Syria Daily, Sept 29: What Was Said at Putin-Obama Meeting?

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Barack Obama at the UN on Monday


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Analysis: Walking Into the Abyss — “Assad is Not A Better Alternative to the Islamic State”


After days of build-up and following their speeches to the UN General Assembly, very little came out of Monday’s meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Barack Obama over the Syrian conflict

The first encounter between the two men since 2013 was spurred by Moscow’s escalating military intervention in Syria and its political initiative to keep President Assad in power during a transition.

The Russians have had some success this month in their move for a high-profile international conference to confirm Assad’s stay while a political resolution is sought. The US, as well as allies like Germany and Britain, have publicly stated that Assad does not have to step aside while discussions are held about Syria’s future.

However, there was no reference after the Putin-Obama meeting to the substance of the process. Instead, Later, a “senior US official” said the two sides “fundamentally disagreed” on Assad’s role: “The Russians see Mr Assad as a bulwark against extremists; the Americans see Mr Assad as continuing to fan the flames of a sectarian conflict there.”

Putin told Russian journalists:

[The meetings] was very useful and, what is particularly pleasant, it was very sincere. I think that our American partners explained their position quite clearly on many issues, including settling the situation in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the Middle East overall. Indeed, surprising as it may seem, we have many coinciding points and opinions about all these issues. We also have differences, which we have agreed to work on together.

I hope that this work will be constructive.

Putin indicated that Russia would not yet carry out airstrikes as they are “illegal” because “there is neither a Security Council resolution on the issue, nor a corresponding request from the official authorities in Damascus”.

The Russian leader said that while Moscow is “considering what kind of additional support we could give to the Syrian army in fighting terrorism”, there could never be any consideration of “participation of Russian army units”.

However, he continued, “As for our involvement, we are considering it. We do not rule out anything, but if we do act, this will be in strict compliance with the norms of international law.”

Two Differing Speeches

In his morning speech, Obama said, “The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict.” However, he immediately jumped beyond the negotiations to declare, “But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo….Realism…requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.”

See Syria and Beyond Video Feature: Obama Speech at UN “We Will Join Discussions with Russia and Iran”

Hours later, Putin used his speech to put pressure on the US and its partners, saying they had fueled violence and chaos through their support of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa:

Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster — and nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life. I cannot help asking those who have forced that situation: Do you realize what you have done?

Instead of discussing the process for a political resolution in Syria, the Russian leader insisted that there must be an alliance with the Assad regime — “similar to the anti-Hitler coalition” — against the Islamic State: “No one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurdish militia are truly fighting [them].”

See Syria and Beyond Video Feature: Russia’s Putin to UN “Do You Realize What You Have Done?”

An Obama Administration responded to Putin’s grand coalition proposal: “Knock yourselves out”.

However, Putin held his line with the Russian journalists, rejecting Obama’s criticism of Assad:

I have great respect for my colleagues – both the American President, and the French President – however, as far as I know they are not citizens of the Syrian Republic and therefore should not take part in determining the future of another state’s leadership. This is the Syrians’ business.

However, this is a deep conflict, and a bloody one, unfortunately, which is why I said that alongside support to the official authorities in their struggle against terrorism we would insist on political reform and a political process to be conducted at the same time. As far as I know, President al-Assad agrees with this. He said so directly in his recent interview with the Russian media.

OBAMA PUTIN 28-09-15

Obama and Putin exchange a toast at an evening reception before their meeting (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the Foreign Ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey.

American spokesman John Kirby again avoided details about the Russian initiative. He merely said the Ministers “discussed ideas for building renewed and credible diplomatic momentum that could bring an end to the conflict and allow Syrians to chart a peaceful future without Assad”.


Regime Airstrikes Destroy Another Hospital and Kill 3 Staff, This Time Near Damascus

Regime airstrikes destroyed the only hospital in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Kafr Batna on Monday, in the latest of a series of attacks on medical facilities that have killed dozens of doctors and Civil Defense workers in the East Ghouta area this year.

The hospital in Kafr Batna “was directly targeted by three missiles”, said Mohammad Ballour, the administrative director. Three staff were killed and two injured.

