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Syria, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Kurds, Israel--war and refugees

This is a continuation of the topic Syria: Was Trump right to attack Assad?.

Pro and Con

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Sep 10, 2018, 10:21am Top

>196 Do you find it credible that Assad is going to use chlorine and has let it be known?

Sounds like a stick in the eye for America, which, of course, is nothing compared to what civilians in Idlib will suffer, I'm afraid.

Assad with Putin and Rouhani standing behind him: "So whatta yah gonna do about it?"

Sep 10, 2018, 4:20pm Top

>1 margd: My question was meant quite plainly--do you find the source credible. I hoped it would be refuted.

Spalding thought I was asking for a lesson in tactics. Thanks, Tim.

Iriley, of course I agree with you. These days my thinking is that the US needed to re-think their foreign policy after Vietnam if they were to maintain a shred of credibility, but they changed nothing substantial and add war crime upon war crime in a world they can still somehow manage to renege upon.

Sep 10, 2018, 5:06pm Top

I too hope it's not true. Possible that it's more a US worry than outright threat: no details re threat and this Administration can be a stranger to truth. (It WAS Fox, also.) In article below, doesn't sound like US has a ready response if there is a chemical attack--it's all over the place.

Syria's Assad has approved use of chlorine gas in Idlib: report
Megan Keller - 09/10/18

Sep 10, 2018, 5:51pm Top

>3 margd: Yeah, nothing convincing there.

Dec 21, 2018, 3:43am Top

Kurdish Fighters Discuss Releasing Almost 3,200 ISIS Prisoners
Twaida Saad and Rod Nordland | Dec. 20, 2018

...Top officials of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led and American-supported militia fighting the Islamic State in eastern Syria, met on Wednesday to discuss the option of releasing about 1,100 Islamic State fighters and 2,080 relatives of the group’s members, according to Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights.

...A report by the Syrian Observatory said the S.D.F. leadership was discussing the prisoners’ release because the home countries of many of them had refused to take them back. The observatory, a London-based group with a network of citizen monitors throughout Syria whose work is widely considered credible, said the prisoners come from 31 countries in addition to Syria, and their family members from 41 countries.

The S.D.F. was also concerned that it would need all of its fighters to defend against a possible Turkish military invasion, the report said — a prospect made more likely by a United States withdrawal.

The Syrian Democratic Forces are predominantly made up of Kurdish fighters from the Y.P.G., the People’s Protection Units, but under American tutelage the group has signed up many Arab fighters opposed to the Islamic State; Arabs now make up about 40 percent of the force, which has up to 75,000 fighters. The group has been trained, advised, financed and supplied by the United States, which has 2,000 troops, mostly Special Operations forces, in Syria allied with the S.D.F.

With American support, especially from airstrikes, since 2016 the Kurds have pushed the Islamic State out of most of the territory it held in eastern and northern Syria, reducing the extremists to a pocket of about 20 square miles on the Iraqi border, near the town of Hajin, far from any cities. Fighting continues in that area, although the S.D.F. claimed last week to have ousted the Islamic State from Hajin.

Turkey has vowed to attack the S.D.F. because it considers the Y.P.G. as a front for the outlawed Peoples Workers Party, or P.K.K., in Turkey, and last week it said a cross-border invasion to attack the Kurds was only days away.

That led to a telephone conversation between Mr. Trump and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey last Friday, after which the United States quietly began making preparations for the troop withdrawal.



Turkey threatens to ‘bury’ Kurdish forces in Syria amid U.S. withdrawal
Erin Cunningham | December 20 at 12:37 PM

...Turkey’s defense minister said Thursday that Kurdish forces in Syria would be “buried” in their trenches in any Turkish operation to rout the fighters from the border, just one day after President Trump announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

Speaking from the Qatari capital, Doha, Hulusi Akar said Turkey was preparing “intensely” for a military offensive east of the Euphrates River in Syria, where Kurdish-led forces have battled the Islamic State militant group.

The fighters have dug trenches and tunnels in the area in anticipation of the operation, Akar said, according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.

