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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks on his phone before a press conference at the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa, Canada June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    The State Department is reportedly trying to walk back comments that Secretary of State John Kerry made about Syria during an appearance in Aspen, Colorado, last month.

    When asked about the US's anti-ISIS strategy in Syria, Kerry said that "the most important thing, frankly, is seeing if we can reach an understanding with the Russians about how to, No. 1, deal with Daesh and al-Nusrah," Kerry said, referring to ISIS and Al Qaeda's offshoot in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

    Kerry then characterized two other Syrian rebel groups, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, as "subgroups" of ISIS and Nusra.

    "There are a couple of subgroups underneath the two designated [terrorist groups], Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra — Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, particularly — who brush off and fight with that alongside these other two sometimes to fight the Assad regime," he said.

    It is true that rebel groups in Syria fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad sometimes coordinate or shift alliances to improve their battlefield odds. Indeed, Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are members of the Jaysh al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) anti-Assad military alliance that now controls most of Idlib Province.

    Neither Jaysh al-Islam nor Ahrar al-Sham, however, is a UN-designated terrorist organization. Both have expressed that they are opposed to ISIS. And neither is beholden to, or takes orders from, Nusra.

    nusra

    The Washington Post's Josh Rogin first noticed the comment, which apparently annoyed State Department officials who say that they have "been arguing to make sure the Russians and the Syrian regime don't equate these groups [Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham] with the terrorists."

    "Kerry's line yields that point," a senior administration official told Rogin.

    "Baffled. SMH," another said in an email, using an abbreviation for the expression "shaking my head."

    State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed to The Post that the administration's policy with regard to Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham had not changed.

    Still, "it's a telling gaffe," Middle East expert Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider on Tuesday. "And it's revealing about the kind of conversation they're having with the Russians — and where, usually, that conversation leads."

    Political expedience

    Russia intervened in Syria on behalf of its ally, Assad, in late September. Since then, Moscow has pushed for the UN to list Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham — which are staunchly opposed to Assad — as terrorist organizations. This is for political reasons and to justify its continued strikes on areas of Syria where ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, has little to no presence.

    Jaysh al-Islam, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, is one of the most important rebel groups in Syria, with a formidable presence east of Syria's capital, Damascus. Mohammed Alloush, a leading Jaysh al-Islam figure, was the chief negotiator for the opposition High Negotiations Committee before he resigned in May, citing a lack of progress on humanitarian issues.

    A Russian airstrike targeted and killed the leader of Jaysh al-Islam, Zahran Alloush, in the village of Utaya to the east of Damascus in December.

    jaysh al islam damascus

    Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful Islamist rebel brigade headquartered in Syria's Idlib Province, is backed by Turkey and has criticized and clashed with ISIS in the past.

    Until now, it has been politically pragmatic for the US to refrain from characterizing Jaysh al-Islam or Ahrar al-Sham as terrorists. Doing so would most likely further undermine peace talks and paint Washington as sympathetic to Russia's bombing campaign — which has frequently targeted rebel groups supported by important US allies and the Central Intelligence Agency.

    "Russia considers all revolutionaries and rebel groups as ISIS or al-Nusra to justify its indiscriminate shelling of civilians and the moderate opposition," Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, told The Post on Monday.

    But the administration's political calculations may be shifting in light of a new proposal by President Barack Obama — which was reportedly opposed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter — to coordinate more closely with the Russians in Syria against Al Qaeda.

    Not the first time

    It would not be the first time that the Obama administration has touted a Russia-aligned policy in Syria at a politically sensitive moment.

    In the midst of a countrywide truce brokered by the US and Russia in late February, US Army Col. Steve Warren, then the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, was asked whether Russian airstrikes on Aleppo — the epicenter of the war since late last year — meant that Moscow was preparing to end the cessation-of-hostilities agreement.

    Warren responded that it was "complicated" because Nusra "holds Aleppo" and is not party to the agreement.

    Steve Warren

    Many experts and analysts were quick to point out, however, that Nusra has never controlled Aleppo nor maintained a significant presence there. WhileNusra had indeed been building up its presencein Alepposince February,the cityis also occupied by civilians andarmed opposition groupsassociated with the US-backed Free Syrian Army that agreed to abide by the fragile agreement.

    As Middle East analyst Kyle Orton noted on Twitter at the time, Warren came "pretty close" to saying that the coalition supported Russia's airstrikes in the city.

    Then as now, observers wondered whether Warren had misspoken. But the US has been steadily accommodating an increasing number of Russian demands in Syria, including one to urge the moderate opposition to stop comingling with Nusra so that Moscow can bomb its positions — even though, some rebels have complained, weakening Nusra would mean strengthening Assad.

    obama rhodes kerry power

    For the US's top diplomat to now indicate that he agrees with Russia's characterization of Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham as terrorist groups sends more mixed signals — whether to Syrian rebels or political allies — about Washington's commitment to the opposition it claims to support.

    Writing in the pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Hayat, Ibrahim Hamidi noted that European diplomats were unnerved by what they perceived as a bilateral discussion between Washington and Moscow that had gone over their heads — and were engaged in intense discussions about how to"control the Obama administration's rush toward the Russian position on Syria."

    And rebels are reportedly concerned that Washington's new cooperation with the Russians means "dismantling Jaysh al-Fateh, which opens the door to a regime victory and reproducing the regime with Russian backing,"Hamidi added.

    In any case, analysts agree that Kerry's comments bizarrely — and inaccurately— conflated roughly five different rebel groups in Syria that are either military allies or in competition with one another.

    "It's true that the groups fighting Assad are hard to distinguish and often co-mingle, but US policy is based on knowing which are which," Rogin wrote. "Kerry muddied the waters. That's typically Moscow's job."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    assad erdogan

    In the past month, Turkey has moved to normalize relations with Israel, Russia, and now — according to comments made by Turkey's new prime minister, as well as a Foreign Policy report published Wednesday — with the Assad regime in Syria.

    "It is our greatest and irrevocable goal: Developing good relations with Syria and Iraq, and all our neighbors that surround the Mediterranean and the Black Sea," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday.

    "We normalized relations with Russia and Israel," Yildirim said. "I'm sure we will normalize our relations with Syria as well. For the fight against terrorism to succeed, stability needs to return to Syria and Iraq."

    A new report published the same day in Foreign Policy claims that two members of Turkey's Homeland Party — a nationalist movement "with an anti-Western and anti-American platform"— have been meeting with Syrian government officials over the past year to discuss "how to prepare the ground for Turkey and Syria to resume diplomatic relations and political cooperation."

    They say they have been relaying the outcomes of these meetings to high-ranking Turkish military and Foreign Ministry officials.

    Still, experts are divided over how plausible it is that Ankara — which has been one of the staunchest opponents to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since breaking diplomatic ties with his government in 2011 — would attempt to mend its relationship with a leader it has actively worked against for the last five years.

    "It would be highly odd and run counter to everything we have seen of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and the [Justice and Development Party] for a small group of staunch Kemalists to be at the vanguard of a seismic foreign policy shift under this particular government," Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum and analyst of Middle Eastern politics and US foreign policy, told Business Insider on Wednesday.

    But Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkish parliament and now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that rumors of a "reset" with Syria are entirely plausible.

    "Turkey is going through a foreign policy reset," Erdemir told Business Insider on Wednesday. "Following change of course vis-a-vis Israel, Russia, and the UAE, the next steps will be Syria and Egypt."

    'It would be unprecedented'

    Still, others are skeptical that Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, would undertake such a "seismic" foreign policy shift at such a politically sensitive moment — even if, as the Foreign Policy report and comments from Turkish officials suggest, the Turkish leader is looking for allies against the country's Kurdish foes.

    "The consensus is that Turkey is reevaluating its approach to Assad, in order to prevent [Kurdish] PYD independence, or democratic autonomy," Aaron Stein, an expert on Turkey and resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told Business Insider on Wednesday.

    "There may indeed have been a strain of thinking in the Turkish government that thinks this way, but there is also a pervasive feeling that the country is winning its own war against the [Kurdistan Workers' Party], and that Rojava can be coerced in the longer term," Stein said, referring to the Kurds' self-declared autonomous region of Rojava in northern Syria.

    erdogan

    Koplow largely agreed.

    "No doubt there are nationalist politicians and groups that view Assad as a lesser evil than the [Kurdish] PYD, and I am sure that some of them are talking to the Assad regime," Koplow told Business Insider.

    "But even with [former Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu — who was the architect of Turkey's Syria policy — gone from the scene, I find it difficult to envision a scenario in which Turkey's policy toward Assad would change wholesale," Koplow added.

    Davutoğlu served as Turkey's minister of foreign affairs until he became prime minister in 2014. He resigned from his post in May under pressure from Erdoğan and the AKP.

    "Turkey has insisted for five years that Assad is the root cause of not only the Syrian conflict itself, but the rise of ISIS and the consequent empowerment of the Kurds, and to suddenly repudiate the core belief driving everything it has done with regard to Syria would be unprecedented," Koplow said.

     Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) addresses a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

    Jonathan Schanzer, an expert on Turkey and vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted that it would be difficult for Erdoğan to rationalize the policy U-turn to Turkey's Sunni Arab allies, who have become heavily invested in ousting Assad and arming his opposition.

    "It's plausible in phases, but it can't happen overnight," Schanzer said of a possible reset between Ankara and Damascus. Whether toward Israel, Russia, or the Assad regime, Schanzer noted, "Turkey is now trying to retreat from its more hostile postures — likely at the US' urging — because it is realizing that its 'Arab Spring' foreign policy has failed."

    Stein also noted the role the US may be playing, whether explicitly or implicitly, in encouraging Turkey to soften its stance on the embattled Syrian president. The Obama administration has been steadily shifting away from "Assad must go" and working more closely with the Russians, resulting in Turkey being largely "cut out of the negotiations about the [Syrian political] transition," Stein said.

    "Russia and the United States negotiate bilaterally and are then expected to account for the actions of their respected camps, with Turkey falling under the US umbrella," Stein said. "Turkey can clearly read the tea leaves and knows what the US priority is and is now acting accordingly."

    From ideology to security

    Yusuf Muftuoglu, a former adviser to Erdoğan's predecessor, Abdullah Gül, argued in The Huffington Post last week that Turkey's posture had boomeranged back with negative consequences.

    Muftuoglu claimed that Turkey's "normalization of Salafi extremism" has come back to haunt the country in the form of deep-rooted ISIS networks poised to launch spectacular terror attacks in major Turkish cities.

    "For years, Turkey supported Salafi factions, whose exact composition and overall aims it did not bother to find out too much about, just because they fought" Assad, Muftuoglu wrote.

    Turkey was long accused by the international community of turning a blind eye to the weapons and fighters crossing its border into Syria to fight forces loyal to Assad. As those actors turned militant, they began clashing with Syrian Kurds and became useful to Ankara, which has sought to halt the Kurds' territorial expansion along Turkey's southern border.

    Muftuoglu continued:

    "What multiplied the penetration of ISIS in Turkey, however, cannot simply be explained by the geologistics of an open border and authorities looking the other way. This conjoined with a religious and sociological dimension: Turkey's strategy of supporting the Salafi factions in Syria, and its huge public relations machinery that praised the fighters, normalized Salafism in the eyes of many ordinary, pious Sunni Turks."

    Essentially, Muftuoglu said, "the support given to the Syrian opposition from Turkey became support for an Islamist agenda, and in the face of the main enemy, Iran, it was, in time, transformed into a sectarian, Sunni discourse."

    Erdemir, of the FDD, noted that a reset with Damascus would make sense in light of Ankara's shift away from "an ideological orientation to a security orientation."

    istanbul airport attack memorial

    As it faces threats from ISIS and the insurgent Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and struggles to accommodate the more than 2 million refugees who have resettled on Turkish soil, Erdoğan is "back-stepping from his Islamist stance" and relinquishing "neo-Ottoman adventurism" in favor of a more pragmatic and realpolitik approach, Erdemir said.

    "For Erdoğan, this is simply a survival strategy," Erdemir said. "This is like a barter. He gives up the AKP's foreign policy priorities in exchange for his personal survival in domestic politics."

    Koplow, however, remains unconvinced.

    "Between the prime-ministerial shakeup, the removal of Hakan Fidan as chief of Turkish intelligence, and the rapprochement with Russia and Israel, Turkey has tacitly acknowledged its past foreign policy errors, Koplow said. "But I don't think patching things up with Assad is going to be a part of the new program."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in this October 20, 2015 file photo. To match Insight MIDEAST-CRISIS-SYRIA/PUTIN REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/ Files

    (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview broadcast on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has never talked to him about leaving power, despite pressure from Washington for Assad to step down.

    "They never said a single word regarding this," Assad told NBC News when asked whether Putin or Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had talked to him about a political transition in Syria, where a civil war has raged since 2011.

    Assad also said he is not concerned that Putin and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who travels to Moscow on Thursday, will make a deal that would force him from power.

    "Because their politics, I mean, the Russian politics, is not based on making deals. It's based on values," Assad said.

    Russia has been a major ally of Assad while the United States, which backs rebels seeking to overthrow Assad, has called for him to leave power.

    Kerry heads to Moscow seeking greater Russian cooperation in the war against Islamic State militants in Syria, but he faces strong opposition from U.S. defense and intelligence officials who argue that Washington and Moscow have diametrically opposed objectives in the country.

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) welcomes U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Moscow on Thursday to again seek closer Russian cooperation in the war against Islamic State in Syria, but he faces strong opposition from defense and intelligence officials who argue that Washington and Moscow have diametrically opposite objectives in the country.

    Kerry's trip, which State Department officials say is his second to the Russian capital this year and his third in 12 months, takes place as U.S.-Russian relations have worsened with tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions, aggressive Russian maneuvers toward U.S. aircraft and vessels, and a disregard for a cessation of hostilities in Syria, where Russia has bombed U.S.-backed rebels.

    Relations between Moscow and Washington also remain strained over the Ukraine crisis and what the Kremlin considers NATO’s unjustified activities along its borders, raising fears that disagreements could escalate into confrontations, either accidental in Syria or the result of miscalculations in the air and naval encounters from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

    Yet Kerry, it seems, still hopes for closer collaboration with Russia, to the disbelief of many officials who say the Obama administration has no strategy on how to deal with the challenges Russia poses in Europe and Syria.

    "It isn't clear why the secretary of state thinks he can enlist the Russians to support the administration's goals in Syria," said one U.S. intelligence official.

    "He's ignoring the fact that the Russians and their Syrian allies have made no distinction between bombing ISIS and killing members of the moderate opposition, including some people that we’ve trained," the official said, using an acronym for the militant group. "Why would we share intelligence and targeting information with people who’ve been doing that?"

    russian airstrikes Syria

    The targeting problem is compounded by the fact that rebels groups often operate in close proximity with one another and at times have fought both for and against one another. The Nusra Front, an offshoot of al Qaeda, has frequently operated in close proximity to rebels deemed moderate by the West, including some that have received military training and support from the CIA and Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition. ANGRY SPIES

    U.S. intelligence officers are incensed by the administration's continued overtures to Russia, in part because they say the Russians knew that two rebel camps they bombed this week were far from any Islamic State fighters and housed U.S.-backed rebels or their families.

    The first attack, on Monday, killed at least 123 people and injured scores more, many of them CIA-trained rebels and military or intelligence officers from allied Arab countries, said three U.S. intelligence officials. The second, on Tuesday, killed at least 12 rebel fighters at a nearby base, they said.

    The camps, the officials said, are in a no-man’s-land on Syria’s border with Jordan devoid of any Syrian troops or Islamic State fighters, and the Russians attacked it deliberately, the officials said.

    It was not immediately possible to seek comment from officials in Moscow.

    russia airstrike syriaOther officials argue it is naïve to think that because the Russians say they, too, are seeking a negotiated end to Syria’s civil war - which, according to the United Nations, has claimed some 400,000 lives - Moscow’s goal is compatible with that of the United States and its Arab and European allies.

    "It’s pretty obvious that their agenda is not 100 percent aligned with our own," U.S. Army Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State, told a small group of reporters in Baghdad on Thursday. "I’d be a little leery about giving too much information to the Russians, but I fully trust that our government officials understand this and know they’ll arrive at something that makes sense."

    "The Russians want a settlement that would keep (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or some replacement acceptable to them in power," said a defense official, who like others who discussed the schism in the administration agreed to do so only on condition of anonymity.

    "The president has said that Assad has got to go, and our allies, especially the Saudis, hold that view very strongly. In fact, they keep asking us why we’re cozying up to Moscow."Assad said in an interview broadcast on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has never talked to him about leaving power, despite pressure from Washington for Assad to step down.

    "They never said a single word regarding this," Assad told NBC News when asked whether Putin or Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had talked to him about a political transition in Syria, where a civil war has raged since 2011.

    'Another go'

    State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Kerry was going to Russia "yet again" to have "another go" at getting Moscow to buy in to a process that could lead to a nationwide cessation of hostilities.

    "There are areas with regard to Syria and how to resolve the conflict on which we agree," he said. However, he added: “While we have reached those overarching agreements, we have not seen the practical reality on the ground yet.”

    But even some of Kerry’s own State Department subordinates question why their boss is trying to move forward, meeting on Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and on Friday with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – in Moscow, no less, said one – when U.S.-Russian relations are slipping backward.

    The latest evidence of that came on Wednesday, when Russia refused to let Jeff Shell, chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Radio Free Europe and other government-backed news outlets, enter the country.

    A board statement said Shell was denied entry and detained in a locked room at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport for several hours on Tuesday despite having a valid passport and Russian visa.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in this October 20, 2015 file photo. To match Insight MIDEAST-CRISIS-SYRIA/PUTIN REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/ Files

    Accompanied by Russian security officials, he later boarded a flight to Amsterdam and was told he was subject to a "lifetime ban" from Russia.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said Shell had been on a 'stop list' for a long time, adding that he was "one of the organizers of lying anti-Russian propaganda, financed from the American budget, that is implementing the political decisions taken at the very top of the U.S."

    His treatment is consistent with his name being on a blacklist of individuals Russia has decided to block, though Moscow has shrugged off accusations that U.S. officials in Russia were facing increased harassment.

    Last month, Washington expelled two Russian officials in response to what it described as a Russian policeman's attack on a U.S. diplomat in Moscow earlier that month.

    A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow did not have immediate comment.

    "I think quite frankly (Kerry's) visit is a microcosm of the confusion about U.S. policy towards Russia," said Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

    "It's a lot of political capital to send the secretary of state if you don't have a clear objective of what you want to accomplish," she told Reuters.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Syria jet ISIS shot down

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Islamic State fighters brought down a Syrian jet near the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Thursday, a monitoring group and an agency linked to the radical militant group said.

    Amaq agency released video footage showing the flaming wreckage of a plane scattered across a stretch of barren rocky ground, as well as parts of a corpse in military uniform and a white helmet, hung out for display on a street. It said the body was that of the pilot.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization which monitors Syria's war through a network of sources inside the country, said Islamic State had targeted and brought down the plane in the Thardah hills, about 3 miles (5 km) southwest of Deir al-Zor military airport.

    Islamic State controls most of the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, though forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad hold the airport and part of Deir al-Zor city on the Euphrates river.

    It was not immediately clear how the militants downed the jet, which the Observatory said was the second jet to be brought down over Islamic State territory since April. It said Islamic State had also brought down two helicopters in recent months. 

    (Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Toby Chopra)

    SEE ALSO: ISIS just announced that its 'minister of war,' a 'star pupil' of US special-forces training, was killed

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    In Syria, in the sixth year of the insurgence against dictator Assad, a new mass murder is imminent that could dwarf even all previous horrors in the country – and the world remains silent.

    The dictator’s and his allies’ troops have surrounded the large city of Aleppo. From above, Putin’s air force continues its merciless bombing.

    After Rwanda and Srebrenica, Aleppo is turning into a new and clear symbol of the failure of Western politics. The German Foreign Office also remains persistently silent concerning the continuously evolving catastrophe.

    BILD in coordination with presents 10 facts concerning the Aleppo siege. 10 reasons why it is a humane duty to finally respond to the countless requests for action that have up until now been ignored.

    1.  The ceasefire has failed

    syriaAs of 27 February, an internationally agreed ceasefire holds in Syria. Only the terror organisations “Nusra Front” and “ISIS” are exempt from it. What started as negotiations in Munich on the eve of 12 February, was decided by the UN Security Council in New York on 26 February.

    Since then, it has become obvious that Russia and the Assad regime, primarily, are once again fooling the world. A brief calming of the situation was followed by a renewed escalation by both parties’ forces. It culminated in thousands of civil victims and, now, the encirclement of Aleppo.

    “From the very beginning, the regime and Russia have seen the ceasefire as an opportunity to continue where and when it suited them,” says Jeff White of the “Washington Institute” think tank  to BILD. “Fight where you want to or must, and let the weapons rest where you have to recover or regroup.” From a military perspective, the ceasefire is “highly irrelevant,” according to White. However, it is politically important, because it created the myth of an “achievement” that needs to be “maintained” and “defended”.

    “This contradicts common sense concerning the actual situation, but the United States and Mr. Kerry in particular still cling to it.”

    This assessment also applies to German Foreign Minister Steinmeier. On 9 May, he talked about “the situation having calmed significantly by now”. The Foreign Office in Berlin never saw or commented on – let alone condemned – the Assad regime’s and Russia’s three-month offensive , which led to the encirclement of 300,000 people.

    Syrian human rights activist, Mohamed Al Neser, from Aleppo, told BILD that one should trust neither Assad nor Putin when they talk about ceasefires. “A few days ago, Assad announced another ceasefire for Aleppo. Two hours later, his troops completed the circumvallation around Aleppo. This should show the world that Assad knows no limits and steps over any red lines.”

    2.  A genocide threatens

    Syria ceasefireThe majority of the entrapped people are Sunnis, whereas Shiite militia are fighting on Assad’s side. The latter already committed serious crimes against the Sunni population in neighbouring Iraq, most recently when conquering the city of Fallujah. The hatred between these groups is widespread.

    In Syria, these Shiite militia also enforce the conflict along ethnic-religious lines. It is primarily these militia from neighbouring countries who put a stranglehold on Aleppo.

    According to FSA fighter Ward, there are a few regime soldiers, but most of the fighters besieging Aleppo belong to foreign militia. Among them are the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah, led by Iranian commanders of the Quds Force.

    Moreover, when defending Aleppo, his Syrian rebel group encountered Afghan fighters of the Fetemiyoun Brigade – which is also commanded by Iran – and of the Al-Quds Brigade, a Palestinian unit that also fights on Assad’s side, says Ward.

    This estimation by the FSA soldier is shared by Syria expert Michael Horowitz of the “Levantine Group” think tank. “Pro-regime forces, including militia supported by Iran, the Hezbollah, and a Palestinian militia, cut off the opposition’s only supply route into the city,” said the expert to BILD.

    However, Assad and his foreign militia are not only dangerous for the Sunnis, activist Mohamed Al Neser tells BILD: “All civilians in areas outside of the zones held by Assad and his allies are enemies and are thereby fair game.”

    3.  Famine is unavoidable

    A man cleans a street on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in the rebel held Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria July 6, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam KhabiehAccording to Syrian activist Mohamed Al Neser, who is from Aleppo himself, approximately 300,000 people are still living in the city today. Until now, the eastern parts of town – which are held by the rebels – could only be reached via the “Castello Road” in the north. In all other directions, the city had already been cut off by Assad’s troops for years.

    Since there is nowhere to grow food in Aleppo, any food and the essential diesel was delivered via this last access road. “Also humanitarian organisations stored most food outside Aleppo for security reasons.“ Since the “Castello Road“ has been closed for four days now, there is already a lack of vegetables and other fresh food.

    Middle East expert Jeff White of the Washington Institute thinks that people in the city have learned from the persistent crisis situation and have therefore stashed supplies. Nevertheless, he is also certain: “I expect the siege will last for a long time, and that its effects will grow over time.”

    White also firmly believes that the humanitarian catastrophe will increase over the next few months to such a degree that “a few relief supplies will be allowed in that will mitigate the situation”. However, at this point it could already be too late for many people.

    4.  Russian troops support the siege

    The West and the German Foreign Office have repeatedly emphasised how important Russia’s role is in settling the conflict. German Foreign Minister Steinmeier has repeatedly said that Russia must “influence Assad”.

    The reality looks different. It was Russian warplanes and, presumably, Russian ground forces that enabled Assad and his troops to encircle hundreds of thousands of people. According to local activists, they played a key role in maintaining the siege of Aleppo.

    Video recordings clearly show Russian warplanes of the type Suchoi Su-35 bombing the city and its last remaining access point. Only the Russian air force uses these planes in Syria. Russia does not aim to moderate the situation, but has rather become the guarantor for the Assad regime’s military success.

    A spokesperson for the US-supported Syrian rebel group Fastaqem (part of the “Free Syrian Army”) emphasized how important the Russian army is in besieging the city: “Castello Street has been cut off for four days now. It is the only connecting line to Aleppo.” The street is now also being fired at with Russian BM-30 multiple rocket launchers, said the FSA man. “They use heavy mortar shells and rockets to fire at anything that moves on the street.”

    5.  The use of cluster ammunition and fire bombs against civilians

    Bomb Damascus SyriaBanned weapons are used increasingly often in the air strikes against Aleppo and its suburbs: bombs that are banned by many states and that must never be used against civilians.

    These include cluster bombs that release many small bombs before their impact, and incendiary ammunition that cannot be extinguished with water and that burns everything it hits.

    Many Syrian activists primarily blame the Russian air force for these attacks. Syria expert Jeff White, however, finds it difficult to say with certainty whether Putin and Assad are responsible for a specific attack. However: “The attacks of both air forces with all kinds of ammunition are part of a long-term, population-centered operation.”

    This operation is aimed at ending the population’s support for the rebels by force. However, it is unclear whether this strategy – with its thousands of civilian victims – has been successful so far.

    6.  Complete shutdown of medical supplies

    Syria hospitalThe supply in Aleppo has been catastrophic for years, but the medical provision in particular is close to a complete shut-down. The Reason: medical institutions and staff members are the preferred target of dictator Assad and his allies.

    Consistently, hospitals are getting attacked and physicians and other medical staff are being killed.  

    “It is absurd: you live safely in Aleppo, as long as you stay far away from the hospitals,” doctor Abdulaziz told BILD some time ago. He is one of the last remaining doctors in Aleppo. To protect themselves, the remaining doctors are all operating under different names.

    The underground hospitals of the city gave themselves codenames as well.

    BILD was able to contact doctor Samer, who was still working in Aleppo until three days ago and is now operating outside of the city: “Only a few hours after I left, they closed down Castello Street,” says the doctor. “The last couple of days, I’ve been mostly treating people who were heavily injured from the air strikes. There has been a shrapnel wound that opened a patient’s stomach. Heavy injuries in the chest area, open fractures, and cranial traumas have been our daily business. We also have to amputate a lot." 

    Doctor Samer voluntarily returned to Aleppo, despite holding an American passport, to help the people.

    One case in particular shocked him: “It was a five-year-old girl. She was hit and heavily injured by an air strike at the marketplace. The emergency workers saved the girl - a dangerous act, since Assad likes to bomb the same targets twice to kill first-aiders. A piece of shrapnel had perforated her body; we brought her to the operating theatre immediately. A huge blood vessel was severed, she kept bleeding and we couldn’t give her enough blood-transfusions to save her. She died right on the operating table.”

    Doctor Samer wishes to continue his crucial work, but he doesn’t know when and how he will be able to return to the city. “Nobody else is helping. Innocent people literally bleed to death right in front of your eyes and there is nothing you can do about it. But we won’t stop trying to save as many people as possible.”

    7.  More and more children die

    Syria Child BombingThe local coordination committee tries to record all the victims in Syria. The numbers show that 36 children were killed within the last couple of days, most of them in Aleppo.

    On 8 July, nine children died; five children were killed on 9 July and 22 children did not survive 10 and 11 July.

    70 out of the 98 victims on 10 and 11 July died in Aleppo.

    Given the total siege of Aleppo, conditions are becoming closer and closer to the situation in the Syrian town of Madaya. In Madaya, children have died due to the food blockade imposed by the Syrian army and fighters of the terror group Hezbollah. At first, those trapped started to eat cats and dogs. Later, they tried to cook grass and leaves, which led to symptoms of poisoning. While 40,000 people are being starved in Madaya, Aleppo has a population of 300,000. Thus, the number of civilian victims could be even greater there.

    8.  Air forces kill journalist witnesses

    syria shadow bombOver the past days and weeks, journalists have increasingly become the target of bomb attacks and air strikes. On Monday, a presumably Russian air strike with cluster ammunition killed 20 civilians near the city of Termanen, west of Aleppo. Among them was Al-Jazeera journalist Omar Ibrahim.

    BILD was able to contact Hadi Abdullah, who became the victim of an air strike and, soon after, of a bomb attack himself. His friend and colleague Khaled al-Issa died in the bomb attack. Abdullah told BILD that Assad and the Russian air force allied with him “attack journalists in order to disguise their war crimes. This is why Omar Ibrahim was killed.”

    The Syrian journalist Louay Barakat was also killed on Monday in an air strike in the centre of Aleppo. He worked for “Buraq Media Foundation”, a Syrian media organization with reporters in the areas of the country held by the opposition.

    9.  Radicalization and popularity of ISIS

    ISIS twitter pcIf the last rebel groups in Aleppo are defeated and the population is defenselessly at the mercy of the Assad regime and the Shiite militia, a further radicalization of the population threatens. The latter could come to believe that only the jihadists can protect them. This is also confirmed by Abu al-Majed, commander of the rebel group Faylaq al-Sham in Aleppo. He told BILD: “The situation is unbearable. Due to the bombing of Castello Street, the civilians and the wounded can no longer be provided for.” The street is being attacked 24 hours a day by snipers and warplanes.

    “We are sick of the lies of the international community and the great states who claim to care about protecting the civilians,” said the commander to BILD. “We do not need financial support or medical supplies – we need anti-aircraft weapons against the planes that bomb this street. This is the only thing that will help us.” So far the international community has been hesitant to supply rebels with so-called MANPADS (anti aircraft missiles) for the fear of these weapons could reach extremist groups.

    If the dying continues, people will try to escape to the area controlled by ISIS, predicts Abu al-Majed. “It will be safer for them there.” This spring, Syrian rebel fighters and their families already had to surrender, because they were fighting on two fronts, against ISIS and the Assad regime.

    The Assad regime’s and its Shiite allies’ advance thus drives the Sunnis who are able to flee, directly into the terror militia’s arms. This makes ISIS grow in numbers.

    10.  Aggravation of the refugee crisis

    turkey syria refugeesA further consequence of the Aleppo siege could be an aggravation of the refugee crisis. Tens of thousands of Aleppians already fled from the Assad regime’s henchmen and the Russian bombs to Syria’s north and its border with Turkey. Turkey, however, keeps its border closed and points out that it has already taken in between 2.5 and three million Syrian refugees. The refugees from Aleppo are now being cared for in makeshift camps near the border between Syria and Turkey.

    If Aleppo were to completely fall into the hands of the Assad regime and its allied militia, the refugee camps in the north would also be threatened even more. The tens of thousands of refugees would be under even more pressure to flee further north into Turkey and even further into the EU.

    The fall of Aleppo would also have a psychological component: if the most important city held by the Syrian opposition were conquered by the Assad regime, this would be a disastrous signal for the millions of Syrians in the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Their hopes of returning to a Syria without the dictator Assad would be crushed for a long time being. There would be little reason for them to stay in the refugee camps, waiting for improvement. Many of them would then begin the dangerous trek to Europe via the Mediterranean.

    The world has to act now

    The siege of Aleppo only became complete on Saturday evening (9 July 2016). However, the signs for this development could be seen for months without the governments of Europe, North America, or the Middle East doing anything against the evolving catastrophe.

    The world allowed the mass murders and the unspeakable suffering of Srebrenica and Rwanda, and it swore to itself: never again. Yet now a further humanitarian catastrophe is taking place that could dwarf anything that happened previously.

    However, it is not too late to now show determination. The signal to Assad and Putin, who are responsible for maintaining the ceasefire, has to be: this far and not further!

    • The humanitarian access to the 300,000 people trapped in Aleppo has to be immediately granted again.
    • Aid convoys for the suffering population must no longer be attacked by both presidents’ air forces.
    • The daily, targeted bombing of men, women, and children in and around Aleppo has to stop – immediately.

    These minimal humane demands – to which all involved parties agreed at the United Nations – have to be fulfilled by the conflicting parties.

    If they are not, the world has to show that it is willing to defend basic human rights – with all available and necessary means. 

    Julian Röpcke is a newspaper editor and political commentator, based in the German capital, Berlin. With a degree in Political Geography and Sociology, Mr. Röpcke started analyzing geopolitical conflicts after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He covered the “Arab Spring” as well as the evolving conflicts in Syria and Ukraine from their very beginning. Julian Röpcke works for BILD, the largest newspaper and leading online news portal in Germany (@JulianRoepcke).

    Björn Stritzel is a political editor at BILD with a focus on the Middle East, jihadism and terrorism. He covers the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, with a special emphasis on working with activists in ISIS-occupied territory and reports about German jihadis in the Middle East (@BjoernStritzel).

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    putin kerry

    The US will share intelligence with Russian officials about Al Qaeda in Syria if Russian warplanes refrain from launching airstrikes outside certain "designated areas," according to the preliminary terms of the Joint Implementation Group proposed by the Obama administration this week.

    The text of the agreement, first obtained by The Washington Post's Josh Rogin, proposes that Russia and the US expand their military coordination in Syria "to defeat Jabhat al-Nusra and Daesh [ISIS] within the context of strengthening the Cessation of Hostilities [CoH] and supporting the political transition process outlined in UNSCR 2254."

    "UNSCR 2254" refers to the United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in December calling for an immediate end to attacks on civilian targets and a political settlement to the Syrian civil war.

    The new JIG proposal calls on Russia to limit its air operations to targeting Al Qaeda in agreed-upon "designated areas." It also proposes that the Syrian army completely halt its aerial bombardments. But the text seems to explicitly allow Russia to "strike in areas where the opposition is dominant," even if Al Qaeda has only "some possible" presence there.

    From the proposal (emphasis added):

    "Designated areas include areas of most concentrated Nusrah Front presence, areas of significant Nusrah Front presence, and areas where the opposition is dominant, with some possible Nusrah Front presence. Even prior to the establishment of the JIG, technical experts from the U.S. and Russia will plot the geo-coordinates of these designated areas."

    Russia first intervened on behalf of its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in late September. Then, many analysts were quick to point out that Moscow was using the real or fabricated presence of some jihadist elements in opposition-held areas as an excuse to attack anti-Assad rebel groups, many of whom are backed by the US, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

    Noticing the trend, Washington called on Moscow to stop launching airstrikes in areas under non-jihadist rebel control. It has continued to do so for the better part of 10 months, largely to no avail.

    Responding to criticism over its air raids — which have killed hundreds of civilians living in rebel-held territory, according to human-rights groups— Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last month that the "continuing mingling in places of the so-called moderate opposition" with Nusra is "complicating antiterrorist action."

    Since then — likely in preparation for its impending military alliance with the Russians — the US has been urging rebel groups to leave areas where Nusra is present so Russian warplanes can strike these terrorist elements without hitting the mainstream opposition.

    russian airstrikes Syria

    To that end, some analysts say, the US has demonstrated that it is more willing to work on the Kremlin's terms than on those of the rebels — and members of the US defense and intelligence communities are baffled.

    "Congress needs to take a deep look at the US-RU mil cooperation plan," former Defense Intelligence Agency official Jeff White, now a defense fellow at the Washington Institute, wrote on Twitter. It's "a significant commitment of US mil and intel to a very questionable operation," he added.

    Asked to elaborate in an email, White told Business Insider that he "would agree" that the proposal offers a "loophole" for the Russians to continue bombing the moderate opposition under the guise of targeting Nusra — and that, overall, "this is a bad proposal."

    "It's kind of a diplomatic Hail Mary to rescue the Obama admin's flailing Syria policy," he said. "It's putting us in bed with the Russians, and we're the ones likely to get screwed. It's no surprise that there is opposition within the Defense Department — Kerry is asking the military to bail the administration out of four years of failed policy in Syria."

    Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an intelligence official told Reuters that "it isn't clear" why the administration thinks it can enlist the Russians to support its goals in Syria.

    The proposal amounts to "ignoring the fact that the Russians and their Syrian allies have made no distinction between bombing ISIS and killing members of the moderate opposition, including some people that we've trained," the official said.

    "Why would we share intelligence and targeting information with people who've been doing that?" the official added.

    'Cozying up to Moscow'

    Moderate opposition groups have expressed concern that working with the Russians to weaken Nusra, which sometimes coordinates with the non-Islamist rebel groups to fight the regime, will inevitably strengthen Assad.

    Washington's Sunni Arab allies — including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates — who arm and support many of Syria's opposition groups have apparently voiced similar fears.

    "The president has said that Assad has got to go, and our allies, especially the Saudis, hold that view very strongly," a defense official told Reuters. "In fact, they keep asking us why we're cozying up to Moscow."

    putin kerry

    That complaint alone is unlikely to convince the Obama administration that it should not at least try to stall the jihadist group's momentum. Experts have noted, however, that Nusra's appeal might only grow if the US allows Russia to continue targeting opposition groups that are the only actors on the ground capable of challenging Nusra's influence.

    There is "no underestimating how much it will, for many Syrians, prove Jabhat al-Nusra's narrative was 'right' all along," in its doubts that the US was supporting the opposition against Assad, Middle East expert Charles Lister told The Telegraph on Thursday.

    Kyle Orton, a Middle East analyst at the Henry Jackson think tank, largely agreed.

    "The deal is the culmination of the process where the US moves into alignment with the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia in Syria," Orton told the Telegraph. "The rebellion will feel, not unjustifiably, that this is the US taking sides against them."

    nusraIndeed, as moderate rebel groups continue to be targeted, Syrians in opposition to Assad will likely view coordination with more extreme Islamist rebel brigades such as Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham as their only option — especially as they become increasingly disenchanted with the US and its warming relationship with Russia.

    "From the military standpoint, assuming Russia faithfully executed the scheme as proposed, it would add some additional operational and intelligence capabilities to the counterterrorism fight," said White.

    "But that's a big assumption, and there are high risks of being that closely associated with Russian [military operations]," he added. "Russia and the regime fight a different war than we do."

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    nice france

    PARIS (Reuters) - Best known as a Riviera tourist destination, Nice has been struggling to get a grip on its less prized distinction as France's prime recruiting ground for would-be jihadis.

    France's anti-terror prosecutors said on Friday they were looking for terrorist ties after a gunman plowed a delivery truck into crowds gathered to watch Bastille day fireworks, killing at least 84.

    The hinterlands beyond the smart streets of the old city have seen dozens of its Muslim residents head to Syria in recent years to fight.

    "Nice is the city which has been most hit by the jihadist phenomena," said David Thomson, an expert on radicalization in France.

    "There is one main reason behind it: since 2010, a charismatic character, known as one of the main recruiters of French jihadists, has been hugely active preaching in poor neighborhoods," Thomson said.

    The militant in question is Omar Diaby, a former Nice resident of Senegalese origin now believed to live in Syria who made a name for himself in 2012 with a series of online propaganda videos entitled "19HH".

    The French administrative department of Alpes-Maritimes, of which Nice is the capital, said at the end of last year that 236 individuals had been monitored over several months as part of a surveillance program and that it was tracking five new individuals every week.

    The region of just over a million people is thought to be home to 10 percent of all of French citizens gone abroad to wage jihad. Back in 2014 the regional government cited one case where 11 members of a single family were reported missing, believed to have left for Syria.

    But there have been successes as well: that same year, police said they foiled an imminent attack targeting Nice's carnival, one of the world's biggest after those in Rio de Janeiro and Venice.

    Since a nationwide state of emergency was declared after the Nov. 13 shootings and bombings in Paris, the regional government has shut down five illegal religious centers on the suspicion they were used to foment extremism.

    Nice's jihadi problem is all the more striking as it is one of the most heavily policed cities in France and closely monitored by an extensive video surveillance system due to the efforts of its security-obsessed former mayor Christian Estrosi, now the president of the broader Riviera region and beyond.

    Since February 2015, the Alpes-Maritimes department has been running a program to train 1,300 social and medical workers to identify people that may be tempted by radicalization. 

    (Writing by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Peter Graff)

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    Damascus Syria Bashar al-Assad

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hundreds of cheering people took to the streets of Damascus early on Saturday and celebratory gunfire erupted after Turkey's army said it seized power from President Tayyip Erdogan, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main regional opponents.

    Residents said convoys of cars were processing around the Mazzeh district of the Syrian capital, with people waving flags and shouting: "God, Syria and Bashar!". There were similar celebrations in other government-held cities.

    Assad's government has accused Erdogan of fuelling Syria's five-year conflict by supporting Islamist insurgents battling Damascus and allowing foreign jihadis to cross the border from Turkey into Syria.

    A resident in the government-held part of the northern city of Aleppo said people believed that "Erdogan's fall is an announcement of the end of the crisis in Syria, given he is the one chiefly responsible for the crisis".

    Another Aleppo resident said people were chanting for Erdogan to be held to account.

    A witness in the Jaramana district of Damascus said the celebratory gunfire there was greater even than when Assad won re-election as president two years ago. 

    (Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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    european union flag brexit

    The Brexit referendum, and the fallout from it, will be among the most heavily scrutinized themes of the next quarter. And though it may have been the most visible confirmation of the European Union's disintegration, it was May 1, 2004, that sowed the seeds of London's departure.