Monday’s airstrike was the fourth aerial attack against civilian institutions in East Ghouta this month, according to Mahmoud Adam, the Outer Damascus Civil Defense spokesman.

Physicians for Human Rights said last week that the regime carried out “an unprecedented number of attacks on medical facilities” in a four-day period in August in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, with the highest toll among medical personnel since October 2014.

Between August 7-10, Syrian government forces launched aerial attacks on nine medical facilities in the province. All were at least six miles from the nearest frontlines between forces.

PHR documented three additional aerial attacks on medical facilities throughout the country in August, bringing the month’s total to 12, along with the deaths of 15 medical personnel.

Since the conflict started in March 2011, PHR has recorded a total of 307 attacks on 225 medical facilities, killing 670 personnel. The regime is responsible for more than 90% of the attacks. From March through August, PHR documented 74 attacks on medical facilities, the highest number in any six-month period throughout the conflict.


Video: Rebels Claim Advance in Offensive in Southwest Syria

Fighting at Tal al-Ahmar (see map) in Quneitra Province in southwest Syria on Monday:

The rebel offensive to link Quneitra with their territory in West Ghouta, near Damascus, began last week. If successful — and alongside a push on the northeast side of Damascus to take key areas near Adra and Harasta and the Damascus-Homs highway — the advance would threaten to surround the capital with rebel forces.

After days of a news blackout on operations,Rebels claimed success in their offensive on Monday, including the capture of positions in Trinjeh near the regime’s Brigade 90 base.

Rebels move on an underground bunker and a tunnel-trench system:

Shelling of the Brigade 90 base:


Russia Moves 6 Advanced Fighter-Bombers to Syrian Airbase

Oryx Blog, a top observer of military deployments in the Syrian conflict, documents Russia’s move of 6 Su-34 fighter-bombers to its expanding airbase in Latakia Province in western Syria.

The Su-34s join 28 fighter jets, as well as transport aircraft, strategic airlifters, attack helicopters, and drones at the Bassel al-Assad airport.

The fighter-bombers, carrying drop tanks, reached Syria without refuelling from other aircraft.

A claimed photo of one of the Su-34s flying to the airbase:

Su-34 SYRIA


Activists: 82 Killed Across Syria on Monday

The Local Coordination Committees report confirmation of 82 deaths on Monday, including 17 children and 13 women.

In Deir ez-Zor Province in eastern Syria, 40 people were killed by regime shelling on the town of Mayadeen. Another 18 were slain in and Damascus in and near areas such as ‎Kafar_Batna‬, ‪‎Jobar,‬ and ‪Nashabiyeh.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

26 COMMENTS

  1. From Lebanon’s NOW

    Obama Vs. Washington

    Nearly everyone who has worked for President Barack Obama on Syria or Iraq has expressed outrage at his policy: former secretaries Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Leon Panetta; former CIA Director David Patraeus, former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, and his fellow retired diplomat Fred Hoff.

    Former tsar of the war against ISIS John Allen has yet to speak out, but his resignation — presumably against the administration’s unresponsiveness to his recommendations — speaks volumes….

    Obama’s superficial understanding of the region has prevented him from realizing that to eradicate ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Washington needs Sunni friends rather than Shiite.

    Because of Obama’s inexperience on foreign policy and inadequate understanding of the Middle East, America has let a volatile region blow up. And now the unfolding disaster is on Obama, and on him alon

    https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentary/565968-obama-vs-washington

    ***

    From the Daily Beast

    Putin’s New Axis of Resistance: Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah

    The Russian leader just told the UN that state sponsors of terror are the only partners for fighting terror

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/28/putin-s-new-axis-of-resistance-russia-iran-iraq-syria-and-hezbollah.html?via=mobile&source=twitter

    ***

    From Hassan Hassan at The National (UAE)

    Putin Can ‘t Save Assad, It’s Far Too Late for That

    http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/putin-cant-save-assad-its-far-too-late-for-that#full

    • Interesting information in the obama-vs-whashington article

      “When America launched its air campaign against ISIS, CENTCOM Commander Lloyd Austin suggested embedding US advisors — who could also collect intelligence and pinpoint targets — with Iraqi troops. Obama shot the idea down. Last week, David Patraeus reiterated Lloyd’s suggestion, saying that US advisors would be safe if deployed at brigade level.”

      Without the US advisors, it is not easy to recognise real targets, which means that many planes return fully loaded without being able to make a strike. Therefore many flights and not much progress. Just like the rebel training program – lots of noise and appearance of doing something but very little progress in solving the problem of removing Bashyer Arsof. Was it Ol’bummers plan to stretch the war out and deliberately create the immigrant crisis in order to spread Islam into Europe?

  2. I wanted to put a few thoughts down on my opinions on the current state of the Syrian conflict.

    1. With regards to the Fuah/Kerfaya vs. Zabadani deal. I really don’t have any idea if the truce will hold and the two towns will be exchanged. My belief is that Assad is trying to delay this as much as possible as the situation does not favor Assad. The rebels probably don’t mind a break in the fighting as well. My guess is that there is a little less than 50% chance of the truce holding and a deal being implemented as I don’t see Assad willing to accept a deal that implicitly validates the rebels as a credible entity. My lack of confidence in the deal falling apart is the unknown of how much Iran influence the situation. Iran are ready to negotiate with the rebels.

    The reason I think that the transfer deal favors the rebels is primarily because it would mark the biggest occasion that the regime have seriously dealt with the rebels. It’s a slippery slope for Assad as the situation is a bit like Israel and Hamas. They can say they are fighting terrorists all they want but legitimate rulers don’t deal with terrorists. It would also free a number of rebels along with artillery and weapons to either go to Northern Hama, Ghab plain, or maybe Aleppo. Although the same situation applies to the regime and Hezbollah in Zabadani. I don’t think Hezbollah will participate as heavily in offensives further away from the Lebanon border.

    Last thing about the truce is that I see this situation as more of an isolated incident and not a harbinger of things to come. I don’t see the rebels willing to further negotiate the territorial integrity of Syria. I also don’t believe a negotiated settlement right now is the best outcome. Of course Nusra would not agree, but I also don’t think JaF would agree in Idlib/Hama province.

    2. The strategy 4 years ago from the FSA was to systematically wear down the military over approximately 2 years to the point where they don’t want to fight anymore. Well that didn’t work out and a primary reason is foreign intervention. However, the strategy remains the same except that 2 years is now at around 5. To accomplish this the rebels need to keep launching offensives whether successful or not. One area where I would like to see the rebels reorganize is Western Qalamon. The rebels have huge numbers here but a lack of coordination and a sustained Hezbollah/regime efforts have pushed the rebels back to smaller villages and pockets. The rebels still have the numbers to do some damage though and have local support. I’d also like to see some offensives in Northern Hama and maybe out in Eastern Hama.

    • Correction:
      5 years is close to how long the conflict has been going. It will take more years to continually wear down the regime.

    • ‘offensive in Northern Hama and maybe eastern Hama’ – correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t the rebels launching alot of a hit&run (ie classical guerilla tactics) in the area around Ayn Sulaymu? I also suspect that once the Ghab Plain is cleared by the rebels their next target will be Suqaylabah (sp?) in northern Hama.

      • @K9

        Correct. There are a lot of hit and run activity in Northern and Eastern Hama. It’s also flown under the radar a little bit. But a serious push should work toward capturing the storage bases and/or connecting with Northern Homs rebels. Maybe even another run towards Hama city and the airbase.

  3. Update:

    #Qalamoun – More mergers/unification of rebel groups “Looks like most brigades in western #Qalamoun (not Jaish al-Fateh) have merged under the new Saraya Ahl al-Sham banner.” – paradoxy13

    yallasouriya confirms this news also.

    #Idlib – Even more mergers “7 battalions in #Idlib merged into Fawj al-Nasr 102 & joined the mainly #Aleppo faction Tajamu Fastaqim Kama Umirt.” – Ibn Nabih

    One assumes the larger these organisation become the more ambitious (as well as effective?) their offensives will become against SAA/regime forces?

    Question – Can anyone confirm whether Mazrat al-Amal in Quneitra has fallen to the rebels?

  4. To Make Russia & Iran Back Off in Syria, Force Them to Handle Kabul, Iraq With Zero Help From Us (Revised and improved)

    HOW TO ACCOMPLISH THAT

    Withdraw all US land and air forces currently in both countries and do so now as soon as possible, creating two additional quagmires for Iran and Russia who already have too much on their plates.

    FIVE HUGE ADVANTAGES

    #1: If you can think of a better, easier and less costly way to siphon Russian and Iranian resources away from Syria and the Ukraine, I’m all ears. This move actually transfers costs from our shoulders to those of Putin and Khamenei. If you can’t stand that pair, you should favor it strongly.

    #2: With ISIS sure to take over from the Taliban. Afghanistan is going to get far messier. Why expend American blood and treasure on a task which other, unfriendly powers can do on their own doorsteps. For geostrategic reasons and because ISIS goals are far less localized than the Taliban’s, Russia and Iran especiall dare not allow ISIS a free hand in Afghanistan. China may help. Scratch Pakistan. Yes, Pakistan borders Afghanistan but can’t even handle the mess at home.

    3) The combination of our withdrawal and increased Russian involvement will draw jihadis to Afghanistan like flies—many of whom would otherwise be heading to Syria. They will relish a chance to kill Russians and Al Quds. Geographically Afghanistan so in the midst of potentially rich recruiting grounds. Many Russian jihadis currently in Syria will also leave to follow the Russians who got a bloody nose in Afghanistan once before. That jihadi emigration to Afghanistan could make it easier to set up a democracy after the regime falls.

    4) A key reason why Russia and Iran encouraged Assad to reject democracy in 2011 was fear their own people would then want the same. By overstretching both and forcing them into multiple quagmires, we would cause both dictators to lose popularity fast. The worst nightmare for many Russians would be to face a new Afghan war. This one would be far worse than last with so much more at stake for Russia and the IRI.

    5) Every other proposal I’ve seen for countering Iranian or Russian aggression in the Ukraine and Syria would offer great opportunities for regime propagandists to convince gullible citizens they are being targeted by “American aggression.” Not this one because it involves no threats, bloodshed or weapons shipments. How can “withdrawal” be spun as “aggression?”

    A CHALLENGE TO THOSE WHO DISAGREE

    Rebut by providing an alternate strategy that can accomplish the same goals so easily and with so little damage. Note: name calling, ad hominem arguments or straw man diversions do not count as rebuttals. Unacceptable alternative: Working with Assad and allies who caused the problem in the first place. Why not? We would be colluding in genocide, assisting attacks on all rebels instead of ISIS and thereby making ourself an enemy and legitimate target of all Sunnis worldwide. Let the backfire fall on those who deserve it instead.

    • Note that the above strategy would force Russia to back off in both Syria and Iran since Putin would be forced to intervene in both Afghanistan and Iraq, giving him four potential quagmires in all at a time when his economy is reeling with no sign of sunlight on the horizon.

    • RT, I think that you along with many others greatly overestimate the Islamic State’s momentum and charm. I don’t see them dethroning the Taliban the same way I don’t see them dethroning AQAP in Yemen. This latest victory in Kunduz will further cement Akhtar’s position and discourage further defections. FYI, IS remain overall pariahs on the jihadist scene and that’s unlikely to change. The talk of IS that’s making rounds in some media saying they’ve usurped the title for the #1 jihadist group is nothing but sensationalist garbage – an illusion promoted by western news outlets as much as IS themselves.

      • @Tundra –

        IS is the #1 Jihadist group and threat now. It’s not a question of whether they will become such anymore. While the Taliban are still securing their first semi-major city (Kunduz has a population of about 300,000), IS controls a number already (Raqqah, Al-Bab/Manbij, Palmyra, Ramadi, Mosul, Fallujah). Forgive me if I missed any as I only pointed out populations greater than 100,000. Al Qaeda does not control any major city.

        Pretty much everyone who has made the mistake (including myself) of underestimating IS has been made out to look rather foolish later.

