Posts Tagged ‘Jim Mattis’

Trump May Have To Grow Up, Do More Than Tweets: Send a Clear Meassage To Iran, Hezbollah and Assad

February 19, 2018
 FEBRUARY 18, 2018 21:50


Breaking this dangerous cycle will require diplomatic intervention from the US and, more importantly, Russia with its direct line to the Assad regime in Damascus.

A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter in Afrin, Syria

A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter in Afrin, Syria. (photo credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)


A week ago we saw the inherent danger of a permanent Iranian presence in Syria. Iran launched its first direct military operation against Israel, dispatching a drone from the Tiyas Airbase in Syria’s central Homs region. The Israelis used an Apache helicopter to intercept and destroy the drone, then sent eight fighter jets to destroy the Iranian command center. One of the Israeli F-16s was abandoned by its pilots over Israel and Syrian anti-aircraft fire reached Israeli territory, triggering extended emergency activities in Israel’s northern communities.

In a dangerous escalation, Iran tested Israel’s red lines in preparation for a new war on Israel’s northern front – a question of “when,” not “if” – a development which the Israeli government has repeatedly warned it will not tolerate. The government in Jerusalem has demanded time and again that any agreement mediated by world powers to end the civil war in Syria must include a specific stipulation preventing Iranian-backed forces from establishing a permanent military presence along the border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent an explicit message ahead of the February 11 cabinet meeting. “We inflicted on Saturday [February 10] a heavy blow to Iranian and Syrian forces,” he said. “We made clear to everyone that our rules of engagement will not change in any way. We will continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us. This was our policy and this will remain our policy.”

But the mullahs’ regime was not the only audience for this message. Hezbollah is already threatening Israel from Lebanon, where the terrorist group has stockpiled more than 150,000 rockets and missiles and transformed hundreds of civilian villages into “military strongholds” to guarantee mass casualties during their next war with Israel.

In a similar vein to its support for Hamas, Iran has also bankrolled Gaza-based terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with hundreds of millions. It is believed that Iran’s funding package to PIJ is in the order of $70 million per annum out of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) budget.

Iran’s leadership owes a great debt of gratitude to Western powers for bolstering the Islamic Republic’s dream of linking Tehran, Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut in a Shi’ite arc of influence.

The 2015 nuclear accord between six world powers and Iran revived Iran’s ailing economy, and the lifting of international sanctions triggered a stampede of European companies beating a path to Iran to secure lucrative business contracts. And all the while Iran remains a nuclear-threshold state that threatens regional and international security.

After the signing of the nuclear deal, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made no secret of his country’s true intentions. Israel “will not see [the end] of these 25 years” he vowed in July 2015, adding that “Iran will support anyone who strikes at Israel.” Two-and-a-half years down the line, we know that Khamenei wasn’t just paying lip service to popular demands. The territorial expansion of Iran and its allies in the Middle East has brought the Islamic Republic closer to Israel’s border than ever before.

Again, the short-sighted policy of Western powers aided the mullah regime’s grand plan of ascendancy. The obsessive focus on the war against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria left the door wide open for Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militia. In Iraq, the Obama administration even provided air cover to the same groups that during the 2003 US-led intervention murdered American troops.

Khamenei could not have hoped for a better outcome.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the terrorist group in complete political and military control of Lebanon, has over 10,000 troops stationed in Syria. Together with the Quds Force, the extraterritorial wing of the IRGC, and local Shi’ite militia, Hezbollah played a central role in the survival of the regime.

Now that Assad’s position seems to have stabilized after the regime recaptured large swaths of territory, Iran appears to be aiming for more than just regime survival. In October 2016, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Muhammad Bagheri, floated the idea of establishing an array of military installations on Syrian soil, as well as a naval, air and intelligence base. And in November, aerial images emerged of a permanent Iranian base south of Damascus, only 50 kilometers from the Israeli Golan Heights.

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Muhammad Bagheri

Given the growing military capabilities and territorial expansion of these hostile elements, Israel and the United States, along with Europe and allied Arab states in the region, must together send a clear message to Iran, Hezbollah and Assad: any attack on Israel’s sovereignty comes with a very heavy price.

Breaking this dangerous cycle will require diplomatic intervention from the US and, more importantly, Russia with its direct line to the Assad regime in Damascus. The most effective way to prevent a future escalation with potentially catastrophic consequences for the region is to dismantle any Iranian presence along Israel’s border altogether.

The author is CEO and president of The Israel Project. This article originally appeared in The Hill.


Anti-IS coalition grapples with future of Syria

February 13, 2018


© AFP/File | US Defense Secretary James Mattis headed for Rome for talks on Tuesday with other members of the anti-IS coalition

The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group was locked in a debate Tuesday over the future of its campaign in war-ravaged Syria and the fate of foreign jihadist fighters captured there.

Months of intense fighting saw US-backed forces liberate the IS stronghold of Raqa in October, leaving the group’s one-time “caliphate” in tatters.

But the US fears that the jihadists could regain a foothold in the bombed-out region.

At Tuesday’s meeting, “we’re going to speak about the future,” US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told journalists as he travelled to Rome.

The thorny issue of what to do with the hundreds of foreign jihadists now detained in Syria will also be a key issue at the meeting in the Italian capital.

Those detainees include two Britons said to have carried out numerous beheadings.

The problem has sparked intense debate in the West about whether such fighters should be returned to their home countries to face justice.

Pentagon official Kathy Wheelbarger, accompanying Mattis, said: “We are working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees and generally expect those detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition.”

But the fate of the two Britons, Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh — captured by US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces in January — remains uncertain.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told The Sun newspaper last week: “I don’t think they should ever set foot in this country again.”

The suspects’ cell, known as “The Beatles” because of their British accents, is accused of abducting and decapitating around 20 hostages.

The victims included American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded in 2012.

The 14 defence ministers of the anti-IS coalition are also set to discuss operations in the Euphrates valley, the last refuge for fleeing jihadists in Syria.

They will also broach Turkey’s controversial military offensive in the Syrian border region of Afrin against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG has received US backing but is considered by Ankara to be a “terror group”.

Defence minister: Saudi, UAE intended to invade Qatar

February 3, 2018

Al Jazeera

Qatar's defence minister stressed the need for open dialogue as a means to end the ongoing GCC crisis [Reuters]
Qatar’s defence minister stressed the need for open dialogue as a means to end the ongoing GCC crisis [Reuters]

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had intentions to invade Qatar at the beginning of a diplomatic crisis that erupted in June, according to Qatar’s defence minister.

In an interview with the Washington Post on Friday, Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah said his Gulf neighbours have “tried everything” to destabilise the country, but their intentions to invade were “diffused” by Qatar.

“They have intentions to intervene militarily,” said Attiyah.

When asked to confirm whether he thought such a threat still existed today, he responded: “We have diffused this intention. But at the beginning of the crisis, they had this intention.

“They tried to provoke the tribes. They used mosques against us. Then they tried to get some puppets to bring in and replace our leaders.”


Q: You have Turkish troops in your country. Were you actually afraid that Saudi Arabia or the UAE might invade?

A: I wouldn’t say afraid. They have intentions to intervene militarily.

Q: Saudi and UAE?

A: Yes, for sure. They have this intention. But our relations with Turkey go way back before the crisis.

Q: But you seriously think the UAE and Saudi Arabia have intentions to invade? Today?

A: We have diffused this intention. But at the beginning of the crisis, they had this intention. They have tried everything. They tried to provoke the tribes. They used mosques against us. Then they tried to get some puppets to bring in and replace our leaders.

Source: Washington Post

Attiyah, who met US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week during a visit to Washington, DC, described the beginning of the crisis by the Saudi-led bloc as an “ambush” that was “miscalculated”.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt and Bahrain cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air blockade after accusing it of supporting “terrorism” and “extremism”.

Qatar has strongly denied the allegations.

Attiyah said Qatar is the only country that has signed a memorandum of understanding with the US to counter terrorism in the region – namely in IraqAfghanistan, and Syria.

He stressed the need for open dialogue as a means to end the ongoing crisis.

Asked about Doha’s relations with Saudi’s rival, Iran, Attiyah noted that Qatar maintains “friendly relations with everyone”.

“We are responsible for the supply of [an enormous amount] of the world’s energy. We have to have a smooth flow of energy, and that means we have to eliminate having enemies,” he said, referring to the country’s shared oilfield with Iran.

According to Attiyah, the Saudi-led bloc had planned to replace Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with a new leader.

“They put their puppet, [Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani, a relative of a former Qatari emir], on TV,” he said of the “failed” attempt.

“They can’t do anything. The Qatari people love their emir.”

