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Friday, April 20

Trump Foreign Policy, more or less simply explained

Several weeks ago President Trump, while enumerating for reporters his accomplishments as POTUS said, "We drove ISIS off our land." He was referring to Raqqa and Mosul. 

 blurted, "What you mean our land, Kemosabe?" 

Could it have been a slip of the tongue? If so it was a Freudian slip. I have no idea what's going on with the U.S. in Iraq; I'm afraid to find out. But the U.S. and U.S.-backed proxy forces have already grabbed one-third of the entire country of Syria, which includes resources -- oil, water, and fertile farmland -- that are critically needed to rebuild the country and sustain the Syrian populace.

Mr Trump has said he wants to sell this Syrian land to the Saudis. But as near as I can figure his plan is to sell the land then have the Saudis pay him to have American troops or proxies guard the land, thereby realizing a profit for the U.S. from the deal. Another payment option would be for the Saudis to buy more U.S. weapons, which they'll store in a warehouse along with all the other weapons they bought from the U.S. and don't want. 

Either way, when Mr Trump says he wants to pay somebody, what he means is that he wants to make an appearance of making a payment although he's actually making a sale.  

I suppose it's not as complicated as it sounds if one is in real estate. Anyhow he's looking at the Syrian land he grabbed as real estate, to be auctioned off if he doesn't consider it worth his while to develop. 

There, in a nutshell, is the Trump foreign policy. So where does this policy fit with Mr Trump's talk about invoking a "righteous power" to punish Syria's president for poisoning little babies? 

It doesn't fit. His excuse for bombing Syrian government installations was hot air. 

As to whether Mr Trump plans to develop Raqqa somehow I don't think so, and lots of luck with trying to auction it. More than 80 percent of Raqqa was left uninhabitable after the US-backed SDF operation to cleanse the city of ISIS.

Mosul fared a little better:
... six of the 44 districts in western Mosul were destroyed, according to the United Nations. Every district in Mosul received damage that was at least ‘light,' or ‘moderate.'
The UN stats on Raqqa and Mosul were mentioned in Sputnik's April 20 report, US Military Focus Shifts from Iraq, Syria to Afghanistan, Bombing Report Shows.

The headline would strike fear among many Afghans including Afghanistan's former president, Hamid Karzai. He recently confessed to a Sputnik interviewer that while president he'd tried without success to eject the Americans from Afghanistan. 

Darn right he didn't succeed. The Americans branded him mentally ill when he started saying loudly that NATO-ISAF military operations in the country sucked. He's lucky he wasn't carted off to a mental institution somewhere in Alaska.

He also told Sputnik that he hoped the Russians would come to Kabul's aid in dealing with the Taliban and Islamic State given all that the Americans excelled at was getting a lot of Afghans killed. But then Karzai always was a complainer.

I should remind him that the U.S.-led NATO/ISAF mission also excelled at getting a lot of American soldiers killed for no good reason, beyond trying to help the Saudi and British regimes mollify Pakistan's overlords. 

To return to Trump Foreign Policy in Syria. Given the April 20 Sputnik report, is it possible that Mr Trump will actually order all U.S. troops out of Syria as soon as ISIS is wiped out there? 

To feel our way to an answer, consider RT's April 19 report, Iraqi air forces carry out strikes on ISIS positions in Syria:
Iraqi air forces have launched strikes on Islamic State positions in Syria, the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said. They were carried out in coordination with the Syrian government, the Iraqi military confirmed.

The airstrikes demonstrate the increased capacity of the Iraqi forces to “pursue and eliminate terrorism,” the statement from the Iraqi PM office added.
“Our heroic air force carried out, on Thursday, in Syria near the Iraqi border, deadly airstrikes against Daesh's [Islamic State] terrorists gangs,” the statement from the PM’s Media Office on Twitter said. ...
And this April 17 Military Times report Why US forces remain near Manbij while ISIS has moved elsewhere in Syria:
The final pockets of Islamic State fighters in Syria are hundreds of miles from the northern Syrian town of Manbij, but U.S. forces will remain there to prevent ISIS fighters from returning, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The U.S. will say publicly it has about 2,000 troops in Syria. An untold number of them are concentrated around Manbij. The city is located in the north, near the Turkey-Syria border and has become a hot spot for potential skirmishes between Turkish forces and the Kurdish-partnered forces the U.S. has worked with to drive ISIS from the country.
While most ISIS fighters are located farther south and along the Syria-Iraq border, Manbij is still vulnerable to ISIS resurgence, Dillon said.
[I think the reporter, Tara Copp, is referring to Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, U.S. Central Command. People who read Military Times are expected to know these things.]
[...]
Turkish president Recep Erdogan has repeatedly challenged the coalition’s presence in Manbij and vowed to remove many of the same fighters the U.S. has worked with from the border region.
Dillon said the U.S. presence in Manbij would continue.
“Even though ISIS is not, you know, flying their black flag in certain areas, that doesn’t mean that it is not a threat in these areas,” he said.
[END REPORT]
So. U.S. troops can't leave Manbij in case they might spot ISIS pussyfooting around near there. 

