Isis positions to pave the way for their allies on the ground to advance against the militants. It also poses the question of how much territory the regime’s army, exhausted and depleted by the conflict, can seize from the rebels. 

 Syrian activists said Russian fighter jets had on Wednesday bombed a series of towns held by the opposition in the countryside of Hama, in concert with a push by regime troops and armoured vehicles and the deployment of Russian helicopters, in what was described as the fiercest combat in months. 

 Most of the fighting appeared to be concentrated in Hama, a central province with a majority Sunni capital that has remained in the hands of the regime since the start of the war. It is key to Assad’s strategy of cementing control over major population centres in a strip of territory from Latakia in the north, through to Homs, Hama and Damascus. 

 The US Department of State repeated accusations that a large majority of Russia’s military strikes in Syria have not been aimed at Isis or jihadis tied to al-Qaida, and have instead targeted the moderate Syrian opposition. 

 “Greater than 90% of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against Isil [Isis] or al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists,” said a spokesman, John Kirby. 

 Speaking in Brussels, the US ambassador to Nato, Douglas Lute, said on Wednesday that Russia’s buildup in Syria now included a “considerable and growing” naval presence, long-range rockets and a battalion of ground troops backed by Moscow’s most modern tanks. 

He said the Kremlin seemed to be intent on forging a new counter-coalition to the western-Gulf axis, bringing together the Russians, Iranians, Iraqis and Hezbollah behind Assad. 

 Moscow had managed a “quite impressive” military deployment over the past week to its Syrian naval base in Tartus and its army base in Latakia, Lute said. 

“There is a considerable and growing Russian naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, more than 10 ships now, which is a bit out of the ordinary,” he told a news briefing. 

 “The recent Russian reinforcements over the last week or so feature a battalion-size ground force ... There is artillery, there are long-range rocket capabilities, there are air defence capabilities,” Lute said. A battalion is typically made up of about 1,000 soldiers. 

A senior Turkish official said 18 Russian warships had passed through the Bosphorus strait at Istanbul en route to Moscow’s Syrian base, amid conflicting reports of Russian ground forces also being deployed. 

 Nato diplomats doubted the Russians were preparing any ground operations, but were sure that they were training and equipping Assad ground forces and were active on the ground beyond their military bases. 

 “The Iranians are on the ground, but not the Russians yet,” said the Turkish official. 

 The Turkish official and Nato diplomats said the Russians had also deployed air-to-air fighter aircraft which would not be used for bombing anti-Assad forces, but would engage in dogfights.