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Saturday, October 26

Happy Diwali everyone!


As autumn closes in on many parts of the world, the time of many lights begins again! Technically Diwali, the lunar festival of lights, is observed by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, but heck, the people who started the tradition weren't thinking in terms of religion. 

The festival is rooted in an incident that happened thousands of years ago, when Indian villagers set out diya, oil lamps, to light the path for Prince Rama as he and members of his family returned at night from a long war that vanquished the demon King Ravana. 


Eventually, Rama was hailed as the first human avatar of the god Vishnu, but the simple act of lighting the path home became an enduring symbol of the triumph of good over evil.

Happy Diwali! May your path always be brightly lit no matter how dark the times.

Pundita   

Monday, October 21

"US Withdrawal from Syria's Aleppo and Raqqa Provinces Completed"

October 20, 2019
FARS

[...]

US troops stationed in the two provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa have completely retreated from the two regions as part of Washington's decision to withdraw troops from Northeast Syria, Al-Mayadeen television channel reported.

According to the report, the US troops have left the regions on 60 military vehicles and trucks from the Sarrin Airport in Eastern Aleppo, as in recent days several hundred US troops have fled Northeast Syria into Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has also confirmed the report, announcing the withdrawal of Coalition Forces from Sarrin Airport which was a military base for the Coalition in the countryside of Ein al-Arab (Kobani) city.

Al-Mayadeen also reported that US troops have burned some documents and files near the Sarrin silos before leaving the Kobani Airport.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has stated that US forces withdrawing from Northern Syria will be relocated to Western Iraq, adding that he would not rule out the possibility that the American troops could conduct cross-border missions into Syria from their new home in Iraq.

[...]

********

"Syrian Army Sends Reinforcements to Northeast Syria to Confront Turkey"

See also Syrian Army Recaptures More Kurdish-Held Regions as Ceasefire Between Kurds, Turkey Not Holding; October 20, FARS

October 21, 2019
FARS

"Despite the ceasefire, the Turkish-backed militants on Monday launched a new attack south of the border city of Tal Abyad in the Northern countryside of Raqqa province."

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Damascus government sent a large number of army troops to Northeastern Syria amid reports about a new Turkish assault despite an agreement that calls on Ankara to halt its military operation to allow the Kurdish militias withdraw 20 miles to the South from the border.

According to a military source in Hasaka province, the Syrian Army has sent several reinforcements to the Tel Tamar, Ein Al-Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Al-Tabaqa fronts in order to fortify its positions and prevent any future advances by the Turkish Armed Forces and their militant allies in the region.

The source added that the Syrian Army made the decision to send troops following an attack by the Turkish-backed militants on the town of Al-Ahras near the Tel Tamar District.

Despite the ceasefire, the Turkish-backed militants on Monday launched a new attack South of the border city of Tal Abyad in the Northern countryside of Raqqa province.

According to reports, Ankara-supported militias have managed to capture the towns of Khirbat Fors, Al-Salibi, and Al-Alwat near the border city of Tal Abyad, marking their first advance since they occupied the border city of Ras Al-Ain on Sunday.

A five-day ceasefire was reached in negotiations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday, a week after Ankara and its allied militants launched a new military campaign in Northern Syria dubbed ‘Operation Peace Spring’ that has triggered widespread global condemnation.

Meantime, the Kurds have also struck an agreement with the Syrian government in a move to be shielded against the Turkish onslaught. The agreement envisages the dispatch of Syrian government troops to the Kurdish-held territories to receive control and block the incursion of the Turkish Army and its allied militants.

Though the Kurdish militias delivered control over a number of towns and villages to the Damascus army, including Manbij, Raqqa, and Kobani, they started giving up territories to the Turkish army instead of the Damascus troops last night.

Once US President Donald Trump declared a pullout of troops from the Kurdish regions in Northern Syria to leave the so-called allied militias alone in the face of the Turkish onslaught, the enraged Kurds cried out against Washington's disloyalty and its instrumental use of the Kurdish population; yet now once again they have started compliance with the US-brokered agreement.

Damascus has repeatedly reiterated that any foreign troops in Syria are regarded as an occupying force and the Syrian government has the right to take all the needed measures to confront it. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has stressed several times that “every inch” of the Syrian territory will be liberated from terrorists.

[END REPORT]

********

Sunday, October 20

Europe's stark choice: Hostage to Erdogan or work with Assad

October 10: Erdogan threatens to flood Europe with 3.6 million refugees as his Syria offensive forces tens of thousands to flee
But now you're in a pickle, aren't you? Working with Assad would mean repudiating the lies you've told about Bashar al-Assad. After all, it would never do if that uh bastion of liberal democracy cooperated with a genocidal dictator.  

There would also be NATO to contend with; the NATO view, controlled by Washington, is that it's better for the Europeans to be at Turkey's mercy than do anything that might assist Russia.

The biggest problem would be how to walk back the lies about Assad without explaining how so many whoppers were reported as fact by major European media.  

Well, I suppose you could blame everything on the British -- and American -- propagandists:  'How were we to know? We're just NATO members; we're not allowed in the Five Eyes alliance.'  

Yes, that might work, although I can think of more than one European government that could suddenly find itself the target of a regime-change operation if they dug up too much detail about the Syrian regime-change op.

As to whether the threat of bone-crushing sanctions would prevent Erdogan from carrying out his threat: I think the consensus view is that Erdogan would not lose sleep about it.

Yet the biggest issue for Europeans isn't Turkey or Syria or even an onslaught of refugees; it's how many more refugees with Islamist leanings the EU can take in without more Europeans voting for very right-wing governments. That's the issue, isn't it?  You may trust that a large number of refugees Erdogan could pack off to Europe aren't Syrian. They are from that place on the map called Jihadi Central, which during the Syrian War has been based in Turkey.

Those Europeans who would like just a small idea of the lies told about Assad might read my February 2017 post summarizing Rick Sterling's deconstruction of the Caesar Photos Affair. They could also read my April 2017 post, 
A neuropharmacologist debunks use of sarin in the Khan Shaykhun [Sheikhoun] incident

In both cases and in all others, the liars got away with so much because they played to their audiences' assumptions. An old propaganda trick is to make the lie so big and repeat it so often that people assume there must be some truth to it. But how could U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley sit in front of the world's cameras at the United Nations and hold up pictures of Syrians if she knew they couldn't have been killed by sarin gas, let alone sarin unleashed by the Syrian Army? 

But did she know? Did she ask herself, 'What are the symptoms of sarin gas poisoning?' What about you, if you accepted what she said? I think you would've assumed that nobody would tell a lie that could be so easily repudiated. You would've assumed that the press organizations reporting on the story would surely have checked up on the symptoms. 

If you say it's not possible to live like this, each individual member of the adult public having to double-check on everything reported by the press, on every important claim made by an official -- you could take a page from Bashar al-Assad and rely more on common sense.  Often his answers to questions put to him by members of the foreign press are reminiscent of a physician telling a hysterical patient that if he was choking to death on a chicken bone he couldn't very well be explaining this to the doctor, now could he? 

Take, for example, his reply to Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigative Correspondent for Yahoo! News. From the transcript (there's also a video of the 2017 interview):
Isikoff [Question 37]: Is it a mistake to use barrel bombs and chlorine gas?
Assad: You have to choose which part of the narrative is correct. Once they said we are using indiscriminate bombs and they called it barrel bombs. The other day, they said we targeted hospitals and schools and convoys. We either have precise armaments or we have indiscriminate armaments. So, which one do you choose?
Mr Isikoff preferred changing the subject to making a choice.  If the name rings a bell, yes this is the same Michael Isikoff who was part of an infamous episode in the tower of lies called Russiagate. Indeed, the irony to emerge from the West's propaganda war on Assad is that it is mirrored in the propaganda war launched against Donald Trump.  

Although it would be a small help to Assad at this late stage, in addition to relying more on common sense the public might make better use of the internet. When one is consistently told a one-sided story that has obvious political overtones -- and especially if it has to do with a shooting war -- it's wise to look for other views of the same issue and take these into account. Granted, the search can be a time-consuming task but with practice, it gets faster. Eventually, patterns of behavior become evident and these include a pattern of lying.

********

Tuesday, October 15

In race with Turkish troops, Syrian troops rode buses and pickups to Manbij

By any which way does the cavalry arrive!


