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Saturday, October 31, 2015

ISIS bares its teeth in Syria, as Obama authorizes "boots on the ground" for U.S. troops.

Links: Obama authorizes use of U.S. troops in Syria.

On Friday, President Obama authorized the use of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.  Not surprisingly, Obama waited until Friday to make the announcement, limiting the media response.  The Administration made it clear that the use of U.S. troops would be limited to special forces action, and the decision comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict.  It was not immediately apparent what impact limited action by U.S. special forces would have, or if Russian and U.S. forces might come into contact.  Russia has not shied away from aggressive military action against U.S.-supported Syrian opposition.  If the United States decides to deploy U.S. troops, even in non-operational roles, a random Russian bombing raid could cause American casualties.  So even though "troops on the ground" have been authorized, don't expect to see it anytime soon, at least not in support of any of our so-called allies.
Until now, the Obama Administration had responded to increased Russian action in Syria with diplomatic commentary.  The decision to allow the use of U.S. ground troops is nothing more than an extension of that policy.  The Obama Administration has no intention of allowing U.S. troops to be directly involved in military action, especially following the death of a U.S. soldier in last week's successful joint operation with Kurdish forces to rescue a group of Kurdish prisoners.

On October 23, ISIS launched a major counteroffensive around the city of Aleppo.  In recent weeks, the Syrian regime, with support from Russian air elements, had retaken large areas in northeast Syria.  With a few exceptions, Russian bombing sorties focused on Syrian opposition positions.  While the world was focused on Russian and Syrian regime forces decimating the Syrian opposition, ISIS was preparing to take advantage of the new situation.  The ISIS attack put pressure on the main road which the regime uses to re-enforce Aleppo City from Homs and Hama Provinces.  ISIS also initiated attacks on Safira, a strategic town which is suspected of hiding some of the Assad regime's chemical weapons development.  The ease with which ISIS forces dispatched regime units in this week's attacks around Aleppo diminishes the impact of recent regime advances.  Since most of the groups opposed to the Assad regime are also opposed to ISIS, the Russian bombing sorties did much to aid the Islamic State.  As long as the Russian Air Force and regime forces limit their offensive efforts to attacking the Syrian opposition, ISIS will profit.  The current military situation in Aleppo provides a good example.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Russia taking advantage of disinterested Obama Administration to project military strength internationally.

In the last few months, Russia has aggressively extended its military footprint around the globe.  While most eyes are focused on Russian military action in Syria, Moscow has completed construction on a military facility in the Arctic, and stepped up diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis Baghdad, Cuba, and the United Nations.  Everytime that Russia succeeds in extending its military influence, the United States suffers accordingly.  Russia's move to establish s military base in the Arctic comes on the heels of discoveries that the vast frozen areas north of the Arctic Circle hold great potential for mineral and fossil fuel exploration.  Researchers and businesses in the United States have also expressed interest in Arctic resource exploration, but the Obama Administration has responded to such entreaties with suspicion and concern regarding the potential ecological impact.  Also, the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba has apparently not dimmed the close relationship between Moscow and Havana.  Many expect Cuba to lead the proposed Russian military "coalition" in Syria.  Presently, this coalition can count Iran, pro-regime Syria, Hezbollah, and possibly Belarus as members; many consider this grouping of Russian allies to be a counter to the U.S. coalition already in place in Syria.

A number of U.S. allies are beginning to discreetly express concern over the apparent apathy that appears to dominate the foreign policy of the United States in the later period of the Obama Presidency.  Since the election of 2008, most European leaders have been quick to support the Obama Aministration's policies, with the crises in Ukraine and Syria being two prime examples.  But as the failure of these policies become more apparent, and Obama seems unwilling to stand up and confront increased Russian global activity, certain European leaders are reviewing what options might be available that do not require the presence of the United States government in a leadership role.  No doubt our allies outside of Europe are also concerned about the lack of movement on the part of the United States.  China must also recognize that an opportunity currently exists, and will assuredly take advantage as well, while Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Australia wonder if the status quo can hold until a new administration takes over in Washington DC.

At present, more so than at any point in the last seven years, the United States needs to be an international leader.  This administration was quick to mobilize its diplomatic resources to conclude terrible treaties with both Russia (2010 New Start disarmament treaty with Russia), and Iran (2015 agreement on Iranian nuclear research).  Given that our allies are simply waiting for some sign of strength and consistency, it's not too late to check Vladimit Putin's strategy to create in Russia the world's sole super-power.  A fascinating aspect of these developments is that Russia's aggressive military and diplomatic moves have come while the Obama Administration continues to characterize Russia's economy as being close to collapse.  It seems as is if we've been waiting for that collapse ever since the beginning of the sanctions regime that was imposed on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.  I'm glad we weren't holding our breath.....

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Events in Iraq strengthen Iran's position.

On October 14, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) announced the commencement of a military ground offensive in the direction of Baiji and the strategic Baiji Oil Refinery.  Possession of the refinery has been contested since the initial early successes of the Islamic State (ISIS) in its invasion of Iraq.  This particular military initiative is being conducted in close cooperation with the Iranian-backed Shi'a militia Kata'ib al-Imam Ali, with a number of recognizable Iranian military advisers directly involved.  The announcement of this effort came as a bit of a suprise as beforehand the priority of the Haider al-Abadi Administration had been the recapture of Ramadi City and the defeat of ISIS in Anbar Province.

Early reports from Baiji indicate that the ISF and the Kata'ib militia have made impressive gains against ISIS positions.  A number a small, strategic communities to the west of Baiji have been recaptured, and The refinery itself has been returned to Iraqi government control.  We repeat these reports with a word of caution: the Iraqi press has a tendency to produce over-optimistic battlefield reporting, especially in the early stages of a new ISF offensive.  ISIS has been on the run in Baiji before, only to return quickly with stronger forces.  The Baiji Refinery has consistently been the site of heavy fighting because of its strategic value.  Additionally, the Iraqi people have expressed great interest in this particular contested location, which increases its importance from a public morale perspective.  During the next week, the actual success of the ground offensive in Baiji will become clearer.  If indeed the ISF, with strong support from the proxy militia Kata'ib al-Imam Ali, has reoccupied both Baiji City and the Refinery, it will constitute another victory for Iran over the United States in the effort to curry favor and influence with the Abadi Administration.

Because the United States was heavily involved in training the military units that are currently engaged in the effort to recapture Ramadi City, if the offensive fails, it will have a potentially catastrophic impact on U.S. influence in Baghdad.  Coincidentally, since the genesis of recent direct Russian military involvement in Syria, the Iranians have increased their visibility in Iraq.  In the past, the Iranians were content to limit their overt exposure to involvement with the Shi'a militias.  This has changed, as the Iranians,Russia and Iraq recently created a military coordination office in Baghdad, alongside offers from Moscow to the Abadi Administration to provide valuable intelligence  on ISIS.  The U.S. responded with a successful raid alongside Kurdish Peshmerga to rescue seventy Kurdish hostages from imminent beheading, but otherwise, the United States appears content to discuss cooperation with Russia regarding Syria, and to leave present military influence in Iraq to Iran.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The CIA in 2015: balancing force protection, terrorism, and traditional intelligence collection.

