Tag Archives: Syria

Demolishing “Damascus Station”

This is simply a very bad espionage thriller. This blurb (also found at the Amazon page linked to above) by a former head of the CIA must be an example of dezinformatsiya in a desperate effort to boost the Company’s image:

“A truly sensational read! In fact, Damascus Station is the best spy novel I have ever read. David McCloskey experienced Syria firsthand as a CIA analyst, and he delivers a thrilling, graphic, gripping, and realistic―albeit fictional―portrayal of the CIA and the bloody, tragic Syrian uprising. I lived this extraordinarily frustrating episode in Agency history, and I could not put this book down [trying to escape the Agency’s failures?].
General David Petraeus, US Army (Ret.), former director of the CIA, and former commander of the Surge in Iraq, US Central Command, and International and US Forces in Afghanistan

[By the way on p. 4 there is a reference to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service giving operational assistance in Ottawa to our hero.]

The story amounts to a cross between the omnipresent and almost omnicapable CIA of the Jason Bourne movies (without the cinematographic virtues, just the silly plotting) and super-agent James Bond. Lots of needless accounts of food and clothing and lots of sex, sex, sex. Plus blood and gore including scalpings. The whole shebang makes John Buchan’s hero, Richard Hannay, seem a virtual model of realism.

Examples of the author’s, er, style:

1) P. 286:

She [a very well-placed Syrian security official with the Assad government, from of good family, who has recently been recruited by our intrepid hero] wore jeans and a white T-shirt underneath an olive-drab Barbour [nice touch, eh?] coat. She’d curled her hair slightly and wore it down, but it did not hide the large gold hoop earrings dangling in the breeze. Sam [our hero] was sporting a long-sleeve gray T-shirt and jeans with a pair of driving shoes, and he realized they looked like many of the other vacationing couples that had descended upon the square. He ordered Tuscan ragù with boar, Mariam cacio e pepe [ah, those Bond touches]. “Just like in Èze,” she said as she handed the dinner menu back to the waitress. Sam smiled back at her, thinking of that first night, hearing her earrings jangling as they’d moved together. He wondered if they were the same ones she had on now.

2) P. 287:

“I will always protect you, Mariam. Always,” he whispered into her ear. “The work we have chose is dangerous, but it led us to each other. “And we’ll finish this together in Damascus, I promise.” He kissed her forehead and then her mouth, savoring the feel of her hair as he caressed her neck.

“The is something about us,” she said. It gives me power. I can’t do this without you, Sam.”

He was beginning to think the same thing…

Spy soap, what?

2) P. 334:

“This might actually be the last time, habibi, she said.

“I know,” he said. “But we’re usually wrong.”

Now that sure is a pseud-Bond one-liner.

The plot is a mountain of implausibilities, so that when it is revealed (p. 243) that the Mossad deputy chief of station in D.C. is an asset of Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR) one really cannot take it seriously. Whereas in a good thriller that should be a crucial element of the story.

As for implausible–and pure Jason Bourne–as Sam is in the midst of recruiting Mariam on the French Riviera they go to her hotel room late one evening. They are attacked there by three Syrian thugs being used off the books by another Assad security official out to get Mariam for his own reasons. Our dynamic duo swiftly terminate the three fellows with extreme dispatch and prejudice. They exit the hotel (which fortuitously has no security cameras to record them), Sam calls the CIA station chief in Paris, and he arranges for the three bodies to be disposed of and the room rendered spotless before housekeeping gets to it the next morning.

Wow (pp. 112-17).

As a former analyst, not a clandestine services operator, perhaps Mr McCloskey is trying to fulfill his fantasies with the book.

PREDATE: More on Richard Hanny from 2018:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Theme song:

Air Power vs ISIS–RAND Research Report on Operation Inherent Resolve

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “At the height of the battle for Raqqa [2017], the coalition conducted some 150 air strikes a day”.)

The introduction for the massive study:

The Air War Against The Islamic State

The Role of Airpower in Operation Inherent Resolve

Airpower played a pivotal role in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from 2014 to 2019 and contributed to the success of Operation Inherent Resolve. This report sheds light on the impact of the air operations in Operation Inherent Resolve and whether airpower could have been applied differently to achieve faster, more-sustainable outcomes. The authors incorporate interviews with U.S. and coalition personnel, primary-source documents, and U.S. and coalition strike and sortie data to document the operational history of the air war, assess the relationship between airpower effects, and analyze the strategic and operational impact of airpower in Operation Inherent Resolve [there are scattered references to the RCAF’s participation].

The authors find that, although airpower played an essential role in combating ISIS, airpower alone would not have been likely to defeat the militant organization. Instead, the combination of airpower and ground forces—led by Iraqi and Syrian partners—was needed to destroy the Islamic State as a territorial entity. The overarching strategy of Operation Inherent Resolve, which put ground-force partners in the lead, created several challenges and innovations in the application of airpower, which have implications for future air wars. To be prepared to meet future demands against nonstate and near-peer adversaries, the U.S. Air Force and the joint force should apply lessons learned from Operation Inherent Resolve.

Key Findings

*Airpower played a critical role in Operation Inherent Resolve, based on the “by, with, and through” strategy, which placed local partners as leaders of the fight to destroy the caliphate. In turn, partners’ capabilities and interests shaped how airpower was used.

*Although more-aggressive air operations might have slightly accelerated the defeat of ISIS, they are unlikely to have significantly altered the timeline.

*The deep fight in Operation Inherent Resolve affected ISIS’s finances, but it could not affect ISIS’s main center of gravity—territory—meaning that strategic attack did not play a decisive role in this operation.

*Critical enablers, such as remotely piloted aircraft and aerial refueling aircraft, were in high demand and provided vital capabilities but were at times overstretched.

*Essential wartime skills, such as deliberate-targeting and defensive counterair operations, were used for the first time in years in a real operation, requiring reinvigoration of these proficiencies.

*Battlespace management within the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition was a point of disagreement, particularly between the Combined Joint Task Force Commander and the Combined Air Forces Component Commander, and affected the development of the deep fight.

*Necessary efforts to prevent civilian casualties and reduce collateral damage depleted precision-guided munition stockpiles.


*The joint force should revise its targeting doctrine based on the experience in Operation Inherent Resolve, including potentially incorporating the strike cell construct into doctrine or determining whether to use the Joint Air Ground Integration Center to integrate airpower with ground partners in the absence of forward joint terminal attack controllers.

*The joint force should reinvigorate, reexamine, and revise the target-development process to make it more efficient.

*The joint force should modify the allocation process for high-demand assets in joint campaigns to reduce inefficiencies and increase agility.

*The joint force should reexamine battlespace management and revise doctrine or tactics, techniques, and procedures so that it can more dynamically manage both the close and the deep fights.

*The Air Force will need to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage, requiring it to allocate precision-guided munitions efficiently across theaters and identify how to safely use second- and third-choice munitions.

*The Air Force should continue to develop more targeteers and intelligence professionals to support a reinvigoration of the target-development process.

*Self-defense rules of engagement in air-to-air operations should be stressed to airmen in training and real-world flying events. Leaders should emphasize to airmen that they are empowered and expected to defend the airspace, while avoiding inadvertent escalation.

Relevant recent post:

Debunking Myths about USAF Air Power and Gulf War I

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3dsTwitter: @mark3ds

Syria, or, ever Heard of the Caesar Act?

I certainly had not. It looks largely the work of the Deep State and not something pushed by (still) President Trump. When will they ever learn to stop trying to re-make or, if they cannot, to punish countries and the bad guy leaders the Americans are ceaselessly after? Especially when the US is unwilling to put sufficient boots itself on the ground to do a job?

Note that the ever so respectable Brookings Institute supports the act and that a prime advocate of it in the House of Representatives was Democrat Howard Engel of New York.

Excerpts from an article at the London Review of Books by Patrick Cockburn:

Syria Alone

All over Syria people are increasingly desperate. Even before the latest US sanctions, imposed this summer, 83 per cent of the population were living below the poverty line. Late last year President Trump signed the Caesar Civilian Protection Act, named after a Syrian military photographer who had documented the government killings of thousands of people and smuggled the pictures out of the country [more here from the State Department]. The new US law threatens sanctions against any individual or company in any country doing business with Syria and imposes what amounts to a tight economic siege on the entire population. The measures came into force on 17 June, but their impending implementation had already demolished much of what remained of the economy. The Syrian currency has collapsed and the price of basic foodstuffs like wheat, rice and bulgur has tripled while earnings remain the same – for those who still have jobs. The law is supposed to protect civilians by ‘compelling the government of Bashar al-Assad to halt murderous attacks on the Syrian people and to support a transition to a government in Syria that respects the rule of law’. This gives a soothing humanitarian guise to the sanctions, but is deeply misleading about their effect. Authoritarian elites, in Syria as elsewhere, are largely immune to embargoes and may even profit from them because they have the power to monopolise scarce resources. The poor and the powerless, the great majority of Syrians after nearly a decade of war, are those who suffer the full impact of sanctions…

The strategy​ of waging economic rather than military war is hardly new. But under Trump it has become the primary weapon of American foreign policy. Despite all his bombastic threats against perceived enemies, he has yet to start a single war in the Middle East or anywhere else, relying more on the power of the US Treasury than the Pentagon. From an American point of view sanctions have much to recommend them: no need for the costly and risky military ventures that have so often gone wrong in the past. Unlike airstrikes, sanctions can be presented as a non-violent way of influencing the behaviour of toxic regimes for the better. In reality, as with the Caesar Act, they are the bluntest of instruments, inflicting communal punishment indiscriminately on whole societies. Arguments justifying the Caesar Act are much the same as those once used to sell UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, imposed after he invaded Kuwait in 1990 and kept in place for the next 13 years. They were meant to weaken Saddam and compel him to disclose information about his supposed weapons of mass destruction. In practice they did nothing to constrain his power or his control over Iraqi resources. He showed defiance by building giant mosques and palaces, and the WMD that he was said to be hiding turned out not to exist. But the sanctions did ruin the lives of millions of ordinary Iraqis and devastated the country’s infrastructure, human capital and economy. This was all fully evident at the time: Denis Halliday, the UN aid co-ordinator in Iraq, resigned in protest against sanctions in 1998, saying that between four and five thousand Iraqi children were dying unnecessarily every month, and that the embargo ‘probably strengthens the leadership and further weakens the people of the country’.

So it is in Syria now. Assad may be being squeezed economically, but he is making up for it by, among other measures, forcing pro-government businessmen to hand over portions of their vast war profits. He can also divert attention from his government’s corruption and incompetence by blaming the sufferings of Syrians on the Caesar Act, much as Saddam did in Iraq with UN sanctions a quarter of a century ago. In the early stages of the pandemic, Syrian state television boasted of the government’s fictitious success in combating the spread of the virus. In reality, hospitals were full, infections were spreading and it was widely believed by Syrians that the number of deaths was much higher than officials were admitting. These have been common failings internationally, but as the real effects of the virus have become hard to disguise the Syrian government has protected itself by taking a new propaganda line. Muhanad Shami, a hospital nurse in Damascus, says that ‘most programmes and news bulletins now show the country as weak in facing the pandemic because of the Caesar Act.’

Another political advantage for the Assad government is that the new sanctions are hitting all Syrians, regardless of political allegiance. The situation is especially miserable for people in anti-government areas, who are more vulnerable to anything that further degrades their living conditions…

Syria​ is today divided into three parts: the government-controlled area, covering most of the heavily populated regions; the small opposition enclave in Idlib; and, in the north-east, a large triangle of land where Kurdish, Turkish, Syrian government, Syrian opposition, Russian and American forces compete for control of roads and population centres. The arena where they confront one another is a plain east of the Euphrates River, with Turkey to the north and Iraq to the east. About two million Kurds and a million Arabs live here under conditions of chronic insecurity. Until last year, the area was dominated militarily by the Kurds, who had defeated Islamic State with US support. But with IS gone, at least for the moment, Trump declared last October that he would withdraw American forces, giving the green light for a Turkish invasion that seized a rectangular piece of territory inside Syria, expelling its Kurdish inhabitants or forcing them to flee. The Turkish attack and the subsequent ethnic cleansing in and around the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain was largely the work of Turkish-backed Syrian Arab opposition fighters from Idlib, Aleppo and Hama. Turkey has since deployed the same proxy forces to reinforce its allies in Libya and, more recently, on the side of Azerbaijan against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

