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16 March 2016

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Pundita

Yes IS transport routes Turkey-Iraq being cut off but I don't think they're starving to death anytime soon. They've been diversifying into big-time transnational non-oil contraband trade. See this lengthy Jan 16 investigative report from (UK) Mirror
"ISIS seizes £4bn drug ring from the Mafia to fund its brutal terror campaign"

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/isis-seizes-4bn-drug-ring-7191800

It looks as if they've been using the same tactic against long-established Euro organized crime that they applied to wasting 'moderate' jihadi groups in Syria: move in on strongholds established by weaker players rather than starting in a region from scratch.

Are they getting help from Turkey in these ops in Europe? Wouldn't be suprising.

in any case Mirror revelations have ramifications well beyond Syria.

Barish

A telling map has emerged that covers the land that is supposed to make up PYD-governed Rojava, once the dust settles:

http://www.edmaps.com/html/rojava_syria_kurdistan_march_2.html

Neatly covering all the border-areas with Turkey currently not in the process of getting cleaned up by SAA and allies...

Might this be instructive as to how SAA and Kurds will divide the work cut out for them against ISIL and the various unicorns?

The Porkchop Express

NOW Media posted this yesterday: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566739-hezbollah-withdrawing-fighters-from-syria-report

I heard the same rumors and grumblings out of Lebanon as well but, almost without exception, these are springing up mostly from the Eli Khoury, Hariri, Michael Young, assorted Neocon Americans and Necon-nized Lebanese nexus who all gravitate to NOW Media. So buyer beware.

walter

Who will finish the job on ISIS now that Russia is winding down?

walter

Off Topic post: Can anyone please recommend American news websites to read to stay informed of domestic and international events. I have been going to Huffington Post but I have lost my patience with them ... they are so over-the-top against Trump, pro gay/lesbian/transgender stuff, too pro Hillary....I cannot trust them...they are trying to lead us readers down a path they want us to follow rather than report news objectively. I dont want to be controlled. I want to be informed with the facts objectively.

This website is one of only a few sources I trust.

Bob

If the following is true then it could help explain why resources are drying up for Daesh and others. Not that there aren't lots of reasons already. Really great news if it is true.

"Russia, according to high-ranking sources, informed Washington, Damascus and Tehran of its step of reducing forces in Syria. The Kremlin expect from the United States to exert its promises imposing on regional parties, i.e. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, to stop all sorts of weapons and financial supply to all rebels without exception."

https://elijahjm.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/moscow-informed-washington-damascus-and-tehran-of-its-intention-to-reduce-forces-in-syria/

Gabriel

Apologies if this is known to SST community already, but I found this 2015 primer (http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=60316) useful re Palmyra's importance as a source of natural gas (ISIS even able to reach some wells in Al Shaer fields around the middle of January).

PS. For anyone frustrated by the large-scale that seem invariably to accompany pieces about gas fields, Al Shaer fields (SAA controlled) to the west of Palmyra (~ http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=34.662017&lon=38.026428&z=12&m=b), Arak (ISIS controlled) to the east (~ http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=34.667100&lon=38.598747&z=12&m=b).

turcopolier

walter

Finish the game? Did you not read the military summary today. Things seem to be going well to me. pl

b

- Russia reduced its fixed-wing component in Syria by half. Most of the other stuff will stay around as will the helicopters. Night-capable MI-28n were seen yesterday for the first time. A new KA-52s was also seen.
- Neither Hizbullah nor Iran will reduce their forces.
- Lots of new material for the SAA is still arriving as well as some heavy artillery ammunition which was lacking.

- The YPK Kurds are screwing up with their unilateral "federalization" declaration. Officially at least no one is supporting their move. Why do they want to create bad blood right now?

- Turkey has inserted its own "Kurdish" proxy force allegedly in battalion strength (600?) near Azaz which is to fight ISIS and, more important, YPK Kurds. It has Turkish artillery support and are supposed to take the Azaz-Jarablus border region. The force claims to be armed by the U.S.. The U.S. denies that.

- A new natural gas field was found near Homs and production will start soon.

Amir

Check out the following websites and if you can, try to contribute:
Realnews.com (I actually saw their Baltimore office, they arrhythmia to work from the grass roots)
Truthdig.com
Boilingfrogspost.com (morphing into NewsBud that will bridge a few other alternative news sources, the NewsBud is being funded through Kickstarter)
TheIntercept.com
Rollingstone.com (Mat Taibbi on Wall Street and City of London as well as Libor Scandal)
Emptywheel.com
Amconmag.com (The American Conservative)
The Atlantic
Also check Armscontrolwonk, Moon of Alabama, Angry Arab, and a few other

Serge

ISIS apparently putting up very stiff resistance in Palmyra. Terrain is very favorable for them. I do not see the city falling any time soon, without the prior taking of Qaryatayn.

LG

I find the following websites useful:
http://www.theamericanconservative.com/
http://www.unz.com/

Most writers on both sites are what are called paleo-conservatives. Despite some racist and some born-again types, the articles are objective and the analyses are sound.

johnf

antiwar.com provides a digest of news reports from around the world. It gives a fair representation of views but brooks no nonsense from neo-cons etc, and being libertarian in its politics wastes no time on identity politics, political correctness etc.

As a leftist I have had no problems with it over 15 years, and I always find its editor, Justin Raimondo - like the Colonel - spot on with his analyses.

Barish

Here's a bit that might be indicative of this "pressure" being exerted:

https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/senior-syrian-rebel-commander-arrested-turkey/

"Senior Syrian rebel commander arrested in Turkey

Turkish authorities arrested a Syrian rebel commander in Istanbul Ataturk Airport moments before leaving the country, sources confirmed.

Captain Mohammed Saeed al-Masri, a senior commander of Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement was detained by Turkish authorities 5 days ago and taken to an unknown location.

The detention was most likely sparked by recent dissensions between al-Masri and the notorious Muslim Brotherhood of Syria after ceasing to fund and eventually disband the insurgent group. Turkey’s Erdogan is widely known as the Godfather of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

The 35 year-old former police officer rejected the threats to dissolve the militant group and went into strong differences with the backers.

Formed in late 2011, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement is one of the most important rebel factions in Aleppo and has been receiving enormous support from Turkey and the USA including the U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles."

The aforementioned NOW-media appears to have reported on this one in greater detail:

https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566754-syria-rebel-chief-detained-in-turkey-opposition-media

"BEIRUT – The commander of a powerful rebel faction based in Aleppo has been detained in Turkey, according to pro-opposition media outlets.

Enab Baladi reported Wednesday that Turkish authorities arrested Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement general commander Mohammad Said Masri at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport as he was trying to fly out of the country.

A well-informed source told the outlet that Masri has been held in an Istanbul prison since March 11, where he faces the prospect of deportation from the country.

The pro-opposition outlet also cited the source as saying that the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement has come under “significant international pressure” for it to dissolve itself."

Of course, the reason could also "only" be that said group has become useless for all intents and purposes, what with the Azaz-route to Aleppo city being cut, and hence Turkish authorities might go ahead and effectively neutralize this persona. Either directly or by "only" showing him the door.

Patrick Bahzad

Regarding "finishing the job" vs IS, I think PL has made it perfectly clear where things are going, which is in a direction that the Caliphe is not going to fancy. His State is seriously hurting both in Iraq and in Syria, and they are losing lots of manpower in the conventional battle they're trying to fight in Syria, while in Iraq, the strategy is to squeeze the noose tighter, for various reasons, until forces are ready to take on Mosul, which is the one IS capital that is closest to "frontlines".
However, the IS has not been idle over this and their moves in Libya show that they're preparing some kind of sanctuary outside the region, in order to spread their message there, should they lose the ability to do so in Iraq & Syria, but also in order to generate revenues they need so direly, especially now. Time will tell how this strategy of theirs is being met, but it is imperative we don't make the same mistakes twice: not the mistakes of the Libya campaign, and not those from the time when we let ISIS take back Anbar and spread into Syria.
Short term, the battle for Palmyra, which is linked to the siege of Deir ez Zor, as it commands the main LOC going into Deir ez Zor, is paramount. Depending on how the Kurdish YPG play it out, once Palmyra has fallen, there might be an offensive on IS forces coming both from the North (Kurds) and South-West (AAS and allies). This would be a very serious blow to IS, as their main Euphrates Valley artery would he disrupted, meaning Raqqa would be next.

