Journalist and analyst, formerly filming in Syria in 2013. My primary focus is on the Middle East, with an emphasis on Syria, Iraq and Iran. I also conduct research into war criminals fleeing the conflict into Europe.
The second battle of Kunduz commenced on October 3. The Taliban briefly captured the city (Afghanistan’s 5th largest) in September 2015, before voluntarily withdrawing. It was an embarrassing defeat for the ISAF & allies. Afghan soldiers and police dropped their weapons and fled; it was only the timely intervention of US Green Berets special forces that prevented Kunduz’ surrounded airport from falling completely and securing a total Taliban victory.
Now the Taliban are back, attacking the city from four sides on October 3. They easily took control of several checkpoints and the city centre as the Afghan forces (once again) abandoned weapons and fled to the airport or to outlying regions. When evening came the local police chief Kassim Jangal Bagh and the NATO–led Resolute Support Mission claimed the city centre was regained and that all is well.
Only, all is anything but well. RSM was later forced to backpedal and release a very ambiguous statement which nonchalantly claimed that the international coalition is maintaining “robust enablers” and US will “support as needed”. Not only that, but several different accounts from a variety of media outlets confirmed that the Afghan control of the city is anything but “robust” (even after special forces and reinforcements were rushed in). China’s xinhuanet.com reported heavy fighting – not “sporadic clashes”. Al-Jazeera also reported fierce combat, with the New York Times indicating that little more than half the city was (precariously) held by Kabul’s forces by October 4.
Second precinct police commander Shafi Zakhil claimed the area around the governor’s office had become a front line. Furthermore, the situation has become so tenuous that US special forces have been deployed (as General Petraeus admits) around the governor’s office and the police compound to avoid a total collapse of the Afghan forces.
“I am in Fatema Zahra School, which is in front of the governor’s office, and it is the front line”, Shafi said. “U.S. forces are around the governor’s office and the police headquarters with their tanks. Taliban are on top of a building near the governor’s office and police headquarters.” A Taliban report from their website backed this up with detail; Taliban fighters are only 100 meters away from the governor’s residence. The residence is in the very heart of the city – which the Taliban were supposed to have been pushed out of. Provincial council member Amruddin Wali bluntly accused the security forces of lying about Kunduz, raging that while they did indeed control the city centre, “You can’t go past the main square without armoured vehicles!”
Things only got worse for the ISAF. Even though US ground forces were present, and even though the USAF was conducting airstrikes, the Taliban gained even more ground on the 5th. Although parts of the city centre and some government buildings remain under the control of the US marines and their allies, the rest of the city seems to have fallen. Tolo News claims only the governor’s compound and a few other government and security forces’ buildings are still controlled by US & Afghan forces. The Taliban control the rest. In other words, the ISAF forces are besieged in the central Kunduz just as they are in Helmand. The Taliban released footage from parts of Kunduz supposedly in government hands in which they denied any ANA gains.
You wouldn’t think it from the media coverage, however. The Huffington post parroted Afghan officials’ claims about “major gains” – in other words, only managing to tenuously cling to a town square, despite air cover and heavy weapons (insert slow clapping gifs here). The BBC practically regurgitated Kunduz governor Amarkhil’s statement claiming the Taliban were “defeated” and cites the police chief of Kunduz who claims “hundreds” of Taliban fighters were killed within several hours. Kabul’s forces are “flushing out” the Taliban from the city in the parallel universe of The West Australian. Maybe they should tell that to the English-speaking Taliban fighter filmed at a calm checkpoint in the city. “Tomorrow we take the White House!” he jokes confidently.
The media coverage of recent events in Kunduz simply doesn’t reflect the situation on the ground, giving the misleading impression that the Taliban is on the run. This is probably because the counter-offensive isn’t going as planned. US forces, Afghan troops and allied militiamen have ended up besieged in the middle of the very city they vowed was secure, a repeat of September 2015. Which seems to include bombardment of civilian areas as collective punishment yet again. The ANA has been madly spraying the city with artillery shells, some of which struck Haidari market and caused an unspecified number of deaths and injuries, bringing back memories of the attack on Kunduz’ hospital by the USAF. Afghan forces have also been caught on camera using civilian homes as firing points, despite Afghan officials denying this and attributing it to the Taliban.
This time around, the Taliban aren’t withdrawing and leaving the ISAF to claim victory. A damage control effort by media outlets (especially in Europe and the US) seems to be attempting to compensate for an unwelcome turn of events for Kabul and Washington. Reliable updates, however, can be found on the Long War Journal’s website and on social media.
For reasons behind the ineffectiveness of the Afghan forces, see my previous article on the subject. Follow Ahmet Yar on Twitter for informative updates from the front lines of the Afghan war.
The Afghan forces have been taking a heavy beating over the last few years. In September of 2015 they briefly lost Kunduz, the 5th largest city in Afghanistan, before regaining control with US support. They then managed to lose another 5% of the country in the four months leading up to July of this year. That same month, Kabul lost (at least) 1000 men alone according to a US commander; that’s 200 every week. The US and Afghan forces often play down casualties, so you know that the number must be much worse.
On August 26 the Taliban captured Jani Khel, a major district close to Pakistan. Controlling the district paves the way for the Taliban to bring in fresh supplies over the border and take control of new districts. They then followed up on the victory by taking control of Omna. As of August 30, 36 of the country’s 407 districts were deemed under insurgent control or influence, while another 104 were regarded as being “at risk.”
To say that the Afghan government has been struggling is an understatement, and the reasons why it barely stands up (even with an abundance of foreign backing) are numerous. It’s an overstatement to call them Kabul regime a “government” at all, since that term implies some form of centralisation and widespread control (military and administration-wise) of the country.
As with the Syrian regime, the Afghan “government” is little more than gangs of competing warlords vying for power. Vice President Dostum (a former warlord) is an Uzbek who leads his own private militia and is is engaged in a turf war with Balkh governor Atta Noor. This has hampered their efforts to combat the Taliban and hindered resources getting to the battlefield. Dostum and Noor’s men have killed, looted and abused civilians (especially in Fayrab province).
The US hss backed other warlords like Gen. Abdul Raziq with arms and cash, splintering the already-hollow Afghan army and police even further. Although the Afghan army and police are constantly referred to as “security forces” as if they represent a homogenous group, this is anything but the case on the ground. Local “police chiefs” are militia leaders that command groups of men tempted to their side with money and arms. These men have no allegiance to Kabul whatsoever; they get their money and arms from the local warlord or militia commander that supplies them. When a police chief deserts his post or leaves due to a dispute (or joins the Taliban) all his men go with him.
65% of Afghanistan is said to be under Kabul’s control. In practice, patchworks of warlords backed by Kabul control different parts of the country. All carry out their own policies and act with impunity while professing loyalty to President Ghani. “Government”-controlled territory is a series of mini-states. Balkh’s governor Atta Noor was actually dismissed in 2014, yet is too strong for the government to remove – he has refused to give up the office he has held since 2004.
