Thursday, June 2, 2016

PAUL ROGERS - US military deployments in Iraq signal the escalation of the anti-ISIS war //Juan Cole - As US/ Kurdish force Moves on ISIL at Manbij, Turkey goes Ballistic

The assault on Fallujah has begun. United States-trained Iraqi army units supported by Shi’a militias and Iranian military personnel are attempting to dislodge Islamic State operatives who are deeply embedded in the Iraqi city, west of Baghdad. Some initial reports of success by the attacking forces were quickly modified. These are a salutary reminder of what happened in the similar assault on Ramadi in August 2015. Then, early optimism that the city would fall in a couple of weeks turned out to be hugely overblown. The siege ended up lasting for more than four months, and by the end of it much of the city lay in ruins.

There are many gaps in the current reporting. There are no accounts of the intensity of the US air operations, nor of their direct support of operations byShi’a militias – something that they avoided when Tikrit fell in April 2015. The caution is most likely because the Pentagon is only too well aware that the Saudis are getting agitated over the extent of Iranian involvement across their northern border, and especially the collaboration between Washington and Tehran.

All the attention being focused on Fallujah carries the danger of missing another significant element in the western media’s coverage of the war. This is the extent of the direct involvement of US troops on the ground, not least as casualties begin to mount. 

A complex of allies
The use of special forces is being reported occasionally in the established media. Almost always, however, this happens when the authorities in Washington or London can feed positive stories to friendly journalists, mostly in government-supporting newspapers. Two other factors are less visible: the manner in which conventional forces are now forward-based in combat-zones, and the direct combat roles being taken on by special forces (see "ISIS in action: Tel Askuf decoded", 6 May 2016).

On the first issue, President Obama stated on 26 May that three recent American casualties were service personnel who had died in combat: respectively a Navy SEAL, a Delta Force soldier and a marine. The very term "death in combat" had been used before but not by the president, so this was new. Then, on the weekend of 28-29 May, two more US soldiers were seriouslywounded, one in Iraq and one (a special-forces soldier) in Syria. When the Pentagon announced the second injury, it made a departure by admitting that US ground troops are involved directly in combat operations in Syria.

An earlier column in this series reported on the establishment by the marines of forward-based artillery positions to support Iraqi army contingents as the latter tried to move on ISIS forces defending Mosul to the north. One American death happened there when ISIS attacked an artillery position (see "America vs ISIS, the prospect", 15 April 2016).

On the second issue, another column summarised what was known about US special-force operations in the region (see "The west's shadow war", 31 March 2016). Since then, further information has come to light indicating that such elite units are closely integrated with Kurdish allies, to the extent of wearingtheir insignia. Turkey strongly opposes association with the Kurdish force concerned, the People’s Protection Force (YPG) militia. In Ankara's view the YPG is linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is in armed combat with the Turkish state... Read more:

ISIS and Israel on the Golan Heights
why would Israel, which authorised multiple bombings on Syrian militant groups, take such a relaxed view towards ISIS on their doorstep? Israel is focused not on ISIS and Sunni groups, but on the Shia groups in Syria. Israel’s airstrikes have hit Assad’s Shia-backed regime and Hezbollah, not ISIS or al-Nusra. Correspondence between the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and political advisor Jacob Sullivan about Israel’s aims in the region tried to rationalise why Israel ignores ISIS.

In 2012 at the start of the conflict, Sullivan said that there was “a positive side to the civil war in Syria.” This so-called ‘positive side’ to a war that has cost some 400,000 lives was that, “if the Assad regime topples, Iran would lose its only ally in the Middle East and would be isolated.” This would please Israel, which under the Netanyahu government has 
fixated on the perceived Iranian threat. A war which destabilizes Iran’s ally, Assad, would benefit Israeli interests. This Machiavellian belief could explain why ISIS is not focused on. The Iranian backed Shia militias are the biggest concern for Israel, not extremist groups such as ISIS... A senior Israel military advisor when asked about Israeli policy in the Syrian civil war apparently quoted Sun Tzu, saying “he will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” This is a sentiment that is followed by ISIS and Israel alike. ISIS knows it is too weak to fight Israel and Israel is concerned with enemies it thinks are worse. The Yarmouk Valley is on one of the most contested borders in the world, controlled by one of the most aggressive and disliked military forces, and is next to a country notorious for being extremely conscientious about its border security, all taking place in a warzone where violence is expected. Despite all this, the Yarmouk Valley is still run by ISIS, left alone by Israel and is a testament to the complex, cynical and calculated machinations of the actors in this conflict…

On Tuesday, according to BBC Monitoring, the Turkish state-funded news agency Anadolu (also known as Anatolia) put on its website in Turkish remarks of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who slammed ‘the United States for cooperating with the PYD [Democratic Union Party] on the pretext that Al-Raqqa was going to be seized by regime forces.” He said that US and Turkish special ops forces would be better placed than the Kurdish YPG to close the smuggling gap from which Daesh profits.

BBC Monitoring translates the Anadolu report: “Criticizing the United States for collaborating with the PYD on the pretext that Al-Raqqa was going to be seized by the Syrian regime forces, Cavusoglu it was never right or humanitarian to collaborate with another terrorist organization. Stating that the PYD’s goal was to partition Syria by seizing more land, Cavusoglu said: “In that respect America is unfortunately embarking on a process with the PYD that is very dangerous for Syria’s future. We already warned them. Yet, if we were to join forces; they have their special forces and we have our special forces, but unfortunately both the United States and Russia see a terrorist organization as a partner and they are supporting it. This is what we are objecting to . . .”

If Manbaj soon falls, as seems likely, Turkey will face the fait accompli of a new Kurdish mini-state on its border. Ankara is obviously furious at the US, which is urging the Kurds on. Despite Turkish oral offers of assistance, the US Pentagon has clearly decided that the YPG Kurds are the only game in town if the goal is to defeat Daesh in its lair of al-Raqqa. There are likely to be long-term repercussions for the US-Turkish relationship, on both sides, of these dramatic events...Read more: