President Barack Obama is set to announce plans to send 250 more US troops to Syria, media accounts indicate—but they are vague on exactly which forces the troops will be backing. There are already some 50 Pentagon special operations troops embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but accounts say the new effort will be to bring more Arab militias into the fight against ISIS. The SDF itself was created to ally the Kurdish YPG militia with Arab factions, to give the US-backed anti-ISIS forces greater legitimacy with the Syrian opposition and Arab states. So will the new effort be to bring more Arab fighters under the SDF umbrella, or to have US forces backing Arab factions that resist allying with Kurds?
John F. Sopko, the Pentagon's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, gave a sobering assessment last week of the situation in the country 15 years after the fall of the Taliban. Corruption is endemic and security practically non-existent. More than 700 schools have been closed in recent months due to the ongoing insurgency. And despite at least $7 billion in counter-narcotics spending, opium production hit 3,300 tons in 2015—exactly the same level it was in 2001 when the US invaded. "Fifteen years into an unfinished work of funding and fighting, we must indeed ask, 'What went wrong?'" Sopko said in an address at at Harvard University on April 7, CNN reported.
One of the greatest tragedies on the global stage now is that revolutions are going on in both Syria and Turkey—and they are being pitted against each other in the Great Game. First we look at Syria, where the partial "ceasefire" in place for over a month is finally breaking down. The critical event seems to have been the April 18 bombing of a marketplace in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Noaman by regime warplanes, killing dozens. The town is controlled by Nusra Front, which was not included in the "ceasefire," but the victims of the bombardment were overwhelmingly civilians. The town's residents had no love of Nusra, and civil resistance activists had repeatedly taken to the streets there over the past month to oppose the jihadist militia and the Bashar Assad regime alike. (NYT, April 19) In the aftermath of the market bombing, the Jaysh al-Nasr, on the of main FSA-aligned militias, announced the opening of a new "battle" against regime forces. (Reuters, April 18)
We've had our criticisms of Benie Sanders. And up till now, he has been very cautious on the question of Palestine. He's been assailed by activists for signing off on both of the Senate resolutions supporting Israel in the midst of its assault on Gaza in 2014—although these were passed by "unanimous consent," which means that Bernie didn't literally sign off. He just stayed away from the Senate during the vote and failed to object. Still, it was bad. He is, however, making up for it now. Sanders said in his debate with Hillary Clinton this week: "I do believe that Israel...has every right to destroy terrorism. But in Gaza there were 10,000 wounded civilians and 1,500 killed. Was that a disproportionate attack? The answer is, I believe, it was. As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run, if we are ever going to bring peace...we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity."
The failed test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on North Korea's so-called "Day of the Sun" (April 15, the birthday of Kim Il-sung) only succeeded in winning rebukes from China—the DPRK regime's only, increasingly embarassed ally. China's official Xinhua news agency said that the test "marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere... Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy."
An exhaustive investigation, written up as "The Assad Files" by Ben Taub, appears in this week's issue of New Yorker magazine. It reports the findings of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an independent investigative body founded in 2012 in response to the Syrian war. Over the past four years, its network—aided by a high-placed mole—has smuggled more than 600,000 documents out of Syria, many "from within Assad's highest level security committee, called the Central Crisis Management Cell." Established after the initial 2011 uprising against the Bashar Assad dictatorship, the cell met daily in Damascus and was chaired by Mohammad Said Bekheitan, a leader of the ruling Baath Party. CIJA lawyers say the documents clearly implicate Assad and his circle in war crimes including the systematic torture and execution of opponents. Stephen Rapp, a former chief UN prosecutor in the Rwanda genocide cases, told the New Yorker: "When the day of justice arrives, we'll have much better evidence than we’ve had anywhere since Nuremberg."
In a meeting with the NY Daily News editorial board April 9, Hillary Clinton insisted that the 2009 overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 was not an illegal coup. In an exchange later broadcast on Democracy Now, journalist Juan González cited evidence from released e-mails that then-Secretary of State Clinton was being urged by her top aids to declare Zelaya's removal a military coup—to no avail. Clinton responded:
The Independent on April 12 runs a piece by one Malik Jalal, a community leader from Pakistan's tribal areas, who traveled to the UK to speak out, claiming he has been placed on the US drone "Kill List" for his efforts to broker peace with the Taliban. He writes: " I don't want to end up a 'Bugsplat'—the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. More importantly, I don't want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized. I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead."