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Saturday, December 10

Toll in Istanbul Blasts Now 29 dead -- 27 police -- and 166 wounded


This was a 'complex' terror attack -- complex meaning the use of more than one type of  tactic. Complex attacks are an Al Qaeda hallmark, although Haqqani Network, linked to AQ, also specializes in that kind of attack. So while Erdogan will probably be quick to point the finger at the Kurdish resistance and/or the Gulenists, I wouldn't be too sure at this stage. 

I note they've already arrested 10 suspects. But if this attack is as sophisticated as it sounds, I'd take those arrests at this early stage with a grain of salt, unless they caught shooters. The first Sputnik report on the incident mentioned that gunfire had been heard around the time of the bomb blasts; it's not mentioned in the very brief updated report below

In any case there's now no question that Istanbul police were the target of the attack.   


Sputnik
04:38 - 11.12.2016 (updated 05:09 - 11.12.2016) 

Some 29 people, including 27 police officers, have been killed and 166 other injured in a car bomb and a suicide bombing that shook Istanbul on December 10, the country's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced.

Soylu announced that ten suspects in the deadly attacks have been taken into custody.

[...]

Two massive explosions rocked Turkey's largest city after a football match at Vodafone arena. The target was a van full of police leaving the stadium after having provided security, Soylu said.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurman Kurtulmus said the attack comprised a car bomb outside the stadium in the city's Besiktas district, followed 45 seconds later by a suicide bomber nearby. 


 Soylu called the attacks "a cruel plot" and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement after the tragedy that it had been designed to "maximize" casualties.

[END REPORT]

********

(UPDATED 10:30pm EST) Two bombs detonated in Istanbul; police primary targets; reports of gunfire

Updated Sputnik report and my comments



At Least 15 Killed, Dozens Injured As Explosions Rock Istanbul (PHOTOS)
22:53 - 10.12.2016 (updated 01:55 - 11.12.2016)
Sputnik



Security sources and local TV are reporting that at least 15 are dead and 70 injured after two huge explosions struck the Turkish city.

In what Turkey's Interior Ministry has called a coordinated terrorist attack, a car bomb exploded near a riot police bus leaving Vodafone stadium in the Besiktas district of central Istanbul after a football match and another attacker detonated a suicide vest nearby.

The suspected suicide bomber struck in Macka park, next to the Vodafone Arena, home to Istanbul's Besiktas soccer team, while the second explosion hit directly outside the stadium, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a live broadcast on Turkish TV after the attack.

The car bomb attack near the arena, which has killed at least 15 and wounded 70, according to local news agency NTV, took place about two hours after a football match. The wounded are believed to be police officers who were in charge of security for the match, NTV reports. Horrific images of the carnage, including severely injured police officers, are circulating on social media.

[...]

********

Staggering Statistics on Afghanistan's Opium Trade

I don't agree with the journalist's argument that the solution is legalizing opium but she pulled facts and figures together to convey a helpful updated picture of the situation. I hate to cherry-pick quotes but in this case I won't resist:

America risks losing the war on terror in Afghanistan unless it legalizes the opium trade
By Abigail Hall-Blanco
December 09, 2016

According to a recently released report by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium production in Afghanistan has risen by 43% in the last year. The country’s drug trade employs some 2.9 million people—12% of the Afghan population—and generates approximately $68 billion in revenue a year.

[...]

The US government has spent some $12 billion in eradication efforts—more than four times the size of the entire pre-invasion economy. Yet Afghanistan now supplies around 90% of the world’s opium.

[...]

In Afghanistan, the drug cartel is the Taliban. In fact, the terror group takes in an estimated $200-$400 million annually from the illicit opium economy. But US drug policy doesn’t just offer the Taliban a profitable business opportunity; it also drives Afghan citizens toward the terror group.  [Pundita note:  see the rest of the report for Hall-Blanco's explanation about why the latter is so.]

[...]

The UN has acknowledged that the Taliban insurgency and drug trade are intimately linked. But research has also found that provinces producing more opium see higher levels of terror attacks. Moreover, there appears to be a correlation between spikes in the number of terror attacks and the months in which opium is harvested

[...]

********

Surprise! 50,000 Civilians Evacuated In Past Two Days From E. Aleppo (UPDATED 7:45am EST)

UPDATE

Here is a report from Sputnik on the evacuation; RT has also updated its Breaking News report on the evacuation and mentions, "The Russian Reconciliation Center is monitoring the evacuation of civilians from the blocked districts round-the-clock with the use of drones."

Both websites have video showing overhead surveillance of the evacuation. RT has 'live' raw drone footage in black and white; Sputnik has a short clip, also posted at YouTube, which is in color and more easily than the drone footage conveys the exodus along one of the 'humanitarian corridors' from east to west Aleppo.
  
Below is the the Sputnik report, which repeats much of the information in the updated RT one. Note the Sputnik photo; people don't seem to be carrying anything as they wait to board a bus. I assume this is because they've been told by the Syrian/Russian commands that the evacuation is very short- term. Also, the evacuation looks reasonably orderly and everyone shown at the transportation staging looks pretty calm. 



Russia Has Evacuated 50,000 Civilians From Aleppo in Past Two Days
13:48 - 10.12.2016 (updated 14:20 - 10.12.2016)
Sputnik

Russia's center for Syrian reconciliation has helped nearly 50,000 civilians leave Eastern Aleppo in the past two days, the Defense Ministry's spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday.

While the total number of civilians evacuated from Eastern Aleppo over the past two days stands at almost 50,000, Saturday alone has seen over 20,000 individuals leaving the city, he said.

"On Saturday, over 20,000 people have left Eastern Aleppo, and 1,217 militants have laid down their arms."

The evacuation is being conducted through humanitarian corridors, organized by Moscow and Damascus. 


"We are warning terrorists and so-called moderate opposition militants, and we are addressing their patrons, to not provoke the situation, to not open fire on civilians leaving though the humanitarian corridors," Konashenkov said. 

The spokesman appealed to those countries and organizations which vowed to provide humanitarian aid for Aleppo. 

"We are appealing to those who have been for months announcing their readiness to send humanitarian aid to Aleppo: the representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Canada, the European Union and international organizations… It's time to back up your promises." 

Konashenkov said earlier on Saturday there was a "continuous flow" of people fleeing the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo to that controlled by the government.

The Syrian Army on Saturday suspended its offensive against the militants in Aleppo for the time of the evacuation of civilians from the eastern neighborhoods of the city through humanitarian corridors launched by the Russian Reconciliation Center. The Syrian government has regained control of 93 percent of the city.

Aleppo has become the battleground for violent clashes between the government forces and opposition groups, with the latter holding on to a number of districts in the east of the city. The siege of Aleppo has resulted in many of its civilian residents lacking food and basic necessities, their lives threatened.

[END REPORT]

END UPDATE

I'll be darned. The Russian military sure has a quiet way of working -- but maybe they were able to pull it off in part because of crummy reporting on the conflict. Anyhow, this explains the seeming foot dragging in the past few days by Syrian and Russian commanders about re-escalating attacks in the area, and which had the guys at SouthFront tearing out their hair.   

BREAKING NEWS
December 10, 2016 - 10:47
RT

Russian Reconciliation Center evacuated 50,000 civilians from E. Aleppo in past 2 days – military

Over the past 48 hours, up to 50,000 people have been evacuated from East Aleppo, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov has reported.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW


********

Friendly Fire: US Airstrike in Mosul Kills 90 Iraqi Servicemen, Wounds 100

BREAKING NEWS
Sputnik
December 10, 2016 - 10:17 (updated 11:35)

A total of 90 Iraqi servicemen were killed and 100 were wounded as a result of a mistake strike by the US Air Force in Mosul, a local news portal reported Saturday. A source in the Iraqi army confirmed the information to Sputnik Arabic.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — According to the Factiniraq news portal, the airstrike also damaged Iraqi military hardware, and the troops had to retreat from the area.

The airstrike, which occurred on Friday, targeted an armored division, destroying eight infantry fighting vehicles and four Humvee military trucks, the army source told Sputnik.

The Iraqi operation to liberate Mosul, which was occupied by the Daesh terrorist group (outlawed in Russia) in June 2014, has been ongoing since October 17. The offensive is led by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi soldiers backed by the US-led anti-terror coalition.

[END REPORT]

********

Uh oh. British regime propaganda outfit tried to bribe ethical journalist

Every time I thought the situation described in the following report couldn't get any worse, it did.     

“This was far beyond working for state-owned media in my opinion. It was to actually be a mouthpiece for specific armed groups that are backed by a Western regime with a long history of disastrous interference in this region."

British Govt-Funded Outlet Offered Journalist $17,000 a Month to Produce Propaganda for Syrian Rebels
Emails reveal that a popular source for mainstream Western media is a U.K.-backed propaganda outlet.

By Rania Khalek
December 8, 2016
Alternet/Grayzone Project

The Revolutionary Forces of Syria (RFS) media office, a major Syrian opposition media outfit and frequent source of information for Western media, is funded by the British government and is managed by Westerners operating out of Turkey, according to emails provided to AlterNet by a Middle East reporter RFS tried to recruit.

The outlet stirred controversy this November when it released a video at the height of the Mannequin Challenge, a pop culture craze in which people compete for how long they can freeze in place on video. The RFS video depicted a staged rescue by the White Helmets, the Western-funded rescue group that operates exclusively in rebel-held territory. RFS quickly removed the video and issued an apology out of apparent concern that the staged rescue could raise questions about the authenticity of other videos by the White Helmets.

Over the summer, the Middle East reporter, who asked not to be named, was contacted by an American acquaintance and former colleague about working for RFS.

I'm currently in Istanbul, working on a media project for the HMG [the British government],” wrote the acquaintance in an email time-stamped June 23. “We're working on media surrounding the Syrian conflict, as one of their three partners.” The email included links to RFS Media’s English website and SMO Media, an Arabic website that covers the Southern Front, a Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) group.

“[W]e’re looking for a managing editor/production manager to head up our team here in Istanbul, and I thought you'd be a great fit. I was wondering if you had any interest, or knew of anyone looking to move out to Istanbul for an opportunity," the acquaintance added.

In a followup phone conversation, the acquaintance explained to the reporter what the job would entail.

“I would have been talking to opposition people on the ground and writing news pieces based on statements from media activists who are affiliated with the armed groups in places like Aleppo,” the reporter later explained.

The salary offered for this task was an eye-popping $17,000 a month.

The reporter ultimately decided not to pursue the RFS position because he felt it would be journalistically unethical.

The idea that I would work for the government of a country that’s intimately involved in the Syrian conflict is one that’s incomprehensible for me as a journalist,” he told AlterNet.

“This was far beyond working for state-owned media in my opinion. It was to actually be a mouthpiece for specific armed groups that are backed by a Western regime with a long history of disastrous interference in this region. That doesn’t mean I don’t have sympathy for people who are against the Syrian government. I am not pro-regime. At the same time, I am a journalist and would like to maintain my integrity at that level.”

The reporter declined to recommend others for the job, saying, “I’m not going to facilitate some dubious relationship between a reporter and what is obviously a propaganda outlet,” he said.

RFS did not respond to a request for comment.

Go-to source for information-starved Western media

Western media often relies on self-described “media activists” in areas controlled by Western- and Gulf-backed militant groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra (until recently Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria), Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam and Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki

These groups are explicitly anti-democratic and have been implicated in human rights violations from mass execution to using caged religious minorities as human shields. Most recently, civilians fleeing rebel-held eastern Aleppo have described being fired on by militants seeking to prevent them from escaping to the safety of government-controlled territory.  

Two months ago, I spoke over the phone to a frequently quoted media activist living in East Aleppo. He told me that if he publicly criticizes the armed opposition groups, he risks being tortured, or worse. Indeed, a largely ignored report by Amnesty International published in June revealed that civilians in opposition-controlled Aleppo and Idlib have been subjected to abduction, torture and summary execution simply for criticizing armed groups on social media.
[Pundita note: Evidently many among the civilians who've recently fled E. Aleppo have also described torture and mass executions carried out by the 'moderates' who'd held them captive.]

RFS’s videos and hashtags are regularly picked up by major Western media outlets. One of its videos has even been cited by human rights groups as evidence of Russian war crimes.

Among its most viral campaigns is #AvengersInAleppo, which featured photos of children living in East Aleppo holding up signs calling on Marvel comic book superheroes to save them. (East Aleppo is controlled by a number of extremist groups led by Al Qaeda’s renamed offshoot, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.)

Prior to that, RFS capitalized on the popularity of Pokémon Go to sell a pro-interventionist message to Western audiences with photos of children in opposition-controlled areas of Syria holding up photos of Pokémon characters with messages calling for intervention. 

The campaign garnered favorable media coverage from major outlets, including the Guardian, the Washington Post, CNN, the Independent, Reuters, and the BBC, none of which have bothered to question the origins of RFS or similar pro-opposition outlets.

A $3 million British government propaganda campaign for Syria’s rebels

RFS Media is just one of several different propaganda outlets financed by the U.K. Foreign Office. A recent investigation by the Guardian revealed that the British Foreign Office Conflict and Stability Fund has secretly pumped at least £2.4 million (over $3 million U.S.) into pro-rebel propaganda outfits based out of Istanbul.

The money began flowing after the British parliament voted against bombing the Syrian government in late 2013. (RFS Media launched in December 2013 in both English and Arabic.) The vote against war was attributed in large part to public pressure, as citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, reluctant to overthrow yet another Middle Eastern government after the disasters in Iraq and Libya, mobilized against another campaign for Western regime change in Syria.

After the political defeat, the U.K. Foreign Office embarked on a clandestine propaganda campaign to suppress the public’s anti-war sensibility, hiring private contractors to “produce videos, photos, military reports, radio broadcasts, print products and social media posts branded with the logos of fighting groups, and effectively run a press office for opposition fighters,” according to the Guardian.

The purpose of the propaganda, euphemistically referred to as “strategic communications” by the Foreign Office, is to clandestinely “influence the course of the war by shaping perceptions of opposition fighters” and provide “strategic communications and media operations support to the Syrian moderate armed opposition.”

