World War 5
On Feb. 12, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG)—made up of the US, Russia, EU, Arab League, Iran and other powers—reached an agreement in (oh, the irony!) Munich for a "cessation of hostilities," to take effect in one week. You can bet that this signals a major escalation in the war. Already diplomats are saying "It's not worth the paper it's printed on." The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov made clear the loophole big enough for a fleet of MIGs to pass through. "The truce does not go for terrorists… The military operation against them will be continued." Given the Russian propaganda trick of calling whoever they want to bomb "terrorists," this makes the whole deal utterly meaningless. Specifically, air-strikes on ISIS and the Nusra Front are excluded from the deal, but we shall see if there is any let-up at all in the horrific aerial bombardment of FSA-held territory. Russian and regime air-strikes have already cut off water supplies to the remaining inhabitants in besieged Aleppo. Bashar Assad has wasted no time in announcing that he intends to retake "the whole country" from rebel forces. We hate to agree with John McCain, but he called it when he said the Munich agreement is "diplomacy in the service of military aggression." The deal was arrived at without the participation of the Free Syrian Army, much less any voices of Syria's civil resistance. This "ceasefire" will not result in the ceasing of a single shot from being fired. As with previous bogus "peace" breakthroughts, the result will be much to the contrary. You read it here first. (Daily Sabah, Feb. 14; The Telegraph, EA WorldView, BBC News, BBC News, Feb. 12; Daily Sabah, Feb. 10)
Some 70,000 civilians from Aleppo are fleeing to the Turkish border, as Syrian regime troops backed by Russian warplanes advance on the city. They will join some 30,000 already amassed at the border and hoping Turkish authorities will allow them to cross. (Al Jazeera) Independent journalists have posted grim video footage and photos of the exodus to Facebook. French journalist Natalie Nougayrède writes in a commentary for The Guardian that "What happens next in Aleppo will shape Europe's future."
World War 4 Report has been keeping a dispassionate record of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) established by the Bush White House. This year, the stakes got much higher, with multiple foreign interventions in Syria and ISIS striking in Europe. On the night of Obama's 2016 State of the Union address, we offer the following annotated assessment of which moves over the past year have been on balance positive, neutral and negative, and arrive at an overall score:
Russian aerial terror is again reported from Syria. At least 12 children and an adult were killed by a Russian air-strike at a school in Anjara, just outside Aleppo. Dozens more children and their teachers were injured in Jan. 11 strike, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Photos released on social media show toppled desks covered in dust and rubble lying below a gaping hole in the building. In video footage released on Twitter, one child recounted how her class was set to take an exam when the air-strike hit. (CSM) Schools in Douma, outside Damascus, are closed until further notice after cluster-bomb attacks by Russian warplanes last month Of the 60 civilians killed in Dec. 13 air-strikes on the town, eight were children. Another was the headmistress of a school that came under attack, who ran out into the playground to save try to save children as the bombs started falling. (The Telegraph)
While the world media cheer the taking of Ramadi in Iraq—supposedly by government troops, but in fact spearheaded by sectarian Shi'ite militias—comparatively little note is made of advances against ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). An alliance of revolutionary Kurds and secular Arab militias, the SDF continues to take ground from ISIS in Syria's north. On Dec. 27, the SDF announced the taking of the strategic Tishreen Dam, which had been held by ISIS for over a year, and generates electricity for much of Syria's north. Its taking will ease electricity and water shortages in Kobani, the Kurdish town where the tide was first turned against ISIS in the region a year ago. SDF officer Rami Abdel Rahman told the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that the eastern Euphrates Valley is now cleared of ISIS and "the battles are now on the western bank of the river." (Rudaw, Dec. 27)
It is looking like the supposed diplomatic breakthrough on Syria could actually end up only escalating the war. US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin last week to hash out a common position. (AFP, Dec. 15) This came just days after Kerry explicitly disavowed that the US is seeking "regime change" in Syria—making the US tilt to Assad clearer than ever, and vindicating Putin in his move to start bombing Syira. On Dec. 18, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution establishing a six-month time-table for "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance" in Syria. "Free and fair" elections are to be held within 18 months under UN supervision with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to vote. However, the official press release on the resolution made no mention of dictator Bashar Assad—and the notion that he will preside over such a transition defies five years of horrific reality.
Disturbing reports emerged Dec. 14 that the Russian navy forced a Turkish merchant ship to change course in a brief confrontation in the Black Sea. Russian naval forces were apparently protecting vessles that were towing two oil drilling platforms that are being disputed between Russia-annexed Crimea and Ukraine. Following the annexation of Crimea last year, the Chernomorneftegaz drilling company—a subsidiary of Ukraine's parastatal Naftogaz—was seized by the Crimean regional parliament. Ukraine says it will challenge the seizure before international arbitrators. Chernomorneftegaz's drilling platforms, operating in international waters off the Ukrainian port of Odessa, were being relocated to Russian territorial waters when they were bocked by a Turkish merchant ship. Moscow's Defense Ministry said the incident was "resolved" when a Russian missile cruiser chased the Turkish vessel off. In another incident reported one day earlier, the Defense Ministry said its destroyer Smetlivy "fired warning shots" to deter a Turkish fishing vessel in the Aegean Sea "to avoid a collision." Turkey's military attaché in Moscow was summoned to the Ministry over the incident. (Daily Sabah, Dec. 15; RT, Dec. 14; RT, Dec. 13)
The mutual hypocrisy of the Russo-Turkish game for control of Syria continues to become more grimly amusing. Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu today accused Russia of attempting "ethnic cleansing" with its air-strikes in northern Syria. "Russia is trying to make ethnic cleansing in the northern Latakia [region] to force [out] all Turkmen and Sunni populations who do not have good relations with the [Syrian] regime," Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul, according to the BBC News. He added that the Russian air-strikes are "strengthening" ISIS. Turkmen areas in Latakia have indeed been coming under vicious Russian aerial bombardment, and it is plausible that these air-strikes are ethnically taregted. But Turkey has also been conniving with ISIS and other jihadist forces that are bent on "cleansing" Kurds, Yazidis and Assyrians. The fact that Moscow (for its own propagandistic purposes) is now making such charges doesn't mean that they aren't true! And Turkey's plans for a "buffer zone" in northern Syria are clearly aimed at expunging the Kurdish autonmous zone in the region. What's more, Turkey is arguably already commiting ethnic cleansing in its renewed counter-insurgency campaign against Kurdish rebels within its own territory.