US-Backed Kurdish forces suffer heavy casualties in west Raqqa: ISIS media

BEIRUT, LEBANON (11:10 P.M.) – The so-called “Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham” (ISIS) claimed on Wednesday that their forces killed a large number of “PKK” (Kurdistan Workers Party) fighters in the western countryside of Al-Raqqa.

ISIS posted pictures of dead fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces on Wednesday, claiming that their militants killed a large number of these Kurdish military personnel during their counter-attack.

While Al-Masdar cannot verify this claim by the Islamic State’s media wing, the terrorist group did post pictures to a JustPaste.It to show some of the SDF’s casualties that were killed by the Islamic State in west Al-Raqqa .

Despite the claims by the Islamic State, the Kurdish forces are rolling in the western countryside of Al-Raqqa, liberating several sites en route to their advance to the Tabaqa Military Airport.

According to the SDF’s official media wing, their forces now overlook the Tabaqa Military Airport, despite the heavy counter-attack by the Islamic State on Wednesday.

Joint Russian, Turkish Bombing Campaign in Syria Deepens NATO Crisis

Global Research, January 20, 2017
World Socialist Web Site 20 January 2017
Israel Claims Airstrikes on Damascus

The launching of coordinated air strikes by Russian and Turkish warplanes against Islamic State (ISIS) targets in northern Syria Wednesday has further exposed the crisis gripping Washington’s intervention in the war-ravaged Middle Eastern country, as well as the deepening contradictions plaguing the NATO alliance on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president.

The bombing campaign struck targets around the Syrian town of al-Bab, the scene of bloody fighting between Turkish troops and ISIS militants over the past several weeks.

From a political standpoint, the joint action by Russia and Turkey, a member of the NATO alliance for the past 65 years, is unprecedented. It stands in stark contradiction to the anti-Moscow campaign being waged by Washington and its principal NATO allies, which has seen the cutting off of military-to-military ties, the imposition of sanctions, and the increasingly provocative deployment of thousands of US and other NATO troops on Russia’s western borders. Just last week, the US sent 3,000 soldiers into Poland, backed by tanks and artillery, while hundreds more US Marines have been dispatched to Norway.

Turkey’s collaboration with Russia represents a further challenge to the US-led alliance under conditions in which Trump has severely rattled its European members with recent statements describing NATO as “obsolete” and charging its members with not “taking care of terror” and not “paying what they’re supposed to pay.”

The joint air attack was carried out under the terms of a memorandum reached between the Russian and Turkish militaries the previous week, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The document, signed on January 12, was designed to prevent “incidents” between Turkish and Russian warplanes, as well as to prepare “joint operations … in Syria to destroy international terrorist groups,” Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudoskoy said in a statement.

Russian-Turkish relations reached their nadir in November 2015 when Turkish fighter jets ambushed and shot down a Russian warplane carrying out airstrikes against Islamist fighters near the border between Turkey and Syria. The incident brought Turkey, and with it NATO, to the brink of war with nuclear-armed Russia. At that point, Turkey was serving as the main conduit for foreign fighters, weapons and other resources being poured into Syria to wage the US-orchestrated war for regime change, while Russia was intervening to prop up its principal Middle East ally, the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In June of last year, Ankara sought to mend it relations with Moscow, which had retaliated for the shoot-down with economic sanctions. Relations grew closer in the wake of the abortive July 2016 military coup, which the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed on the US and its allies.

The turning point in bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia came at the end of last year, with the Russian-backed Syrian army’s routing of the Western-backed, Al Qaeda-linked militias in their last urban stronghold of eastern Aleppo. Turkey joined with Russia in brokering a withdrawal of the last “rebels” from the area and a nationwide ceasefire, which continues to prevail in much of the country.

Washington was pointedly excluded from the negotiations surrounding both Aleppo and the ceasefire. Only at the last moment has Moscow invited the incoming Trump administration—over the objection of Syria’s other major ally, Iran—to participate in talks aimed at reaching a political settlement over the six-year-old war that are to convene in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, next week.

The joint Russian-Turkish airstrikes around al-Bab came in the wake of bitter protests by the Turkish government over the refusal of the US military to provide similar air support for Ankara’s troops in the area. The Pentagon’s reluctance stemmed from the conflicting aims pursued by Turkey, which sent its troops into Syria last August in what the Erdogan government dubbed “Operation Euphrates Shield.”

Ostensibly directed against ISIS, Ankara’s primary target was really the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG). The Turkish government views these groups as affiliates of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), against which it has waged a protracted counterinsurgency campaign within Turkey itself. The offensive against ISIS-controlled al-Bab is aimed principally at preventing it from falling to the YPG and at blocking the linking up of eastern and western Kurdish enclaves along Turkey’s border.

For its part, Washington has utilized the YPG as its principal proxy ground force in the US attack on ISIS, sending in US special forces troops to arm, train and direct these Kurdish fighters.

The US refusal to back Turkish forces around al-Bab with airstrikes led to angry denunciations of Washington by the Turkish president, who charged that the US was supporting “terrorists” instead of its NATO ally. Ankara also began delaying approval for US flights out of the strategic Incirlik air base in southern Turkey and threatened to deny Washington and its allies access to the base altogether.

It was likely these threats, combined with the Turkish-Russian agreement to conduct joint strikes, that led the Pentagon to reverse its previous refusal to support Turkish forces and launch limited bombing runs around al-Bab as well this week.

This crowded and geostrategically tense battlefield is likely to grow even more dangerous following Trump’s ascension to the White House.

Trump has reportedly called for the Pentagon to come up with proposals to deal a decisive defeat to ISIS in Syria and Iraq within 90 days. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday that he would “present options to accelerate the campaign” against ISIS to retired general James Mattis, Trump’s incoming defense secretary.

Citing unnamed Pentagon officials, CNN reports that “The Defense Department is prepared to provide the new administration with military options to accelerate the war against ISIS in Syria that could send additional US troops into direct combat.”

“One option would put hundreds, if not thousands, of additional US troops into a combat role as part of the fight to take Raqqa,” the Islamic State’s Syrian “capital,” according to the television news network. “… in the coming months, the Pentagon could put several US brigade-sized combat teams on the ground, each team perhaps as many as 4,000 troops.”

Plans are also reportedly being drawn up to escalate military provocations against Iran, which Mattis, in testimony before the Senate, described as the “biggest destabilizing force in the Middle East,” adding that the Trump administration must “checkmate Iran’s goal for regional hegemony.”

There is every indication, Trump’s rhetoric about improving relations with Moscow notwithstanding, that US imperialism is preparing for another eruption of militarism in the Middle East that will pose an ever greater threat of spilling over into a new world war.

The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan

JANUARY 16, 2017

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

As Donald Trump prepares for his inauguration, he is struggling with opposition from the US media, intelligence agencies, government apparatus, parts of the Republican Party and a significant portion of the American population. Impressive obstacles appear to prevent him exercising arbitrary power.

He should take heart: much the same was said in Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2002 when he led his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the first of four election victories. He faced an army that, through coups and the threat of coups, was the ultimate source of power in the country, and a secular establishment suspicious of his Islamist beliefs. But over the years he has outmanoeuvred or eliminated his enemies and – using a failed military coup on 15 July last year as an excuse – is suppressing and punishing all signs of dissent as “terrorism”.

As Trump enters the White House, the AKP and far right nationalist super majority in the Turkish parliament is this month stripping the assembly of its powers and transferring them wholesale to the presidency. President Erdogan will become an elected dictator able to dissolve parliament, veto legislation, decide the budget, appoint ministers who do not have to be MPs along with senior officials and heads of universities.

All power will be concentrated in Erdogan’s hands as the office of prime minister is abolished and the president, who can serve three five year terms, takes direct control of the intelligence services. He will appoint senior judges and the head of state institutions including the education system.

These far-reaching constitutional changes are reinforcing an ever-expanding purge begun after the failed military coup last year, in which more than 100,000 civil servants have been detained or dismissed. This purge is now reaching into every walk of life, from liberal journalists to businessmen who have seen $10bn in assets confiscated by the state.

The similarities between Erdogan and Trump are greater than they might seem, despite the very different political traditions in the US and Turkey.

The parallel lies primarily in the methods by which both men have gained power and seek to enhance it. They are populists and nationalists who demonise their enemies and see themselves as surrounded by conspiracies. Success does not sate their pursuit of more authority.

Hopes in the US that, after Trump’s election in November, he would shift from aggressive campaign mode to a more conciliatory approach have dissipated over the last two months. Towards the media his open hostility has escalated, as was shown by his abuse of reporters at his press conference this week.

Manic sensitivity to criticism is a hallmark of both men. In Trump’s case this is exemplified by his tweeted denunciation of critics such as Meryl Streep, while in Turkey 2,000 people have been charged with insulting the president. One man was tried for posting on Facebook three pictures of Gollum, the character in The Lord of the Rings, with similar facial features to pictures of Erdogan posted alongside. Of the 259 journalists in jail around the world, no less than 81 are in Turkey. American reporters may not yet face similar penalties, but they can expect intense pressure on the institutions for which they work to mute their criticisms.

Turkey and the US may have very different political landscapes, but there is a surprising degree of uniformity in the behaviour of Trump and Erdogan. The same is true of populist, nationalist, authoritarian leaders who are taking power in many different parts of the world from Hungary and Poland to the Philippines. Commentators have struggled for a phrase to describe this phenomenon, such as “the age of demagoguery”, but this refers only to one method – and that not the least important – by which such leaders gain power.

This type of political leadership is not new: the most compelling account of it was written 70 years ago in 1947 by the great British historian Sir Lewis Namier, in an essay reflecting on what he termed “Caesarian democracy”, which over the previous century had produced Napoleon III in France, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany. His list of the most important aspects of this toxic brand of politics is as relevant today as it was when first written, since all the items apply to Trump, Erdogan and their like.

Namier described “Caesarian democracy” as typified by “its direct appeal to the masses: demagogical slogans; disregard of legality despite a professed guardianship of law and order; contempt of political parties and the parliamentary system, of the educated classes and their values; blandishments and vague, contradictory promises to all and sundry; militarism; gigantic blatant displays and shady corruption. Panem et circenses [bread and circuses] once more – and at the end of the road, disaster.”

Disaster comes in different forms. One disability of elected dictators or strongmen is that, impelled by an exaggerated idea of their own capacity, they undertake foreign military adventures beyond their country’s strength. As an isolationist Trump might steer clear of such quagmires, but most of his senior security appointments show a far more aggressive and interventionist streak.

A strength of President Obama was that he had a realistic sense of what was attainable by the US in the Middle East without starting unwinnable wars as President George W Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the presidential election campaign, Trump showed signs of grasping – as Hillary Clinton did not – that Americans do not want to fight another ground war in the Middle East or anywhere else. But this naturally limits US influence in the world and will be at odds with Trump’s slogan about “making America great again.”

The disaster that Namier predicted was the natural end of elected dictators has already begun to happen in Turkey. The Turkish leader may have succeeded in monopolising power at home, but at the price of provoking crises and deepening divisions within Turkish society. The country is embroiled in the war in Syria, thanks to Erdogan’s ill-judged intervention there since 2011. This led to the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) establishing a de facto state in northern Syria and Isis doing the same in Syria and Iraq. At home, Erdogan restarted the war with the Turkish Kurds for electoral reasons in 2015 and the conflict is now more intractable than ever.

Every few weeks in Turkey there is another terrorist attack which is usually the work of Isis or a faction of the PKK – although the government sometimes blames atrocities on the followers of Fethullah Gulen, who are alleged to have carried out the attempted military coup last July. In addition to this, there is an escalating financial crisis, which has seen the Turkish lira lose 12 per cent of its value over the last two weeks. Foreign and domestic investment is drying up as investors become increasingly convinced that Turkey has become chronically unstable.

Erdogan and Trump have a further point in common: both have an unquenchable appetite for power and achieve it by exploiting and exacerbating divisions within their own countries.

They declare they will make their countries great again, but in practise make them weaker.

They are forever sawing through the branch on which they – and everybody else – are sitting.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

SYRIAN ARMY LIBERATES ALEPPO’S OLD CITY; 73% OF EAST ALEPPO IN HANDS OF HEROIC SYRIAN ARMY; SAUDIS AND TURKS FURIOUS AT TERRORIST SURRENDER; ZIONIST SLIME FIRE MISSILES AT DAMASCUS MILITARY AIRBASE

Ziad Fadel

 

 36 عملية قصف للمسلحين في الـ 24 ساعة الماضية.. وخروج مئات المدنيين من أحياء حلب الشرقية

Syrian soldiers standing atop the liberated walls of the Citadel hoist the Syrian flag and scoff at the huddled, terrified rodents begging for amnesty.

ALEPPO:  We are on a roll.  The rats are contacting the Syrian military authorities, bypassing their own chain of command, and asking for a 5-day respite for “humanitarian reasons”.  The rats now know the SAA is in control of 75% of East Aleppo with a crushing, final haymaker still coming for them.  The Syrian government has rejected any talk of ceasefire unless and until the rodents are ready to commit to withdraw out of the city completely to Idlib, surrender or die.  Those are their only options.

Over 1000 citizens have returned during the last 24 hours to their homes in liberated areas of East Aleppo.  In one area, it was reported that 10 former terrorists carrying Syrian identification were granted amnesty from prosecution after they laid down their arms and agreed to a debriefing by security services.  There are negotiations afoot besides the talk of a 5-day ceasefire.  Terrorists inside Turkey have initiated talks with the Syrian Army about a total withdrawal from Aleppo and redeployment near the Turk border.  The SAA has reportedly rejected any talk of sending additional rodents to the Turkish terrorists fighting both the YPG, PKK and the SAA.  That is now off the table.

In the meantime, SyrPer can confirm the liberation of all these areas of East Aleppo which occurred during the last 24 hours:

Aghyoor

Baab Al-Hadeed

Qaadhi ‘Askar

Nooreddeen Al-Zangi Avenue

Karm Al-Jabal

Al-Faraafira

Al-Mashshaateen

Baab Al-Nasr Avenue

Al-Khandaq Boulevard

Al-Hameediyya

200 citizens have been rescued by the SAA with all asking for medical treatment.  Rodents in the areas mentioned above submitted to arrest in an effort to secure some kind of amnesty.  All foreigners have left the area due to the unfortunate likelihood of being executed on the spot by militiamen.

As Canthama reported yesterday, the following areas have been totally cleansed of rodents:

Al-Sha’aar

Karm Al-Qaatirji

Tallat Al-Shurta

Al-Marja

Al-Shaykh Lutfi

 

(Thanks, Silvia)

(Map courtesy of Silvia Iranova from Digital Globe)

______________________________________________

DAMASCUS:

Al-Tal:  Just liberated, as we reported.  500 hyenas and 1,500 family members left Al-Tal for Idlib where they will either die or find some way to Europe.

 

Hawsh Al-Zhawaaria Farms:   The SAA is advancing remarkably here.  At the farms, the SAA destroyed all fortifications and bunkers built up by the savages killing a reported 17 and wounding scores.  This area will be liberated within the next 48 hours.

 

 

Al-Mazza Airbase west of Damascus:  Several Zionist missiles fired from west of Abu Al-Nadaa in Occupied Palestine’s West Bank struck this base last night at 3:00 a.m.  No reported casualties.  A fire did start causing fuel to explode.  No other damage reported.

______________________________________________

OBITUARY FOR A FALLEN HERO OF THE SYRIAN WAR:

We mourn the martyrdom of Colonel Ruslaan Galitzky of the Russian Army.  He was killed in West Aleppo when a mortar shell fell near him.  He was taken to hospital but did not survive his wounds.  He has been promised the highest medals by the great Russian army.

______________________________________________

NEWS AND COMMENT:

Walid sends us this frenetic performance by Bana’s “English” teacher talking from Aleppo or, more likely, the Pinehurst Studios:

https://twitter.com/walid970721/status/806094769902518272?t=1&cn=ZmxleGlibGVfcmVjcw%3D%3D&refsrc=email&iid=f87960798b9d4b20a3004fcba7f3b533&uid=1179929389&nid=244+272699392

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Turkish governor dies after southeast bomb attack, 30 detained: sources

(Reuters) A Turkish district governor wounded in a bomb attack on his office in the largely Kurdish southeast has died in hospital and police detained 30 people as part of the investigation, security sources said on Friday.

