The Iranian nuclear deal has already been broken, the US-trained Syrian rebels in Division 30 are AWOL and Turkey is bombing America’s Kurdish allies. Sounds like a really bad week at the Foggy Bottom box office, but unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened last week with the Obama administration’s Middle East strategy.
First up Iran. The ink hasn’t even dried on the President’s masterstroke of diplomacy embodied in the executive agreement with the United Nations and Iran. To prove how much he respects American negotiating skills, the Ayatollah Khomeini dispatched his top Quds Chief of the Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Soleimani, to Russia in violation of the UN Security Council travel ban.
Who exactly was Soleimani meeting? Why senior Kremlin weapons traffickers, of course. The US ambassador to UN, Samantha Power, confirmed the visit and the purpose of the visit was to finish bilateral meetings to expedite the delivery of Russian weapons, including S-300 surface to air missiles.
Powers admitted that, “these are very concerning reports but we are still tracking down all the facts.” But there is more to the provocative move than meets the eye.
Foreign Policy News reports the Iranian agreement may include a side deal with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia and Iran, Syria’s primary international sponsors, reportedly held back channel talks with senior Obama officials, according to Foreign Policy (FP). “Getting beyond the nuclear deal is a first step to starting a dialogue,” they reported.
Shortly after the deal with Iran was penned, Secretary of State John Kerry intimated that the Iranians wanted to open up a dialog on other regional issues. “My judgment is that there are possibilities there, but I’m not going to promise them, I can’t tell you where they’ll go, and I’m not betting on them,” Kerry said.
FP reported that “as part of the renewed American push, Kerry has been discreetly reaching out to his counterparts in Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf to see if there are grounds to breathe life into a potential peace process. Turkey and the Gulf monarchies have backed various Sunni rebels in the Syrian civil war and long focused on Assad’s ouster, though the nations are increasingly invested in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State.”
This development is a 180 turn from President Obama’s redline and multiple assertions that Assad must go. It also comes after a quarter of a million Syrians have died during the four-year civil war. According to UN Human Rights Watch, more than four million refugees have fled Syria to the neighboring countries of Jordan and Turkey.
The lengthy war has also given ISIS terrorists the upper hand in recent months as the al-Assad regime has admitted they have lost control of large swaths of the country in the north, especially the town of Raqqa that has become ISIS’s de-facto capitol.
“There are a lot of quiet conversations going on,” one U.S. official told FP. “You will see more movement on this.” Another sign peace talks have been renewed comes from the Russians who have invited the new Syrian National Coalition to Moscow in an effort to negotiate some sort of reconciliation agreement between the two parties. This could lead to a sustained effort to rid the region of ISIS, giving a much-needed victory for the US military.
US-trained Syrian rebels disappear
The al Qaeda-linked terror group al-Nusra captured a top leader of the US trained Syrian rebels last week casting doubt on the Pentagon’s dubious effort to aid forces fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Making matters worse is the fact al-Nusra also seized anti-tank TOW missiles during the ambush.
Despite spending $4 million per fighter, the Pentagon has only trained about 54 of the expected 5,400 rebel fighters. Of those, the intelligence community claims the rebels are poorly equipped, they still haven’t received night vision goggles, and the group remains undermanned to fight against a well-trained and growing ISIS army.
The attack by al-Nusra occurred at the rebel faction’s headquarters in northern Syria near Aleppo. The terrorist group claimed in their statement that they killed five fighters and wounded another dozen. Responding directly to American involvement along the Turkish border, al-Nusra promised to cut off “the arms” of the US government in northern Syria, which they appeared to have succeeded, as none of the 54 fighters can be reached by the Pentagon and most are feared dead, captured or in Kurdish safe zones. The only problem with the “safe zone” is that some of those areas are now under attack by the Turkish government.
This latest US tactic to fight radical Islam is based in Jordan and Turkey and is coordinated with the CIA. However, the US-trained fighters would rather focus on removing President al-Assad, leaving the US military in a quandary, as President Obama’s commitment to rid the region of ISIS remains questionable.
However, President Obama gave the Pentagon new rules of engagement (ROE) in Syria. Until Sunday night the ROE’s were to engage ISIS and leave President al-Assad’s forces alone. Confusing matters even more, Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith said, “We recognize, though, that many of these groups now fight on multiple fronts, including against the Assad regime, (Islamic State) and other terrorists.” So what gives?
The Pentagon also reminded reporters that the new recruits have been explicitly directed not to fight against the al-Assad regime unless they are attacked first.
But Truth In Media reported that a declassified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document from 2012 confirms that arming Islamist fighters could lead to the emergence of ISIS. This information was confirmed by then director of DIA, Army General Mike Flynn (Flynn retired earlier this year and has been an outspoken critic of US policies in the Middle East).
The document read in part; “… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”
But, with a dozen or so terrorist groups operating inside Syria can anyone really confirm if any of the fighters are good or bad guys? Retired DIA Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer said, “It is chaos. The only groups we are recommending are the Kurds.” And the Kurds have come under relentless attack from Turkish President Recep Erdoğan after the Turks granted US planes the use of their strategic military bases near the Syrian border last week. This development has only added confusion to an already unsolvable rubric’s cube Middle East mess.
The question now becomes, how will the US control the escalation of US forces into the war theater since current US doctrine requires engaging the enemy without exposing troops to direct conflict with ISIS, al-Qaeda, Syrian, Kurds, and even Turks?
In a case of curious timing, Turkey finally agreed to let the US use one of its NATO air bases to launch attacks against ISIS. It’s taken more than a year of negotiations, a landslide political loss for President Erdoğan, and a political gain for the Turkish Kurds for the Turkish government to authorized US manned aircraft landing and take off rights from Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey.
The American diplomatic agreement sought to increase the airstrikes against ISIS Islamic jihadis that have proven, according to new Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, to be capable fighters. He went on to tell a Senate committee hearing a few weeks ago, that after a year, the US is not losing the war, but it’s not winning either.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s president had other plans for the new US agreement. It would make a cursory effort to fight ISIS, but its main target would be Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Making matters worse Turkey’s military launched strikes in northern Iraq (US allies), Northern Syria (where Division 30 was wiped out) as well as in Turkey, which potentially jeopardizes the Kurdish fight against ISIS.
The latest operations make it clear that Turkey’s first priority is ridding the region of its main Kurdish enemy in an effort to coalesce the nation behind its current leaders. But the effort may have backfired as multiple terror attacks hit Turkey on Monday claiming at least nine lives.
One of the terror attacks hit the same police station twice within six hours.
In a separate attack the Wall Street Journal reported the US Consulate in Istanbul came under fire from two women of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C. Both women were captured and no US injuries were reported. Although two years ago, in Ankara, Turkey the same group succeeded in killing a Turkish security guard and wounded several others in a suicide bombing at the US Embassy.
And finally, PKK terrorists (who were also arrested earlier this year at the US/Mexico border link here) claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing in southeastern Sirnak province that killed another four police officers.
The uptick of internal violence by the PKK-associated in Turkey has claimed more than 70 security-related officials as well as civilians in the past three weeks, according to Turkish authorities.
That lead to opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu to call for an end to the violence; “Politicians who asked for people’s votes to produce solutions must immediately come together to resolve Turkey’s biggest problem.” According to local officials the leaders were scheduled to meet on Monday to form a new governing body before the August 23 deadline.
Until then the Kurds can expect the attacks to continue and Americans can only watch as another secular country potentially undergoes its regime change train implosion.
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