That the U.S. was not seriously fighting the Islamic State was obvious to any observer but it is now a public position stated by Russia and the U.S. will have to react to
Throughout the last week the Russian airforce updated its target list in Syria. Plans were prepared, units designated, ammunition was loaded.
Today President Putin announced that the destruction of a Russian airliner with 224 people on board over the Sinai peninsula had indeed been an Islamic State terror attack. Traces of explosives were found on parts of the debris.
The Russian mission in Syria is no longer just to help the Syrian government but is now a matter of Russian national self-defence. The Russian parliament was not shy in assigning guilt:
“The recent tragic developments confirm the topicality of Russia’s continuous warnings that permanent destabilization in the Middle East by those who claim global dominance, primarily the United States, could lead to the expansion of the zone of bloody chaos and entail numerous human tragedies,” the document says. “France and other European states are, as a matter of fact, reaping the consequences of Washington’s nearsighted and selfish policy.”
There will now be no backing out for Russia and no time limit.
At the same time as Putin spoke Russian ships in the Caspian sea, submarines in the Mediterranean and long range strategic strike bombers flying from Russia launched 34 cruise missiles against Islamic State targets in Syria.
The Russian defense ministry announced that it would double its strikes in Syria using 5 TU-160, 6 TU-95MS, 14 TU-22m3. 8 SU-34 and 4 SU-27sm in addition to the 34 airplanes already in Syria. The new assets are long-range and will mostly fly directly from Russia. They will attack the static targets which the Russian and Syrian intelligence will designate. The planes in Syria will now take a more tactical role in direct combat air support for the Syrian army and the allied forces on the ground. The strike capacity will immediately double and it is planned to further increase it.
The French, now bombing IS in retaliation for the attack in Paris, are also adding to their strike capacity by moving their airplane carrier towards the Syrian coast. President Putin personally ordered the Russian ships in the Mediterranean to recognize the French forces as allies. This may be an opening to France and an offer to Hollande to leave his anti-Syrian stance and to stop his support for anti-Syrian insurgents.
After Putin shamed Obama into bombing Islamic State oil truck assemblies his Foreign Minister Lavrov went a step further. He directly accused the U.S. of not being serious about fighting the Islamic State:
“The problem around the U.S.-led coalition is that despite the fact that they declared its goal in fighting exclusively the Islamic State and other terrorists and pledged not to take any action against the Syrian army (…), analysis of the strikes delivered by the United States and its coalition at terrorist positions over the past year drives us to a conclusion that these were selective, I would say sparing, strikes and in the majority of cases spared those Islamic State groups that were capable of pressing the Syrian army,” he said.
“It looks like a cat that wants to eat a fish but doesn’t want to wet its feet. They want the Islamic State to weaken Assad as soon as possible to force him to step down this or that way but they don’t want to see Islamic State strong enough to take power.”
That the U.S. was not seriously fighting the Islamic State was obvious to any observer but it is now a public position stated by Russia and the U.S. will have to react to.
Maybe Lavrov hopes he can goad the U.S. into getting more serious about the Islamic State. With the background of the attacks in Paris and against the Russian plane (more are likely to come) the chances for that are not too bad.
The “isolated” Russia that was never actually isolated is not isolated anymore. The U.S. rhetorical position is now defensive as Russia is taking the lead in the fight against IS. But it still wants to look like its is doing something:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday his country is starting an operation with Turkey to finish securing the northern Syrian border.
“The entire border of northern Syria – 75 percent of it has now been shut off. And we are entering an operation with the Turks to shut off the other remaining 98 kilometers,” he said in an interview with CNN.
That is not much of a change at all. Crossing the border and smuggling will in future require either a Turkish secret service or CIA permit. A real change in the U.S. position will only come when its stops the support for the various forces fighting against the Syrian government. But that may require an even bigger shock than the attack in Paris or the downing of a Russian plane.
Putin names and shames Obama into bombing ISIS oil smugglers
(November 15) – The U.S. claims it wants to hit the Islamic State but in one year of bombing it never really touched one of its biggest sources of income. Hundreds of oil tanker trucks are waiting every day at IS distribution points to smuggle oil to Turkey and elsewhere. Only one such distribution point was ever bombed and that attack was by the Iraqi air force.
Now the Russian President Putin played some “name and shame” at the G-20 meeting in Turkey and, lo and behold, the problem gets solved.
The Obama administration recently claimed it would increase attacks on the most expensive Syrian oil infrastructure which is owned by the Syrian government but under IS control. But it said it would still not hit the large truck gatherings.
While the American-led air campaign has conducted periodic airstrikes against oil refineries and other production facilities in eastern Syria that the group controls, the organization’s engineers have been able to quickly repair damage, and keep the oil flowing, American officials said. The Obama administration has also balked at attacking the Islamic State’s fleet of tanker trucks — its main distribution network — fearing civilian casualties.
But now the administration has decided to increase the attacks and focus on inflicting damage that takes longer to fix or requires specially ordered parts, American officials said.
The obvious target to stop the oil trade is to hit the trucks. Without trucks the other infrastructure is useless for IS as the oil can not be sold. With trucks destroyed the men behind the smuggling will lose all profits and leave the business. The “civilian casualties” argument does not hold. There could be warnings to avoid human damage or one could consider that these oil smugglers are dealing with terrorists and thereby accomplices. The real U.S. reluctance to hit the oil smuggling might be out of deference to the Turkish government which of course profits from such oil transfers.
Then came along Russia and its President Putin and demonstrated at the current G-20 meeting that the U.S. is not serious about fighting IS. Today the Turkish journalist Abdullah Bozkurt reports remarks by President Putin from a G-20 sideline event:
Abdullah Bozkurt @abdbozkurt
Putin in #Turkey: I provided examples based on our data on the financing of different #ISIL units by private individuals.
“This money, as we have established, comes from 40 countries and, there are some of the G20 members among them”, Putin says
“I’ve shown our colleagues photos taken from space & from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil”
Putin provided that information and the photos yesterday. Obama must have been deeply embarrassed and pissed. Suddenly, a day after Putin exposed the U.S. reluctance to hit IS where it is needed, a big truck assembly was bombed:
Intensifying pressure on the Islamic State, United States warplanes for the first time attacked hundreds of trucks on Monday that the extremist group has been using to smuggle the crude oil it has been producing in Syria, American officials said. According to an initial assessment, 116 trucks were destroyed in the attack, which took place near Deir al-Zour, an area in eastern Syria that is controlled by the Islamic State.
Until Monday, the United States had refrained from striking the fleet used to transport oil, believed to include more than 1,000 tanker trucks, because of concerns about causing civilian casualties. As a result, the Islamic State’s distribution system for exporting oil had remained largely intact.
It seems that Putin’s naming and shaming with regards to the oil smuggling was successful. We might soon see a similar effect on the financing sources he mentioned.
After Paris Two Questions
Syrian Presidency @Presidency_Sy
President al-Assad: Terrorism will not stop here, it will export itself through illegal immigration into Europe.
- What should be the response to the attacks in Paris?
- What will be the response to the attacks in Paris?