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Friday, October 30

Syria Sitrep today at Sic Semper Tyrannis

Be sure to read the comments as well in the report. There are two different wars going on. One reported in the news media that is strongly biased in favor of the NATO/Obama Administration version of the war. The other, as you can learn at SST, is the war.

Also see today's notes at SST, The Situation in Rojava, and RT report today, Combat report: Over 1,600 terror targets destroyed in 1 month of Russia's Syria op. 

Note:  SST uses "R+5" acronym in its reports on Syrian war. This refers to fighting forces on the Syrian government side: 

Russia+Syria+Iran+Hizbullah+Iraqi Shia militias+Syrian militias.

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President Obama, please don't telegraph any more of the battle plan to Islamic State

President Barack "CYA" Obama has topped himself this time, as a senior Administration official announced ahead of an Administration announcement this afternoon that under 50 Special Forces are being deployed to Syria. From Reuters timestamped 1:20 PM EDT:
The U.S. special operations forces in Syria would be stationed in rebel-held territory, coordinate air drops to rebels and resupplying those forces as they move toward Raqqa, the declared capital of Islamic State, U.S. officials told Reuters.
They could also help coordinate air strikes from the ground, the officials said.
[...]
The number of special operations troops in Syria would be fewer than 50, said a senior administration official, speaking ahead of an announcement on Friday by the administration. One U.S. official said the number was likely to be in the range of 20 to 30 but could not provide details.
No word yet on whether the Administration has also taken out an ad in the Terrorist Times to provide GPS locations of the U.S. Special Forces.

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Thursday, October 29

Kurdish female troopers fighting Islamic State: Give 'em hell, Ladies!

Below, four from Sputnik's fab photo essay of Kurdish Peshmerga women fighting alongside their menfolk against Islamic State. These women aren't playing at war -- but note the lipstick and eye makeup! 

This is something today's Afghan men and women must learn: when people arrive who are trying to destroy you, it is all hands on deck to fight them. And yes I know there were some Afghan women who rose up to fight decades ago -- I think they were communists or otherwise didn't want to live under an Islamist reign of terror. But it is the here and now that counts.       

I am certain that Afghans don't know the great secret about the United States: the women are just as fierce as the men. How did this happen? The pioneer experience is deeply embedded in the American psyche. Women and even girls on the frontiers had to be ready to handle a gun to protect the homestead because there was no police force out there, no military, and often no close neighbors. Yet this willingness to kill and be killed to defend the family made the women no less feminine. 

Those who say this is no longer the case about American women -- I hope to God they never have to learn how wrong they are.  



    







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EU PARLIAMENT VOTES TO GIVE EDWARD SNOWDEN ASYLUM IN EU

The brief Wired report on the vote mentions that the resolution isn't binding but it's still great news.  I'm very happy for Ed and he's happy too, from his Tweets, calling the landmark vote a "game-changer" and observing, "This is not a blow against the US Government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward."  

Yes, well, it's also a way of expressing alarm at overweening U.S. clandestine surveillance of European citizens -- and some of the more troubling EU surveillance laws. 
 
My one concern is that it would be easier for the U.S. government to grab Snowden in a European country than in Russia. And the vote shows there would still be plenty of Europeans willing to rat him out. I hope he will stay put for now.      

European Parliament Demands an End to Persecution of Snowden
October 29, 2015
Sputnik

The resolution calling on the EU member states to drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden was adopted Thursday by a majority of votes.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution Thursday, calling the EU states to end any persecution of whistleblower Edward Snowden and give him protection.

"By 285 votes to 281, MEPs decided to call on EU member states to drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender," the press service said in a statement.

In the same resolution, the EU parliament raises concerns about surveillance laws in several EU countries.

Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, released in 2013 a trove of classified documents detailing bulk US intelligence data collection in the United States, Europe and many other targets around the world.

Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia in August 2013, before receiving a three-year residency permit from the country the following year.

In the United States, he may face up to 30 years in prison on espionage charges for his revelations of the depth of illegal surveillance activities by the US intelligence community.

[END REPORT]


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Wednesday, October 28

Who won tonight's debate among GOP presidential hopefuls? The GOP. UPDATED last at 1:15 AM EDT

The only caveat is that I missed the first half half of the "first tier" debate among the 10 candidates who lead the field of 14. But the part of the debate I heard was the best argument for the Republican Party that it's mustered in a long time. 

Every one of the 10 candidates answering questions from the CNBC panel of moderators was on point. And they had a tag team going, so the panel wasn't able to turn the debate into a gladiatorial contest among personalities. Mike Huckabee's refusal to take the bait from one panelist and attack Donald Trump ("I'm wearing a Trump tie") brought down the house. 

There were some airhead questions from the panel but the candidates turned them into enlightening discussions about repairing America's finances and the country's jobs markets. 

So that's the Republican answer to mockery from Democrats that the GOP has fallen apart. 

As to which candidate I think had the best policy recommendations -- the overriding theme of all the candidates was that big government in the USA has excelled at only one thing: making big messes. So you could pick blindfolded from the 10 and still come up a candidate who would be a better U.S. President than the Democrats' offerings.

The very limited time that each candidate had to answer questions actually worked in their favor. At this point most voters aren't closely following the position statements. With this large a field of hopefuls, right now people just want the gist of what each is proposing. So the candidates having to stuff their policies into sound bites made it easier for the GOP's broad themes, on which all the candidates agreed, to shine through.  

That has finally given the GOP what it's lacked for years: a coherent platform:

* transfer a broad range of federal programs to the states
* remove tax burden from lower and middle income Americans
* reduce corporate taxes and regulations that keep US companies offshore
* offer American workers viable private health insurance options
* across the board change regulations that are hard on small business

The first point should resolve the tussle between the rest of the party and ultra-conservatives, who simply want to do away with many federal agencies.    

As to the foreign policy side (which wasn't discussed during the period I listened) that's another story, one at this point I like no more than the Democratic candidate's policy proposals with the exception of Trump, who at this very early point seems to have the right general idea. Build up the military but focus on making America less dependent on countries such as China and on getting better trade deals for the U.S.          

Here's TIME's transcript of the debate.

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Found! A non-Islamist, non-terrorist Syrian militia!

"The Desert Hawks was formed at the start of the crisis in Syria four years ago, by retired Syrian army officer Mohamed Jaber. The unit consists of between 4 and 5 thousand people, comprised of fighters of various religions and from all regions of the country. All of the actions of the militia are fully coordinated with the Syrian army."

-- From Sputnik's Oct 27 report, Syrian Army Liberates 50 Villages in Aleppo Province

Now why are we just learning about the Desert Hawks? We've been learning a great many things since Syria's president asked the Russians for help. In more news about Syria that you won't see at Google News --   

Sputnik, October 26
Syrian Army Takes Key Heights Near Turkish Border Under Control

The Syrian army continues its large-scale offensive on terrorist positions in a number of provinces, taking hold of key heights near the Turkish border, an army spokesman said Monday.

JABLA (Sputnik) — According to Brigadier General Ali Mayhoub, the government troops supported by local militia attacked ISIL positions in the Homs and the Aleppo provinces, liberating two villages to the north of Homs and five villages to the south of Aleppo.

"As a result of the attacks on the militants' positions, dozens of terrorists have been killed or wounded," Mayhoub said.

"Our armed forces have also carried out combat missions in the Salma-Joub al-Ahmar area [near the Turkish border], taking control of key heights," the general added.


The Syrian army repelled an ISIL counter-attack in the Deir ez-Zor province, he said. Moreover, the Syrian Air Force destroyed ISIL headquaters in the provinces of Homs and Idlib, Mayhoub said.
[...]


****

Okay; here's some news from Syria that showed up at Google, maybe because it was featured in The Japan Times although it was actually an AFP report: Russia boasts bombing record 94 Syria targets in 24 hours; U.S. airstrikes abate, October 27.  

Let's see; that was two days after USA TODAY reported that the U.S. defense department was concerned the poor condition of Russian jets in Syria was making the Russians cut back on airstrikes.   
High school.

Here's another one, filed by the Associated Press, which made it onto Google News. I think I'll feature the entire report because it's so terribly queer in light of the historical record. And it lays bare that the American press persists in ignoring implications of facts it routinely reports about Syria.

It comes down to this: 
  • Anyone who uses violent means to protest the American government is ipso facto a terrorist. Anyone who uses violent means to protest the Syrian government is engaged in legitimate actions. 
  • Any foreign government that arms Americans trying to the overthrow the U.S. government is subject to U.S. sanctions and is a legally defensible U.S. military target. Any foreign government that arms Syrians trying to overthrow the Syrian government has its reasons.  
  • In America, the rights of the majority do not obviate the rights of minorities. In Syria, a Sunni majority has a perfect right to institute its version of Islamist government.        
To boil it down further, we must destroy American values in order to preserve Syria.
                         
Russia Pounds Syrian Rebels, Then Reaches Out to Opposition
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
OCT. 27, 2015, 5:17 P.M. E.D.T.
The New York Times

BEIRUT — When Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country was ready to aid Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State group, rebel commanders scoffed, pointing out that Russian aircraft were pounding their bases in central and northern Syria on a daily basis.

Moreover, Lavrov not long ago had ridiculed the main Western-backed rebels known as the Free Syrian Army, calling the group a "phantom structure."

But some in the Syrian opposition are wondering whether the Russian offer, for all its ambiguity, might be worth seizing in order to test Moscow's commitment to finding a negotiated solution to the four-year civil war. The seeming change of tune is in sharp contrast to the stance of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who considers all rebels on the ground to be terrorists.

"Maybe there is a disconnect between the regime's discourse and that of the Russians," said Munzer Abkik, of the Syrian National Coalition, an opposition group in exile that coordinates with the Free Syrian Army.

"We are watching cautiously in the coming days to see if they are serious about finding a political solution through a real transition of power, or if they are simply maneuvering to gain time," he said. "The rebel commanders are considering this possibility ... If they sit with (Russian officials), they say they can find out if they are bluffing."

Russia says it has already met with rebel commanders in Moscow, a claim denied by the opposition and their political allies. But some mediators and politicians who coordinate with the Free Syrian Army say the Russians have reached out to the rebels, either to individual commanders on the ground or through mediators.

Lavrov first made the offer last week. On Tuesday, he repeated it, saying, "We would like and would be ready to help not only the Syrian army, but all opposition units confronting terrorists on the ground in Syria." He said Moscow was reaching out to the United States and countries in the region to help locate moderate and anti-terrorist opposition factions in Syria.

"I would say frankly that it hasn't been easy to find them, and we are still continuing the search," Lavrov said.

Retired Lebanese army Gen. Hisham Jaber, who is familiar with the Syrian military, said Russia is looking to show flexibility. "The aim is political ... to talk to those in the trenches, not those in hotels," Jaber said. "Russia can't talk about a peaceful resolution and hold the Syrian regime card alone."

Russia is signaling that it is willing to include rebel fighters in any unified Syrian military force to fight terrorism that might emerge from negotiations, Jaber said. But Moscow also wants to underline to the U.S. and its allies how disunited the Free Syrian Army is and how difficult it is to negotiate with them. Still, with 25,000 to 30,000 fighters on the ground who claim affiliation with the Free Syrian Army, Russia knows they are a force to reckon with.

"What is there to lose to throw the test balloon ... and give the impression that Russia is here to solve the problem?" Jaber said.

By thrusting itself in the complex Syrian conflict, Russia also stirred a new flurry of diplomacy.

The four powerhouses that have leverage over the conflict — Russia, the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia — have been holding talks over Syria's future, and on Tuesday U.S. officials said that Iran — like Russia, a major backer of Assad — had been invited to participate for the first time. Few details have emerged, and Iran has yet to reply.

In a sign of possible discord with his Russian allies, Assad's office issued a statement Tuesday reiterating that he will not consider any political initiatives "until after eradicating terrorism." The statement was in response to comments by Russian lawmakers who visited Assad on Sunday and said the Syrian leader was willing to hold early presidential elections that he would run in.

A former Free Syrian Army soldier who is now in Turkey and acts as a contact between rebel factions and Russia said a Russian emissary had already reached out to him to arrange meetings with rebel commanders. The go-between, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Jad, described the emissary as a Russian of Syrian origin, whom he met through a Syrian politician, who in turn had met him in Moscow.

"We didn't give a decision yet. We are waiting for a confidence-building step," Abu Jad said. "They have to stop the raids against the FSA."

Abu Jad said there was no consensus among rebel commanders on whether to take up the offer. But he added that with a new push for diplomacy, the rebels must be prepared for a possible new channel of negotiations. "Wars always end in negotiations ... We try to be ready and restore our place so as not to always be dependent on the outside."

Jamil Saleh, the commander of the CIA-backed rebel faction Tajammu Alezzah, said the group's bases in central Hama have been pounded by Russian airstrikes every day since the campaign was launched on Sept. 30. Last week, an emissary of the Russians contacted him to arrange for a meeting in a third country. Saleh said he rejected the offer.

"This is an attempt to win over some factions or cause strife among them and with their (foreign) supporters," Saleh told The Associated Press. "It is a matter of principle, so long as Russia supports the regime and is pounding us and Syrian cities we can't talk to them. They must first recognize the Syrian revolution and the Free Syrian Army."

______

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report from Moscow.

[END REPORT]

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More than 500 Islamic State members fleeing Syria transported to Yemen by Saudis

From the frying pan into the fire, but then they're running out of places to flee to.  As to the Saudis using IS as assets in Yemen -- I'm getting the impression the Saudis are running out of cannon fodder to use in Yemen. There's a report at Al-Manar that they're planning on importing 800 Colombians to fight for them in Yemen. The source is Colombia's El Tiempo  newspaper. A satellite TV station in Venezuela also got in the act with an unconfirmed report that the number of Colombian fighters in Yemen has already reached 800. 

Gee, maybe Islamic State guys and the Colombians can share bunks.             

ISIL Militants Transported From Syria to Yemen: Syrian Army
October 27, 2015
Sputnik

Over 500 ISIL militants have been transported from Syria to Yemen aboard planes arriving from Turkey to fight against Houthi rebels, a Syrian general said Tuesday.

Syrian Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Ali Maihub claimed that more than 500 ISIL militants had been transported from Syria to Yemen aboard 4 planes that had arrived from Turkey on October 26.

According to him, two of the planes belong to Turkish airlines, one is a Qatari aircraft and one is a UEA plane.

"According to the intelligence data, 4 planes arrived from Turkey at the airport of Aden [in Yemen] on October 26. Two of them [planes] belonged to Turkish airlines, one — to Qatar airlines and another aircraft was owned by an UAE airline. 


More than 500 militants of ISIL terrorist group were on board, they were transported from Syria to save them from Russian airstrikes," Maihub said, according to RIA Novosti.

He further claimed Saudi-led coalition officers met ISIL militants at the airport in Yemen. The Syrian general said that the jihadists were supposed to take part in a ground operation against Houthi rebels.

"[ISIL] militants were met by officers from the Saudi-led coalition, who took them out of the [Yemeni] airport in three groups. The first group was taken to the town of al-Bab in the Mandeb province, the second — to Maariv, the third — to Saudi provinces Jazan and Asir," he said.

"The militants are expected to take part in the ongoing ground operation where ground coalition forces have recently suffered serious losses in clashes with Houthi fighters," the general said, adding that, based on intelligence data, similar transfers of ISIL militants from Syria would continue.

"According to available information, operations aimed to transport ISIL terrorists from Syria will continue in a short time," he added

[END REPORT]

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Tuesday, October 27

ANKARA TIED TO USE OF SARIN IN SYRIA, TURKISH LAWMAKERS CHARGE

October 27, 2015 - 18:57
Press TV via Al-Manar

Two Turkish lawmakers from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) have provided documents showing that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was linked to the use of chemical agents by militants operating in Syria, Press TV reports.

In a recent press conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara, CHP’s Ali Seker said sarin, a deadly type of gas used in chemical weapons, has been produced in Turkey and transferred into Syria.

He said it is impossible that Turkish intelligence officials had been unaware of the production and transfer of the prohibited materials into Syria.

The comments came after six men were arrested during an operation in which chemical substances were seized from a truck heading from the southeastern Turkish city of Adana to Syrian borders.

Referring to the main suspect involved in a lawsuit brought forward by Adana High Criminal Court against 13 members of the Nusra Front terrorist group in 2013, Seker said, “Haytham Qassab is a figure who is known for his connections to the terrorists in Syria. He is a Saudi citizen with Syrian origin. He provided chemical substances related to sarin gas from Turkey to the terrorist groups operating in Syria.”

Qassab had been arrested for obtaining related chemical substances but was released after a while.

“The most important point is that these chemical substances can only be obtained by mechanical and chemical industrial corporation which is a sort of government-controlled group of factories in Turkey,” Seker added in an interview with Press TV.

During the briefing, Eren Erdem, another CHP representative in the Turkish parliament, also presented a telephone tape belonging to anti-government militants operating in Syria.

“Qassab is known for his connections with a terrorist organization linked to al-Qaeda. Qassab obtained some chemical substances used in the production of prohibited sarin gas. He ordered these substances from some figures in Turkey. Then the substances were transferred to Syria by trucks,” Erdem told Press TV.

On August 21, 2013, a chemical weapon was used in the Ghouta area of Damascus suburbs. Hundreds of people died in the attack. According to reports, the rockets used in the attack were handmade and contained sarin.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key member of the AKP and then prime minister, claimed at the time that the chemical attacks in Syria were carried out by the government. The recent revelations, however, show that chemical materials may have been transferred to the militants with the knowledge of the AKP leaders.

"The BBC simply deleted the key admission that the Saudis are arming al Qaeda".

Bingo! A BBC reader caught the Beeb with its hands in the cookie jar! Then he contacted Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept or vice-versa and anyhow, we have the story of the week second to the U.S. bombing a gopher hole in the Syrian desert 6,000 times but I don't know whether that one's an urban legend. The Intercept story, BBC Protects U.K.’s Close Ally Saudi Arabia With Incredibly Dishonest and Biased Editing, by Glenn Greenwald, definitely isn't.

It's a long, complicated (and well-sourced) story but here's the gist:  Earlier this month the BBC published an article quoting an unnamed Saudi official who said that his government was continuing to send weapons to anti-Assad forces in Syria, but that the forces were not Islamic State or Nusra Front. If he'd just stopped there the mess wouldn't have happened but he went on yapping.

From the Intercept's quote from the Beeb report:
[He] said the weapons would go to three rebel alliances — Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Southern Front.
Trouble is, Jaish al-Fatah includes Nusra Front, a proscribed terrorist organization on account of it's basically al Qaeda in Syria. To return to The Intercept:
In other words, the claim from the anonymous Saudi official that the BBC uncritically regurgitated — that the Saudis are only arming the Army of Conquest but no groups that “include” the Nusra Front — is self-negating. A BBC reader, Ricardo Vaz, brought this contradiction to the BBC’s attention. 
As he told The Intercept: “The problem is that the Nusra Front is the most important faction inside the Army of Conquest. So either the Saudi official expected the BBC journalist not to know this, or he expects us to believe they can deliver weapons to factions fighting side by side with an al Qaeda affiliate and that those weapons will not make their way into Nusra’s hands. In any case, this is very close to an official admission that the Saudis (along with Qataris and Turkish) are supplying weapons to an al Qaeda affiliate. This of course is not a secret to anyone who’s paying attention.”
In response to Vaz’s complaint, the BBC did not tell its readers about this vital admission. Instead, it simply edited that Saudi admission out of its article. In doing so, it made the already-misleading article so much worse, as the BBC went even further out of its way to protect the Saudis. This is what that passage now states on the current version of the article on the BBC’s site (emphasis added):
"He said those groups being supplied did not include either Islamic State (IS) or al-Nusra Front, both of which are proscribed terrorist organizations. Instead, he said the weapons would go to the Free Syrian Army and other small rebel groups."
Glenn actually doesn't have a problem with the Saudis arming Qaeda, Inc. in Syria against the Assad Administration:
I personally don’t view the presence of al Qaeda “affiliated” fighters as a convincing argument against supporting Syrian rebels. It’s understandable that people fighting against an oppressive regime — one backed by powerful foreign factions — will align with anyone willing and capable of fighting with them. ...
It was the BBC being sneaky that outraged him.

However, if not for that oppressive Assad regime and its foreign backers -- Russia and Iran -- the Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood would have taken over Syria years ago and massacred or run off every minority group in the country. Unless one wants to subscribe to the conspiracy theory put forward by historian Eric Zuesse
"The US goal in Syria is a failed state where the local warlords — who will be ISIS [ISIL], al-Nusra, and other jihadists — will share the oil-and-gas profits with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which will build through Syria pipelines into Europe, thereby replacing Russia's supplies of oil and gas. This is Obama's goal and not only that, of King Saud, the Qatari Emir, and the other direct economic beneficiaries of the plan,"
Even if Zuesse's speculation pans out, I'd still think the pipeline scheme would have been predated by the Brothers' plotting and scheming to take over Syria, which they've been doing for decades.  
        
Moving along, I agree with Glenn to the extent it's no use getting bent out of shape about Al Saud moving weapons to Qaeda, Inc. in Syria; it's been open knowledge for years that the Saudis fund Qaeda. But I personally do have a problem with my own government arming rebel factions of any kind in Syria and this includes ones associated with al Qaeda.

The BBC sneakiness is small chips next to the U.S. government's in arming sworn enemies of Americans. Last night John Batchelor point-blank asked Long War Journal's Bill Roggio whether the U.S. was still arming Qaeda factions in Syria. Bill's answer was chilling. Paraphrasing: By a roundabout way, yes.

The interview, which includes LWJ's update on Terror, Inc. activity in Afghanistan, Syria, and East Africa, can be heard on the podcast; the specific exchange I referenced starts at the 3:25 minute mark.  See also Tom Joscelyn's October 25 report for Long War Journal, Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, Ajnad al Sham form anti-Russian alliance in Damascus countryside.

There is a particular reason to be alarmed at this point about continued U.S. arming of groups in Syria; rather there will be after Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford testity today before the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

The two have been pressing for greater U.S. troop involvement in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The stunt Carter pulled by sending Delta Force troops into a hostage rescue situation in Iraq, which resulted in the death of a U.S. soldier, was his trial balloon. If Code Pink didn't mass in the streets in protest, he could inch forward.

To explain Carter's next move, here's a report from The Hill last night, which beat The Washington Post to the punch with the news (listen to John Batchelor's discussion of the Post report with Bill Roggio at the podcast link, above):

Pentagon weighing deeper US involvement in Iraq [and Syria]
By Kristina Wong

Top leaders at the Pentagon are considering a range of options to bolster the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), including embedding some U.S. troops with Iraqi forces, according to two U.S. officials.
U.S. military commanders have forwarded several options to the Defense Department in the last few weeks, the officials told The Hill, as part of a mounting push within the administration to more aggressively target the terrorist group.

One of the options presented was embedding U.S. troops with Iraqi security forces; they would have the ability to call in airstrikes, a step that would bring American forces to the front line.

But even without a role in direct combat, that option would skirt close to having “boots on the ground” in Iraq — something President Obama has vowed not to do in the military campaign against ISIS.

The White House has repeatedly said U.S. troops would not have a "combat role" or be engaged in "large-scale ground combat" in Iraq.

A second option sent to Pentagon leaders would embed U.S. forces with Iraqis closer to the battlefield, at the level of a brigade or a battalion.

U.S. troops are now embedded with Iraqis at the division level, which keeps them stationed at headquarters.

Some of the options sent to Pentagon leaders would entail high risk for U.S. troops in Iraq and require more personnel, one of the officials said.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford will have an opportunity to discuss the options for the ISIS campaign when they testify Tuesday in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

One of the biggest topics of discussion at the hearing will be the way forward in Syria, where the White House recently suspended a program to train and equip rebel forces after it fell woefully short of expectations.

After six months, the program had produced only about 80 rebels, compared with a target number of 5,000 by the end of the year. Some of the trainees admitted to handing over U.S.-supplied equipment to al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.

Complicating the situation in Syria further, Russia has launched an airstrike campaign in the country to shore up President Bashar al-Assad.

Another option under consideration, one of the officials said, is to send more ammunition and weapons to a coalition of rebel groups battling ISIS and Assad's regime. The U.S. military recently airdropped 50 tons of ammunition to the Syrian Arab Coalition, which includes about a dozen Syrian rebel groups.

Also under consideration is increased targeting of ISIS's production and sale of oil on the black market. The U.S.-led military coalition has struck oil refineries controlled by ISIS, but officials are looking at using different kinds of weapons to target the facilities.

Carter on Friday gave some insight into his thinking when he said he expected U.S. troops to conduct more raids in the war against ISIS.

"There's always a look at doing more of what works well and doing less of what doesn't work well, and refining our efforts. That will continue," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told The Hill on Monday.

"You heard the secretary allude to the one thing Friday, which is the fact that we're going to do more of these enabling missions and advise and assist and enabling missions outside the wire with trusted partners.

"Clearly there's desire to do whatever it takes to degrade and defeat ISIL," he added, using a different acronym for ISIS.

The proposals could face a backlash from liberals on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who opposed the Iraq War in 2002, said the Pentagon’s consideration of embedding U.S. troops with Iraqi forces “extremely concerning”

“We have been repeatedly reassured that the U.S. would not have a combat role in the war against ISIS, but this suggests just the opposite,” he said. “This potential escalation is just the latest evidence that it is long past time for Congress to act. Our brave men and women in uniform are doing their duty.”

“It’s time for members of Congress to do our duty by voting on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force that clearly defines the U.S. military campaign against ISIS before it becomes another endless war," he added.

-- Updated at 6:34 p.m.
[END REPORT]

As to whether the Syrian Arab Coalition actually received the 50 tons of U.S. ammunition -- they claim not.  As to where the ammo might have gone, thereby hangs a strange tale.  

********

Free Syrian Army turns out to be a ghost army (UPDATED with my comment and report of FSA visit to Moscow)

Why didn't the Russians serve us caviar during our embassy to Moscow?


You might recall that the Russian government has been asking for weeks to meet with representatives of the Free Syrian Army, with assurance from the Russians that they'd consider providing air cover and other military assistance to the organization if only they would show and explain themselves. This request was also put repeatedly to the U.S. government, which has been backing FSA, with silence in reply.  

Well, representatives of said army finally contacted Moscow, and yesterday Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov confirmed that Free Syrian Army envoys had visited:
Answering a question on whether envoys of the Free Syrian Army visited Russia last week, Bogdanov said "yes, different people were here."
They're different, all right. An analyst was far more politically correct than I would be in his assessment of the reps: Free Syrian Army Just Some ‘Entity Acting for Political Gain’  (Sputnik; October 25)

Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have sent a proposal to Russia on holding talks in Cairo on cooperation in the settlement of the Syrian conflict.

“The Free Syrian Army is ready for a dialogue with Russia. We need to facilitate a new meeting, so we could express our position and discuss our joint actions…. We can make a joint decision on what kind of assistance Russia might provide to the Free Syrian Army,” FSA’s Fahad Masri told RIA Novosti.

Radio Sputnik discussed the initiative with Deputy Director of the Damascus Center for International and Strategic Studies, Dr. Taleb Ibrahim.

[visit website for broadcast]

“I am sure there is no Free Syrian Army because they refused to cooperate with Russia. They want a political role or political resolution in Syria because they know they have no real existence on the ground. They have no real forces, no Free Syrian Army, because they were unable to cooperate with Russia in the military field or receive any aid from Russia.”

He said that these are some kind of entities who call themselves the Free Syrian Army from the defected officers who are living in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. 


“They want power. They want to talk to Russia about a political resolution to find a place for themselves and their future.”

He went on to say that there is a new kind of cold war going in Syria. They want to fight Russia and prevent Russia as now they have seen that Russia has a very strong, effective presence in Syria. “It is like what the US did in Afghanistan. What is happening in Syria is an international war.”

“If tomorrow there is an election in Syria, I am sure that 70% of Syrians will vote for President Bashar Assad because right now there is a war against Syria -- the faith, the culture, the history and the co-existence between different religions and ethnics. It is not a war against Bashar Assad, he is a Syrian and he was elected by Syrians. He was not nominated by the US or Qatar to tell him when he comes and when he goes.”

He said that this needs to be decided in the parliament and not by violence, as well as not by Saudi Arabia who has no real constitution or political freedom. He said that “free, liberated parliamentary elections are what Syria needs.”


[END REPORT]

I suspect Syrian and Russian intelligence agencies have always known the names and current addresses of the defected Syrian Army officers who call themselves an army -- and receive funds from the USA and Saudi Arabia.  

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Monday, October 26

Afghanistan should look like Beverly Hills: Did US learn nothing from World Bank?

A headline today from Fiscal Times reads, Corruption and Fraud Inside Afghanistan’s $600 Million Police Force, report filed by Martin Matishak. Yes, SIGAR has issued another mind-bending report on waste, fraud. etc. in U.S. military-overseen projects in Afghanistan. How many reports has it been this year? Three, four?  

Yet what I find the most upsetting about these SIGAR  reports is that the World Bank-IDA is a compendium of every stupid mistake a government can make in developing a Basket-Case country. So unless you want to blame compartmentalization, there is no reason the U.S. military, State Department, or their European counterparts, should have between them poured trillions of dollars, pounds, and euros into the black hole that is Afghanistan. 

Moreover, the Bank didn't only produce a compendium. Slowly, painfully, over decades it worked out tactics for donor governments to avoid the worst of the waste and fraud. The tactics are available to every government that cares to use them. And a local Afghan agency was actually set up to monitor and disperse certain funds. But it hasn't worked, for reasons the Fiscal Times explains.    

I don't know what to say about this, beyond that Donald Trump should be elected the President of the United States because the first thing he's going to do is bring an army of business people into the U.S. government and they are going to run the government like a business.

Right now it's run by people who think 'It's only money. Only my budget counts.'

Here's the Fiscal Times report; read it and gnash your teeth; mine are already ground to stumps from gnashing:

 The Defense Department has spent more than $470 million to maintain the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and is on the hook to spend millions more, even though the force itself is hindered by corruption and poor management, according to a top federal watchdog.
new report from the office of John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), says the Pentagon will spend an additional $121 million through 2016 supporting an effort that lacks oversight, logistical support and controls for the payment of salaries.
Related: Here’s How Much It Will Cost to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan
The audit is the latest piece of bad news about mismanaged funds in the 14-year conflict in Afghanistan, which has cost the U.S. about $1 trillion and counting.
The ALP is separate from the Afghan National Police and National Army and is supposed to boost local security by training rural Afghans how to defend their communities against insurgents and other armed groups. The force has around 28,000 members spread across 150 districts in the country.
Sopko’s team found a force plagued with problems, many caused by the remote setting of its work.
Related: Battle over Kunduz highlights risk to huge U.S. Afghan investments
For instance, when it comes to reporting attendance, member can check in using radios and cellphones or deliver reports by hand. Once submitted, the reports go through a byzantine certification process in which the provincial chief of police is in charge of certifying time sheet and controlling salary payments, each of which can be altered at any time. The arrangement “creates an opportunity for fraud and corruption,” according to the audit.
Meanwhile, DOD itself hasn’t conducted any audits of the salary disbursements to make sure the numbers add up, it notes.
The rural focus of the ALP also hampers its supply chain
Related: The U.S. War on Drugs in Afghanistan Is an $8 Billion Failure
“The ALP is the first line of defense for many villages across Afghanistan, but supplies ordered for the ALP are often diverted, delayed, of inferior quality, or heavily pilfered,” the report states. “Furthermore, coalition and ALP personnel SIGAR interviewed stated that unreliable logistics and lack of supplies also increase the likelihood of attrition.”
Personnel are also “inappropriately” used as bodyguards for Afghan government officials, no doubt due to the unstable security situation in the country that recently led President Obama to revise his plans for a drawdown in U.S. troops.
The ALP is supposed to be incorporated into other Afghan security forces eventually, but SIGAR found no concrete plans for doing so any time soon.
Sopko makes a number of recommendations to fix the ALP program, including the creation of an electronic payment system; setting up protocols so members get the supplies they need and aren’t used as bodyguards; and conducting financial audits of the entire ALP system.
[END REPORT]

********


 

Wikipedia wrests order from chaos of news reports on Hindu Kush earthquake

I deleted the first post I put up on the quake, which included a crazy map from the U.K. Independent, which seemed to indicate the quake strike zone had included a big chunk of Southwest Asia. 

Now look, this is getting to be TOO MUCH, do you understand. It's lunacy, with news organizations jamming their reports with Tweets that amount to, 'Look at this!'  'Look at that!'  'Oh look at what I just saw!' 

Few of these people are trained observers; most are rubberneckers.  

Then there's the news reports that feature live updates, which you have to plow through from the bottom up, and which only add to the confusion of an already confused situation. 

The Internet era in news reporting was supposed to make us better informed. Well I have news: the Social Media add-on and the mad scramble among a zillion Internet news sites to get scoops isn't making everyone better informed. It's driving everyone crazy. 

Even more ominously, it's driving editors at major news organizations crazy.  

Twitter isn't actually the problem; it's that news organizations are inserting Tweets in their reports because they know Twitter is a popular communication platform. 

This abuse of Twitter is across the board, not only in reports on disaster situations. You can't even read the financial pages without having to navigate Tweets. 'Here's what I think about the Fed's latest figures.' 

If I want to know what you're Tweeting about the Fed I'll go to Twitter.      

All right. The most important news to emerge about today's quake is that it was quite deep. From Wikipedia:
The last major earthquake to hit the same region of similar magnitude (7.6 Mw) was almost exactly ten years ago in October 2005, which resulted in 87,351 deaths, 75,266 injured, 2.8 million people being displaced, and 250,000 farm animals dying. The notable difference between this earthquake and the 2005 earthquake is the depth of the seismic activity. The 2005 earthquake was 15 km deep while this earthquake was 212.5 km deep. [132.0 miles]
The estimated death tolls from today's quake are presently tiny in India, maybe a handful, and ones in Afghanistan and Pakistan amount to a few hundred each, although of course the tolls will rise, and of course there are a lot of collapsed buildings in those two countries.  

But the depth of the quake means the peoples in the Hindu Kush region dodged the bullet.  

Wikipedia cautions that their article might not contain the latest updates on the situation, but I think it's the best place to get an overview, unless of course you have family in the affected regions or will be heading there to do relief work.  

******** 

‘Intolerable’ Heat May Hit the Middle East by the End of the Century

It's not so much the heat as high humidity combined with high temperature. A killer heat/humidity wave already struck Southwest Asia this year, in July. And while the scenario described below seems a long way off, "Wet-bulb temperatures that even exceed the 35-degree threshold could be expected to occur once every 10 or 20 years..."  Note too, that the waves are particularly lethal for the major cities in Gulf kingdoms because of proximity to the Gulf waters.

As to the vaunted role of greenhouse gas emissions driving the disaster scenario, I think that's open to question. Whatever the cause(s) the models are pointing to much hotter temperatures for the region.        

‘Intolerable’ Heat May Hit the Middle East by the End of the Century
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
OCT. 26, 2015
The New York Times

By the end of this century, areas of the Persian Gulf could be hit by waves of heat and humidity so severe that simply being outside for several hours could threaten human life, according to a new study published Monday. Because of humanity’s contribution to climate change, the authors wrote, some population centers in the Middle East “are likely to experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans.

The dangerously muggy summer conditions predicted for places near the warm waters of the Gulf could overwhelm the ability of the human body to reduce its temperature through sweating and ventilation. That threatens anyone without air-conditioning — including the poor, but also those who work outdoors in professions like agriculture and construction.

The paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, was written by Jeremy S. Pal of the department of civil engineering and environmental science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Elfatih A. B. Eltahir of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previous studies had suggested that such conditions might be reached in the next 200 years. But the new research, which depends on detailed climate models that focus on regional topography and conditions, foresees a much shorter timeline.

The researchers resolve the old argument over whether the source of summer misery is the heat or the humidity by saying that it is both. They rely on a method of measuring atmospheric conditions known as wet-bulb temperature, which, while less well known and understood than the standard method of measuring temperatures, describes the extent to which evaporation and ventilation can lower an object’s temperature.

If the wet-bulb temperature is 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), that means that even a person drenched in sweat cannot cool off. Wet-bulb readings are not the same as the heat-indexmeasurements used by the National Weather Service, Dr. Eltahir said. (This is the figure used by weather forecasters to say what a hot day “feels like” when the humidity is added.)

A wet-bulb measure of 35 degrees Celsius, he estimated, would roughly translate to a heat-index reading of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Since even today’s heat waves cause premature deaths by the thousands, mainly affecting very young, elderly and infirm people, the more extreme conditions envisioned in the new paper “would probably be intolerable even for the fittest of humans, resulting in hyperthermia” after six hours of exposure.

Erich M. Fischer, senior scientist at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at the science and technical university ETH Zurich, and who was not involved with the new paper, explained the role of humidity.

“Anyone can experience the fact that humidity plays a crucial role in this in the sauna,” he said. “You can heat up a Finnish sauna up to 100 degrees Celsius since it is bone dry and the body efficiently cools down by excessive sweating even at ambient temperatures far higher than the body temperature. In a Turkish bath, on the other hand, with almost 100 percent relative humidity, you want to keep the temperatures well below 40 degrees Celsius since the body cannot get rid of the heat by sweating and starts to accumulate heat.”

As climate change causes temperatures to rise around the world, it should come as no surprise that the warm-water coasts in the Middle East could be the first to experience brutal combinations of heat and humidity. The conditions would not be constant, but spikes would become increasingly common.

A temperature that today would rank in the 95th percentile “becomes approximately a normal summer day” by the end of the century, the researchers said. Wet-bulb temperatures that even exceed the 35-degree threshold could be expected to occur once every 10 or 20 years, Dr. Eltahir said. “When they happen, they will be quite lethal,” he said.

The research also raises the prospect of “severe consequences” for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage that draws roughly two million people to Mecca to pray outdoors from dawn to dusk. Should the hajj, which can occur at different times of the year, fall during the height of the summer, “This necessary outdoor Muslim ritual is likely to become hazardous to human health,” the authors predicted.

If the nations of the world reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, the authors concluded, the predicted disasters can be prevented — “Such efforts applied at the global scale would significantly reduce the severity of the projected impacts.”

An essay published along with the new paper by Christoph Schär, of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zurich, said that the message of the new research is clear. “The threats to human health may be much more severe than previously thought, and may occur in the current century,” he wrote.

A heat wave in July of this year got very close to the 35-degree wet-bulb threshold described by the authors, reaching 34.6 degrees. “It is credible that it will sometimes rise above 35 °C within this century,” he wrote.

In an interview via email, Dr. Fischer said that he found the research “robust and noteworthy,” though he said some uncertainties remain in the temperature measurements and the models. “Whether it exceeds or just gets close to the adaptability limit and for what period (which is probably quite relevant) may need further research,” he wrote.

Steven Sherwood, a researcher whose work in 2010 suggested that parts of the world could become uninhabitable within 200 years if fossil-fuel burning continues unabated, said he saw no reason to doubt the results of the new study. However, he added that “we really need to learn how to improve these models” to build confidence in the results.

Still, he said he was startled by the prediction that many cities on the Persian Gulf coast could be essentially uninhabitable by the end of the century for those without air-conditioning. “That is truly shocking,” he wrote in an email exchange, and added that he found it ironic, “given the region’s importance in providing fossil fuels.”

[END REPORT]

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Big electoral win for Guatemala's 'outsider' anti-corruption presidential candidate

The USA isn't the only place with widespread voter anger against the political class. The Morales win and ousting of the former administration is a tribute to the Guatemalan people, who threw the bums out and now demand clean government. One of the bums blamed the country's troubles on the USA. I will cop to many criticisms of my country but not this one.    

Jimmy Morales, comic and self-styled outsider, wins Guatemala presidency

The anti-corruption candidate rode a wave of popular anger against the political class to take nearly 70% of the vote in Sunday’s election

Jimmy Morales and his wife Gina after winning the Guatemalan election on Sunday.
Photograph: Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images

Associated Press via The Guardian
Monday 26 October 2015 - 00.07 EDT

Television comic and self-styled outsider Jimmy Morales has been elected as Guatemala’s next president, riding a wave of popular anger against the political class after huge anti-corruption protests helped oust the last government.

Morales claimed victory and his opponent, former first lady Sandra Torres, conceded defeat after official results showed him winning around 69% of the votes, with 94% of polling stations tallied.

“We recognise Jimmy Morales’ triumph and we wish him success,” Torres said. “Guatemala has serious problems, but the people made their choice and we respect it.”

The runoff was held a month and a half after president Otto Perez Molina resigned and was jailed in connection with a sprawling customs scandal. His former vice president has also been jailed in the multimillion-dollar graft and fraud scheme.

Though the protests have died down since Perez Molina’s resignation, many Guatemalans remain fed up with corruption and politics as usual, and Morales will face pressure to deliver immediately on widespread demands for reform.

“The important thing is that the next government avoids corruption,” said Alexander Pereira, an insurance salesman who was the first to vote at one polling place. “I hope that the next government really makes a change. We had an achievement in kicking out the last government.”

Javier Zepeda, executive director of the Chamber of Industry, said his business group had observed the vote and estimated turnout at around 45% to 50%, which would be down 20 points from the first round.

“The people already showed their rejection of corruption (in the previous vote) where they kicked politicians out,” Zepeda said.

[...]

********

"Eurosceptics claim victory in landmark Poland election"

If the exit poll is correct, the victory by PiS would be the biggest in terms of seats by a single party since Poland held free elections after shedding communism in 1989 -- marking a decisive swing to its brand of social conservatism mixed with left-leaning economics in the country of 38 million people.

The election of PiS likely means that Poland will join ranks with Hungary and Slovakia in opposing relocation of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, deepening divisions in the EU...

It also wants to enshrine more Roman Catholic values in Polish law, reflecting the party's deeply socially conservative stance.

UPDATE 8-Eurosceptics claim victory in landmark Poland election
Sun Oct 25, 2015 8:45pm EDT
By Pawel Sobczak and Wiktor Szary
Reuters

* PiS ahead with 38 pct of vote - exit poll update
* Kaczynski immediately declares victory
* Exit poll suggests PiS could govern alone
* Election shows conservative swing in Poland (Updates with updated exit poll figures at 00:20 GMT)

WARSAW, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Poland's eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS) claimed victory on Sunday in a watershed election that risks putting the ex-communist state on a collision course with key European Union allies.

Run by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of Poland's late president Lech, PiS secured 38 percent of the vote, enough to govern alone and well ahead of the incumbent, staunchly pro-EU Civic Platform (PO) at 23.4 percent, said pollster IPSOS.

If the exit poll is correct, the victory by PiS would be the biggest in terms of seats by a single party since Poland held free elections after shedding communism in 1989 -- marking a decisive swing to its brand of social conservatism mixed with left-leaning economics in the country of 38 million people.

It would also be the first time that the socialist grouping that grew out of the pre-1989 communist party failed to win seats in parliament.

A triumphant Kaczynski, whose party immediately signalled plans to reap new revenues from next year with a tax on bank assets, declared victory.

"We will not kick those who have fallen. ... We need to show that Polish public life can be different," Kaczynski told jubilant supporters at his party headquarters in central Warsaw.

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz of PO conceded defeat.

Poland has seen its economy, the largest in ex-communist central Europe, expand by nearly 50 percent in the last decade, with the pro-market Civic Platform focusing on trying to make the most of EU aid and combining green field investment with fiscal prudence.

But pockets of poverty and economic stagnation remain, and PiS was able to exploit growing frustration in some areas that the spoils of economic success are not more evenly shared.

Distrustful of the EU and an advocate of a strong NATO stance in dealing with Moscow, PiS opposes joining the euro zone any time soon and promises more welfare spending on the poor.

It also wants to enshrine more Roman Catholic values in Polish law, reflecting the party's deeply socially conservative stance.

Two new parties appeared to have won seats in parliament. The liberal, pro-market Nowoczesna, led by former World Bank economist Ryszard Petru, was seeing winning 7.2 percent of the vote.

Kukiz'15, an anti-establishment grouping led by rock star Pawel Kukiz, looked set to secure 9.1 percent of votes.

TENSIONS AHEAD

The election of PiS likely means that Poland will join ranks with Hungary and Slovakia in opposing relocation of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, deepening divisions in the EU, where Germany's Angela Merkel in particular has advocated a more open approach.

Kaczynski, a long-time fan of Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Orban, has said Muslim migrants threaten Poland's Catholic way of life. Earlier this month he was accused by some media in Poland of fanning racism when he said they would bring new diseases and parasites to Poland.

The migrant crisis has led to a boost in support for hard-right parties in countries including Sweden and the Netherlands.

On the campaign trail, Kaczynski and other PiS leaders sought to tap into nationalist sentiment tied to fears over immigration, particularly among young voters.

"The victory by PiS is part of a wider shift in Europe, of a return to national values," said analyst Aleksander Smolar.

PiS advocates a robust Western approach towards Russia, especially following Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Poland's eastern neighbour Ukraine.

That might complicate any future attempts at bridge-building between the EU and Russia, currently the target of Western sanctions imposed over the Ukraine conflict.

Markets have eyed the possible victory of PiS with growing concern in the final days ahead of the vote, with the zloty hitting a nine-month low. Economists said PiS plans to tax banks threatened the flow of cash into the economy, while welfare spending promises signalled less fiscal prudence.

A senior PiS official said on Sunday the party wanted to tax banks' assets from next year.

"One of the first economic decisions of the new government will be to submit an amendment of next year's budget," said Zbigniew Kuzmiuk, who is tipped to play a major role in shaping the new government's economic policies.

"We want, probably as of January 2016, to introduce two taxes that are important for us, including a tax on banks - it will be a tax on assets with a rate of 0.39 percent - and a tax on supermarkets," he said.

He said the government would be committed to maintaining an overall deficit below three percent of national output in line with EU guidelines.

PiS will also have a chance to nominate the majority of members of Poland's monetary policy council, giving the party de facto control over interest rate policy. Its top politicians have already signalled the grouping favoured a more pro-growth approach.

(Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Anna Koper, Pawel Florkiewicz, Marcin Goclowski, Marcin Goettig, Writing by Justyna Pawlak and Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Mark John, Jonathan Oatis and Christian Plumb)

[END REPORT]

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