War

Iran warns it can make weapons-grade material in days if nuke deal scotched

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s atomic chief warned Tuesday the Islamic Republic needs only five days to ramp up its uranium enrichment to 20 percent, a level at which the material could be used for a nuclear weapon.

The comments by Ali Akbar Salehi to Iranian state television come as US President Donald Trump repeatedly has threatened to renegotiate or walk away from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Salehi’s warning, along with recent comments by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, show Iran is willing to push back against Trump while still acknowledging they want to keep the deal, which lifted crippling economic sanctions on the country.

“If there is a plan for a reaction and a challenge, we will definitely surprise them,” said Salehi, who also serves as one of Rouhani’s vice presidents. “If we make the determination, we are able to resume 20 percent-enrichment in at most five days.”

He added: “Definitely, we are not interested in such a thing happening. We have not achieved the deal easily to let it go easily. We are committed to the deal and we are loyal to it.”

Iran gave up the majority of its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium as part of the nuclear deal it struck with world powers, including Trump’s predecessor, president Barack Obama. The accord, which lifted sanctions on Iran, currently caps the Islamic Republic uranium enrichment at 5 percent.

File photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in 2008. (photo credit: AP/Iranian President's office, File)

While Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, uranium enriched to 20 percent and above can be used in nuclear bombs. Iran processed its stockpile of near 20 percent uranium into a lower enrichment, turned some into fuel plates to power a research reactor and shipped the rest to Russia as part of the deal.

The Obama administration and most independent experts said at the time of the deal that Iran would need at least a year after abandoning the deal to have enough nuclear material to build a bomb. Before the deal was struck, they said the timeframe for Iran to “break out” toward a bomb was a couple of months.

While the economic benefits of the deal have yet to reach the average Iranian, airlines in the country have signed deals for billions of dollars of aircraft from Airbus and Boeing. Car manufacturers and others have swept into the Iranian market as well as the country has boosted its oil sales. Abandoning the deal would put those economic gains in jeopardy.

Rouhani, a moderate cleric within Iran’s theocratically overseen government, warned last week that it could ramp up its nuclear program and quickly achieve a more advanced level if the US continues “threats and sanctions” against his country.

Rouhani’s comments were sparked by Trump signing a sanctions bill imposing mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The US legislation also applies terrorism sanctions to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and enforces an existing arms embargo.

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Trump’s War on Terror May Prove Even More Deadly Than George W. Bush’s

President Donald Trump took to the podium at Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Virginia to tell the world that the war in Afghanistan will continue.

“[A] hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda,” the president said. Despite his own reservations, which were reiterated during the speech, America will forge ahead with military action.

The president doesn’t appear to know that U.S. military action is largely responsible for the emergence of ISIS as it exists today. The continued success of ISIS relies on an extensive propaganda operation that routinely uses violent U.S. military actions as recruitment tools.

Trump’s speech itself was a boost for ISIS. He strengthened the terror group by describing it as a powerful and evil force that must be obliterated through armed conflict. ISIS leaders needn’t create a propaganda ad around Trump’s speech. They can just play the tape.

President Barack Obama’s role in prolonging and exacerbating the conflict in Afghanistan can not be easily dismissed. Shortly after assuming office in 2009, he too approved a troop increase to fight the Taliban. Like Trump, he assured the public at the time that the United States military would not be given a “blank check.” The war in Afghanistan, whose initial invasion began in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, is now the longest running military conflict in American history.

But the president’s address Monday took us back to the language of fighting a war on evildoers, the same ignorant approach President George W. Bush used as he inadvertently fostered the growth of what would soon become globally known as ISIS.

Trump does distinguish himself from Bush through a visceral disgust for nation-building. Trump doesn’t care about the world beyond his backyard. Building democracies is as far down his to-do list as publicly producing his tax returns. Instead, Trump just wants to blow the heads off of terrorists, oblivious to the fact that this strategy had failed time and again.

Though U.S. nation-building has proven a fool’s errand, Trump’s violence-only approach is perhaps even worse from a humanitarian perspective. What do we d3o with the civilians after we obliterate ISIS in various regions? ISIS often controls civilian access to basic survival needs. Under Trump, American forces may decimate the infrasructures citizens rely upon for survival without any meaningful strategy to ensure their wellbeing. We know this president won’t be welcoming displaced citizens as refugees to the U.S.

