Tag Archives: Russia

Life under the Kurdish YPG in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 17, 2017

Uygar Onder Simseki/AFP/Getty Images

Uygar Onder Simseki/AFP/Getty Images

Four days ago, Chapo Trap House, a Left-wing politics and humour podcast, hosted Brace Belden, known to Twitter as “PissPigGranddad,” a 27-year-old from San Francisco who has joined the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It was very interesting and informative on the state of play in northern Syria.

The YPG is run by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) front of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The most amusing part of the interview is Belden’s formal maintenance that the YPG, while fraternal comrades to the PKK and admirers of their ideology, have absolutely no organizational links at all, while at the same time letting the audience in on the fact that the YPG and indeed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition that it controls are parts of the PKK structure. Belden describes joining the YPG by first linking up with the PKK at its headquarters in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, before being spirited across the border into Syria.

Belden gives a very interesting glimpse of the YPG’s method of governance. The YPG calls its rule “libertarian socialism,” says Belden, but it’s “pretty much a Stalinist state”. Belden describes the ascetic nature of the true believers in the PKK’s ideology—of which he, clearly, is not one—and the collectivized nature of life. Among other things, everyone is subjected to struggle sessions of the kind associated with Mao or the Khmer Rouge. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Says Attacking Syrian Rebel Groups Was Self-Defence Against A ‘Conspiracy’

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 26, 2017

Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani)

Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani)

Violence erupted between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham, its long-time ally and its bridge into the Syrian rebellion, beginning on 19 January. These clashes expanded to encompass the mainstream armed opposition on 23 January. Today, al-Maqalaat, a pro-JFS outlet, published a long statement explaining the fighting from JFS’s point-of-view. The salient points of the argument and other interesting elements are highlighted in bold. Continue reading

Clashes Erupt Between Al-Qaeda and the Syrian Rebellion

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 19, 2017

The leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Ali al-Umar (Abu Ammar); the leader of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani)

The leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Ali al-Umar (Abu Ammar); the leader of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani)

Clashes have erupted today between al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), and its heretofore-inseparable ally, Ahrar al-Sham. For the overall insurgency, the bodes ill, in the short-term, but there might be some long-term political advantages if JFS isolates itself from the wider opposition. Continue reading

Ahrar al-Sham Explains It’s Position On A Merger With Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on January 14, 2017

Ahrar al-Sham's leader, Ali al-Umar (Abu Ammar)

Ahrar al-Sham’s leader, Ali al-Umar (Abu Ammar)

The Syrian media activist Hadi al-Abdullah interviewed Ahrar al-Sham’s leader, Ali al-Umar (Abu Ammar al-Umar), in a video released on 11 January 2017. The focus was the ongoing negotiations with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded Syrian branch, to create an insurgent merger. The question has caused intense turmoil within Ahrar. Continue reading

Insurgent Leader Explains Why Aleppo Fell to Assad

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on December 31, 2016

Abu al-Abed Ashidaa

Abu al-Abed Ashidaa

Abu al-Abed Ashidaa was, on 1 December 2016, appointed to lead all insurgent forces, under the banner of al-Jaysh al-Halab (The Army of Aleppo), in the besieged enclave of eastern Aleppo City. The city’s defences collapsed to the coalition of forces—namely Russia and Iran—supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad on 12 December, and on 22 December the deportation of 40,000 people from the enclave to Idlib was completed. On 29 December, Abu al-Abed gave a speech explaining the reasons as he saw them for the fall of Aleppo City. Today, insurgent channels in Syria circulated an English summary, which is reproduced below with some editions in transliterations and some interesting sections highlighted in bold. 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

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