Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Pretend Ceasefire in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 25, 2016

Kerry-Lavrov 'ceasefire'

The Syrian ceasefire, which the United States and Russia agreed on February 12 and which was supposed to take effect on February 19, had seemed to amount to little more than granting Russia a week of internationally-legitimated time to press its aggression against Aleppo and then blame the rebellion for breaking the ceasefire when the rebels refused to freeze the fighting on the new frontlines. Of course, it has turned out worse than that: with the agreement of another ceasefire on February 22, due to take effect on February 27 at midnight, Russia has had two weeks to make gains. Continue reading

Assad and Academics: Disinformation in the Modern Era

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 22, 2016

Aleppo City

Aleppo City

Introduction

From the beginning of Syria’s war, the regime of Bashar al-Assad, enabled by Iran and Russia, has run a very elaborate media war to portray itself as the victim of an international conspiracy, wherein its only opponents are terrorists from al-Qaeda and its offshoots who are being used by foreigners—namely the Gulf States, Turkey, Israel, and the United States—to overthrow a defiant “resistance” State.

The other part of this strategic messaging is aimed at the West, which Assad otherwise accuses of supporting jihadi-Salafist terrorism against him: Assad is the only alternative to the terrorists, it says, so the West should support him. War criminal he might be, he will protect the minorities—his role in endangering them by starting a sectarian war against the Sunni majority and bolstering the takfiris within the insurgency to cannibalize all legitimate or engageable armed opposition, notwithstanding—and has no immediate plans to fly planes into Western skyscrapers. (That the leading edge of Assad’s ground forces are made up of radically sectarian, foreign Shi’a jihadists under Iran’s control, some of them Iraqis responsible for killing a quarter of the 4,000 U.S. soldiers who fell in Mesopotamia, and are integrated into a State-run terrorist network that has struck Western and Jewish targets the world over, gets left out.)

For Assad and his allies, it helps if this propaganda is not only delivered by regime spokesman but independent analysts, journalists, academics, and politicians. In the last ten days two salient examples have emerged: Stephen Kinzer, a veteran journalist, including for The New York Times, who wrote in The Boston Globe, and Jeffrey Sachs, an academic economist working at Columbia University, who wrote in The Huffington Post. Mixing together conspiracy theories, half-truths, and outright lies—disinformation, to give it an old name—both Kinzer and Sachs told a version of the regime’s narrative. Why they did this is best-known to them. Continue reading

America Picked the Wrong Allies Against the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 17, 2016

PYD/PKK fighters after they took over the Mannagh airbase on February 10, 2016.

PYD/PKK fighters after they took over the Mannagh airbase on February 10, 2016.

Over the last six weeks the regime of Bashar al-Assad—which by this point means in most areas Iranian-run ground forces and Russian air power—have made territorial gains in northern Syria that threaten the existence of the armed opposition in the area. This threat has been compounded by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and allies, which have also drawn on Russian airstrikes to attack the rebellion in the same areas. The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) has made the PYD its main proxy inside Syria—the only force that can call in coalition airstrikes. This policy was obviously flawed given the view of the PYD by necessary anti-ISIS allies like Turkey and the demographic realities of ISIS, which require Sunni Arabs to be able to police their area, and ensure that ISIS begins to look like a protector of Sunnis if Kurds occupy Arab areas; the PYD now attacking the crucial anti-ISIS demographic in alliance with the regime underlines that fact. Continue reading

How Russia and Iran Took Advantage of Syrian Peace Talks to Choke Aleppo

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 16, 2016

Published at The Independent, submitted February 12.

Kerry-Lavrov 'ceasefire'

In the coming days and weeks many people will weep for the fate of Aleppo. Many of these people will also continue to support the nuclear deal, which has facilitated this U.S.-Iran détente and supplied Iran the resources to make war. They will still consider it a triumph of diplomacy over military action—and never be called to account for the obvious contradiction.

The Geneva III peace process is the most immediate cause for this latest offensive against Aleppo, led on the ground by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxies, as well as Russian airstrikes. The regime and Russia have used it as a cover to gain ground. Continue reading

Russia is No Partner Against the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 12, 2016

1

This morning, Russia ostensibly agreed to help the U.S. impose a ceasefire in Syria within a week—on the way to a negotiated settlement. This could not work right now, even if Russia intended it to. But Russia does not. Russia’s role since intervening in Syria in late September 2015 has been to bolster the regime of Bashar al-Assad and a primary tactic in that overarching strategic aim has been the attempt to destroy all opposition to Assad that the international community could possibly deal with, and to create a binary situation where there is only the regime and jihadi-Salafist terrorists, primarily the Islamic State (IS), and secondarily—in areas where they do not threaten key regime interests—Jabhat an-Nusra (al-Qaeda). Moscow will eventually turn on IS, but in the short-term Russia has engaged in indirect coordination with IS to weaken the rebels and push them out of key strategic areas, notably in eastern Aleppo where Russia bombed rebels out of the way who had been holding IS out for years. On Tuesday, Foreign Policy reported on another aspect of this Russia-IS collaboration that aims to empower the takfiris in the short-term as part of the long-term plan, also supported by Iran, to secure the Assad regime in power. Continue reading

The Assad Regime’s War Against Syria’s People

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 8, 2016

Viewing the pictures smuggled out of Syria by "Caesar" of prisoners tortured and murdered by the Assad regime (source)

Viewing the pictures smuggled out of Syria by “Caesar” of prisoners tortured and murdered by the Assad regime (source)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report earlier today documenting the Assad regime’s “systematic and widespread attack against [the Syrian] civilian population.” The report is meticulously compiled from reams of internal documents and the evidence of 621 witnesses who have been in Assad’s prisons, covering the period March 10, 2011, to November 30, 2015. Two-hundred of these witnesses personally saw somebody murdered. The report is focussed on the mass-murder of prisoners and the evidence leads to the conclusions that the Assad regime has committed extermination, murder, rape, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity, as well as a raft of at least six separate counts of war crimes. Continue reading

Another Legacy of the Bosnian Jihad

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 5, 2016

Mirsad Bektašević

Mirsad Bektašević (2005)

I recently wrote about the jihad in Bosnia. This much-neglected aspect of the war in the 1990s was crucial in shaping al-Qaeda, and global jihadism more broadly, providing this movement, and Clerical Iran, with a staging post in Europe, not least because Tehran’s spy-terrorist capabilities had been deployed to bring many of the jihadists into the country and train them in the first place. While Islamist militancy and terrorism were brought to Bosnia largely as imports, their entry was facilitated by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the ruling party to this day. While the war itself trained many jihadist “graduates,” almost all of whom were allowed to stay (or at least received Bosnian passports that gave them that right), the entry of extremist charities/missionaries to lead the rebuilding, many of them bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, entrenched the jihadists and spread their form of Islam in Bosnia after the war. As such, Bosnia became a hospitable operating environment for Islamist recruitment and training and both veterans of the war and people radicalized in Bosnia since have continued to show up in the ranks of international terrorism. It is of interest, therefore, to have an important old case re-emerge in a new way in the last few days, that of Mirsad Bektašević, which again highlighted Bosnia’s importance in the formulation of the infrastructure that underpins the jihadi-Salafist movement, the less-than-clear division between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) when it comes to the European facilitation networks, and the dangers of seeing Iran as a partner in stability. Continue reading