As the consequences of any attempts to strike Syrian Army positions – whether by airstrikes or via Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from US warships in the Mediterranean – have dawned on the US and its allies, and the cacophony of war crime allegations against Russia has only gotten louder, the US may have given up Aleppo as a lost cause. Or at least, that is how it appeared at a press conference held by John Kerry and Boris Johnson last Sunday at Lancaster House in London.
Kerry, even stonier faced than usual, almost appeared to be forcing himself to appear as sombre as he possibly could, saying:
I haven’t seen a big appetite in Europe of people to go to war. I don’t see the parliaments of European countries ready to declare war. I don’t see a lot of countries deciding that that’s the better solution here. So we are pursuing diplomacy because those are the tools that we have, and we’re trying to find a way forward under those circumstances.
The normally irascible Johnson sounded just as despondent, commenting:
No option is, in principle, off the table. But be no doubt that these so-called military options are extremely difficult and there is, to put it mildly, a lack of political appetite in most European capitals and certainly in the West for that kind of solution at present. So we’ve got to work with the tools we have. The tools we have are diplomatic.
Johnson is referring to his embrace of a “no-fly” zone and the mooted plan for airstrikes on Syrian Army positions, two of the more “kinetic” options on the table. The bumbling diplomatic novice, who has been like a bull in a china shop with his inflammatory comments on Russia, must surely know by now that these options are off the table. Implementation of a no-fly zone would require war with Russia, and any strikes on Syrian personnel, which also threaten Russian personnel, would be met with the use of S-300 and S-400 air defence systems. Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson General Igor Konashenkov made it clear for anyone, even a military ignoramus like Johnson, warning:
Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality.
The Obama administration has no stomach (wisely) for a head-on military confrontation with Russia in Syria, despite the urgings of necocons in military/intelligence circles and the entry on to the scene of the UK neocon Johnson. Following Russia sending a clear message it would shoot down any US aircraft bombing Syrian positions, this plan was shelved.
Johnson and Kerry may tacitly acknowledge the reality of imminent military defeat for their proxies in Aleppo, but they, like so many other Western politicians, are not willing to tone down the accusatory rhetoric. Perhaps they hope it will mount enough cumulative pressure on Russia to force it to call off its allies from the final liberation of Aleppo, but if so, they are dreaming. At the press conference, Johnson made accusations he would never make against a western ally, such as the Saudis so eagerly armed by the UK and who are committing egregious acts war crimes in Yemen. With a decidedly one-sided view and knowing no such thing will happen, Johnson called for:
… measures to bring the culprits for the slaughter to justice before the International Criminal Court or some other tribunal. Now, I’m not going to pretend that in those proposals, there is some magic solution for this appalling slaughter, because the real answer, I’m afraid, lies with those who are perpetrating it, and that is overwhelmingly the Assad regime and its puppeteers in the form of the Russians and, indeed, the Iranians.
Kerry, not to be outdone, made the following bombastic statement:
Suffice it to say that all of us are more than concerned and deeply, deeply disturbed by and outraged by what is happening in Aleppo, which is in the year 2016, in the beginning of the 21st century, a horrendous step back in time to a kind of barbarianism, a use of force that is of insult to all of the values that the United Nations and most countries believe should guide our actions. It’s a humanitarian disaster. This is the largest humanitarian disaster since World War II. And it could stop tomorrow morning, tonight, if Russia and the Assad regime would behave according to any norm or any standard of decency. But they’ve chosen not to. Instead, we see what can only be described as crimes against humanity taking place on a daily basis.
The largest humanitarian disaster since WWII? Kerry seems to be forgetting Vietnam, the Congo, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and countless other humanitarian disasters that vastly outweigh the situation in eastern Aleppo. These are not the statements of statesmen who have accepted defeat in Aleppo; they are banging the drum of war and putting what may be irreconcilable distance between themselves and a political settlement to the Syrian war. They follow on from hypocritical threats by EU states to impose sanctions on Russian and Syrian officials over the situation in Aleppo, where they only seem to acknowledge suffering happens in the rebel-held eastern part of the city.
