Russia Defense Report – Feb. 20, 2016: Russian Military Grouping in Syria (Arab, Ger Subs)

 

 

Published first on Feb 19, 2016

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SYRIA, A “NEW” LIBYA WITH VERY LITTLE TIME LEFT?

22libya-full-bleed-videoSixteenByNine3000                   Fotograph courtesy of the New York Times

 

There could be no more apt image to describe Libyan politics today than the prime minister himself, the beleaguered Mr Ali Zeidan, being kidnapped on Tuesday morning by a militia notionally allied to his own government. When he was released several hours later, he noted, with marvellous understatement, that “there are many things that need dealing with”. Indeed there are.

For one thing, Mr Zeidan’s was not the first abduction of the week. That came courtesy of American special forces, who strolled into Tripoli on Saturday to pick up Abu Anas al-Liby, a senior member of al‑Qaeda wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Uganda. The Americans then made life immeasurably harder for the Libyan government by insisting that it had known about the raid. The predictable result was uproar.

But it’s no surprise that the US felt the need to step in. Libyan forces were neither able to prevent the 2011 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, nor arrest anyone afterwards. If the US had simply put in an extradition request, the prospect of al-Liby being picked up or ever facing trial would have been vanishingly small.

In truth, the prime minister’s kidnapping and the US raid are both no more than symptoms of something that has been obvious for over a year: Libya’s post-Gaddafi state lacks the firepower to impose its will on an increasingly lawless country. The Italian consulate in Benghazi was attacked in January, the French embassy in April, the EU ambassador’s convoy in August, and Russia’s embassy last week. And those are just the foreign targets.

This is about much more than terrorist violence. The state in Libya, which Colonel Gaddafi eviscerated for his own despotic ends, is now being consumed by the same rebel groups that brought it into life back in 2011. Performing the most basic tasks of administration, such as making arrests or monitoring borders, can require a negotiation between the government and whichever militias happen to have accumulated enough guns in that particular area. It’s not just that the enfeebled police and army won’t take them on for fear of losing. It’s also that the state has decided to outsource these functions to its tormentors. Both the prime minister’s kidnapping and the attack in Benghazi were perpetrated by groups that have worked with the government and its ministries.

Why are militias challenging the government in the first place? There’s no simple answer, because there is a dizzying variety of groups with guns. Some are Islamist, others secular and nationalist. Some are formed around particular cities or provinces. Others formed in a jumbled way during the 2011 uprising, and claim a sort of Jacobin revolutionary legitimacy against what they see as a government tainted by corrupt, pro-Western stooges.

In March, a coalition of militias, with the typically self-important title of the Supreme Security Council, laid siege to the ministries of justice and foreign affairs for two weeks, insisting that parliament sign a wide-ranging law that would ban Gaddafi-era officials from serving in government. Remarkably, parliament capitulated. It had essentially been coerced into legislating at the barrel of a gun. The speaker of parliament himself was forced to resign.

Outside of Tripoli, the problem is no better. For the past two months, Libyan oil exports have plummeted to a fifth of their Gaddafi-era peak, after guards at eastern oil facilities and ports went on strike. Part of that dispute was a demand that eastern Libya, which chafes at Tripoli’s domination, be given more autonomy.

Wars, once won, tend to be forgotten. This was the fate of Afghanistan in the years after 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. But Libya’s problems will not stay within its borders. Adding to all of these domestic concerns is the massive flow of arms across Libya’s long, porous borders. Libyan weapons, looted from Gaddafi’s armouries, have been smuggled across the region, turning up in places as diverse as Mali, the Sinai, Gaza and Syria. According to one estimate, around 3,000 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles – capable of bringing down civilian airliners – remain missing.

The dilemma is clear: Libya’s government is too weak to fix these problems itself, but unilateral American or European steps – or assistance that is too public – risks tainting the government further in the eyes of Islamists and nationalists. A careful balance has to be struck. This government’s authority has been eroding for over a year, and it has now suffered the most grievous blow yet. Unless Mr Zeidan shows he can check the power of militias, he risks a continued slide into irrelevance.

The Attack on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya

The American mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked twice on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Below, the events that evening that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans according to the latest information available.
 
The American mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked twice on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Below, the events that evening that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans according to the latest information available.
Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m. Benghazi time

Militants, firing guns and rocket-propelled grenades, attack the main compound, moving on multiple entrances at once. The main entrance is protected by three armed and four unarmed Libyan guards. No more than seven Americans are in the compound, including three civilians and four who have guns. Mr. Stevens is alone in the main building, according to guards interviewed later. The militants enter the compound, backed by truck-mounted artillery.

Libya Envoy’s Killing Was a Terrorist Attack, the White House Says

WASHINGTON — The White House is now calling the assault on the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, a “terrorist attack.”

“It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday. “Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials.”

Until now, White House officials have not used that language in describing the assault. But with the election less than two months away and President Obama’s record on national security a campaign issue, they have come under criticism from Republican lawmakers who say the administration is playing down a threat for which it was unprepared.

Mr. Carney offered the new assessment in response to a question about remarks by Matthew G. Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who told a Congressional committee Wednesday that J. Christopher Stevens, the United States ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans had died “in the course of a terrorist attack.”

Asked if the president drew a connection between the Libyan attack, which occurred on Sept. 11, and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 11 years before, Mr. Carney said, “The attack occurred on Sept 11, 2012, so we use the same calendar at the White House as you do.”

In a highly charged political atmosphere, the mere use of the term “terrorist” is loaded, not least, as one administration official acknowledged privately, because the phrase conjures up an image of America under attack, something the White House wants to avoid.

Beyond that, different government agencies have different definitions for what defines terrorism, said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.

The classic definition, Mr. Fishman said, “is an attack by a nonstate group on noncombatants with the intent to intimidate people.” He said that another reason the administration was shying from using that term is because “they really didn’t know who did it.”

And the president, campaigning in Florida on Thursday, did not use the word terrorism when asked about the attacks.

Mr. Carney maintained on Thursday that Obama administration officials still were not calling the attack preplanned.

“According to the best information we have now, we believe it was an opportunistic attack on our mission in Benghazi,” he said. “It appears that some well-armed militants seized on that attack as the events unfolded that evening. We do not have any specific intelligence that there was significant advance planning or coordination for this attack.”Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said earlier in the week that there had been no intelligence warnings that an attack was imminent.

Mrs. Clinton said that F.B.I. investigators had arrived in Tripoli and that the United States, with the Libyan authorities, would find those responsible. She did not discuss any potential ties to Al Qaeda, but blamed extremists opposed to the democratic changes in places like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt for the violence and protests around the region generally.

Mrs. Clinton announced the creation of a panel to investigate the attack. The panel, called an Accountability Review Board, will be led by Thomas R. Pickering, a veteran diplomat and former under secretary of state. The board is authorized by a 1986 law intended to strengthen security at United States diplomatic missions.

“We are concerned first and foremost with our own people and facilities,” Mrs. Clinton said in an appearance at the State Department with the Indonesian foreign minister. “But we are concerned about the internal security in these countries, because ultimately, that puts at risk the men, women and children of these societies on a daily ongoing basis if actions are not taken to try to restore security and civil order.”

Obama Ignores Russian Terror Victims, Killed by ISIS

By Robert Parry
Global Research, December 05, 2015
Consortium News 2 December 2015
Region: Middle East & North Africa, Russia and FSU, USA
Theme: US NATO War Agenda

President Obama has displayed a stunning lack of sympathy for the Russian civilians killed in an ISIS plane bombing in Egypt and for two Russian military men slain as victims of U.S. weapons systems in Syria, putting insults toward President Putin ahead of human decency, writes Robert Parry.

Normally, when a country is hit by an act of terrorism, there is universal sympathy even if the country has engaged in actions that may have made it a target of the terrorists. After 9/11, for instance, any discussion of whether U.S. violent meddling in the Middle East may have precipitated the attack was ruled out of the public debate.

Similarly, the 7/7 attacks against London’s Underground in 2005 were not excused because the United Kingdom had joined in President George W. Bush’s aggressive war in Iraq. The same with the more recent terror strikes in Paris. No respectable politician or pundit gloated about the French getting what they deserved for their long history of imperialism in the Muslim world.

President Barack Obama uncomfortably accepting the Nobel Peace Prize from Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (White House photo)

obama-nobel-12-10-09-300x199

Apparently, the political imperative to display disdain for Russian President Vladimir Putin trumps any normal sense of humanity. Both Obama on Tuesday and Friedman on Wednesday treated those Russian deaths at the hands of the Islamic State or other jihadists as Putin’s comeuppance for intervening against terrorist/jihadist gains in Syria.

At a news conference in Paris, Obama expressed his lack of sympathy as part of a bizarre comment in which he faulted Putin for somehow not turning around the Syrian conflict during the past month – when Obama and his allies have been floundering in their “war” against the Islamic State and its parent, Al Qaeda, for years, if not decades.

“The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly,” Obama said. “

In the interim, Russia has lost a commercial passenger jet. You’ve seen another jet shot down. There have been losses in terms of Russian personnel. And I think Mr. Putin understands that, with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in a inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict is not the outcome that he’s looking for.”

In examining that one paragraph, a “fair-minded” reporter could find a great deal to dispute. Indeed, the comments suggest that President Obama has crossed some line into either believing his own propaganda or thinking that everyone who listens to him is an idiot and will believe whatever he says.

But what was perhaps most disturbing was Obama’s graceless manner of discussing the tragedy of the Sinai bombing, followed by his seeming pleasure over Turkey shooting down a Russian SU-24 last week, leading to the killing of two Russian military men, one the pilot who was targeted while parachuting to the ground and the other a marine after his search-and-rescue helicopter was downed by a TOW missile.

Even more troubling, the key weapon systems used – the Turkish F-16 fighter jet and the TOW missile – were U.S.-manufactured and apparently U.S. supplied, in the case of the TOW missile either directly or indirectly to Sunni jihadists deemed “moderate” by the Obama administration.

The Ever-Smug Friedman

Columnist Friedman was equally unfeeling about the Russian deaths. In a column entitled “Putin’s Great Syrian Adventure,” Friedman offered a mocking assessment of Russia’s intervention against Sunni jihadists and terrorists seeking to take control of Syria.

While ridiculing anyone who praised Putin’s initiative or who just thought the Russian president was “crazy like a fox,” Friedman wrote: “Some of us thought he was just crazy.

Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-ISIS militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him.

Ha-ha, very funny! And, by the way, it has not been established that the Russian SU-24 did stray into Turkish air space but if it did, according to the Turkish account, it passed over a sliver of Turkish territory for all of 17 seconds.

The evidence is quite clear that the SU-24 was ambushed in a reckless act by Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has been collaborating with Syrian and foreign jihadists for the past four years to overthrow Syria’s secular government. And the murder of the pilot after he bailed out of the plane is not some reason to smirk; it is a war crime.

Even uglier is the lack of any sympathy or outrage over the terrorist bombing that killed 224 innocent people, mostly tourists, aboard a Russian charter flight in Egypt. If the victims had been American and a similar callous reaction had come from President Putin and a columnist for a major Russian newspaper, one can only imagine the outrage. However, in Official Washington, any recognition of a common humanity with Russians makes you a “Moscow stooge.”

The other wacky part of both Obama’s comments and Friedman’s echoes of the same themes is this quick assessment that the Russian intervention in support of the Syrian government has been some abject failure – as if the U.S.-led coalition has been doing so wonderfully.

First, as a “fair-minded” reporter, I would say that it appears the Russian-backed Syrian offensive has at least stopped the advances of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and its jihadist allies, including Ahrar al-Sham (which technically separates itself from Al Qaeda and thus qualifies for U.S.-supplied weaponry even though it fights side-by-side with Nusra in the Saudi-backed Army of Conquest).

The Afghan Memories

Obama’s reference to Afghanistan was also startling. He was suggesting that Putin should have learned a lesson from Moscow’s intervention in the 1980s in support of a secular, pro-Soviet regime in Kabul, which came under attack by CIA-organized-and-armed Islamic jihadists known then as mujahedeen.

Wielding sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and benefiting from $1 billion a year in Saudi-U.S.-supplied weapons, the Afghan fundamentalist mujahedeen and their allies, including Saudi Osama bin Laden, eventually drove Soviet troops out in 1989 and – several years later behind the Taliban – completed the reversion of Afghanistan back to the Seventh Century. Women in Kabul went from dressing any way they liked in public, including wearing mini-skirts, to being covered in chadors and kept at home.

Obama’s bringing up Afghanistan in the Syrian context and Putin’s supposed one-month Syrian failure was ironic in another way. After Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of bin Laden and has been bogged down in a quagmire there for 14 years, including nearly seven years under Obama.

So, Obama may not be on the firmest ground when he suggests that Putin recall Moscow’s experience in Afghanistan a few decades ago. After all, Obama has many more recent memories.

Further, what is different about Putin’s Syrian strategy – compared with Obama’s – is that the Russians are targeting all the terrorists and jihadists, not just the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh). While U.S. propaganda tries to present the non-ISIS jihadists as “moderates” (somehow pretending that Al Qaeda is no longer a terrorist organization), there is, in reality, very little distinction between ISIS and the alliance of Nusra/Ahrar al-Sham.

And, as for Official Washington’s new “group think” about the Syrian government’s lack of progress in the war, there is the discordant news that the last of rebel forces have agreed to abandon the central city of Homs, which had been dubbed the “capital of the revolution.” The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that “thousands of insurgents will leave the last opposition-held neighborhood in” Homs, with the withdrawal beginning next week.

Al-Jazeera added the additional fact that the remaining 4,000 insurgents are “from al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army.” In other words, the “moderate” Free Syrian Army was operating in collusion with Al Qaeda’s affiliate and its major jihadist partner.

While it’s hard to get reliable up-to-date information from inside Syria, one intelligence source familiar with the military situation told me that the Syrian government offensive, backed by Iranian troops and Russian air power, had been surprisingly successful in putting the jihadists, including ISIS and Nusra, on the defensive, with additional gains around the key city of Aleppo.

The Belated Oil Bombings

Also, in the past week, Putin shamed Obama into joining in a bombing operation to destroy hundreds of trucks carrying ISIS oil to Turkey. Why that valuable business was allowed to continue during the U.S.-led war on ISIS since summer 2014 has not been adequately explained. It apparently was being protected by Turkish President Erdogan.

Another irony of Obama’s (and Friedman’s) critical assessment of Putin’s one-month military campaign came in Obama’s recounting of his meeting during the Paris climate summit with Erdogan. Obama said he was still appealing to Erdogan to close the Turkish-Syrian border although radical jihadists have been crossing it since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

“With respect to Turkey, I have had repeated conversations with President Erdogan about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria,” Obama said. “We’ve seen some serious progress on that front, but there are still some gaps. In particular, there’s about 98 kilometers that are still used as a transit point for foreign fighters, ISIL shipping out fuel for sale that helps finance their terrorist activities.”

In other words, all these years into the conflict – and about 1½ years since Obama specifically targeted ISIS – Turkey has not closed its borders to prevent ISIS from reinforcing itself with foreign fighters and trafficking in illicit oil sales to fund its terror operations. One might suspect that Erdogan has no intention of really stopping the Sunni jihadists from ravaging Syria.

Erdogan still seems set on violent “regime change” in Syria after allowing his intelligence services to provide extensive help to ISIS, Al Qaeda’s Nusra and other extremists. The Russians claim that politically well-connected Turkish businessmen also have been profiting off the ISIS oil sales.

But Obama’s acknowledgement that he has not even been able to get NATO “ally” Turkey to seal its border and that ISIS still remains a potent fighting force makes a mockery of his mocking Putin for not “significantly” changing the situation on the ground in Syria in one month.

Obama also slid into propaganda speak when he blamed Assad for all the deaths that have occurred during the Syrian conflict. “I consider somebody who kills hundreds of thousands of his own people illegitimate,” Obama said.

But again Obama is applying double standards. For instance, he would not blame President George W. Bush for the hundreds of thousands (possibly more than a million) dead Iraqis, yet Bush was arguably more responsible for those deaths by launching an unprovoked invasion of Iraq than Assad was in battling a jihadist-led insurgency.

Plus, the death toll of Syrians, estimated to exceed a quarter million, includes many soldiers and police as well as armed jihadists. That does not excuse Assad or his regime for excessively heavy-handed tactics that have inflicted civilian casualties, but Obama and his predecessor both have plenty of innocent blood on their hands, too.

After watching Obama’s news conference, one perhaps can hope that he is just speaking out of multiple sides of his mouth as he is wont to do. Maybe, he’s playing his usual game of “above-the-table/below-the-table,” praising Erdogan above the table while chastising him below the table and disparaging Putin in public while cooperating with the Russian president in private.

Or maybe President Obama has simply lost touch with reality – and with common human decency.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon andbarnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34.

The trilogy includesAmerica’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.
The original source of this article is Consortium News
Copyright © Robert Parry, Consortium News, 2015

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