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Syrian army deploys to Manbij area after Kurdish calls to deter Turkey


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Syrian army deploys to Manbij area after Kurdish calls to deter Turkey

By Ellen Francis

 

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Turkish soldiers ride a military vehicle at Manbij countryside, Syria December 28, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

 

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian army deployed forces near Manbij in northern Syria on Friday, a war monitor and a U.S. official said, after the Kurdish YPG militia urged Damascus to protect the town, where U.S. forces operate, from the threat of a Turkish offensive.

 

Manbij, which U.S.-backed forces captured from Islamic State in 2016, has emerged as a focal point of new tensions after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces whose presence has effectively deterred Turkey.

 

After a Syrian army announcement declaring government troops had entered Manbij, Turkey-backed Syrian rebels stationed in nearby territory said they had begun moving together with Turkish forces towards the town in readiness for "the start of military operations to liberate" it.

 

A witness said convoys of Turkey-backed insurgents, with armoured vehicles and machine guns, were moving towards the frontline with the town.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the Syrian government forces had entered a strip of territory at the edge of Manbij, not inside the town itself, creating a barrier with Turkey-backed fighters nearby.

 

Manbij, where U.S. troops have a military base, is held by a local militia allied to the YPG which Turkey deems a security threat.

 

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that U.S. troops had not changed their positions in Manbij and dozens still remained. The official said they had not seen Syrian military forces inside Manbij but rather on the outskirts of the city.

 

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said that "despite incorrect information about changes to military forces in the city of Manbij, Syria, (the coalition) has seen no indication that these claims are true".

 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has vowed to crush the YPG, said Turkish officials would visit Russia - Assad's most powerful ally - on Saturday and discuss Syria. He indicated Turkey was not in a hurry to launch an offensive.

 

Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw troops from Syria has alarmed the Kurdish-led fighters who have fought Islamic State alongside them for years.

 

Kurdish leaders are scrambling for a strategy to protect their region stretching across the north and east, where the presence of some 2,000 U.S. troops has so far deterred Turkey.

 

A deployment of Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, would complicate any offensive by Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies.

 

U.S. military support for the Kurdish fighters has infuriated Turkey, which sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK movement that has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey for decades.

 

Syrian state media circulated a video showing dozens of soldiers marching on a countryside road, chanting for President Bashar al-Assad. The military statement said troops had raised the national flag in Manbij on Friday and would guarantee security "for all Syrian citizens and others present."

 

A resident inside the town said nothing had changed and he had not seen any such flags.

 

The YPG said on Friday its fighters had withdrawn from Manbij before to fight Islamic State elsewhere.

 

"We invite the Syrian government, to which we belong, as people, land and borders, to send its armed forces to take over these positions and protect Manbij in the face of Turkish threats," it said.

 

In November, Turkish and U.S. troops began joint patrols near Manbij after reaching a deal that includes the YPG exiting the town.

 

 
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-- © Copyright Reuters 2018-12-29
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As anticipated by everyone except the orange moron, the Kurdish fighters have been thrown into the hands of Bashar and his allies, Russia and Iran. 

Smart move by Trump! 😂

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26 minutes ago, FritsSikkink said:

They always were, defending their country against invaders.

Before the outsiders intervened there was a legitimate popular uprising agaist the Assad regime

Characterizing the Assads as good guys is ludicrous.

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It is a muddled affair over there. There's a dozen different factions (or more) each with their own agendas and many of them are allied with factions that are themselves allied with factions that are opposed to their other allies.

 

Early on in the conflict (when the Syrian "rebels" were still largely made up of terrorists from Al Qeada and al-Nusra), they attacked some of the UN outposts on the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. In one case, the terrorists - er, I mean "rebels" demanded that the Filipino peacekeepers hand over all their weapons and surrender to the terrorists/rebels.

The Filipinos were ordered (by the Indian general in charge of the mission) to comply with the terrorists but the senior Filipino commander contacted his superiors back in Manila, who told them not to surrender. The Filipinos, in accordance with UN (hork, spit) directions, were only armed with pistols !

 

Guess who came to their rescue and drove off the terrorists ? The Syrian Army (and the Israeli Air Force). (One group of peacekeepers managed to sneak out of their compound and link up with an Irish unit that had armoured personnel carriers that they used to get away.)

(After that, the Filipinos demanded that they be allowed to carry rifles or they'd withdraw from the mission.)