On January 14, Sheikh Abdullah released a video statement, saying he was a “prisoner” in the UAE, and that if anything happened to him, “Sheikh Mohammed” is responsible.

While he did not specify, Abdullah appeared to be referring to Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Days later, he was hospitalised in Kuwait. Later, reports emerged he threatened suicide.


US praises Qatar ties but calls for Gulf unity

January 30, 2018

Image result for Qatar, photos


WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States praised Qatar for its improved counterterrorism cooperation Tuesday and warned that its rift with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors has hurt the fight against extremism.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a diplomatic boycott of Qatar and closed their frontiers last year, accusing the gas-rich emirate of cozying up to Iran and sponsoring Islamist groups.

US President Donald Trump, fresh from a successful trip to Riyadh, seemed at first to take the Saudi side in the dispute and demanded that Qatar, which denies the charges, change its behavior.

But US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have been working to bring the dispute to an end and bind both Qatar and its opponents into a deeper mutual alliance.

On Tuesday, these diplomatic efforts produced the first of what may become an annual US-Qatari Strategic Dialogue, hosted by Tillerson and Mattis for their counterparts from Qatar.

In opening remarks, neither side criticized Saudi Arabia or its ambitious crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman by name, but both stressed the importance of unity in the  Gulf Cooperation Council.

“As the Gulf dispute nears the eight-month mark the United States remains as concerned today as we were at its outset,” Tillerson said, opening the meeting of senior US and Qatari officials.

“This dispute has had direct negative consequences economically and militarily for those involved as well as the United States.”

Saudi Arabia is also a long-time ally of the United States and is bigger, richer and more influential than Qatar, which lies on a peninsula off its neighbor’s Gulf coast in gas-rich waters.

But Qatar has parlayed its riches into an outsize influence with key economic investments in Western countries underpinning ties and winning prizes like hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup.

It has also annoyed its neighbors by funding and hosting the Al-Jazeera satellite network, which broadcasts Arabic news and views across the region that make some governments uncomfortable.

And it has fostered ties with some Islamist groups, giving it a role in regional crises that is unwelcome to some leaders.

Sometimes this is helpful to the United States: The Taliban has an office in Qatar, which serves as a back-channel for the US to get messages to their Afghan foe even as their troops fight elsewhere.

But Qatar’s ties to groups like the Palestinian movement Hamas, who the United States views as terrorists, have hurt ties.

As the officials met, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish think tank with the ear of some in the Trump administration called on Tillerson to play tough.

“The Trump administration must make it clear that Doha has not been exonerated,” researcher Varsha Koduvayur wrote.

Nevertheless, Qatar is also host to the huge Al-Udeid air base, a hub for allied aircraft in many Middle East conflict and home to thousands of US personnel and a forward command center.

Tillerson and Mattis both praised Qatar’s improved cooperation in counterterrorism, while expressing hope the Saudi spat would end.

“It’s critical that all parties minimize rhetoric, exercise restraint to avoid further escalation and work towards a resolution,” Tillerson said.

“A united GCC bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts, particularly on counterterrorism, defeating ISIS and countering the spread of Iran’s malign influence.”

– Investment in US jobs –

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Qatar has a lot to offer the United States economically, including Trump’s foreign policy priority — jobs.

He boasted that Qatar is already investing $100 billion in the US, including $10 billion in infrastructure, but warned this could be put at risk if Riyadh is allowed to break the alliance.

“To make all these investments flourish, regional security is essential,” he said, in his own opening remarks.

“The state of Qatar and its people have been illegally and unjustifiably blockaded. This blockade disrupts the joint efforts in providing stability for the region.”

Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah proudly cited the purchase of US F-15 jets — but not a similar deal to buy British Typhoons nor negotiations for Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

And he signalled Qatar’s desire to make Al-Udeid a permanent US base, with plans to build a family-friendly accommodation for American servicemen and women on long deployments.

“Even in the midst of its own current challenges Qatar and the United States maintain excellent military-to-military relations,” Mattis said, before signing a deal to deepen cooperation.

But he added: “It is thus critical that the GCC recovers its cohesion as the proud Gulf nations return to mutual support through a peaceful resolution.”

by Dave Clark

Mattis praises Vietnam’s ‘leadership’ on North Korea sanctions

January 24, 2018


HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis praised Vietnam on Wednesday for adhering to sanctions against North Korea, saying at the start of a two-day visit to Hanoi that its leadership on the issue came despite the costs associated with lost trade.

FILE PHOTO – U.S. Secretary for Defense, Jim Mattis, sits opposite Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, before a meeting at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in central London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

“I have to pay my respects there and thank them for their support on the (North Korea) issue. They have been supporting the United Nations sanctions, at some cost to them,” Mattis told reporters before landing in Hanoi.

“And so we appreciate their leadership on that, leading by example and stepping up.”

North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of hitting the United States has spurred deepening U.N. sanctions and stoked fears of a military conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week that the United States was getting evidence that sanctions were “really starting to hurt” North Korea, although there are no signs yet that they have altered Pyongyang’s military calculus.

Vietnam and North Korea, at one time both within the influence of the former Soviet Union, maintain traditional diplomatic and political ties.

But those relations have been tested in recent years, particularly following the alleged involvement of a Vietnamese citizen in the murder of Kim Jong Un’s half brother in 2017.

Hanoi expelled blacklisted North Koreans last year by asking them to voluntarily leave, taking into account “traditional relations” between the two countries, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council in April 2017, Vietnam also said it had taken measures to implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

Mattis said Vietnam was adhering to those sanctions and noted that cutting off trade with a country so close carried an economic cost to Vietnam.

“DPRK sells coal very cheaply and so obviously if they turn that off, there could be costs associated,” Mattis explained, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


Mattis’ first stop in Vietnam was to a U.S. Defense Department office in Hanoi that sits just across the street from the North Korean embassy and seeks to recover the remains of U.S. troops killed in the 1965-75 Vietnam War.

Some 1,293 U.S. forces are still unaccounted for, one U.S. official said.

Mattis’ trip comes amid steadily strengthening U.S.-Vietnamese ties, including between their two militaries, as both countries seek to put the Vietnam War firmly behind them.

Relations these days are seen largely through shared concern over China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion in cargo passes every year.

Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China’s expansive territorial claims and has been buying U.S. military hardware, including its acquisition of an armed, Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter.

The ship, one U.S. official said, was larger than anything Vietnam had in its navy.

“(Vietnam) does have one of the region’s fastest growing economies and so freedom of navigation and access in the South China Sea will be critical to them economically and of course in their security efforts,” Mattis said.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Nick Macfie

CSB-8020, manned by CSBV crew, during its transfer ceremony at US Coast Guard Base Honolulu. (USCG)

CSB-8020, manned by CSBV crew, during its transfer ceremony at US Coast Guard Base Honolulu. (USCG)

The US Coast Guard (USCG) has completed the transfer of a recently decommissioned Hamilton-class high endurance cutter to the Vietnam Coast Guard (Cánh Sát Bin Viet Nam: CSBV).

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Syria Kurds urge civilians to take up arms against Turk assault

January 23, 2018


© AFP | Turkish soldiers are seen around the area of Mount Bersaya, north of the Syrian town of Azaz near the border with Turkey, on January 22, 2018
BEIRUT (AFP) – Syrian Kurdish leaders called on civilians Tuesday to take up arms to defend the Afrin enclave against a Turkish assault now in its fourth day.”We announce a general mobilisation and we invite all children of our people to defend Afrin,” the Kurdish enclave’s autonomous administration said in a statement.

Its spokesman Rezan Hedo told AFP: “It is an invitation for all Kurds in Syria to take up arms.”

He said the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed alliance dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), was “ready to receive all those who wish to defend Afrin and provide them with weapons.”

Afrin is one of three autonomous cantons the SDF has set up in areas under its control.

The other two — Euphrates and Jazira — are in the main contiguous area of SDF control further east.

Ankara announced the launch of Operation Olive Branch on Saturday after months of threatening to invade the Afrin enclave to dislodge the YPG.

It sees the militia as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

But the operation is hugely sensitive as Washington relied on the YPG to oust the Islamic State group from its strongholds in Syria and the Kurdish militia now holds much of the north.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis urged Turkey on Tuesday to “exercise restraint in the military action and the rhetoric.”

Kurdish-dominated SDF accuses Turkey of backing ‘IS’ with Syria assault

January 22, 2018

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there was “no stepping back” from Syria’s Afrin as Turkey’s army clashed with Kurds in their push to take the city. Kurdish forces accused Ankara of backing the “Islamic State” group.

Turkish armored vehicles move closer to Syrian border (Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic)

Turkey is determined to push on with its massive offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, as Turkish forces encountered heavy resistance on the third day of its invasion on the city of Afrin.

“There is no stepping back from Afrin,” Erdogan said.

Turkey launched the ground assault to drive Kurdish forces away from its southern borders and prevent the creation of Kurdish-dominated statelet which could further destabilize Kurdish-populated areas in Turkey.

According to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian Kurds launched an intense counterattack on Sunday evening, pushing Turkish troops and their allies out of two villages they briefly captured. The watchdog said that at least 26 SDF fighters and 19 pro-Turkish rebels were killed in the three days of fighting, with nine unidentified bodies also found on the battlefield. Another 24 civilians were reportedly killed..

Watch video01:47

Turkey targets Kurdish militant positions in Syria

Speaking in Ankara on Monday, Erdogan said Turkey’s “fundamental goal” was ensuring national security, preserving Syria’s territorial integrity, and protecting the Syrian people. He added that the goal was not to occupy parts of Syria, but to win over “hearts” of the population.

SDF says Afrin will be a Turkish ‘quagmire’

Also on Monday, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Ankara’s attack amounted to “clear support” to the “Islamic State” (IS) terror militia. The Syrian SDF force is largely made-up of Kurdish YPG units, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization.

The SDF is also heavily backed by the US. The US provided the group with training, arms, and equipment in the war against the “Islamic State.” With the help of American special forces and air power, the SDF led the battle to drive the jihadists out of their de-facto capital of Raqqa three months ago.

Read moreUS tells Turkey to show ‘restraint’ with Syria Kurds

“The international coalition, our partner in the fight against terrorism with whom we jointly conducted honorable battles… knows full well this Turkish intervention comes to make final victory hollow,” the SDF said in a statement.

“For this reason, the coalition is urged to take its responsibilities towards our forces and our people in Afrin,” the group’s spokesman Keno Gabriel said.

The group also pledged that the northwestern city of Afrin would become a “quagmire from which the Turkish army will only exit after suffering great losses.”

German-made Leopard tanks move along a road on on the Syrian border (Reuters)Turkey, a NATO member, deployed German-made tanks to the conflict zone

Kurd leaders also blamed Moscow for allowing Turkish planes to fly over Syrian territory and pulling out Russian troops stationed in Afrin. According to YPG officials, Russia urged them to hand over the Afrin enclave to avoid the Turkish attack. This was apparently corroborated by Erdogan on Monday, who said Turkish officials discussed the invasion “with our Russian friends and we have an agreement.”

Gabriel calls opposite number in Turkey

Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also telephoned his Turkish colleague Mevlut Cavusoglu to relay his “concerns about an escalation” in northern Syria on Monday, as well as the impact on the civilian population, according to a foreign ministry official in Berlin.

Read more: Germany, Turkey and the 2017 diplomatic rollercoaster

The co-chair of Germany’s Left Party, Katja Kipping, released a video statement on Twitter in which, wearing a scarf in the colors of the Kurdish flag, she accused Russia and NATO of betraying the Kurds and making Germany complicit in a “war of aggression.”

She said Russia had opened Syrian airspace for Turkish warplanes and that NATO had approved the move, while, according to the Turkish military, NATO reconnaissance aircraft were coordinating and observing the Turkish operations.

“If what the Turkish general staff has announced is true, it means German soldiers are also directly involved in this war of aggression,” Kipping said.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was “extremely worried” over the Turkish incursion into Syria, adding that she would raise the issue with Ankara.

The attack “can undermine seriously the resumption of talks in Geneva, which is what we believe could really bring sustainable peace and security for Syria,” she said, a reference to the UN peace effort.

France has called for UN Security Council meeting over the attack for Monday evening.

Leopard tanks (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Steffen)Turkey has more Leopard-type tanks than Germany

German-made tanks move towards Afrin

Read moreTurkish jets bomb Syria’s Afrin

Turkey’s push into Syrian territory also sparked uproar in Germany as photos from the scene purported to show Turkish troops using German-made Leopard 2 tanks. Opposition lawmakers slammed the German government for exporting weapons to Turkey and called for the deliveries to be halted.

German officials refused to provide details on the apparent Leopard deployment. A defense ministry spokesman said that it was not yet clear when the pictures were taken, while foreign ministry officials said the situation remained unclear. A spokesman dealing with weapons exports in the economy ministry was equally tight-lipped.