As to whether other American troops in the country plan to go after the Islamic State pocket "farther south and along the Syria-Iraq border," this is the odd part. The ISIS pocket under discussion is located behind American lines along the Iraq-Syria border. As I've noted before every time Syrian troops try rout the pocket, the Americans bomb the troops to shoo them away.

Is this why the Iraqi air force is now bombing ISIS positions along the same border? Maybe it's the only way considering that the U.S. hasn't done anything about the pocket. 

Why haven't they done anything? 

A guess is that bombing isn't enough. It could take boots on the ground to wipe out those ISIS fighters. The U.S. command might not be able to find enough reliable proxy forces for the operation -- remember that several Kurdish fighters are ticked off at Washington right now -- and wouldn't want headlines in the USA about American soldiers dying in battles with ISIS in Syria or being captured.   
   
If the guess is in the ballpark, why in Sam Hill wouldn't the U.S. simply allow the Syrian army to go after the ISIS positions?

I might get the answer from my correspondence course on how to get rich in real estate, which I'm taking to study how Trump Foreign Policy works out in practice. 

As soon as I finish the course I'll let you know. 

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Thursday, April 19

"A state of panic was deliberately caused by someone."



A handful of testimonials has emerged about the Douma incident in Syria, some asserting that a chemical weapon was used on civilians, others dismissing the claim. The above video, published at YouTube by Syria Alikhbaria (Syrian News Channel), records testimonials given by medical personnel attached to the clinic in Douma at the time of the incident. (The testimonials are interrupted by a brief discussion of the White Helmets.) 

The personnel recounted that they were treating patients for various conditions when a White Helmet member entered and yelled that there had been a gas attack. The pandemonium that erupted was then videotaped by at least one White Helmets member (or possibly a Jaysh al-Islam militant).  

The personnel claim that none of the patients suffered from exposure to a chemical agent although a number of them had bronchitis and other lung ailments caused by poor ventilation in their living quarters. 

Their claims comport with those of a doctor interviewed by veteran journalist Robert Fisk and published in the (U.K.) Independent newspaper on April 17:
... It was a short walk to Dr Rahaibani. From the door of his subterranean clinic – “Point 200”, it is called, in the weird geology of this partly-underground city – is a corridor leading downhill where he showed me his lowly hospital and the few beds where a small girl was crying as nurses treated a cut above her eye.

“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss.

Then someone at the [clinic] door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”
Fisk reported that Dr Rahaibani and the other physicians  were not eyewitnesses at the clinic at the time of the incident:
By bad luck, too, the doctors who were on duty that night on 7 April were all in Damascus giving evidence to a chemical weapons enquiry ...
That meant they were filled in by the medical personnel on duty (e.g., nurses) as to what had happened.  

The Syrian News Channel is supportive of the Damascene government so the question is whether the personnel had been coached on what to say. I think one argument in favor of their version of events is evident in this photograph and ones like it taken in the Douma clinic on the night of the incident:


 If you are familiar with the symptoms displayed by a victim of a real chlorine gas attack or sarin, one look at the photograph would indicate that the children were most definitely not suffering from sarin, and that if they'd inhaled chlorine fumes they'd gotten a very mild exposure.   

I should add that perhaps not all the people in the Douma clinic were suffering any ill effects whatsoever when they arrived:
"We were in the basement. Mom told me that today we don't have anything to eat and that we will eat tomorrow. We heard a cry outside, calling "go to the hospital." We ran to the hospital and as soon as I entered, they grabbed me and started pouring water on me," Hassan Diab said.
His father continued the story. He was at his work when he heard that his son was in hospital. He rushed to the hospital and found his family there in good health.
"There were no chemical weapons. I smoked outside and felt nothing. I entered the hospital and saw my family. Militants gave them dates, cookies and rice for participating in this film and released everyone to their homes," Hassan's father said.
Hassan is not enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. Dad is.



Were father and son coached by the Syrian government to lie about their experience in the clinic, or did they cook up a lie on their own? It's possible. But their version of events has some weight when considered alongside accounts given by the medical professionals in the Douma clinic. 