    On that day, a day that came to be known, perhaps ironically, as the "Day of Welcomes," the bloc admitted 10 countries — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus — into its ranks. It epitomized an era of unprecedented EU expansion and honored the promise of prosperity that sold the European project to so many countries that were all too eager to buy it, particularly those that for decades had been bridled by the Soviet Union.

    The European Union now had 10 more members, each with its own set of policy priorities, national identity, rules of law, economic irregularities and methods of regulating them. Their accession created differences that simply could not be reconciled, for no country can be expected to subordinate its own well-being to another's.

    Twelve years later, the United Kingdom — a country unique not for its inclusion in the Continental bloc but for the tepidness with which it joined — voted to leave the European Union altogether. It was always clear that it would be among the first EU members to leave, even if it was unclear precisely when it would choose to do so. But leave it will, and the next three months will be messy as the United Kingdom sorts itself out and as a general air of uncertainty impairs the British economy and the European Union at large.

    The United Kingdom's departure is Germany's nightmare. Members from every corner of the Continental bloc will submit proposals on how to re-engineer the European Union according to their respective interests. Southern European countries will increase spending and push for deeper financial integration to nurse their structural wounds. Poland and Hungary will lead an eastern bloc of countries trying to repatriate their rights from Brussels.

    Germany will try to focus its proposals on the uncontroversial aspects of integration, such as security and job creation, to at least give the impression that the union is still in fact a union, but the government in Berlin will be pressured to place tighter limits on financial assistance to the European Union's more profligate members. As divisions deepen and economic panic rises, the Netherlands will gradually nudge Germany away from France and the southern belt.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference after a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2016 (SPIEF 2016) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 17, 2016.   REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

    Russia is one of the few countries that can take delight in Europe's fragmentation. After all, Moscow can more effectively ease the financial pressure against it, advance economic deals and limit Western encroachment on its periphery when Europe is divided and distracted. Russia always meant to leverage its involvement in Syria to strengthen its negotiating position with the United States. This quarter, Moscow will actually have some success in coaxing Washington into a dialogue as the United States tries to clear obstacles in its fight in Syria against Islamic State.

    The White House will use the common threat of the Islamic State to keep Russia engaged on tactical matters, but it will resist making bigger concessions. (In any case, there is only so much the Kremlin can get out of the White House in an election year.) The United States, moreover, will be counting on a recent reconciliation between Turkey and Russia to deconflict the battlefield, something that will end up giving Turkey more breathing room to hedge against Kurdish expansion in northern Syria.

    No major shift in energy markets can be expected this quarter. Iranian oil production will rise more slowly than it did for the first six months of the year, and while some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council could modestly increase output in months of high summer demand, the Saudi-led bloc is still waiting out a gradual market correction with US production in decline. Nigerian oil production will also remain volatile as the government struggles to tame militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.

    Xi Jinping

    In the meantime, the markets will continue to be volatile as the world comes to grips with the Brexit. The appreciation of the yen and dollar will apply downward pressure on the yuan, but Beijing still has the means to manage the rate of decline. Its efforts to reduce industrial overcapacity in China will be limited as local governments hold out for central government promises of readjustment aid. China's economic situation may be stagnant, but its political situation is more animated, and the power struggle that underlies it will be something to watch in the third quarter.

    There are, however, some signs of encouragement coming from Latin America. In Colombia, the government will proceed to the demobilization phase of its agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and in doing so, will stabilize the country. Brazil will conclude its impeachment saga this quarter and move ahead with austerity measures to rein in spending.

    Economic forces, meanwhile, are pushing Brazil and Argentina to at least start discussing the easing of trade constraints on Mercosur, South America's free trade bloc. But talks will remain in the rhetorical stage for the next few months as Brazil tries to tie up the impeachment process and as Argentina tries to balance structural reform with social stability. Having Venezuela, which is beset by so many problems and already a polarizing member, chair the bloc will not help things either.

    SEE ALSO: Here are 4 major unintended effects of Brexit on the Middle East

    The Impact of the British Referendum

    During the third quarter, the European Union will deal with the consequences of the British referendum on EU membership.

    The victory of the "leave" camp and Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to resign have triggered a political crisis in the country, with the ruling Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party struggling with internal disputes.

    The United Kingdom will not start formal negotiations to disconnect from the European Union this quarter because a new prime minister will have to be selected first. This will delay the process of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union by a few months but will do little to ease the economic and political consequences of the referendum.

    The United Kingdom will gradually move to accept the result and focus on how to effectively negotiate an exit. Officially, the European Union will continue to refuse to start negotiations until London formally announces its decision to leave. But informal contacts between British officials and their European counterparts will start once a government is in place in the United Kingdom.

    Brussels will give London time to appoint a new government but will stand firm in its demand that preserving access to the common market also means allowing the free movement of EU workers.

    The uncertainty generated by the Brexit will continue to produce volatility in the British economy and, to a lesser extent, hurt the economies on the Continent. Effects on the bloc could include rising bond yields for countries in the eurozone periphery, delayed decisions on spending and investing in the European Union's main economies, and depreciations of the euro and Eastern European currencies. 

    The United Kingdom's territorial integrity will also be debated, but the government in Scotland probably will not make any drastic unilateral moves this quarter. The Scottish government will try to negotiate with Brussels over ways to remain connected with the bloc. But Scottish authorities will wait for the political situation in London to become clear before making any definite moves. The announcement of an independence referendum this quarter is unlikely.

    The British situation will also test the stability of the French-German alliance. In the third quarter, Paris and Berlin will make proposals to strengthen the European Union. Considering that both countries will hold elections in 2017, those proposals will probably focus on areas where an agreement is possible instead of issues such as the functioning of the eurozone.

    These will include EU-wide initiatives on issues such as security and terrorism, protection of the bloc's external borders, and migration as well as employment and economic growth. Even if there is room for agreement in these areas, implementation will not happen this quarter.

    Those proposals on less controversial issues will not stop other EU members from putting forth their own ideas on how to reshape the union. Nor will it stop the political debate in some countries about whether to hold referendums on aspects of their memberships in the bloc. Different regions in the European Union will put forth different proposals on how to prevent the bloc's disintegration, but those ideas will come from fundamentally opposing directions.

    For example, countries in Southern Europe, led by Italy, will push for more EU spending on social policies and more flexibility on fiscal targets for member states. Northern countries, led by Germany, will oppose these moves. Countries such as Poland and Hungary, on the other hand, will push to give a greater role to national parliaments in decision-making. Most EU members oppose changing the Lisbon treaty, so that will not be on the table.



    Political Volatility in the Eurozone

    Some of the largest eurozone members will see a quarter of political volatility, with social tensions over labor reforms in France, financial and political uncertainty in Italy, a long process of forming a government in Spain and political divisions in the German government.

    In France, the government's authority will continue to erode, and social unrest will remain strong. Despite popular protests, the French government is likely to pass labor reform legislation. But this will probably be the last significant policy introduced by President Francois Hollande, as the controversial reform will leave his Socialist Party weak and divided.

    The Elysee is likely to announce some reductions in taxes and increases in public spending in a bid to regain popularity, but right-leaning opposition parties are likely to retain popularity. Influenced by the events in the United Kingdom, French politicians will seek to position themselves for the 2017 presidential election by promising various referendums on EU-related issues.

    In Germany, the ruling center-right/center-left grand coalition will also be under domestic pressure. Regional elections in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in September will probably result in growing support for emergent opposition parties on both ends of the political spectrum, such as the progressive Greens and the right-wing Alternative for Germany.

    With Germany's ruling coalition pulled in different directions as elections draw closer, Berlin will find it increasingly difficult to fill its role as the European Union's political center of gravity.

    In Italy, the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will try to regain the political initiative after the poor performance of the ruling Democratic Party in municipal elections in June and before a key referendum on constitutional reforms in October. The main opposition parties, including the anti-system Five Star Movement and the anti-immigration Northern League, will campaign against the reforms. To win back popular support, Renzi will promise lower taxes and higher public spending.

    Brexit-induced volatility in financial markets will continue to hurt Italian banks, increasing the probability of government intervention. Italy will seek authorization from Brussels to provide state support for its banks, but Germany is likely to oppose such a move. Should pressure on Italian banks become too strong, Rome and Brussels will reach a compromise.

    In Spain, the country's main political parties will spend the first part of the quarter negotiating the formation of a government after the fragmented parliament produced in June 26 elections. Once a government is formed, the next administration will announce increases in public spending and cuts in taxes, regardless of the EU Commission's recent threat to sanction Madrid.

    The fiscal situation in countries such as Spain and Portugal will create another source of friction between north and south in Europe. Southern countries will press for more flexible fiscal targets, while northern countries will push for sanctions against those that fail to meet commitments.

    Countries in Southern Europe will avoid sanctions, or receive only symbolic punishment, in exchange for promising to introduce reforms in the future. This will lead only to more north-south frictions.



    Europe's East-West Divide Continues

    The next three months will also see the continuation of Europe's east-west divide, as countries in Central and Eastern Europe continue to resist Brussels' influence and introduce measures that alienate their western neighbors.

    For countries in the region, Brexit removes a significant counterweight to the French-German influence on the bloc and a defender of the interests of the nations that are outside the eurozone. In the coming months, countries in Central and Eastern Europe will become the loudest defenders of national sovereignty in the European Union.

    In Hungary, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban will proceed with plans to hold a referendum in October on a proposal by the European Commission to distribute asylum seekers across the Continent. The authorities in Brussels will criticize the referendum, but the government in Budapest will use that to consolidate its domestic popularity. 

    Poland will remain committed to its membership in NATO, request a greater allied presence in Eastern Europe and defend a tough stance on Russia.

    At the same time, the government in Warsaw will continue to introduce measures that will cause concern in the West. During the quarter, for example, Warsaw will start collecting a tax on retailers, a sector dominated by foreign companies, and pass a plan to convert foreign-denominated loans into zlotys.

    The final version of the conversion plan will be less costly for banks than the original proposals, but it will still force banks, most of which are controlled by foreign firms, to face losses. The Polish economy will see strong growth this year, but those moves will progressively erode business confidence and weaken the Polish economy.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    s300

    Iran has received the first batch of missiles for the S-300 missile defense system, the Iranian Tasnim news agency reported on Monday.

    The news agency said the missiles indicate that Moscow is supplying Tehran with the advanced S-300 PMU2 system rather than the PMU1, information it said has been kept under wraps.

    Russia began delivery of the S-300 missile defense system to Iran in April, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.

    The sale of the S-300 system has been reported by both Russia and Iran as imminent since the signing of the nuclear deal last year.

    In April, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jaberi Ansari told local media that the delivery of the system had already begun.