“Except for the images shown in the media, which you all know about, we do not have any information about the use of Leopard tanks.”

dj, tj/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)


Trump’s First War? Turkey Declares a Military Frontline Against America

January 22, 2018

The U.S.-Turkish relationship had endured for over 70 years. But now Turkey wants to muscle the Americans out the Middle East. On a bogus pretext and backed by Russia, Turkey has launched an incursion into Syria – and a proxy war against the U.S.


Turkish army troops gather near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on January 21, 2018

Turkish army troops gather near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on January 21, 2018BULENT KILIC/AFP

Ankara’s latest military operation into the Afrin enclave in Syria is yet another example of Turkey’s drift from NATO. It is a de facto proxy war against the United States and part of a broader Turkish ambition for regional hegemony.

>>With Turkish military invasion, the Americans are once again trapped in Syria | Analysis

The U.S.-Turkish relationship had endured for over 70 years. In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman announced to congress that his government would endeavour to support any nation threatened by communism. In what became known as the Truman Doctrine, the president pledged $400 million in support of both Greece and Turkey.


FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to meeting in New York on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

FILE PHOTO: Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to meeting in New York on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017./AP

So began a legacy of close relations between Ankara and Washington. The following year, Turkey became a recipient of Marshal Plan aid, and in 1952 Turkey joined NATO, Article 5 of which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.

Sure, there were setbacks. In 1964, for example, Turkey was enragedby President Lyndon Johnson’s stern letter demanding Ankara desist from intervening in Cyprus. Another fallout ensued the following decade after Turkey actually did invade the island, and the U.S. responded with an arms embargo. In more recent years Turkey refused the U.S. the use of the strategic Incirlik airbase ahead of the 2003 Iraq War.

Yet for all intents and purposes the U.S. and Turkey remained bosom buddies. Arms contracts were signed, strategic dialogues and exercises continued and shared enemies were identified whether they be the Soviets (or later Russians) or Islamist militancy.

With the Islamically inclined Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power since 2002, the U.S. could point to Turkey as an example of a Muslim democracy, a much-needed ally in the War on Terror. At one point during his presidency, Barack Obama even stated that Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of his most trusted international friends.


Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) members protest alongside Syrian-Kurds near the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against Turkey's military operation in Syria's Afrin. January 21, 2018

Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) members protest alongside Syrian-Kurds near the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s Afrin. January 21, 2018DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP

But that was then. Over the weekend, Ankara launched the rather Orwellian sounding “Operation Olive Branch” offensive into Syria’s Afrin, a mainly Kurdish town and outer basin located west of the Euphrates River, held by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Not wishing to overburden the reader with acronyms, suffice to say that Ankara alleges (not without reason) that the PYD and PYG are affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging a separatist struggle against Turkey since the late 1970s, a conflict which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Turks and Kurds. The U.S. supports the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) which consists of some Arab fighters but mainly units of the YPG. They are key U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS.

Ankara was angered by U.S. plans to use the SDF, and, by extension, the PYG, for a new 30,000 strong border-force to prevent ISIS or al-Qaeda factions from regaining a stronghold in the north of Syria. Ankara was concerned that this would embolden the YPG and lead to a hostile autonomous canton that could be used as a launch-pad for attacks against Turkey.


Turkish jets' aerial offensive, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, in northwest Syria, seen here from the Turkish border town of Kilis. Jan. 20, 2018

Turkish jets’ aerial offensive, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, in northwest Syria, seen here from the Turkish border town of Kilis. Jan. 20, 2018 Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

But in creating a border force following the defeat of ISIS, Washington made the right decision. The U.S. has seen first-hand in Iraq what can happen when a military force is disbanded. Armed, battle-hardened, and without money, there is a very real risk that fighters might splinter off and join new groups or militias. Better channel their energy to good use.

Meanwhile, Washington is also right that the demise of ISIS should not be taken for granted; a force is needed to prevent their re-emergence, one that is local and indigenous while making sure there is no room for Iran to capitalize on a U.S. withdrawal.

Washington made it abundantly clear to Ankara that Afrin would be excluded from its new border force. In other words, the Turkish pretext for launching the incursion, the prevention of a PYG force in the Afrin corridor, is bogus.

To make matters worse, before Turkey launched its new operation it was not U.S. or NATO coordination that was sought. Instead Ankara looked for Russian permission.

It is with Moscow that Turkey has signed an agreement to purchasethe S400 surface-to-air missile system despite objections from NATO partners. This is despite Russia invading the Crimea, violating Finnish and Estonian airspace and whose vessels steer close to the territorial waters of European NATO nations. In all likelihood Russia launches cyber-attacks against NATO members and allegedly interfered in the U.S. presidential election. Turkey’s cuddling up to Russia only highlights the extent to which Turkey has left the NATO fold.

Behind Turkey’s anti-U.S. stance lies an imperial ambition. Turkey wishes to assert itself as a regional hegemon by muscling out the U.S.

Just like America, Ankara has set up a base in Qatar. It has also established one in Somalia, a country where the U.S. has bad memories after its failed mission in 1993. Turkey has also been on the forefront in the campaign against President Donald J. Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at a rally in Elazig, eastern Turkey. Jan. 13, 2018
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at a rally in Elazig, eastern Turkey. Jan. 13, 2018/AP

And now in Syria, Turkey is seeking to dislodge the U.S. presence by backing the Free Syrian Army against the U.S.-supported SDF. This latest operation is nothing less than a proxy war against the U.S. Erdogan has even expressed his intention to continue after Afrin.

Ankara wants to finish the job it started with its first foray into Syria, Operation Euphrates Shield, which was completed in March of last year. Erdogan stated that after Afrin, Turkish forces will march on to Manbij, and then even further towards the Iraqi border where PYG forces are located. In other words, to obliterate U.S.-supported forces.

America, and President Trump, have a very real problem. Not only are they fighting a proxy war against the U.S.’s traditional enemies, Russia and Iran, but it is also being challenged by its traditional ally and partner, Turkey, which is seeking to replace U.S. influence in the region.

The Afrin crisis represents one of the biggest challenges for the Trump administration and the NATO alliance now, and for the coming years.

Dr Simon A. Waldman is a Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center and a visiting research fellow at King’s College London. He is the co-author of the recently published The New Turkey and Its Discontents (Oxford University Press: 2017). Twitter: @simonwaldman1


Has Washington Decided To Stand on the Syrian Battlefield? It could be a stand against Daesh, Russia and Iran

January 22, 2018


Despite widespread criticism of the US administration’s current policy in the Middle East, we feel obliged to admit that it is more upfront and committed than the policies of its predecessor. It has chosen Syria as a center for testing its new strategy in fighting Daesh, Russia and Iran, but we don’t know yet whether or not it will manage to reach the end of the path it has planned and recently announced.

After the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the only US foreign policy left was fighting terrorism. This policy became a reaction to the 9/11 attacks, with the US fighting terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. This lasted for a decade-and-a-half.

Today, in Syria, Ukraine, Iran, and on the Korean Peninsula to a lesser extent, we see confrontations between Washington and Moscow. This conflict between the Russia and US brings back to mind the old Cold War.

This was highlighted last week by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his speech about his country’s new strategy, which primarily relies on fighting rival powers — mainly Russia, as well as China to a lesser extent.

Under the Trump administration, Washington’s policy has differed in the Middle East in general, and in Syria and Iraq in particular. It has decided to confront Russia’s and Iran’s presence, in addition to fighting Daesh. The US has chosen Syria as its battleground, despite its complicated situation, which resulted from the wide array of powers involved in the crisis there.


US policymakers have finally realized the danger associated with the dramatic transformations on the ground and are now intent on thwarting Russia and Iran in Syria as well as foiling Daesh’s attempts to return.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Washington’s adoption of an upfront policy for the first time is likely to produce new problems that did not exist before, including that the US will expect its allies to support its policy and restore old alliances. Moreover, stances toward the Syrian crisis will be classified and, later on, applied to major regional issues like dealing with Iran.

Turkey, which is a NATO member and historically a US ally, was trying to use the crisis for its own benefit, until the battle for Afrin brought it in to confrontation with Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime. Thus, Turkey — as well as the rest of the region — will find that its options are narrowing by the day. Will this lead it to ally itself to  Washington or Moscow in Syria?

The US has abandoned last year’s policy of cooperating with Russia in Syria, and adopted a new policy based on confronting Russia through regional agents and allies. However, Moscow had preceded Washington in adopting such a  policy by using Iran and its Lebanese, Iraqi, and other militias to fight on the ground.

On the other hand, the US is using Kurdish-Syrian militias on the ground, along with remnants of the Free Syrian Army east of the Euphrates. The new US approach is based on thwarting the Russian-Iranian project in Syria, and foiling Daesh’s attempts to return after its defeat in Raqqa.

Fortunately for us in the region, policymakers in Washington have finally realized the danger associated with the dramatic transformations in Syria; and they are also against what Iran is doing in Iraq. Even if matters do not escalate to a military confrontation, the adoption of a policy of hostility is enough to raise the cost of war for the Iranian regime and make it unlikely it will control the region.

• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @aalrashed

Erdogan: we will ‘strangle’ U.S.-backed force in Syria ‘before it’s even born’ — “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

January 15, 2018

BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to “strangle” a planned 30,000-strong U.S.-backed force in Syria “before it’s even born,” as Washington’s backing for Kurdish fighters drove a wedge into relations with one of its main Middle East allies.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan 

The United States announced its support on Sunday for plans for a “border force” to defend territory held by U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad responded on Monday by vowing to crush the new force and drive U.S. troops from the country. Assad’s ally Russia called the plans a plot to dismember Syria and place part of it under U.S. control.

But the strongest denunciation came from Erdogan, who has presided as relations between the United States and its biggest Muslim ally within NATO have stretched to the breaking point.

“A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders,” Erdogan said of the United States in a speech in Ankara. “What can that terror army target but Turkey?”

“Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.”

Erdogan said Turkey had completed preparations for an operation in Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.

The United States has led an international coalition using air strikes and special forces troops to aid fighters on the ground battling Islamic State militants in Syria since 2014. It has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria.

The U.S. intervention has taken place on the periphery of a near seven-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.

Islamic State was effectively defeated last year, but Washington says its troops are prepared to stay to make sure the Islamist militant group cannot return, also citing the need for meaningful progress in U.N.-led peace talks.

For much of the war, the United States and Turkey worked together, jointly supporting forces fighting against Assad’s government. But a U.S. decision to back Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in recent years has enraged Ankara.

Meanwhile, the Assad government, backed by Russia and Iran, has made great strides over the past two years in defeating a range of opponents, restoring control over nearly all of Syria’s main cities. It considers the continued U.S. presence a threat to its ambition to restore full control over the entire country.

On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition said it was working with its militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up the new force to patrol the Turkish and Iraqi borders, as well as within Syria along the Euphrates River which separates SDF territory from that held by the government.

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. fighter stands near a military vehicle, north of Raqqa city, Syria November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

Turkey views the Kurdish forces supported by the United States as a national security threat. It says the Syrian Kurdish PYD movement and the affiliated YPG militia, the backbone of the U.S.-backed SDF force in Syria, are allies of the PKK, a banned Kurdish group waging an insurgency in southern Turkey.

“This is what we have to say to all our allies: don’t get in between us and terrorist organisations, or we will not be responsible for the unwanted consequences,” Erdogan said.

“Either you take off your flags on those terrorist organisations, or we will have to hand those flags over to you, Don’t force us to bury in the ground those who are with terrorists,” he said.

“Our operations will continue until not a single terrorist remains along our borders, let alone 30,000 of them.”


Syria’s main Kurdish groups have emerged so far as one of the few winners in the Syrian war, working to entrench their autonomy over large parts of northern Syria. Washington opposes those autonomy plans even as it has backed the SDF.

The Syrian government and the main Kurdish parties have mostly avoided conflict during the civil war, as both sides focused on fighting other groups. But Assad’s rhetoric towards the Kurds has turned increasingly hostile.

Damascus denounced the new border force as a “blatant assault” on its sovereignty, Syrian state media said. It said any Syrian who joined the force would be deemed “a traitor”.

“What the American administration has done comes in the context of its destructive policy in the region to fragment countries … and impede any solutions to the crises,” state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying.

Assad’s allies have also chimed in. In an apparent reference to the force, senior Iranian official Ali Shamkhani said it was “doomed to failure”, Fars news agency reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “The actions that we see now show that the United States does not want to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria.”

“Fundamentally, this means the breakup of a large territory along the border with Turkey and Iraq,” Lavrov said. The zone would be controlled by groups “under the leadership of the United States”, he added.

The coalition said the Border Security Force would operate under SDF command, and about 230 individuals were currently undergoing training in its inaugural class.

Its ethnic composition will reflect the areas in which the force serves. More Arabs would serve along the Euphrates River Valley and the Iraqi border, and more Kurds would serve in areas of northern Syria, the coalition said.