        • James, I think Tundra was talking about IS specifically in the context of Afghanistan. In that context, I absolutely agree with Tundra, IS isn’t going to overtake the Taliban in Afghanistan, ever. Can IS sustain a presence in Afghanistan? Ya of course, but they will never achieve the same level of support that the Taliban has in parts of Afghanistan. IS and the Taliban are two extremely different organizations. IS’s control of major cities in Iraq/Syria is not relevant to how IS will perform in Afghanistan, or any support they will receive (Slightly to broad of a statement probably, as there likely will be some Afghans who are attracted by success ISIS has had, though doubtful many and certainly not many amongst the core populations that the Taliban draws support/recruits from). Keep in mind you are talking about a country where in large swaths of it, the majority of people have likely never heard of a single city you mentioned. IS is an impressive organization, but they aren’t the be all end all.

          K9- Finland won’t join until Sweden does, which though more likely, won’t happen anytime soon. Transferring lethal weapons to the Ukraine is likely to just provoke a very violent response. Question is, would said transfer of lethal weapons be enough to protect them from the reaction that would come? Answer is almost definitely no. What is happening now is a much slower process, yes, but we are seeing Ukrainian capabilities improve markedly without provoking an aggressive response, which is important because the Ukrainians need time. It would be interesting to see the US finally transfer things such as counter-battery radars (which Obama has so far refused to do), which aren’t “technically” lethal, but would greatly increase the Ukrainian military’s ability to fight back. What the Ukrainians really need though isn’t military support, but economic help and help in fixing their decrepit, corrupt bureaucracy/political system. If you really want tog et at Russia long term, support the Ukrainians in building a viable, stable country, even if that means accepting de facto Russian control over the (worthless) provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. Get the Ukraine to the point where it can join the EU and thus, permanently, be oriented to the West and not the East. Help the Ukrainians delink their economy from Russia. That is more important then stoking tensions in the Ukrainian SE. Honestly, the Ukraine is stronger without that territory, and Russia is more burdened with having to hold on to it.

          The US Navy already regularly visits those nations in the Black Sea, there is no need for an American naval base. Building a permanent installation would just be costly, and overly vulnerable in the unlikely event that the US did go to war with Russia, without adding to America’s capabilities vis-vis Russia.

        • It’s the #1 in terms of territorial control; I never denied that. That shouldn’t be used as a measuring standard, though. I’m talking about how it influences the preexisting jihadist scene, along with its potential for expansion.

          Let’s take a look at the situation in global jihad.

          1. Syria and Iraq – currently it’s the single strongest non-state actor in both countries, no doubt about it. Its ideological rival JaN can boast a more significant momentum at present, and its cooperative nature gives it another edge over IS.
          2. Libya – I’d say it’s also stronger than non-IS jihadi groups, however it’s far from being a force to be reckoned with compared to the two main actors. By all accounts they’re losing in Benghazi.
          3. Yemen – Purely AQAP turf, as a well established AQ affiliate whose loyalty is unquestionable, with the IS affiliate remaining a fringe group only capable of conducting small scale operations and terror attacks. AQAP stands most to gain with the current situation in Yemen. IS is simply not in a position to catch up unless some major unforeseen development happens.
          4. East Africa – Al-Shabab remains much the same in terms of loyalty, with no IS presence in the region.
          5. AfPak – AQC/Taliban turf. IS established presence purely due to discontent in the Taliban ranks. With the leadership issue solved and Taliban experiencing a resurgence, is there much reason to believe that IS will continue to grow and overtake the Taliban? A group that – unlike the Taliban – has no roots to speak of?
          6. West Africa – Boko Haram crashed hard, and was losing even before it attained official status as an IS province. It’s decision to join IS can be attributed to desperation. This was the biggest fish IS managed to catch. No great loss to AQ, as they recognized before that its unchecked savagery harmed the SJ cause more than benefited it.
          7. SE Asia – again, minor groups with no relevance to speak of.