Suspected Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants carried out Thursday’s attack in the Derik district of Mardin province with an improvised explosive device, wounding three people, according to the Mardin governor’s office.

Derik district governor Muhammed Fatih Safiturk was one of three people hurt in the attack, suffering second-degree burns. He died at a hospital in the city of Gaziantep on Friday, having been flown there by helicopter, the Dogan news agency said.

Around 30 people, including staff from the governor’s office, have been detained in connection with the attack, security sources said.

Police were looking into the possibility that the explosives were hidden in a bag placed in the governor’s office and detonated remotely or were sent in a package to the office and exploded on being opened, Dogan said.

Safiturk had been given the additional responsibility in July of running the local municipality as part of moves to replace elected officials from the Democratic Regions’ Party (DBP), a sister party of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Ankara accuses the HDP, parliament’s third-biggest party, of ties to the PKK, which is fighting for autonomy in the southeast. The HDP denies any direct links and says it is working for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday’s attack but the PKK often carries out bomb and rocket attacks in the southeast, where violence has raged since a two-year-old PKK ceasefire collapsed in July last year.

Fourteen PKK militants were found dead after a Turkish air-backed military operation against them in the eastern province of Tunceli, state-run Anadolu agency reported on Friday.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the PKK took up arms in 1984. It is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

On Nov. 4, the leaders of the HDP were jailed pending trial over alleged ties to the PKK, drawing strong international condemnation of a widening crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan.

More than 36,000 people have been jailed pending trial and around 110,000 suspended or dismissed from their jobs since an attempted coup on July 15 which Ankara blames on U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his supporters.

Pro-Kurdish politicians have also been targeted in the crackdown, with 6,000 HDP members detained since the putsch, HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen told a news conference on Thursday. Some 2,000 of them have been remanded in custody, he said.

Six advisers of leading HDP officials were among the latest detainees on Friday, security sources said.

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VIDEO: Turkish Army executes two female PKK prisoners of war

 

Amateur footage emerged on Saturday showing what appears to be Turkish soldiers executing two female PKK insurgents at point-blank range.

http://www.liveleak.com/ll_embed?f=4ba89100099b

VIDEO [+18 graphic]: Two female PKK fighters captured alive by Turkish soldiers executed in cold blood.

Al-Masdar News is not able to independently verify the footage.

A ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK ended last year and clashes have since claimed hundreds of lives on both sides.

The PKK operates primarily in the mountanious terrain of southeastern Turkey and often uploads footage of its Kurdish fighters ambushing Turkish government troops.

The Kurds should now understand that the USA cannot be trusted

US: ‘Very Strong’ Partnership With Turkey After Attack on Kurds

Syria Threatens to Shoot Down Turkish Planes in Their Airspace

 

Turkey Deputy PM: We’re ‘Displeased’ With US Support for Kurds

Overnight, Turkish warplanes entered Syria, attacking US-backed Kurdish forces. Turkey reported 200 Kurdish fighters killed, though the Kurds insisted the number was somewhat lower. Either way, the US response to an overt attack on their allies was tepid, to put it mildly.

While the State Department refused direct comment on the attacks and would only say they prefer to see the two groups both fighting against ISIS, Defense Secretary Ash Carter followed up on the attack by insisting that the US partnership with Turkey is “very strong.

With Turkey both a NATO member and hosting the US warplanes active in Syria, naturally the ability of the US to criticize them is limited, but Turkey appeared to have no such compunctions, with Deputy PM Numaan Kurtulmus declaring that Turkey is “displeased” with the US for its long-standing support for the Syrian Kurds.

Kurtulmus centered his comments on the upcoming US election, expressing hope that whoever is elected president in November would understand that retaining close ties with Turkey means not backing “an armed terrorist organization” like the Kurdish YPG.

Turkey has repeatedly chastised the US for supporting the Kurds, and when Turkey invaded Syria in August, it was clear that one of their goals was direct conflict with those same Kurdish forces, despite some US objections to that idea.

As last night’s strike demonstrates, however, US “support” for the Kurds dries up pretty quickly when push comes to shove, and if anyone is going to prevent further Turkish strikes on the Kurds, it won’t be the US.

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