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Syrian Regime Says it Has Taken Full Control of Aleppo

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The Syrian regime says it has taken full control of Aleppo, marking a major turning point in the nation’s five-year civil war. Syrian government forces and their allies are now in control of eastern Aleppo, ending more than four years of rebel rule in the area. The government made significant territorial gains in eastern Aleppo after forces backed by airstrikes entered rebel-held areas in late November. An estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 4.81 million have fled the country since the war began in 2011, according to the United Nations….(developing)

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Russian Ambassador Gunned Down in Turkey; Shooter Ali Hashem Shouts ‘Allahu Akhbar’

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David French writes: The world just got more dangerous. A gunman shot and killed the Russian ambassador to Turkey and then stood over his body, shouted “Allahu Akhbar” and began ranting about Syria and Aleppo. I won’t embed video of the shooting, but you can see the entire thing here. Warning, the footage is extremely disturbing.

[Read the full story here, at National Review]

Early reports are often wrong, but it appears the shooter was a Turkish police officer:

We can’t forget that this incident comes just a little more than a year after Turkish forces shot down a Russian jet, and it comes after Erodgan has comprehensively purged Turkish security forces to allegedly leave only his loyalists on staff. Read the rest of this entry »


Obama’s Intel Scandal

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This is a scandal. And those involved believe that it reaches into the White House.

Stephen F. Hayesstephen-hayes writes: Barack Obama says he wants the truth. On November 21, the New York Times reported allegations that military intelligence officials provided the president with skewed assessments that minimized the threat from ISIS and overstated the success of U.S. efforts against the group. The Times story was an update of reporting from the Daily Beast earlier this fall. “More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials,” the Beast reported in September. These analysts say their superiors regularly massaged pessimistic assessments to make them more upbeat before sending them up the chain of command. The analysts registered their grievances with the inspector general at the Pentagon, who is investigating their claims.

[Read the full story here, at The Weekly Standard]

Obama was asked about this investigation at a press conference on November 22. The president said he doesn’t know the details of the allegations. But he added: “What I do know is my expectation, which is the highest fidelity to facts, data​—​the truth.”

Michael-Pregent

“We were certainly blocked from seeing all the documents, and we were given limited time and resources to exploit the ones we had.”

— Michael Pregent, a DIA analyst on the CENTCOM team

The allegations are serious. We’re told by sources with knowledge of the investigation that the analysts who made them knew well in advance they’d be filing an official complaint. So they were ready when they did, providing the IG with extensive documentation​—​going back more than a year​—​to support their claims.

n this May 19, 2007, file photo, a portion of the new U.S. embassy under construction is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad. In 2014, by contrast, CIA officers have been largely hunkered down in their heavily fortified Baghdad compound since U.S. troops left the country in 2011, current and former officials say, allowing a once-rich network of intelligence sources to wither. (AP Photo)

In this May 19, 2007, file photo, a portion of the new U.S. embassy under construction is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad. In 2014, by contrast, CIA officers have been largely hunkered down in their heavily fortified Baghdad compound since U.S. troops left the country in 2011, current and former officials say, allowing a once-rich network of intelligence sources to wither. (AP Photo)

Why were they so well prepared?

Among other reasons: They’d seen such pressures before, up close. And they understood that by formalizing their complaints they would be challenging not their immediate superiors alone but in some important respects an entire system that had encouraged analysts and other national security officials to downplay the jihadist threat.

“The obvious question: Why would the president’s National Security Council intervene to block access to the bin Laden documents for analysts from the DIA and CENTCOM​—​analysts who are providing intelligence to those on the frontlines of America’s battle with jihadists?”

The current storm over ISIS intelligence is not a new controversy, though most of the media are treating it as such. It’s better understood as an installment in a long-running scandal that extends beyond CENTCOM in Tampa, into the upper reaches of the U.S. intelligence community and perhaps into the White House.

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James Clapper, director of national intelligence

“After a bitter interagency dispute, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, allowed analysts from CENTCOM and the Defense Intelligence Agency to have time-limited, read-only access to the documents. What they found was fascinating and alarming.”

Readers of this magazine are familiar with the story of the documents obtained in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Sensitive Site Exploitation team on the raid collected more than a million documents​—​papers, computer hard drives, audio and video recordings. Top Obama administration officials at first touted the cache as the greatest collection of terrorist materials ever captured in a single raid and boasted that the contents would fill a “small college library.”

[Read the full text here, at The Weekly Standard]

An interagency intelligence team, led by the CIA, conducted the initial triage​—​including keyword searches of the collection for actionable intelligence. And then, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials with firsthand knowledge of the controversy, the documents sat largely untouched for as long as a year. The CIA retained “executive authority” over the documents, and when analysts from other agencies requested access to them, the CIA denied it​—​repeatedly.

The house where Osama bin Laden was finally hunted down. SAEED SHAH — MCT Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/12/20/212378/zero-dark-thirty-leak-investigators.html#storylink=cpy

The house where Osama bin Laden was finally hunted down. SAEED SHAH — MCT

“What they found was fascinating and alarming. Much of what these analysts were seeing​—​directly from Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders​—​contradicted what the president and top administration officials were saying publicly.”

After a bitter interagency dispute, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, allowed analysts from CENTCOM and the Defense Intelligence Agency to have time-limited, read-only access to the documents. What they found was fascinating and alarming. Much of what these analysts were seeing​—​directly from Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders​—​contradicted what the president and top administration officials were saying publicly. While drone strikes had killed some senior al Qaeda leaders, the organization had anticipated the U.S. decapitation strategy and was flourishing in spite of it; bin Laden remained intimately involved in al Qaeda decision-making and operational planning; the relationship between al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban remained strong despite the Obama administration’s attempts to weaken it by negotiating with Taliban leaders; al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran, while uneven and fraught with mutual distrust, was far deeper and more significant than U.S. intelligence assessments had suggested.
Read the rest of this entry »


ISIS Beheads Four Peshmerga in Revenge for U.S. Raid

Bridget Johnson reports: ISIS beheaded four Peshmerga in a grisly video released today with a retribution message to President Obama — delivered by an American-sounding executioner — for last week’s raid to rescue 69 prisoners near Hawija, Iraq.

“…There is still no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to achieve the President’s stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.”

— Senator John McCain

Three of the Kurds are forced to watch the fourth prisoner being beheaded before they are subjected to the same fate.

“Obama, you have learned a new lesson. Six of the soldiers of the caliphate faced 400 of your children. They killed and injured them, by Allah’s grace. You were probably surprised by this. O Crusader, it is the support of Allah you did not gain anything, you returned to your base with loss and humiliation.”

The video, viewed by PJM, includes night-vision images of a helicopter attack, though it’s unclear if it’s footage from that night. It also shows clips of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, dead bodies and a field of rubble while ripping off coalition footage of the strikes. U.S. forces said they leveled the compound after the prisoners, who were set to be killed later that day, were rescued.

“Obama, you wage war against Allah. He supports us against you; it is the promise of Allah. Allah will never fail in his promise.”

— Jihadist

A narrator speaking in Arabic walks through the decimated compound as he recounts ISIS’ version of events and includes alleged witnesses.

[Read the full text here, at PJ Tatler]

One jihadist wearing gloves and a surgical mask picks through a pile of first-aid packaging, bloody bandaging and needles they said were left by U.S. and Kurdish forces.

Then the 15-minute video cuts to the prisoners in orange jumpsuits kneeled before the rubble, and the black-clad killers wielding knives. Read the rest of this entry »


Russia Steps Up Bombing Campaign in Syria 

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Russian President Vladimir Putin defends decision to send warplanes as aimed at political solution.

MOSCOW— Thomas Grove reports: Russia stepped up its bombing campaign in Syria over the weekend, more than doubling the rate of strikes seen at the beginning of the operation.

“The Kremlin’s air campaign in Syria has exacerbated tensions between Moscow and Washington, which has led a separate campaign of strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense said Monday its jet fighters had carried out 55 sorties over the past 24 hours, hitting targets in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Latakia, Idlib and Raqqa. The daily number had been around two dozen last week.

“U.S. and Western officials say Russia’s airstrikes have largely targeted Syrian opposition groups other than Islamic State in a bid to shore up Mr. Assad’s government.”

Russian warplanes are backing an offensive launched last week by troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Russian military said Su-34, Su-24 and Su-25 fighters hit Islamic State field headquarters, training camps and weapons arsenals in the latest bombing runs.

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“Our task is to stabilize the legal government and create the right conditions for reaching a political compromise. We have no desire to recreate an empire and resurrect the Soviet Union.”

— Vladimir Putin

The Kremlin’s air campaign in Syria has exacerbated tensions between Moscow and Washington, which has led a separate campaign of strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq. U.S. and Western officials say Russia’s airstrikes have largely targeted Syrian opposition groups other than Islamic State in a bid to shore up Mr. Assad’s government.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

The Russian government depicts Islamic State as a direct threat to its citizens. On Monday, Russia’s Federal Security Service told the state news agency Interfax that law-enforcement officials had foiled a plot to carry out an attack on public transportation in Moscow—and that some of the individuals arrested in the case had trained at Islamic State camps in Syria.

In an interview aired Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his decision to send warplanes to Syria, saying the air war was aimed at spurring a political solution to the conflict in Syria. Read the rest of this entry »


Michael Gerson: How the Nuclear Deal will Fund Iran’s Imperialism

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In the administration’s attempt to secure support from a third of the Congress, the truth is likely to get its hair mussed. But it is rare for an argument to be this comprehensively wrong.

Michael Gerson writes: The realist’s argument for the Iran nuclear agreement is that it is the least bad deal that a conflict-weary United States could secure. Now, with the nuclear issue parked (at least for a decade), we can get down to the business of strengthening friends in the Middle East and pushing back against Iran’s regional ambitions.

“Over the past few decades — without a nuclear umbrella and without a world-class military — Iran has pursued a highly effective, asymmetrical campaign to spread its influence and destabilize its enemies. Early on, the Iranians noted that many Middle Eastern militaries are relatively weak.”

A variant of this position claims that the nuclear deal would actually weaken Iran’s strategic position. In this view, the regime, faced with sanction-caused economic ruin, was forced to give up the nuclear umbrella that would have acted as cover for its export of subversion. An Iran thus defanged is a fundamentally weak country, with little conventional military capacity. The $60 billion windfall Iran would net from the lifting of sanctions is paltry (the argument goes) compared with the strategic blow of giving up its nuclear ambitions. A “yes” vote on the agreement is therefore a contribution to containment.

“Iranian operatives — often through the Quds Force, created for this purpose — have set out to exploit local grievances, encourage sectarian solidarity and export their version of anti-American, anti-Semitic, revolutionary Islamism.”

In the administration’s attempt to secure support from a third of the Congress, the truth is likely to get its hair mussed. But it is rare for an argument to be this comprehensively wrong.

[Read the full text here, at The Washington Post]

Over the past few decades — without a nuclear umbrella and without a world-class military — Iran has pursued a highly effective, asymmetrical campaign to spread its influence and destabilize its enemies. Early on, the Iranians noted that many Middle Eastern militaries are relatively weak. In some conflicts, the addition of several thousand well-trained, well-led militia members could have a disproportionate, even decisive, influence. So Iranian operatives — often through the Quds Force, created for this purpose — have set out to exploit local grievances, encourage sectarian solidarity and export their version of anti-American, anti-Semitic, revolutionary Islamism. Read the rest of this entry »


The White House Portrait of a Crumbling Terror Group is Contradicted by Documents Seized in the Bin Laden Raid

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How America Was Misled on al Qaeda’s Demise

Stephen Hayes and Tomas Joscelyn write: In the early-morning hours of May 2, 2011, a small team of American military and intelligence professionals landed inside the high white walls of a mysterious compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The team’s mission, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, had two primary objectives: capture or kill Osama bin Laden and gather as much intelligence as possible about the al Qaeda leader and his network. A bullet to bin Laden’s head accomplished the first; the quick work of the Sensitive Site Exploitation team accomplished the second.

“The leadership down at Central Command wanted to know what were we learning from these documents. We were still facing a growing al Qaeda threat. And it was not just Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iraq. But we saw it growing in Yemen. We clearly saw it growing still in East Africa…The threat wasn’t going away, and we wanted to know: What can we learn from these documents?”

— Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency

It was quite a haul: 10 hard drives, nearly 100 thumb drives and a dozen cellphones. There were DVDs, audio and video tapes, data cards, reams of handwritten materials, newspapers and magazines. At a Pentagon briefing days after the raid, a senior military intelligence official described it as “the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever.”

[Also see – Stephen F. Hayes: Why Haven’t We Seen the Documents Retrieved in the Bin Laden Raid?]

The United States had gotten its hands on al Qaeda’s playbook—its recent history, its current operations, its future plans. An interagency team led by the Central Intelligence Agency got the first look at the cache. They performed a hasty scrub—a “triage”—on a small sliver of the document collection, looking for actionable intelligence. According to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the team produced more than 400 separate reports based on information in the documents.

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But it is what happened next that is truly stunning: nothing. The analysis of the materials—the “document exploitation,” in the parlance of intelligence professionals—came to an abrupt stop. According to five senior U.S. intelligence officials, the documents sat largely untouched for months—perhaps as long as a year.

[More – NYT: Despite our assurances, it turns out Benghazi was an al-Qaeda-linked attack – hotair.com]

In spring 2012, a year after the raid that killed bin Laden and six months before the 2012 presidential election, the Obama administration launched a concerted campaign to persuade the American people that the long war with al Qaeda was ending.

“At precisely the time Mr. Obama was campaigning on the imminent death of al Qaeda, those with access to the bin Laden documents were seeing, in bin Laden’s own words, that the opposite was true. Says Lt. Gen. Flynn: ‘By that time, they probably had grown by about—I’d say close to doubling by that time. And we knew that.’”

In a speech commemorating the anniversary of the raid, John Brennan , Mr. Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser and later his CIA director, predicted the imminent demise of al Qaeda. The next day, on May 1, 2012, Mr. Obama made a bold claim: “The goal that I set—to defeat al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild—is now within our reach.”

BL-house-WSJ

The White House provided 17 handpicked documents to the Combatting Terror Center at the West Point military academy, where a team of analysts reached the conclusion the Obama administration wanted. Bin Laden, they found, had been isolated and relatively powerless, a sad and lonely man sitting atop a crumbling terror network.

“This wasn’t what the Obama White House wanted to hear. So the administration cut off DIA access to the documents and instructed DIA officials to stop producing analyses based on them.”

It was a reassuring portrayal. It was also wrong. And those responsible for winning the war—as opposed to an election—couldn’t afford to engage in such dangerous self-delusion. Read the rest of this entry »


President Obama ‘Deploying All Rhetorical Assets’ To Rescue U.S. Woman Held By ISIS

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“Make no mistake. Anything that we could appear to be doing, we are appearing to be doing.”

President Barack Obama said the U.S. is “doing anything we verbally and symbolically can” to rescue an American woman being held hostage by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorist group.

“I know folks want me to get angry. But it’s just not the best interests of this administration to mount a meaningful offense against ISIS. We reserve our real anger for Israel, England, and other U.S. allies.”

Speaking with NBC’s “Today Show” this week, Obama said the U.S. is deploying all rhetorical efforts in order to appear to be interested in rescuing the woman held in captivity. In a series of prepared statements, Obama vowed to continue evading the subject of Islamic extremism, avoiding criticism, and improvising credible excuses for the U.S. military’s half-hearted, ineffective strikes. Instead, the administrations efforts are invested in creating an appearance of aiding Kurdish forces, while risking as little political capital as possible.

“Our moral outrage and sincere hatred must be aimed at serving a higher purpose, our crusade against Republican leadership, and members of the average American taxpaying public…that’s where America’s future is decided.”

“We’re deploying all imaginary assets that we can, placating all the coalition allies with empty gestures so that we can to return to our priority message about important domestic issues,” Obama said. “We’re in very close contact with her family, trying to maintain an image of compassion and sincerity. Obviously, this is something that is heartbreaking for families, so it’s important that we appear to be working hard on their behalf. Our obligation is to make sure that we maintain an outward appearance that we are engaged, and decisive, so that if things go well, I can take credit. And if things don’t go well, I vow to do everything in my power to lay the blame elsewhere.”

US President Barack Obama attends a military briefing with US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham (L) at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul, in Afghanistan, May 25, 2014. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

“Our obligation is to make sure that we maintain an outward appearance that we are engaged, and decisive, so that if things go well, I can take credit. And if things don’t go well, I vow to do everything in my power to lay the blame elsewhere.”

“Make no mistake. Anything that we could appear to be doing, we are appearing to be doing,” Obama said of the fighting in Syria and Afghanistan. “Folks are frustrated, often times because they want action, courage, integrity, accountability, and leadership to resolve these issues. And as most Americans know, that’s just something I’m not prepared to do.”

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ISIS also released video Tuesday purportedly showing Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh being burned alive. The murder followed a botched prisoner exchange with ISIS for a failed female suicide bomber being held on death row in Jordan. She has since been executed in response to al-Kaseasbeh’s death. Read the rest of this entry »


Turkey, U.S. Warn Syrian City Will Soon Fall

Both Countries Urge the Other to Halt ISIS Advance on Kobani

Turkey and the U.S. warned that a major Syrian border city was in imminent danger of falling to Islamic State, with the two countries putting the onus on the other to halt the extremist group’s advance.

“You can’t end this terrorism just by airstrikes. If you don’t support them on the ground by cooperating with those who take up a ground operation, the airstrikes won’t do it.”

— Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressed the U.S.-led coalition on Tuesday to move ahead with plans to arm and train Syrian and Iraqi ground forces to battle Islamic State, saying airstrikes alone weren’t enough.

An American military official said the U.S. believes the situation in the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobani is increasingly dire, and that the city is likely to fall shortly if Turkey doesn’t intervene.BN-EW719_1007is_OR_20141007093816

The complications for Turkey stemming from the advance on Kobani were mounting rapidly. Beyond U.S. pressure to step in, protests by the country’s restive Kurds were spreading quickly. At least a dozen people were killed in clashes with security forces in several Kurdish-majority cities, local media reported. The demonstrations reached Istanbul.

Airstrikes Tuesday by the coalition fighting Islamic State hit positions near Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab. But Kurdish officials and Syrian opposition members said the militants were still advancing against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Mr. Erdogan declared Kobani was “about to fall” while he was visiting a refugee camp in the border province of Gaziantep.

“You can’t end this terrorism just by airstrikes,” he said. “If you don’t support them on the ground by cooperating with those who take up a ground operation, the airstrikes won’t do it.”

The U.S. and its partners have conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State in recent weeks. But they have so far ruled out the deployment of their own ground forces, opting instead to train and support local forces.

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U.S. defense officials reiterated Tuesday that they are not going to directly coordinate operations with any force on the ground in Syria until at least some of the vetted moderate rebels have been through upcoming military training and are ready to enter the fight. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] What Was More Exciting than the POTUS Speech? Jay Carney v. John McCain

NRO’s Andrew Johnson found the McCainCarney duel more compelling than the POTUS speech. Again from The Corner:

Former Obama press secretary Jay Carney’s start as a CNN pundit got a little rougher than expectedmcCain-HT this evening — he tried to tangle with John McCain about Middle East policy.

“Facts are stubborn things.”

Senator John McCain

Jay-Carney-HTAfter Carney had offered a favorable take on his former boss’s speech, Senator McCain took issue with Carney’s claim that the moderate Syrian opposition, which the president tonight proposed to arm, is stronger and more easily identifiable than it had been over the past couple years, during which time McCain had called for arming moderate rebel groups but President Obama had refused.

No serious expert on the matter thinks the moderate rebels are stronger now than they were earlier in the war, McCain pointed out. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Table-Wrecking Ass-Whooping Good Time: Journalists in Jordan Fight on Live TV

Two journalists in Jordan having a televised debate about the civil war in neighboring Syria literally turned — and overturned — the table on each other during an on-air brawl.

The program aired on Tuesday on the “Seven Stars” satellite television channel.

It featured journalists Shaker al-Johari and Mohammad al-Jayousi talking about the 3-year-old war pitting rebels against President Bashar Assad‘s government, a conflict that activists say has killed more than 150,000 people. Read the rest of this entry »


Egyptian TV: Simpsons Episode Proof Arab Spring Was Foreign Plot

A copy of a recent report from the Egyptian channel Al Tahrir, subtitled by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a neoconservative group in Washington that monitors the news media in Muslim countries and draws attention to offensive or ridiculous remarks.

For The New York TimesRobert Mackey reports: During a recent broadcast on the Egyptian television channel Al Tahrir, the anchor Rania Badawy alerted viewers to what she called video evidence which “suggests that what is happening in Syria today was premeditated.” She then presented an 80-second clip from an episode of “The Simpsons” first broadcast in early 2001 and later dubbed into French and posted on YouTube.

After screening the animated clip — a parody of a music video that includes images of bombs being dropped on fighters in Middle Eastern dress — the anchor pointed out that the cartoon soldiers drawn in 2001 were pictured in a jeep decorated with a version of the Syrian flag that opposition protesters and rebels started waving in 2011. “The flag was created before the events took place,” Ms. Badawy asserted. “That’s why people are saying on Facebook that this is a conspiracy — in 2001, there was no such thing as the flag of the Syrian opposition.”

While the anchor called the inclusion of the flag in an episode of the cartoon a mystery — “How it reached this animated video nobody knows, and this has aroused a debate on the social networks” — she insisted that the image “raises many question marks about what happened in the Arab Spring revolutions and about when this global conspiracy began.” Read the rest of this entry »


Report: Starving Syrian Rebels Eat Lion from Damascus Zoo

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A shocking picture has emerged which seemingly shows the extent food shortages and desperation have gripped the Syrian rebels and their communities – so much so that a zoo’s lion was butchered for its meat.

The men – possibly rebel fighters – are seen carving pieces from the big cat believed to have been taken from Al-Qarya al-Shama Zoo.

Read the rest of this entry »