Sanitizing the armed opposition as “moderate” has been a difficult task to be sure. While Western officials were well aware of the extremist and violently sectarian ideology that dominated the opposition early in the conflict, they deliberately chose to whitewash their atrocities in favor of weakening the Syrian government. RSF Media has stayed true to that goal, portraying armed groups as liberators and protectors adored by the people living under them, a narrative Western media outlets have enthusiastically echoed even as their own reporters were kidnapped, ransomed and even shot by Western-backed rebels.

This has presented a puzzling contradiction in Syria coverage. On the one hand, foreign reporters do not dare enter opposition areas for fear of being abducted. Yet the same media outlets that refrain from sending their reporters to opposition areas are comfortable amplifying propaganda that comes out of these areas with almost zero scrutiny, despite the fact that such information almost certainly requires the approval of the armed groups they fear may kidnap their reporters.

The warped picture of Syria that has been provided to Western media consumers is not the fault of the Syrian opposition, which is merely advancing its own most immediate public relations needs without regard for the objective truth, as combatants in war often do. It is, however, a damning indictment of a media establishment that has failed to scrutinize convenient pro-war narratives that serve their own governments’ geopolitical interests.

[copies of emails quoted in the report]

[END REPORT]

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist living in the Washington D.C. area.

********

Latest Syrian War map. LSD helps


GOVT FORCES RENEW MILITARY OPERATION IN ALEPPO AS MILITANTS AGAIN INGORE TERMS OF RUSSIA-PROPOSED CEASEFIRE
December 9, 2016
SuthFront

Syrian government forces reportedly renewed a military operation in the Syrian city of Aleppo after Jaish al-Fatah and Fatah Halab militant coalitions prevented a high number of civilians from leaving the militant-held area of the city.

The Syrian army’s Tiger Forces and other pro-government groups are now storming few militant-held building in the Shekih Saeed neighborhood and the militant held neighborhood of Sayf Al-Dawla, according to local sources.

Pro-government sources claim that the Syrian army and its allies are set to finish the job.

The operations were renewed few hours ago, after reports started to appear that the so-called “moderate opposition” was preventing civilians from leaving the militan-held area.

By now, these reports have been ignored by the Western media. It’s an obvious fact for Arab-language media outlets:
[Sky News Arabia Tweet, in Arabic]

[SouthFront then continues stewing at Russian/Syrian governments for their softly softly approach to finishing off the varmits]

********

Friday: Over 1,000 militants surrender to Syrian Army in east Aleppo

By Leith Fadel
December 9, 2016
AMN

BEIRUT, LEBANON (5:15 P.M.) - More than 1,000 militants from a number of different rebel factions surrendered themselves to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) on Friday after their forces lost approximately 90 percent of the east Aleppo pocket, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported on Friday.

The militants reportedly surrendered themselves to the Syrian Arab Army at both the Bustan Al-Qasir and Sheikh Sa'eed districts in east Aleppo earlier today.

One of the promises offered to the militants that surrendered today is the consideration of amnesty, which will absolve them from any crime that does not involve killing or kidnapping civilians in Aleppo.

Most of the rebel militants were reportedly from the Fatah Halab coalition, which includes groups like Harakat Nouriddeen Al-Zinki and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
[END REPORT]

Slowly but surely the SAA is grinding down the forces. They've had to work carefully because of the large number of civilians involved.   

********

Then, nothing but triumph


We'll get there, do you hear me? No sincere human dies in vain, not a single one, and even the insincere ones will eventually develop sincerity and be saved. Om that Existence! 

Under These Outrageous Skies.

*********   

Friday, December 9

Almost 18,000 civilians escape from E. Aleppo

Sun rising over Aleppo with the Citadel, now completely liberated, in the background


Sputnik
December 10, 2016 - 7:45

Almost 18 thousand citizens managed to flee from militant-controlled areas of Syria’s Aleppo, the Russian center for Syrian reconciliation announced.

"The Russian center for reconciliation continues to assist local residents leaving militants-controlled districts of Eastern Aleppo. In the past 24 hours 17,971 more people, including 7 542 children, left the militant-controlled areas with help of the Russian center for reconciliation,” the center said in a statement.
The center noted that Russian servicemen demined about 8 hectares (almost 18 acres) of territory in Aleppo, getting explosives from 24 buildings, including two schools, two mosques and an electric power substation.

Within the past 24 hours, some 28 militants surrendered, the statement added. In accordance with a decision of Syrian President Bashar Assad, all 28 militants who laid down arms in the past 24 hours in Aleppo have been granted amnesty.

[END REPORT]

********

Okay everybody calm down

SouthFront is snapping at the Russian government. Yes, SF is a Russian site, although it's not a government site. They've snapped at the Kremlin before and now they're upset, obviously because they think Putin's advisers are telling him to tip-toe in response to the latest American provocations, including the release of MANPADS and other weapons to 'moderate' fighters in Syria, and obfuscations about the terrorists still left in E. Aleppo, who are either stubbornly refusing to leave or stubbornly insisting that they take their weapons with them if they agree to leave.         

I wonder if it's occurred to SouthFront that Putin's advisers are convinced that Obama has finally gone off the deep end.

Even if my speculation is wrong, this is a good time for everyone to calm down and have a little patience with Putin's decisions.   


And pray. 


*********
   

"Syrian Army Controls 93% of Aleppo - Russian MoD - BREAKING NEWS" (UPDATED 9:10am EST)

See updated report below. Unless the editor forgot to remove the "DETAILS TO FOLLOW" note from the initial report, more details are on the way.    

Sputnik
16:42 - December 9, 2012 (updated 16:43)

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

Sputnik update 17:05:

The Syrian army controls 93 percent of the whole territory of Aleppo, the Russian General Staff said.

"As a result of a successful advance, 52 districts of eastern Aleppo have been freed from militants. Over the past 4 days, territory controlled by militants decreased by one third. The Syrian army controls 93% of the city's territory," Sergei Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff Main Operational Directorate, said at a news briefing. 

The Russian General Staff said that Aleppo's residents report torture, public executions by the so-called "moderate opposition," the Russian General Staff said. 

"Civilians who escaped from terrorists talk about new crimes committed by militants of the so-called moderate opposition in eastern Aleppo. Cases of torture, public executions and massacres of the population have been confirmed." 

Over 3,000 Aleppo residents returned to their houses in the city, Rudskoy said. He said that dozens of tons of humanitarian aid are delivered to liberated Aleppo districts on a daily basis.

More than 1,000 militants have surrendered arms and left eastern Aleppo, 953 of them have been granted amnesty, Gen. Lt. Sergei Rudskoy said.

Russian and Syrian warplanes have not carried out airstrikes around Aleppo since October 18, he said. "I emphasize that such results [in Aleppo's liberation] have been achieved by Syrian army's ground forces." 

According to Rudskoy, 21 facilities, including two schools and two mosques, have been cleared of explosive devices in Aleppo over the past 24 hours. Over 1,040 settlements have joined the ceasefire in Syria, the General Staff said. 
DETAILS TO FOLLOW

[END REPORT]

********

Obama decides to re-arm Syrian terrorists. Does this include MANPADS? (UPDATED 7:55am EST)

UPDATE

Lavrov: US easing restrictions on arms to Syria won’t seriously affect situation in East Aleppo
December 9, 2016
RT
The US’ decision to ease restrictions on military aid for foreign forces and other fighters supporting the US in Syria is unlikely to affect the situation in eastern Aleppo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at an OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg.
“I don’t think this will significantly change the situation in eastern Aleppo, because the rebels are encircled and they are unlikely to receive reinforcing,” Lavrov said.
[...]
Later in the discussion Lavrov lobs this zinger:

Lavrov added that from the point of view of the developments in Syria, “resupplying the Syrian opposition [with weapons] is a big risk, as in the majority of cases the weapons that the so-called ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition receive end up in the hands of the terrorists – ISIS or Al-Nusra Front.”
The decision will affect the discussions between the US and Russia on Syria, the Russian foreign minister stressed.
“This will affect our talks, as this is yet another peculiarity of US foreign policy concerning Aleppo,” Lavrov said.
[...]
END UPDATE

"Under the waiver, it’s supposed to be a 15-day notification to Congress, but Congress, as of tonight, Washington time, is going to be out of session until January. So these arms can go within hours.”

As to the fig leaf that Obama is arming groups that will fight Islamic State -- he knows that within days of those weapons arriving they will be given or sold to outright terrorist groups, including IS, or captured by them. 

As to the question about whether the U.S. weapons transforms will include MANPADS -- yes.    

Obama grants waiver for military support of foreign fighters in Syria – White House
December 9, 2016
By News Desk
AMN

President Barack Obama has ordered a waiver of restrictions on military aid for foreign forces and others in Syria, deeming it “essential to the national security interests” of the US to allow exceptions from provisions in the four-decades-old Arms Export Control Act.

Kerry says rebels rejected Syria ceasefire in 2015

A White House press release Thursday announced that foreign fighters in Syria supporting US special operations “to combat terrorism in Syria” would be excused from restrictions on military assistance.

“I hereby determine that the transaction, encompassing the provision of defense articles and services to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing U.S. military operations to counter terrorism in Syria, is essential to the national security interests of the United States,” President Obama affirmed in the presidential determination and waiver.

The order delegates responsibility to the US secretary of state to work with and report to Congress on weapons export proposals, requiring 15 days of notice before they are authorized.

Obama announced a similar waiver of the Arms Export Control Act in September 2013, following the Ghouta chemical attack in August of that year. That order facilitated the transfer of US military weaponry to "select vetted members" of opposition forces battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Thursday's order appears less narrow in scope.

Last year, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2016, which allocated nearly $500 million to arm and train "moderate rebels" in Syria, despite a failed Pentagon program abandoned earlier in 2015.