The following Associated Press report, posted on the 14th with no timestamp, is already somewhat outdated because Russian and Syrian troops are now in control in Manbij, although Erdogan is still threatening to capture the city. See this SouthFront report posted today. But from another SouthFront report today:
US forces have withdrawn from the northern Syrian town of Manbij, a spokesman for the US-led coalition reported on October 15.Commenting on the situation in the area, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Manbij and its surroundings are now in full control of the Syrian Army. The Defense Ministry said that units of the  Russian Military Police are patrolling the contact line between the Syrian Army and Turkish-backed forces northwest of Manbij.
SouthFront has also posted the first photographs of Russian military police in Manbij. This noted, I found the AP report helpful as a backgrounder to the fast-moving events. (I think by now an AP editor has told reporters to forget about the big picture for now and just try to keep up. AP might do as Sputnik has done and post 'live' updates to one report.)

Turkey widens invasion as Syrian army returns to northeast 
By MEHMET GUZEL and BASSEM MROUE
October 14, 2019
The Associated Press via Yahoo! News

ACAKALE, Turkey (AP) — Syrian government troops moved into towns and villages in northeastern Syria on Monday, including the flashpoint region of Manbij, setting up a potential clash with Turkish-led forces advancing in the area as long-standing alliances in the region began to shift or crumble following the pullback of U.S. forces.

The Syrian military's deployment near the Turkish border came after Syrian Kurdish forces previously allied with the U.S. said they had reached a deal with President Bashar Assad's government to help them fend off Turkey's invasion, now in its sixth day.

Assad's return to the region his troops abandoned in 2012 at the height of the Syrian civil war is a turning point in Syria's eight-year civil war, giving yet another major boost to his government and its Russian backers and is like to endanger, if not altogether crush, the brief experiment in self-rule set up by Syria's Kurds since the conflict began.

The rapidly changing situation was set in motion last week, when U.S. President Donald Trump ordered American troops in northern Syria to step aside, clearing the way for an attack by Turkey, which regards the Kurdish fighters as terrorists. Since 2014, the Kurds have fought alongside the U.S. in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, and Trump's move was decried at home and abroad as a betrayal of an ally.

Faced with unrelenting criticism, Trump said Monday he was putting new sanctions on Turkey, halting trade negotiations and raising steel tariffs in an effort to pressure Ankara to stop its offensive. Vice President Mike Pence also said Trump was sending him to the Middle East because the president was concerned about instability in the region.

Pence said Trump spoke with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier Monday and called for an immediate end to Turkey's military campaign. He added that the U.S. is "simply not going to tolerate Turkey's invasion of Syria any longer."

In the past five days, Turkish troops and their allies have pushed into northern towns and villages, clashing with the Kurdish fighters over a stretch of 200 kilometers (125 miles). The offensive has displaced at least 130,000 people.

"Where is the United Nations? Let them come see the blood of our children on the floor! Why don't they show up?" cried a medic at the Tal Tamr hospital, which received dozens of injured people from nearby Turkish shelling in recent days.

Abandoned in the middle of the battlefield, the Kurds turned to Assad and Russia for protection and announced Sunday night that Syrian government troops would be deployed in Kurdish-controlled towns and villages along the border to help repel the Turkish advance.

Kurdish official Aldar Khalil said in a statement that the aim of the agreement is for Syrian troops to be deployed along the border, except for the area between the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad, where Turkish troops are advancing. He added that the autonomous authority will continue to run daily affairs in northeast Syria.

"There is an understanding between SDF and Damascus — a military agreement only," said Badran Ciya Kurd, a senior Kurdish official, referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. He has been in talks with Russians since the start, and he made his comments in an interview with The Associated Press.

Syrian state media broadcast repeated footage of government forces entering northern towns and villages with residents chanting slogans in support of Assad, while others rushed to hug the soldiers. In a northern village, residents welcomed the troops by showering them with rice, an Arab gesture of welcome. In another village, dozens of young men rode motorcycles as some waved posters of Assad.

"We are going back to our normal positions that are at the border," said a Syrian officer, as embattled Kurdish authorities invited the government to retake towns and villages in the north.

"May God protect the army!" residents responded.

The dramatic events are a crushing blow to the dreams of Syria's Kurds who had built up a degree of autonomy that was unthinkable before the war, when they were an oppressed minority by the Assad family rule. The ethnic group grew from an underdog in Syria to a prestigious group that controls about 30 percent of Syrian territory, working hand in hand with the Americans to defeat the Islamic State group.

A return by Assad's forces to their region is a major shift in Syria's long-running civil war, further cementing Assad's hold over the ravaged country.

The Syrian troops arrived in the northern province of Raqqa aboard buses and pickup trucks with mounted machine guns. Troops moved into the towns of Tal Tamr, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Turkish border, Ein Issa and Tabqa, known for its dam on the Euphrates River and a nearby air base of the same name.

They later entered the Kurdish-held town of Manbij, in a race with Turkey-backed opposition fighters advancing in the same direction. The Manbij region is home to U.S. outposts that were set up in 2017 to patrol the tense frontiers between Turkish-controlled areas and the Kurdish-held side of northern Syria. A U.S. official said troops are still in the town, preparing to leave.

Earlier, Syrian fighters backed by Turkey said they began an offensive alongside Turkish troops to capture Manbij, which is on the western flank of the Euphrates River, broadening their campaign east of the river. Mustafa Sejari, an official with the Turkey-backed fighters, tweeted: "The battle of Manbij has begun."

Turkey's private NTV television reported that Turkish special forces and commandos began advancing toward Manbij in the afternoon. CNN-Turk also mentioned the attack, reporting that the sound of clashes could be heard.

Erdogan signaled earlier in the day his military was ready to begin the assault on Manbij, with a goal of returning the city to Arab populations that he said were its rightful owners.

Speaking later in Baku, Azerbaijan, Erdogan said Turkey's military offensive into northeast Syria is as "vital" to Turkey as its 1974 military intervention in Cyprus, which split the island. Erdogan also made clear Turkey would not halt its offensive despite the widespread condemnation.

The military action by Ankara sets up a potential clash between Turkey and Syria and raises the specter of a resurgent Islamic State group as the U.S. relinquishes any remaining influence in northern Syria to Assad and his chief backer, Russia.

Turkey warned its NATO allies in Europe and the United States not to stand in its way.

Trump said the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops he ordered out of Syria would remain in the Middle East to prevent a resurgence of the IS threat.

The European Union unanimously condemned Turkey's military move and asked all 28 of its member states to stop selling arms to Ankara, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told the AP.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russian and Turkish officials have remained in close contact. Russia appeared to be working on de-confliction between Turkish and Syrian troops.

Erdogan has already said Turkey will not negotiate with the Syrian Kurdish fighters, saying they have links to a long-running Kurdish insurgency within its own borders.

Syria's state-run news agency SANA said government forces planned to "confront the Turkish aggression," without giving further details.

Photos posted by SANA showed several vehicles and a small number of troops in Tal Tamr, a predominantly Assyrian Christian town that was once held by IS before it was retaken by Kurdish-led forces. Many Syrian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria's prewar population of 23 million, left for Europe in the past 20 years, with the flight gathering speed since the conflict began in March 2011.

Heavy fighting on Sunday reached a Kurdish-run camp for displaced persons in Ein Issa. The camp is home to about 12,000 people, including around 950 wives and children of IS fighters, and hundreds are believed to have escaped amid the chaos.
___

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.
[END REPORT]
********

Erdogan blinks. Meanwhile, Trump teaching pigs to fly.


Debkafile, October 15, 2019 - 10:09:
On Tuesday morning, it looked as though the Turkish president had paused for reflection before deciding if and how to proceed with his operation, in the light of the Russia/Syrian threat to his forces. He needs to calculate how far he can go against the Syrian army without incurring Russian military intervention. He understands that President Vladimir Putin will not put up with an artillery attack on Russian forces like the one “mistakenly” directed against US troops at the outset of the Turkish drive into northeast Syria last week.
The Syrian army’s arrival at embattled Kurdish towns in Syria's northeast, backed by Russian threats [well, Russian 'advice'], seemingly halted the Turkish army’s advance. On Tuesday, Oct. 15, only minor isolated incidents were visible. Although Turkish President Recep Erdogan boasted on Monday, Day 6, “We will not back down,” he also said, “We are coordinating with the Russians,” and praised their “positive approach.”
For now, therefore, the Turkish army looks as if it's sidestepping direct clashes with the Syrian army, which has meanwhile entered Manbij and prevented the Turkish army from moving in. Kurdish forces remain in control there, as well as in the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al Ayn, which Turkish sources on Monday claimed had fallen.
[...]
Debkafile goes on to state what I have claimed is unimaginable: amidst all the confusion and chaos he created with the announced 'pullback' from certain bases in N.E. Syria, President Donald Trump really does seem to be preparing to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria. 

The catch is that the discussion is about 1,000 troops, whereas Debkafile mentioned a few days ago that the U.S. has 5,000 troops in Syria. I've read of even higher estimates and other observers have stated that nobody knows how many U.S. troops are in the country but I tentatively accept Debkafile's number, given their sources in Israel's military.  With that caveat in mind, and the one that British troops are also garrisoned at the al Tanf base, I'll return to the truly amazing news in today's Debkafile report:
President Donald Trump has meanwhile followed up on his order to pull 1,000 US troops out of northern Syria with a second order for their withdrawal from the eastern regions alongside the Syrian-Iraqi border. He said those troops would remain in the Middle East and keep watch on the Syrian arena from a distance. In a phone call to Erdogan, Trump demanded an immediate truce in the hostilities in northern Syria, as US sanctions were announced by the Treasury in Washington on Turkey’s war leaders, the defense and energy ministries as well as ministers of defense, energy and interior. Trump also raised by 50 percent the tariffs on imported Turkish steel and halted negotiations for a $100bn trade agreement.
The US president has delayed, but never wavered from, his resolve to pull the US military presence out of Syria. In July 2018, he withdrew US support from Syrian insurgent groups in southern Syria and handed control of their regions to Russian and Syrian forces. Israel collaborated with Trump’s moves by lifting its control of the areas adjoining the Golan and allowing them to revert to the Assad regime along with the Syrian rebel groups with whom Israel had collaborated during the war.
Trump’s actions in October 2019, in transferring control of northern and eastern Syria to Russian-backed Syrian government forces, are therefore part of the same consistent policy.
Early Tuesday, US sources in Washington revealed that US forces would remain at one last Syrian location, the large garrison at Al Tanf which commands the key intersection of the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi borders.
Debkafile can't help ending on a sour note:
From Israel’s perspective, the Trump administration’s decision to pull back from eastern Syrian positions – from which US forces were able to keep the Iranian presence tied down to one place, Abu Kamal – opens most of the Syrian-Iraqi border for Iran, Hizballah and the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, which are already in control of the Iraqi side of the border, to gain free passage into Syria.
They already have free passage; it's just slower passage and in any case, Israel should be cheering this turn of events, given that Putin is very determined that the Iranians and everybody else in the Middle East stop squabbling and start cooperating to do really big business. Unless they like the idea of China walking off with the store.

********

"One Rocket Provoked The US Withdrawal: Details of the Kurdish-Russian-Syrian Deal"

Report from Elijah J. Magnier, October 14.

********

"Turkey Continues Op in Syria, Clashing With Kurdish-Led Militia"

"President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, vowed to continue the operation, aimed at securing the area near his country's border and ousting the Kurdish-led SDF ..."

Sputnik's report today, first posted at 7:55, has live updates; the two updates so far, followed by the report. 

Clashes between the Kurdish militia and the Turkish forces have been occurring for almost a week, while at least 260 US troops have reportedly left the area. In the meantime, the Syrian military has boosted its presence in the region, recapturing the city of Manbij.

The Turkish military and allied forces continue to press ahead with "Operation Peace Spring" in northern Syria, marking the seventh day of the offensive against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and Daesh* terror group in the area.

Earlier this week, the operation faced severe pushback from the United States, the European Union, and the Arab League.

In response to the military campaign, US President Donald Trump warned he would issue sanctions against the NATO ally, while France and Germany restricted their arms sales to Ankara and convinced other member countries to consider these measures as well.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, vowed to continue the operation, aimed at securing the area near his country's border and ousting the Kurdish-led SDF, which Ankara considers to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), listed in Turkey as a terror group.

* Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/IS/Islamic State) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.

[END REPORT]



********

Monday, October 14

Erdogan's land grab in Syria faces the wrath of everybody on the planet

Except for the Muslim Brotherhood and maybe Qatar and also Sheik Muslat and Syrian Arabs along the Turkish border the sheik must've prodded into cheering on the Turks, I think those are the only friends the Turks have left in the world at this time. Whatever possessed Erdogan to outright threaten the Europeans and order the showy bracketing of U.S. troops near Kobani? He also sneered at the Arab League's strong condemnation of Turkey's invasion of Syria. 

Now what? Yesterday at the conclusion of 'secret' meetings at the Russian airbase in Syria, the Syrian Arab Army and the Kurdish-led SDF army unsurprisingly announced they had agreed to join forces to battle the Turkish incursion into northern Syria. Unsurprising because the SAA-SDF troops had already started joint operations to defend against the Turks. 

I suppose I should also mention that a Syrian Arab spokesman read out a ringing declaration of solidarity with the SDF, which must have upset Sheik Muslat, whose weathervane was clearly not working if he thought the Turks had the wind at their backs in Syria:  
"We, as sheikhs and elders of Arab tribes in NE Syria are ready to provide nearly 50,000 Arab tribes and tribal fighters to join the SDF to confront the barbaric Ottoman occupier and his mercenaries. Brotherhood of peoples is the basis of coexistence, peace, equality and harmony."
(For those readers who recall all the reports earlier in the year that I passed along from FARS about Syrian Arab uprisings in N.E. Syria against the Kurds -- well, there's a difference between Kurdish bullying and losing one's lands to the Turks.)  

I'll also mention that on October 12 Debkafile explained to anyone who cared to listen that for all their hand-wringing, the SDF is in a formidable position against the Turkish invaders:
Some 140,000 well-armed SDF Kurdish fighters are dug in along a 300km front east of the River Euphrates. They have set up a defense line that is heavily fortified and barricaded, studded with anti-tank traps and supplied with plentiful ammo stores.
The Turkish force in Syria at present is too small to tackle this Kurdish force. To raise an army equal to the task of smashing the Kurds, Turkey would need a largescale military call-up, and even then, might be short of manpower for the task. ...
As to hitting at the SDF from the air, there were some initial bombings by the Turkish Air Force but according to Debkafile (which, we may recall, is an unofficial conduit for the view from Israel's military):
The Turks are further constrained by the refusal of both the US and Russia to allow their air force to operate in northern Syrian air space, thereby hobbling their ability to advance very far across the Euphrates.
There is also the S-300 possessed by Syria's military, which after extensive training in the use of said contraption, recently received official permission from the Russian government to deploy it in defense of Syrian military positions from air attacks -- provided, of course, the Syrians were willing to accept responsibility for its use and so on and so forth.  Now that the SDF and SAA are quite literally fighting shoulder to shoulder, it would be hard for the Turkish Air Force to target the SDF without threatening SAA troops.

And you may trust the SDF is getting quiet help from both Israel and the U.S. in dealing with Turkey's assault, which means the SAA is benefiting from such help. And certainly, the Iranians are quietly chipping in whatever intel they can scare up about Turkey's doings in Syria.

What happens next? Will the Turks pick up their marbles and go home? I'd guess events during the coming 72 hours will produce an educated guess as to the answer. Whatever happens, it looks to me as if President Erdogan has finally and completely worn out his welcome on the world stage.

********

Sunday, October 13

When one picture conveys much about many different things


PHOTO: MARK NEWMAN/DESIGN PICS/ZUMA PRESS

I can think of quite a number of captions for the photograph that would have nothing specifically to do with wolves but actually, this really is about, well, it's not so much about wolves as humans arguing -- arguing very heatedly -- about wolves. 

"Neither side had much empathy for the other; some of the conservationists said they dismissed ranchers’ concerns, sometimes telling them to just move their cows.”

“When you boil it down, this is a people issue, not a wolf issue,” said Molly Linville, a cattle rancher who works with the state’s wildlife department.

“This is probably the biggest story for Washington [state], and I won’t do it justice describing it,” said Donny Martorello, the wolf policy lead for the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. “There is such a culture divide when it comes to wolves.”

Wolf Resurgence in Washington State Tests Limits of Civility
By Jennifer Calfas
Oct. 12, 2019 9:00 am ET
The Wall Street Journal

Values clash, tempers flare as the state weighs new wolf management plan—and a possible hunting season

Washington state’s growing population of gray wolves is exposing deep divides among residents and testing civility among its top decision-makers.

And managing the animals is about to get more complicated, as the state begins drawing up a new wolf-management plan and weighing whether to establish a hunting season.