Finally, a few observations regarding the Russian "withdrawal" which is drawing a lot of criticism in the West (thought nobody wanted the Russians to deploy troops in the first place) and is being interpreted or spun in some circles as a sign of Russian weakness (Putin blinked and "we" need to make use of that). This would be a seriously misguided view I think. Here's why:

1. from a political point of view: Putin just made a move, he can undo it too. He has also shown that he stuck with his word (out in 6 month), which is an attempt at emphasizing his reliability and credibility, unlike other (major) players. The fact this move has surprized many means that one can't dismiss the idea of Putin doing something unexpected again some time in the future (creating strategic uncertainty, but also inducing risks of escalation and situation getting out of hand). The overall lesson is a sobering experience for those who have tried to read him without taking into account his own background, his vision for Russia and the interests he defends. It's not rocket science though, but when you have started villifying an adversary, its' hard to keep a rational mind. Therefore, the Putin-bashers will be reduced to expecting the unexpected.
2. from a military point of view: as mentioned time and again on SST, March means beginning of sand storm season, i.e. temporary stop to large air campaigns. The airstrikes for "Desert Storm" had been scheduled with that in mind as well, and same goes for OIF. It was clear from the start of the Russian intervention that March was the deadline for this phase of their plan to achieve its goals. Well, they mostly have succeeded and they can now sit at the bargaining table with good cards in hand.
3. on the diplomatic front, as already mentioned, the previous element gives R+6 a decisive advantage. They're showing good will, they're coming to negotiate in good faith and they are in control of the military situation on the ground. There will be nobody twisting their arm among the Western/GCC countries. If R+6 are lucky, they'll manage to win back Palmyra from IS in a timely fashion, thus landing a big PR-coup and signaling their intent to continue confronting ISIS.
4. while the main group of the Russian forces is to be withdrawn, any threat, attack or offensive by any of the negotiating parties will undermine the Russian withdrawal. Putin's move is actually freezing the situation on the ground, as nobody can score any more points for the time being, unless they want to appear as responsible for derailing the whole process. And we know Kerry is not amused about the "Saudi" sponsored opposition, so Alloush (chief negotiator for oppo) knows he's being watched closely and he can't afford to make mistakes.
5. Finally, should everything else fail, it's worth remembering that the Russians have scheduled the arrival of their Carrier group in the Eastern Mediterranean for early Summer, meaning they'll have a "floating" airbase with some 40 odd MIgs and Sus available, in addition to whatever residual aircraft they'll have at Hmeimim. Add that to the already upgraded and reinforced AAS troops and you'll realize that Putin and R+6 have already a contingency plan ready. That being said, the Russians definitely want to settle this at the negotiating table and want to use any diplomatic victory as leverage in the Ukrainian mess.
6. There is one downside and risk for Putin if this strategy backfires and if the opposition or their backers "do stupid shit" as POTUS would say. Domestically, he is being critizised already by the Russian hardliners for not going the while nine yards on the military front. Should the rebels, of foreign troops enter/invade parts of Syria following the Russian withdrawal, there will be a lot of turmoil in Moscow. Not that Putin will be toppled, but his statesman position will be undermined and his authority vis-a-vis the Russian hawks will suffer. That is something we in the West should keep in mind, as we don't want or shouldn't want any further degradation of the relations between the West and Russia, especially not in Europe (Ukraine is still a open book in that regard).
We shall see ...

steve

Insofar as the Syrian War was envisioned as a neocon operation, I think my post is relevant to this thread.

The latest brouhaha over Trump not having foreign policy advisers imho appears to be a self-evident move by the neocons to make sure his views are properly corraled. I hope he gets excellent advice--just in the opposite direction.

Regardless, I would hope that a political resolution in Syria is set in stone (as much as that can be} before the next president takes office.

Ghost ship

Has Russia acquired intelligence suggesting that Washington and/or its allies are contemplating on ignoring their commitments already?

"Putin: Russia may deploy forces back to Syria ‘in mere hours’ if necessary"

https://www.rt.com/news/335949-putin-russia-op-syria/

Henshaw

Definitely going well. Steady advances at Palmyra and Deir Ez-Zor. Infighting in Idlib.

Kurds have resumed advancing from Tishreen Dam region towards Menbij. In particular, they appear to have captured the strategic high point of Jebel Dur Dada, which provides a good view all the way to Menbij.

And just in case anyone gets a bright idea, Putin has clarified that Russia could deploy back within hours if necessary.

oldjack

Lots of Assyrians and Armenians in Hasakah province aren't going to go for that. "Rojava" creates a new set of challenges for loyalists/we'll-take-Damascus-over-Kurdish-rule types.

oldjack

Loyalists in Aleppo and Idlib provinces won't like this, either.

LeaNder

Thanks, interesting, Pundita.

We had news over here suggesting that they may be abusing our tax system with made up bills to cash in high amounts of VAT reimbursements. Seems one such project caught attention.

Barish

SAA and allies appear committed to meet the challenge, if this is anything to go by:

https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/massive-convoy-syrian-army-reinforcements-leave-latakia-palmyra/

While the the "Desert Hawks" and "Tigers" have been getting a lot of good rep recently, Fouj Al-Mughawayr Al-Bahir - also transliterated as Fawj Maghawir Al Bahar, apparently - have also been quite involved in the significant advances on the mountainous north Latakia-front. Here's a promo-vid of the "Syrian Marines":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ego3hDsEa7I

Also a lot of technicals evident in the footage. Beat the insurgents at their own game, eh?

What's more, apparently SAA and allies are proceeding to stall a possible surge in the back of the Qaryatayn-front from the vicinity of Arsal, Lebanon, as per this piece:

https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/syrian-army-hezbollah-kill-scores-isis-terrorists-along-syrian-lebanese-border/

4th Division deployed here alongside Hizbollah. Idea might be to clean up in the back and then advance in earnest to Qaryatayn?

LeaNder

Thanks, Patrick. Highly appreciated.

turcopolier

Walter

fm ex-pfc Chuck "I'd add Naked Capitalism to the list, especially its daily "Links" post that goes up at 7:00 am EST/EDT 365 days a year and its "Water Cooler" post that goes up at 1:00 pm EST/EDT Monday thru Friday. In addition during the week you can expect half a dozen (give or take 2-3) in depth posts usually on finance, politics and/or international affairs. Many of these will be by host "Yves Smith" and her sidekick Lambert Strether, others will be reposted from elsewhere.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/

Another good source is the daily "Debt Rattle" post at The Automatic Earth, which consists of links to topical pieces elsewhere together with excerpts therefrom. Raoul, the host, is Dutch IIRC but travels a lot. Every few days there is an original, in-depth post, these days usually by Raoul but occasionally by his co-conspirator Nicole Foss. Like Naked Capitalism it is primarily, but by no means exclusively finance-focused. It's also not as USA-centric. "Debt Rattle" is usually up by 7:00 am EST/EDT, but not always. And it's usually posted seven days a week. But not always.

http://www.theautomaticearth.com/the-automatic-earth/" pl

Barish

Point. Idea behind that mapping probably is to both look at where, militarily speaking, SDF/YPG can advance and, theoretically, by doing so subsequently set out to realign certain administrative authority in such regions in a post-war environment.

Which is something that sets PYD apart from the unicorns: beyond the "right of conquest" they also spell out that they do not mind remaining a part of Syria in peace-time. What type of part and with what set of rights is something they are willing to discuss with Damascus, unlike the unicorns who'd rather live up to their "right of conquest" - but can't.

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