“But whatever they dig . . . when the time comes they will be buried in the trenches,” he said. “Of this there should no doubt.”...


Edited: Dec 22, 2018, 12:03pm Top

Our history in the region is just shit. It almost doesn't matter where. It's shit everywhere.

So drawing the troops out of Syria and Afghanistan--well if you're anti-war you might have (like I did) voted for Obama back in 2008 thinking that was what was going to happen because we should have never gone into Iraq in the first place and we should have been in and out of Afghanistan at the worst. There is no endgame and for the Generals---I get it....honor and all that stuff--they're proud people and proud of their troops---they can't let something like this go--they can't leave without a victory but there's no real way they're going to get it--we'll never win hearts and minds and whatever POTUS comes along the General's idea is to continue to kick that can down the road--that is why Obama kept troops in Afghanistan and though he drew most of the troops out of Iraq he still left a goodly number behind and then in we go into Syria after the would be Calaphatists. Key Iraqi officers of the Bush disbanded Iraq army by the way eventually found themselves teaching teach tactics and strategy to what would later become ISIS. That administration did everything wrong.

We should have never gone in the first place. We're 17 years down the road from when we first went into Afganistan with no real endgame in sight. Someone has to eventually bring us out.

The other problem though is the way Trump does this is just colossally asinine. Talks to Erdogan. Doesn't say a word to his General's, allies, cabinet people or anyone else. Talks to Erdogan and makes up his mind from that. He thinks he knows everything and won't take advice and this is just another in a long line of examples of someone out of control. By the way though the coalitions which we led into these places meanwhile are stuck with their asses hanging in the wind. What will they think of us after we're out? The Kurds meanwhile will be left to fend with the Russians, the Syrian Army and the Turks. These people who we made promises to support are going to be abandoned on the battlefield. I guess this is what the mess of getting out is going to look like after 17 years of fruitless bullshit.....and G.W. Bush is actually the one that should be blamed the most. Pretty much the entirety of the the 17 years of wreckage is going to be in vain. That's the way it was always going to be and Trump is going to get it right in the ass and it looks like maybe many from his own party will finally start lambasting what a jerk and a dope he is. Well he is an idiot but really credit where it's due--blame particularly lies with Bush and to a lesser extent Obama and there's little bits of blame for all the nutjobs that thought invasion and nation building were good ideas back in 2002 and 2003.

Edited: Dec 22, 2018, 7:53am Top

For the Kurds, it goes back farther than Bush. Aftermath of WW1? Europeans denied them a homeland and they were divvied up between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey? In Turkey they were forbidden to speak their own language...and that was the least of it: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29702440


Unbelievable that life-and-death decisions are made this way--even Erdogan was shocked by "You know what? It's yours."
Israel was informed before the Kurds...

Trump call with Turkey's Erdogan led to U.S. pullout from Syria
Associated Press | Dec. 21, 2018

...Scretary of State Mike Pompeo arranged the Dec. 14 call a day after he had unsuccessfully sought clarity from Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu about Erdogan's threats to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based.

Pompeo, Mattis and other members of the national security team prepared a list of talking points for Trump to tell Erdogan to back off, the officials said.

But the officials said Trump, who had previously accepted such advice and convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.

..."The talking points were very firm," said one of the officials, explaining that Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the U.S. and Turkey work together to address security concerns. "Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that's a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that."

Erdogan, though, quickly put Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for U.S. troops to be in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State and that the group had been 99 percent defeated. "Why are you still there?" the second official said Erdogan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining IS militants.

With Erdogan on the line, Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in, why American troops remained in Syria if what the Turkish president was saying was true, according to the officials. Erdogan's point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said.

Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over IS had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.

Trump was not dissuaded, according to the officials, who said the president quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both Bolton and Erdogan.

Caught off guard, Erdogan cautioned Trump against a hasty withdrawal, according to one official. While Turkey has made incursions into Syria in the past, it does not have the necessary forces mobilized on the border to move in and hold the large swaths of northeastern Syria where U.S. troops are positioned, the official said.

The call ended with Trump repeating to Erdogan that the U.S. would pull out, but offering no specifics on how it would be done, the officials said.

Over the weekend, the national security team raced to come up with a plan that would reverse, delay or somehow limit effects of the withdrawal, the officials said.

On Monday, Bolton, Mattis and Pompeo met at the White House to try to plot a middle course. But they were told by outgoing chief of staff John Kelly and his soon-to-be successor Mick Mulvaney that Trump was determined to pull out and was not to be delayed or denied, according to the officials. The trio met again on Tuesday morning to try to salvage things, but were again rebuffed...

The White House had wanted to announce the decision on Tuesday — and press secretary Sarah Sanders scheduled a rare briefing specifically to announce it. But the Pentagon convinced Trump to hold off because the withdrawal plans weren't complete and allies and Congress had not yet been notified, according to the officials. The first country aside from Turkey to be told of the impending pull-out was Israel, the officials said.

Word of the imminent withdrawal began to seep out early Wednesday after U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel started to inform his commanders on the ground and the Kurds of the decision.

Following the official announcement the White House emphasized that the U.S. will continue to support the fight against IS and remains ready to "re-engage" when needed. But in a tweet, the president said U.S. troops would no longer be fighting IS on behalf of others.


Edited: Dec 22, 2018, 7:28am Top

#7-- The Turks hate them. Turkey is not that nice a place and they aren't tolerant in respect to religious differences or groups seeking some kind of autonomy (the Armenians would be another example) and internal criticism is another thing the Turks are always trying to suppress. They've gone after writers and artists who don't toe the line. Orhan Pamuk--their literary Nobelist for one. The Kurds are split up between the border regions of Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Saddam Hussein was infamous for gassing them trying to bring them into line. The Kurds are also more western and more modern than traditional in their outlook which makes them almost a regional anomaly but they are also stateless and that leaves them in a vulnerable position--the play thing of autocratic regimes.

The USA by the way has been selling the Turks all kinds of weapons for decades. They are a whole lot more reliable as buyers than the Saudi's for sure. We've know full well that the Turks have no compunctions about using those weapons to suppress the Kurds. So our view of the Kurds has kind of been like it's okay for the Turks to do what they need to do because it's good for our arms manufacturers but on the Iraqi side of the border the Kurds our are friends. Well were---until Donald bumbled along. It might be just as simple as those arms sales that has Donald throwing the Kurds under the bus and playing kissy face with Erdogan. Donny's all about the $'s. He'd sell his soul to the devil if he could---maybe he has.

Dec 22, 2018, 8:03am Top

Kurds--"the plaything of autocratic regimes".

I knew an Iraqi Kurd studying at the local university. A lawyer, he had been imprisoned by Hussein, who then paid for his education here in Michigan. He was finishing up just as Hussein invaded Kuwait, but he and his young family had no option to stay in the USA as his family back home would be charged for his education back to grade school and otherwise harassed. So off he went to uncertain future and a possible war. He was a woolly country guy whom I displeased by chiding him when he teased his lovely wife (a pharmacist) about finding a second wife. I hated to think of him jerked around so and still wonder what became of them...

Dec 22, 2018, 11:59am Top

#9--well hopefully they are doing well or well enough. You can't help where you were born and you can't help it if you're surrounded by religious fundamentalists and authoratarian regimes.

Dec 23, 2018, 9:00am Top

Dawned on me reading this that Syrian deployment was an OBAMA initiative, one that saved many American lives and leaves us deeply indebted to our Kurdish allies. OBAMA--no wonder Trump didn't hesitate to end the deployment the way he did... :-(

Rukmini Callimachi (NYT) @rcallimachi | 21h21 hours ago (12/22/2018)

1. Days after Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigns, Brett McGurk, the top diplomat leading the fight against ISIS, turns in his resignation letter, saying he cannot carry out Trump’s policy of withdrawing from Syria...

2. In an email that brought his staff to tears, McGurk said: “The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us. It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered....”

3. “.... I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but — as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls — I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity,” he said.