There are many people in Ras al-Ain for Jasem to fear, but Assad and the Syrian government aren’t among them: government forces withdrew from Ras al-Ain in 2012 and haven’t returned. Yet the Caesar Act, which was supposed to protect Syrian civilians from Assad, is in practice completing the work of the Turkish invasion and driving the remaining inhabitants out of town. The streets, Jasem says, are empty and desolate: it looks ‘like a place where nobody lives and is full of ghosts’. Since July many have escaped to Turkey, though they have to use people smugglers to get them there since the Turkish authorities have closed the border to Syrians. A relative of Jasem’s and three other neighbours made it across to refugee camps; there, at least, they would be given food. His own real income has plunged: as a construction worker, he was paid the equivalent of $6 a day in April and May, but ‘now I am paid $1.50 a day, just enough to buy a meal for one person.’ The only bit of good news is that Covid-19 hasn’t yet reached Ras al-Ain. Jasem suspects that this is because the town is 90 per cent empty: too few human hosts remain for the virus to spread.

Related post from 2015:

The Continuing Failure of US Neo-Imperialism

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Theme song:

The Russian Aerial Campaign in Syria

Further to this 2015 post,

NORAD Note: Russian Bomber (with cruise missiles) Strikes in Syria

and this 2020 article,

Test War: How Russia’s Air Force Brutally Used Syria for Target Practice

here’s an exam question:

Russia’s use of air power, both tactically and operationally, is one of the few examples of a case when its employment not only changed the course of a campaign that had been leading to one side’s defeat but also then enabled that side to emerge victorious. Discuss and evaluate the relevant contributing factors. Was, e.g., the horrendous brutality of the aerial campaign vital to its success? Any lessons for Western powers?

The image at the top of this post is of a Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback fighter-bomber, a major part of the Russian air force effort in Syria.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Mark Collins – “The fall of Aleppo shows us exactly what we have become”

Terrible Terry Glavin roars his rage; amongst other things he excoriates feckless and irrelevant Canadian word-mongering at the UN General Assembly–an excerpt:

The truth of it is we’d just rather not take the trouble [see end of post]. We aren’t prepared to suffer the sacrifices demanded of the commitments to universal rights we profess, so we absolve ourselves by talking about “the Muslim world” as though it were a distant planet. We talk about Arabs as though they were a different species. It’s easier on the conscience that way.

Between the drooling bigotries of the isolationist Right and the clever platitudes of the “anti-imperialist” Left, the only place left to address the solemn obligations we owe one another as human beings is in negotiations over the codicils of international trade agreements, or in the rituals of deliberately unenforceable resolutions entertained by the United Nations General Assembly.

Just last Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and his diplomats conducted just such a ceremony in sponsoring a non-binding General Assembly resolution demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities in Syria, humanitarian aid access throughout the country, and an end to the siege of Aleppo. It passed, 122 to 13. This is what counts these days as a diplomatic coup [and heralded by our government–wowsers: “UN General Assembly calls for action on Syria in Canada-led resolution”].

Canadian Ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard was pleased to claim that the resolution was already having an effect even before it was voted on, because the day before, Russia announced it was temporarily halting its bombing of Aleppo and had even offered to open corridors to allow civilians to flee. This is what counts these days as a diplomatic triumph.

The UN human rights office later announced that it had received credible reports that hundreds of men who crossed into Aleppo’s regime-controlled districts had gone missing…

Whilst Aleppo was falling our government issued this clarion call; one is sure it had Assad and Putin furiously reconsidering their course. Why do we bother with this worthless verbiage?

Canada demands that Assad regime and backers stop violence now and respect human rights in Syria

And if they don’t? Bah and humbug.

The start of a post from April:

The West and the Middle East: No Guts

I wrote earlier:

What to Do About the Bloody Middle East?

Poor bloody locals. If the West is truly willing to sort things out right now, are we then willing to rule–one way or another–for some decades or so to try to ensure things work out wellish? Triple double HAH! Given no willingness for, or today in the West intellectual acceptance of, such a prospect, then let us just face things honestly…

We don’t. Thank goodness we have Mr Glavin.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Sublime Erdogan the Magnificent vs the Kurds (plus ISIS/Syria)

This murderous terrorism,

Istanbul bombing: Terror attack death toll rises to 38 including 30 police as officials accuse PKK
PKK blamed for attack which is the latest in an escalating scale of violence in the country

will only make this worse–at the NY Times:

As Turkey Cracks Down, Kurdish Mayors Pack Bags for Jail

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — When Kurdish officials here in Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish city in the world, say they’ve been “unavoidably detained,” it is not just an excuse for lateness.

Even before I arrived, the co-mayors, Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, were jailed on terrorism charges that rights groups say are trumped up. Interviews in prison are not possible because, officially, foreign journalists are barred from the city.

Ahmet Turk, 74, a Kurd despite his name and the venerable mayor of another Kurdish city, Mardin, was out of jail at the moment. But his press officer, Enver Ete, said that it would be hard to arrange an interview: “We can’t give a time since so many people are getting arrested we can’t foresee what will happen.”

Kamuran Yuksek, a Kurdish politician, was on the phone with a reporter when he was detained briefly — just after being released from five months in prison.

I could not see Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or H.D.P., the country’s third-largest, although he lives in Diyarbakir. He, too, was jailed, along with nine other H.D.P. members of Parliament, so I arranged to see his wife, Basak, instead.

She canceled, not because she was jailed, but perhaps because she worried she would be, and she had two small children at home.

Turkey’s crackdown on Kurdish politicians, officials, news outlets, schools, municipalities, think tanks and even charities has been so thoroughgoing that it has left those who remain free expecting arrest at any moment. “My bag is packed for prison,” said Feleknas Uca, an H.D.P. member of Parliament. “Everybody has a bag in their house for prison. Now, everyone can be arrested at any moment.”

The crackdown on Kurds is part of a broader assault by the government on Turkey’s democratic freedoms after a failed coup in July, even though hard-line Islamists, followers of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who are rabidly anti-Kurdish and hardly democratic paragons themselves, are accused of the overthrow attempt…

The crackdown on democracy has been nationwide, but on the political front it has been concentrated in the mostly Kurdish southeast, though there is no evidence, or even a government accusation, that Kurdish parties, legal or illegal, had any role in the attempted coup.

But a peace process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., broke down last year, and since then fighting has claimed 2,393 lives on all sides, including civilians, according to a tally by the International Crisis Group.

Mr. Erdogan’s government had been stunned in 2015 elections when the H.D.P. decimated the ruling Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., in the east especially, winning six million votes, sending 80 candidates to Parliament, and becoming overnight a nationwide political force and the third-largest party. Critics accused Mr. Erdogan of deliberately rekindling violence in Kurdish areas to stir nationalist passions and reverse his flagging fortunes.

Since the coup attempt, the government has focused on jailing officials of the H.D.P. and its local sister parties, arresting at least 45 mayors of Kurdish towns beginning in late October. New arrests are coming practically every day. This year, 2,700 local Kurdish politicians affiliated with the H.D.P. have been jailed…

Kurds have borne the brunt of the crackdown, not just in politics but also in the news media and other areas. The publications and media organizations ordered closed by the government included nearly every Kurdish outlet, except for the government’s Kurdish television channel. Some Kurdish publications have begun publishing under other names…

Meanwhile the Kurdish complication vs ISIS in Syria:

U.S. to Send 200 More Troops to Syria in ISIS Fight

The military advance is complicated by the predominant role played by Kurdish militia members, who make up a majority of the 45,000 fighters and are the most effective American partner against the Islamic State in Syria. But the Kurdish militia fighters are viewed by Turkey — a pivotal American ally — as a terrorist threat.

Turkey regards the Syrian Kurdish fighters, known collectively as the Y.P.G., as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Kurdish rebel group that has sought autonomy from Turkey since the 1980s. Ankara has demanded that the Y.P.G. not take part in the fight to retake Raqqa.

Turkish forces in recent months have swept across the border into Syria to attack Islamic State strongholds, an offensive the Pentagon has applauded [e.g. recently: “Turkish Troops, Syrian Rebels Attack Key Town Held by Islamic State”]. But the Turkish advance has also served to blunt the Kurdish fighters’ efforts to carve out a contiguous swath of territory inside Syria stretching to the Iraqi border.

As Turkish and Kurdish forces repeatedly clashed, American officials and commanders intervened to curtail the fighting. Washington desperately needs the two sides to focus on fighting the Islamic State in Raqqa, not each other.

To that end, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has met twice in the last month with his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, to consult on battle plans for Raqqa. American Special Operations troops were assigned to accompany Turkish troops in Syria, giving the Pentagon on-the-ground liaisons.

In another unusual move, Brig. Gen. Jon K. Mott of the Air Force, a senior operations officer from the Pentagon’s Central Command, was recently dispatched to the Turkish Army’s operations center in Ankara to help coordinate the war effort and defuse any conflicts with the Kurds.

Pentagon officials are also toning down their vocal support for Kurdish fighters to avoid further inflaming Turkish domestic political sensitivities about any collaboration between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters…

Where it will all end knows only…Earlier (Operation Euphrates Shield— this from August):

Sublime Erdogan the Magnficent Pushing his Syria/Iraq Turkish Delight

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Syria/Iraq Update: ISIS, Raqqa, Kurds…and Turkey, Plus Mosul

Further to this post,

Sublime Erdogan the Magnficent Pushing his Syria/Iraq Turkish Delight

the latest on the explosive ex-Ottoman mixture at the invaluable MILNEWS.ca:

“US Expects Anti-Daesh Operations in Raqqa, Mosul to Drag On”“Battlefield developments threaten to trigger Turkish intervention in Iraq and Syria against Kurdish and Iraqi Shia militias”…

Raqqa Latest “Raqqa: US, Turkey agree to develop plan for ISIS-held city”“U.S. Tries Convincing Turkey to Work with Kurds Against Islamic State in Raqqa”“US, Iraq Back Syrian Kurdish-led March on Raqqa, Turkey Objects”“Syria’s SDF: a risky US ally to take Raqqa”“Isolation, Liberation of Raqqa Key in Defeating ISIL, (Pentagon) Spokesman Says”“Turkey paranoid that Syrian Kurds will take Raqqa as their capital after dislodging Daesh”…

Mo’ on Mosul “The Campaign for Mosul: November 4-7, 2016” (ISW blog) “Mosul battle rages as IS strikes around Iraq”“Food Pre-Positioned for 1.25 Million People in Mosul”“Kurdish Peshmarga Storm Daesh-Held Town in Iraq as Army Battles in Mosul”“Peshmerga storm Daesh town in Iraq as army battles in Mosul”

Very interesting but dangerously messy.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Sublime Erdogan the Magnficent Pushing his Syria/Iraq Turkish Delight

The ever more maximum president is certainly making things difficult for POTUS and many others:

Erdogan reasserts Turkey’s role in wars in Syria and Iraq

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday [Oct. 27] that he had informed President Obama of Turkey’s intent to participate in an offensive in northern Syria. His remarks are a reminder of the strategic conundrum facing the United States, which is working to defeat the extremist Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with both cooperation from Turkey as well as from Syrian Kurdish militias being targeted by the Turks.

In a televised speech from the Turkish capital, Ankara, Erdogan said he told Obama that Syrian rebels backed by Turkey in an ongoing operation called “Euphrates Shield” would advance on the Syrian border town of al-Bab, which is held by the Islamic State. They would then march on to Manbij, a northern Syrian city that earlier this year was liberated from the Islamic State by a coalition of Syrian militias led by a Kurdish faction known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The Turkish government considers the YPG an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist faction that has waged a decades-long insurgency within Turkey and is deemed a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.

Then, Erdogan said, “we will go toward Raqqa” — the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria.


…[In Iraq] too , Turkey hopes for “a place at the table.” As WorldViews noted earlier, Erdogan has demanded a role for Turkish troops in the Mosul campaign that nobody — neither the Americans, nor the Iraqis — has planned for and has invoked grievances from World War I and sectarian rhetoric while doing so.

“We did not voluntarily accept the borders of our country,” Erdogan said, referring to the defeated Ottoman parliament’s disregarded 1920 territorial claim to Mosul and its oil-rich environs…

Oh dear. More here on President Erdogan.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Syria: Russia Threatening Nuclear “De-Escalation”? NATO?

Further to this post,

Syria: POTUS be Prudent vs Assad and Bad Vlad

we now see this:

Russia’s top spin doctor in nuclear warning
Russian state TV host Dmitry Kiselyov [more here] has a reputation for attacking the West.

Critics call him the “Kremlin’s chief propagandist”. And like many other top Russian officials, he is on the Western sanctions blacklist.

But the warning he delivered to Washington in last night’s edition of his show News of the Week was, even for him, particularly dramatic. “Impudent behaviour” towards Russia may have “nuclear” consequences, he said.

“A Russian takes a long time to harness a horse, but then rides fast,” said the news anchor, quoting a famous Russian saying.

By “riding fast”, Kiselyov was referring to a string of recent Russian military deployments:

*Last week, Moscow sent three warships from the Black Sea Fleet to the Mediterranean: on board, cruise missiles that can carry nuclear warheads

*Russia deployed nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles into the Kaliningrad region bordering Poland…

Kiselyov said that in recent days there had been a “radical change’ in the US-Russian relationship.

Moscow was taking action, he said, because of “the loud talk in Washington of a ‘Plan B’ for Syria. Everyone understands what this plan means: direct military force in Syria against President Assad’s forces and the Russian military”…

As for Russia and nukes, they have a strategic rationale:

NORAD and Russian Cruise Nukes: “de-escalation”? 

NORAD and Russian Cruise Nukes: “de-escalation”? Part 2

And what about NATO and nukes?

Tough Question for NATO: “Would we really go nuclear to protect Estonia?”

Just remember those Canadian Forces going to Latvia. The planned NATO Baltic strengthening certainly could not beat the Bear conventionally according to an earlier RAND study. One hopes the NATO presence can deter, trip-wire in the nuclear sense.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Syria: POTUS be Prudent vs Assad and Bad Vlad

While I have often been sceptical about President Obama’s handling of international matters, and awful as things are in Syria and as great the moral outrage, I not think this is the time to develop a steely backbone; where it would all end knows only–perhaps–President Putin:

Why the United States Should Exercise Restraint Before Launching A New War in Syria
The Russians might not be willing to back down in a confrontation with American forces.
Dave Majumdar

Tensions between Russia and the United States are coming to a head over the civil war in Syria. Washington has suspended bilateral talks with Russia to end the five-year old war. Moscow has suspended an agreement to destroy 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium that was reached during the year 2000, using especially harsh rhetoric. Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces—with the backing of Russian airpower—are continuing to mount a fierce attack on the partially rebel-held city of Aleppo with Washington seemingly powerless to influence events on the ground.

As a result of the recent collapse of a ceasefire negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the subsequent Syrian regime offensive, there are many in Washington clamoring for firmer U.S. action—a so-called Plan B. However, President Obama and his National Security Council staff are faced with limited options.

Among the four options that may be under consideration are a no-fly-zone, safe zones, attacking the Syrian air force and arming the Syrian rebels with additional weaponry. But each option carries with it significant risk of escalation or blowback.

While the United States has the capability to defeat Russian and Syrian regime air forces and air defenses, which is necessary to establish a no-fly zone or safe-zone, or to destroy the regime’s airpower, there are several risks from a legal and military standpoint. The legal problem comes from the fact that the United States is not technically at war with the Syria, nor is there a UN resolution authorizing American forces to operate inside that nation.

Even ongoing U.S. military operations inside Syria are acts of war—and are technically illegal. The Obama Administration is aware of this technically as Secretary Kerry noted during conversations with Syrian rebel activists. “The problem is the Russians don’t care about international law, and we do,” Kerry told the rebels in a recording published by the New York Times. “We don’t have a basis—our lawyers tell us—unless we have a U.N. Security Council resolution—which the Russians can veto or the Chinese—or unless we are under attack from folks there or unless we are invited in. Russia is invited in by the legitimate regime.”

A no-fly zone or safe zone would require U.S. combat aircraft to intercept and possibly shoot down Russian and Syrian warplanes entering into the area designated by Washington and its allies. U.S. policymakers would have to make the gamble that Moscow—which is likely eager to avoid war with the United States—would back down and acquiesce to the American imposed no-fly zone. However, Washington is equally averse to fighting a war with the Russia, which, despite possessing only a fraction of the military might of its Soviet forbearer, remains the only power on Earth that can reduce the United States to charred radioactive cinders.

It is highly unlikely that any U.S. President would be willing to risk war against a nuclear-armed power with only four months left in office in a conflict with few—if any—vital American interests at stake. The Russians know that and might not be willing to back down in the event of an air-to-air confrontation with American forces because too much national prestige—and even Mr. Putin’s personal prestige—would be on the line. Thus, such an encounter could escalate in unpredictable ways. One only needs to look to history to demonstrate the unforeseen consequences stemming from relatively localized events—no one could have predicted that the  assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would have precipitated the events leading to the First World War in 1914 [read on]…

Awful though it may be one puts it bluntly: what vital US national interests–not to mention the interests and safety of many, many others–are worth the risks? Pride and credibility are not enough.

More here on 1914

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds