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Sunday, August 25

Western support for Al Qaeda in Libya: An instructive horror story.

In his August 13 article for The National Interestmilitary intervention analyst Alan J. Kuperman recounts that he used jihadist postings at YouTube and other open source-material to piece together the real story of how Libya's civil war got off the ground. The detective work lasted years but when he was done he had managed to demonstrate that Al Qaeda had launched the rebellion.

A glance at the title the National Interest gave Kuperman's article, America's Little-Known Mission to Support Al Qaeda's Role in Libya, and comments at the NI website about the article suggest that some folk believe the U.S. government and other Western powers knew all along that Al Qaeda was behind the Libyan uprising -- a question that Kuperman avoids asking, and for good reasons. 

One reason is that it would be a quixotic undertaking to put Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in the dock and cross-examine them about what they knew and when they knew it regarding Al Qaeda's activities in Libya. Instead, Kuperman took the position that the U.S. and other Western powers simply screwed up. From one angle that's an inarguable conclusion because even if they'd gone so far as to plot with Al Qaeda to overthrow Gaddafi, the consequences were such that one can fairly say the Western powers screwed up no matter which way you cut it.

And so, after laying out the facts of his investigation, Kuperman takes to the lectern to deliver a succinct assessment of how screw-ups of such magnitude can happen.  So I'm going to leap over his description of the case itself and go straight to his summary, which I've broken into bullet points:

[BEGIN QUOTES] 

  • The hidden Al Qaeda roots of Libya’s revolution highlight several important lessons. First, media reporting about emerging crises can be dangerously inaccurate. 
  • One reason is that journalists tend to gravitate to big cities—in this case, Benghazi, where the biggest protests initially were peaceful—and thus overlook key events in the hinterlands such as the Islamist rebellion. 
  • Massive nonviolent demonstrations also offer great visuals that tend to dominate international news coverage even when they are not actually driving events on the ground. 
  • In addition, some journalists love David vs. Goliath stories so much that they may be blinded to the reality of Goliath vs. Goliath. 
  • Another problem is that Western reporters in authoritarian countries tend to sympathize with and become dependent on local dissidents, who may then feed them disinformation. 
  • The upshot is that consumers of news—especially policymakers—need to carefully vet media claims before responding with action as monumental as military intervention.
  • The senior U.S. officials who advocated for intervention—in particular, White House special assistant Samantha Power, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama—appear to have suffered from two major misperceptions. 
  • [1] They did not realize that Libya’s rebellion was led by Islamist militants, and [2] they believed that Qaddafi’s forces were targeting innocent civilians. These fundamental errors had two conceivable causes:
  • One possibility is that the U.S. intelligence community misunderstood what was happening, perhaps being misled by rebel propaganda, and thus provided bad guidance to policymakers. 
  • The alternative explanation is that U.S. spy agencies got it right, but administration officials instead relied on press accounts because they failed to read or distrusted the intelligence reports. 
  • In either case, an inspector general needs to pinpoint the cause of this massive policy failure, so that steps can be taken to avoid any repetition.
  • Another uncomfortable lesson for Western liberals is that two of their policy prescriptions for Libya backfired by facilitating Al Qaeda’s rebellion. 
  • First, Qaddafi pursued political reconciliation with Islamists by releasing hundreds of prisoners—but they reciprocated by overthrowing and killing him.
  • Second, in early 2011, Qaddafi refrained from robust retaliation against the armed uprising to avoid harming civilians, but this gifted the insurgents momentum and encouraged other Libyans to join in, helping them quickly conquer the east. 
  • Had Qaddafi instead ignored liberal counsel by keeping most jihadis locked behind bars and brutally attacking the rest, the Al Qaeda insurgency might never have gotten off the ground.
  • A final takeaway for humanitarians is that their advocacy of quick intervention to avert incipient genocide may also backfire. The inclination toward rapid response is understandable given that civilians can be killed relatively swiftly, as I myself have documented in The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention: Genocide in Rwanda
  • However, a rushed decision increases the danger that misinformation or disinformation will prompt counter-productive intervention. In Libya, both pathologies manifested, as the West failed to recognize that Al Qaeda was leading the rebellion and then fell for opposition propaganda that Qaddafi was slaughtering civilians. The precipitous timing of the intervention—barely one month after the first whiff of protest against Qaddafi—undoubtedly contributed to these misjudgments. 
  • Thus, humanitarians are left with a terrible dilemma: wait too long to intervene and risk failing to prevent violence, or intervene prematurely and risk exacerbating violence. Faced with this ominous choice, the Hippocratic principle of “first, do no harm” would recommend more patience.
  • Ironically, in 2011, the swiftness of intervention in Libya was touted as a historic success that would help codify the emerging norm of the “Responsibility to Protect.” In retrospect, such haste empowered Islamic militants, amplified human suffering and created a failed state—all of which has undermined international support for any future humanitarian intervention.

[END QUOTES]

It should go without question that the criticisms in the above points also apply to the West's intervention in Syria.  

********

Friday, August 23

Turkey in Syria: Al-Monitor struggles to read tea leaves

Turkey questions why Russia didn't prevent Idlib attack

I'm going to be nice and not burst into laughter. 

********

"Syrian Army Sets Up Safe Corridor amid Terrorists' Attempts to Use Civilians as Human Shields"

The headline is from the same August 22 FARS report I quoted in my last post. Here's how the report begins:
  
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army prepared a safe passage for civilians to leave the terrorist-held areas in Southern Idlib and Northern Hama amid militants' attempts to take them hostage in Northern Hama.

An official source in the Syrian foreign ministry said that the army has set up a safe corridor in Souran region in Northern Hama after continued pressures by the terrorist groups in Northern Syria on the civilians.
The terrorist groups intend to prevent the Syrian army's advance in Hama and Idlib by using civilians as human shields after the Syrian army gained control over the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun in Southern Idlib and laid full siege on the regions occupied by the militants in Northern Hama.
Meantime, the Arabic-language Dampress website reported that nearly 5,000 terrorists along with the Turkish army forces have been fully besieged in Murak [aka Morek] after the army surrounded 207sq/km of regions in Northern Hama.
[...]
******** 

Ah-ha! Reportedly,Turkey negotiating a retreat from Hama.

The claim is from a source quoted by FARS, a "Syrian lawmaker for Idlib Province, Safvan Qorbi." 
 
BEGIN QUOTES

“The next target of the Syrian Arm’s military operations is Ma’aret al-Numan after imposing full control over Khan Sheikhoun,” Syrian lawmaker for Idlib Province Safvan Qorbi said.

He noted that the residents of Idlib and its countryside are expecting the Syrian Army to arrive in areas occupied by the terrorists, and said that large groups of residents of Ma’aret al-Numan and the city of Saraqib in Southern Idlib have visited the joint Syrian-Russian Command Headquarters for the implementation of a peace plan.

Qorbi noted the massive presence of the terrorist groups in Ma’aret al-Numan and the Turkish Army’s occupying role in the region, and said that the Syrian Army is prepared to enter Ma’aret al-Numan.
He also pointed to the heavy defeat of the terrorist groups in Khan Sheikhoun city despite massive military backup by the Turkish Army and their retreat from the region, and said that negotiations are currently underway for exit of the Turkish Army troops from areas under its control in Hama.

[END QUOTES]

I certainly hope Qorbi is correct about the Turkish Army trying to leave Hama but we'll just have to wait and see.  

********

Falling Dominoes: Last militant lines collapse in S. Idlib

Syrian Army captures several areas as last militant lines collapse in southern Idlib
August 22, 2019
Al-Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:40 P.M.) – The Syrian Arab Army scored a new advance along the Hama-Idlib axis on Thursday, seizing several sites from the last jihadist rebels in the area.

According to a field report from this front, the Syrian Army began the day by capturing the hilltop of Tal Sayyed and the nearby village of Sayyed.

Following this advance, the Syrian Army would capture several other areas along the Idlib-Hama axis, including Tal Huwayz, Al-Bashir Driving School, and Wadi Al-Anz.

A source near the front-lines told Al-Masdar News that most of the militants that once controlled this area fled north before the Syrian Arab Army closed the pocket.

He added that several militants are still in the pocket, but most are situated near the Turkish Armed Forces at the observation post in the town of Morek.

[...]

********

A major reason Khan Sheikhoun fell so quickly to the Syrian Army

Syrian Army declares full control over Khan Sheikhoun after short battle: map
August 23, 2019
Al-Masdar News

[See the AMN site for the map.]

BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:40 A.M.) – On Thursday, the Syrian Arab Army’s High Command announced that the strategic city of Khan Sheikhoun was under the military’s control after a short battle.

The Syrian Arab Army was able to fully secure Khan Sheikhoun after entering the city from all axes on Wednesday; this was followed by a thorough combing operation to ensure that Khan Sheikhoun was cleared of all explosives and militants.

While Khan Sheikhoun was not declared under the Syrian Army’s control until Thursday, all of the militants from Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and Jaysh Al-Izza had already withdrawn from the southern part of the city by Wednesday.

One of the major reasons Khan Sheikhoun fell so quickly to the Syrian Army was due to the military’s capture of the strategic hilltop of Talat Al-Nimr.

Talat Al-Nimr is a large hilltop that overlooks both the northern sector of Khan Sheikhoun and the Hama-Idlib Highway (var. M-5 Highway).

Following the loss of their most important supply line to Khan Sheikhoun, most of the militants inside the city abandoned their posts and fled to the Ta’manah area, where they exited the pocket before it was closed by the Syrian Army on Wednesday.

The Syrian Arab Army would follow up this advance by seizing several areas south of Khan Sheikhoun on Thursday.

With virtually nowhere to retreat, the remaining militants in northern Hama will likely rely on the Turkish armed forces for protection and a potential exit from this pocket.

[END REPORT]

********

For years, Khan Sheikhoun was al Qaeda's key stronghold in Syria.

Yes of course the Turks knew. The Americans knew. The whole goddamn collection of fiends serving as leaders of the International Community knew, as did the Western 'academic' think tanks and humanitarian organizations dealing with Syria. 

SYRIAN WAR REPORT – AUGUST 22, 2019: KHAN SHAYKHUN LIBERATED, NORTHERN HAMA POCKET – NEXT
SouthFront

On August 21, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the Tiger Forces liberated the town of Khan Shaykhun and the areas of Khazanat and Tal Taeri, thus fully encircling remaining militants in northern Hama.

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham strong points of Kafr Zita, Lataminah, and Morek, as well as the nearby settlements of Lahaya, Markabah, Latmin and Sayad are now fully cut off from their radical counterparts in the Idlib zone. A Morek observation post, where Turkish troops are deployed, is also encircled.

Khan Shaykhun, located on a highway linking Damascus with Aleppo, is one of the biggest urban centers in southern Idlib. For years, it had served as the key stronghold of al-Qaeda-linked militants. Currently, SAA troops are working to secure their recent gains and preparing for a further push to clear the rest of northern Hama.

Reacting to the Syrian military advance, a Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said that all observation posts, including the one near Murak, will remain in their positions in Greater Idlib. He also revealed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will speak with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the phone over the situation in Idlib in the next couple of days.

These remarks were accompanied with common Turkish media propaganda accusing the SAA of violating the ceasefire regime and oppressing so-called moderate rebels. But in fact, Turkey just admitted its tactical loss and inability to rescue militants in this part of Syria.

Another important point of Kalin’s statement was dedicated to the US-Turkish ‘safe-zone’ agreement on northern Syria. According to the Turkish side, joint patrols of US and Turkish forces will soon be launched east of the Euphrates, within the area controlled by US-backed Kurdish groups. Ankara sees these groups as terrorist organizations and has repeatedly shelled their positions. So, it will be interesting to look at how this claim will be implemented if US-backed formations remain deployed in the areas of supposed joint patrols.

[END REPORT]

***********

"Both hills overlook the Turkish observation post south of Morek"

August 23, 2019
SouthFront

[see site for map of military situation in NW Hama as of August 22]

Late on August 22, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) advance further in the militants’ enclave in northern Hama, capturing two key hilltops east of the Turkish observation post.
Army units imposed control of the Huwayr and Syriatel hills, according to pro-government sources. Both hills overlook the Turkish observation post located south of the town of Murak.
The SAA began advancing inside the militants’ enclave a few hours ago only. The village of Sayyad and its hilltop were among the first positions to be captured by the army.
Opposition sources claim that most militants withdrew from the enclave earlier this week. However, a recent report by the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA) revealed that up to 1,800 militants are still hiding in the enclave.
The army will likely neutralize all the remaining militants’ inside the northern Hama enclave within the upcoming few days.
[END REPORT]
*********

Thursday, August 22

Nyah. Nyah. We're not leaving and you can't make us.

Erdogan believes he still has cards to play, including a large number of Syrian refugees in Turkey.  Me, I operate by the three-time rule. This is the third and last time I warn the Turks to heed the lessons of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

By Jason Ditz
August 22, 2019
Anti-War

Turkish officials are ruling out any redeployment of troops in Syria after reports that Syrian troops opened fire on a Turkish observation post in Syria’s northern Idlib Province. There were no casualties. 

Turkish officials say they’re taking the matter seriously, since they’ve propped up 12 observation posts in Idlib under previous deals, with an eye toward propping up rebel forces in the region. 

After a Turkey-brokered ceasefire failed, because al-Qaeda didn’t honor it, Syria launched a new offensive, and has been pushing al-Qaeda out of some strategically important areas. Turkey had a military convoy headed into those newly contested areas targeted by an airstrike.

With Syrian forces now controlling Khan Sheikhoun, a small town on a big highway, Turkey doesn’t have a direct route to its post in nearby Morek. Turkey is ruling out leaving, but is setting themselves up for a fight with Syria over Idlib. 

That may be a tough fight, with Turkish-backed rebels having already lost most of Idlib, and al-Qaeda neither widely supported, nor historically very eager to cooperate with other factions. Turkey’s determination to stay in these areas will eventually run up against their ability to supply posts deep in Syrian territory while being militarily hostile to Syria. 


[END REPORT]

********

Wednesday, August 21

Their key Idlib bases surrounded or cut off by SAA, Turks turn to U.S. and Russia

Have the Turks never heard of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu? If they think the Syrian Army wouldn't dare, have they never heard of proxy forces? Get out, you fools. You overplayed your hand in Idlib, now get out, while you still can.  

August 22, 2019
SouthFront

TURKEY CLAIMS IT IS NOT GOING TO WITHDRAW OBSERVATION POST FROM AREA SOUTH OF KHAN SHAYKHUN

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone over the situation in Syria’s Idlib in the next couple of days, a Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said on August 21.
He further claimed that the closure or shifting of the location of the 9th observation point in the Idlib zone is “out of question”. This is the point near Morekt [Morek], which was encircled by the Syrian Army earlier on the same day.
Karim added Erdogan will also have a phone call with the U.S. President Donald Trump over the Turkish-US agreed safe zone in northeastern Syria at their earliest convenience on August 22 or August 23. He added that joint patrols of the U.S. and Turkish troops will begin soon east of the Euphrates river.


[END REPORT]
********

"Syrian Army completes encirclement of militants, Turkish Army in southern Idlib"

August 21, 2019
Al-Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (6:45 P.M.) – The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has completely cutoff the militants from all supply lines in southern Idlib and northern Hama, a source from the military told Al-Masdar this evening.

According to the military source, the Syrian Arab Army forces at the Khan Sheikhoun front has met up with the troops near the town of Al-Ta’manah; thus, completing the encirclement of this region in northwestern Syria.

In addition to besieging the militants, the Syrian Arab Army has also cutoff the Turkish military at the Morek observation post from all of its supply roads.

The Turkish military will have to coordinate with their Russian allies because they are allowed access to the Hama-Idlib Highway, per the September 17th, 2018 Sochi Agreement.

At this time, the Syrian Arab Army is still clearing Khan Sheikhoun after entering the city from all axes.

Furthermore, the Syrian military’s 5th Corps and Republican Guard are advancing through the Al-Ta’manah area in a bid to secure the town and the remaining points under militant control.

As a result of this week’s gains, the Syrian Arab Army has scored a major victory against the jihadist rebels, who previously vowed to defend this region until the last man.

[END REPORT]

Is U.S. airlifting supplies to an Islamic State base n Iraq?

Three years ago I would have thought the accusation was nonsense. Given all I've learned since about U.S. actions in Syria, today I'm not so sure the Iraqi city council leader is talking through his hat. 

US Planes Carry Aid to ISIL Base in Iraq's Salahuddin
August 20, 2019 - 12:59
FARS

TEHRAN (FNA)- The US planes have carried foodstuff and logistical aid to the ISIL terrorist group's most important base in Iraq's Salahuddin province, Iraqi sources said.
The Arabic-language al-Ma'aloumeh news website quoted Head of al-Sharqat City Council Salih al-Sha'alan as saying on Monday that the US planes have landed in regions near al-Makhoul mountain, which is one of the most important ISIL bases in Iraq.
He added that eyewitnesses have repeatedly reported that the US planes have landed in the region, noting that they supply foodstuff and other logistical aid to the terrorists.
Iraqi sources have repeatedly reported the US aircraft attempts to send military shipments to the ISIL in Salahuddin, Falluja, Mosul, and Diali and relocat the ISIL commanders to safe regions.

The director of the Badr Organization's office in al-Anbar province said in May that the US Army troops had sent aid shipments for the ISIL terrorists in Western al-Anbar.

The US troops sent foodstuff and medicine for the ISIL terrorists in al-Anbar's Western Sahara, al-Ma'aloumeh news website quoted Qusai al-Anbari as saying.

He pointed to the vast area and difficult terrain of al-Anbar province, and said the only way of access to the areas where the ISIL terrorists are stationed goes through air and the US military choppers are the only aircraft flying to the region and supplying the ISIL militants with aid consignment.
[END REPORT]
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Khan Sheikhoun: Looks like Syrian Army invaded a ghost city

Yesterday at noon local time Al-Masdar News reported as breaking news Syrian Army enters Khan Sheikhoun to secure city. From the report there is some disagreement about what the SAA found there:
Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s spokesperson said earlier today that their forces had withdrawn to the southern part of the city; however, some opposition activists have [contradicted] these claims, saying that Khan Sheikhoun is empty.
Yes, well, it doesn't look as if there was much to hang around for:
Since losing Talat Al-Nimr in northern Khan Sheikhoun, the militants were under nonstop missile and artillery strikes ...
Anyhoo, the SAA right away got busy securing the city, looking for boobytraps, etc. 

As to where HTS fell back to, if indeed they high-tailed it from Khan Sheikoun altogether, I'm sure Syrian and Russian reconnaissance pilots told the Syrian Army exactly where they went. Nope, they couldn't tunnel their way out because the SAA found their caves some days earlier. 

The SAA, with help from the Russians, has gotten quite good at second-guessing the militants -- and the Turkish government -- have you noticed.

[smiling]

********

The woman in the jewel ad

Sputnik and other publications have been showing the ad over and over for weeks now -- almost constantly. I have a vague recollection I first saw the ad in The New York Times, although don't hold me to that. 

An intelligent face but so serene she hardly seems to belong in today's world. An extraordinary photographic tribute to timeless beauty. But there's a story behind the gold jewelry she's wearing. 

From Wikipedia's article about the unit of measurement called mene, which gives Menē Jewelry its own subheader that winds up reading like an advertisement:
In early 2016, noted gold investor Roy Sebag began to study and write about the global jewelry market which contributes the majority of the world's annual gold demand (2,000 tonnes) far exceeding demand for gold investment coins. Following extensive travels to India, Asia, and Southeast Asia, Sebag recognized an opportunity in bringing the ancient tradition for jewelry being a store of enduring value and accessible savings to the West.
In October 2016, Sebag founded Mene Inc. a luxury online jewelry venture along with Diana Widmaier Picasso, the granddaughter of Pablo Picasso. Menē (meh-nay) derives its name from the ancient Mesopotamian unit of measurement, the Mene (unit) reflected 567 grams of pure gold and was one of the earliest written words for money.
Menē designs, manufactures, and markets timeless 24 karat gold jewelry under the brand name Menē. The company retails its jewelry direct-to-consumer through a transparent and empowering online shopping experience. Through Mene.com, customers can buy, sell, and exchange their jewelry by weight at the prevailing daily price for gold as quoted on the international bullion markets. ... 
Interestingly, the article also mentions:
The ancient Greek goddess Selene was also known by the ancient Greek term for moon "Mene". She was the goddess of the moon denoting the calendar or passage of time.
Come to think of it, the woman in the ad does rather evoke a goddess. 

*********

Tuesday, August 20

Syrian Army's Fake-out at Khan Sheikoun Corral

Remember those reports about the SAA storming Khan Sheikhoun? Well, it seems the storming didn't happen, although the SAA's Tiger Forces made such a ruckus on the city outskirts it would have looked like they were preparing to enter the city proper. 

Anyhow, they didn't.

As to what is actually going on: don't quote me on this -- after plowing through early AM reports from Al-Masdar News (AMN) and SouthFront and standing on my head, I deduce the militants in control of Khan Sheikoun are preferring a scattered retreat rather than a siege they can't survive long on account of their supply routes and reinforcements have been cut off by the SAA.   

Something like that.

Here are the reports I've been looking at, all of them dated today; times cited by AMN are local -- Beirut time.

SouthFront (no timestamp): MILITANTS ARE WITHDRAWING FROM TOWNS IN NORTHERN HAMA FEARING INEVITABLE FALL OF KHAN SHAYKHUN: REPORTS


AMN, 9:10 AM: Breaking: Early reports of militants withdrawing from Khan Sheikhoun, northern Hama

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:45 A.M.) – Anna News’ Oleg Blokhin released a new video on Tuesday that showed aerial footage of Khan Sheikhoun after the militants withdrew to the southern part of the city.
As seen in the footage below, the northern part of Khan Sheikhoun is ultimately a ghost town after the militants withdrew from this sector of the city.

[video]

Despite claims of the Syrian Army entering Khan Sheikhoun, a source from the military has denied these claims, adding that their troops are still outside the city.

Furthermore, HTS [Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham] has denied fully withdrawing from the city; instead, their spokesperson said they are currently in the southern sector of the city.
[END REPORT]
******** 

Turkey sends massive convoy of sitting ducks to Khan Sheikhoun

One wonders about the Turkish Army officers who put together that convoy. Had they never heard of airplanes? Anyhow, the duck shoot is already old news but still fun to read about although the Syrian government didn't find it funny; they're hopping mad about Turkey's intervention.

Syrian, Russian Fighter Jets Pound, Block Turkish Army's Military Convoy to Khan Sheikhoun
August 19, 2019
FARS News
TEHRAN (FNA)- A massive Turkish Army military convoy destined for Tahrir al-Sham al-Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) terrorists in Khan Sheikhoun was stopped under air raids by Russian and Syrian warplanes on Monday.
Russia's Documents Center quoted special sources as saying that as soon as the Turkish military convoy arrived near Ma'aret al-Numan from Saraqib region to support Tahrir al-Sham's movement towards Khan Sheikhoun city, it faced warning airstrikes near Khan Sheikhoun and was forced to halt its movement.
[...]
The Turkish military convoy comprised 28 military vehicles, tanks, and trucks carrying different types of weapons, missiles, and military equipment as well as several armored personnel carriers.
Battlefield sources ... added that massive military convoys of the National Liberation Army affiliated to Ankara were also sent to the Southern battlefront of Idlib and Northern Hama from Afrin in Northern Aleppo to block the Syrian Army advances.
[...]
From an Al-Masdar News report I linked to in the wee hours yesterday, I think the above passage refers to a massive convoy stuffed with fighters from the "Turkish-backed 1st Corps of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)." From the photo accompanying the AMN report the fighters looked like they were going on a picnic, and it seems they too were oblivious to the possibility of being bombed from above.



I found some parts of the FARS report a little hard to follow but this part is clear enough:
The Syrian Army’s advances come as terrorist groups are accusing each other of losing the regions in Idlib.
Next time, remember about the airplanes.



 ********* 

Monday, August 19

Turkey's unlimited support for terrorists: This is breaking news?

SANA -- Syria's official news agency -- is right now reporting on its front page as "Breaking News" the following in big red letters. I guess it's the speaker who makes the old news into new news?
Foreign Ministry official source: Turkish vehicles loaded with ammunition pass through borders and enter Khan Sheikhoun town in Idleb countryside to help the defeated terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra which affirms the unlimited Turkish support to terrorists.
That's it; that's the Breaking News. 

All right, that does it for me today. I'll be back tomorrow if I don't run away from home. 

********

"Early reports of Syrian troops entering Khan Sheikhoun"

Al-Masdar News breaking news, August 19, 2019:

BEIRUT, LEBANON (9:10 AM Syria Time) – The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) launched their long-awaited operation to capture the key city of Khan Sheikhoun from the jihadist rebels in southern idlib last night.

Backed by Russian airstrikes, the Syrian Arab Army reportedly entered the western sector of Khan Sheikhoun this morning after a fierce firefight with the jihadist rebels of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham.

According to a military source in nearby Hama, the Syrian Arab Army has been steadily advancing at the western and northwestern axes of Khan Sheikhoun, despite facing heavy resistance from the jihadist forces.

Should the Syrian Army succeed in taking control of Khan Sheikhoun, this would be a major blow to the jihadist forces in southern Idlib, as the city itself serves as a key point along their supply route from Idlib city.

At the same time, the jihadist rebels have sent a large number of reinforcements to the southern countryside of the Idlib Governorate to help defend the city and this region.

Among the reinforcements were several units from the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), who were previously deployed to the Afrin region in the northwestern countryside of the Aleppo Governorate.

[END REPORT]

See also: "
Massive convoy of Turkish-backed rebels head to southern Idlib to fight the Syrian Army;" AMN, August 19, 8:30 AM Syria Time. 

Pakistanis tried to turn an Indian state into a Muslim-majority nation.

No number of Rawalpindi-orchestrated Renta Rallies in Kashmir can cover up the bald fact that India's government caught Pakistan's hand in the cookie jar. Actually, they were caught decades ago but Delhi has finally done something about it. End of story. 

So I really do wish the Kremlin wouldn't get caught up in attempts by what passes for the International Community to portray what is India's defense of its borders as the Rwandan Genocide.

Delhi could help in this matter by doing something new for a change and being straightforward about its crackdown in Kashmir. Decades spent by Indian politicians pandering to India's Muslim Vote gave Pakistan the opportunity to work no end of mischief in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The result is the mess we see in Kashmir today. Delhi won't straighten out the mess by now attempting to pander to Islamabad's puppet masters.        

As to Jammu -- according to one source at least, who showed video of Ladakhis dancing in the streets, those people are still celebrating Delhi's August 5 decision to revoke the 'special status' for J&K state.  Or as one wit put it, Indians in Ladakh are celebrating their freedom from Sunni rule. (H/T Shadow Warrior.) I should think they're celebrating even more on the hope that Delhi will now actually do something about China's machinations in Ladakh.  

In any case, a note re the video: Twitter wants you to know you will be viewing sensitive material if you look at people dancing in the streets.

*********

SYRIAN ARMY STORMS KHAN SHEIKHOUN

"... by capturing Khan Sheikhoun, the Syrian Army will also isolate the Turkish military’s observation post in the town of Morek."

August 19, Al-Masdar News:

BEIRUT, LEBANON (3:00 A.M.) – The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has begun the important battle to capture the strategic city of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib.

Led by the Tiger Forces, the Syrian Arab Army began storming Khan Sheikhoun from its western axis after securing much of the territory around the city.

According to a military source near the frontlines, the Syrian Arab Army has already scored an advance at the western outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun, capturing a checkpoint from the jihadist rebels of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham.

The source added that the Russian Air Force is also active in the southern countryside of Idlib, as they help the Syrian military by bombing the militant reinforcements and bases around Khan Sheikhoun.

The Syrian Arab Army lost Khan Sheikhoun during the 2014 militant offensive in southern Idlib.

Khan Sheikhoun is a high priority for the Syrian military’s high command because of its location along the strategic Hama-Idlib Highway.

If the Syrian Arab Army is successful in this military endeavor, they will not only control a major city along the Hama-Idlib Highway, but they will also have cut off the main militant supply line to the northern countryside of the Hama Governorate.

Furthermore, by capturing Khan Sheikhoun, the Syrian Army will also isolate the Turkish military’s observation post in the town of Morek.

However, a source from the Syrian Army told Al-Masdar that the Turkish military will still have access to the Hama-Idlib Highway because of their deal with the Russian Armed Forces.

[END REPORT]

**********

Yup, Turkey and America still trying to carve up Syria

Viet Minh troops plant their flag over the captured 
French headquarters at Dien Bien Phu

The thing about sneaks is that they're always sneaking. Does the Syrian government have a countermeasure to this latest sneakery -- one that would be effective sometime this century? The Arab Weekly isn't sure. Their August 17 report, "US-Turkey ‘safe zone’ augurs fracturing of Syria into foreign areas of influence" quotes a Middle East Expert Joshua Landis, who told them in an email, “Syria is unlikely to be unified for a long time. Turkey has territorial ambitions in Syria. Many influential groups in US foreign policy circles are also saying that the US should remain in north Syria for the long haul, which is not promising.”

On the other hand, AW also quotes another Middle East Expert:
“The longer Damascus is excluded from certain areas of the country, the more facts are being created on the ground,” said Heiko Wimmen, project director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon at the International Crisis Group. “Damascus has a lot of work to do in that respect, it could take a long time.”
However, it was far from certain that this development would lead to Syria being fractured as a state, Wimmen added by telephone. He pointed to the emergence of de facto zones of influence along the river Euphrates, with the Russian Air Force becoming dominant west of the river while the United States rules the skies east of it. This could end up making the Euphrates a dividing line inside Syria but that did not mean that the country would break apart along that line, Wimmen said.
Pundita, not being a Middle Eastern Expert, asks this question:  How many boxes of Kleenex would the U.S. and other Western NATO governments use up crying if Turkey met with a version of Dien Bien Phu in Syria?

Let's just get through the Idlib operation then see where things stand. Meanwhile, Iran's FARS news site has been busy translating from Russia's Sputnik Arabic language news site: 

Eastern Euphrates: [Syrian Arab] Tribal Leaders Call on Kurdish Militias to Hold Unconditional Talks with Damascus.

See also my August 17 post, Surprise! Betrayed Syrian Kurds turn to Assad for help.

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Sunday, August 18

Hello Hong Kong: No such thing as Communist capitalism

There is also no such thing as peaceful coexistence with Communists. And there is no such thing as a compromise with Communists. Any appearance of compromise is a stalling tactic on the part of Communist negotiators.  

Which is to say that Beijing has gotten many Hong Kong residents into the untenable position of demanding 'concessions.' Once you're in the position of handing out concessions, that means you rule.

So any further concessions that Beijing might make to the Hong Kong protesters only hasten the day when it becomes unavoidably obvious that any freedoms in Hong Kong are a managed illusion to salve the conscience of foreign investors,  boards of directors for Western global businesses, and non-Chinese consumers who defend freedom on the one hand and buy Chinese-made goods with the other.  

As to whether panicked money flight from Hong Kong might at least wring concessions that would hold for 15 minutes, I see the Drudge Report linked to a lengthy article today at the Wall Street Journal that tries to examine just how much capital outflow has been happening:
[...]
The monetary authority said there was no noticeable outflow of funds from the Hong Kong dollar or from the banking system, based on their latest statistics and the financial-market situation.
Comprehensive official data on capital flows is available only with a delay of several months.
And any outflows would follow many years of funds moving the other way. In March 2018 the monetary authority said the city had seen some $130 billion in inflows since the U.S. began quantitative easing, or loosening monetary policy by buying assets, in 2009.
However:
[...]
TransferWise—a London-based company that facilitates international bank transfers, primarily for individuals and small businesses—said it has seen a significant pickup in outbound flows from Hong Kong since the protests began.
The ratio of money moving into and out of Hong Kong was fairly consistent until a few months ago but has climbed as protests in the city intensified. TransferWise said that for every $1 that customers moved into Hong Kong in August, about $2.64 left the city.
[...]
The biggest worry for investors, as the WSJ article details, is the weakening of the Hong Kong dollar. 
[...]
 Ken Cheung, chief Asian foreign-exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank, said the weakening of the Hong Kong dollar against the U.S. currency, despite their respective interest rates, was a worrying sign of capital outflows. He said a falling stock market could indicate some people were shifting money abroad.
The Hong Kong dollar has been pegged to its U.S. equivalent since 1983. The de facto central bank, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, lets the U.S. dollar trade between 7.75 and 7.85 Hong Kong dollars, and buys or sells greenbacks to keep the currency pair within those bounds.
The Hong Kong dollar traded at 7.8399 Friday, near the weak end of the band, even though interbank borrowing rates in Hong Kong are higher than their U.S. counterparts, which would usually help buoy the currency.
[...]
So if you're looking for signs of gale-force warnings, you'd want to watch the price of the Hong Kong dollar. The caveat is that you'd need a pretty special barometer given Beijing's skill at currency manipulation. But if the outflows got big enough, the currency traders would have to throw in the towel and this would be the leading indicator to gauge how much faith Chinese have in their money.  

Yet all discussion about technical financial factors masks the fact that Hong Kong's freedom defenders are still stubbornly trying to pound the square peg of Capitalism into the round bottomless hole of Communism. They're getting plenty of help in sustaining their delusion from Westerners who are happy to do business in Hong Kong but wouldn't be caught dead living under Communist rule.

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"Long-Range Attack On Saudi Oil Field Ends War On Yemen" - MoA

Will a spectacular airstrike really end the war? Well, things can bump along for the longest time then suddenly -- BAM! Before turning to Bernhard's report/analysis for MoA I note FARS reported yesterday Iran Hosts Yemeni, European Meeting to End Saudi-Led War. The participants looked pretty serious, from the report's accompanying photo.  The meeting is also highlighted in MoA's discussion:

Long-Range Attack On Saudi Oil Field Ends War On Yemen
August 17, 2019
Moon of Alabama


Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen. It has no defenses against new weapons the Houthis in Yemen acquired. These weapons threaten the Saudis economic lifelines. This today was the decisive attack:
Drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil and gas field deep inside Saudi Arabia’s sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a “limited fire” in the second such recent attack on its crucial energy industry.
[...]
The Saudi acknowledgement of the attack came hours after Yahia Sarie, a military spokesman for the Houthis, issued a video statement claiming the rebels launched 10 bomb-laden drones targeting the field in their “biggest-ever” operation. He threatened more attacks would be coming.
[...]

Lots more in the MoA report and discussion.

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Syrian War news

Reports today from three sites:

1. Al Masdar News, August 18, 12:35 AM Syria time: 

Syrian Army within 1 km of Khan Sheikhoun after new advance


2. SouthFront August 18 (see site for map):


The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) captured early on August 18 several large farms west and northwest of Khan Shaykhun in a move aimed at encircling the key town.
According to pro-government sources, the SAA secured the farms of Nijm, Nisr and al-Safar which are located 1,5-1km away from Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib.
Meanwhile, the army continued its advance northwest of Khan Shaykhun imposing control of the al-Nar hill, one of the highest points in the region. The hill was reportedly captured following heavy clashes with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and its allies.
By expanding its control in Khan Shaykhun’s outskirts and capturing al-Nar hill, the SAA managed to cut the militant’s supply lines west of the town. The army also made a huge step towards the Damascus-Aleppo highway.
The SAA will likely advance further around Khan Shaykhun in the upcoming few hours. Russian and Syrian warplanes are now pounding the remaining militants’ positions inside the town.
[END REPORT]
3. Syrian War headlines from FARS "most visited" links August 18. Note report re Turkey's attempt to prevent the liberation of Khan Sheikhoun:
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