          On top of that, take this into account: The number of AQ affiliates and linked groups that have crossed over to IS has been minor, with the majority that did witnessing a decline of their own. IS momentum has been mostly checked, as they made no major gains since Spring, with several failed offensives. Image is important, and unless they can achieve major gains again, the charm that affiliation to it would usually hold will continue to fade. As its territory is reduced, its legitimacy fades – this is something AQ doesn’t concern itself with. AQ holds losing as merely an organizational problem. Kind of hard to claim a caliphate or even a state when you’re holed up in some mud hut in Anbar. As IS losses mount, AQ’s insistence on the prematurity of the caliphate will be vindicated.

          AQ will remain. IS won’t. One is a lot more durable than the other. If IS continues to grow exponentially throughout the region next year, feel free to drop by and remind me of how wrong I was and rub it in to your heart’s content.

      • RT &Tundra: Suprisingly the key to pressuring Russia with regards Syria is to increase Ukrainian military capability and enhancing NATO presence (e.g. tanks, infantry, missiles, aircrafts etc) in Eastern Europe as well as offering incentives to Finland to join NATO. As for the rebels I can assure you once the Gulf countries have brought the Yemen issue to an amicable settlement you watch the increase in weaponry flow to Syria. In fact if the US wanted to really intimidate the Russians it/USA could Black Sea nation countries of NATO (e.g. Romania/Bulgaria/Turkey) naval military weapons and intelligence transfers and help finance through loans and gifts to modernise the navies of those countries in the Black Sea in exchange for a US base in the Black Sea (e.g. a US base in Trabzon for instance).

        • Don’t underestimate ISIS whose appeal, unlike the Taliban, is global. ISIS is indeed making inroads in Afghanistan and has a strong interesting in expanding into the Caucasus, the Central Asia Republics and Russia itself. The Taliban does not. The Taliban are also suffering defections to ISIS and are reportedly divided after Mullah Omar’s fall. If ISIS doesn’t take over in Afghanistan once we pull out, it and the Taliban are likely to ally I believe. Either way, it’s not good news for an overextended, economically stretched Russia.

          Strategically it’s self evident that any strong ISIS move into Afghanistan and points north would make great sense to many Jihadis seeking to strike back as Russia increases its killing of Sunni Muslims in Afghanistan and starts targeting non-ISIS Sunni rebels. Extremists won’t want to limit themselves to the Syrian and Iraqi front, where they are triply vulnerable to air power (Coalition aircraft, Syrian aircraft, Russian aircraft). They’ll be anxious to strike Russia and Afghanistan were they are more vulnerable, giving both a new threat to ponder. We are in the way, protecting oppressors instead of making difficulties for them.

          Extremists can’t ignore the great opportunity to strike Russia that will open up if we move. Why take bullets when Russians, basilj and IRCG can take them instead? We owe Russia and Iran nothing. As Russia steps up its War Against Sunnis In Syria and elsewhere (the Tartars in Crimea), ISIS will be looking for a way to strike back and we can provide it. If we move out, I GUARANTEE Jihadis will seize the opportunity in Afghanistan. Can Russia afford that? Wouldn’t the potential threat by ISIS south of Russia pose a far greater threat to Russia nationa security than the fall of Assad in Syria where the best Russians can manage is to hold off the inevitable a bit longer–the Assad regime being so intensely hated by most Syrians. Our withdrawal would constitute an open invitation to jihadis to strike back at Russia via Afghanistan.

          The more Russia helps Assad persecute Sunnis and the more widespread Russia’s anti-Sunni crimes elsewhere the more jihadis Russians will draw wherever they place their oppressive boots. Under our present policy, the moderate rebels will be losers once again. Create an alternative draw for jihadis in Afghanistan and moderate rebels in Syria benefit while Russia gets hurt.

          • There is a reason why the Taliban doesn’t have goal interests. Most of the people who fight for the Taliban can care less about the rest of the globe. The Taliban aren’t like IS and vice versa. That is almost as ignorant as calling all the rebels in Syria Al-Queda. Hearing you throw out the blanket label “Jihadis” to cover the Taliban and IS, when you so often scream about people making blanket statements about organizations in Syria, is as amusing as it is hypocritical. You are right that there are divisions within the Taliban, it isn’t a monolithic organization nor is it the only organization in operation, just like in Syria. And within the Taliban there are different factions. That said, what is occurring in Kunduz, along with the general resurgence of the Taliban in much of the country, will only serve to strengthen the leaderships position.

            If we pull out of Afghanistan, worst case scenario is a return to a civil war based largely on ethnic lines. A war no side would win without outside help (though the largely Pashtun Taliban would be the strongest faction). What absolutely will not happen is a takeover of Afghanistan by IS, a proposition which is so unrealistic its actually laughable. Not to mention the idea that Russia would care…? I am legitimately confused as to how you possibly have come up with that idea? Not like Russia cared, or was threatened, during the 90’s at the height of Taliban power/Al-Queda operations in Afghanistan. Also, a time when Russia was at war in the Caucasus, and facing numerous Chechen led terrorist attacks. Not to mention the fact that many of said Taliban/Al-Queda members grew up fighting Russians.

            Not to mention, the ability to just brush off Chinese interest and actions shows a lack of understanding of Central Asian affairs. Look up the New Silk Road, the Shanghai Cooperative, One Belt One Road. Or note the fact that the Chinese are currently major players in peace talks with the Taliban. Or the fact that Chinese military leaders are increasingly publicly discussing the strategic importance for China of having a stable Afghanistan, and of the necessity of ensuring it is so. Or the increasing amount of Chinese direct investment into Afghanistan (which partially goes to the NSR initiative, and the OBOR). Central Asia is fast becoming China’s backyard, NOT Russia’s. (Actually, a major reason why tensions might exist in the future between the two, as Russia has lost/loses a traditional region of influence). Or we could ignore the fact that China has been directly threatened by Uigher separatists (or terrorists depending on your view) who have a history of operating in/from Afghanistan.

            Then there are the multiple ‘Stans that exist to Afghanistan’s north. Which, to speak with a broad brush, are autocratic, secular governments who would be directly threatened by any increase in extremism in the area. Knock-on effect would be to threaten China’s economic interests in said countries (again, see above). Said ‘Stans also put, O I don’t know, 2,000+km between Afghanistan’s borders and Russia. Then even more km’s to anything that matters in Russia.

            Finally, stop discussing “Sunni’s” as some monolith. It is ignorant and offensive, as it ignores the fact that with a community over a billion strong, crossing every ethnic line, the existing interests, beliefs, actions, concerns and everything else vary widely.

            • RE: “What absolutely will not happen is a takeover of Afghanistan by IS, a proposition which is so unrealistic its actually laughable”

              You said it. I’ll save it for when the time comes. The other possibility, as I’ve noted, is a alliance between ISIS and the Taliban. Let’s not forget that the Taliban formed one with Al Queda and backed Al Queda’s external schemes. Why would it not do the same with ISIS? ISIS could even offer to assist the Taliban in Pakistan.

              RE: Not like Russia cared, or was threatened, during the 90′s at the height of Taliban power/Al-Queda operations in Afghanistan.

              Of course I’m aware of that but this is the nineties and things have changed. Russia’s crimes against Sunnis have been horrific and are being stepped up even now in Syria. Then there’s the Tatars in the Ukraine.

              RE: Taliban have no interest in outside affairs.

              All the Taliban. Are you sure? Can you speak for them? It may be true for a segment of the Taliban but it’s clear some find ISIS’ crusade attractive and it is compatible with their ideology. Ditto for the appealing idea of a caliphate.

              Re: China

              China may be happy to let Assad and Iran handle any problems in Afghanistan. Why do what they can do? China’s border with Afghanistan is very narrow by comparison to Afghanistan’s borders with the Central Asia republics and with Iran. It’s not exactly as if the rest of China is rich recruiting ground for ISIS schemes.

              China likes to take advantage of Putin’s self-created isolation. You can’t deny she has done it repeatedly. See the shrew oil deals they got him to sign, knowing Putin had cut himself off from alternatives. Putin expected to get a break and got pie in the face instead. It was almost comical.

              If I were in China’s position my view would be, “The more Putin wears down Russia via overexpansion and alienation, the better for China down the road when it could move to take Siberia, whose population is increasingly Chinese. Putin is a fool chasing fool’s gold and going out of his way to make enemies of those whose help Russia will have needed but who will turn a deaf ear now.

              • Correction: It should say “this is NOT the nineties and things have changed.” ISIS didn’t exist then. Russia was in dire straits then and is headed in the same direction now but hasn’t bottomed out yet. There’s still one major economic sanction, perhaps the biggest of all, that Obama could levy. It’s the kind of thing he is less resistant to do. He once favored withdrawal from Aghanistan and likes bloodless solution, so the idea of withdrawing from Afghanistan could appeal. Iran as well. The catch in that is his continuing desire to bow, scape and kiss Khamenei’s little toes.

  5. A well-known Russian soldier/ militia member implicated in war crimes in eastern Ukraine has now been spotted in Syria.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/russian-soldier-motorola-seen-fighting-in-syria-2015-9

    ***

    Pentagon’s Top Expert on China Resigns

    Her policy comments in the last paragraph suggest she left for the same reason as so many others–Obama’s block, closed and insular mind. Everyone complains about it except Ben Rhodes, Suzie Rice and Tony Blinken who own Obama’s ear.

    http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/pro-defense-farkas-wrightewing-214223

    ***

    Taliban vow to bring Sharia law, welcome defectors in captured city

    http://news.yahoo.com/taliban-vow-bring-sharia-law-welcome-defectors-captured-135727858.html

    ***

    HUFFINGTON POST ON THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE ABOUT RUSSIA’S INVASION OF SYRIA

    To put these recent developments into context, we should remember that none of this would have been possible had the U.S. and the international community intervened directly when the crisis first erupted in Syria in 2011.

    Then, President Barack Obama’s infamous “Red Line fiasco” of 2013 gave a clear indicator to the Syrian regime, but more importantly to the Russians, that the White House wasn’t prepared to commit militarily to end what has now evolved to become the biggest human catastrophe of modern times.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin tested his American counterpart one more time in Crimea, but the U.S. Commander-in-Chief blinked yet again and Crimea has since been absorbed by Russia – despite Ukraine’s desperate pleas to the U.S. and its other Western allies.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/faisal-abbas/did-the-russians-just-inv_b_8215110.html

  6. Really good piece. The Interpreter looks at what is realloy behind Putin’s strategy in Syria

    Title:

    Putin’s Diplomatic Strategy — Don’t Offer Solutions, Create New Problems – A Disaster for All, Moscow Analysts Say

    Link:

    http://www.interpretermag.com/putins-diplomatic-strategy-dont-offer-solutions-create-new-problems-a-disaster-for-all-moscow-analysts-say/

    Excerpt:

    Putin has suffered two serious defeats already this year – one in Ukraine where his Novorossiya efforts have come to nothing and a second with China where his hopes for an alliance have been dashed.

    The Kremlin leader faces more problems ahead: the Boeing [MH17] and Litvinenko case and the end of the Minsk process. And consequently, Putin is casting about not for ways to address the problems he faces now but to create more problems in the hopes that he will be able to intimidate others into giving him the victories or simulacra of victories he craves…

    “never since the end of the USSR have the political positions of a Russian president in the world been so weak”…

    Given this desperate situation, Putin will be prepared to sacrifice anything, including Bashar Assad, if that is the price of saving himself. His policies have led to the expulsion of Russia from the G-8, a reduction in its role in the G-20, the collapse of trade with China and of the ruble, and the elimination of the opportunity for Russian firms to get loans in the West.

    “Russia,” Novoprudsky continues, “is in political and partially in economic isolation,” and despite what some think, it won’t escape that if prices for oil go up. That is because Russia’s crisis is “not economic but political,” the “direct result of Russia’s efforts” to use foreign expansion to mask internal collapse.

    Putin has to hope that his calls for an international coalition against ISIS will gain him support and allow him to come back into the international fold because “any independent military actions by Russia in Syria will lead to new sanctions” and the situation of the Russian economy will become even worse.

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