    “We had already announced that despite several changes in time of delivery, the deal is on its path of implementation. Today I should announce that the first part of these equipment has arrived in Iran and delivery of other parts will continue,” Ansari said, according to the Mehr news agency.

    The Russian-made missile defense system is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world, offering long-range protection against both airplanes and missiles.

    In 2010 Russia froze a deal to supply the system to Iran, linking the decision to UN sanctions instituted because of Tehran’s nuclear program. Putin lifted the suspension in July 2015, following Iran’s deal with six world powers that curbed its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions.

    Israel has long sought to block the sale to Iran of the S-300 system, which analysts say could impede a potential Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Other officials have expressed concern that the systems could reach Syria and Hezbollah, diluting Israel’s regional air supremacy.

    The Israeli Air Force has trained for a scenario in which it would have to carry out strikes in Syria or Iran on facilities defended by the Russian-made S-300 air defense system.

    In an interview late last year, IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said the S-300 was a “significant but not insurmountable challenge” for the IAF.

    Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

    SEE ALSO: Tehran conducted its fourth ballistic missile test two days before Iran deal anniversary

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    Different cultures span the globe, and with that, various societal sentiments, such as fear, are also differentiated.

    In order to determine what these fears are, a survey was conducted by the World Economic Forum in the fall of 2015 to determine what the threat and risks are in the next decade. This survey included over 700 experts and stakeholders from a variety of fields, including banking, government, and academia.

    Top global risks

    The top global risk in the next 10 years was determined to be the “large-scale involuntary migration” — a divisive topic during the time the survey was conducted. According to the Pew Research Center, the refugee crisis in the Middle East, particularly from Syria, gave rise to the polarizing reports on the news — from the locals’ claims of sexual harassment in Germany, to the potential risk of terrorist infiltration amongst the incoming wave of refugees.

    As far as the risk that could have the greatest global impact goes, the “failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation” was deemed to be the top concern. In 2015, the Pew Research Center also conducted a poll where the majorities in all 40 countries it surveyed considered it a serious problem — the publics in 19 countries even deemed it the leading global threat. The fact that leaders from 195 nations attended a UN conference in December to discuss the rising global temperature may have played a role in the worrying responses.

    Greatest threats around the world

    As far as threats to the world go — western society in general — such as the US and parts of Europe, seem to place the threat of ISIS as its top concern. After a series of terrorist attacks throughout the past year, fears of further attacks have spread — even the current political campaigns, both home and abroad, have centered around the problem.

    In other parts of the world, such as South America and parts of Asia, climate change is on the top of the list. Given China and India's smog blanketing large portions of the country, it comes to no surprise that many respondents agree that climate change is perceived as a persistent threat to the world.

    These global risks and threats appear to have dramatically shifted from the worrying state of the economy in 2007. Back then, panic of a looming stock market crash and social movements addressing income inequality took precedence over the threat of an ISIS-related incident at home.

    dollar euro ruble

    Russia, however, seems to be one of the few exceptions — economic instability remains its top concern. And although the global economy may not have been the highest concern amongst the respondents of the survey, it still has cause for some pause — according to the Pew Research Center, a recent PwC survey of 1,300 top executives suggests that only 27% of them see the global economy improving in 2016. 

    Recent events across the world will no doubt bear some influence in this survey for the future. In particular, the failed coup in Turkey and the terrorist attacks in France suggests that the threat of ISIS may spread across Europe and remain a top threat for western cultures. Additionally, increasing evidence of its existence and the actions of worldwide leaders may satiate the impact posed by global warming.

    Check out the full report from the Pew Research Center.

    SEE ALSO: It has not been a good year for global-warming skeptics

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    Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) ride vehicles along a road near Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said/Files

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - At least 56 civilians were killed on Tuesday in air strikes north of the besieged Islamic State-held city of Manbij in northern Syria, near the border with Turkey, a monitoring group said.

    Residents believed the strikes were carried out by U.S.-led coalition planes, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It said the dead included 11 children, and dozens more people were wounded.

    On Monday 21 people were killed in raids also believed to be by U.S.-led coalition planes on Manbij's northern Hazawneh quarter.

    The U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, launched an offensive at the end of May to seize the last territory held by Islamic State on the frontier with Turkey.

    But progress into Manbij city has been slow. The militants have deployed snipers, planted mines and prevented civilians from leaving, hampering efforts to bomb the city without causing heavy casualties, Kurdish sources have said.

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    Israeli A-4 Skyhawk

    In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli military successfully beat back a two-front invasion by Syria and Egypt. The war lasted only a few weeks, but its implications for air combat continue to reverberate — even helping make the case for ditching the iconic A-10 "Warthog."

    The Yom Kippur War raged October 6-25 in 1973, and the Israeli forces initially suffered severe setbacks. It was a full, combined arms conflict in which tanks, artillery, planes, infantry, and air-defense missiles all had their say.

    But one string of events reaches forward in time from those weeks and threatens the A-10.

    Israel's air force, the Chel Ha'Avir, was able to slow and halt nearly all advances by tanks and other ground forces when it was safe to fly. But when the enemy forces stayed under the air-defense umbrella, Israel's pilots came under heavy attack.

    In one instance, 55 missiles were flying at Israel's pilots in a single, small strip of land occupied by Syrian forces.

    This resulted in Israeli ground forces either quickly losing their air cover to battlefield losses or to pilots becoming so worried about enemy missiles that they couldn't operate properly. In the first three days of fighting, the Chel Ha'Avir lost approximately 50 fighters and fighter-bombers — 14% of the air force's entire frontline combat strength.

    Israeli forces turned the tables with a few brilliant maneuvers. At one point, a pilot realized the enemy was firing too many missiles, so he led his men in quick passes as bait, causing the enemy to expend all its ordnance while downing relatively few planes. The survivors of this risky maneuver were then able to fly with near impunity.

    On another front, troops opened the way for the air force by striking the missile sites with long-range guns. They moved forward of their established safe zones to do so, putting their forces at risk to save the planes above them.

    Israel went on to win the war, allowing NATO and other Western militaries to pat themselves on the back because their tactics and hardware defeated a coalition equipped with Soviet tactics and hardware.

    Israeli A-4

    But for the Chel Ha'Avir and aviation officers around the world, there was a lesson to be parsed out of the data.

    Both the A-4 Skyhawk and the F-4 Phantom flew a high number of sorties against the Syrians, the Egyptians, and their allies. But the Skyhawk suffered a much worse rate of loss than the F-4.

    This was — at least in part — because the F-4 flew faster and higher and could escape surface-to-air missiles and radar-controlled machine guns more easily. Just a year after the A-10's debut flight and over three years before it was introduced to the air fleet, the whole concept of low-and-slow close air support seemed dated.

    The resulting argument, that low-and-slow CAS is too risky, is part of the argument about whether the Air Force should ditch the A-10 Warthog for the fast-moving, stealthy F-35 Lightning II.

    A10 Warthog Flares Air Force decoy heat seeking missiles

    Of course, not everyone agrees that the Yom Kippur War is still a proper example of the close-air-support debate.

    First, the A-10 has spent its entire service life in the post-Yom Kippur War world. While it suffered six losses against the Iraqis during Desert Storm, it has been flying against more advanced air defenses than the A-4s faced in the Yom Kippur War while remaining a lethal force throughout the flight. The A-10 has never needed a safe space.

    Second, while the A-10's speed and preferred altitudes may make it more vulnerable than fast-movers to ground fire, it also makes the jet more capable when firing against ground targets. To modernize the old John A. Shedd saying about ships, "A ground-attack jet at high-altitude may be safe, but that's not what they are designed for."

    F4 take off

    Finally, the Yom Kippur War was a short conflict in which the Chel Ha'Avir had to fly against a numerically superior enemy while that enemy was marching on its capital. This forced commanders to take additional risks, sending everything they had to slow the initial Syrian and Egyptian momentum.

    The US Air Force is much larger and has many more planes at its command. That means it can field more specialized aircraft. F-35s and F-22s can support ground forces near enemy air defenses and go after missile sites and other fighters while A-10s or the proposed arsenal plane attack ground forces from behind the F-22 and F-35 shield.

    This isn't to say that the Air Force is necessarily wrong to divest itself of the A-10 to bolster the F-35. The Warthog can't stay on the battlefield forever. But if the A-10 has served its entire career in the post-Yom Kippur world, it seems like a shallow argument to say it couldn't possibly fight and win for another five or 10 years after nearly 40 successful ones.

    SEE ALSO: 5 reasons why the new F-35 will reinvent aerial combat

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    NOW WATCH: The Air Force's A-10 Warthog targets ISIS fighters with this massive gatling gun


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    U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command, briefs the media at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S. April 29, 2016 about the investigation of the airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders trauma center in Kunduz, Afghanistan on October 3, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

    The US will likely commit more troops to Iraq to bolster local forces against “specific objectives” in the campaign to retake the last ISIS main stronghold at Mosul, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, said Wednesday.

    “We will look to add additional capabilities that are necessary to accomplish our objectives,” Votel said. The extra troops would be in addition to the 560 recently authorized by President Obama to bring the Force Management Level to 4,657. “What we have tried to do is link our request for additional capabilities to specific objectives we’re trying to achieve,” he said.

    Votel said the 560 troops authorized last week would be slated for deployment to the airfield  called Quyara West about 40 miles southeast of Mosul, which was recently retaken by the Iraqis. The 560 troops have not begun to deploy to the airfield in any significant numbers, but Votel said he expected that to happen shortly.

    Votel spoke with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at a joint news conference following the opening session of a meeting of defense ministers of more than 30 nations in the anti-ISIS coalition at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on boosting their contributions to the campaign.

    “We’re all going to need to do more,” Carter said. “We now have momentum in this fight and clear results on the ground, and today we made the plans and commitments to deliver [ISIS] a lasting defeat.”

    The main goal was to accelerate efforts to back the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in retaking Mosul in northeastern Iraq while working with Syrian Arab and Syrian Kurd forces to retake Raqqa, the so-called capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in eastern Syria.

    At the defense ministers meeting, “we agreed on the next plays in our campaign,” which will “culminate in the collapse of ISIL’s control in the cities,” Carter said, using another acronym for ISIS.

    Charles de Gaulle

    Carter declined to go into detail on what the allies and partner nations had agreed to contribute but said France would be returning the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Mideast for the third time. He also said that Australia would be expanding its training of Iraqi police and border guards, and Britain would be deploying more trainers and engineers to Iraq.

    A key concern of the allies was ensuring that assets were in place to provide for speedy reconstruction, humanitarian aid and the rule of law in areas liberated from ISIS, Carter said. “Most of the conversations were about what happens after the defeat of ISIL,” he said.