The challenge of differentiating between terrorist forces, such as Al-Nusra, and more moderate forces in Syria has been acknowledged by press secretaries in recent State Department briefings.

The “counterterrorism” pretext is just a “convenient misappropriation of language,”aimed at arming various militants to battle the Syrian Army and its allies, believes geopolitical analyst Patrick Henningsen.

“Putting this under the banner of fighting terrorism … follows on [from] a sort of fantasy concept that’s been pushed out as a talking point for the last year and a half, that if we train and equip the ‘moderate opposition’ they will fight [Islamic State]," Henningsen told RT.

“They want to open the floodgates basically for trafficking weapons to religious extremists and militants and terrorist groups, internationally recognized terrorist groups … it’s all being done still under this kind of false pretense of the fight against ISIS, that somehow ‘moderate’ rebels, if they even exist, will turn their weapons and fight against ISIS. 

"And we know from the facts on the ground, from the beginning, that simply has not been the case. This is to arm the opposition to fight the Syrian government and to fight Russian forces. This is a desperate move on the part of the lame duck president.”

President Obama’s decision could lead to an almost immediate escalation of the conflict and basically put the US in a situation of “waging a proxy war against the Russians and Syrians,” a former Pentagon official, Michael Maloof, told RT. [Pundita comment:  This is a new development??]

“The rebels, whom we cannot identify, are going to be getting some very sophisticated weapons. Potentially, I should say, man-portable air defense systems, which can knock down Russian and Syrian aircraft,” Maloof said. 

“And the fact too, that we have stocks already in Europe, that can easily be transferred with this waiver. Under the waiver, it’s supposed to be a 15-day notification to Congress, but Congress, as of tonight, Washington time, is going to be out of session until January. So these arms can go within hours.”[END REPORT]

********

Another US-led airstrike on Raqqa civilians

It's no use asking why Obama ordered this latest strike on civilians; he and his regime know it's unlikely the Western media will mention the strike -- and if any do the regime will simply say it was an accident. Counting the hours until they're gone.....   

New attack on Raqqa by US-led coalition causes a massacre
December 9, 2016
SANA

Raqqa, SANA – A new attack launched by the US-led coalition on residential areas in the northern Raqqa province on Thursday caused a massacre, leaving dozens of civilians dead or injured.

Local and media sources said the coalition’s warplanes carried out intensive sorties targeting residential buildings in al-Msheirfeh area north of Raqqa, killing 20 people and injuring others.

The attack left a trail of destruction in the site.

According to the sources, the death toll is expected to rise as there are critical cases among the injured.

Previous attacks by the US-led coalition, which claims to be fighting ISIS terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq since its establishment in August 2014, have caused several massacres in the areas of Manbej, al-Ghandoura, Toukhan al-Kubra and Dabeq in the northern countryside of Aleppo province and in al-Bukamal in eastern Deir Ezzor province and in a number of areas in the city and countryside of Raqqa.

Hundreds of civilians were killed or injured in to those attacks.

Moscow condemns the attack

The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the airstrikes conducted by the US-led coalition against civilian targets in the northern parts of Raqqa province, saying they are “unacceptable”.

“These reports cause deep concern. Air and missile strikes that result in deaths and suffering of peaceful Syrians are unacceptable and deserve decisive condemnation. The suffering of civilian population must be stopped,” the Ministry said in a statement quoted by Russian media.

The Russian Foreign Ministry added that it is hard to understand statements about “errors” and “negligence” from those whose military operation in Syria had not been requested by the country’s legitimate authorities.

[END REPORT]

********

Thursday, December 8

8.0 quake off Solomon Islands' coast, 6.5 quake off California coast

Tsunami warnings after 8.0 quake strikes off Solomon Islands’ coast
Published time: 8 Dec, 2016 17:54
Edited time: 8 Dec, 2016 18:02
RT

A tsunami warning has been issued for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Nauru after an 8.0. magnitude earthquake struck 70km off the Solomon Islands, according to USGS.

“Widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible,” stated the warning issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

[END REPORT]


http://abc7news.com/news/68-magnitude-quake-off-the-coast-of-eureka/1645721/

USGS reports that a magnitude-6.5 earthquake hit off the coast of Humboldt County.

No tsunami warning has been issued. There have been two significant aftershocks that hit Thursday morning -- a 5.0 and a 4.9.

The quake was first reported as a magnitude-6.8 but was later downgraded.


The quake was reported at 6:49 a.m. well north of the Bay Area, but prompted delays of 10 minutes systemwide on BART as trains ran at reduced speeds as a precaution.

People reported feeling the earthquake as far away as San Francisco and Santa Cruz. It reportedly hit right on the Mendocino fault line.

There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries.


