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News :: International
Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels
08 Apr 2014
NATO backed Islamic 'rebels' gas civilians in Syria to create a cause for war.
Syria doom.bmp
In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​* Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.


Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)

Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.

The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’

In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.

The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.

At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’

The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’

The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.

The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’

Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.

The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.

Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)

*

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’

There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.

An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.

The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoğlu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)

But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.

The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.

Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.

*

The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’

A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’

The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’

Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of Erdoğan and his associates, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander [Erdoğan], if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.

Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’

4 April
See also:
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

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Re: Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels
08 Apr 2014
Modified: 04:53:32 PM
Many throughout the world—from various European heads of state to the average Joe/Jill on the streets of the U.S.—breathed a sigh of relief when Barack Obama announced that he was tabling his plans to bomb Syria while exploring Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to place the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons under “international control.” Soon after, Obama’s media toadies were fuming over the trenchant and apt delineation of U.S. bellicosity in Putin’s op-ed piece in the New York Times (11 September). Pointing out that a U.S. strike against Syria would “result in more innocent victims and escalation,” the capitalist autocrat wrote: “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan ‘you’re either with us or against us’.” He then piously put forward, “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”

It is a measure of the intense opposition to a U.S. attack on Syria that Putin has been mentioned, at times without tongue in cheek, for the Nobel Peace Prize given to war criminals who, however briefly, resort to diplomatic wheeling and dealing. Meanwhile, calls on Obama to forfeit his prize have been on the increase. Putin’s posture as the epitome of moderation and reason is consummate hypocrisy from the strongman of capitalist Russia who led the carnage against Chechen fighters for independence over a decade ago, among other bloody deeds.

The current chaos and bloodletting in the Near East, which in the context of the Syrian civil war threaten to erupt into a regional Sunni-versus-Shi’ite communal war, have been fed by more than two decades of wars and machinations by U.S. imperialism in the service of its appetites to maintain and augment its dominance there. U.S. depredations have decimated the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan and are ongoing both in Afghanistan and with drone strikes throughout the region. Although the talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov seem to have removed the prospect of an attack on Syria in the near future, Obama has maintained his “right” to act unilaterally if he is not pleased with the outcome of the chemical weapons deal.

The Assad regime lauds Putin for obtaining an agreement it describes as a victory. The Syrian rebels, on the other hand, had hoped that the campaign against the purported use of chemical weapons would provide the basis for imperialist bombardment on their behalf and have bitterly denounced the agreement. Marxists do not support either side in the Syrian civil war, which pits two reactionary forces against each other: the butcher Assad regime and a gaggle of rebel forces, ranging from hardcore Islamists to some secular types, which are mainly armed by Persian Gulf states and have themselves reportedly used chemical weapons. However, it would be the duty of the proletariat, especially U.S. workers in the belly of the beast, to stand for the defense of Syria against any military attack by the rapacious imperialists. Workers must also oppose the imperialist starvation sanctions that are in place against both Syria and Iran.

The Assad regime, which amassed chemical weapons as a counterweight to the nuclear-armed Zionist state of Israel, has indicated willingness to accept the terms of the Russia-U.S. deal, including the presence of United Nations chemical weapons inspectors. It is to be remembered that in the lead-up to the second U.S. war against Iraq, the UN and its inspectors acted as the imperialists’ facilitators, a role the UN has played since its founding after World War II. As the world’s dominant capitalist power, the U.S. will persist in its efforts to control the Near East politically and militarily. As aptly put by John Pilger in the London Guardian (10 September): “John Kerry’s farce and Barack Obama’s pirouettes are temporary. Russia’s peace deal over chemical weapons will, in time, be treated with the contempt that all militarists reserve for diplomacy.”

In Syria as well as Iran, Russia has strategic interests in the production and delivery of fossil fuels throughout the region. Moreover, Russia has enough military might, largely in the form of its nuclear arsenal, to command the respect of the U.S. To emphasize its opposition to Obama’s threatened bombing, Russia dispatched two warships to the Mediterranean Sea in August and recently sent two more to the area, including a “carrier killer” missile cruiser. The CIA has in recent weeks initiated light arms and munitions shipments to Syrian rebels, who are likely to receive more such aid in spite of the deal.

In the countries of the European Union (EU), many of which remain mired in recession, the widespread unpopularity of the U.S.-led war/occupation of Iraq provided the main basis for large-scale opposition to the proposed attack on Syria. British Conservative prime minister David Cameron’s failure to deliver parliamentary support for an attack left François Hollande, Socialist Party president of France (Syria’s former colonial overlord), as the only EU leader to back the U.S. Russian resistance to the U.S. bombing plans stiffened the resolve of the European imperialist chiefs, whose countries have their own interests in the region. When the assassin Putin provided Edward Snowden with temporary asylum, thus seizing the tattered mantle of “human rights” respectability from the assassin Obama, those heads of state were further pleased. All of these run their own nations’ spy apparatuses (normally in collaboration with the NSA and CIA or, in Britain’s case, in lockstep). But many of them resent the mammoth scope of the surveillance they are subjected to by the U.S. spymasters.

The rapidity with which the U.S./Russian understanding was reached indicates that Obama had little taste to go it alone. His September 10 speech indicating a willingness to try the path of diplomacy was for the most part a paean to American imperialism as the seven-decade-long “anchor of global security”—in other words, the world’s sheriff. Through multiple enforcements (read, continuous wars), America has made the world a better place, a force for good especially devoted to keeping children safe, blah blah. To those few hawks who complained about limiting an attack on Syria to a pinprick strike, Obama was more than reassuring. He declared, “Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”

Indeed not. The drones that shatter villages in Afghanistan and elsewhere are neither childproof nor pinpricks. The atomic incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not spare the wee ones. The napalm conflagrations employed in the Korean War deprived the inhabitants of villages and towns of the air necessary to survive irrespective of age. The chemical defoliants rained on the population of Vietnam (six pounds of defoliant per head) produced what Vietnamese doctors call a cycle of fetal deformities. The U.S. blockade of medicines to Iraq during the Clinton era was similarly unkind to the kids. The number of those massacred abroad by the U.S. imperialists in pursuit of their class interests since World War II approaches the ten-million mark. The bloodsoaked American rulers will be disarmed only when the U.S. proletariat sweeps them from power through socialist revolution.

Absent international support, Obama’s eschewal of an immediate armed attack on Syria signifies some recognition that such a venture is opposed by the war-weary majority of the American people, many of whom voted for him in 2008 as the “peace” candidate. Predictably, the racist yahoo Tea Party types are against any proposal from a man they dementedly portray as an alien hybrid of Hitler, Stalin and Idi Amin. Most Americans have other concerns, like surviving the impact of the “Great Recession.”

In this context, the majority of Congress, many of whom will stand for election next year, were undecided or opposed to endorsing Obama’s “limited” attack on Syria. Although the president is not greatly favored by the populace at the moment, Congress is very widely and vigorously despised, inspiring the following headline in The Onion (5 September): “Poll: Majority of Americans Approve of Sending Congress to Syria.” From their own standpoint, many among the U.S. capitalist rulers share the appreciation that this Congress (whose job is, after all, to serve their class interests) can accomplish nothing and are ill-disposed to getting bogged down in another Near East quagmire. This is especially the case in Syria, where the strength of the rebel forces resides in Islamic fundamentalists who are devoted to the extinction of the Great Satan (America). And Putin gave Obama a way out of his mess.

In his speech, the president intoned: “I know Americans want all of us in Washington, especially me, to concentrate on...‘putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class’.” The reality is that the percentage of the population employed is the same as it was at the depths of the recent recession and that Obama has continued the attacks on education initiated by his predecessor under the banner of “reform.”

Those massively deprived of their homes by the recession remain, for the most part, dispossessed, while many others are added to that list due to the rapacious bankers. Meanwhile, those at the very top have not only recovered their losses from the financial crisis but have seen their wealth reach an all-time high. Many of the president’s liberal supporters laud “Obamacare” as the crowning achievement of his reign. Not so trade unionists who fear that his recent one-year reprieve to employers to provide health care under the plan will allow the bosses more time to dump the health care they are obliged to provide under existing union contracts.