Trump’s speech managed exhibited a basic failure of moral leadership while aping the kind of moralistic language used to drum up support for violent military actions. But unlike one of his stupid tweets, Trump’s carefully prepared speech may signal a death sentence for civilians and troops who deserve better from us.

We should be ashamed.

Afghanistan: Trump’s Forever War

http://www.realjewnews.com/?p=1228#comment-2019221

 

Trump: “Our new strategy breaks from previous approaches that set artificial calendar-based deadlines. We are making clear to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield.”

‘New strategy?’ Naah. SAME thing as the past 16 years — if this doesn’t work, try that.

It’s the longest war in US history already, only now we won’t set dates for Trump’s Forever War in Afghanistan. “We are not nation-building again,” says Trump, “we are killing terrorists.”

And the more “terrorists” you “kill,” dear Donald, the more “terrorists” will multiply. It’s that ‘war on terror’ that just won’t quit. You’re a globalist now, Mr Trump, and the Jewish-controlled war party (cruise missile dems and kill ‘em all repubs,) got you under their thumb.

We’re sending ‘dozens’ of Marines (or ‘hundreds,’ maybe ‘thousands,’ but Trump’s not telling.) Oh, that’ll scare the Taliban who have control of about 45% of Afghanistan which just vowedto “turn Afghanistan into a US graveyard.”

Afghanistan is known as the “Graveyard of Empires.” It will soon become the graveyard of Trump’s presidency.

Mattis the Dog, with the “expanded authority” Trump is granting him, wants thousands of troops, so that means mission creep as he slides a few hundred in at a time with a little here, a little there, with appropriations snuck into congressional bills, and poached from the federal budget, or clawed back from non-accountable dark money from the CIA’s stash of Afghan opium bucks.

We’ll stay there until the Afghanis love us, or until we get a fully trained and reliable Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, whichever comes first.

DON’T Hold your breath for either. The more military operations the US conducts the more the local people come to hate Jewmerica and join the “terrorists.” The US is a great recruiter for the Taliban, just as it was for al-Qaeda and it’s daughter, ISIS, which is gaining a foothold in Afghanistan, too.

Mattis wants to take a ‘regional approach’ involving Pakistan and India to combating the Taliban and an offshoot of ISIS, called Islamic State-Khorasan Province. The key player in the regional approach is neighboring Pakistan, per General Dunsford, which won’t work “unless we have a higher degree of cooperation from Pakistan,” says he.

When Pakistan doesn’t crack down enough to Presidents Mattis’ and McMaster’s, er Trump’s, satisfaction, this means Mattis will have to pull out the plans for direct US military operations in Pakistan. That’s a Forever War worth flip-flopping for.

Obama’s drone war didn’t work murdering non-combatant Pakistanis and refugee Afghanis in Pakistan. More people who hate Jewmerica joined the Taliban, al Qaeda, or ISIS.

Trump’s new “strategy” doesn’t say how he’s going to get Pakistan to change current policies, either.

And now Bannon’s Breitbart ain’t too happy about it all. Indeed, Trump’s Breitbart base resents Trump’s radical flip-flopping speech that contradicts his promise to end the Afghanistan war and pull the troops out.

And Ann Coulter, a former Trump fan, tweeted: “It doesn’t matter who you vote for. The military-industrial complex wins.”

Right. Who benefits? JEWS. Spread the warmongering around, keep it coming, do it anywhere you can, next up Iran, and that West Wing democrat, General Kushner, gets a slap on the back from his synagogue buddies. That’s why all the neocon Jews and their Gentile shills are calling Trump’s speech, “presidential.” Tout war, you’re “presidential.” Tout peace, you’re “weak and cowardly.”

Jewish Wall Street and its Defense Contractor clients will have a LONG and BLOODY Bar Mitzvah. (Goys not invited, send them off to war instead, let them lose their legs, an arm, or a life. Well, after all, they’re goys, so who cares?…Jews don’t send their own to fight their wars.)

And oh, in case you forgot, here’s some Tweets worth flip-flopping for:

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
“When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first.”
Oct 7, 2011

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
“It is time to get out of Afghanistan. We are building roads and schools for people that hate us. It is not in our national interests.”
Feb 27, 2012

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
“China is getting minerals from Afghanistan. We are getting our troops killed by the Afghani govt. Time to get out.”
Feb 29, 2012

Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
“We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!”
November 21, 2013

In sum, Trump is actually calling his Afghan strategy an “America First” policy. George Orwell couldn’t have said it any better.

+Brother Nathanael
Real Jew News
http://www.realjewnews.com/

For More See: Trump Fights Jewry’s War On Iran @
http://www.realjewnews.com/?p=1190

Who’s Pushing War With North Korea? @
http://www.realjewnews.com/?p=1228

Mattis: US, allies to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan

US Defense Secretary James Mattis announced Monday that America and several allies have committed to boosting their troop numbers in Afghanistan, following an address to the nation by the US president.

Senior White House officials said President Donald Trump has already authorized Mattis to deploy up to 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan.

“I have directed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to make preparations to carry out the president’s strategy,” Mattis said in a statement issued after Trump’s address on the 16-year conflict.

“I will be in consultation with the Secretary General of NATO and our allies — several of which have also committed to increasing their troop numbers,” Mattis said.

Trump already had given military leaders greater authority to manage America’s military efforts. But his new Afghan strategy had been held up for months amid a contentious review process that has included the president publicly voicing his dissatisfaction with the options.

US President Donald Trump speaks at Fort Myer in Arlington Virginia, August 21, 2017, during a Presidential Address to the Nation about a strategy he believes will best position the US to eventually declare victory in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In February, the top US commander in the country told Congress he needs “a few thousand” more troops. The Pentagon has asked for Trump’s approval of a nearly 4,000 troop increase as part of the broader new strategy.

The president finally outlined his plan Monday, signaling more US and NATO forces were coming, but gave no indication of the scale or how long they’d be deployed.

“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump said during his address. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.”

Preceding Mattis’s statements, Trump said the US would “ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy, with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own. We are confident they will.”

Trump will own the war that bedeviled predecessors

WASHINGTON (AP) — Before he became US president, Donald Trump rarely talked about Afghanistan. When he did, he often called for a swift end to America’s longest war.

But on Monday, Trump announced to the nation that the war will press on, with no clear end in sight. His prime-time address cemented his standing as the third American president to oversee a conflict that has vexed Republicans and Democrats alike.

He declared: “In the end, we will win.”

Trump’s plans, while vague at times, amount to a victory for the military men increasingly filling Trump’s inner circle and a stinging defeat for the nationalist supporters who saw in Trump a like-minded skeptic of US intervention in long and costly overseas conflicts. Chief among them is ousted adviser Steve Bannon, whose website Breitbart News blared criticism Monday of the establishment’s approach to running he war.

Steve Bannon, the-then chief strategist for US President-elect Donald Trump, at Trump Tower, December 10, 2016 in New York. (AFP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

“What Does Victory in Afghanistan Look Like? Washington Doesn’t Know,” read one headline.

Now Trump leads Washington and that question falls for him to answer. He has seized on his mantra “America First,” but so far has spent little time explaining how that message translates to US involvement in a war across the globe, likely for years to come.

“Most people agree to make this work, to be successful, we’re going to need to be in Afghanistan a few more years at least,” said retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation. “That is typically not President Trump’s style. He likes to get a quick victory.”

President George W. Bush plunged US troops into Afghanistan after 9/11 but the war languished as American military attention focused on Iraq. President Barack Obama ratcheted up to 100,000 troops early in his administration, but hoped to wind down the war before he left office. He ultimately conceded that security concerns would require him to hand off the war to another president.

President George W. Bush talks with US troops, December 14, 2008 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump spoke boldly Monday of victory, defining success as “attacking our enemies” and “obliterating” the Islamic State. Winning the war, Trump said, would mean preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks.

But in meeting those markers, Trump faces many of the same challenges in Afghanistan that have bedeviled his predecessors and left some U.S. officials deeply uncertain about whether victory is possible — and if it is, what such a victory would entail.

Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest countries and corruption is embedded in its politics. The Taliban is resurgent. And Afghan forces remain too weak to secure the country without American help.

“When we had 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, we couldn’t secure the whole country,” said Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

International and Afghan security forces inspect damage outside Camp Integrity, a base housing US special forces that was attacked by militants, in Kabul on August 8, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/WAKIL KOHSAR)

The US currently has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials proposed plans to send in nearly 4,000 more to boost training and advising of the Afghan forces and bolster counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and an Islamic State group affiliate trying to gain a foothold in the country.

To reach his decision, Trump held extensive discussions with top advisers in the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, and heard directly from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Vice President Mike Pence. It was a more deliberate process than has been typical for Trump, who has shown a propensity to make impulsive decisions.

Trump initially resisted his advisers’ urging to send more US troops to Afghanistan and said his instinct was to bring the war to a close. But as he addressed the nation, he acknowledged a reality that so many of his predecessors have learned.

“I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office,” Trump said.

Trump Settles on Afghan Strategy Expected to Raise Troop Levels

AMMAN, Jordan — President Trump, who has been accused by lawmakers of dragging his feet on Afghanistan, has settled on a new strategy to carry on the nearly 16-year-old conflict there, administration officials said Sunday. The move, following a detailed review, is likely to open the door to the deployment of several thousand troops.

“The president has made a decision,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on an overnight flight that arrived in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday. “I am very comfortable that the strategic process was sufficiently rigorous.”

Mr. Mattis declined to say what steps the president had ordered, including on troop levels, saying that the president wanted to outline the new approach himself.

The defense secretary received the authority in June to send as many as 3,900 troops to Afghanistan so that the United States military could expand its efforts to advise Afghan forces and support them with American artillery and airpower. But Mr. Mattis has refrained from building up the American force there until the Trump administration agreed on a broader strategy.

The White House said in a statement that Mr. Trump would address the American public and American troops “on a path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia” in a speech at Fort Myer, Va., Monday night.

American military commanders have argued during the monthslong policy assessment that the additional troops would enable the United States to reverse gains made by the Taliban and militant groups like the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, the Islamic State in Khorasan.

Administration aides, under orders to let Mr. Trump announce the details, hinted that any American commitment to increase force levels would require steps by the Afghans, like doing more to fight corruption.

Mr. Trump’s Monday evening speech will be his first nationally televised prime-time address since he spoke before Congress in January and follows a week of controversy over his reaction to the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va.

When it comes to Afghanistan, Mr. Trump entered office as the skeptic in chief, and any ramped-up engagement there poses political risks for the president, who rallied voters weary of war with his sharp criticisms of American involvement in the country.

“We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money — rebuild the U.S.!” Mr. Trump tweeted about Afghanistan in January 2013, as he considered running for office in 2016.

The Afghanistan question has been the source of a long-running debate at the White House. Stephen K. Bannon, who was recently removed as a top Trump adviser, fought the military’s recommendation for more troops and backed a number of alternative options — including using private contractors instead of United States forces.

The decision on troops is just one component of a military and political plan for the region that Mr. Trump and his aides have been discussing for months, and it is politically important for the president to differentiate his approach from the Obama-era policies he sharply criticized.

Administration officials have been developing ways to try to pressure Pakistan to shut down the sanctuaries there for the Taliban, a goal Republican and Democrat administrations have pursued for years with little success.

A major concern is the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which American intelligence agencies believe is responsible for some devastating attacks in and around Kabul. Funding for Pakistan, including contributions for Pakistani troops deployed near the border with Afghanistan, may be held up to more scrutiny than it is now, according to Pentagon and congressional officials.

Trump administration officials have also worked to lock in troop commitments from NATO and other Western nations, an important consideration for a president who has demanded that allies shoulder part of the burden.

Trump administration officials say they know they will need to reassure the American public that American military involvement in the nearly 16-year-old conflict will not be open-ended and will help combat international terrorism.

Moreover, many officials believe they need to do so without setting firm deadlines for reducing or withdrawing American troops, a practice President Obama embraced but which Trump officials assert denied the military needed flexibility and played into the hands of the United States’ adversaries.

One way to address that concern, administration officials have said in recent weeks, might be to stipulate that the Afghans would need to satisfy certain conditions, like fighting corruption or improving governance, to continue to receive American economic and military support.

A number of high-level participants in the review have important experience on these issues, especially Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, and Maj. Gen. Ricky Waddell, the deputy national security adviser. Each headed an anti-corruption task force in Afghanistan.

Few people think that the war in Afghanistan can be ended anytime soon.

Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the American-led international force in Afghanistan, told Congress in February that the United States and its NATO allies were facing a “stalemate.”

According to a report to Congress by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, 57 percent of the districts in the country were under the Afghan government’s control as of November 2016, a 15 percent decrease from the previous year.

An estimated 8,400 American troops are stationed in Afghanistan, most assigned to an approximately 13,000-strong international force that is training and advising the Afghan military. About 2,000 American troops are tasked with carrying out counterterrorism missions along with Afghan forces against militant groups like the Islamic State’s affiliate.

Several hard-line lawmakers, including Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had complained that Mr. Trump was delaying his decision as security in Afghanistan was eroding. Earlier this month, Senator McCain announced he had drafted an amendment outlining a new Afghan strategy because Mr. Trump had taken so long to act.

As recently as Monday, Mr. Mattis said that administration was weighing some radically different approaches, including withdrawing American forces and sending contractors to fight in Afghanistan rather than troops. The cost of deploying troops and contributions of allies were among the president’s questions.

“There were several options,” Mr. Mattis said. “The reason we had to get back together was he kept asking questions on all of them.”

SYRIA’S ASSAD SAYS WAR STILL NOT WON BUT WEST’S PLOTS FOILED

 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday (August 20) that while his country had foiled Western designs to topple him, his army had not won defeated insurgents and the fight was continuing.

He said that:…”the signs of victory are there. But signs are something and winning is something else.”

In a televised address, Assad said that even though there were signs of victory after six-and-a-half years of civil war, the “battle continues, and where we go later and it becomes possible to talk about victory…that’s a different matter”.

He did not elaborate on that point.

However, he said the assistance extended by stalwart allies Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement had enabled the army to make battlefield gains and reduce the burden of war.

“Tthere are chapters that are going to be written about our friends”, he said before naming who these friends are, “ Iran, Imam Khamenei, about Russia and President Putin, about Hezbollah and Sayed Nasrallah.” He said as the crowd around him clapped and applauded.

He said his country welcomed Russian-brokered, regional ceasefire deals that Moscow is seeking to extend elsewhere in Syria as these would end bloodshed and bring an end to insurgency and pardoning of rebels.

WHAT THE SYRIAN REGIME’S ASSAULT ON ISIS MEANS FOR THE REGION

 

The Lebanese army, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime’s army launched an offensive Saturday on both sides of the Lebanon-Syria border to clear the Islamic State out of a pocket it holds that straddles the border. The offensive further deepens the relationship between Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Hezbollah and the Lebanese army.

Meanwhile, Syrian forces are advancing on the city of Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates, 350 km to the east, which could lead to Syrian forces re-taking the Euphrates valley and linking up with pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

The offensive on the Lebanon-Syrian border has been planned for weeks, according to comments Lebanese Army Brigadier General Ali Kanso made to the press. It is designed to rid Lebanon of ISIS and return Lebanese territory to the army’s sovereignty. President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah’s, was photographed following the offensive closely.

Syrian regime forces and Hezbollah are assaulting ISIS as well on the Syrian side of the border as well. Their plan is to clear around 250 sq km held by ISIS on both sides. For three years, the area around the Qalamoun mountains and Arsal in Lebanon have been a battlefield involving a mosaic of forces: ISIS, Syrian rebel groups, the Nusra Front, Hezbollah and the Syrian and Lebanese armies. On July 21, Hezbollah and Syrian government forces assaulted ISIS positions, but the Lebanese army did not take part on their side of the border.

A Hezbollah fighter stands in front of anti-tark artillery at Juroud Arsal, the Syria-Lebanon border (Reuters)A Hezbollah fighter stands in front of anti-tark artillery at Juroud Arsal, the Syria-Lebanon border (Reuters)

The coordination between Damascus, Beirut and Hezbollah will be seen as more evidence of Hezbollah’s rising influence — not only within Lebanon and outside the country as it’s own force, but also on the Lebanese army. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has opposed Hezbollah’s growing strength, sought to resist Hezbollah’s rising influence over the years, as the group has played a major role in the Syrian conflict.

Now, in the mountains of Qalamoun, history is being made.

A fifty-second video clip posted on Twitter over the weekend from eastern Syria’s Rojava alleges to show US-led coalition military supplies being shipped to the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against ISIS. Twenty-four truckloads of equipment, carrying several MRAPs and two-dozen pick-up trucks, as well as mobile generators, are seen passing in the video. The vehicles are likely destined for the US-backed SDF offensive to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State.

One-hundred and forty km. southeast of the battle in Raqqa a less well-known, but perhaps more strategic city, is at the center of plans by the Syrian regime to restore its rule to the country. Deir ez-Zor is one of the largest cities in eastern Syria and sits on the Euphrates river.

Before the Syrian civil war began, it was a diverse city with a church consecrated as a memorial to the Armenian genocide, and contained a pretty suspension bridge built in 1927 during the French occupation. Syrian rebels laid siege to regime forces in the city in 2013. Because ISIS used the Euphrates to connect its power-centers in Iraq with Syria, they tried to take Deir ez-Zor in 2014 after dispersing the Syrian rebels. Syrian regime forces knew that ISIS had executed en masse soldiers they captured at Tabqa in August 2014, and they were under no illusions what would happen to the garrison if Deir ez-Zor fell. So Deir ez-Zor has held on, under siege by ISIS, for three years.

Now the Syrian regime, able to draw resources from other front lines that are under shaky ceasefires with the rebels, is concentrating on reaching its besieged garrison. In the last month, the Syrian army has advanced along a road from Palmyra to as-Sukhnah, which was re-taken in mid-August. The Syrian army has also swept around to the northwest of Deir ez-Zor, skirting SDF lines near Tabqa and Raqqa to reach the Euphrates. From Ma’adan, the Syrian army will be within 70 km. of Raqqa.

This is part of a larger strategic picture, argued Fabrice Balanche in a new piece at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“If the Syrian army succeeds in captured Deir al-Zour [sic] city, it will then focus on the rich al-Omar oil fields, which account for 50 percent of Syrian production,” he wrote. The SDF and “US-backed Arab rebels would thus be denied access to the lower Euphrates valley between Deir al-Zour and Abu Kamal,” he argued. But an SDF offensive towards the Euphrates valley and Deir ez-Zor would “allow the US to block the planned Iranian corridor and maintain pressure on the Assad regime.”

Rumors about a possible SDF advance or US-backed Arab force advancing on Deir ez-Zor have been floating around for months. Some of these envisioned the US transporting units of the Maghaweer al-Thawra from Tanf, near the Jordan border, to al-Shaddadi, which is controlled by the SDF and is 100km north of Deir ez-Zor. Maghaweer al-Thawra is an anti-ISIS Arab force trained by the coalition, but as Balanche points out, these forces are not very large.

The reality on the ground is that the SDF has not moved from its positions in Shaddadi since January. It has focused on defeating ISIS in Raqqa since June. There are no SDF forces advancing toward Deir ez-Zor and the US does not appear to have any forces in play to reach the Euphrates near Deir ez-Zor.

Nevertheless twitter accounts have spread statements attributed to Maj. Gen Rupert Jones claiming the US “will not allow the Syrian regime forces to bypass the Euphrates River.” In an emailed statement the coalition denied this. “Maj. Gen Jones made no such comments as he took meetings in Ayn Issa to discuss the needs of the people of Raqqah post-Daesh [ISIS].”

Furthermore the statement notes “the Coalition mission is to work by, with and through our partner forces to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria. The coalition has no fight with the Syrian regime or its allies in the counter-Daesh fight.”

According to the coalition, the current de-conflicting line agreed to by the SDF, the coalition, Russia and the Syrian regime runs in an arc from southwest of Tabqah around to the Euphrates river, where it extends toward Deir ez-Zor. It does not extend into Deir ez-Zor. This is a key point — it means that the decision on the progress of the conflict past Deir ez-Zor is unclear. It illustrates that the US is only focused on is defeating ISIS and de-conflicting with the Syrian forces that are moving toward Deir ez-Zor.

“We have no fight with anyone but Da’esh and will not support any operation that are not against Da’esh,” the coalition public affairs office wrote in an email. They further note that ISIS is a “truly evil enemy of the people of Syria, the region and the world.”

Iraq begins battle to retake Tal Afar, IS bastion near Mosul

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced early Sunday the start of a battle to retake Tal Afar, a key Northern Iraqi bastion of the Islamic State and one of its last remaining strongholds in the region.

The announcement comes a month after the capture by Iraqi forces of second city Mosul further east in a major blow to the jihadists.

In a televised speech, Abadi, dressed in military uniform and standing in front of an Iraqi flag and map of the country, announced “the start of an operation to free Tal Afar.”

“I am saying to Daesh that there’s no choice other than to leave or be killed,” he said, using an alternative name for IS.

​Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks at United States Institute of Peace in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

“We have won all our battles, and Daesh have always lost,” he said, telling the country’s troops that “the entire world is with you.”

Tal Afar is located 43 miles west of Mosul, where US-backed government forces ended jihadist rule in July after a months-long battle.

In June 2014, IS jihadists overran Tal Afar, a Shiite enclave in the predominantly Sunni province of Nineveh, on the road between Mosul and Syria.

At the time it had a population of around 200,000, but local officials said it was now impossible to know the exact number still living inside the city as most are cut off from the outside world.

However, authorities have accused the approximately 1,000 jihadists in the city of using civilians as human shields during Iraqi and coalition air strikes earlier this week in preparation for the ground assault.

Abadi said that Iraq’s paramilitary Hashed al-Shaabi forces would help various army, police and counter-terrorism units in Tal Afar.

The umbrella organization, which is dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, has already been fighting to retake a number of other Iraqi cities from the Islamic State.

‘Victory is near’

“In the early hours, the guns and flags turned towards their targets,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Hashad.

“Victory is near” in Tal Afar, an “Iraqi city taken hostage and humiliated for years by attacks from these barbarians,” he said.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since regained much of the territory.

Once Tal Afar is retaken, Iraqi authorities intend to launch a fight to retake jihadist-held Hawija, in the province of Kirkuk, 186 miles north of Baghdad.

A picture taken on July 9, 2017, shows a general view of the destruction in Mosul's Old City. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

Jihadists still hold areas in Anbar, a western province that faces major security challenges.

IS, which declared a cross-border “caliphate” encompassing swathes of Iraq and Syria three years ago, has also suffered major setbacks in Syria, where around half of IS’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa has been retaken by US-backed fighters.

But divisions across political, religious and ethnic lines will again rise to the surface in Iraq after the extremist group is driven out of its last bastions, experts have said.

LEBANESE ARMY, HEZBOLLAH LAUNCH OPERATIONS AGAINST ISLAMIC STATE

 

BEIRUT – The Lebanese army launched an offensive on Saturday against an Islamic State enclave on the northeast border with Syria as Hezbollah simultaneously announced an assault on the militants from the Syrian side of the border.

The Lebanese army was targeting Islamic State positions near the town of Ras Baalbek with rockets, artillery and helicopters, a Lebanese security source said. The area is the last part of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier under insurgent control.

The operation by Hezbollah and the Syrian army was aimed at Islamic State militants in the western Qalamoun region of Syria, Hezbollah said, an area across the frontier from Ras Baalbek.

A Hezbollah statement said the group was meeting its pledge to “remove the terrorist threat at the borders of the nation” and was fighting “side by side” with the Syrian army. It made no mention of the Lebanese army operation.

Any joint operation between the Lebanese army on the one hand, and Hezbollah and the Syrian army on the other would be politically sensitive in Lebanon and could jeopardize the sizeable US military aid the country receives.

Washington classifies the Iran-backed Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

In a recent speech, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the Lebanese army would attack Islamic State from its side of the border, while Hezbollah and the Syrian army would simultaneously assault from the other side.

The Lebanese security source said the two offensives were not coordinated. “Each side is working alone,” the source said. But a commander in the military alliance fighting in support of President Bashar Assad said that “naturally” there was coordination.

Last month, Hezbollah forced Nusra Front militants and Syrian rebels to leave nearby border strongholds in a joint operation with the Syrian army.

The Lebanese army did not take part in the July operation, but it has been gearing up to assault the Islamic State pocket in the same mountainous region.

Hundreds of IS fighters are estimated to be holed up in the enclave. “We started advancing at 5 a.m. (0200 GMT),” the Lebanese source said. Footage broadcast by Hezbollah-run al-Manar TV showed the group’s fighters armed with assault rifles climbing a steep hill in the western Qalamoun.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun was following the army operation, called “Jroud Dawn.” “Jroud” refers to the barren, mountainous border area between Lebanon and Syria.

Hezbollah has provided critical military support to President Bashar Assad during Syria’s six-year-long war. Its Lebanese critics oppose Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian war.

Northeastern Lebanon was the scene of one of the worst spillovers of Syria’s war into Lebanon in 2014, when Islamic State and Nusra Front militants attacked the town of Arsal.

The fate of nine Lebanese soldiers taken captive by Islamic State in 2014 remains unknown.

Shi’ite Hezbollah and its allies have been pressing the Lebanese state to normalize relations with Damascus, challenging Lebanon’s official policy of neutrality towards the conflict next door.

US President Donald Trump recently called Hezbollah “a menace” to Lebanon and the region during a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in Washington last month, and promised continued US support for the Lebanese army.