As I noted there are accounts that would contradict the ones discussed above. From CBS News April 16:
On Monday, CBS News made it to the house where the suspected chemical attack took place.
"All of a sudden some gas spread around us,"  one neighbor recounted. "We couldn't breathe, it smelled like chlorine."
However, I think everyone can agree that it's easy to set off a panic by yelling 'Gas attack!' in a crowded hospital clinic.

At least the people in that particular clinic and town had a good excuse to panic. Those who watched video of the pandemonium from the comfort of their homes far away from Syria have no excuse. They especially don't have an excuse to be stampeded into supporting a military version of a lynch mob, which is what the U.S.-led attack on Syrian government facilities last week amounted to. 


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Wednesday, April 18

Yes Mr Gorbachev they're plotting another strike on Syria

Gorbachev Calls Western Missile Attack on Syria 'Preparation for Shooting' - Sputnik, April 15:
... "I think that nobody needs the attack in the form it is spoken about and with such results. It very much looks like training before you start shooting in earnest," Mikhail Gorbachev told Latvia's Baltkom radio station. ...
I believe the operative word for the April 13 strike is "probing" rather than training. 

 Testing testing one two three: Syria says false alarm set off its air defences Reuters, April 17:
... Syrian state news agency SANA cited a military source as saying a number of air defence missiles had been fired but no foreign attack had taken place.

Separately, a commander in the regional military alliance backing the government attributed the malfunction to “a joint electronic attack” by Israel and the United States targeting the Syrian radar system.

The issue had been dealt with by Russian experts, said the commander, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. ...
Senators leave classified briefing on Trump's Syria policy 'very unnerved' - CNN, April 18:
... "I am very unnerved by what I'm hearing and seeing," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, who said the briefing on the strikes from, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, made him more worried, not less. The administration is "going down a dangerous path" with regards to Syria, he said, without offering details.
Graham told reporters that the administration has no military strategy to counter Iranian and Russian influence and seems willing "to give Syria to Assad, Russia, and Iran."
"I think Assad, after this strike, believes we're all tweet and no action," Graham said. ...
Well I think Assad believes the United States is run by a bunch of extremely dangerous psychopaths with a god complex.

STILL trying to overthrow Assad. US Threatens to Use Force against Russia, to Strike Syria Once Again - SouthFront, April 18
The US is ready to use force against Russia in Syria and already warned Moscow of this, Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State has said in a written statement to congressional committee on foreign affairs.
Mitchell added that Russian mercenaries have allegedly tried to attack US military positions in Syria.

“In the upcoming days and weeks the US and our allies will weaken and defeat IS, support stable Syria and limit malicious influence of Iran,” he continued.
The Assistant Secretary of State claimed that the conflict in Syria can only be solved via the so-called Geneva format calling on Russia to join the talks and also bring the Syrian government along.
After the success of the Astana format involving Russia, Iran and Turkey, the US is attempting to relaunch the Geneva format in order to restore its political influence on the conflict.
Meanwhile, United States House of Representatives Chairman Ed Royce claimed that the April 14 US-led missile strike on Syria had been “legal and justified”. He also threatened Syria with further strikes.

“The US and our allies were justified in taking limited military action against Bashar al-Assad in response to his barbaric use of chemical weapons. Hopefully, the Syrian dictator gets the message. If not, I have no doubt there will be more military strikes,” Royce said on the Foreign Affairs Hearing.
He noted that Washington needs a strategy to get a “political solution that moves beyond Assad to secure a lasting peace.”
[END REPORT]
"In foreign policy, Royce's voting record has earned a 0% rating from the peace organization SANE." (WikipediaThis organization has a problem with putting nuclear weapons in space. 

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Yes, the worst part is that stability in Syria could spread to nearby countries

The US doesn’t even care about Syria — but we keep the war going
By Stephen Kinzer [an American]
April 12, 2018
Boston Globe

DURING SEVEN DEVASTATING years, war in Syria has killed at least 150,000 people, turned more than ten million into refugees, and reduced once-thriving towns and cities to rubble. Finally it is winding down. Syria now has a chance to begin rebuilding. The country can be reunited, its economy can start to function again, and a measure of political stability can return. 


None of that, however, is likely to happen. American military and security planers are determined to prevent it as long as President Bashar al-Assad is in power. The specter of a peaceful and prosperous Syria under Assad’s leadership terrifies them. They believe that until he is gone, it is in America’s interest to keep Syria divided, unstable and impoverished.

Much of Syria’s water, much of its oil, and much of its best agricultural land lie in regions controlled by US-backed rebel factions. This gives the Americans a magnificent opportunity. We could encourage our Kurdish allies and other rebel groups to negotiate a peace accord with Assad, who seems likely to remain in power for years to come. That would lay the foundation for a stable Syria—which is why we are unlikely do it.

According to the logic behind American strategy in the Middle East — and the rest of the world — one of our principal goals should be to prevent peace or prosperity from breaking out in countries whose governments are unfriendly to us. That outcome in Syria would have results we consider intolerable. First, it would signal final victory for the Assad government, which we deluded ourselves into thinking we could crush. Second, it would allow Russia, which has been Assad’s ally, to maintain its influence in Syria. Most frighteningly, it might allow stability to spread to nearby countries.

Today, for the first time in modern history, the governments of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon are on good terms. A partnership among them could lay the foundation for a new Middle East. That new Middle East, however, would not be submissive to the United States-Israel-Saudi Arabia coalition. For that reason, we are determined to prevent it from emerging. Better to keep these countries in misery and conflict, some reason, than to allow them to thrive while they defy the United States.

War in Syria began as civil conflict — a dispute among Syrians. Soon after it turned violent, outside powers rushed in. Iran and Russia sided with the government. The United States supported rebel groups, including several that were part of the Al Qaeda and Nusra Front terror networks. Turkey also sent weapons to terror groups, but then changed course, became friendlier to the Assad government, and turned its fire on the Kurds. Syria has become an arena a for big-power conflict. It can no longer shape its own fate.

The United States is hardly the only outside power that is more interested in scoring points against perceived rivals in Syria than in stopping bloodshed. But our role is now crucial because our sway over mostly-defeated rebel groups allows us to push them toward either war or peace. From Washington’s perspective, peace in Syria is the horror scenario. Peace would mean what the United States sees as a “win” for our enemies: Russia, Iran, and the Assad government. We are determined to prevent that, regardless of the human cost.

Governments often make strategic calculations that place their own geopolitical interests ahead of humanitarian concerns. In this case, though, our determination that Syria not be stabilized under its present government is shortsighted. Stability in the Middle East is in our long-term interest. If we promote policies that allow strong middle classes to grow in Syria and nearby countries, those countries will be less warlike, and may even evolve toward democracy. The strategy we are pursuing will have the opposite effect. Poverty — not ideology or religion — is the main force driving young men into the ranks of terror groups. By keeping Syria poor, we provide those groups with an endless supply of recruits.

In Washington, this is considered an acceptable price to pay in order to prevent our rivals from racking up a “win.” In fact, though, our national security does not depend on how much influence various countries have in the Middle East. We wildly exaggerate that region’s importance. Our security will not be decisively affected by whether or not a gas pipeline is built from Iran to Syria’s Mediterranean coast, or how the political jousting between Iran and Saudi Arabia unfolds. These are Middle East issues and should be resolved by the people and governments of that region.

President Trump has declared repeatedly in recent weeks that he wants to pull American troops out of Syria. “We’re going to be coming out of there real soon,” he told a rally in Ohio. Later he trenchantly assessed the balance of our 21st-century misadventure in the Middle East. “Seven trillion dollars over a 17-year period,” he said. “We have nothing — nothing except death and destruction. It’s a horrible thing.”

Trump’s instinct is based on common sense. That same instinct led him to declare that he would pull troops out of Afghanistan — until his generals persuaded him to send more instead. The security imperatives that keep us in Syria are fantasies of fevered military minds. We should stop trying to turn Syria into an American protectorate, and look for ways to withdraw our troops rather than justifications to keep them there forever.

[END OP-ED]

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer

Related

Putin’s crushing strategy for Syria
A daring plan to rebuild Syria — no matter who wins the war
The media are misleading the public on Syria

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Growing backlash in US Congress against Trump regime's bombing of Syria

Americans elected the presidential candidate who promised to be less interventionist than 2000, 2008, 2012, and 2016. Insofar as Democratic candidates cling to the hawkish approach of their failed 2016 standard-bearer [Hillary Clinton], they are giving away votes in 2018 and setting up the U.S. for more imprudent wars. Insofar as Republicans let Trump wage war where he likes, without a direct threat to America or congressional permission, they are on the wrong side of the Constitution.
The above are the closing words in the following article, a small part of which I repost here. So. Getting tired of American presidents acting more and more like absolute monarchs, are we? It's a little late in the day to sound the alarm.  

The Backlash Against Trump's Syria Strike
By CONOR FRIEDERSDORF
April 17, 2018
The Atlantic

Members of Congress in both parties have declared his actions unconstitutional. Will Democrats campaign against their illegality?

Last week Donald Trump willfully violated the Constitution as even he once understood it, despite being warned against doing so by dozens of members of Congress.

Hours before the president ordered the U.S. military to strike three targets in Syria, 88 members of Congress sent him a letter to remind him of his legal obligations. Strikes “when no direct threat to the United States exists” and “without Congressional authorization” would violate the Constitution’s separation of powers, they declared. “We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering additional use of U.S. military force in Syria.”

That account of the law was bipartisan: The signatories included 15 Republicans and 73 Democrats, and a similar letter sent to President Obama in 2013 was signed by 119 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Surveying all the legal rationales offered in Trump’s defense, Jack Goldsmith and Oona Hathaway conclude at Lawfare, “there is no apparent domestic or international legal authority for the strikes.” And crucially, Trump himself explicitly shared their understanding of the law.

As he put it in 2013:

[Trump Twitter comments in 2013]

Today’s Republican-controlled Congress lacks a majority willing to punish Trump for his flagrantly illegal war-making. And that status quo alarms many. 

“This country now considers it perfectly normal for the president to launch a fierce assault against a foreign country 5,000 miles from our borders without any congressional involvement at all, let alone a declaration of war,” the commentator Damon Linker observed. “It’s just what presidents do, whenever they want.”

“If Congress does nothing to challenge the president’s illegal attack,” Daniel Larison warns, “they will be accepting own irrelevance in matters of war from now on.”

Yet there is a minority faction that wants to restore the Constitution.

“These offensive strikes against Syria are unconstitutional, illegal, and reckless,” Representative Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, said. “The next speaker of the House must reclaim congressional war powers as prescribed in Article I of the Constitution. Speaker Ryan has completely abdicated one of his most important responsibilities.”

Members of the Senate have spoken up too. Prior to the strikes, Senator Rand Paul contested the notion that the president was constitutionally empowered to launch them.

And Democrats weighed in after the strikes, as well. “Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria without Congress’s approval is illegal,” Senator Tim Kaine said. “We need to stop giving presidents a blank check to wage war. Today it’s Syria, but what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?”

[...]

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Why didn't FUKUS wait for OPCW to inspect the Douma site?

The French, UK and US regimes refused to delay their bombing raid on Syria until the OPCW had made its inspection of the site in Douma where a chemical weapons attack was alleged to have occurred. Not only did the regimes refuse to wait, the OPCW has had a devil of a time getting to the site even after the raid. Today they announced that their reconnaissance team had to withdraw because of gunfire in the town.  

Of course every day that passes after the alleged chemical incident makes it harder for the inspectors to find evidence.   

Given that the Syrian and Russian governments know full well that they weren't responsible for any chemical attack in Douma, if one took place at all, they've been eager for the OPCW to complete its inspection. 

But all that begs the question of why FUKUS didn't hold off a few days until the inspection was done. 

********    

Tuesday, April 17

"Reel de Joie" Rewind

God, do I need this right now! The incredible Savoy Family Cajun band. Reel of Joy is the first set. At YouTube. For a few minutes I'll go far away from the madness of war and politics to a place not touched by despair. I'll laugh and clap and dance, dance, dance! Pundita if you start crying I swear to God I'll kick you. Don't blubber, you fool. Dance!     


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American journalist describes life in Damascus under Animal Assad


https://twitter.com/PearsonSharp

Pundita comment: Pearson, who was in Damascus during the FUKUS (France-U.K.-U.S.) attack, has lots of fresh Syria news on his Twitter page. He reports that Syrians love Americans and can't understand why we're doing bad things to them.

Say, now that the Syrian military has secured the country's international airport, more real journalists can visit Syria! Was this one of the reasons the U.S. tried to bomb the airport?  

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Monday, April 16

Douma doctor: patients were overcome by hypoxia from dust storm not by poison gas

Robert Fisk's on-the-ground investigative report, published two hours ago in the (U.K.) Independent, could be the shot heard round the world.  

The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack: "Exclusive: Robert Fisk visits the Syria clinic at the centre of a global crisis"
... For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.
As Dr Assim Rahaibani announces this extraordinary conclusion, it is worth observing that he is by his own admission not an eyewitness himself ...
But his account comports with one given by two doctors who were on duty in the clinic at the time and testified that they saw no evidence of chemical poisoning in the patients:
On April 13, the Ministry of Defense of Russia released a video showing testimonies of two doctors who were on duty at a Duma hospital when the alleged chemical attack took place in the Syrian town on April 7.
In the video, one of the two doctors “Kahlil al-Jaysh” said that the hospital received several civilians who had been injured in an airstrike of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) on Duma in the morning of April 8. Dr. al-Jaysh said that the airstrike had hit the last floor of a building causing fire. This led to the suffocation of some civilians who were trapped in the lower floors of the building.
While the doctors were treating the injured civilians, a man shouted in the hospital’s emergency room that the injures were caused by “a chemical attack,” which led to chaos, according to Dr. al-Jaysh.
“While treating the people who were suffocated by smoke and dust, one of the people who was present said that the strike was a chemical attack, which led the people in the area [hospital] to deal with the cases as injuries caused by chemical weapons,” Dr. al-Jaysh said in the video released by the Ministry of Defense of Russia.
 Moreover, the two doctors stressed in the video that there had been no symptoms [suggesting] a chemical weapons use.
Both doctors were also able to prove their presence in the emergency room of Duma hospital during the incident via a video published by a Syrian opposition news outlet.
Several experts suggested before that a carbon monoxide poisoning might be behind the deaths of the Duma attack victims. The Syrian Observatory from Human Rights (SOHR) even reported from day one that carbon monoxide poisoning had been behind the deaths of the civilians who were trapped in a basement from a long time after the airstrike.
Syrian pro-government sources noted that both doctors could have left Duma district under the evacuation agreement between the Damascus government and Jaysh al-Islam but they opted to stay. This makes the testimonies of these two doctors more credible.
[END REPORT]
 The quotes are from an April 13 SouthFront report. See the SF website for the video -- one version in Arabic and the other with a simultaneous English text translation.

I wonder if Robert Fisk is aware of the video evidence that two doctors were on duty at the clinic.  He writes:
By bad luck, too, the doctors who were on duty that night on 7 April were all in Damascus giving evidence to a chemical weapons enquiry, which will be attempting to provide a definitive answer to that question in the coming weeks.
I find it unlikely that the clinic would be left completely unstaffed unless this is different clinics; however, it doesn't seem there were two.  

We're still looking at a fog of war situation, but with the account given to Fisk by Dr Assim Rahaibani and one given on video by Dr al-Jaysh, the fog is starting to clear.

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ISIS doing fine behind U.S. lines in Syria

March 10, Al Masdar News:
BEIRUT, LEBANON (3:47 A.M.) – The Syrian Army has discovered and engaged Islamic State units inside the so-called At-Tanf ‘security zone’ upheld by US-backed forces in the country’s south.
According a source within the Syrian Army, government troops undertook to seize the strategic Bi’ir Atshan area in the At-Tanf countryside on Friday as part of a new operation aimed at countering the movement of US-backed forces throughout Homs and Rif Dimashq (Damascus) provinces.
The Syrian Army had expected to find the location deserted and intended to establish new positions throughout the area. [However] the army units encountered ISIS terrorists in the Bi’ir Atshan area and briefly engaged them before the fighters withdrew toward the Iraqi border.
Syrian forces could not pursue the terrorist elements toward the town of At-Tanf due to the fact that they would have been bombed by American warplanes (as has happened more than once) for any further penetration of the US-controlled region.
Bi’ir Atshan is located just within the US military’s 55-kilometer buffer zone in southern Syria.
Considering the ISIS militants encountered were riding in pickups, it is hard to believe that American aerial surveillance was not aware of their presence.
[END REPORT] 
April 16, Al Masdar News:
Feature: Naming unmarked ISIS insurgency zones in Syria’s Homs province
By Andrew Illingworth
BEIRUT, LEBANON (12:10 P.M.) – The first four months of 2018 has proven that Islamic State forces, although severely reduced in terms of their once very formidable military capabilities, are still present and active within government-held areas of eastern Syria.
The mode of ISIS operations throughout Syria’s east has changed in accordance to what has been witnessed in Iraq since the end of 2017, where the terrorist group returned to a strategy of waging a low-intensity insurgency revolving around hit-and-run attacks.
According to Al-Masdar News sources, Islamic State forces possess units of light-armed fighters that are hidden behind Syrian Army lines throughout the rugged terrain of eastern Homs province – namely in caves and tunnels.
ISIS is known to possess hideouts throughout the Bilas mountain chain (northwest of Palmyra) and the hills north of Sukhnah because it has attacked pro-government forces from such areas. The number of fighters present in these areas can only be guessed at for now.
Furthermore, Russian military officials have publicly stated that Islamic State militants are also present within the 55-kilometer At-Tanf buffer zone maintained by US-backed forces (including actual US military units) along the Iraqi border. Despite the controversy of such a claim this has already been somewhat proven (details here [see above report]).
To this effect recent ISIS attacks against Syrian Army positions along the Damascus-Baghdad highway near the Zaza checkpoint area, although originally thought to have been launched from south of Palmyra, are now believed by some sources to be coming from the At-Tanf region.
 A map will be released soon to better articulate the situation.
 [END REPORT]
Pundita comment: No comment.

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I think this is why US bombed Syria's pharmaceutical research institute

At the end of the 80s the pharmaceutical industry in Syria was very poor, covering 6% of the national needs. In less than 20 years, with government support in terms of legal frame and strategic political engagement, the Syrian pharmaceutical industry finally covered almost 90% of the national needs, in terms of drugs, and exported drugs in around 52 Arabian countries. 
Beyond covering the local market, the main added values of this huge development consisted in exporting drugs in the amount of 150 million dollars per year and providing jobs for 17,000 Syrian people, out of which around 85% are women.
The quote is from the abstract for a paper, Pharmaceutical Industry in Syria, published in 2010 at the medical library site for the U.S. government National Institutes of Health. A Sputnik news report in October 2017, which links to the paper, adds that in 2010 (a year before the uprising in the country), there were 72 laboratories and pharmaceutical companies in Syria.  

The Sputnik report was headlined Large Pharmaceutical Factory in Syria Rebuilt After Being Destroyed by MilitantsAs you can see if you read the report, Syria's pharmaceutical industry is finally getting back on its feet. The institute bombed by the U.S. on April 14 (Syria time) was a vital part of the recovery. From an April 15 SANA report:
The facility, called the Pharmaceutical and Chemical Industries Research Institute, works on preparing the chemical compositions for cancer drugs, and conducts chemical analyses of the materials entering Syria which are used in pharmaceutical and food industries.
As you can see from photographs posted with the SANA report, the U.S. did a great job of wrecking the facility, which was obviously not a 'hard' target; here's one of the photos:


The wreckage is mute answer to claims that the U.S. provided Russia with a list of the sites they intended to bomb -- or if a list was provided, it didn't include the institute. Russia would never have agreed to the destruction of a facility that was a key element in restoring Syria's pharmaceutical industry, which of course needs imported chemicals to be tested for purity. The same for materials used in processed foods.

From this, and when I consider that the U.S. also targeted the country's international airport within days of the Syrian military finally securing it from terrorist attacks, I surmise that at least one goal of the bombing raid was to obstruct Syria's economic recovery.

The Syrian air defense was able to intercept the four bombs/missiles aimed the airport. I hope the Syrian and Russian militaries are taking stock of the kind of people who wanted the research institute destroyed. In my view they are people who differ in degree but not in kind from the terrorists they purport to fight.  

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Sunday, April 15

How did U.S. find chlorine exposure in Douma residents by testing urine and blood?

From NBC News, April 12:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. now has blood and urine samples from last Saturday's deadly attack in Syria that have tested positive for chemical weapons, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. The samples suggested the presence of both chlorine gas and an unnamed nerve agent, two officials said. Typically, such samples are obtained through hospitals and collected by U.S. or foreign intelligence assets on the ground. The officials said they were "confident" in the intelligence, though not 100 percent sure.
[...]
I venture that 100 percent certainty would be hard, considering that blood and urine tests are not used to determine chlorine exposure.

From the New York State Department of Health fact sheet on chemical terrorism and chlorine:

The diagnosis of chlorine poisoning will primarily be based upon clinical examination and patient history, not laboratory testing. While laboratory testing for chlorine exposure is not useful in assisting treatment decisions, routine studies to monitor blood count, glucose and electrolytes may be useful for evaluating complications.
The same observations are made by other medical authorities such as the CDC, NIH, etc., also published online. Blood and urine are simply not tested to determine chlorine exposure. 

I don't hold it against NBC for not doing basic fact-checking. They were simply disseminating propaganda as was CNN, which picked up on the NBC story. But I was struck by this sentence in the NBC story:
U.S. officials say the Assad regime has conducted multiple chlorine attacks on rebels during the past six months.
On what basis did the officials make the determination? By analyzing blood and urine samples?

Regarding the "unnamed nerve agent" in the samples that officials discussed with NBC -- whether or not the agent is claimed to be sarin, one fact towers above Western government claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons after it agreed in 2013 to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles (1):

Anyone familiar with the symptoms of sarin gas poisoning only needs to glance at video/ photographic evidence of alleged victims of the Khan Sheikhoun 'sarin gas' incident in 2017 to know those people were not suffering from sarin gas poisoning. It was the same with the Ghouta incident in 2013. 

There is no way around this fact, even though the Syrian government's alleged use of sarin gas in Khan Sheikhoun (or Shaykhun) was the prextent for the Trump regime to bomb a Syrian airbase.  

Then what about laboratories that found evidence of sarin gas poisoning in the Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun incidents? Either they were lying or examining evidence that had been tampered with. 

In short, there is so much misinformation and disinformation concerning the use of chemical WMDs in Syria that it would take an investigation along the lines of the Church Committee to even hope to get at the truth. 

What is completely clear at this time is that a great many agencies, governmental and non-governmental, have a vested interest in looking at Syria, and President Bashar al-Assad, with their eyes wide shut. 

1)  See for example Syrian chemical weapons: how lab tests uncover evidence of sarin gas; September 5, 2013; The Guardian

and 

Exclusive: Tests link Syrian government stockpile to largest sarin attack - sources January 30, 2018; Reuters

See also:

UN on Khan Sheikhoun - Victims Hospitalized BEFORE Claimed Incident Happened; October 29, 2017; Moon of Alabama

ISIS Used Chemical Arms at Least 52 Times in Syria and Iraq, Report Says; November 21, 2016; The New York Times
“Mosul was at the center of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons production,” Mr. Strack said. “But most of the equipment and experts were probably evacuated to Syria in the weeks and months leading up to the Mosul offensive ..."
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What's worse than a former real-estate developer acting like a general?

A civilian secretary of defense who treats him as his commander-in-chief.

It took a waiver of the National Security Act of 1947, which calls for a seven-year waiting period before retired military persons can be nominated to U.S. Secretary of Defense, to allow James Mattis to take on the role; that's because he'd retired from the U.S. military in 2013. 

The point is that the Secretary of Defense is a civilian and so should not to treat President Donald Trump or any U.S. President as his commander-in-chief. 

Blame has been directed by critics at various governments and the media for the war crime committed by President Trump in ordering unprovoked strikes on Syrian government targets -- and by the way it is an 'official' war crime. But I think a considerable share of the blame goes to retired military persons working in high positions in a U.S. administration who continue to treat the President as a military commander -- the supreme commander, no less. Currently the observation would apply to CIA Director and nominee for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as Mr Mattis. 

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RU military seems to have no record of French activity during coalition attack on Syria

Huh. Doesn't mean there weren't any French bombers participating in the attack but here is the quote from the Russian Operational Directorate briefing on the bombs/missiles launched by the coalition.
Announced French aircraft have not been registered by the Russian air defence systems.
Maybe I misunderstand but the briefing describes other aircraft/platforms that were in use, including British ones. From The Saker's English transcript of the videotaped briefing, which is also available with simultaneous English text translation on the screen (YouTube as well as The Saker site) 
[...]

It is reported that the B-1B, F-15 and F-16 aircraft of the USAF as well as the Tornado airplanes of the UK RAF over the Mediterranean Sea, and the USS Laboon and USS Monterey located in the Red Sea were used during the operation.
The B-1B strategic bombers approached the facilities over the Syrian territory near al-Tanf illegally seized by the USA.
A number [of] Syrian military airfields, industrial and research facilities suffered the missile-bomb strike.
As [preliminarily] reported, there are no civilian casualties and losses among the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Information will be further specified and made public.
As evident by the available data, 103 cruise missiles have been launched, including Tomahawk naval-based missiles as well as GBU-38 guided air bombs fired from the B-1B; the F-15 and F-16 aircraft launched air-to-surface missiles.
The Tornado airplanes of the UK RAF launched eight Scalp EG missiles.
[...]
The briefing, which also includes a description of every Syrian target, goes on in that vein, but no mention of French bomber/cruise missile activity.  

A couple points from the briefing I want to flag:
  • 71 out of the 103 missiles/bombs were intercepted by Syrian air defenses.
  • Four missiles targeted the Damascus International Airport. All were shot down. 
Cripes, the Syrian military had just finished completely securing the airport, which is vital to the economic recovery of Syria. I'll bet that airport wasn't on the list of targets the U.S. military reportedly gave the Russians before the attack. But why did the coalition choose the commercial international airport to target? Maybe the best answer is that they thought they could get away with it.

Anyhow, was Macron having his cake and eating it too? Telling Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman that the French would join in the bombing, then not actually ordering bombers to fly into Syrian airspace? Perhaps we'll find out for certain someday.


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