To these blows to working and poor people should be added the veneer Obama provided to racists with his proclamation upon being elected five years ago that racism had been 90 percent eliminated in this country. The recent Supreme Court ruling threatening voting rights, at base, challenges the legitimacy of the North’s victory over the slaveholding South in the Civil War. The ruling appealed to the perception that racism is pretty much a yesterday thing. This fiction was exposed as such, for the umpteenth time, by the killing of Trayvon Martin, so that a president known for his reticence in addressing racism felt obliged to acknowledge that black people face “a history that doesn’t go away.”

Nevertheless, in the absence of a workers party that champions the interests of the exploited and the oppressed, most workers and black people continue to look to the Democrats and Obama to provide some redress for their plight. Simultaneously, the rulers of the decaying capitalist order are intent on further grinding the working people and the poor, and every successful extension of U.S. military might across the globe strengthens them in that effort. The only social force capable of reversing these assaults is the working class mobilized in struggle against the dictates of bourgeois rule. It is the historic task of the international proletariat to put an end to capitalist imperialism and create a worldwide planned economy. But that requires the leadership of revolutionary workers parties, which we in the International Communist League seek to build as sections of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International.
Re: Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels
08 Apr 2014
Media blacks out Seymour Hersh exposé of US lies on Syrian gas attack

By Patrick Martin
8 April 2014

Nearly two days after the London Review of Books published a lengthy exposé by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh detailing efforts by the Turkish government to stage a provocation to bring the US military directly into the civil war in Syria, the US media has blacked out the report.

Hersh, who has authored groundbreaking investigative reports uncovering US atrocities, including the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq war, titled his article on last August’s sarin gas attack outside of Damascus “The Red Line and the Rat Line.”

The “red line” refers to President Obama’s threat to attack Syria if the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. The “rat line” was a CIA-organized supply chain running from Benghazi, Libya through southern Turkey and into Syria, which was used to smuggle weapons to the Syrian “rebels.”

The article describes efforts by the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to assist Syrian “rebels” of the al-Nusra Front, an Islamist force linked to Al Qaeda, in staging the poison gas attack on Ghouta on August 21, 2013.

Hundreds died in the atrocity, which the Obama White House seized on as a casus belli to bomb Syria. Faced with deep divisions within the American state and problems mobilizing US allies in Europe, and broad popular opposition to a new war in the Middle East, Obama eventually pulled back and in September accepted a face-saving deal brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin for the supervised destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks.

The Syrian government denied responsibility for the Ghouta attack and blamed the “rebels,” who had every reason to carry out the action, which coincided with the arrival of United Nations weapons inspectors in Damascus to investigate previous gas attacks. At the time of the attack, Syrian government forces were retaking areas previously held by the US-backed opposition, which was in disarray and on the point of collapse. It desperately needed a supposed government atrocity to provide a pretext for direct US military intervention against the Assad regime.

Hersh’s report substantiates the Syrian government’s claims, using documents and accounts from US intelligence and military sources. It also provides evidence that President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other US officials knowingly lied to the American people when they insisted that only the Assad regime could have carried out the Ghouta attack and that US intelligence agencies had proof that Syrian government forces were responsible. (See: New exposé by Seymour Hersh: Turkey staged gas attack to provoke US war on Syria)

Last December, Hersh published an initial account of the Ghouta attack, which noted the discrepancies and contradictions in the official US accounts and exposed media propaganda such as the now-retracted claim by the New York Times that its own technical analysis of the attack proved that only the Syrian military could have fired the gas shells. Hersh’s conclusion at that time, reflected in the headline “Whose Sarin?” was that it was still unclear who was responsible for the gas attack.

The latest account provides an important new finding—that the Turkish government worked with the al-Nusra Front to engineer the gas attack and blame it on Assad in order to provide a means for the Obama administration to override popular opposition to another US war in the Middle East and launch military action in Syria.

A former intelligence official told Hersh, “We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line … They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus … The deal was to do something spectacular.”

Hersh has been unable to get his reports published by major American media outlets. Both of his Syrian exposés appeared in the online edition of the London Review of Books, not in the New Yorker, where he was published for many years, or any daily newspaper.

Since the new article was posted early Sunday morning, there has been total silence in the mainstream US press. The New York Times and Washington Post, the two leading dailies, said nothing. The Times published a long account Monday of fighting in Syria with no mention of Hersh’s report.

The main British dailies have also been silent. The Guardian, in addition to censoring Hersh, published a long account of a self-justifying interview on BBC Radio 4 by the notorious liar and war criminal Tony Blair, the former prime minister, defending the Iraq war and advocating military action in Syria.

The article, written by the newspaper’s chief political correspondent Nicholas Watt, goes so far as to note Blair’s argument that the use of sarin gas at Ghouta was sufficient reason to attack Syria, without referencing Hersh’s exposure of this attack as a provocation, published just 24 hours earlier. The cover-up is conscious and deliberate.

The Turkish media has commented on the Hersh report with a blizzard of vituperation and attempts to defend the Erdogan government. This comes despite the fact that the government recently shut off access to YouTube after someone posted a video of a secret meeting of government officials at which the head of Turkish intelligence discussed staging another provocation inside Syria, such as an attack on a mosque, to provide a pretext for military intervention.

The web site of the Turkish newspaper Zaman published an email sent by the White House press office Sunday night, which read: “We have seen Mr. Hersh’s latest story, which is based solely on information from unnamed sources and which reaches conclusions about the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria that are completely off-base.” Zaman also cites “Turkish diplomatic sources” declaring, “These claims are baseless. We do not take it seriously.”

The left-liberal magazine Nation commented briefly on Hersh’s first article on the Ghouta attack last December. The article by Greg Mitchell took a noncommittal position, declaring, “Hersh’s edgy investigative reporting is usually proven right, of course, but in recent years, one must admit, sometimes wrong. For myself, I’ve never claimed a belief that rebels, not the Assad forces, launched the attacks …” The Nation has not commented on the latest Hersh report.

Also silent is the pseudo-left International Socialist Organization, which has campaigned relentlessly to portray the US stooges and Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the Syrian “rebel” camp as a mass popular revolutionary movement. The ISO publication Socialist Worker swallowed the Ghouta provocation hook, line and sinker, and has not reported or commented on either of Hersh’s exposés on the question.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/04/08/hrsh-a08.html
Re: Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels
08 Apr 2014
Click on image for a larger version

Congress.jpg
Poll: Majority Of Americans Approve Of Sending Congress To Syria

WASHINGTON—As President Obama continues to push for a plan of limited military intervention in Syria, a new poll of Americans has found that though the nation remains wary over the prospect of becoming involved in another Middle Eastern war, the vast majority of U.S. citizens strongly approve of sending Congress to Syria.

The New York Times/CBS News poll showed that though just 1 in 4 Americans believe that the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Syrian conflict, more than 90 percent of the public is convinced that putting all 535 representatives of the United States Congress on the ground in Syria—including Senate pro tempore Patrick Leahy, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and, in fact, all current members of the House and Senate—is the best course of action at this time.

“I believe it is in the best interest of the United States, and the global community as a whole, to move forward with the deployment of all U.S. congressional leaders to Syria immediately,” respondent Carol Abare, 50, said in the nationwide telephone survey, echoing the thoughts of an estimated 9 in 10 Americans who said they “strongly support” any plan of action that involves putting the U.S. House and Senate on the ground in the war-torn Middle Eastern state. “With violence intensifying every day, now is absolutely the right moment—the perfect moment, really—for the United States to send our legislators to the region.”

“In fact, my preference would have been for Congress to be deployed months ago,” she added.

Citing overwhelming support from the international community—including that of the Arab League, Turkey, and France, as well as Great Britain, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Japan, Mexico, China, and Canada, all of whom are reported to be unilaterally in favor of sending the U.S. Congress to Syria—the majority of survey respondents said they believe the United States should refocus its entire approach to Syria’s civil war on the ground deployment of U.S. senators and representatives, regardless of whether the Assad regime used chemical weapons or not.

In fact, 91 percent of those surveyed agreed that the active use of sarin gas attacks by the Syrian government would, if anything, only increase poll respondents’ desire to send Congress to Syria.