Move forward to the delicate negotiations of the Normandy quartet, where the issue of Syria was discussed between Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, and we see that the unstatesmanlike threats and attempts at bullying Russia into submission continue unabated. While Moscow halted airstrikes from Tuesday and announced its readiness to extend the humanitarian ceasefire for as long as needed, Hollande and Merkel accused Russia and Syria of war crimes and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of imposing new sanctions against Russia during the upcoming EU summit.
Merkel even made the tired old claim that it is impossible to separate terrorists from “moderates” without a complete ceasefire, ignoring the failed ceasefire in September, which was not even agreed to by many so-called moderate groups, was infamously violated by the US airstrikes which killed at least 62 Syrian soldiers, and was violated by rebel groups over 300 times, rendering it ineffective, obsolete and a threat to continued Syrian-led forces advances in liberating Aleppo. The question that Merkel and those like her never address is a simple one: If separation of moderates from Nusra requires a ceasefire, and the moderates and Nusra refuse to accept a ceasefire, how is such a separation supposed to occur?
Apart from the fact that the terrorists use the ceasefires to resupply and regroup, if we are to believe Merkel, the US-led coalition has lost control of their proxy fighters. She may be right, as Nour al-Din al-Zenki and Jund al-Aqsa have both joined Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS)-led coalitions in the past few weeks, the latter in a bid to end infighting with Ahrar al-Sham – a so-called “moderate” group which itself is allied with JFS and which specifically made reference to not abandoning its JFS allies when it rejected the ceasefire.
Hillary Clinton entered the fray again during the final presidential debate with Donald Trump, promising a no-fly zone, regardless of the sobering warning from General Joseph Dunford that it is unenforceable without war with Russia and the fact that Wikileaks reveals Clinton acknowledged that such an act would “kill a lot of Syrians.” Just as she did during the second presidential debate, Clinton talked of using “leverage” on the Syrian and Russian governments:
I am going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe areas within Syria not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to frankly gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians that perhaps we can have the kind of the serious negotiations necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on political track.
Perhaps Clinton really does have faith that her ascendant neocon cabal in waiting, which will assume her top foreign policy posts, can swing this haywired idea without provoking a global conflagration.
More likely though, this talk of strong action is designed for domestic consumption, showing Clinton is tough in “standing up to Russia,” just as the wild accusations of the Trump-Putin bromance and the speculative claims of Russian hacking of the DNC are designed to swing the election in her favour.
Russia and Syria Seek an Aleppo Solution
In contrast to the approach of Western leaders, Russia and Syria left the hyperbole on the sidelines and got down to the business of making yet another attempt to solve the crisis in Aleppo.
Airstrikes by Syrian and Russian air forces were halted last Tuesday, two days ahead of the humanitarian ceasefire designed to evacuate the sick and injured, allow safe passage for civilians out of east Aleppo through six humanitarian corridors, and, quite remarkably for a war zone, two corridors for armed rebels to be escorted safely to Idlib, where they could resume their jihadist campaign. True to their word, the temporary ceasefire was extended for three days.
Faced with an unreliable “partner” in the US and the latest slap in the face in the form of a defeated resolution at the United Nations Security Council, Russia, backed by its allies, decided to take unilateral action to more effectively solve the humanitarian crisis and defeat the jihadists in East Aleppo. Whether it succeeded or failed, Russia pulled off another diplomatic masterstroke by taking the task of separating “moderates” from terrorists into its own hands. As Joaquin Flores wrote in Fort Russ:
Implicit here is that Russia is playing a little public relations game – those willing to leave are ‘moderate’, as in moderately not suicidal, and those who stay are ‘hardline jihadis’, by definition, since their end is certain once bombing resumes. Of course Russia long ago called the bluff, reiterated recently and admitted by the US in the now leaked details of the September ceasefire agreement, that there are no ‘moderate opposition’ – the US was never able to ‘separate these’ in reality. It’s a great strategy to eliminate those not willing to retreat – it’s better to have to later face those willing to retreat than those not willing to retreat. So Russia is doing a little ‘separating’ of its own.
Furthermore, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent a clear message that the US had its last chance to separate its rebels from JFS, or Russia would take the task on itself and destroy any groups who remain in east Aleppo:
The suspension of the Russian air force and Syrian government’s air operations has already entered into force. This is a gesture of good will in the hope that this pause, which has been declared, will be used to finally separate Jebat Al-Nusra from the likes of those armed formations that are being supported, equipped, and armed by the US and a number of European countries and countries in the region.
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Reacts with Intensified Atrocities
The armed groups in Aleppo responded to the halt in airstrikes and the approaching humanitarian ceasefire by launching 23 attacks against government-held areas of Aleppo, firing improvised MLRS, tube artillery, mortars, AT guided missiles, grenade launchers, tanks and small arms, according to the Russian Centre for Reconciliation. This is consistent with their indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, as they become increasingly desperate, under siege and unable to make any breakthrough since late August.
The so called moderates fighting for a “free” Syria publicly executed civilians trying to flee from east Aleppo, an atrocity designed to make clear the consequences to people if they attempt to flee their fate of being used by JFS and its allies as human shields. During the month of September, the deliberate shelling of civilian areas killed 130 children. The accusation of barbarity should have been reserved by the likes of Boris Johnson for these atrocities and not used by him to describe the actions of the Syrian government in legitimately fighting terrorism on its own soil. But what more can we expect from a man who takes at face value disreputable claims from the likes of Bellingcat and the White Helmets that Russia bombed the humanitarian aid convoy in Aleppo on 19 September, and who urges people to protest at the Russian Embassy, a decidedly undiplomatic piece of incitement?
Some of the more horrifying examples of the JFS-led barbarity against innocent civilians have included mortar shells striking a school and adjacent bus stop in the Al-Suleymaniya neighbourhood, killing five children; the tragedy of a girl named Reem, who lost her leg from a shelling while walking home from school, saying from her hospital bed, “Will my foot grow back like before? I want my foot back”; and the horrifying case of Mahmoud Halyaf, a six-year-old boy born without arms, who lost his legs after stepping on a mine laid by rebels.
We could expect our friends in the mainstream Western media to give saturation coverage to these heartbreaking events, but alas, these children are from the wrong side of Aleppo. The media puppets are only interested in holding up Omran Daqneesh as a poster child of suffering in Syria.
One of the reasons we see such biased coverage is because so much of it is coming from the White Helmets, colloquially known as Al-Qaeda in white hats. Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett, among others, have admirably exposed the western intelligence funding sources for this organisation, the fact that it is not the recognised Syrian Civil Defence in the country, that it is embedded exclusively in rebel-held areas, its members celebrate with Al-Qaeda terrorists, they openly bear arms despite their self-description as peaceful, and they openly brag of throwing dead Syrian soldiers (Shabiha) in the trash. It is crystal clear to anyone who makes the effort to look that the White Helmets are fervently in cahoots with the terror groups and advocate regime change. Making such an observation, like many things in this prolonged war, is likely to be met with the repost of being a Kremlin troll or an Assad apologist.
Humanitarian Corridors as Death Traps
If there was any doubt whether the civilians of East Aleppo are being forcibly held as hostages, it was dispelled on a day of violence, as the terrorist groups fired on humanitarian corridors, forcing residents to retreat, condemned to prolonged agony as human shields. Sputnik News reported that terrorists fired on the corridors using mortars and small arms, and that at least six mines had been detonated in Bustan al Qasr west of the Sour al Hal market since early Thursday.
The Russian Centre for Reconciliation reported on the savage executions of local officials by the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham-allied Ahrar al-Sham and the relentless firing on the humanitarian corridors:
Terrorists of Ahrar al-Sham grouping shot 14 representatives of local authorities of the eastern quarters of Aleppo for encouraging citizens and insurgents to leave the city area, which had been controlled by terrorists.
All humanitarian corridors were targeted permanently. Three officers of the Russian Centre for reconciliation of opposing sides have been slightly injured by insurgents’ firing against the southern corridor near Suk al-Hai market. The officers have been delivered to the Hmeymim airbase. Their lives are no longer threatened.
RT correspondent Murad Gazdiev posted on his Twitter page video footage of terrorists shelling the humanitarian corridors, forcing civilians to retreat or run the gauntlet, something few, if any seem to have been able to do. He described the shelling and sniper fire as the “Worst in weeks. Message clear: no one will cross.” Only a handful managed to do so over the three days of ceasefire. But today, a Syrian police source told RIA Novosti that 48 civilians managed to escape, adding: “We cannot disclose any details. We hope that it will be possible to pull out more people using the same system.”
Notably, Gazdiev also reported the outbreak of infighting between the hardline Islamist rebels and more moderate groups over whether to leave Aleppo or not. Worn down by a months’ long siege, with little relief in sight, this is hardly surprising. Moreover, it is to be expected that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham would strongly resist more moderate groups separating from them, as they have been able to use these groups in the past as cover to reinforce and resupply. The smaller rebel groups have needed JFS to increase military strength, but JFS have also been able to use these groups to thwart plans of separating moderates from terrorists and thus delay coordinated assaults on them. These delays afford the US, UK, France and the Gulf States the time to develop plans to stop the liberation of Aleppo and continue with what appears to now be Plan B, the balkanisation of Syria, swung into action.
As we now know, the humanitarian ceasefire has been a failure. The aid convoys for the suffering civilians could not get in, and civilians and fighters who wanted to leave could not get out. The shocking events that transpired of Jihadists shooting at and shelling the corridors through which people sought to leave lays to rest any doubts that it is the terrorists who control east Aleppo and that the moderates are nothing more than a fiction, a conduit for the US, Saudi Arabia and their allies to funnel weapons to terrorists.
It is naïve folly to expect the bullhorns in the media or our political leaders, for whom reckless allegations are second nature, to rein in the propaganda on the “evil duo” of Syria and Russia, regardless of the latest misdeeds of their pampered Jihadis. Faced with the dilemma of how to put a pro Al-Nusra spin on the events in Aleppo since last Tuesday, the Western media will do what Alexander Mercouris stated in his analysis of the one-sided humanitarian ceasefire: “The Western media is not refuting it, because it is not even reporting it.”
The alliance of Syria, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias must push on for the final liberation of Aleppo. Civilians being used as human hostages by the terrorists will be grateful to be finally freed from the clutches of sectarian maniacs.
For now, the US can only be pleased that its Jihadis are holding out. An ace up the sleeve may be if Turkey – which has extended its occupation of Aleppo – sends forward its Free Syrian Army-led proxies to try to break through Syrian defences, opening up supply lines and escape routes from the siege. This is unlikely, however, as it would break any Russian-Turkish agreement and be met by Moscow with a fierce response, which could in turn trigger a NATO response, bringing us to the precipice of a Russia-NATO war. There are other options for the US, and to that they may look to another terrorist asset: ISIS.
ISIS Rides to the Rescue From…Mosul!
Before going into the mounting evidence that approximately 9,000 ISIS fighters may have already left Mosul, it is salient to quote Jordan Shilton writing for the World Socialist Website, who warns of a coming humanitarian catastrophe in Mosul:
The US-led military operation is preparing the ground for a war crime of enormous proportions. An assault is to be waged on a city with an estimated population of 1.3 million, including 600,000 children, by some 30,000 ground force, backed up by aircraft from the US and other imperialist powers, among them France, Britain, Germany and Canada. For those lucky enough to survive the initial onslaught, virtually no plans have been made to deal with the 1 million expected to be turned into refugees, let alone how Mosul and its ethnically diverse surroundings will be governed following its recapture from ISIS.
The fanaticism of some ISIS fighters, the numerous IEDs, cells of snipers and the inevitable close-quarter house-to-house fighting magnifies the likely loss of civilian life in Mosul. We shall have to wait to see if our friends in the mainstream media, taking time out from as acting as Hillary Clinton’s SuperPAC, will use such terms as “siege,” “war crimes”, “barbarity”, “targeting civilians” and “humanitarian disaster.” Just don’t hold your breath.
Oddly, a very large force of around 40,000, comprising the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga, Shi’ite militias, more than 5,000 US military personnel, along with special forces operatives of the US and its allies, backed by airstrikes of the US-led coalition, are all going up against approximately 4000 ISIS fighters left to defend the city. Until recently estimates were that there were 12,000 fighters in Mosul.
The question of how so many have been able to disappear is answered in an article by Moon of Alabama, which shows that the liberation forces seem to have forgotten one direction, west:
The attack on Mosul proceeds on three axes. From the north Kurdish Peshmerga under U.S. special force advisors lead the fighting. Iraqi forces attack from the east and south. The way to the west, towards Syria, is open. The intend of the U.S. is to let ISIS fighters, several thousand of them, flee to Deir Ezzor and Raqqa in Syria. They are needed there to further destroy the Syrian state.
To aid in their escape to Syria, CNN reports a source inside Mosul told them:
A tunnel network large enough to accommodate motorbikes stretches from the outskirts of the city to the nearby village of Hamdania, according to the source.
The Syrian Army is well aware and suitably concerned about the pending influx of ISIS fighters into Syria which can be used to reinforce the ISIS caliphate of Raqqa, tighten the siege on Deir-ezzor, or attempt to recapture Palmyra. SANA News Agency reported on the General Command of the Army and the Armed Forces’ condemnation of the US, Saudi Arabia and its allies in their willingness to deploy terrorists to further their geopolitical goals and destroy the Syrian state in the process:
The General Command of the Army and the Armed Forces said the supporters of international terrorism are trying to secure safe routes and corridors for the ISIS terrorists who are fleeing Iraq’s Mosul to cross into Syria.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Command said a “malicious scheme” by the backers of international terrorism, mainly the US and Saudi Arabia, is unfolding and becoming clear after military operations were launched by the brotherly Iraqi army and its supporting forces to liberate Mosul city from the gangs of ISIS terrorist organization.
The scheme, the statement explained, is to provide safe routes for the groupings of ISIS terrorists who are reeling under the Iraqi army’s strikes in Mosul-Iraq’s second largest city-to cross the border into the Syrian territory.
Further evidence comes from sources in the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) who say the US led coalition’s warplanes are not bombing ISIS convoys as they move from Iraq to Syria.
Moscow, now openly showing cynicism of US actions, is deeply suspicious of the Mosul operation, Sergey Lavrov expressing concern that the city is not fully encircled, with corridors open for ISIS fighters to flee to Syria. Moscow and Damascus are preparing for the predicted influx of ISIS fighters by reconstructing the T-4 Military Airport in eastern Homs. It was previously used as a forward staging post for its helicopter gunships during the operation to liberate Palmyra and nearby areas. Refitting the airport to house fighter jets enables a fitting welcome to ISIS fighters who dare to venture into Deir-ezzor and Palmyra.
Turkey appears to be well abreast of the plan to relocate ISIS to Syria too, the Anadolu news agency able to access and publish a ‘Sensitive’ operation plan for Mosul, which contains the seemingly extraordinary element: “An escape corridor into Syria will be left for Daesh so they can vacate Mosul.” So we have on the one hand, terrorists stopping civilians from leaving through a humanitarian corridor in Aleppo, and on the other, terrorists being given free passage to go from Iraq to Syria.
All of this brings into sharp focus the purported “accidental” airstrike by US coalition jets on Syrian Army positions in Deir-ezzor on 19 September. As well as being a blatant violation which effectively wrecked the ceasefire, it laid the groundwork for a soon-to-be-reinforced ISIS assault to finally capture the entire city of Deir-ezzor.
More evidence of the US acting as the air force of ISIS came when US coalition jets destroyed two bridges in Deir-ezzor, cutting off vital means in waging offensives against ISIS.
Moon of Alabama incisively identifies two major goals of the ISIS relocation plan: 1) “The U.S. hopes that the influx of ISIS fighters into Syria will keep the Russians and Iranians trapped in the ‘quagmire’ Obama prescribed and finally destroy the Syrian state.” And 2) “this move will create the ‘Salafist principality’ the U.S. and its allies have striven to install in east-Syria since 2012. The ‘mistake’ of the U.S. bombing of Syrian army positions in Deir Ezzor was in support of that plan.” The revelation by former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Michael Flynn of the plan for the Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria is obviously still very much alive.
This fiendish plan by the US and its allies to flood Syria with fresh ISIS fighters may not halt the liberation of Aleppo, but it certainly swings the battlefield in the Eastern provinces back towards the terrorists.
Paul is a budding freelance writer who currently works in the welfare industry in Melbourne, Australia.
Areas of interest include: Russia/US conflict, wars in the Middle East, particularly Syria, the conflict in Ukraine, the occupation of Palestine by Israel, the damage to our economies from the global financial markets, the debt trap imposed on states by bankers seeking to privatize assets and “reform” economies while they line their pockets with cash and impoverish local populations.