Also it is worth noting that Turkey has long sought the overthrow of Assad (it's a religious thing) and has had eyes on "acquiring" territory that belongs to Syria but is inhabited by the ethnic "Turkmen", as well as wanting to crush the Kurds to prevent their aspirations of creating an independent Kurdish country (which would consist of parts of Turkey, Syria and Iraq).
(Also worth noting - when ISIS was rampaging across the region and the West had slapped embargoes on oil from that area, large convoys of tankers were making unimpeded trips from ISIS occupied territory into Turkey, where one of Erdogan's relatives was supposedly making a mint by buying that oil and reselling it.

It was the Syrian Air Force that put an end to most of that by bombing those convoys, which put a huge dent into the terrorist's finances and of course pissed off Erdogan and his relative.)

 

Also worth noting - after a "chemical weapons attack" - the UN passed a resolution demanding that Assad hand over all his chemical weapons and all his chemical plants had to submit to independent UN inspections. If he refused the UN could have passed a resolution authorizing an armed invasion, or at least a bombing campaign like what happened to Libya.

Assad complied and all his chemical weapons were destroyed (by a European firm that specializes in that stuff) and his plants inspected by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW - an independent offshoot of the UN).

 

EXCEPT for the chemical plants and facilities that were controlled by the "rebels". Those "rebels" refused to allow the inspectors anywhere near the facilities they had captured, claiming it was "too dangerous" for the inspectors. 

Uh huh.

And what did the UN do in response to that ? Not a ****ing thing ! Turned a blind eye and pretended that those terrorists/rebels were all really nice guys who wouldn't dream of using chemical weapons and trying to blame it on Assad.
That is why (I suspect) that the UN (and America, et al) haven't been able to to launch a full scale campaign against Assad, because they know that most (if not all) of the "chemical weapons attacks" were actually carried out by the rebels they have been supporting ! Those rebels were hoping that if they could blame the attacks on Assad, the "West" would come in and bomb him back to the stone age and then the rebels would just take over (sort of like what happened in Libya).


Another problem for the West is that, according to reports from "rebel" controlled areas, the "rebels" are more like the hard core fundamentalists in Iran and Afghanistan than the "freedom loving, democratically inclined, friends of the "West" that people think they are. If they did ever manage to overthrow Assad, they'd no doubt usher in a reign of terror that would make Libya seem like a oasis of peace and tranquility by comparison.
(One article I read said that in one area that had been "liberated" from the rebels, the women were all tearing off the burqas and head coverings the "rebels" had forced them to wear. Apparently life wasn't so great in the areas those rebels controlled. Of course the West doesn't want to admit that because it would seem they are trying to replace a minor evil with an even greater one and they'd pretty much lose all public support.

Just like how they stopped reporting on the atrocities that the "rebels" in Libya were committing there in the areas they took over. 

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26 minutes ago, bristolboy said:

Before the outsiders intervened there was a legitimate popular uprising agaist the Assad regime

Characterizing the Assads as good guys is ludicrous.

Same with the people who armed, trained militant Muslims and bombed the shit out of civilians. 

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I've also found it interesting that the "West" turned a blind eye when Saudi Arabia violently put down the "Arab Spring" uprising in their country, and even sent troops into Bahrain to quell the uprising there as well.
(Remember the recent articles about the Bahraini football player that was arrested in Thailand because he is wanted in Bahrain for his actions during the uprising there.)
 

Not a whisper of sanctions or support for rebels in those countries oddly enough. Uprisings were also put down in other countries but it seems that, as long as they were allied with the "West" (and/or Saudi Arabia) then it was OK to use force.

 

However, as Libya (and later Syria) found out, if you aren't an "ally" of the West, prepare to be bombed. 

There is a lot going on behind the scenes that we'll never know about of course. Part of it has to do with the religious "proxy war" between (Shia) Iran and (Sunni) Saudi Arabia. Part of it has to do with oil of course. (Funny how France and Italy were 2 of the biggest supporters of the campaign against Qaddafi and how those 2 countries import a lot, if not most, of their oil from Libya. Just like how one of the first stories to come out of there after Qaddafi was overthrown was about how they'd gotten the pumping stations up and running again. Europe also embargoed Syrian oil after the "rebels" started their uprising and Assad moved to squash it. You can bet that getting the oil flowing again will be a top priority for Europe if Assad is overthrown. You know, to help Syria "recover" from the war (at heavily discounted prices for the oil of course).

 

You see, the UN is not allowed to sanction "regime change" in any sovereign country, but can authorize force to "protect" the citizens of a country. However, they don't define how much force or for how long so if the people driving the attack decide they have to decimate all the military, and police, and government apparatus in order to "protect" the civilians, and that results in the leadership of the country being overthrown/eliminated - oh well.

(It is considered to be a "loop hole" in the UN Charter that permits regime change under the guise of protecting innocent civilians. If they hadn't made such a mess of the job in Libya I'm sure they would have done the same thing in Syria.)

I worked with some people from Zimbabwe (when I was in Afghanistan) and during one conversation about how the "West" was going after Assad, I asked why they weren't going after Mugabe in Zimbabwe as well. By rights, he's been far worse over the last 20 years than Qaddafi and Assad but no one seems to care.

 

One guy from Zimbabwe simply said "What do we export ? Potatoes. If we exported oil it would be a different story."

Another guy (a Westerner and trained Air Force pilot) said the reason they went after Assad and not someone like Mugabe was that they figured Syria was a war they could win ! To him, it wasn't about who was worse or who had oil and who didn't. He figured it was the bureaucrats only wanting to fight an "easy target".
 

Sure, maybe Mugabe was far worse than Assad, but no one wants to get tied down in a conflict in Africa that they probably couldn't win. (Remember what happened when they tried that in Somalia in the early 90s ?)
So they decided to stomp their little feet and show how serious they are by going after someone they thought they'd be able to easily beat. (Maybe thinking the Syrians would roll over and play dead like the Iraqis did - not taking into consideration the difference in firepower and motivation.)
 

However I doubt the "powers that be" simply decided to support the Syrian rebels because they thought that would be an easy victory. Again, there is a lot going on behind the scenes by a lot of different factions with a lot of different agendas. That is one reason why Syria is such a mess.


Some no doubt thought that Syria would be an easy target, at least from a PR perspective. After all, Assad was like Hussien in many ways. He may not have been actively attacking Israel for quite some time, but he was at least covertly supporting Hezbollah who were (and still are). Assad wasn't "Sunni" so to places like Saudi Arabia he was basically a heretic (and to places like Iran he is as well - but they don't mind as long as he shares similar views with them). Erdogan hates him for a couple of reasons (religion, land, oil, maybe even the Kurds). 

You can pretty much guarantee that if Assad had of been more "pro-Western" over the previous decade, we'd have barely heard of the uprising there and the West certainly wouldn't have supported it. Just like Saudi Arabia and other places.

 

(Keep in mind that it wasn't that long ago that the US used to send certain people to Syria where they could be "questioned" without all the legal hassles that would happen in the US. It was called "rendition". Capture suspected terrorists, secretly fly them into places like Syria, let Assad's people torture them and then either let them go or "disappear" them.)
Funny how the US is now trying to overthrow the same people they used to be quite friendly with. 

I'm also surprised Assad hasn't been more public about all that went on during that time. Then again, admitting to his part in it wouldn't make him any more sympathetic from a PR standpoint and probably wouldn't do much as far as public opinion elsewhere is concerned.


It is a complex situation there and one I'm sure the West has been trying to back away from for awhile now. I think the initial thought was that they'd supply the "rebels" with loads of weapons and ammo and they'd roll over Assad in a heartbeat, supported by a citizenship longing for a more "Western" democracy and freedom.

But that thought was quickly derailed when the West found out that most of the "rebels" were in fact members of various designated terrorist organizations (like Al Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front among others). Plus the regular citizens weren't rising up against the government like they thought would happen.
 

The supply of weapons and ammo dried up when they found that the "rebels" were handing half of them over to the terrorists, and selling the other half on the black market !
When support for the rebels started to wane, many of them (including most of the terrorists) went on to form ISIS and started trying to conquer their own territory.


Meanwhile, the rebels that remained were now in dire straights. Obama had drawn his "line in the sand" after a chemical attack that was blamed on Assad (though that was suspect in itself as the attack had been carried out in Assad's "backyard", in an area of loyal supporters, instead of in an area controlled by rebels).

 

Another chemical weapon attack happened but before Obama could send in the bombers, the Russians apparently showed them evidence that it wasn't Assad's forces that had carried out the attack. Obama was forced to step back and the "line in the sand" quickly disappeared. 

Then there were the reports about what the "rebels" were doing in the areas they controlled and it was obvious that they weren't the "freedom loving, democratically inclined friends of the West" like they'd hoped.

The US apparently spent a huge (frikken HUGE) sum on trying to train a small group of Syrian "rebels" who, on their first mission, were "captured" by other rebels and gave them all their weapons (and half of them supposedly joined those other rebels). Another group, again trained and equipped at an overly large sum, lost half or more of their numbers the first time they faced a group of ISIS terrorists.

Apparently the US has been having a hard time getting volunteers for their "anti-Assad" rebels. There isn't the level of "popular" support for the rebels that some thought there would be. (Keep in mind that the people there are far more aware of who the "rebels" are and what they can expect from a "rebel" run country than what most of the rest of us know.
Much of the news we see comes from reports made by pro-rebel groups. Like the one report of a "chemical weapons attack" supposedly carried out by Assad's air force. The initial reports all came from "pro-rebel" supporters who claimed to have seen the (Syrian Air Force) jets and seen the bombs drop and were mere meters away from the building that was bombed (yet were unscathed by the attack). (I recall one "witness" who apparently was in a different city when the attack happened and drove there afterwards but still "knew" it had been a chemical attack by the Syrian Air Force.)

As it turned out, the house was being used by the rebels to store chemicals they'd stolen from chemical plants in areas they controlled (those same places they refused to let OPCW inspectors to look at). A bomb from a Syrian jet hit the building, resulting in some of the chemicals being released and a few people being affected. However people that were within a dozen meters of the house weren't affected. 

But the "West" doesn't want to admit that the people they've been supporting for all these years may actually be worse than the people they are trying to overthrow. Bad PR, not to mention the possibility of being held liable for the actions of those rebels.

Here's an example of how people can (and will) easily distort facts to suit their own purposes. Back in the early 90s I was posted to a helicopter squadron on Vancouver Island. Around the same time, there was a major problem on the mainland with an infestation of Gypsy Moths (very devastating to leafy trees and vegetation). The government had initiated a spraying program to eliminate the moths (which were not natural to the area, but had most likely arrived on a foreign freighter from another part of the world).

 

But some people on the Salt Spring Islands, many of whom were former "hippies", were against the spraying. One day, some of our Sea King helicopters were conducting an sonobuoy exercise in the area. They would dip the sonobuoys into the ocean and try to detect signals from any nearby submarines. Then they'd lift them out of the water and fly to another spot and try again.

 

The next day, dozens and dozens of people from the Salt Spring Islands went to the press and claimed that the military had been spraying the area and they were all getting sick from the pesticides and their doctors apparently confirmed it (according to them) !


It took all of a couple minutes to show they were full of **** (and their "doctors" as well) as we don't even have the capability to spray anything from helicopters, nor any mandate to do any spraying. (And I would have known as I would have been one of the ones who would have supplied the equipment and had to store and account for the pesticides).
As soon as it came out that we (the military) couldn't possibly have done any spraying, all those hippies were miraculously cured and crawled back into their basement hydroponics grow ops and pretended they didn't know anything about the whole situation.

And anyone who thinks that the "rebels" wouldn't do the same thing is delusional. Especially when the stakes are so much higher than simply trying to stop a invasive insect (or trying to not stop it).

 

A lot of power games going on, on all sides, and the innocent civilians are the pawns. I doubt we will ever know the full truth of it.

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3 hours ago, bristolboy said:

Before the outsiders intervened there was a legitimate popular uprising agaist the Assad regime

Characterizing the Assads as good guys is ludicrous.

 

What makes an uprising legitimate? If it overthrows someone you disapprove of regardless of whether they were legally in power?

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3 hours ago, FritsSikkink said:

Same with the people who armed, trained militant Muslims and bombed the shit out of civilians. 

You're the one who asserted that the Assad ruled side were the good guys. How does your latest observation validate that? In fact, now you're saying the opposite.

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1 hour ago, bristolboy said:

You're the one who asserted that the Assad ruled side were the good guys. How does your latest observation validate that? In fact, now you're saying the opposite.

The Western troops did this, they never fought ISIS in Syria, they armed them. They fought the regular Syrian army. 

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7 hours ago, bristolboy said:

So now the Syrian armed forces are the good guys?

Actually they are all bad guys to some extent: the Syrian government, the rebels, Turkey... except maybe the Kurds (until proven otherwise). The issue is not that the Kurds think the Syrian armed forces are good guys, it is that they have to choose between two bads. And obviously it is the least bad option for them.

Obviously, Russia and Iran will be the main beneficiaries from the US withdrawal

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3 hours ago, candide said:

Actually they are all bad guys to some extent: the Syrian government, the rebels, Turkey... except maybe the Kurds (until proven otherwise). The issue is not that the Kurds think the Syrian armed forces are good guys, it is that they have to choose between two bads. And obviously it is the least bad option for them.

Obviously, Russia and Iran will be the main beneficiaries from the US withdrawal

I'm not blaming the Kurds. What choice do they have? It's a lot less likely that the Syrians plan to exterminate them or drive them from Syria. The Turks have already displaced lots of Kurds with Islamist Arabs in Afrin.

On the other hand, in some parts of Turkey the locals were actually happy to have the Turks dislodge and take the place of the Kurds because the Kurds were drafting their young people to fight against ISIL.

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