The wolves, nearly nonexistent in the northwestern state for almost a century, have grown in numbers about 28% each year since 2008, about a decade after they were introduced to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. By late last year, Washington had at least 126 wolves and 27 packs.

The wolves’ resurgence has brought cheers from conservationists, who view them as symbolic, charismatic creatures that can improve the state’s ecosystems and jeers from ranchers and livestock owners, who see them as killers that threaten their livelihoods.

[See WSJ site for a map of the wolf-pack territory under discussion]

Now, with wolves expected to reach their targeted recovery levels in a few years, the debate over how to manage the population is intensifying. Officials recently canceled three public meetings about wolves after threats of violence and disruption.

“This is probably the biggest story for Washington, and I won’t do it justice describing it,” said Donny Martorello, the wolf policy lead for the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. “There is such a culture divide when it comes to wolves.”

Wolves were largely eradicated across the western U.S. over the course of the 20th century, targeted by government agencies and hunted by ranchers and other private citizens. In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relocated some wolves to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, leading to their resurgence in the West.

In response, states have adopted new management strategies, with Idaho, Montana and Wyoming opening hunting seasons.

But efforts in Washington have been clouded by the intense emotions of stakeholders and the public. Tensions recently have risen after a string of decisions from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill a number of wolves responsible for the deaths or injury of cattle and livestock.

The conflict is centered in Ferry County—in the northeastern part of the state, where most of Washington’s wolf population roams. Fish and Wildlife staff this year killed nine wolves in Ferry County—including the last of a pack that killed or injured 29 livestock in the county.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently asked the state Fish and Wildlife agency to reduce the need to kill wolves as a result of their preying on livestock, and instead increase the use of deterrents, which can include electric fencing or range riders to monitor cattle herds and other livestock. Officials have noted that killing the animals is a last resort.

Meanwhile, researchers are racing to understand the wolves’ effect on the ecosystem to better inform how to manage the population.

The wolf issue in Washington reflects a state with a range of values and livelihoods: from rural communities that carry on family ranching and farming traditions to communities including Seattle that model liberal causes for other cities in the U.S.

“When you boil it down, this is a people issue, not a wolf issue,” said Molly Linville, a cattle rancher who works with the state’s wildlife department. “If people’s beliefs and value systems weren’t involved, wolf management would be a cakewalk.”

At the forefront of the state’s wolf-management policy is a team of volunteers who make up a Wolf Advisory Group convened by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The group, formed in 2013, includes livestock producers, conservation-group leaders, hunters, a county commissioner from the northeastern part of the state and other state residents.

The group has recommended a number of management strategies, from hunting to nonlethal methods ranchers can use to deter the wolves.

In its early years, reaching a consensus was particularly difficult, said the wildlife department’s Mr. Martorello. The group’s members didn’t have the skills to make conversations productive. “We actually had probably made the conflict worse,” he recalled.

Members said their interactions were often acrimonious and unproductive. Neither side had much empathy for the other; some of the conservationists said they would dismiss ranchers’ concerns, sometimes telling them to “just move their cows.”

Things were so bad the state brought in Francine Madden, executive director of the Center for Conservation Peacebuilding, an organization that resolves social conflict derived from wildlife issues.

Over three years, she helped the group understand the values of others without giving up their own ideals, members said. Ms. Madden said she noticed a shift when ranchers started advocating for conservationists, and vice versa.

“Francine, in a sense, put a metal detector at the door and stopped grenades from being rolled in,” said Tom Davis, director of government relations for the Washington Farm Bureau, which represents farmers and ranchers. “She gave us tools for talking to each other.”

“I look back and I’m embarrassed actually at some of the things that came out of my mouth five, six, seven years ago, because I clearly didn’t understand the complexity of the issues,” said Diane Gallegos, executive director of Wolf Haven International, a wolf sanctuary.

But translating that understanding to the public is tough.

“It’s difficult to put all of that in a snapshot when you stand up as a sanctuary director and say, ‘I support lethal control as one of the tools, the tool of last resort,’ ” Ms. Gallegos said.

At the first of three webinars hosted by wildlife department officials to replace the canceled public meetings, Washingtonians asked about whether a potential hunting season could be implemented—a question the department and the Wolf Advisory Group now expect to shape the discourse.

“If you want to throw gas on the fire, then that’s the topic to bring up,” said Mr. Davis, an advisory group member.

[END REPORT]

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