Sunday, 14 February 2016

URGENT ALERT: Massive escalation in the Middle East

Well this looks like it - what may prove to be the first salvos in 
a global East-West conflict that pits the main players  against each other, rather than the proxy armies we have seen thus far.

It would not be an exageration to say that this is an EXTREMELY dangerous point in human history.

Combine that with a world economy that is collapsing before our very eyes and runaway climate change and we have the perfect storm.

I wish I was exagerating.

Turkey Shells Aleppo, Says "Massive Escalation" In Syria Imminent As Saudis Ready Airstrikes

13 February, 2016

Update: Washington has now weighed in and is asking the Turks to please stop shelling the soldiers the Pentagon is arming.

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US urges Turkey to halt artillery fire on Kurd, regime forces in Syria
Even as all sides - including the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and select rebel groups - pretend to be working towards a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution to the five year conflict in Syria, actions speak louder than words, and to put it as succinctly as possible, everyone is still fighting.

In fact, the fighting is more intense than ever. Russia and Hezbollah are closing in on Aleppo, the country’s largest city and a key urban center where rebels are dug in for what amounts to a last stand. If the city is liberated by the government (and yes, “liberated” is more accurate than “falls” because occupied territory belongs to the Syrian government, not to Sunni extremists), Assad will have regained control of the country’s backbone in the west.

That would effectively mean the end of the rebellion and the Gulf monarchies, not to mention Turkey, are not happy about it. “The main battle is about cutting the road between Aleppo and Turkey, for Turkey is the main conduit of supplies for the terrorists,” Assad said in an interview with AFP on Friday.

That supply line has been severed and now, it’s do or die time for the rebels’ Sunni benefactors in Ankara, Riyadh, and Doha. Either intervene or watch as Hezbollah rolls up the opposition under cover of Russian airstrikes, restoring the Assad government and securing the Shiite crescent for the Iranians.

As we documented extensively this week, the Saudis and the Turks are now set to invade. Assad has promised to “confront them”, which of course means that the IRGC and Hassan Nasrallah's army are set to come into direct contact with Turkish and Saudi troops, setting the stage for an all-out sectarian war that will almost invariably end up pitting NATO against the Russians. Note that this is different from Yemen, where Tehran fights via proxies rather than directly against the Saudi military.

On Saturday the stakes were raised when Turkey said Saudi Arabia is set to send warplanes to Incirlik.

As a reminder, access to Incirlik was the carrot Erdogan used last summer to convince NATO to acquiesce to Ankara’s brutal crackdown on the PKK. “Let me wage war against my political rivals, and you can use our airbase,” is a fair approximation of Erdogan’s proposition.

Now, it appears the Saudis are set to use the base as a staging ground for strikes in Syria.

As RT reports, “Saudi Arabia is to deploy military jets and personnel to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base in the south of the country.”

Of course the excuse is the same as it ever was for everyone involved: the fight against ISIS.

"The deployment is part of the US-led effort to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. "At every coalition meeting, we have always emphasized the need for an extensive result-oriented strategy in the fight against the Daesh terrorist group,” he dded.

Cavusoglu was speaking to the Yeni Safak newspaper after addressing the 52nd Munich Security Conference where over 60 foreign and defense ministers are gathered (see here for more from the meeting).  

"If we have such a strategy, then Turkey and Saudi Arabia may launch a ground operation,” he dded.

Remember that Ankara’s primary concern in the country is ensuring that the YPG (i.e. the Kurdish opposition that Erdogan equates with the PKK and thus with “terrorism”) doesn’t end up declaring a sovereign state on Turkey’s border. That, Erdogan fears, may embolden Kurds in Turkey who are already pushing for more autonomy.

In short: somehow, Turkey and Saudi Arabia need to figure out how to spin an attack on the YPG and an effort to rescue the opposition at Aleppo as an anti-ISIS operation even though ISIS doesn’t have a large presence in the area.

How they plan to do that is anyone’s guess, but the following tweets should tell you everything you need to know about where this is headed. 

BREAKING: Turkish artillery is striking Kurdish-held Minnigh Airbase in Aleppo, Syria, according to militants.

As you can see, Turkey has begun shelling Aleppo in what is indeed a very serious escalation that will likely prompt a Russian response.

"Shelling was reported at Menagh air base, a former Syrian Air Force facility that Kurds seized from Islamist rebels just days ago, and at three other positions between the airport and Turkish border," The Independent reports. "The air base has been a key target for several parties in the Syrian civil war since 2012, being besieged by rebels for almost a year until it was seized by a coalition including an early form of Isis and the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra in August 2013 [and] it remained in rebel hands until Thursday, when Kurdish PYD fighters capitalised on the diversion caused by Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Russian air strikes attacking rebel areas to the south to seize Menagh." 

PM Davutoglu says the shelling was in line with "rules of engagement."

BREAKING - PM Davutoğlu: YPG targets in Syria have been hit in line with the rules of engagement

"A Kurdish official confirmed the shelling of Menagh air base in the northern Aleppo countryside, which he said had been captured by the Kurdish-allied Jaysh al-Thuwwar group rather than the Kurdish YPG militia,"Reuters says, adding that 

"Both are part of the Syria Democratic Forces alliance." That group, you're reminded, was the subject of intense scrutiny late last year as we documented in our classic piece "Full Metal Retard: US Launches "Performance-Based" Ammo Paradrop Program For Make-Believe 'Syrian Arabs.'" It's the same group the US has been paradropping weapons to

To sum up, Turkey is deliberately attempting to reverse gains made by the US-backed Kurds in an area that is under siege by the Russians and Iran. Or, more simply: utter chaos.

Here's what happened according to pro-AKP (i.e. take it with a grain, or maybe a whole shaker full of salt) Anadolu Agency:

The Turkish military responded to an artillery attack on an army base close to the Syrian border on Saturday, a military source said. According to the unnamed source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media, the Akcabaglar base in Kilis province was shelled by the forces of the “PYD/PKK” -- referring to a Syrian Kurdish group and its affiliate PKK, which has waged war on Turkey since 1984.
The shelling came from Azaz in Aleppo province, which has been the scene of recent heavy fighting. Turkish forces reacted within rules of engagement that provide for an immediate response to any border threat, the source said. There was no further description of the form of response or detail on when the incident occurred.
In a separate incident, the army also responded to mortar fire from Syrian government troops on a Turkish police station in Calibogazi, Hatay province, at 2.55

Here are reports from Sputnik News

Turkish Forces Shell Syrian Army Positions in Latakia - Source
A military source said that Turkish armed forces shelled Syrian army positions in the northern Syrian province of Latakia

13 February, 2016

ALEPPO (Sputnik) – Turkish armed forces shelled Syrian army positions in the northern Syrian province of Latakia, a military source told RIA Novosti early Sunday.

"Turkish artillery opened fire on the positions of the Syrian army in the Alia hills region of northwest Latakia. Several shells have fallen from Turkish territory," the unnamed source said.

Turkish forces shelled Kurdish self-defense positions around the town of Azaz in nearby Aleppo province earlier

Saudi Arabia to Send Jets to Turkish Base for Air Missions in Syria
Saudi Arabia is deploying warplanes to the Turkish Incirlik base to fight Daesh, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said

13 February, 2016

"They (Saudi officials) came, did a reconnaissance of the base. At the moment it is not clear how many planes will come," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the Yeni Safak and Haberturk newspapers after taking part in the Munich Security Conference.

The deployment is part of the US-led effort to defeat Daesh terrorist group, he added. Incirlik is a key hub for US-led coalition operations againstDaesh (ISIL/ISIS/IS).

The Foreign Minister also said that Turkey and Saudi Arabia could launch a ground operation against terrorists in Syria.
"If there is a strategy (against Daesh) then Turkey and Saudi Arabia could enter into a ground operation," Cavusoglu said.
"They (Saudi Arabia) said 'If necessary we can also send troops'. Saudi Arabia is showing great determination in the fight against terror in Syria," he added.
Earlier it was reported that Saudi Arabia was ready to send its special forces as part of US-led coalition.

Syria has been in a state of civil war since 2011, with the army loyal to President Bashar Assad fighting several opposition factions and militant organizations, including Daesh terrorist group, which is banned in a number of countries, including Russia and the United States.
The US-led coalition of some 60 nations, including Saudi Arabia among others, has been launching airstrikes against Daesh in Syria and Iraq since 2014. However, the operation in Syria is conducted without the approval of the UN Security Council or Syrian authorities

 Forces Begin Shelling of Airbase Held by Kurds in Syria's Aleppo
Turkish forces started shelling Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG] postions on the territory of the Minnigh airbase in Syria's northern Aleppo region, according to local media.

13 February, 2016

ALEPPO (Sputnik) — Turkish forces have started shelling an airbase and a village, recently captured by Kurds, in Syria's northern Aleppo region, Al Mayadeen television reported Saturday.
"Turkish forces started shelling People's Protection Units [YPG] postions on the territory of the Minnigh airbase," an YPG spokesperson told the channel.
The airbase was captured by the Nusra Front militants in 2013. Earlier this week, a militia source told RIA Novosti that the airbase had been captured and the extremists have retreated.
Syrian Kurds have been fighting against terrorists in Syria for years and have already liberated vast Syrian territories from their control.
Ankara claims that Syrian Kurds have links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group fighting for Kurdish independence from Turkey.
A ceasefire between Turkey and PKK collapsed in July 2015, prompting Turkish authorities to launch a military operation in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern regions.

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