Public opinion was essentially unchanged when survey respondents were asked about a broader range of attacks, with more than 79 percent of Americans saying they would strongly support sending Congress to Syria in cases of bomb and missile attacks, 78 percent supporting intervention in cases of kidnappings and executions, and 75 percent saying representatives should be deployed in cases where government forces were found to have used torture.

When asked if they believe that Sen. Rand Paul should be deployed to Syria, 100 percent of respondents said yes.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that sending Congress to Syria—or, at the very least, sending the major congressional leaders in both parties—is the correct course of action,” survey respondent and Iraq war veteran Maj. Gen. John Mill said, noting that his opinion was informed by four tours of duty in which he saw dozens of close friends sustain physical as well as emotional injury and post-traumatic stress. “There is a clear solution to our problems staring us right in the face here, and we need to take action.”

“Sooner rather than later, too,” Mill added. “This war isn’t going to last forever.”

http://www.theonion.com/articles/poll-majority-of-americans-approve-of-s/
Re: Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels
08 Apr 2014
Modified: 05:49:50 PM
Where Next? Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan

The catastrophic 2003 war on Iraq was led by America and there was no reason for any other nation to become involved in what was obviously going to be a barbaric shambles. Eventually it became obvious there was no justification whatever for the invasion, but Britain had chosen to tag along, just as it did in the ill-planned and appallingly executed war in Afghanistan. Just how the entire might of the hi-tech US and the North Atlantic Treaty countries (plus some others who wanted to curry favour with Washington), can lose a war against a few thousand raggy-baggie militants is beyond comprehension. But they did. And nobody can claim otherwise.

Few remember the words of the perceptive Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, US Army, who wrote about Afghanistan two years ago that:


“The United States, along with over 40 NATO and other allied nations, possesses the most sophisticated, powerful, and technologically advanced military force that has ever hit the field of combat. We have the finest and most well trained soldiers that exist anywhere; we have armored vehicles of every type, to include MIA2 Main Battle Tanks; artillery, mortars, advanced rockets, precision guided missiles, and hand-held rocket launchers; we have a wholly uncontested air force composed of NATO’s most advanced ground attack fighter jets, bombers, AWACS controllers, spy planes, signals-interception aircraft, B 1 bombers, attack helicopters, and massive transport jets to ferry our troops and critical supplies where they are needed; we have thousands of unmanned aerial drones both for intelligence collection and missile-launching; we have a helicopter fleet for personnel transport and attack support; we have an enormous constellation of spy satellites; logistics that are as limitless as the combined weight of the industrial world; we have every technological device known to the profession of arms; we are able to intercept virtually every form of insurgent communication to include cell phones, walkie-talkies, satellite phones, email, and even some ability to eavesdrop on otherwise private conversations; a remarkably capable cohort of intelligence analysts that are as educated, well trained and equipped to a degree that used to exist only in science fiction; and our various nations have the economic wherewithal to spend tens of billions of dollars each month to fund it all. And for almost 10 years we have pitted this unbelievable and unprecedented capability against:

A bunch of dudes in bed sheets and flip-flops.”

The fact that Davis was (and is) honourable, insightful and highly intelligent was enough to consign his analysis to the bin. Honesty is not welcomed by those who created chaos and then have to defend their demonstrable incompetence. And you’ll never be promoted for telling the truth. I saw this when I served in Vietnam, where the slogan was “Stuff Up and Move Up!” And by heaven they did. And there were just as many idiots moved up during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What a legacy.

And another of Washington’s legacies has been final destruction of British independence.

You may have heard of a man called David Cameron. He is prime minister of Britain and arguably even more inept than his immediate predecessors, Messrs Blair and Brown, the bungling duo who drove the UK into the sink of international mediocrity. It was Blair who followed Bush America so enthusiastically in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and when Britain withdrew from Iraq it was Brown who said in 2009 that “Today Iraq is a success story . . . Britain can be proud of our legacy that we leave there.” But the country was a heaving shambles that has become even more of a catastrophe as the years have passed. In 2013 the United Nations recorded the deaths in Iraq of “at least 7,818 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces.” Hardly a day passes without slaughter. What a legacy. What a fool.

At the time when Brown claimed that the Iraq war was a success David Cameron was in political opposition and called for an inquiry into the conflict because “There are vital lessons to learn and we need to learn them rapidly and the only justification for delay can, I’m afraid, be a political one.” Quite so. An inquiry ran from 2009 to 2011 and Mr Cameron became prime minister in 2010 and has not permitted release of documents that would throw light on the lunacy and even criminality of the war. The findings of the inquiry have still not been made public. No doubt the justification for delay is a political one. His foreign minister, a little joke person called Hague, had supported the war on Iraq and after withdrawal of foreign troops told the BBC that “We are leaving [Iraq] a better place and it was worth doing what we have done.”

These people live in a fantasy world. Every week there are hundreds of people killed in Iraq. The place is utterly wrecked as a country. Over a million Iraqis died because of the US-led, British-backed war. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a paradise compared with what the invaders have left behind them. The entire affair was a gigantic war crime.

Cameron has followed the example of his pathetic predecessors when pronouncing on Britain’s part in the war in Afghanistan. British troops are now leaving that devastated country, and Cameron stated that “To me, the absolute driving part of the mission is a basic level of security so it doesn’t become a haven for terror. That is the mission, that was the mission and I think we will have accomplished that mission and so our troops can be very proud of what they have done.”

But Nato declared its main role “is to assist the Afghan Government in exercising and extending its authority and influence across the country, paving the way for reconstruction and effective governance,” while the UK’s Ministry of Defence announced Britain’s mission was “To develop a self-sustaining, stable and democratic Afghanistan.”

Most British troops were stationed in Helmand province, where, as the BBC reported last week, there are “questions about what will be the lasting legacy of British forces after eight years in Helmand and 448 British military deaths. It is certainly not peace. As the last containers are loaded onto lorries at Camp Price you can still hear gunfire in the distance.”

Afghanistan is in utter chaos and the “lasting legacy” of Britain in Helmand includes, among other disasters, a vast increase in heroin production.

In answer to a question in parliament the UK’s government had to admit that “The opium-growing area around Britain’s main base in Afghanistan nearly quadrupled between 2011 and 2013.” It was declared that “achieving a permanent reduction in opium cultivation will take decades — it needs a strong Afghan lead supported by effective regional and international action.” In eight long years in the province there has been no “effective international action” to stem the enormous increase in poppy growth and production of heroin, much of which ends up in Britain. (Washington doesn’t care much about Afghan heroin production because so little of it ends up in America.)

Last June the UN recorded that there were 574,327 Afghans internally displaced by war. The figure is now 630,000. And a major fact ignored by the West is that there are still 1.6 million Afghan refugees being looked after in Pakistan. If Cameron’s vaunted “basic level of security” had been achieved, then these people would return to their homeland, but they don’t want to risk their lives. The UN High Commission for Refugees, that saintly agency, records that Pakistan is hosting the largest number of refugees of any country in the world ; yet Pakistan never receives a word of international thanks, praise or even acknowledgement for bearing with three decades of societal disruption and economic burden caused first by the Soviet occupation, then by the US-British-Nato war.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan states that almost 3,000 civilians were killed and more than 5,600 injured in 2013. It was the worst year for deaths of women and children since 2009. And the Afghan Local Police did their bit in contributing to despair and chaos when they “carried out serious human rights violations with impunity which were often enabled by provincial or national level power-brokers.”

So, while the US and Nato limp out of Afghanistan, leaving happy drug producers, a thriving corruption industry, unsafe roads, a police force out of control, and an astonishing annual number of civilian deaths, where will the western warmongers want to go next?

What legacy are they going to inflict on the next unfortunate country that they consider deserves their military attention? When you think of the amount of good that could have been done throughout the world — the improvements to health, education, agriculture, energy production; the list is endless — with the billions of dollars that have been squandered on causing misery in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it makes you doubt the sanity of western political leaders. But they’ll soon find some other country to destroy. Fail, fail and fail again.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/08/failure-in-iraq-and-afghanistan/