Since I formally retired from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) roughly five years ago, and I was given the opportunity to come out from under cover, I have been regularly approached by young people who are interested in a career with the organization.  The fact that I published a memoir, and had the misfortune to be poisoned during my career while working operationally, has created an awkward, public persona with my name attached.  I don't mind, because I come from the mindset that only experienced officers can truly recognize the attitude and determination necessary to be a successful Case Officer.  Unfortunately, I've never been approached regarding one of the many other opportunities the Agency offers.  The CIA consists of four separate Directorates, and each one promises a career unlike any other, with tremendous opportunity to learn about the world we live in, and to be part of supporting National Security.  Any job with the Agency also provides regular opportunity for advancement in an environment of great challenges.  When I chose to write this blog post, I decided to avoid any appearance of a recruitment pitch.  No job is perfect, and the CIA exists under intense public and even international scrutiny.  I had instances of frustration, but they were almost always connected to the unfortunate bureaucracy that comes with working for Uncle Sam.  If someone is under the mistaken belief that typical government problems don't exist at the Agency, the reality is, because of the sensitive nature of the job, scrutiny is even more a part of everyday work, and officers must be vigilant to follow ALL rules, regulations, and guidelines.  That being said, let me take a little time to express to you why my career with the CIA was the pivotal, most incredible experience of my life.

As a Case Ofiicer, I was given the opportunity to complete the most intense, all-encompassing training regime that has ever existed for an Intelligence Officer.  The organization will not put officers in the field who have not demonstrated a thorough understanding and respect for security, counter-intelligence, and tradecraft.  What is tradecraft?  Simply put, tradecraft are the skills a Case Officer requires to operate successfully in an overseas environment.  Because of the current public obsession with the subject of espionage, the average American has a distorted perception of the Agency.  The CIA has no law enforcement authority, and only functions domestically in joint-arrangements with our Federal Law Enforcement partners.  Following the horrific and mind-numbing events of September 11, 2001, the Agency began an aggressive effort to share resources with Law Enforcement in support of National Security.  I have worked closely in just such an environment, and the results have been more successful than the public realizes.  Also, CIA officers, beyond the security officers the Agency hires for its facilities, DO NOT carry weapons domestically.  Outside of war zones, CIA officers aren't normally armed overseas.  And if an officer has been assigned to a war zone or dangerous environment, he or she is required to complete a thorough weapons training and familiarization course.  Having to work in a wartime environment should not come naturally to most Case Officers, but the changed circumstances of National Security have necessitated the Agency's involvement in various conflicts worldwide.  This effort is part of the mission to ensure Force Protection- the collection of vital intelligence to protect our young men and women in uniform.  I was also fortunate to work in a number of denied environments, and I can assure you that there is no more important job than defending our troops, and no greater satisfaction after the successful completion of a job-well-done.

I decided to write a memoir in order to share my experiences as a victim of intended poisoning by someone I was meeting for intelligence purposes.  Please understand, this wasn't a situation involving a foreign government, it was about someone who was mentally unstable and trying to play "spy".  When you chose a career as a Case Officer, you do not have the luxury of deciding who has access to vital information.  Eventually in their career, every Case Officer will be obliged to meet with unpleasant people.  I was young and anxious, and probably missed warning signs that a more experienced officer would have detected.  Be that as it may, I discovered the true meaning of dedication once my medical issues became a concern.  The Agency supported me in every way, providing access to the best physicians and specialists that the country had to offer.  I will always be  grateful for the support I received for my medical difficulties while still working.  The CIA Office of Medical Services is as good as it can possibly get, with brilliant on staff physicians and nurses, who travel at a moment's notice to treat unexpected illnesses.  The Agency will travel anywhere to collect the intelligence that the government needs to keep the American people safe.  Therefore, you will on occasion find officers suffering from conditions normally foreign to us.  The Office of Medical Services keeps the Agency healthy in both mind and body, because the need for intelligence never sleeps.

During my career, I discovered a support network within the Agency that went well beyond my expectations.  In one way or another, everyone working at the CIA does a job in support of life-saving intelligence.  In a nutshell, CIA Operations Officers spend time overseas, collecting confidential information that is vitally needed by our government.  The information is relayed back to the United States, where it is organized, formatted, and disseminated to the appropriate government agencies.  Its obviously much more complicated, and planning, hiring, training, and execution are all essential elements of the CIA's mission.  In order to collect the intelligence to keep America safe, the CIA must continue to attract the best and the brightest that our country has to offer.  I always tell interested persons that bringing a language skill to the table, especially Arabic, Russian or Chinese, is a good start, as is a history of some overseas living experience.  But not every Agency employee ends up, or even desires to go overseas.  For those that do, the key is being to assimilate oneself into foreign environments.  The name of the game is discretion; the art of NOT being able to draw attention to one's self.  Also, any officer serving overseas must understand the no-compromise importance of following the rules.  Espionage is not a game or a movie, and people can die if someone gets lazy.  A career with the CIA requires extreme discipline, as inevitably you will be exposed to classified information of one kind or another.  Understand before you even begin to fill out the application, that the organization can only be successful if the need for secrecy is paramount and non-negotiable.  If you have a natural habit of sharing things without thinking, then probably the CIA is not the place for you.  But if you enjoy current events and foreign affairs, if you have great discipline and want to be daily challenged, if you love Democracy and want to be a part of protecting national security, then without a doubt, give it some serious consideration.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Washington Post lest-than thoughtful editorial on Russia's interest in Syria.

Link: Washington Post article on Russian involvement in Syria.

I haven't read the New York times in years.  I'm not alone in my disdain for politically motivated interpretation of national and international events; the Gray Lady ain't what she used to be.  But I do still take a look at the Washington Post on occasion.  Today's editorial by Samuel Ramani isn't terrible, but it is selectively dismissive of certain facts that really shouldn't be left out of this discussion.  As his first point of conversation, Ramani introduces the issue of Putin's motivation for military involvement in Syria.  Basically, he gets this one right.  Putin has a handful of reasons to be interested in the Syrian conflict.  As we've discussed on this blog previously, Putin really wants that Mediterranean Sea Naval Base at Tartus.  Historically, Russia has always craved access to the Mediterranean.  Moscow's interest in the Mediterranean caused the Ottoman Empire centuries of concern.  Presently, the U.S. has naval facilities in the Mediterranean, and also in the Far East and in the Persian Gulf.  Putin must frequently ask himself why Russia, as an "equal" superpower, doesn't have the same access.  If Assad stays in power in Syria, and ISIS is defeated, you can bet that Russia will get that Naval Base at Tartus.  I'm not sure about Putin interest in billion-dollar arms deals.  I have no idea how Assad is accessing money these days, but I would be very surprised to learn that he's paying for all of the recent Russian largesse regarding military equipment and supplies.  Ramani is right-on about the importance of Syria as an opportunity for Putin to demonstrate his abilities as the supreme leader of a world's superpower.

Ramani makes great import of Russia's interest in "the legitimacy of the Assad regime" as the government and authority in Damascus.  I don't believe that Russia give's a rat's ass about the legitimacy of any government.  Its all about Russia's interests, not Assad's legitimacy.  The opposition that Putin's jets are currently blasting to bits in northeast Syria are arguably more legitimate than Assad ever was.  Don't you think that if Assad could have won a free and fair election, he would have called for one before we reached this stage?  Before Putin's arrival, Assad and his Ba'ath Party cronies had become so marginalized that they were close to losing the support of even the Alawite community.  If Assad were in any way a legitimate ruler, he wouldn't have been facing a rebellion that almost swept aside the Levant's largest army and air force.  Ramani comments about Putin's fear of the U.S. is trying to reshape the world in its own image.  Right after Obama pulled U.S. troops out of Syria, and laid out a plan to do the same in Afghanistan?  Actually, if we turn the clock back just a bit, we see Russian interference in Georgia, and more recently, the outright invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  So who is trying to reshape the world here, Putin or the United States?  Putin may publicly accuse the United States of imperialist intentions, but its nothing more than typical Russian obfuscation.  In the last seven years, the United States has been about as expansionist as Botswana.

I agree with Ramani that Putin is determined to spread the message loud and clear that Russia will not be ignored.  But Russia's intervention in Syria, with its proxy Iran alongside, is really about regional power and damaging U.S. influence in the Middle East.  Putin is a megalomaniac and he does want to be acknowledged as the world leader who vanquished ISIS.  I do not envision a Russian "bloc of allies" in the Middle East, the likes of which we saw in the days of Gamal Abdel Nassar and Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez.  Putin is definitely living in the moment, and recognizes that the leadership vacuum that currently exists vis-√†-vis the international community and ISIS, may not last past 2016 and the next U.S. presidential election.  Also, Russia's closest ally in the region is Iran, who leaders have a habit of spitting in every direction, and Tehran may not always agree with Russian strategy.  Iran has serious ideas about its own regional position, and Iraq may end up causing disagreements between the two "new friends".  Putin is aware that he has limited time to accomplish his goals.  Expect to see more aggressive action by Russia against ISIS.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Foreign Policy Armageddon: Obama fiddles as the Middle East burns.

Link: Syria is showplace for Russia's new military.

We keep waiting for the Obama Administration to introduce a flurry of new policy initiatives to counter the aggressive movements made by Russia in Syria and Iraq, but all we get from the Oval Office is diplomatic double-speak.  The fact is, it appears that the job of President no longer interests Barack Obama, and he's just counting down the days until he can become a permanent fixture on the celebrity golf circuit.  Actually, I'm convinced that Obama has one more important presidential decision to make before 2016 comes to an end.  I believe Obama will use Executive Action to provide a direct path to citizenship for up to twenty million illegal aliens living in the United States.
We will hear the tired excuse that Congress is broken and that the American people deserve action.  I guess the American people don't deserve action as far as the Middle East is concerned, regardless of our security concerns and the fact that every country in the region short of Iran is swarming with U.S. intelligence officers, military training specialists, diplomats, aid workers, State Department personnel, evangelists, and last and least, media correspondents.  I can only assume that Europe has its fair share of citizens traipsing around Baghdad, Damascus, Amman and Jerusalem as well.  One interesting development to note about the European nations is their willingness to follow the United States hook, line, and sinker since Barack Obama took office.  I haven't decided if its just another symptom of Obamamania, or fear on the part of the Merkels and the Hollandes that their people would remove them from office if they step out of the Obama line. 

One thing is certain: now would be an ideal time to create a coalition to either oppose Putin's heavy-handedness, or build a military coalition to fight ISIS side-by-side with the Russians.  It would allow the west to reap some of the good press that will result from the squashing of the Islamic State.  How can I be sure that Europe would support an appeal from Obama for some kind of collective response to Russia's heavy-handed military intrusion into Syria?  For the answer, all that is needed is a simple review of every policy move made by Obama since he took office.  Count the times that his initiatives were in the smallest manner opposed or criticized by a European government outside of Hungary; probably never.  Actually, all you need to do is observe how quickly the European leaders suffered "shrinkage" when Putin pushed the envelope on Ukraine.  Obama was quick to announce that NOTHING would make him take steps harsher than sanctions in response to blatant Russian aggression.  Obama provided the Russians with the European, NATO and U.S. strategy in one fell swoop:  regardless of what you do, Mr. Putin, you will never have to deal with anything more uncomfortable than economic sanctions, which in reality will only end up hurting the middle-class and poor in Russia.  Putin with his KGB background has never expressed the slightest sympathy for the average Russian.  Once Putin knew Obama's limits, he announced the permanent annexation of Crimea.  

Back to the Middle East, where President Obama continues to argue that he sits in a position of "strength", and Russia "argues from a position of weakness".  Anyone who makes that statement is trying to convince an audience of something that they themselves know to be untrue.  Obama has been drowning in sycophant bullshit for so long, that he thinks he can get away with anything.  Hell, what am I taking about; he can.  A treaty with Iran that legitimizes their in-your-face effort to obtain a home-brewed nuclear weapon (just like whiskey, home brew is always better than purchased, because if you want more, you can always make it yourself), turns Inspections into an embarrassing waste of time, and gives the Ayatollahs access to buy freely from the world's most modern stockpiles of weapons, is declared a victory by Obama.  Also, he doesn't see any connection whatsoever to the return of ISIS to Iraq and the simultaneous departure of most of the U.S. military personnel.  The Obama Administration's policy vs-a-vis the Arab World is so convoluted, that even the press seems about ready to throw in the towel.   I give Obama some credit; in other regions, including the South China Sea, Obama appears willing to allow the experts to run the show, i.e. the U.S. Navy.  In fact, for some time it appeared that he was determined not to allow the Taliban to regenerate in Afghanistan.  But the Taliban are like cactus; sooner or later, they'll be back.  The key is, when one of those nasty bastards shows his bearded mug in public, he should have a 500-lb bomb dropped in his lap. Considering the number of troops that have been withdrawn from Afghanistan in the last two years, I'm not optimistic regarding the success of the above-mentioned Operation Bomb the Bad Guys.

Russia is running rampant, using Turkey as its roadmap to Syria, eliminating the groups that originally opposed Bashar al-Assad, and making friends in Baghdad by providing intelligence on ISIS to the Iraqi military.  Every step seems well-thought and executed, with the Iranians along for the ride.  The relationship between Tehran and Moscow has become increasingly friendly as the Russians expressed their willingness to sell anything that wasn't cemented down, including nuclear-related goodies.  In my next blog post, we will discuss what Iran hopes to gain from its involvement in Iraq and its evolving partnership with Russia.   

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Iraqi Security Forces beginning final push on Ramadi, while Iranian-backed Shi'a militias confront Baiji.

Link: Iraqis closing in on Ramadi.

In May, 2015, forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), sometimes referred to as ISIL, captured the Sunni controlled city of Ramadi, which is located in the far east of Anbar Province, within roughly sixty miles of Baghdad.  ISIS was also able to capture the city of Fallujah, which is even closer to the capital city.  Americans may remember the names "Ramadi" and "Fallujah", as U.S. military forces had a difficult time clearing both cities of insurgents during the Iraq conflict.  Ramadi and Fallujah are part of a string of Sunni-dominated cities in Anbar that stretch from Ramadi in the east to Qa'im in the west.  There has been some concern that the Sunni community in Iraq might eventually join ISIS in an effort to avoid domination by Iran and the Iraqi Shi'a population.  Following the occupation of Ramadi by ISIS in May, the government in Baghdad made the recapture of the city its highest military priority.  In July, amid much fanfare, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), alongside elements of the Iraqi Police, launched an offensive aimed not only at Ramadi, but to rid Anbar Province of ISIS completely.  As a sign of cooperation, the Iranian backed Shi'a militias (or the Popular Mobilization Units, as they prefer to be called) would attack Fallujah simultaneously.  For both the militias and the ISF, the road west to Ramadi and Fallujah has been costly and increasingly difficult.  At times, the Iraqi General Command expressed frustration with what they saw as lack of support from the U.S.-led coalition air campaign.  Also, ISIS utilized distraction-attacks in other provinces to encourage respective governors to demand a return of all provincial troops taking part in the Anbar offensive.  As the ISF and the militias slowly moved closer to their targets, ISIS has increased SVBIED attacks, not to mention the booby traps left behind as ISIS strategically retreats and redeploys.  As of October 2015, it is estimated that ISIS has somewhere in between 600 and 1000 fighters hunkered down in Ramadi (I have found no estimates of the ISIS forces in Fallujah)  As the ISF and the militias begin what they hope is the last phase of the offensive, it has become apparent that ISIS has rigged the entire inner city of Ramadi with IEDs and various just-as-deadly booby traps.  The air coalition and the Iraqi General Staff have moved past any disagreements, and during the last month, air sorties in and around Ramadi and Fallujah have caused ISIS serious casualties.  Certain roads in and out of both cities have remained open, which has allowed supplies and fighters to get through.  Regardless, for the sake of the independence of the Abadi Administration in Baghdad, Ramadi must be recaptured.

If Ramadi remains under ISIS control, it will reflect negatively on the United States.  The ISF have been trained by U.S. specialists, and the coalition air campaign is perceived as basically controlled by the Pentagon.  Failure to take Ramadi would result in tremendous criticism of the Abadi Administration's close relationship with the United States.  Can you imagine if ISIS keeps control of Ramadi, but Fallujah falls to the militias?  This would provide the Iranians and their Iraqi supporters will all the ammunition they need to force Abadi into adopting a more pro-Iranian policy.  With the Shi'a community in control of the government, and the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Qassim Suleimani already spotted in Baiji, there can be no doubt that the Iranians intend to push the United States out of Iraq for good.  Certainly the success of militias operations led by Iranian military personnel, combined with the failure of the U.S.-supported ISF offensive in Anbar, will impact the amount of influence the Iranians have in Baghdad, not to mention the all-important battle for hearts-and-minds.  Since our precipitous military departure from Iraq in 2010, leaving building projects unfinished and, more importantly, military training programs incomplete, the Iranians have kept up a media campaign to portray the United States as undependable.  Once the Iranians drop the pretense and we see Iranian military forces on the ground in Iraq, then the game will be over.  Iran, alongside its ISF partner, will force ISIS out of Iraq and back into the deserts of Syria, where the Russian Air Force and Special Forces will be waiting.  The International Community will give thanks, appropriately, to Russia and Iran, for their willingness to sacrifice the lives of their sons and daughters in the noble effort to destroy ISIS.  That's when things will get really interesting...... 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Assad taking full advantage of Russian airpower to hammer internal opposition, regain lost territory.

Link: Russian airstrikes aimed at supporting Syrian regime offensive.

In an interview with state-run Russian media, Vladimir Putin concedes that Russia's intervention in Syria is intended to "stabilize the legitimate government" of de facto President Bashar al-Assad.  Only from Putin's perspective can the rule of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Ba'ath Party be considered legitimate.  Just how unpopular with the Syrian people is Assad?  Before the arrival of opportunistic ISIS on the Syrian battlefield, Assad had more than a dozen internal opposition groups that had taken up arms to remove him from power.  In the beginning, there was hope that Assad would fall as quickly as the other despots during the Arab Spring, but infighting amongst the opposition, which included the sometimes-difficult Kurds, allowed Assad to survive one military defeat after another.  The battlefield losses sustained by regime forces culminated in the capture by ISIS of Tabqa Air Force Base and at least two MIG 21B fighters in late August 2014.  Putin's strategy to focus on the Syrian opposition as opposed to ISIS supports two goals.  Assad has unleashed an offensive in northwest Syria in support of the vocal Alawite minority that has long been a loyal supporter, and Russian airpower has been laying waste to Syrian opposition positions standing in the way of the regime offensive.  More importantly, Putin is taking advantage of the current malaise in Washington DC to decimate the only U.S. allies on the ground in Syria.  If Putin had elected to conduct a more balanced air campaign, with equal number of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra targets as Syrian opposition, then opposition to Russia's action might have had time to coalesce.  The U.S. Congress may have gotten involved, given the amount of taxpayer's money that has been spent on the Syrian opposition which is now getting blown to pieces by Russian bombs.  Putin astutely reckoned that even Obama would be forced to act eventually, so he is destroying the organized opposition to Assad first, so that after ISIS has been defeated, Russian puppet Assad will be the only player left standing.  Putin was not about to sacrifice Russian troops and airpower to destroy ISIS, only to watch the Syrian people rally in support of Assad's opposition.  By the time the Russian Air Force is finished, there will no longer be a Syrian opposition.

The Russians realize that they may be facing a shrinking window.  Not surprisingly, the raggedy bunch of cutthroats that identifies itself as an secessionist movement in Ukraine, has clammed up as of late.  It would appear that Putin does not want to antagonize the Ukrainian military while Russian resources are tied up elsewhere.  Sure the Russians have more than enough equipment and soldiers to conduct military operations on separate fronts, but wars cost money, and with the Russian economy already in tatters, Putin would like to avoid having to finance the new enterprise in Syria while continuing to subsidize the rebellion in Ukraine.  According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Russian Air Force conducted over 250 strikes in between 9-12 October.  In contrast, on October 8, the Russians only flew 20 missions in Syria.  Putin has a timetable, but he can't be certain just how much time he will have, before someone in the west decides to call his bluff.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hillary Clinton and the Benghazi Investigation.

Link: Email controversy and Benghazi continue to haunt Hillary Clinton.

It is beginning to seem as if the House of Representatives Committee investigating the Benghazi tragedy in which four Americans were murdered will never end.  The House Select Committee on Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi was initially proposed by then-House Majority Leader John Boehner.  The first hearing held by the committee was in September 2014, which, when I make use of my superior math skills, means we have been subsidizing this investigation for over one year.  One year doesn't seem to be that long in my mind, compared to some of the other committees we have watched evolve on Capitol Hill, but I am curious what goal this particular committee is trying to reach.  It would seem to me that we know the pertinent details regarding the events of the Benghazi terrorist attack, including what occurred in the hours beforehand.  For many months, various different and often false versions of what occurred that night in Benghazi have been disseminated by the mainstream press both in the United States and abroad.  Unfortunately, even today, most people don't know even the basic facts regarding what transpired that evening.  Here are those facts, at least the ones that I'm comfortable saying are accurate.

The 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack involved two separate locations.  The initial attack was directed at the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, and the second attack occurred at an Annex that was utilized by the CIA, who had the largest contingent of U.S. personnel in the city.  The attack began just after U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, had concluded a meeting with a Turkish diplomat.  Just prior to the assault on the compound, Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Scott Strickland noted to himself that the streets outside the Consulate seemed very quiet and empty.   Unexpectedly, the Consulate compound was quickly assaulted by armed groups, and the complete lack of a sufficient number of State Department Security personnel became obvious.  At the time of the assault, Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Scott Strickland directed Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith, an Information Management Specialist, to utilize the main Consulate building's "Safe Haven".  Safe Havens are areas particularly designated for shelter and safety in just such a situation.  S/A Strickland stayed with Stevens and Smith in the Safe Haven, while a few other security personnel left the main building to retrieve their M4 rifles and other equipment.  The attackers entered the main building, and after unsuccessfully attempting to break into the Safe Haven, began to pour petrol on the floor and set fires.  Strickland decided it was best to leave the building, and instructing Stevens and Smith to follow, climbed out a bathroom window.  As the smoke intensified, Strickland waited for both Stevens and Smith, neither of whom followed.  Strickland proceeded to the roof of the Consulate and attempted to radio other State Department security officers.  Later Smith's body was discovered, as he had apparently succumbed to smoke inhalation.  Stevens was discovered by friendly locals, who transported him to the hospital in the hope of saving his life.  Although the locals claim that Stevens was alive when he was discovered, the Hospital staff declared the Ambassador deceased as a result of smoke inhalation, after ninety minutes of attempted resuscitation.  As for the various rumors that persist regarding the possibility that Stevens was physically assaulted before his death, I have no comment.

The second incident occurred at an Annex roughly a mile from the Consulate compound, which was being used by the CIA.  Just after midnight, the Annex came under attack.  Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, CIA contractors hired as security personnel, were at the Annex.  They defended their position for hours from the roof, before a mortar round hit in close proximity and killed Woods.  As Doherty attempted to take cover, another round, part of the same barrage, killed Doherty instantly.  For many months I lived under the incorrect assumption that the four heroes who died in Benghazi had perished together, in the same location.  Actually, the incidents that took the lives of Stevens, Smith, Woods and Doherty, occurred at two separate locations and at different times.

Immediately following the tragedy, the Obama Administration was heavily criticized for blaming the attacks on a "spontaneous demonstration of anger as a result of the U.S. distribution of a film which some Muslims believe to be sacrilegious".  Allegedly, regular citizens of Benghazi, angered by the release of this film (assuming, of course, that the Muslim population of Benghazi is pious), spontaneously retrieved automatic weapons, machine guns, and grenade launchers, and rushed out to attack the U.S. Consulate, and later the Consulate Annex.  The obvious question the morning after the attack, is why didn't the State Department have more security personnel in place, and second, why weren't additional military resources brought in?  The Administration, by blaming the attack on the unexpected release of this film and the "spontaneous" expression of anger on the part of Benghazi Muslims, wanted to avoid blame for not having adequate security measures in place.  In other words, "people died because this movie really pissed off the Muslims, who unexpectedly sacked the Consulate; it had nothing to do with not having a valid security plan."  Actually, Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi on that particular day to review plans for a new cultural center and to modernize a hospital; he was also tasked with preparing a report on security issues related to the transition of the Consulate from a temporary facility to a permanent one. 

The reason why Hillary Clinton has been her own worst enemy throughout this Benghazi crisis is her apparent inability to accept blame for anything.  It will eventually be her political undoing.  Most Americans, myself included, waited to hear the Secretary of State hold a news conference to discuss Benghazi.  The American people wanted to hear Hillary comment that a terrible tragedy had occurred which resulted in the painful loss of four American heroes.  Hillary needed to assure the American people that no stone would go unturned to locate and bring to justice the persons responsible and that a full investigation would take place to make sure this terrible event would never happen again.  She needed to say, "but regardless of the particular details, I am Secretary of State, and the responsibility for those people who lost their lives rests with me."  Instead, we got distraction, diversion, and pointed fingers.  The American people wanted to know why an American Ambassador was running around in a warzone without adequate security.  They want to know why U.S. Consulate employees (Sean Smith) were working in a hostile warzone without the necessary protection.  We've heard a few attempts at answers, and not surprisingly one of the excuses laid the blame at the feet of President George W. Bush.  As for the committee itself, there can be no doubt that the GOP is using this investigation to drill as many holes into Hillary's presidential ambitions as possible.  The real damage may not come from Benghazi, but from a tangential issue that popped up during the committee's investigation: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private server to conduct official business, and, at times, pass confidential information.  I think we can expect to see the Benghazi investigation begin to fade, as the "emailgate" springs to life.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Russia has declared war on any groups opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad; who are they?

Link: Russian missiles crash in Iran.

Russia is demonstrating its military capabilities in the Syrian theater, by launching multiple bombing raids and missile launches, targeting ISIS positions.  After initially focusing on internal Syrian opposition targets, Russia has expanded its hit list to include ISIS-held positions.  The missile barrage, launched from Russian warships in the Caspian Sea, was apparently intended to reinforce the message that not only does Russia have the determination to conduct all-out war, it also has the capacity and reach to do so.  Although the Russians have started conducting bombing sorties against ISIS forces, the Free Syrian Army, an anti-Assad organization with very close ties to the United States, was also among today's targets.  As the Russians become more familiar with the Syrian political environment, they will realize that the participants in this conflict are not limited to the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, Syrian Kurds, and forces loyal to de facto President Bashar al-Assad.  Since Russia has declared war on all the organizations opposing the Syrian Ba'ath Party and Assad, lets review some of the groups who are determined to implement regime change in Damascus:

Aleppo Province:
Aleppo Conquest is an anti-regime, anti-ISIS group that is singularly focused on    
the liberation of Aleppo City.
 Ansar al-Sharia is also active in Aleppo and is opposed to the Assad regime.  But Ansar al-Sharia is a fundamentalist group with possible ties to ISIS.  Their goal is to introduce Sharia Law to Aleppo City.
The group Euphrates Volcano is an interesting group, who do not necessarily oppose the Assad government, but fights against ISIS and other Islamist and Kurdish extremist factions.

Idlib Province:
Jaysh al-Fatah Idlib is exclusively focused on eliminating all regime forces in Idlib Province.
The group Battle of Victory is opposed to the Assad regime, and is determined to occupy the city of Jisr al-Shughour.

Hama Province:
Jaysh al-Fatah Idlib is also active in Hama Province, and is determined to keep the Sahel al-Ghab plain from remaining in government hands.
Jaysh L-Nasr is opposed to the Assad regime, and can be found in small units, operating throughout Syria.

Homs Province:
Victory of the Oppressed is opposed to both the Assad regime and ISIS, and works to provide support to the local population.

Damascus Province:
The Eastern Ghouta Unified Command is a group focused on liberating the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus from regime occupation.  Ghouta envisions a community without the Assad puppets, that provides representation and works to improve the lives of the local population.
One Flag Alliance is dedicated to the total overthrow of the Assad regime.
Jaysh al-Fatah Qalamoun fights to liberate the Qalamoun region from regime and Hezbollah forces. The Gathering of Western Qalamoun is also opposed to the Assad regime and the presence of Hezbollah in Syria.
The Eastern Qalamoun Operations Room is opposed to both the regime and ISIS.

Dera'a and Quneitra Province:
Jaysh al-Harmoun is focused on eliminating the Assad regime elements southwest of Damascus. Jaysh al-Fatah al-Janoub fights to liberate the suburbs of Western Ghouta in Damascus from the Assad Regime.
The Southern Front is opposed to tyranny and extremism, and fights to bring representative government to the Syrian people.

Friday, October 9, 2015

How serious is the most recent resurgence of the Taliban?

Link: Taliban forces making gains in Kunduz.

In the last few weeks, the Taliban have demonstrated the ability to rise from the ashes once again.  Just a few years past, many thought that the Taliban had become just a footnote in Afghan history.  The nation was at peace, and the Afghan people seemed to embrace the idea of a more open, modern society.  Satellite dishes popped up everywhere, including outside of the capital city, and internet cafes could be found on just about every corner in Kabul.  Most impressive was the school attendance statistics, with boys and girls attending classes all over the country.  The freedom with which young Afghans embraced education, both grade school and secondary, was an indication that he continued presence of NATO and U.S. military forces was providing a strong sense of security.  But insidious organizations like the Taliban, ISIS, and Al-Qaida, never really go away.  They will always find another avenue of anger, disappointment and rage to tap into and use to their advantage.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban has always directed their recruitment efforts at the young make section of the population.  Many young men in Afghanistan have difficult lives and not much hope for a better future.  The Taliban blames this on the pervading influence of western culture, and exhorts their target audience to return to Islam, with its familiar traditions and promises of eternal life, scores of virgins, and whatever else is included in the brochure.  Another strong appeal for young Afghan men is the Taliban strict interpretation of the Quran in its instruction regarding women.  The idea of a totally subservient, uneducated wife, always waiting at home and never leaving the house without a burqa, is appealing.  Not to mention that in Taliban society, a woman is not allowed to disagree with her husband.  Beatings are common, and on the occurrence of "accidental" death, no one is prosecuted.  The Taliban has been beaten before and re-emerged, as we are seeing again today.  The ability to always appeal to the same particular common denominators guarantees that they will always have a certain percentage of the population who are willing to drink the Taliban Kool-Aid.

Following the successful September 28 offensive against Kunduz city, the Taliban have increased operational activity all throughout northern Afghanistan.  The initial display of strength has been troubling to NATO and U.S. military officials currently serving in Afghanistan.  The attempt to invest Kunduz city was expected, but the Taliban's ability to conduct large offensive operations in other provinces was not anticipated.  All intelligence had pointed to a resurgence in Taliban influence and numbers, but the Taliban is demonstrating an offensive capacity, including weapons and supplies, that was unknown before the week of September 28th.  It appears that the intel folks will have to review their assessment.  Interestingly, some concern is already being expressed regarding the defense of the capital Kabul.  A quick glance at Iraq reveals a similar scenario.  Iraq has Ramadi, Afghanistan has Kunduz; both the extremists and the government are willing to expend great resources to gain full control of this particular city.  In the last year or so, concern has been raised regarding the threat that ISIS poses to Baghdad.  With ISIS able to conduct operations in Diyala Province to the east of Baghdad, Salah al-Din to the north and Anbar to the west, Iraq's capital city is indeed in a difficult position, although ISIS' ability to actually lay siege to such a large city is in question.  Kabul is also under threat, but just how long it will take the Taliban to reach that point is unknown.  The Taliban will be just as interested in taking Kabul as ISIS is in occupying Baghdad because for many average Afghans the news that Kabul is under the control of the Taliban is all they would need to fall back into the extremist footstep.  Due to predictable Taliban infighting, the Afghan government does have some time to prepare its Armed Forces for a counter-offensive in the north, probably focusing on the recapture of Kunduz.  As far as the Taliban are concerned, Mullah Akthar Mansour is still consolidating his power base by establishing a presence in Badakhshan, Takhar and Bakhlan Provinces.  No doubt the current offensives in Jowzjan, Faryab, and Farah Provinces were also part of that effort.   

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

ISIS continues attacks on provincial targets, as civilain casualties mount.

Link: Rare ISIS VBIED in Basra.

As the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue to inch closer to the strategic areas of Ramadi, ISIS reminds Baghdad of the breadth of its reach, as Vehicle-Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) are detonated in suburban areas of Baghdad, Diyala Province, and south of Basra.  The attack in Zubair, south of Basra was especially concerning as only one previous VBIED has ever been detonated this far south.  The weekend of bloodshed is a clear indication that ISIS will not deter from its overall plan to make the provinces of Iraq more and more difficult to govern.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in Diyala Province, where a VBIED in the town of Khalis casts doubt on the success of recent security measures taken by the militias/Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs).  With much of the police manpower at the front, supplementing the Armed Forces, the PMUs have taken a more visible role in providing security on the streets of Iraq.  The PMUs have elaborate mechanisms in place to defeat the attempts to successfully detonate a VBIED.  All of the roads are monitored closely, with numerous checkpoints and roadblocks.  Somehow, ISIS continues to get VBIEDs on the roads.  Almost every VBIED has been driven by a single male, usually in his 20's.  Unfortunately, in Iraq, the highways are full of cars whose only passenger is the young man behind the wheel.  The only truly effective way to eliminate the use of vehicles as moving bombs is to force everyone to either walk, bicycle, or use public transportation.  Sadly, this would probably result in the use of buses as mass killing machines.

With recent VBIED attacks in Baghdad, Diyala, Basra and Salah al-Din Provinces, ISIS continues to demonstrate basic freedom of movement.  The ISF has also ben unable to permanently cut the roads between Fallujah and Ramadi.  ISIS is able to move personnel and supplies into Ramadi, although with the Allied Air Campaign in full swing and the ISF artillery getting more and more accurate, I wouldn't chance a trip on that road.  Why haven't all the roads leading into and out of Ramadi and Fallujah been completely destroyed?  Is it out of concern for the number of civilians who still live in these communities and rely on the roads for food, medical care, and as a means of last-minute evacuation?  No one has been able to come up with a reliable figure as to how many civilians remain in Fallujah and Ramadi (it appears that Fallujah is less deserted than Ramadi), but it can't be a pleasant place to be at the moment.  What is most frustrating is that while the government is training its resources to the breaking point in an attempt to recapture Ramadi, ISIS is able to plan and execute daily VBIED attacks in Baghdad and numerous bordering provinces.  The giant pink elephant in everyone's living room at present, though, is Ramadi- what is going on in Ramadi?  Are the special police units and military actually making daily progress in retaking the city, or have we passed the point for reasonable expectation of victory?  In fact, does evidence exist that the ISF has broken off offensive operations in Ramadi and Fallujah?  Is the government just waiting for the best time to spill the bad news?  Serious fighting continues in and around Baiji and in Salad al-Din Province, and the Kurds in the north regularly find ways to ambush ISIS patrols, so how important is Ramadi?  From a confidence perspective, it means everything.  If the government announces a general retreat from Anbar, then they had better be prepared to invite the Iranian Army across the border, because someone has to stop ISIS before they storm Baghdad.  Actually, a military collapse would provide just the justification for direct Iranian military intervention.  The players would then be in place for Putin's grand scheme.  The Russians destroy Assad's opposition in Syria, then tackle ISIS head-on, while the Iranians engage ISIS in Iraq.  Ideally, in the end, with ISIS vanquished, the Russians and the Iranians would meet up and shake hands, like the Russians and the Americans/British did in April 1945 at the River Elbe in Germany.  Putin would be hailed as a tremendous leader and the man of the hour, and the Iranians would have totally reformed their image, and could for the most part dictate the state of affairs in the Persian Gulf.  Lets meet in year, same time, same place, and see how my prognostications played out.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Update: Russian plans for an offensive in Syria using Iranian and militia troops and Russian air support.

Link: Russian airstrikes in Syria continue to target anti-Assad forces, not ISIS.

Everyday we get a better idea exactly what Vladimir Putin intends to do in Syria.  Normally, the Russians would attempt to be a bit discreet, but Putin realizes that he is experiencing a rare moment of complete freedom to do as he pleases.  The Russians are moving quickly, before someone in the international community decides to object and attempt to slow things down.  One would have thought that Putin would have been a bit more subtle with his intention to destroy the anti-Assad indigenous movement first, but he has decided it is more prudent to act quickly, before any real opposition can manifest itself.  During three days of bombing sorties, the Russians exclusively targeted anti-Assad forces, as the disinformation campaign went into gear, identifying the locations bombed as the "ISIS command center at Raqqah City".  Satellite imagery identifies the town of Al Latamneh in Hama Province as being the actual target.  The Russians will continue to spin a web of disinformation at every opportunity, as they have learned from the Ukraine crisis that disseminating false information is effective.  The worst tragedy is that it appears the majority of the casualties in three days of Russian airstrikes haven't even been anti-Assad combatants, but civilians.  Not that the Russians mind.  Killing civilians is a very useful motivational tool.  And to think just a few weeks ago, Europe and the United States were up in arms over the photograph of one drowned Syrian child.

For years, we have wondered what location on the relatively meager Syrian coastline would the Russians chose for their Mediterranean Naval Base.  I thought that Putin would want to build a shiny, new base in Latakia, but it appears from construction that has already started, that the base will be at Tartus instead.  Tartus, which is south of Latakia and a few kilometers north of the Lebanese border, has some existing port facilities, which are proving useful to the Russians, who are conducting naval and amphibious exercises just offshore.  It is believed that Putin will soon grant "combatant status" to the Russian troops already in Syria, and evidence strongly suggests that Russia is preparing for a broader military intervention than repeatedly claimed by Moscow.  With the announcement of the Iran/Iraq/Russia joint combat coordination center in Baghdad, we considered the possibility that the Iranian government would order full military intervention in Iraq, on the grounds of self defense, as ISIS attacks in Diyala Province are having an impact on neighboring Iran.  The persistent presence of ISIS in Diyala gives the Iranians the justification for greater involvement.  It seemed the ideal scenario for Iran, fighting alongside the militias and the Iraqi Security Forces, to pressure ISIS from the east, while Russian forces attacked from the west in Syria.  At this point, Putin no longer sees the battlefield as being separated by national boundaries, and he is prudent in his assessment.  ISIS must be dealt with on all available fronts, with as much pressure as can be applied.  Since Iranian troops, along with some militia units, have arrived in Syria, the fear that Iran will directly intervene in Iraq, although still a likely possibility, has lessened somewhat.

At the moment, the goal for Russia is to successfully re-introduce Bashar al-Assad to the international community as the legitimate president of Syria.  It is believed that the Russians are planning an operation to retake the ancient city of Palmyra, which will provide Assad with a tremendous publicity opportunity.  Ideally, the recapture of Palmyra (by Syrian regime forces, no doubt) will remind the Syrian people that Assad is a great warrior who will eventually outlast his enemies.  Why Putin insists on propping up Assad is still a bit of a mystery.  He could remove Assad, which would please the Turks and the Gulf Arabs immensely, and install another pro-Russian government.  But for the moment, Assad is experiencing a rejuvenation, as his forces are re-equipped and greatly assisted by the Russian air campaign.  The West must be very careful, that the anti-Assad groups that we have been supporting, don't turn to Al-Qaeda surrogate Jabhat al-Nusra for assistance.  Its a real possibility, as all they have seen since Russia's arrival on the scene, is typical diplomatic hyperbole.  U.S. Secretary of State has threatened that the U.S.-led air coalition might very well increase its anti-ISIS bombing sorties in Syria, as opposed to ending them altogether, as Russia has demanded.  If it is possible to increase the bombing sorties against ISIS, why weren't we doing so before the Russians arrived?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Affghanistan: the Taliban launches broad, coordinated offensive in nine northern districts.

Link: Taliban offensive in northern Afghanistan.

I can't recall the last time I devoted an entire post to Afghanistan.  I've been living in a cycle of world events that includes only Syria, Iraq, Iran and Ukraine.  I admit its nice to focus on a different topic, but the Taliban, who are responsible for the relocation of my attention, won't be receiving a thank you card.  In 2011 President Obama ordered the withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops, and another 23,000 were removed in 2012.  The United States continues to keep 10,000 mostly Special Forces troops in country, in an effort to both train and bolster the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  Prior to 2011, the Taliban had for the most part lost its authority in Afghanistan.  Even in areas traditionally loyal to the Taliban, the government was making inroads building schools and introducing technology.  There was hope that the Taliban was gone for good, and with the Taliban goes Al-Qaeda.  Not surprisingly, the Taliban still existed, but was hunkered down, patiently waiting for the opportunity to return.  The reality is, if the Taliban had been obliged to stay in hibernation for an extended period of time, and some of the more grizzled, fanatical leaders had died, the organization itself very well may have disappeared.  But the extremists know us all too well, as was demonstrated in the deserts of Western Iraq at about the same time.  The Taliban understood that a political change had occurred in Washington DC, and the new man in charge wanted to pull the U.S. military out of Afghanistan as quickly as politically expedient.  Their job was to be patient, because without a doubt, the ANSF would eventually collapse, as they had in the past.  Once the U.S. began withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Taliban slowly began to re-emerge.  The more troops withdrawn, the more attacks by the Taliban on Afghan military or government targets.  Of course, the withdrawal in Iraq was much more precipitous; the Iraqi Army was in no way ready to take the field in battle.  This information wasn't confidential, and ISIS immediately took advantage by crossing into the western deserts of Iraq from Syria, and beginning an offensive that would take them to the gates of Tikrit.  The rejuvenation of the Taliban has taken a bit more time, as U.S. and NATO forces continue to provide support to the ANSF.

The recent military advances by the Taliban involve nine northern provinces of Afghanistan, and comes on the heels of the occupation of Kunduz.  Its fascinating how some of the events in Iraq seem to mirror events in Afghanistan.  Just as the Iraqi forces attempted to retake Ramadi bit by bit after it initially fell to ISIS, the ANSF are trying to regain Kunduz one neighborhood at a time.  And just as ISIS took advantage of the focus on Ramadi to expand their presence to areas north, south, and east of Baghdad, the Taliban is using the capture of Kunduz as a jumping-off point for further offensive activity in northern Afghanistan.  The re-emergence of the Taliban is no great surprise, and was discussed as a real possibility on a regular basis in the media.  Frankly speaking, their strength and level of organization and military sophistication are a bit of a surprise to us.  The amount of territory involved in this broad attack is very discouraging, and brings into question the long-term security of the capital city.  Once before, President Obama increased troop levels in Afghanistan; would he consider doing so, this late in his term?  Don't hold your breath.  What happens in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and even sad-and-forgotten Ukraine, will involve the U.S. only as long as diplomacy is involved.  The U.S. may continue the Coalition Air Campaign, but that is as far as it goes.  Until a new president is sworn in, the U.S. will not involve ground forces in a foreign conflict.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

It begins: Russian disinformation campaign, now a fixture in the Ukrainian crisis, arrives in Syria.

Link: Russians targeting Syrian regime opposition as opposed to ISIS.

As Russia begins its military campaign in Syria, the international community is discovering the reality behind President Vladimir Putin's motivations.  Putin has cloaked his intervention in Syria as a decision to destroy ISIS and end the civilian casualties and refugees that have resulted from the conflict.  Excuse the clich√©, but it doesn't take a Rocket Scientist to determine that Putin is targeting ISIS, but only as it is part and parcel of the operation to save the Russian puppet regime of de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Since it will be necessary to destroy ISIS in order to save Assad's skin, Russia, which is slowly unveiling is strategy to use its ally Iran to pressure ISIS from the east, the Russian military machine will eventually get around to targeting ISIS forces.  But ISIS was a bit "Johnny-come-lately" to the Syrian conflict.  Readers will recall that an evolving, determined opposition to the Assad regime was in place and making progress, albeit at a less-than intimidating pace, before ISIS began its main offensive operations in Syria.  It should come as no surprise that the first targets of Russia's military fist are the Syrian opposition groups who are fighting the despotic and decrepit Syrian Ba'ath Party and Bashar al-Assad.  Russian jets launched bombing sorties against the opposition-held community of Talbisah in northern Homs Governorate, with the official death count at thirty-three so far.  Like an old friend, the Russian disinformation machine immediately announced the successful initial bombing raids "against ISIS targets".  Just how do you say, "bullshit" in Russian?

For those of you who haven't been following the Ukraine crisis closely, you will soon get to know the Russian media campaign and its bellicose sycophants.  These political activists masquerading as journalists are still trying to blame the United States and the Ukrainian Air Force for the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), even though western media was able to disseminate photographs of the Russian-made Buk Surface to Air Missile System (initially, the Russian press announced that that two Ukrainian Air Force jets, with the help of U.S. radar, had purposely targeted and destroyed MH17; when that theory and its doctored photographic "evidence" was laughed off the front pages, others were proffered, including that the Ukrainians THEMSELVES used a Buk to shoot down the civilian airliner).  Since the West has had enough time to forget the crash site photographs of mangled children and personal belongings, the same media machine is now engaged in blaming every aggressive action taken by the Ukrainian separatists as a provocation on the part of Ukraine.  In a short conversation I had with a Ukrainian journalist out of Kiev, he made the interesting point that the Russian media covering the Ukrainian conflict could not claim even one accurate storyline on its behalf, since the crisis began.  Because the western press feels some obligation to present both sides of an issue, we always get the Russian version of events, usually just after the truth has been reported.  Be prepared; the Russian media is an arm of the Putin regime and will only disseminate information, accurate or not, that subscribes to the desired storyline.

Now that we realize that Putin is going to thrash with a vengeance even those opposition groups who are pro-Democracy and only wanting the removal of Assad, what impact will this have on U.S. policy?  On one hand, the Obama Administration refused to agree to Russian demands that the U.S. suspend the Coalition Air Campaign, but on the other hand, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States would welcome Russian airstrikes, if they are targeting ISIS positions.  At this stage, I'm almost sympathetic to John Kerry, given the totally reactive policy he is forced to defend.  Did the Obama Administration consider Russian intervention, and if so, what was the intended response?  Since we haven't seen a response, only reactionary commentary, we can only surmise that a plan doesn't exist.  Given recent Russian maneuvers in Iraq, which appear to create a military communication network between Russia, Iran and the Iranian-backed Shi'a militias, has the Obama Administration given consideration to full Iranian military intervention in Iraq, supported by Russia?  What would be an acceptable response to that development?  I don't have an answer to that question.