4. @BrettMcGurk was considered by many to be the glue holding together the sprawling, 79-nation coalition battling ISIS. A veteran of 3 administrations, he was a rare holdover from the Obama White House, a sign of the crucial role he played in helping mount the war against ISIS

5. @BrettMcGurk was due to leave in February. It’s significant that he accelerated his departure by two months, in light of the events that just occurred.

6. Apparently I tagged the wrong Brett McGurk. Correct address is @brett_mcgurk...

7. Our full story on @brett_mcgurk's resignation. He is credited with stitching together the multi-ethnic and multi-national, 79-member coalition which launched the war against ISIS. This was anything but easy, as the former director of the NTCT attests:


8. Among the most difficult pieces to get right in the battle against ISIS was finding a reliable partner in Syria, able to wage a ground war against the terror group. It became clear early on that only a Kurdish militia had the capacity to do it. But then Turkey got in the way: ...

9. It was McGurk's team that first convinced Turkey to allow a US airdrop to the Kurds during the siege of Kobane in 2014 and the opening of a land bridge so that the Kurds could resupply. Eventually, the US was able to broker an alliance with the Kurds, despite Turkish pushback

10. Because of that alliance, the campaign in Syria has been low cost for the United States, both in terms of money spent & lives lost. While four American soldiers were killed there in the 3+ years since our involvement, officials estimate that the Kurds buried 10,000 of theirs

11. Compare that to how many American soldiers died during the Iraq war - over 300 per year in the first 13 years of that conflict. The key in the Obama administration's approach to the war on ISIS was helping prop up local partners, who did the bulk of the ground invasion...

12. Days before Trump announced the drawdown, @brett_mcgurk reassured colleagues that America was in it for the long haul. He then had to call our Kurdish allies - the very people who died by the 1000s in this fight - to tell them that the U.S. was reneging on its promise...

13. In a Tweet today, Trump reiterated that he considers ISIS defeated even though the group still has 20,000 to 30,000 fighters just in Iraq & Syria. He suggested Turkey could mop up what's left. Seems unrealistic given how reluctant Turkey was to get involved in the first place


Edited: Dec 23, 2018, 11:29am Top

What we seem to be seeing more of is a President making decisions on his gut--without advice from his cabinet or experts and without any real nuance to his decision making. These decisions of his sometimes come right out of the blue (catching even his own people unawares) in these awful twitter comments and replete with spelling and grammatical errors.

On the wall--Bob Corker was on CNN today. He pretty much stated bluntly that in the past year there have been bi-partisan deals on the table that would have passed and that would have actually given Trump a lot more funding for his wall than the $5 billion being carped about now but that the POTUS and his administration kiboshed for whatever reason. Well one thing is Trump's reluctance to get behind the Dreamer's act. Corker basically stated there were numerous Republican Senators who wanted to do DACA and that right now what we're seeing is Trump playing to his base--Corker going on to say that Trump's role in all this was juvenile. Corker, naturally rolled over for Trump numerous times but one can clearly see and hear distaste when talking about his POTUS.

That charade that Trump pulled a couple weeks ago with Schumer and Pelosi you didn't see him offering anything. When you don't have all the power you can't bargain with nothing.

Dec 23, 2018, 3:58pm Top

Turkey Edges Closer to Attacking Kurdish Stronghold in Syria (Manbij)
Selcan Hacaoglu and Onur Ant | December 23, 2018

Soldiers in a convoy of around 200 vehicles including howitzers, armored military personnel carriers and artillery advanced to reinforce the military’s presence in areas close to Manbij, TRT (Turkish state broadcaster) said on Sunday.

...Trump said he had a “long and productive” call with Erdogan on Sunday, tweeting that they discussed “the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home.” The two men also discussed expanded trade, Trump said.

...Trump’s decision to withdraw drew cautious optimism from Turkish officials. While indicating an end to American support for the YPG, the withdrawal could also pave the way for a power grab by Iran and Russia, the two other key actors in the Syrian civil war.

Absence of the U.S. sets Russian President Vladimir Putin up as a pivotal figure in resolving the Syrian war and strengthens his hand across the Middle East. Trump’s declaration fulfills a long-standing Russian demand for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

...French President Emmanuel Macron Sunday praised the international coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces’ (Kurds and Arabs) work against ISIS.

...TRT said Sunday that the U.S. has already pulled out all of the 300 to 400 soldiers it had in Manbij but Kurdish forces remained in their positions...

Dec 23, 2018, 4:56pm Top

#13--I wonder if in Trump's 'long and productive call' he even mentioned the Kurds. I'm thinking probably not.

Dec 23, 2018, 5:59pm Top

Corker's interview remarked on in #12 must have struck a nerve. Trump launched a twitter attack on him accusing him of lying---taking another remark of Corker's that the retiring Senator from Tennessee had always intended to retire after two terms in the Senate. Trump claimed that wasn't true and that Corker only decided not to run because Donald wouldn't endorse which had caused his poll numbers to drop. Corker shot back on Twitter to Donald: 'Just like Mexico is going to build the wall'---not the usual for a Republican to use that line.

Edited: Dec 23, 2018, 11:00pm Top

". . if ... (Trump) even mentioned the Kurds" (!)

U. S. Government distrust (esp. C I A distrust) of the Kurds (and perhaps the Shia, too), has a long history, going back at least to George H. W. Bushʻs* ousting of Sadam Hussein from Kuwait -- and deciding that that was our goal AND our ONLY goal. My late wife greatly admired GHWB FOR that decision; me: only IN SPITE of IT. But neither of us had voted for him. (1988, 1992). (Bill Clinton did set up a no-fly zone against Sadam in Kurdish areas of Iraq.)

*(He wanted to avoid an Iraqi civil war. But such was the de facto result of his copout which probably was
traceable to his experience as C I A director (Nixon appointee).

Dec 24, 2018, 6:36am Top

Richard Engel @RichardEngel (NBC News) | 3:12 PM - 22 Dec 2018

Spoke to a professor with deep connections into Kurdish leadership in Syria. I asked him about the mood there after Trump announcement, his answer sent chills:
Hurt, betrayed, and angry.
They'll all be dead soon...

" a professor with deep connections into Kurdish leadership in Syria" Eons ago I knew a fellow likewise with deep connections into Kurdish leadership (in another country, not Syria). My impression was less that they were trying to undermine the country, but rather to care for their people. They seemed to me with my admittedly shallow exposure...measured.

Dec 24, 2018, 1:28pm Top

Greatly appreciate your posts, margd, and
Merry Christmas!

Do you happen to know if Rod Rosenstein is still William Muellerʻs boss, or is Matt Whitaker?

Dec 24, 2018, 3:32pm Top

Merry Christmas, Roland--and thanks!

My understanding is that both Rosenstein and Whitaker are in the loop.
Whitaker may not recuse, but IMO he'd be wise to keep Rosenstein between him and the Mueller-tarbaby!

Dec 27, 2018, 5:08am Top

What Is Going on With Turkey and the Kurds, Anyway?
Angry WH Staffer | December 26, 2018

...Quick overview

...Now for Turkey's viewpoint

...Brief summary of the agreement: Erdogan wants to cross the border to launch an offensive against the Syrian Kurds in the enclave of Rojava. This isn't the first time they've threatened to do this; just the first time we've refused to push back...


Dec 27, 2018, 8:58am Top

Russia Warns U.S. Against Interfering in Saudi Royal Succession
Henry Meyer and Stepan Kravchenko | December 26, 2018, 7:19 AM EST

Putin envoy backs embattled crown prince as next Saudi king

MBS since 2017 has built close relationship to Russian leader...


Jan 11, 9:09am Top

U.S. Begins Syria Withdrawal, Amid Uncertainty Over Strategy
Ben Hubbard | Jan. 11, 2019

...As recently as Sunday, President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, had said that the pullout was conditional on circumstances that could leave American forces there for months or even years. That followed by less than a month President Trump’s announcement that he intended to pull out the roughly 2,000 American troops within 30 days.

The surprise announcement came in a statement from Col. Sean Ryan, the spokesman for the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State. Colonel Ryan said the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” adding that he would provide no further information about “specific timelines, locations or troop movements.”...


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