    SEE ALSO: One of ISIS’ fiercest enemies is finally getting US help

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    turkey coup

    The failed coup attempt by elements of the Turkish Armed Forces on July 15 will enable President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish himself as an authoritarian ruler in Turkey.

    His priorities in the next few months will be to solidify the loyalty of the Turkish military establishment and complete the constitutional reform necessary to replace Turkey’s parliamentary democracy with an executive presidency, his longstanding goal.

    A post-coup Erdogan is much less likely to submit to American pressure without major returns. Erdogan immediately demanded the extradition of political rival Fethullah Gulen from the US, accusing Gulen of plotting the coup and condemning the US for harboring him. Erdogan will likely deprioritize the fight against ISIS, undermining the counter-ISIS mission in Syria, as he focuses on consolidating power.

    He may even revoke past concessions to the US, including permission to use Turkey’s Incirlik airbase for counter-ISIS operations.

    Erdogan has more dangerous options now that his rule is secure, however. A partnership with al Qaeda could grant him a powerful proxy force to achieve national security objectives without relying on the Turkish Military. American policymakers must recognize the dangerous possibility Erdogan will knowingly transform Turkey into the next Pakistan in pursuit of his own interests.

    Erdogan’s purge will be severe. He declared that the coup attempt was “a gift from God … because this will be a reason to cleanse our army,” in a victory speech on July 17. Turkish security forces immediately arrested over 3,000 soldiers, dozens of colonels, and four high-ranking officers as they reestablished control starting July 16. The subsequent purge has removed approximately one third of all general officers.

    Turkish Supporters are silhouetted against a screen showing President Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-government demonstration in Ankara, Turkey, July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

    Erdogan will try the coup leaders and participating rank and file soldiers for treason and approve the reinstitution of the death penalty if passed by Turkish Parliament. He will eliminate political rivals and dissenters and consolidate social control. He is already using the allegation against Gulen to justify a broad crackdown against the judicial establishment and civil society elements allegedly linked to Gulen, including the dismissal and arrest of nearly 3,000 members of the judicial establishment.

    He has also dismissed at least 8,000 police. His consolidation phase will require significant time, attention and resources for the next few months. He must meanwhile balance national security concerns, including domestic threats from ISIS and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as a tenuous détente with Russia.

    syria map

    Erdogan may turn to non-state militants for security solutions while he lacks a strong military force behind him. Non-state militants can either supplement a Turkish military or serve as an interim partner while Erdogan rebuilds. Erdogan provided support to al Qaeda and associated groups in Syria even before the coup. He has allowed senior al Qaeda leaders to operate relatively freely in Turkey, although a small number of Turkish raids have targeted al Qaeda elements. He is also a primary patron of Ahrar al Sham, a Syrian Salafi-jihadi group with close links to al Qaeda. A closer partnership with these groups could enable him to:

    1. Dampen the domestic ISIS threat while purging the military. ISIS continues to use its support networks in Turkey to generate attack nodes targeting Turkish tourist sites. It intends to conduct mass casualty attacks in order to destabilize the Turkish state, similar to its attack on the Ataturk international airport in Istanbul in June. Al Qaeda likely already possesses intelligence regarding the identity and location of ISIS elements in Turkey.

    A partnership between al Qaeda and Erdogan could facilitate intelligence-driven raids to neutralize ISIS attack cells. Al Qaeda can also coopt ISIS members by offering an attractive option for defection as counter-ISIS operations in northern Syria continue. These measures would not eliminate the ISIS threat to Turkey, but could reduce it to a manageable level while Erdogan focuses on other priorities.

    2. Address his Kurdish problem. Erdogan regards the Syrian Kurdish YPG as a primary national security threat because of its links to the PKK, which is waging an active insurgency against the Turkish state. Syrian Salafi-jihadi groups have fought against the YPG in Syria and could be willing to do so again in return for higher levels of Turkish support.

    3. Set conditions in Syria for the rise of a Sunni Islamist government. Erdogan seeks to promote the formation of Sunni Islamist governments in the Middle East in order to legitimize his own rule and reestablish a quasi-imperial sphere of influence. Al Qaeda and its allies already govern large areas in northwestern Syria, setting conditions for an Islamic Emirate in opposition-held terrain in the long term.

    4. Prevent outright regime and Russian victory in Syria. Erdogan will continue to support the war against the Assad regime despiterumors of back channeling over shared opposition to the Syrian Kurdish YPG. Pro-regime forces encircled and besieged Turkish- and US-backed opposition forces in Aleppo City July 17, fulfilling Assad’s promise that “Aleppo will be the graveyard where the dreams and hopes of the butcher Erdogan will be buried.”

    Erdogan also must preclude an outright Russian victory in Syria in order to maintain leverage in the Turkish-Russian relationship.

    5. Retain leverage over the US Erdogan opposes American focus on ISIS in Syria and will continue to use his involvement in the anti-ISIS effort as leverage in negotiations with the US He will also continue to leverage his gatekeeper role in the flow of migrants to Europe. These forms of leverage are significant, but they have not enabled Erdogan to affect American policy in the way he desires. After consolidating his rule, he can and likely will increase the scale to which he utilizes these sources of pressure. He may also seek alternate sources of leverage.

    Al Qaeda Nusra Front

    A partnership with al Qaeda could enable him to disrupt counter-ISIS operations in Syria by attacking the YPG, positioning him as a powerbroker in the anti-ISIS fight independent of the anti-ISIS coalition. It would also inextricably link American success against al Qaeda in Syria to American relations with Turkey, forcing the US to subordinate its strategy against al Qaeda to the requirements to manage its diplomatic relations in Turkey.

    Erdogan can establish closer partnership with al Qaeda through a number of simple steps. He can provide covert support to increase the effectiveness of counter-Assad operations, including increased funding and equipment in addition to intelligence and campaign design. He can ensure freedom of movement for al Qaeda and its allies in Turkey and enable the relocation of formal headquarters into Turkish territory. He has already proposed granting citizenship to Syrian refugees in Turkey, likely in order to counter rising Kurdish birth rates in Turkey by adding millions of Arab citizens to the population.

    Naturalizing Syrian refugees could also enable him to obscure his support to Salafi jihadis in Syria by channeling that support through new Turkish-Syrian citizens. Finally, he can also allow or facilitate new flows of foreign fighters to al Qaeda in Syria.

    These steps would take Erdogan much deeper into a partnership with al Qaeda than his current support to al Qaeda’s war against the Assad regime. A reliance on al Qaeda to accomplish Turkish security objectives, and the resulting freedom of maneuver it would provide to al Qaeda, would transform Turkey into a state sanctuary for terrorism. The scale of the problem could be similar to Pakistani harboring of militants fighting American and allied forces in Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban.

    Jabhat al-Nusra, Nusra Front

    A permanent Turkish safe haven would protect some of al Qaeda’s critical capabilities and critical requirements in Syria from direct targeting, increasing the requirements to destroy the group in Syria. It would also provide an ideal launching point for a future wave of attacks.

    An empowered al Qaeda with a durable safe haven in Turkey will pose an even greater threat to Europe and the American homeland than ISIS in the long term. Al Qaeda prioritizes cultivating local support among Sunni populations in Syria and the Middle East, but intends to conduct spectacular attacks in the West and is developing the capability to do so. The future war against al Qaeda will be more difficult to win even without direct Turkish backing because of how al Qaeda is embedding itself into the local population.

    A partnership with al Qaeda is not the most likely option for Erdogan to take because of its severe implications for NATO and American national security. It is a much more dangerous future scenario for the US than even the loss of Incirlik as a base for anti-ISIS operations, however.'

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during an iftar event in Ankara, Turkey, June 29, 2016.  Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

    American policymakers must make it a priority to prevent this most dangerous future from occurring. A victorious Erdogan poses a difficult challenge for conventional diplomatic instruments. A partnership with al Qaeda would not strictly violate Erdogan’s NATO obligations because the alliance’s mandate does not extend to terrorism. NATO does not have a formal mechanism for ejecting member states, making it difficult to coerce Erdogan by threatening to revoke NATO protections anyway.

    It is unclear that Erodgan would respond to such a threat even if credible. The Foreign Policy Chief of the European Union (EU) stated that the restoration of the death penalty would forfeit Turkey’s chance for EU membership in a similar attempt to constrain Erdogan’s behavior on July 18. He is unlikely to submit.

    The US must abandon presuppositions about how a democratically elected leader will behave in order to explore policy options that engage with Erdogan's calculus. Achieving American objectives in the region – and preventing a more dangerous future from emerging - will require creative thinking about how to incentivize Erdogan to choose policies that favor or do not undermine American interests while serving his own.

    SEE ALSO: Erdogan: Turkey is in a 3 month 'state of emergency'

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    Russian Tu-22M3 bomb ISIS targets

    After their recent string of terrorist attacks, ISIS is starting to feel the pressure from a global response. One of these nations in particular is revamping its assault on the shrinking terrorist group.

    The Russian Defense Ministry stated on Thursday that its aircraft carried out airstrikes against ISIS militants in Homs Province in Syria near the ancient city of Palmyra. After warning international coalition forces in advance of their mission and flight routes, Russian forces used Tu-22M bombers to destroy two ISIS command centers.

    According to RT, the bombers were also escorted by Su-35 fighter jets.

    Consisting of several variants, the Tu-22M is a long-range bomber capable of delivering free-fall bombs, firing up to three H-22 missiles, or using two 23mm autocannons.

    Russia has been conducting airstrikes in Syria in support of the Syrian government since September 2015. And although Russia has targeted ISIS, the majority of its strikes have been against other rebel groups throughout the country. 

    We have GIFs of the strikes in Homs below:

    Watch the entire video from the Russian Ministry of Defense below:

    SEE ALSO: This elite Kurdish unit is hunting down ISIS militants

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    syria glass shatter violence

    During a discussion at the Brookings Institution last week on identifying emerging security threats, CIA Director John Brennan said the bedlam in Syria has become one of the most intricate issues the US faces.

    "I must say in my experience in working in Middle Eastern issues, Syria is the most complex, complicated issue I have ever had to deal with," Brennan said in a question-and-answer session.

    Brennan, who has been at the helm of the CIA since 2013, said Syria's chaos has resulted from "so many internal players, so many external players, so many goals and objectives that are frequently in tension with one another."

    Syria's civil war has been ongoing since March 2011 and features a bevy of competing groups, often backed by international actors. The Syrian government is currently supported directly and indirectly by both Russian and Iran, while the US and other Middle Eastern nations support various rebel forces to at least some extent.

    Russia has carried out airstrikes against ISIS and other rebel groups throughout the country since September 2015. And Iran has bolstered the Assad regime by deploying Shiite militias in the country, by sending Afghan refugees into the country to fight, and by encouraging the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to come to the aid of the Syrian government. 

    syria map

    Arrayed against the Syrian government are a plethora of rebel groups with various ideologies, foreign backers, and their own alliance networks. The number and fluidity of the groups has caused headaches for their various international backers — such as the US, France, Turkey, and the Gulf states — especially as even US-vetted groups are believed by Amnesty International to have committed war crimes.  

    One of the strongest rebel forces on the ground is the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, which fights alongside certain segments of the Syrian opposition. And the Nusra Front has become enough of a concern for foreign powers that Russia and the US have agreed to start coordinating their airstrikes to better destroy both Nusra and ISIS. 

    And despite several setbacks recently, ISIS still manages to control a large portion of territory in Syria, including its de facto capital of Raqqa. A high-level ISIS member who was recently captured admitted— just to make the situation even more complex — that the Syrian government and ISIS maintained a "good relationship" and that the Syrian regime bought oil from the terror group. 

    The final main group in Syria is the Kurdish YPG, which has staked out its own autonomous territories along the Turkish border and has been the most successful anti-ISIS force. However, the Kurds have managed to maintain a relative peace with the Syrian government while coordinating and receiving support from both the US and Russia. 

    SEE ALSO: CIA DIRECTOR: It was an 'obligation' to put America's most advanced missile system in North Korea's backyard

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following their meeting in Moscow, Russia, July 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    Russian warplanes bombed a garrison used by US and British forces in Syria twice last month, despite being warned by a US surveillance aircraft flying nearby that the base was not occupied or being used by members of ISIS.

    The airstrikes — which hit the base in southeastern Syria just 24 hours after 20 British special forces had left and killed four US-backed rebels — appear to have been Moscow's way of pressuring the US into sharing military intelligence and coordinating more closely with the Russians in Syria, The Wall Street Journal's Adam Entous reported.

    Moscow initially told the Pentagon that it thought that the base was being used by ISIS, according to the report. It later claimed that US Central Command's refusal to provide Russia with the garrison's coordinates was largely to blame for the incident.

    Nearly a month after the first incident, Entous reported, Russia dropped cluster bombs on another US-linked base on the Jordanian border housing CIA-backed rebels and their families.

    Washington's reluctance to coordinate with Moscow in Syria has largely stemmed from the Russians' pattern of targeting US-backed rebel groups there under the guise of defeating "terrorists" who oppose Syria's president and Russia's close ally, Bashar Assad.

    putin

    Russia's intervention in the war on behalf of Assad last September has created a catch-22 for the Obama administration, which remains divided over whether sharing military intelligence with the Russians in Syria would make them more or less likely to target the country's non-jihadist opposition.

    This incident "brings out something that was already evident to almost everyone who has spoken to US foreign policy officials recently," Mark Kramer, Program Director for the Project on Cold War Studies at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, told Business Insider on Saturday.

    "Namely, that the Obama administration is deeply divided over how to respond to Russia's inflammatory actions in Syria and elsewhere."

    He continued:

    Many on the NSC [National Security Council] staff, as well as in the Defense Department and CIA, worry that Obama's timidity and inaction are simply encouraging the Russians to step up their dangerous and provocative actions...The State Department is highlighted in the WSJ article as the defender of a timid approach in the face of Kremlin aggression, and there is certainly a good deal of truth in that. But the real problem is Obama himself, who seems to have no desire to take a firm stand against Russian actions."

    'The president has authorized and ordered this track'

    US President Barack Obama decided earlier this month that working more closely with the Russians to target Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, aka Jabhat al-Nusra, would serve US national security interests long-term. Obama and Putin reportedly spoke by phone in early July and confirmed the plan that will involve enhanced sharing of information about the group's positions.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Moscow shortly thereafter and met with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He has declined to comment on the "internal negotiations" ongoing between the US and Russia. 

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands during a joint news conference following their meeting in Moscow, Russia, July 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    "The president of the United States has authorized and ordered this track,"Kerry told reporters on Friday. "It is the president’s desire to test whether or not the Russians are prepared to do what they said during our negotiations in Moscow that they will do."

    According to the leaked text of the coordination plan — known as the Joint Implementation Group — the US will share intelligence with Russian officials about Nusra if Russian warplanes refrain from launching airstrikes outside certain "designated areas." It also proposes that the Syrian army completely halt its aerial bombardments.

    As analysts have noted, however, the proposal has several loopholes — including one that seems to explicitly allow Russia to "strike in areas where the opposition is dominant," even if Al Qaeda has only "some possible" presence there.

    From the proposal (emphasis added):

    "Designated areas include areas of most concentrated Nusrah Front presence, areas of significant Nusrah Front presence, and areas where the opposition is dominant, with some possible Nusrah Front presence. Even prior to the establishment of the JIG, technical experts from the U.S. and Russia will plot the geo-coordinates of these designated areas."

    As Middle East expert Andrew Tabler, the Martin J. Gross Fellow at The Washington Institute's Program on Arab Politics, noted in a recent policy analysis, "Russia's track record in Syria indicates that it would continue air operations against non-designated rebel groups under the proposed TOR [terms of reference]."

    russian airstrikes syria July

    Washington has noticed that trend and has repeatedly called on Moscow to stop launching airstrikes in areas under non-jihadist rebel control. It has continued to do so for the better part of 10 months, largely to no avail.

    Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an intelligence official told Reuters that "it isn't clear" why the administration thinks that it can enlist the Russians to support its goals in Syria.

    The proposal amounts to "ignoring the fact that the Russians and their Syrian allies have made no distinction between bombing ISIS and killing members of the moderate opposition, including some people that we've trained," the official said.

    "Why would we share intelligence and targeting information with people who've been doing that?" the official added.

    With reports that Russia purposefully targeted a base used by British and American special forces, that question is poised to take on even greater urgency.

    SEE ALSO: The quick defeat of Turkey's military coup may signal something much more ominous

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    John Kerry Sergei LavrovWASHINGTON (Reuters) - Skeptics in the U.S. government, European allies in the anti-Islamic State coalition and the main Syrian opposition, distrustful of Russia's intentions, are questioning Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest proposal for closer U.S.-Russian cooperation against extremist groups in Syria.

    Several U.S. military and intelligence officials called the plan naive, and said Kerry risks falling into a trap that Russian President Vladimir Putin has laid to discredit the United States with moderate rebel groups and drive some of their fighters into the arms of Islamic State and other extremist groups.

    Some European members of the coalition against Islamic State forces have expressed concern about sharing intelligence with Russia, which they say has been an untrustworthy partner in Syria.

    The current proposal, which Kerry hopes to conclude within weeks, envisions ways in which Washington and Moscow would share intelligence to coordinate air strikes against the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and prohibit the Syrian air force from attacking moderate rebel groups.

    Kerry's State Department and White House allies say the plan is the best chance to limit the fighting that is driving thousands of Syrians, mixed with some trained Islamic State fighters, into exile in Europe and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching tens of thousands more, as well as preserving a political track.

    In the end, according to two officials who support Kerry's efforts, there is no alternative to working with the Russians.

    "There are reasons to be skeptical, as with any approach in Syria, but those who criticize this plan as unlikely to work or flawed on other grounds, like working with Russia, have the responsibility of presenting something better or more effective," said former White House Middle East advisor Philip Gordon, now with the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

    Kerry's critics say the plan is flawed, in part because as it now stands it would leave the Russians and Syrians free to use ground troops and artillery against moderate groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russia's RIA new agency, in Damascus, Syria in this handout file picture provided by SANA on March 30, 2016.

    'Two basic problems'

    They also say targeting the Nusra Front is difficult because in some areas its fighters are comingled with more moderate rebels.

    "That underscores two basic problems that Kerry seems to be ignoring," said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "One: The Russians' aim in Syria is still either keeping Assad in power or finding some successor who is acceptable to them. ... And two: Putin has proved over and over again, and not just in Syria, that he cannot be trusted to honor any agreement he makes if he decides it's no longer in Russia's interest."

    Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, will have an opportunity to meet this week at the ASEAN summit in Laos. But even if it is adopted, the plan is unlikely to provide quick relief for civilians trapped in a five-year-old civil war that the United Nations estimates has killed 400,000 people.

    Kerry told reporters on Friday that Obama had "authorized and ordered this track" and that the plan would be based on specific steps, not trust. But even Kerry has refrained from voicing optimism, instead saying the effort was showing "a modicum of promise."

    A European diplomat said Kerry and Lavrov have agreed to draft a map showing where the Nusra Front operates.

    "The two sides would then, through joint analysis, decide who to target ... by getting the U.S. in the same tactical room; Moscow would then have to guarantee that Assad's planes stopped bombing," the diplomat told Reuters. "He is, in his Kerry way, optimistic. But the devil is in the details, and we're not convinced that Moscow is serious."

    British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the United States and Russia have an understanding to minimize the danger of aircraft interfering or colliding with each other, and that the British were covered by that understanding.

    "But it certainly does not extend to any cooperation over targeting, and we would not welcome that," Fallon said at an event in Washington.

    Many U.S. officials are concerned that sharing intelligence with Russia could risk revealing U.S. intelligence sources, methods and capabilities.

    putin obama

    'Expect tricks'

    Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said that even if the plan is agreed upon, it would be for only a short time, until the next U.S. administration takes office. Obama's presidency ends in January.

    "I'm afraid Assad will expect tricks from the Americans," Klimov told Reuters. "They have been saying constantly he's an outcast ... and now they're about to tell Assad, 'You know, please give us a day's advance notice before you want to trash someone with your forces.'"

    "Every time while talking to Assad we have to convince him, give arguments, additional guarantees. ... We can't give him orders, he's on his own soil."

    Following a meeting with Putin last week, Kerry expressed concern about indiscriminate bombings by Syrian forces, but did not mention Russian violations of a cessation of hostilities agreement, although the CIA publicly has pointed to them.

    "What's striking is not what Kerry has said, but what he’s failed to say," said another U.S. official, adding that Kerry had left out the "inconvenient facts" about Russian violations.

    Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington, told Reuters that whether it was Moscow's bad intent or lack of leverage, "it's not clear to me that the Russians can deliver on their side of the deal."

    The Syrian opposition said it was concerned whether Russia could succeed in getting the Assad's government to ground its air force.

    "The (Obama) administration has put its bet on the good faith cooperation of the Russians, with so far very disappointing results," Basma Kodmani, a member of the main Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee, told Reuters in Washington last week.

    (Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and John Irish in Paris, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow and Idrees Ali in Washington; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by John Walcott and Will Dunham)

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