US air strikes in Syria, just the beginning

Peter Symonds

Following yesterday’s massive air attacks inside Syria, the Pentagon made clear that the operations were just the start of a protracted war. Lieutenant General William Mayville, director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the media the strikes were “the beginning of a credible and sustainable, persistent campaign” against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militias. Asked about the length of the campaign, he said: “I think it would be in terms of years.”

The scope and extent of the air strikes underline that fact that Syria, rather than Iraq, has been the primary target all along. A senior American military official told the New York Times that the US and its allies “dropped as many bombs in one night as the United States had during all its previous operations against Islamic State in Iraq.” The cruise missiles and bombs rained down on Syria were not directed simply against ISIS, but also against Al Qaeda affiliates—Jabhat al-Nusra, and the hitherto unpublicised “terrorist” organisation, Khorasan.

While Mayville disclaimed any knowledge of civilian casualties, the first reports from inside Syria indicate substantial death and destruction. The Los Angeles Times cited a video from the north-western province of Idlib showing residents picking through the rubble of bombed houses with a voice over of an anti-government activist, declaring “mass destruction of the civilian homes [as] a result of the strikes of the Western alliance.” The article explained that one of five US missiles in the area had hit a residential neighbourhood in the village of Kafar Daryan, killing up to two dozen civilians, including children.

Yesterday’s assault consisted of three waves of strikes. The first was a volley of cruise missiles directed against targets around Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. The second involved US fighter jets and drones, along with war planes from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan, attacking ISIS compounds and vehicles in northern Syria. The third round, which also included Arab countries, targeted ISIS positions in eastern Syria.

US launches air strikes inside Syria

Peter Symonds

The air strikes are an illegal act of war against a country that has never posed a threat to the U.S.

The US began a series of devastating and ongoing air strikes inside Syria early Tuesday, bombing the town of Raqqa and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets along the country’s border with Iraq. The attacks on ISIS are the pretext for stepping up the US-backed regime-change operation against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and mark the expansion of a reckless and illegal war that will have catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and beyond.

The new air war was announced in a brief statement by Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, who stated that “US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL [ISIS] terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.” Indifferent to public opinion, President Obama issued no statement and made no comment.

Details provided by unnamed US officials make clear that the air campaign inside Syria goes far beyond the scope of the air strikes in Iraq over the past six weeks. At least 20 targets have been hit within the first hours, using cruise missiles launched from US navy ships and precision-guided bombs fired from warplanes and drones. The strikes reportedly targeted ISIS command centres, weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings.

Obama marshals allies for war on Syria and Iraq

Peter Symonds

In the lead-up to this week’s UN General Assembly meetings, the Obama administration is engaged in an aggressive political campaign to justify and marshal support for the extension of its war in Iraq into Syria. Under the pretext of “degrading and destroying” Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militias, the US is engaged in an illegal war of aggression with the objective of ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Claims by American officials that Washington has the support of 40 countries cannot obscure the fact that this is another US war based on lies, and in flagrant breach of international law. US warplanes have carried out more than 160 air strikes inside Iraq after being invited to do so by its puppet regime in Baghdad, and its aircraft and drones have already carried out reconnaissance inside Syria. Washington has arrogated to itself the right to conduct air strikes inside Syria, despite the expressed opposition of the Syrian government.

Speaking on the ABC’s “This Week” program last night, US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, declared that the US had the “legal basis” for waging an air war on Syria and that there was “universal support” in the international community for attacking ISIS. In fact, Washington lacks even the fig-leaf of a UN resolution to legitimise its new war. When Obama chairs a special UN Security Council session on Wednesday, he is unlikely to seek a resolution supporting air strikes on Syria, as Russia would veto it.

Power made the absurd assertion that military aggression against Syria was justified because Iraq had requested it. “The Iraqis have appealed to the international community to come to their defence not only in Iraq, but also to go after safe havens in foreign countries. And what they mean of course is Syria. And they’re quite explicit about that,” she said. Such “requests” could be engineered to justify an aggressive war against any country in the world.

US prepares for “generational” war in the Middle East

Peter Symonds

At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey set the stage for a massive and protracted expansion of US military operations in Iraq and Syria.

“This will require a sustained effort over an extended period of time. It is a generational problem,” Dempsey told the committee.

In his opening testimony, Dempsey contradicted President Obama’s pledge last week that there would be no American troops engaged in combat in Iraq or Syria. “To be clear,” he stated, “if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] targets, I will recommend that to the president.”

Obama has already authorised the deployment of 1,600 American military personnel in Iraq, including the placement of US troops with Kurdish peshmerga militia and Iraqi army forces fighting ISIL, more commonly known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Speaking on behalf of the US military hierarchy, Dempsey made clear that such advisers could not be confined to headquarters, but would be needed to provide “close combat advising” in complex operations such as dislodging ISIS from urban areas like Mosul.

In remarks bordering on insubordination, Dempsey implicitly criticised Obama when he explained that the president had already turned down the recommendation of Central Command chief, General Lloyd Austin, to deploy American troops as spotters to call in air strikes during last month’s offensive to retake the Mosul Dam from ISIS. Dempsey’s public disagreement points to tensions with the White House and the degree to which the military and intelligence apparatus are calling the shots in the new US-led war in the Middle East. The real purpose of the military intervention, a revival of plans shelved last year, is the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This will necessarily require a far greater American military commitment than currently acknowledged.

US defense secretary menaces China at Singapore forum

Peter Symonds

In a menacing and provocative speech in Singapore on Saturday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directly accused China of “destabilising, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea” and warned that the US “will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.”

Delivered at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the annual Asian defence forum, Hagel’s speech was an open and unequivocal statement that the US intends to maintain its undisputed dominance in Asia and will use its military might to that end. Hagel reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia—an aggressive strategy aimed at undermining and militarily encircling China. The rebalance, he declared, “is not a goal, not a promise, or a vision—it’s a reality.”

In the course of his speech, Hagel listed the recent steps taken by the Obama administration to strengthen military ties throughout the region, including: new strategic partnerships with Vietnam and Malaysia, the signing of a basing agreement for US forces in the Philippines, the build-up of advanced US military hardware in Japan, expanded anti-ballistic missile systems in Asia, and greater military collaboration with key allies including Japan, South Korea and Australia.

The rapid US military build-up in Asia makes a mockery of the Obama administration’s claims that its “pivot” is purely to maintain peace and stability and is not targeted against China. As Hagel reaffirmed, by 2020, the US will station 60 percent of its air and naval assets in the Asia Pacific. The Pentagon also plans to boost support for its allies and strategic partners by increasing foreign military financing by 35 percent and military education and training by 40 percent by 2016.

UN report on North Korea targets both Pyongyang and Beijing

Peter Symonds

The targeting of governments and individuals by the UN and its associated institutions is invariably highly selective, politically coloured and geared to the predatory interests of the imperialist powers, above all the United States.

The UN report on human rights in North Korea released yesterday marks an acceleration of the US-led campaign to destabilise and ultimately remove the Pyongyang regime. The catalogue of horrors in North Korea is designed to stampede public opinion behind any US provocations directed against Pyongyang, but above all to intensify the pressure on North Korea’s ally, China.

The highly political character of the UN commission of inquiry was underlined by the comments of its chair, former Australian judge Michael Kirby, who declared that the repressive methods of the North Korean regime were “strikingly similar” to the crimes of Nazi Germany. He likened North Korean prisons to the Nazi concentration camps in which millions of Jews, gypsies and political prisoners were exterminated.

Kirby has already written to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, declaring that his commission is recommending that “the international criminal court render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for the crimes against humanity.” In his comments yesterday, Kirby declared that the purpose of the commission’s report was to “galvanize action on the part of the international community.”

US presses for UN resolution to justify war on Syria

Peter Symonds

Barely a week after the US and Russia reached a deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, the Obama administration is engaged in a new round of bullying to force Russia and China to agree to a UN Security Council resolution that would give the green light for US military action against Syria.

In line with the tight deadlines contained in the agreement, the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad handed over details of its chemical weapon stockpiles to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague on Saturday. The Syrian document followed an initial statement on Friday.

The OPCW announced that the “expected disclosure from the Syrian government” had been received, but postponed an executive committee meeting on Sunday to discuss the implementation of US-Russia deal. The Washington Post reported that the postponement took place “amid an increasingly heated dispute between Russia and the United States over how to establish Syrian violations of the weapons agreement.”

US exploits Russian proposal of talks to prepare new pretext for Syria war

Peter Symonds

Chemical claims should be investigated, not used as pretext
for war
. [Recent] reporting has called into question these early,
credulous reports—and highlighted the continuing media failure
to treat WMD claims with the skepticism they deserve.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet today in Geneva for talks over Moscow’s plan for Syria to give up its chemical weapons. Even before the two sit down, however, the Obama administration has already made clear that the US intends to exploit the negotiations to provide a new pretext for its planned military onslaught on Syria.

In an online chat forum yesterday, Kerry insisted that the US would continue to push for a binding UN resolution that would punish Syria if it delayed or broke off the disarmament process envisaged in the Russian proposal. “We need a full resolution from the Security Council in order to have confidence that this has the force it ought to have,” he said.

The French government has already drawn up a resolution that it plans to table in the UN Security Council that France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius declared would involve “extremely serious” consequences if Syria failed to adhere to a strict timetable for the destruction of its chemical weapons stocks.

The French resolution also contains a condemnation of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad for the gassing of civilians. Like the Obama administration, the French government’s “case” for punishing Syria is based on lies. It has provided no evidence that the chemical weapons attack on August 21 was carried out by the Syrian military, nor has it refuted the findings of a Russian investigation which found that anti-Assad Islamist militias were responsible.

Australia: Telstra facilitates US electronic spying

Peter Symonds

Australian company Telstra signed a secret agreement in November 2001 to ensure that US intelligence and police agencies had unrestricted access to all electronic communications carried in its cables from the Asia Pacific into the US.

The existence of the contract was first exposed by the Washington Post on July 6 and subsequently in the Sydney Morning Herald. It is one of 28 national security agreements, involving foreign telecommunications corporations with connections to the US, that have been published in full on the Public Intelligence website. The American signatories vary from contract to contract, but include the US Defence Department, Justice Department, Homeland Security and the FBI.

This latest exposure comes on top of revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has access, via its PRISM program, to the data of nine major Internet companies, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo. This system of police state surveillance has ridden roughshod over the US constitution and international law.

The Telstra agreement has provided an alternative means for US spying on American and foreign citizens, by allowing access to the vast amounts of Internet and phone data passing through the backbone of international telecommunications—undersea fibre optic cables.

The binding contract with the US Justice Department and the FBI involved a joint venture company, Reach, between Telstra and its Hong Kong partner, Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW). The joint venture has since become the largest carrier of intercontinental telecommunications in Asia. It operates 82,300 kilometres of undersea cables in the Pacific linking China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to Hawaii and the continental US. It also has a major cable joining the US east coast to Europe via Cornwall in the US and Brittany in France.

South Korea’s threats heighten danger of military conflict

Peter Symonds

South Korean President Park Geun-hye salutes during
a joint commission ceremony of 5,780 new officers of
Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines at the Gyeryong
military headquarters in South Korea, last Friday.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday gave her country’s military the green light to take any action that it saw fit in response to a threat from North Korea. Her comments escalate the danger of conflict on the Korean Peninsula amid ongoing joint war games between South Korea and the US, and warnings of war by North Korea.

Park, the daughter of former military dictator Park Chung-hee, told a defence ministry policy briefing that she regarded North Korea’s threats as “very serious”. She added: “If the North attempts any provocation against our people and country, you must respond strongly at the first contact with them, without political consideration.”

While Washington and Seoul portray their stance as purely defensive, the Yonhap News Agency reported that the South Korean military had unveiled a new contingency plan of “active deterrence” at yesterday’s briefing. The plan would allow the military “to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if the North shows signs of an imminent nuclear or missile attack on the South,” Yonhap explained.

A presidential spokesman told Yonhap that Park had emphasised the need for “strong preparedness” in a special video call to the commander of the South Korean navy’s second fleet, which is based in the Yellow Sea, where disputed maritime boundaries have led to clashes in the past.

The US is intimately involved in these military preparations against North Korea. During the briefing session, the South Korean defence ministry reported that the drafting of a joint “tailored deterrence strategy” with the US was well underway and would be finalised by October.

Park won the December presidential election in South Korea, promising to hold dialogue with North Korea. Far from easing tensions, she has set the stage for a provocation by the South Korean military that could be followed by a rapid escalation of conflict. Park’s Saenuri Party, previously named the Grand National Party, was the political organisation of the US-backed military dictatorship, which only relinquished power in the late 1980s.

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