Monthly Archives: November 2016

The “Syrian Kurds” Helped Assad Take Aleppo City

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 30, 2016

YPG flags flying with the Assad regime’s over Bustan al-Basha, Aleppo city, 28 November 2016

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on 28 November 2016 about the assistance provided by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—which operates in Syria under the banners of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—to the forces fighting in the name of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, led by Iran on the ground and supported by Russian airstrikes, to crush the Syrian rebellion in Aleppo city: Continue reading

Film Review: Snowden (2016)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 29, 2016

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Snowden never, ever recovers from its premise: that Edward Snowden, a super-capable, pure-hearted all-American, found terrible government crimes against the American population while working at the National Security Agency, and was moved to disclose them to the world after being stymied in official channels.

Literally none of that is true. The Snowden revelations found mistakes that were generally cleared up by an efficient and functional bureaucratic oversight mechanism. Snowden did not try to go official channels in the way he described, and the bulk of what Snowden revealed was nothing to do with the privacy of Americans but was related to foreign intelligence, where the legal and practical situation is that everyone hoovers up as much data as they can. The capabilities of the Snowden presented here, personal and professional—to say nothing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Snowden’s motives—would not withstand scrutiny for a single second against the actual historical record. This could be said fairly generally of the whole film. Continue reading

What To Expect After the Fall of Aleppo

Published at TRT World

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 29, 2016

The pro-Assad coalition in Syria has conquered more than a third of the rebel-held enclave in eastern Aleppo City, the last urban stronghold of the mainstream armed opposition. Without significant external assistance, it is difficult to imagine the rebels can hold off, and in the coming days or weeks will likely be forced out entirely. This will not end the war, nor will it suppress the opposition, but it will end the rebellion as a strategic threat to the regime of Bashar al-Assad and push the insurgency into a greater reliance on extremists, creating more space for international terrorists and protracting the war. Continue reading

The Islamic State’s Terrorism Guides

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 27, 2016

Junaid Hussain

Junaid Hussain

The Islamic State (IS) has been putting a lot of effort recently, especially over the summer, into directing attacks outside its caliphate, particularly in Europe. While many of these attacks are initially reported as “lone wolf” incidents, it has become increasingly clear by IS’s method of claiming these attacks that IS’s Amn al-Kharji, or foreign intelligence service, is guiding these attacks—walking the would-be murderers through the attacks emotionally, ideologically, and logistically. Continue reading

Fidel Castro: A Life Spent in the Service of Tyranny

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 26, 2016

It is difficult to think of a dictator that has had more popular support in the West than Fidel Castro. The president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and the Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn have all today expressed their admiration in one way or another for Castro. This support was never just personal: any number of “revolutionary” governments could vicariously earn themselves similar leniency for their practices via some kind of identification with Castro. This was especially useful for the Soviet Union and its clients during the Cold War, but continued long after. That all of these “experiments” ended in bloodshed and disaster never seemed to matter, so long as the flame of anti-Americanism remained lit. Now, finally, Castro is at an end, even if his ruinous legacy is not. Continue reading

Trump Might Continue Obama’s Dangerous Syria Policy

Originally published at The Henry Jackson Society

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 24, 2016

There is not yet any clarity with regard what Donald Trump would do about Syria once he becomes President. Virtually everything about the incoming administration is in the “wait and see” phase. Still, on the current evidence, Trump’s Syria policy would appear to be a continuation of President Barack Obama’s policy of prioritizing the threat of the Islamic State (IS) and other non-state Sunni jihadist groups, while effectively aligning with the pro-regime coalition, made up of Russian air power and a ground force led by the Islamic Republic of Iran, stitched together out of the battered remnants of Bashar al-Assad’s army and his sectarian militias, Iranian paramilitary and regular forces, and foreign Shi’a jihadist groups under Iran’s control. The only potential difference is that Trump may formally repudiate the anti-Assad forces. The effect of this would be to destroy the mainstream Syrian opposition and empower al-Qaeda, but it would not bring stability to Syria. There are hints, however, that Trump is recruiting senior officials who will alter this policy. Continue reading

A Frenchman Directing the Islamic State’s Foreign Attacks

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 23, 2016

Abdelilah Himich (Abu Sulayman al-Firansi) [image source]

The United States released sanctions yesterday that confirmed the identity of Abu Sulayman al-Firansi, a senior commander in the external operations division of the Islamic State (IS). Abu Sulayman is Abdelilah Himich, a French citizen, as was first reported last month. Among the interesting aspects of this are the revelation that a European made it to a very senior position within the structure of IS’s foreign intelligence service, the amn al-kharji. Continue reading

Turkey Continues to Protest the Coalition’s Syrian Kurdish Allies

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

Saleh Muslim Muhammad

This morning, Turkey issued arrest warrants for forty-eight members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a forty-year war against the Turkish state. The PKK is listed as terrorist by Ankara, Britain, the European Union, NATO, and the United States. Among those being sought is Saleh Muslim Muhammad, the leader of the Syrian branch of the PKK, known as the Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose armed wing—the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—happens to be the favoured Western instrument in combatting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The West has long denied or obfuscated the fact it is working with an organization that a NATO partner considers its nemesis and a long-standing threat to its national security. The Turks, it seems, are not content to let this ambiguity stand, and there are good reasons of Western self-interest why the alliance with the PKK deserves another look. Continue reading

An Ideological Founder of Islamic State is Killed in Syria

UPDATE: It has subsequently become clear that the “Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir” who was killed in Syria on 18 November 2016 was not Muhammad al-Saghir, who is profiled below. The slain man, like al-Saghir a veteran of the war get the Soviets out of Afghanistan and an Egyptian jihadist with close links to al-Qaeda, also used the kunya “Abu Afghan al-Muhajir”.

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 20, 2016

Abu Abdallah al-Muhajir (source)

A week ago, it became clear that the air war being waged by the U.S.-led Coalition, which primarily targets the Islamic State (IS), was going to expand its campaign against the leadership of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded branch in Syria. In the evening of 18 November 2016, the Coalition killed Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, whose real name is Muhammad Ibrahim al-Saghir. Al-Saghir also uses the name Abd al-Rahman al-Ali. This killing would appear to be part of the Coalition’s new effort.

Al-Saghir has a long record as an important jihadi religious ideologue, though his exact relationship with al-Qaeda’s network remains unclear. Al-Saghir’s most lasting contribution to jihadi-salafism is as a key guide to the founder of IS, Ahmad al-Khalayleh. Continue reading

Film Review: Bethlehem (2013)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 20, 2016

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Bethlehem is one of the most compelling films I’ve seen in a long time. There are so few good spy films available that this is a welcome surprise. Unlike Burn After Reading, a genius film, the intention here is not to show things from the agency side, to demonstrate how wildly out of control things can get when you only have half-or-less of the facts. It is also not Charlie Wilson’s War, which shows the feats that intelligence agencies can accomplish when well-directed. Bethlehem is most like Breach, which showed the immense damage an individual spy can do. But instead of showing the effects the act of spying had, with the human characters secondary, Bethlehem tracks specifically the complex relationship that develops between handler and asset. Continue reading