Each local police chief/commander is known to act like a Medieval tyrant, requisitioning resources from locals and extorting them at checkpoints at will. The worst practice of the police chiefs is known as bacha bazi, which literally means “boy play”. Local boys are abducted at checkpoints and raped by the police chiefs. This practice is practically universal among local chiefs.
This causes huge levels of resentment against the government; many young men joining the Taliban have actually cited the actions of the police chiefs as one of their motivations. Having your son, brother or relative raped is naturally going to instil a demand for revenge in the locals, most of whom will then side with the Taliban. Which is exactly what they have done; during the Kunduz campaign the local population rose up to help the Taliban:
Summary executions, illegal taxation and other abusive practices have made the militias—and their government patrons—deeply unpopular, especially among the local Pashtun population. Most of the armed groups are led by ethnic Tajik and Uzbek warlords.
“The main reason Kunduz fell to the Taliban is that people were fed up with those militias,” said a resident who didn’t want to be named because he feared retaliation.
American complicity in the mass rape of children by the warlords has only created more support for the Taliban. American soldiers were explicitly ordered not to stop child rape on Afghan bases, even when they share the bases with the rapists. Two Green Berets soldiers who beat up a police chief for repeatedly raping a boy were forcibly separated from the US military. “Instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages”, admitted the New York Times in 2015.
The Taliban movement began as a movement to punish child-raping warlords, hanging them and driving them from their fiefdoms. The Taliban started out with as few as 30 men, but rose to prominence and popularity because of their Islamic principles and refusal to tolerate paedophiles. Now the US has brought those same warlords back into power. An uncomfortable truth that has not got unnoticed by the Afghan population.
Kunduz eventually fell back into government hands. Not because of any popularity on the part of the government, but because US airstrikes and American soldiers backed them to the hilt; the “security forces” were completely impotent without that support. A military force based on patronage, bribery and corruption can have little chance of success. Most of the men joining the Afghan forces have no morale or ideals to cling to. Not only because they are completely irreligious (many Afghan National Police militiamen are addicts) but because they come from small villages and depend entirely upon local warlords for their backing; the idea of fighting for a centralised state is alien to them.
These problems plague the Afghan army as well as the police. One of the most telling signs of the lack of fighting spirit and unpopularity of the US-backed Kabul administration are the constant “insider attacks” that plague the police and army. Soldiers and militiamen turning their guns on their comrades and then defecting to the Taliban. Such attacks have frequently targeted coalition soldiers and sown immense distrust in an already reluctant force.
This is a reality that has been learned at great cost on the battlefield. Over 7000 Afghan soldiers and “police” (backed by air support) fled Kunduz from as few as 500 Taliban on September 28 2015. On September 29 they began a counterattack which was fully backed by the USAF. The attack was so ineffectual that not only did they fail to advance, but they ended up surrounded by several hundred Taliban in the very airport they had launched the assault from. The Taliban then assaulted the airport as Afghan National Police fighters dropped their weapons and abandoned the defences. Hundreds of fighters loyal to Kabul fled from the airport in terror, its fall only being prevented by US Green Berets (special forces) engaging the Taliban, despite allegedly being present in an advisory role only.
On September 30 the American and Afghan forces agreed that US troops would be forced to directly join the battle against the Taliban, despite it being questionably legal for US troops (which were supposedly “advisors”) to do so. The abysmal performance of the Afghan forces had made it a necessity. The Taliban withdrew and the operation was presented as a “success”.
At this stage there can be no doubt that the 8400 US soldiers in Afghanistan (and the USAF) are the only pillars preventing the Kabul administration from collapsing. The dire military situation in Kunduz (which, despite US help, is again in danger of being lost) is being repeated across the country. 100 US Green Berets are all that stand in the way of the Taliban taking Lashkah Gah, the capital of Helmand. Most of Helmand province is now under Taliban control. Afghan and US forces are “besieged” in Lashkah Gah, only keeping their pocket from collapsing with overwhelming firepower and airstrikes. The Taliban has enforced the siege by deploying “Red Unit”, a special forces group armed with night vision and US rifles.
The US and other ISAF nations often measure “success” in Afghanistan based on ostensible Afghan government control of cities and towns. American commanders cite the city or city centres of major population centres like Lashkar Gah, Kunduz, Jalalabad etc being under ISAF control. However, this “control” doesn’t mean much when the countryside (the centre of gravity) is anti-government & resistance controlled. According to the Long War Journal, the Taliban control or contest more than 80 of the 407 districts in the country (at least). The others are controlled by Afghan forces. On paper, anyway.
“Control” is measured by determining if the government controls the centre of town or just a few administrative buildings. The Taliban are often in complete control of the countryside and the remaining 90-95% of the town, deliberately leaving a minor government presence in the centre of towns to avoid drawing attention to themselves and provoking the retaliatory strikes which would occur if they took complete control.
More often than not, government “control” of a district is utterly meaningless when it becomes a few militiamen and bureaucrats cowering in isolated buildings. The countryside is the crucial power-broker in Afghanistan. Local politics plays out there, resistance groups operate there, and deals are done there. The countryside started the uprising against the communists that culminated in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. That same countryside is tearing down Ashraf Ghani’s fiefdom today.
The Taliban don’t come from outer space. This group isn’t mutually exclusive to the Afghan people. The Taliban are anything but; they are local men drawn from villages and towns across the country. Men join them because their country is occupied by foreign powers that have installed child molesters in positions of power, dissolving the Islamic system (an affront to a devout population) and indiscriminately killing civilians.
In contrast to the conduct of the government, the Taliban strictly forbade looting and killing when they took over Kunduz in 2015. Although traditionally viewed in the west as racist Pashtun fighters seeking to marginalise Afghanistan’s other ethnic groups, the Taliban fight alongside a patchwork of different ethnic groups which includes Arab and Turkistani fighters. The two soldiers that shot dead 12 of their comrades on September 27 of this year were Uzbek and Turkmen as opposed to Pashtun. Kabul’s military leaders have actually made the insurgency worse by excluding the Pashtun majority from their forces (most of Kabul’s soldiers are non-Pashtun, including Hazaras and Uzbeks).
A combination of government corruption, paedophilia, military ineptitude and huge levels of unpopularity is lethal. This regime is in a worse state than Najibullah’s puppet government was when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989. It took the mujahideen forces three years to get to Kabul and destroy his dictatorship in 1992. There were over 200,000 of them at the time. Today there are around 80-100,000 fighters bearing arms in the Taliban and allied groups , much fewer than in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet invasion. Yet the government is barely holding together; anti-Kabul forces are wreaking havoc against an administration which is better armed and numerically superior.
115,000 Soviet troops and eight years of indiscriminate warfare directed against the Afghan countryside (with chemical weapons and artillery) couldn’t save the Soviet-controlled Democratic Republic of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. So how can 8400 American soldiers save Ghani?
Swedish television recently shot an important documentary in regard to shabiha members in Sweden. Kalla fakta: War Criminals Among Us recently aired across Sweden, and got a very positive reception among Swedes that were previously unaware of such people existing in their midst. I’m glad that some of the information I shared has been of use to Per Hermanrud and his excellent team.
The documentary is below. It’s in Swedish and contains music, however you can mute that and use the captions to watch it.
It’s safe to say that Syria’s revolution has seen setbacks on the battlefield of late. A promising opposition offensive into Aleppo in August ended with the regime’s siege of the city of several hundred thousand being broken by opposition fighters, alongside the seasoned fighters of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra).
The offensive was stunning, smashing through several of the regime’s defensive lines over a large front, in spite of the superiority of the regime and its allies in terms of firepower and air cover. The famous inighmasi shock-troops took over Ramouseh’s artillery college and other crucial bases, some of which had been shelling civilians in the city up until the point of their capture.
The offensive, however, turned out to be similar in nature to the German army’s Ardennes offensive in 1944. A stunning short-term success, achieved by a spirited and outgunned force using a combination of concentrated armour and shock-and-awe tactics in the face of huge numbers of enemy forces. But, crucially, unsustainable. As was the case in Ardennes, the regime forces were able to use weight of numbers and a huge advantage in air power to roll back the gains of the offensive a short time later, much as the British and Americans had ground down Hitler’s final Blitzkrieg. On September 4, the siege of Aleppo was in full sway once again.
Further bad news emerged on the 6th; the IRGC’s General Soleimani was visitingAleppo province in the company of Iran’s Shi’a militia proxies and allied regime militants. According to pro-Hezbollah accounts, Soleimani (who, in practice, leads all regime-allied forces on the ground) is planning an offensive towards the besieged Shi’a enclaves of al-Fou’a and Kefraya in Idlib, encircled in the offensive to capture Idlib city in 2015.
Some, however, took solace in the progress made on the northern borders. Turkish troops finally intervened in Syria in August, propping up FSA fighters as they smashed through Da’esh defences on the Turkish border and captured the town of Jarablus. Days later, Turkish-backed FSA forces had sealed off the whole border and ruined any remaining chance of Da’esh recruits entering Syria via Turkey. The FSA also drove the YPG and affiliated militias from positions they previously occupied around Manbij, ruining their chance of linking up the PYD-controlled “cantons” with Efrin.
Meanwhile, Moscow and Washington have been frantically trying to develop a “ceasefire deal”. “Ceasefire” in Orwellian terms, that is. Kerry and Lavrov, acting as intermediaries for their leaders, recently completed a deal that would do several things:
Ground Assad’s airforce over (all) opposition-controlled areas.
Begin a ceasefire today (12 September) between all sides.
Provide humanitarian aid to all the besieged areas of Syria (Aleppo included).
So far so good, right? On paper, nobody could disagree with grounding the air force that has been committing horrific massacres since 2012, bringing an end to the fighting and providing humanitarian relief to besieged people by re-opening roads.
It’s the following points of the deal that make it absolutely appalling in the context of the ongoing genocide:
As of the 12th, the US and Russia will begin jointly sharing intelligence on the positions of “Jabhat al-Nusra” in Syria via a “Joint Intelligence Group”.
An “extended period of calm” will then follow. After this period, the US will begin joint bombings of both Da’esh and “al-Nusra” throughout Syria.
In other words, the US and Russia will share intelligence on the positions of anti-Assad fighters, followed by a protracted campaign of bombing against them. This is under the facade of fighting against “al-Nusra”, AKA “al-Qa’eda”. There’s only one problem: there is no al-Qa’eda in Syria, nor is there an al-Nusra.
The al-Nusra Front disbanded voluntarily in July of 2016. The fighters reorganised into Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front of the Conquest of the Levant). Al-Nusra literally doesn’t exist any more. When it did exist, it bore the banner of al-Qa’eda in Syria in name only; most of the fighters were purely Muslim locals intent on defending their country and their families. The al-Qa’eda affiliation, however, had given them some valuable support from veteran foreign fighters from around the globe. It also prevented some of the loose cannons (see Jund al-Aqsa circa 2015) from defecting to Da’esh.
In other words, the US and Russia are going to target any opposition group they can get their hands on. Although they claim that they will only go after Da’esh and the members of the now-defunct Nusra Front, the devil is in the details. Assad and his Russian allies consider every Syrian dissenting against regime and its international allies (Hezbollah, Iran, the Iraqi Shi’ite militias etc) as being part of “al-Nusra”. The US (as pro-regime as Russia) harbours similar views, and has threatened the opposition accordingly.
How this would play out is clear; Russia passes on coordinates of every opposition group it can locate to the US (from Free Syrian Army to Ahrar al-Sham) and the US will willingly bomb each and every one of them alongside Russia and the Syrian Air Force. Yes, you read correctly, the Syrian Air Force will be conducting bombing runs alongside Russian and American planes in spite of the alleged “ceasefire”. Kerry himself claims Assad will be told where he can and cannot bomb. In other words, where he can and cannot hit markets packed with civilians. Despite walking back on these comments, documents show that Kerry wasn’t misspeaking when he made this statement.
The Russian government has been openly hostile to the Syrian opposition with growing audacity since 2011. The Obama administration (which has always seen the Syrian revolution as an irritating elephant-in-the-room which hindered the newfound alliance with Tehran) has been giving out pro-regime rumblings for a long time. In 2011, Obama was talking about ensuring that the “state institutions” of Syria were preserved (meaning the regime and its many torture chambers) and stopping crucial anti-aircraft weaponry getting to the opposition, which could have enabled them to win the war years ago. The recent “deal” involving airstrikes on Assad’s enemies is the culmination of years of determined policy-making by two nations eager to keep Assad afloat. Their betrayal of the Syrian people was to be expected. The pizza was on the Americans and the vodka on the Russians. Literally.
What’s arguably all the more appalling, however, is the conduct of various self-declared opposition groups in deciding to take part in the push to oust Da’esh from the Syrian borders. The Turkish government ordered Syrian opposition forces to move away from other crucial battlefronts to take part in the operation. Crucially, just after the opposition had successfully broken the siege of Aleppo. Rather than insist that they stay put and cling onto their precarious gains around Ramouseh, several FSA groups (and, unbelievably, Ahrar al-Sham) gladly agreed to sap the manpower in the newly opened corridor and move to the border with Jarablus for the offensive. While Da’esh control of parts of the border is hardly a good thing, degrading fronts crucial to the survival of hundreds of thousands to confront them is never, ever excusable.
The Turkish request drew crucial men and arms away from the Aleppo front at a crucial time; the groups participating in the offensive readily agreed to neglect Aleppo in favour of messing around on the Turkish borders. The subsequent Iranian counterattack against the weakened front recaptured the corridor and reimposed the siege on some 500,000 people in Aleppo. It’s no surprise that as the Turkish offensive got underway, rumours of a deal between Moscow and Ankara bubbled to the surface. Ankara would be able to use the FSA to secure its borders, and Moscow would get to besiege Aleppo accordingly. The sapping of Aleppo’s manpower by Turkey cannot be coincidental.
The anti-regime forces are swamped by enemies within and enemies without. The Iranians, Russians and Americans on the outside, and hireling FSA groups on the inside. As for the latter, half the problems the opposition forces have faced over the last few years have stemmed from the fact that some groups (namely the secular ones) have essentially been willing to prostitute themselves to foreign powers in exchange for support, knowing fully well that these powers are hostile to Muslims, and naively imagining that such support won’t result in becoming obliged to obey the orders of their backers.
The results on the battlefield have been disastrous, as has the ensuing corruption of opposition groups. After becoming prominent recipients of US aid, Jamal Maarouf and his men left Abu ad-Duhur airbase unmolested and free to bomb and shell surrounding civilian settlements. Other opposition groups later drove them off in disgust and took the base. The Southern Front’s “Southern Storm” offensive towards Suweida and Damascus was called off after making spectacular gains; the US-managed MOC in Jordan ordered that they were not to advance any further and threaten the regime in Damascus. Earlier this year, audio was leaked of the FSA’s Division 13 leader Ahmad al-Sa’oud using rather ripe language when referring to JFS/al-Nusra, claiming he could easily get Russian support to use against them if he wished.
The US-founded “New Syrian Army” that recently snatched territory in Deir Ezzor is explicitly ordered not to attack regime forces. Worse still, US backing (and simultaneous unwillingness to protect their own proxies) has resulted in the group becoming a defenceless lame duck. When the Russians openly bombed the group it was forbidden from fighting back. US jets did nothing to stop their own hired guns from being hit. Humiliation after humiliation.
The argument that opposition groups *must* take aid from unsavoury powers in order to fight the regime is clearly rendered redundant by the fact that any aid taken from them immediately turns the group into a proxy force obliged to stop fighting against Assad – the cause of over 96% of the deaths in Syria, not Da’esh. It is also made redundant when you consider the fact that over 80% of Syria was freed from his clutches between 2012 and 2013, with no foreign support being involved.
It was when the “friends of Syria” started to disingenuously promise support that the problems started; hinting at anti-aircraft weapons while giving light arms only, implying anti-tank missiles and only committing to training programs and ready meals etc. Giving enough to keep them hooked and indebted, but not enough to enable them to win.
The US and allies are now seeking to pressure the opposition to abandon Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, claiming the group is a “terrorist” organisation. The issue is not with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. The issue is with their opposition to Assad and refusal to compromise with outside powers. Crucially, JFS abandoned the al-Qa’eda connection in order to unify with other factions, including Ahrar al-Sham. The unity talks were making progress. This was enough for the US to panic and hand them down a death sentence; the last thing Obama needs are Syria’s opposition groups uniting to throw Assad and his backers out of Syria. Remove JFS (in his eyes) and you keep the opposition disunited.
If JFS wasn’t around, Kerry and Lavrov would blame Ahrar. If Ahrar wasn’t around, they’d blame the FSA. The Islamic groups won’t compromise, so the Islamic groups have to be destroyed. It’s no coincidence that three high-ranking JFS leaders were killed when their meeting was targeted by US (or Russian) airstrikes. The meeting they were attending was held to discuss a second offensive to relieve the besieged population of Aleppo. Such an offensive would have disrupted the Kerry-Lavrov “ceasefire” deal.
As if to openly insult the Syrian opposition further, the US fawningly offered to pay compensation to the families of regime soldiers accidentally killed in a friendly-fire incident by a series of US airstrikes in Deir Ezzor (despite many of the fighters being non-Syrians). Not one bit of “compensation” has been offered to Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham or the FSA, despite repeated bombings. As punishment for fighting to liberate Hama, Jund al-Aqsa was designated as a global terrorist organisation on September 20 by the US state department. The US continues to cling desperately to the phoney “truce”, in spite of the regime continuing to deny food to besieged areas (and actually bombing a UN aid convey). The mad dash to preserve Assad has resulted in the administration caving to the Russians at every possible turn.
If the Syrian opposition factions (and I’m not talking about the impotent, plodding bureaucrats in 5* hotels) want to unite and defeat the regime, they’re going to have to tell foreign powers to, quite frankly, stuff it and stop offering aid with strings attached. That includes both weapons and “humanitarian” aid; the UN having become little more than a carrot-and-stick tool of Assad’s ethnic cleansing campaign, providing aid to regime-controlled areas while simultaneously using it to coax besieged opposition-controlled areas to surrender. Not only that, but they must unify and refuse to begin infighting at the behest of those powers. To say nothing of disavowing the hireling groups that would sell their own country down the river for a few dollars.
Soleimani and his men could reach the gates of Bab al-Hawa, and some opposition groups would still be floundering around in border villages at the behest of whoever pays them enough. What is abundantly clear, however, is that the “Islamists” (bar one or two groups with clearly questionable strategies) are the only ones that will save Syria. In other words, the Islamic groups that won’t sell their struggle or their country for a handful of US dollars, Turkish tanks or token small arms.
At least 212 Syrian civilians were killed in bombings by the US coalition in the Tokhar area of Manbij on Tuesday. Manbij is the scene of fierce fighting between Da’esh and the PKK’s YPG offshoot and allies in the SDF (“Syria Democratic Forces”), which have been conducting a fierce battle to take control of the city since May, with close air support from the US coalition.
The first bombings were indiscriminate, and came at 3am while residents were The strikes levelled a school in Tokhar, a town of 3,500 people. The school was well-known as a site at which displaced people were sheltered. Initial figures reported anything from 65 to 160 people being killed in the attack. Abu Omar al-Manbiji, a local citizen journalist, told Syria Direct that the casualty levels were horrific, even at the lower estimates. “So far we count 124 dead from the attack, and that number could very well increase.” Later numbers put the death toll higher, at at least 212 people (and rising). The US command merely claimed that it “needed to investigate” the claims, remaining silent about the online evidence. 21 civilians were also killed in the Hazawneh quarter of the city.
This wasn’t mentioned much by the coalition, of course. An impassive CENTCOM report breezily claimed that their airstrikes had “struck eight separate [IS] tactical units” around Manbij. How a school full of civilians could be mistaken for a Da’esh tactical unit wasn’t mentioned in the report. The Tokhar region is 15km northeast of the city of Manbij, and far from the battlefield. Mainstream media reports, however, quickly wrote them off as “mistaken” attacks, paying little attention to the fact that a very similar incident in Afghanistan occurred, in which the USAF bombed Kunduz hospital last year. The act was later determined to be a war crime, although the US denied it.
How several separate airstrikes on overtly civilian areas could be written off as a simple error (in the age of intelligence and satellite technology) is also a mystery to many Syrians. Coalition spokesman Col. Chris Garver brushed off the attacks by claiming the US is “extraordinarily careful”. Clearly.
In fact, the YPG has regularly been accused of ethnic cleansing, which has included giving the coordinates of Arab civilian settlements to the coalition in order to force them out of their homes with terror bombings. It’s unclear if this was the cause of today’s incident. Either way, the coalition readily complies with the requests. There are allegations of the YPG pursuing a scorched earth policy during the battle for Manbij.
Ten more civilians (and four children) were later killed in bombings of the village of Hamira, which is on the outskirts of the city. Al-Zahuna neighbourhood saw 23 civilian fatalities, and the western gate of the city also saw an unspecified number of civilian deaths. Horrific images appeared online, depicting dead children and horrifically mutilated men and women.
Some outlets reported a death toll as high as 320 civilians in 24 hours. If true, coalition airstrikes have killed more people in 24 hours than Syrian regime bombings have killed in four days. This toll also counted civilians killed in Russian bombings in Idlib during the same period (the strikes were supposedly coordinated with the US) which killed 15 people and wounded at least 35. Da’esh is nowhere near Idlib city or its surroundings. Aid raids killing civilians also occurred in Aleppo.
All these deaths, however, were overshadowed by a much smaller incident. On July 19 2016, fighters from the Nour ad-Din az-Zenki Movement captured what was initially thought to be a child soldier fighting for the pro-Assad Liwa al-Quds (Palestinian) militia in Handarat. The fighter was subsequently beheaded by a member of the group. In a statement the group vowed to punish the men responsible, claiming it was an individual act by the perpetrator.
What followed, however, was more than a little disproportionate. Video footage emerged online of the incecent. Global media outlets, having long ignored regular regime atrocities in Syria (and showed no less indifference to the Manbij and Idlib massacres) sensationalised the killing of a single person, ignoring the murder of hundreds of innocent people.
More often than not, coverage of the execution was disingenuously used to push an agenda, namely the spurious claim that the anti-regime fighters are inherently evil “US-backed rebels” (a claim beloved of left and rightists alike) despite the Zenki Movement having its US support terminated in 2015. “US-Backed “Moderate” Rebels Behead a Child Near Aleppo”, sneered one of the worst of the offending articles, published in the Daily Beast by one Katie Zavadski.
Not only did Zavadski’s article ignore the fact that the captured fighter was a member of a regime militia, but went out of its way to rave about despicable rebel fighters “on the CIA payroll”, as if to suggest that Assad’s enemies are murderous mercenaries and thus the regime is absolved. Even though the Zenki Movement no longer receives US support.
Not only that, but the article drew comparisons with Da’esh, trying to suggest that a single atrocity means that anti-regime forces are identical to the group (a claim refuted more than once). The use of “‘moderate’ rebels” is no less disingenuous. An uninformed reader would come away with the impression that opposition forces in Syria that don’t follow the Da’esh brand of extremism are non-existent. Which is, of course, the intention of the author. Islamophobic narratives also developed, including deliberate attempts to link the group to Saudi Arabia (and all the internet jargon about “Wahhabi-Salafi CIA NATO terrorists” that such claims imply) and falsely portray these actions as common among Islamic groups.
An article in Gulf News blamed a “US-backed Syrian rebel group”, also ignoring the retraction of US support since 2015. The BBC repeated a claim (almost ad-lib) by the Liwa al-Quds Brigade that the “boy” was an innocent civilian. Not only ignoring the photos of the fighter in their military uniform, but also the group’s history of throwing anyone it can get its hands on into battle. In April 2014, Armenian Baghdig Keshishian was killed fighting for the group in Aleppo.
CNN went further, dedicating much of an article on the incident to quoting (ad verbatim) Syria’s state news agency SANA on the group, which said the Zenki Movement is backed by the “Erdogan regime,” which had “facilitates the entry of terrorist mercenaries to Syria through the Turkish border to carry out these crimes.” The fact that Liwa al-Quds claimed to have launched an offensive at the same time as the boy’s capture was also passed over.
It later emerged that the fighter was no “innocent child” at all, but a 19-year-old regime militiamen, as confirmed by social media posts by his sister. Media outlets that had been quick to sensationalise this incident in order to discredit the whole armed opposition ignored this new development, neglecting to clarify the erroneous information they had previously released.
Why is the killing of a combatant fighting for a barrel bombing regime that has slaughtered hundreds of thousands seen as worse than than the death of 320 or more civilians in bombings? In the age of drone strikes and missile attacks, knives and other weapons are simply seen as “messy”. Face-to-face killings are too close for comfort, especially when seen on video. When it’s so visibly carried out by a side you support, you (naturally) tend to feel some sense of or guilt. Bombings are another matter; the victims are generally wiped out quickly and you never get to see the gruesome results at at close range. People feel like they can accept such atrocities with few pangs from their own consciences.
The rhetoric deliberately changes from horror to indifference when mass murder with drones or airstrikes occurs. To pundits and government officials, dropping a bomb on a group of innocent people (while professing to be hitting military targets) is somehow “clean”, a “surgical strike”. If there are victims, it’s unfortunate. But they’re just “collateral damage”. This language deliberately dehumanises the victims. Reading statements about dead civilians makes you feel as if goods were lost, not human life. Which is, of course, the idea. Keep Americans shielded from the actions of their armed forces by eliminating the humanity from murder, both in terms of rhetoric, and by refusing to air the results of the “surgical” bombardments.
Technology has made the human cost of war catastrophic. A man on a control console can press a button and kill thousands without seeing any of his victims. A pilot can fly his plane over civilian homes and drop his bombs without seeing the mangled bodies buried under the rubble beneath him. But this is no excuse for the world to ignore mass murder depending on the visibility of the victims.
The loss of an innocent human life should be a tragedy, regardless of the means of death. Da’esh members beheading western victims with knives in 2014 cannot he called worse than Assad’s men shooting and bombing over 20,000 children. To say nothing of the fact that killing hundreds of Syrians is infinitely worse than opposition forces executing an armed (adult) member of a regime responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. He was 19, accountable for his actions. He consciously chose to fight for a genocidal regime, and he paid the price. Let’s stop disingenuously dancing round the obvious genocide waged by Assad and his allies, be they Russian or American.
Secretary Kerry shared several of his thoughts on his administration’s (ostensible) plans for peace in Syria late last month. Speaking in Aspen, Kerry claimed it was crucial to “reach an understanding” with the Russian government. This “understanding” would include the USAF joining the Russian Air Force in bombing the al-Nusra Front. In exchange, President Putin would tell Assad to call off the assaults on rebel groups backed by the US (although he’s under no obligation to do so).
Talks in this regard have been going on for some time, several days ago Reuters quoted Russia’s foreign ministry as claiming that Kerry and Lavrov had actively been discussing the “possibility of Russian-American cooperation in the fight against terrorist groups in Syria”, without giving details.
This was hardly to be unexpected; US strikes have been hitting the al-Nusra Front (now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) for some time. These strikes have been incredibly unpopular among Syrians, especially due to US jets sharing the skies with barrel bomb-dropping helicopters in order to conduct them. Further strikes were to be expected.
But then Kerry let on a little more. He went out of his way to condemn Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, two Islamic groups calling for Islamic law in a post-Assad Syria (and strongly opposed to the Da’esh interpretation of Islamic law). Kerry accused them of carrying out “shocking crimes” against innocent civilians. What’s worse, he lumped Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam alongside Da’esh, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and al-Qa’eda. No mention of Assad, Iran or Hezbollah. In fact, Hezbollah and Iran were removed from the US terror threat list due to the nuclear talks. Is terrorism now defined by political expediency?
This could be brushed off as more US government tough talk or bravado, if it wasn’t for several very interesting lines of his address. After grouping al-Nusra (JFS), Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam alongside Boko Haram and Da’esh, Kerry claimed that his government’s priority was not just to defeat Da’esh and its affiliates, but also “its imitators”. These words are particularly concerning in the context of his previous remarks, as is what followed:
“There are a couple of subgroups underneath the two designated — Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra — Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham particularly…”
In other words, Kerry condemned two of Syria’s largest, most vociferously anti-Da’esh resistance groups as “subgroups” of JFS and Da’esh, the former of which is also strongly opposed to the actions and worldview of Da’esh. In terms of local politics and logistics, it’s simply dishonest. Ahrar al-Sham possesses its own leadership and has clashed with JFS in a number of disputes. Constant proposals for the two to merge as a single group have led to nothing in the past, and are now proceeding slowly. To say nothing of the fact that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is overwhelmingly composed of local Syrians (who dare to be practising Muslims) defending their families, not some kind of malevolent force. They have staged no attacks outside of Syria, nor do they intend to do so. Kerry talks as if they’re no different from the 9/11 attackers.
Furthermore, Jaysh al-Islam and JFS have engaged in infighting in East Ghouta, with hundreds killed on each side. Both have lost hundreds of fighters in their attempts to expel Da’esh from Syria. Kerry’s comments are blatantly untruthful. As Secretary of State, Kerry cannot claim ignorance. His office, and all its employees, are acquainted with the factions of the Syrian conflict in detail.
What makes these remarks all the more alarming is the fact that they came just as Obama proposed striking anti-regime groups such as JFS alongside the Russians. The Russian government claims to be focused on groups like JFS, yet 90% of their strikes are against anti-Da’esh rebel fighters. Even the CIA-backed New Syrian Army (Jaysh as-Souri al-Jdiid) was bombed, a group forbidden from fighting Assad by the Obama administration itself.
The US president just signed up to join Putin’s “crusade“, perfectly content with his actions. Which include dropping white phosphorous on civilians. The USAF already tested the waters in 2014, bombing Liwa al-Haqq in Atmeh, an anti-regime group linked to the FSA. The attack killed several civilians.
The administration’s plan since 2011 has been to foster reconciliation between the regime and the opposition, to preserve the “state institutions”. In short, to prove to the opposition that Assad isn’t going anywhere, and they must treat with him or face the consequences. As well as preventing any game-changing anti-air missiles from getting into opposition hands, Kerry privately threatened to cut off aid to the opposition coalition unless progress was made in forming a “government of national unity” which would retain Assad as president.
When the Jaysh al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) coalition began to make sweeping gains once again, the administration suddenly became concerned about the “threat to US national interests and allies” supposedly posed by JFS (which has never attacked the US in its entire existence) and publicly admitted coordination with Russia. JFS is one of the largest components of the coalition. Add that to the US drones and spies passing intelligence to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah (and Assad boasting that they share information with him) and this doesn’t look good.
The Obama administration’s next move becomes increasingly clear; strike any anti-regime group that refuses to come to an agreement with the regime in order to intimidate the others into capitulation. Hence the disingenuous attempts to link Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham to JFS and Da’esh. Unable to find a pretext for bombing them, Kerry is attempting to create a loophole. Interestingly enough, Ahrar al-Sham is labelled as a “terrorist group” in the US 2017 budget. In 2015, US citizen Amin al-Baroudi was formally charged for supplying the group with weapons.
According to the pro-government Russian News Agency (Tass), Kerry will be back in Moscow for talks between July 14-15. Efforts to “combat terrorists” and to promote “the intra-Syrian negotiating process” are at the top of the list. Many Syrians would pay dearly to listen in. Many will pay with their lives if the US officially turns on the anti-regime forces. If their bombing runs are anything like the Russians’, the civilian population will pay dearly too.
There is an increasing phenomenon in America; “moderate” Republicans coming out and claiming that Trump’s statements and actions go against the spirit of the party and what it stands for. From Mitt Romney criticising his “demagoguery and populism” to other high profile figures and party members, some are expressing alleged discomfort with Trump’s bigotry, saying it doesn’t represent them.
Spare us your tears.
For decades the Republican Party has done nothing but vilify visible foreigners (and non-Caucasian Americans alike) as some sort of inherent menace, with an especially strong focus on Muslims after 9/11. From demanding surveillance of every Arabic speaker to claiming that the small number of Muslim terrorists (Da’esh has 30,000 members out of 1.7 billion Muslims) means there’s an inherent “problem” with the religion.
The party has spent decades whipping-up ill-informed, fearful and prejudiced individuals into a frenzy over the supposed threat posed by anyone not white enough (or simply not racist enough) for their liking; politicians (including George Bush) have been re-elected on the premise of fighting “terrorism” by wiping out whole nations.
Then members of this very same political movement want to turn around and claim that their hysterical attempts to incite hatred (often hiding it just below the surface of respectability) have nothing to do with the rise of Trump?
These people spent decades turning the Republican Party into a mass fascist movement. Then a man comes along who openly says what many of them believe (but hid behind finely-worded statements) and they claim that he has no affiliation to them whatsoever? The reason Trump has had such resounding success is because his open racism, misogyny, xenophobia and intolerance have been party policy and rhetoric all along, as the large majority of their followers have understood for decades.
The reason he’s so popular is because he doesn’t hide his bigotry behind wooden rhetoric and meaningless jargon about “national security”, the supposed “threat to Americans” posed by the Muslim community, and more. He just comes out and spews all the hatred that they’re passionately burning with, and they love it. To them that’s “honesty”.
The American Republican Party has become a fascist organisation with a scope and scale that would have put Corneliu Codreanu’s Iron Guard and Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross Party to shame. The architects of this horrific degeneration are Republicans themselves. The responsibility lies with the party as a whole, from key party members who stir up hate to those who follow them enthusiastically. You cannot strengthen your party by riding off waves of bigotry that appeal to the lowest common denominator of racism, then pretend to be mortified when the movement radicalises and unleashes a monster beyond your control.
Their issue with Trump is less about his vile statements and more to do with the fact that he’s beyond their control; Trump has hijacked the party from under their noses with his successful populism (denying them the chance to take power) and has ruined what remained of the party’s reputation worldwide. To say nothing of defaming the previous leaders in the most vulgar of ways.
If “most Republicans” (as the “moderate Republican line goes) don’t share Trump’s beliefs, and “most Republicans” want nothing to do with his repulsive record, then why has he become the party’s undisputed leader in such a short space of time? Where are the mass protests calling for his ouster, where are the Republicans who should be splitting the party and forming a “moderate” wing?
Even Mitt Romney, the man who the “moderate” Republicans have been trying to turn to, criticised Trump for populism and acting like a demagogue, and said very little about his hateful statements, refusing to offer an alternative solution to the “phoney“. He sat on the fence instead, claiming to be for neither candidate “at this point”. Criticism from his former running mate Paul Ryan was equally muted, with Ryan also claiming that he couldn’t support Trump “at this point”. Silence is complicity.
Am I saying that Republicans who have a genuine aversion to Donald Trump and his ideals don’t exist? No, because this would be a blatant lie. But are they a meaningful force, and have they been doing enough to confront this menace? The simple answer is also no. Many share his beliefs on women, Muslims, immigrants and Mexico. But they’re simply just uncomfortable with the way Trump expresses them, nostalgic for the days in which you could defame whole communities by switching “Muslims” for “Islamists”.
Cruz (who is by all accounts Trump-lite) managed to get 564 nominations in total during the Republican presidential primaries. Trump has received 1068 and counting. The majority of the huge number of American Republicans and their supporters simply support Trump; millions of conservative Americans are behind him. Standing beside the white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and dictator supporters who also stand by him.
The complete radicalisation of the Republican party is the frightening reality that Americans will have to confront when standing against him.
During the Democratic presidential debate on April 14, the issue of Iraq rose to the fore, as it always does. When asked if Clinton had what it takes in terms of intelligence to be president, Sanders responded in the affirmative (to much applause).
Sanders then added that he does, however, “question her judgement. I question a judgement which voted for the war in Iraq…” This statement culminated in yet more thunderous applause from the audience, especially after the senator described it as “the worst foreign policy blunder” in America’s history.
After some more time spent discussing domestic issues, the argument once again returned to foreign policy and the Middle East. When Wolf Blitzer asked Clinton if she regretted the intervention in Libya (Obama had described failing to deal with the aftermath as his worst mistake in office) Clinton defended the decision, stating that Gaddafi was removed, chemical weapons destroyed, and Libya has prospects for political freedom.
Sanders’ response was shrewd; he described the decision to enact the no-fly zone against Gaddafi in 2011 as a “pretty tough call, like a 51-49 call, do you overthrow Gaddafi, who, of course, was a horrific dictator?” Sanders then claimed that in intervening in Libya, Clinton had displayed the “same type of mentality” that had culminated in the disastrous Iraq war.
In other words, Sanders was comparing the decision to intervene in Libya against Gaddafi (which cost some tens of civilian deaths) to the decision to invade Iraq – which cost nearly 800,000 civilian deaths. This is disingenuous in the extreme, and is a tactic that Sanders has frequently used to justify his glib anti-interventionist stance; that all interventions are inherently bad.
To cover for this statement, Sanders made sure to finish it by claiming that Gaddafi “was a horrific dictator” to cover for his opposition to an intervention which stopped Benghazi being turned into Aleppo. “Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein are brutal, brutal murdering thugs. No debate about that”, stated the senator, apparently believing that recognising the genocidal nature of tyrants makes you beyond criticism when you oppose doing anything to stop them.
His reservations, he claims, are due to the fact that “we didn’t think thoroughly about what happens the day after you get rid of these dictators.” In other words, intervention is an inherently negative thing because there is some chaos when the tyrant is removed from power; Sanders specifically cited the rise of Da’esh in Iraq and Libya to make his case.
The discussion then turned to Syria; Sanders claimed that he, like Obama, was firmly opposed to intervening against Bashar al-Assad and enacting a no-fly zone. He claims the no-fly zone would be a bad thing because it will “cost an enormous sum of money” and risks drawing the US into “endless” conflict in the Middle East.
It’s difficult to see how these stances are significantly different from the stances of hard line conservatives across the world. Many of them are either passively supportive of Bashar al-Assad, or support his regime in the mistaken belief that he protects Syria’s minorities. Or just because they hate Muslims and see Assad’s enemies as radicals that would destroy his “secular” Syria.
They also blanket the armed opposition in Syria and Iraq as being part of Da’esh, claiming him to be the better alternative. Virginia Senator Dick Black (who happens to be Ted Cruz’s former co-chairman in Virginia) is currently in Syria and meeting Assad. He claims that Assad is the best alternative to the “armies of terrorists rampaging across the country”, and Da’esh would take over if he was removed. Cruz himself claimed Obama’s (ostensible) goal of removing Assad risked “Putting ISIS or al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood in charge”. How are these lies any different to the scaremongering espoused by Sanders?
But probably the most appalling statement from Sanders is his claim that a no-fly zone would cost “an enormous sum of money”. This is another despicable right-wing talking point; that the lives of Middle Easterners are irrelevant when compared to domestic interests. Money that could be spent protecting children from having barrels full of shrapnel dropped on them as they sleep should be spent on helping “our own”. More often than not this is just an excuse for not giving a damn about the lives of the Muslim other; those espousing this position never get around to explaining how they should “help” their own people with the huge amounts of money that could supposedly be saved.
This is the fanatical politics of right-wing isolationism and cynicism. No matter how many human beings die, America should make no effort to help them whatsoever; saving their lives wouldn’t be in the interests of “national security”. In the eyes of Sanders, the lives of 500,000 or so Syrians that have been horrifically destroyed (and the lives of those continuing to die as we speak) are nothing; nothing but an inconvenience that would cost “a huge sum of money” if he could be bothered to save them. They’re simply not worth the dollars.
Sanders went on to say once again that “Assad is another brutal murdering dictator” (a sure-fire sign that he was about to justify something awful) but that the fight of the United States is “to destroy ISIS first, and to get rid of Assad second”. I couldn’t think of a more ignorant statement to make when discussing the Syrian conflict. It’s made all the wore by the fact that a serious presidential hopeful, who holds sway over the opinions of millions, is making such damaging statements.
The reason Da’esh exists as such a potent force in Syria is because of Assad. At the start of the 2011 uprising Assad sought to paint the movement as terrorist-led. Difficult, considering the fact that it was a disorganised movement of peaceful protesters. So prisoners linked to ISI (the Iraq-based Islamic State of Iraq) were released from Syrian jails in order to radicalise the uprising with a virulent strain of Zarqawism.
Within two years the group easily took advantage of the ongoing chaos in Syria by moving the group across Syria’s eastern borders and establishing a strong foothold in Deir Ezzor, changing the name of the group to “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”. The brutality and efficiency of the group saw it put down roots in Aleppo, Idlib and other provinces.
All of this was aided by Assad, who sought to turn the uprising into a radical nightmare. He engaged in an active oil trade with the group to boost its coffers. He refrained from bombing their forces and strong points so they could turn their guns on the popular Syrian opposition with impunity. When the opposition had finally had enough and expelled Da’esh from Idlib, Aleppo and much of Deir Ezzor, Assad made deals with them in an attempt to destroy the Free Syrian Army, aiding their counter attacks against rebel forces in Aleppo with airstrikes that targeted opposition positions.
But probably the most important factor here is the fact that Da’esh has no air force. Assad is responsible for 95% of civilian deaths in Syria; barrel bombs are dropped daily onto civilians, killing thousands. Jets indiscriminately fire rockets into civilian areas, and sectarian militiamen kill Sunni civilians at will. As long as Assad exists, there will be radicalism and extremism in Syria; the mass slaughter of Syria’s children is pushing many into the arms of extremists.
Yet Sanders wants to take out Da’esh (a symptom) and ignore Assad, the cause. Sanders is perfectly fine with Obama’s intervention against Da’esh however; somehow this form of intervention is perfectly acceptable. Currently US jets are doing nothing to stop Assad raining death from the skies, are providing air cover. Despite knowing this, Sanders made sure to emphasise that he opposes a “unilateral” no fly-zone over Syria. In other words, targeting Da’esh is ok. But stopping civilians from being blown up isn’t. At least he’s incredibly consistent.
The words of writer Sam Charles Hamad spring to mind here: “Sanders: one step forward on Palestine, two step backwards on Syria. Many of the Western Palestine Solidarity types who have tacitly and explicitly supported Assad want to dive the oppressed and dived one set of brutalised Arabs from another set of brutalised Arabs. This is the mentality of imperialism and the height of racism.”
Sanders’ actions bring a term to mind that has been increasingly used to describe the rhetoric used by hypocrites professing to be moralisers or ideologues – Red-Brownism. In other words, no matter what their ideological affinity is (be it to the left or to the right) these people are united by two common factors: thinly-veiled fascism under the guise of idealism, and nauseating hypocrisy.
Both are fine with genocidal dictators slaughtering civilians (especially Muslim/Arab ones), both use Da’esh as a bogeyman to justify blanketing all those resisting said dictators as either untrustworthy Islamic fanatics or suspicious militants that should either be left to be be defeated or actively fought against, both claim to support “humanity” and yet selectively support certain groups of oppressed people depending on their world view, you name it. Bernie may have said some lovely things about Palestine, may have criticised Israel, whatever you like… But his hypocrisy is clear.
His cynical support of certain kinds of oppressed people and conveniently chic causes (and neglect of others) makes his nice little statements ring rather hollow. Especially when his historical positions are taken into account; his voting record is just as pro-Israel as Hilary Clinton’s, and he once supported Israel’s bombing of Gaza on the basis that rockets fired from the Gaza strip (which have killed a grand total of 33 people in a decade-and-a-half) are some sort of mortal danger. Over 1200 Palestinians were killed in that single offensive, Sanders claimed Israel merely “over-reacted”.
Indeed, the most nauseating group of Red-Brownists are many (but not all) of the “pro-Palestine” types, the ones who claim to stand with the Palestinian people by opposing Israel. Not because they give a damn about Palestinians, but because they want to fetishise their hatred of Jews and peddle conspiracy theories, from Hitler being a Zionist (Jeremy Corbyn’s faux-leftist crowd are most vocal on this point) to some sort of unholy alliance between Israel and the omnipresent “Wahhabis” as being the root of all evil, in order to divert the discourse from (rightfully) laying the blame at the feet of their beloved Arab dictators (whom they claim are “anti-imperialist” on the basis that they blame America for the consequences of their repressive policies).
Claiming to support freedom for Palestine is chic; they’ll change cover photos, share and post statuses about Israeli violations all day. But when it comes to Assad carrying out similar acts of repression, silence falls. Or active support begins. The Islamophobia and racism (indistinguishable from right-wing bigotry) then emerges; Syrians don’t deserve freedom because Muslims need a “strong” tyrant, we should “avoid intervening” (yet they back the anti-Da’esh air campaign), Assad’s enemies “hide in civilian areas”… Funnily enough ,the IDF make the same arguments as they flatten packed Gazan neighbourhoods.
Right-wing 2012 Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul criticised Israel, yet claimed that Syrians gassed themselves and their families in the 2013 Ghouta “false flag” attack, in some kind of odd conspiracy in order to induce foreign intervention. One of Sanders’ closest advisers recently claimed an “Israeli false flag op” was responsible. Is there really any tangible difference between this verbal garbage? Listening to these supposedly intelligent people rant is like listening to a lunatic shouting the craziest bits of the internet on television. It’s made all the worse by the fact that some take said lunacy very seriously.
Sanders is no candidate for peace and justice; not only because of his selective opposition to certain conflicts and interventions (depending on what’s popular with his youthful supporters) but because of his active endorsements of others. From describing blowing up children in drone strikes as “not a terribly humane thing to do” in the same tone as one might talk of a euthenised dog, to endorsing the abandonment of Syrian civilians to slaughter in the anti-Da’esh air campaign, and the provision of air cover to Shi’a militias that ethnically cleanse whole Iraqi Sunni communities. Sanders’ foreign policy reasoning is no different from the reasoning of hard line conservatism. There’s a reason Trump supported Sanders’ reasoning on Syria.
Hilary Clinton may not be a paragon of virtue in any way, but at least she has the good sense to realise that you’re going to get nowhere if you don’t deal with Assad. Focusing on nonchalantly bombing Da’esh is like targeting Ion Antonescu’s regime while refusing to fight Hitler. Sanders’ emphasis on forcing Assad to step down as part of a “political solution” (and thus preserving the regime itself) is no different from the catastrophic approach of Obama. Sanders is radically isolationist to the extent that he even opposed training 5000 fighters that would target Da’esh alone.
He talks often of eventually getting rid of Assad, then does everything in his power to ensure that he stays. Including opposing intervention in Syria in 2013, after the regime gassed some 1729 civilians in the Ghouta chemical massacre. Sanders claimed that protecting “American working families” was more important than protecting children from chemical weapons.
Sanders’ supporters have a duty to look long and hard at what this man really stands for. His historic support of civil rights is indeed praiseworthy. But his foreign policy decisions are more of the same. There is nothing revolutionary or hopeful to be found. Just more selective posturing about human rights while the opposite is practised, more picking-and-choosing of imperialism and mass murder to be for or against, and more disregard for non-American civilian life under the guise of non-interventionism.
On April 27 I was featured in a UPI article by Zuhour Mahmoud, discussing the efforts of myself and several journalists and organisations to track down suspected war criminals fleeing to Europe under the guise of refugees (via human leads and social media research).
Many are active intelligence agents and spies under the direction of the Syrian government’s intelligence service, others just see Europe as a retirement home after committing war crimes. Either way, it’s a phenomenon that we really shouldn’t be ignoring. Thanks go to Zuhour from Syria Direct for getting in touch with me and enabling me to share my work.