Monday, September 26, 2016

Mosul attack Oct 19 according to Erdogan

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed on Sunday that the battle to push the Islamic State (ISIS, Daesh) out of their stronghold of Mosul will commence on October 19.

“It is said that the battle for Mosul against Daesh will kick off on October 19 and that we all have to be prepared for this event,” Erdogan said in a meeting with Turkish community figures based in the United States.

Halgurd Hikmat, media officer for the Peshmerga ministry, told Rudaw English that he could not confirm publicly the date for the launch of the Mosul offensive for security reasons....

-bth: so much for operational security.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Thoughts on Syria - Sept 25, 2016

The Syrian air force attack on the aid convoy to Aleppo this week which Russia then had the audacity to blame on the US has really strained relations with the Sec. of State Kerry to the breaking point.

Added to the challenge is the unwillingness of the US Defense Department to cooperate with the Russians in the war against IS. Unless President Obama comes out strongly on this matter, the issue of cooperation seems dead. Given the US 'accidental' bombing of Syrian militia forces in eastern Syria at the beginning of the week, it isn't even certain that force de-confliction is possible.  On the other hand de-confliction between Turkey and Russia in northern Syria seems to be happening.

Lavrov is quoted as saying he intends to release to the public the secret accord reached mid-month between the US and Russia. At this point, one can only assume the Russians are interested in scoring political points to make it plain to the world that they are a force to be reckoned then any prospect of a ceasefire or sustained relationship with the Obama administration. All this bodes ill in my opinion not only in the ME but in the Ukraine where it feels like another shoe is about to drop.

In Syria the Assad regime feels very confident that their new offensive will  win them the civil war. We shall see. I don't think that despite aerial dominance, there are enough troops on the ground to actually seize and hold  hostile territory.

So it seems fairly likely that after starving out the residents and fighters in eastern Aleppo, the Russian, Iranians and Syrians regime will have their city back in full, what is left of it.  But what about the rest of the country?

Turkey's enclave that has been carved out of northeastern Syria is not going to go away anytime soon. How will Syrian government deal with that? The Turks look like they are invariably handing over administration of that area to a loose group of NGOs linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

And as to the Kurds. Obama has a decision to make as to whether to step up arms support, and in particular, heavy arms to the Kurds in order to get them to move on Raqqa. Personally I don't think the Kurds are going to Raqqa as it does not hold a friendly population,, but it does serve a political agenda for the US Defense Department and if it were an excuse by which the Kurdish forces got heavy weaponry in Syria then perhaps that is how it will unfold during the last months of the Obama administration. I think it more likely that they would push south into east central Syria toward oil and gas fields controlled by IS.

Does the Syrian government have enough manpower? In the summer it seemed the answer was unequivocally no.  Now I'm not so sure.  Also there is the economic disaster of Syria, agriculture, oil and gas, basic infrastructure, factories; it all is very weak despite publicity and PR campaigns by the government.  The Russian blog and media campaign has been relentless and sweeping in scope.

And how will Syria deal with the Kurd which have gotten their act together despite a hopeless geographic situation? Is Assad going to cut a deal for a confederation or is he going to continue his hardline approach of absolute government and directly engage the Kurds?  And if Mosul falls this winter as expected and a wave of Sunni Arabs from Iraq migrate over into eastern Syria, how does that change the equation?

Yet cash flow is a hard thing for Assad and also Iran and Russia. Syria's regime is in terrible financial straits since last May when its currency collapsed. This will make oil and gas fields, grain harvested and stored in silos and electrical power plants all the more important. Iran got relief this year from the US but that does not address the negative impact of oil and gas pricing and the inherent inefficiencies and corruption endemic to Iran.  Russia, has done an admirable job managing its domestic budget despite great hardship, but indications of great strain are everywhere in its economy. Perhaps Russia should get what it wishes, a long and costly engagement in Syria and eastern Ukraine.

Given the US election cycle and Russia's hope that Obama will leave and Hillary will lose, my guess is that it plans to push the limits in Syria and Ukraine militarily until the end of the calendar year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cease fires and Russian election cycle

There has been much internet discussion about the timing of cease-fires in Syria especially with the last one turning out to be almost a nonstarter.

Also in the Ukraine Russian backed rebels last week declared a unilateral ceasefire out of nowhere. The spokesman was in a civilian suit where usually he is in combat fatigues. This seems odd given the substantial build up of Russian donated armor over the summer to the rebels.

My speculation is that Putin wanted a ceasefire in Syria that he could blame the Americans on when it failed and he wanted a ceasefire in Ukraine the week leading up to the Duma elections. 

Putin's party won decisively and the day after the elections the Russians declared the Syrian ceasefire dead.

If things heat up in Ukraine, I would suspect that it will be timed in November or late October leading up to the US elections and before the weather turns unfavorable. November has historically been an active combat period in the Ukrainian conflict.  Also one may see Putin stirring up Ukraine in advance of the US election in order to embarrass Hillary.

EXCLUSIVE-Battered by war, Syria's wheat crop halved this year to new low - Thomas Reuters

ABU DHABI/BEIRUT, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Syria's wheat harvest nearly halved to 1.3 million tonnes this year, the lowest in 27 years, as fighting and poor rainfall further degraded the farming sector and the nation's ability to feed itself.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad was forced to tender this summer for an unprecedented 1.35 million tonnes of imported wheat from political ally Russia to ensure supply of the flat loaves that are a staple for the Syrian people.
Before the five-year-old civil war, Syria was a wheat exporter producing four million tonnes in a good year and able to export 1.5 million tonnes...

Two dry spells, one in December and the other between mid-February and mid-March helped to cut the 2016 crop down from the 2.44 million tonnes in 2015, when most areas had ample rainfall.
In areas were there was rain, like the northeast province of Hasaka which accounts for almost half the country's wheat production, only 472,000 hectares were planted out of a planned 706,000 hectares due to the security situation, Yao said.
There has been heavy fighting in Hasaka as an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led air strikes pushed Islamic State militants out of some territory this year....

The outlook for wheat is not good. For the coming 2016/2017 planting season the government-run General Organisation for Seeds Multiplication only managed to distribute 30,000 tonnes of wheat seed compared to 450,000 tonnes prior to the war.
Of the country's total wheat production this year, only around 400,000 tonnes were procured by the government, a source at the General Organisation for Cereal Processing and Trade (Hoboob), the state body responsible for wheat, said.
The figure is far short of the one to 1.5 million tonnes needed to provide bread to government-held areas of Syria....

-bth: a couple of take aways besides the general food shortage.  Russia will be able to import wheat into the government controlled sector giving it influence.  Second, the struggle around grain silos will likely intensify.  This has been an observable factor in Iraq and Syria in recent years.  Also one might expect IS to try to abduct farmers' families to be held as hostage for a percentage of the grain yields. This has happened in recent years and I see no reason it will not increase or intensify.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Congress about to cause a series of 3 quarterly funding disasters for American public

... "The military services basically write off any major planning for the first quarter of the fiscal year due to Congress’ inability to pass appropriations bills on time, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Sept. 15 hearing.

Richardson’s revelation comes as the military is bracing for the possibility of another long term continuing resolution for 2017. It is almost a certainty that Congress will pass at least a short term resolution to keep the government running when the 2016 fiscal year ends at the end of September.
For all but one of the past eight years, the military services have dealt with the uncertainty of a long-term continuing resolution, Richardson said.

“Behaviors have modified to adapt to the reality of the last eight years. Big programs that require authorities for new starts, those are all prohibited in a continuing resolution environment and so rather than put those programs in the first quarter and put them all at risk, we just live in a three-quarter year and that first quarter is a light touch on just trying to keep things going,” Richardson said.

Other military service chiefs testified that the inability to plan ahead and a truncated fiscal year lead to the services wasting money on contacts...."

"... House Armed Services member Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said a short-term continuing resolution was the best among “a host of bad options” because it avoids a shutdown and gives lawmakers an opportunity to work out appropriations over the post-Nov. 8 election “lame duck” session.   

“It gives us a shot at getting a shot at some regular order, maybe a minibus or two—maybe defense—and CR-ing the rest,” Kinzinger said. “The minibus thing is probably where you’d probably get the most people in agreement and some success.”

Senate and House Armed Services Committee leaders are in negotiations to reconcile each chamber’s versions of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, where the biggest sticking point is the House bill’s diversion of $18 billion in wartime overseas contingency operations funding for troops and equipment. 

Thornberry, on Friday, signaled the NDAA negotiations on defense spending authorization could influence negotiations on a defense appropriations bill. 

“We try to stay together with the authorization and appropriations, so I guess, yeah,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry said he favors finalizing the NDAA before the end of September, and quipped the number of sessions to negotiate the bill, “depends on how long they’ll take to agree with me.”  

-bth: So what does this mean?  It means that to avoid a full government shutdown at the end of September the do-nothing Congress is going to pass a short-term continuing resolution into December, just past the elections. Billions of dollars of unnecessary waste will occur because of this which could have been used for healthcare or education or bridges. Instead the entire federal government will twittle its thumbs during this period. Then just after the election we will find out that the administration and congress swept under the carpet a giant funding gap emerging in health insurance.  So after a staged debate in December a continuing resolution or some sort of 9 month funding will allow both defense and health insurance to go forward in some grand compromise.  But then by April we will face a new crisis as the Operational Contingencies fund was only funded for 6 months which means soldiers in the field in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will suddenly find no funding support which will result in another Ryan orchestrated budget crisis right as folks file their income taxes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

General Sulaimani says will keep serving Islamic Republic, Iranian nation as a soldier until die

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Quashing rumors of having plans to go into politics, Commander of Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Qassem Suleimani underscored that he will always remain a simple soldier serving Iran and the Islamic Revolution.

In a statement on Thursday, General Suleimani described media speculations about his plans to run in the upcoming presidential election as “divisive” reports by the enemies with the purpose of fomenting discord within the Iranian nation....

Russian hacking a question of revenge and respect - WaPo

Moscow and Washington disagree over the definition of cybersecurity. The United States wants the agreement to cover only computers and networks, the technology of cybersecurity. Russia wants it to include the content that moves on the Internet, which Washington interprets as condoning censorship.
The United States signed a cybersecurity agreement last year with China.
“It’s an emotional story of Russia not being treated like a superpower and, for many of them, it’s a personal story,” said Andrey Soldatov, an expert on Russian Internet surveillance and the country’s security services.
Soldatov said the recent anti-Russia rhetoric “is quite sad, to be honest. . . . Before, only Russians spoke about interference from outside countries during elections. And now we see the use of exactly the same words from the Americans. It gives a trump card to the Russians. . . . They can say, ‘Well, you started it, and we’re just defending ourselves.’ ”
Far from worrying about retaliation, Russia’s leadership is probably enjoying the attention, said Gleb Pavlovsky, Putin’s former political strategist and now an independent political consultant out of favor with the Kremlin.
“The kinds of statements from the United States about Russian hackers make the Kremlin happy,” he said. “They show the Kremlin is capable of affecting the U.S. elections. All that’s left is for Russia to affect the stock market in New York and everything will be perfect.”

bth: The only thing that is going to change in the near term is that people will have to start automatically encrypting their messaging. There is no reason Putin or the Chinese will stop and there is no reason to think that the US and its allies will reduce their efforts even against their own citizens. Wide-spread encryption in the private sector is the only real solution that I see which will act as a deterrent.