[END REPORT]

********

Wednesday, December 7

"However, the battle for east Aleppo is far from over for the Syrian Arab Army"

"However, the battle for east Aleppo is far from over for the Syrian Arab Army, as the jihadist rebels still maintain control over the strategic Marjah, Sheikh Lufti, and Sheikh Sa'eed districts."

I'm a gonna snap at FARS after i get some sleep.

Syrian Army officially enters surrendered east Aleppo districts
By Leith Fadel - 07/12/2016
AMN

BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:15 PM) - The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has officially entered two of the recently surrendered districts of east Aleppo today after the militants fled the area, per the Russian-Turkish agreement.

According to an Al-Masdar field correspondent, the Syrian Arab Army's elite Tiger Forces entered the Kadi Asker and Bab Al-Hadid districts of east Aleppo, following the departure of the jihadist rebels earlier this morning.

As a result of yesterday night's surrender by the jihadist rebels, the Syrian Arab Army now controls the entire area around the Aleppo Citadel, including the provincial capital's second largest mosque that was turned into a militant base.

However, the battle for east Aleppo is far from over for the Syrian Arab Army, as the jihadist rebels still maintain control over the strategic Marjah, Sheikh Lufti, and Sheikh Sa'eed districts.


[END REPORT]

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Over and out

I can't keep my eyes open any longer. so if the Syrian government announces total victory in Aleppo while i'm getting some sleep, I will be the last person on the internet to learn this, and I will miss the victory celebration.  

Well, watch SANA, watch FARS and AMN and of course Sputnik and RT for breaking news. It could happen today.

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Top UK think tank secretly funded by Bahrain. Gee what a surprise.

UK think tank covertly funded by Bahrain royal family – leaked papers
Published time: 7 Dec, 2016 09:40
RT

The International Institute of Strategic Studies, an influential UK diplomacy and security think tank run by prominent military, political, and business figures, has received over $38mn in secret donations from Bahrain.

Bahrain, a former British colony and oil-rich Arab country which accommodates the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, had secretly donated more than $38 million (£30 million) to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), a reputed UK think tank which positions itself as a leading global military and security research consultancy, according to human rights group Bahrain Watch.

The donations, which the IISS received over the course of five years, were said to form around a quarter of the think tank’s budget, or over $7.6 million (£6 million) per year, Bahrain Watch said citing confidential documents it obtained in cooperation with the Guardian.

Money from the Bahrain government was received in large part under a secret memorandum of understanding (MoU) between IISS head John Chipman and Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, who had previously served as ambassador to the UK.

[...]

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"Terrorists Continue Surrendering to Syrian Army in Aleppo City"

by FARS
December 7, 2016 - 1:23 [local time]




TEHRAN (FNA)- One hundred more terrorists laid down arms and turned themselves in to the Syrian Army after they were left alone by a large number of their comrades who surrendered the Old Aleppo quarter to the government troops and left Eastern Aleppo last night.

A 100-member group of militants from the Jeish al-Fatah coalition gave up fight and surrendered themselves to the army on Wednesday in areas South of the Old Aleppo quarter in Southeastern Aleppo.

The number of militants trying to apply for government amnesty is on the rise, while only a rapidly shrinking 10 sq/km area has remained under their control in the Eastern neighborhoods.

Rifts are widening among Syrian and non-Syrian militants as Damascus has vowed to grant amnesty to Syrian fighters.
Non-Syrian terrorists want to continue battle against government forces, while others want to negotiate with the army for their final evacuation from the city.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of Jeish al-Fatah terrorists left Aleppo on Green Buses after they laid down arms and surrendered to the army and popular forces.

Militants removed barricades at Bab Al-Hadid Square (the Iron Gate) in Southeastern Aleppo and allowed civilians to evacuate the war zone. The militants then laid down arms and surrendered to the government forces.

Reports from Eastern Aleppo late Tuesday night said the militants left the city on Green Buses under the tight military inspection of the army.

Media sources had disclosed that a large number of militants had been engaged in secret negotiations with government officials in Aleppo to surrender themselves and leave the city.

Bab Al-Hadid Square is a few hundred yards North-East of Aleppo Citadel.

Midnight reports from the city said the army had advanced into the Old Aleppo region and entered the Great Mosque, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the start of the war in Syria "we would soon perform prayers".

[END REPORT]

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(UPDATED 5:17am EST) EAST ALEPPO FALLS TO SYRIAN ARMY COALITION "People all throughout Aleppo are heard shouting Allah-u-Akbar (God is Great) from their rooftops and mosques in a show of joy and victory"

UPDATE
FARS reported earlier (see below) "Aleppo is to be announced a completely liberated city by the Syrian army any moment now."  This is turning into a long 'any moment now.'
AMN is reporting today (no time stamp) that 10,000 civilians are still stuck in a 'pocket' in E. Aleppo. While several reports, including one from the BBC filed 42 minutes ago, say that the "old city" has fallen to the Syrian Army coalition, FARS is the only source reporting up to this point that the entire city has been liberated.  [shrugging] Onward.   
END UPDATE 

OH MY GOD OH GOD pundita stop blubbering and type

Wed December 07, 2016 - 7:39 [local time]
FARS


URGENT: Syrian Army On Verge of Epoch-Making Victory in Aleppo

TEHRAN (FNA)- Aleppo is to be announced a completely liberated city by the Syrian army any moment now after hundreds of terrorists surrendered to the Syrian army at the end of daylong secret talks with government officials in Eastern Aleppo, while the remaining few hundreds under a now very tight siege have agreed to the Damascus terms to evacuate the city in less than two days.

Hundreds of militants left Aleppo city on Green Buses Tuesday night after they removed barricades at Bab Al-Hadid Square (the Iron Gate) in Southeastern Aleppo and allowed civilians to evacuate the war zone hours earlier.

The militants of Fatah Al-Halab (Conquest of Aleppo) – one of a dozen terrorist groups operating under the umbrella of Jeish Al-Fatah coalition - surrendered almost all Old Aleppo districts after the Syrian Army's swift advances West of the Aleppo International Airport risked splitting them apart from their comrades further South.

The terrorists gave up fight and requested ceasefire talks with the government after their massive counteroffensive at Karm Al-Maysar and Karm Al-Qaterjy failed to yield any gains. Making matters worse for the insurgents, the Syrian Armed Forces would proceed to capture Sha'ar district, and the nearby Turbet Lala, Qadi Askar and Qarleq districts to arrive at Bab Al-Hadid on Tuesday.

Later in the day, the militants engaged in secret negotiations with government officials in Aleppo to surrender the Old Aleppo quarter and leave the city.

Bab Al-Hadid Square is a few hundred yards North-East of Aleppo Citadel and is the borderline of the Old Aleppo quarter to the East.

The only pocket of Jeish Al-Fatah terrorists now remaining in the city are mostly from Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front (recently renamed to Fatah Al-Sham Front) and Noureddin Al-Zinki that are further to the South in Bostan al-Qasr (Also Bostan Alkaser) and its adjacent districts and under a very tight siege of the army and Hezbollah troops.

Early Wednesday morning reports by several regional Arab media outlets quoted rebel sources as declaring that factions operating in the few remaining Eastern Aleppo districts have now agreed to pull out completely.

The Arab media and activists all confirmed that the terrorists have been negotiating with Russia through representatives in Turkey over an evacuation plan from Eastern Aleppo.

Reports suggested that a Turkish-Russian agreement has been reached over the surrender of the remaining East Aleppo districts under jihadists' control after extended negotiations between leaders of opposition groups and Russian officers in Turkey.

The Syrian army also confirmed that militants will start leaving Aleppo in 48 hours.

Meantime, militants have started confirming through their social media pages and websites that they are to leave Aleppo after several years, acknowledging defeat.

Over the last two days terrorists' affiliated media outlets have been sending consoling messages, saying 'we are losing Aleppo but we will fight in other places', showing that they were preparing to surrender Aleppo, but the messages appearing on these media now are all filled with sorrow, acknowledging final defeat.

On the other side of the war, radio exchanges are heard among Syrian army and Hezbollah commanders felicitating each other on the landmark victory that is a turning point in the war on terrorism in Syria and will be of unrivaled weight at any political talks on the future of Syria.

People all throughout Aleppo are heard shouting Allah-u-Akbar (God is Great) from above their rooftops and mosques in a show of joy and victory.

Aleppo will once again see a calm day and there will be many family reunions when citizens come together from the West and the East to celebrate the end of war in their city. They will shed tears, but this time of joy, today or tomorrow.

[END REPORT]



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How close did the US come to averting Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor?



"In a small office at Pearl Harbor, overlooking the battleships at the heart of America’s seafaring power, the Commander of the Pacific Fleet tries to figure out how much danger he really faces. His intelligence unit has lost track of Japan’s biggest aircraft carriers, but assumes they are resting in a port far away. The admiral thinks Pearl is too shallow for torpedoes, so he never puts up a barrier. As he frets, a Japanese spy is counting the warships in the harbor and reporting to Tokyo."

-- From the introduction to John Batchelor's riveting interview with author Steve Twomey about Countdown to Pearl Harbor, published November 1, 2016. You will be kept guessing right up to the attack, but in the end there is no definitive answer to the question I posed. And that is the part that haunts, and will continue to haunt the annals of war and American history.

Here is the podcast of the interview.

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Tuesday, December 6

"We cannot understand why Britain is treating Christians in this way"

"On the left is the Archbishop of Homs [Syria], who's not allowed into UK
On the right is Raed Saleh, of al-Qaeda's #WhiteHelmets, who just visited UK"


The above images tweeted with comment by Lemniscat, and H/T to her retweet of this report today from the Catholic Herald, filed by Madeleine Teahan:

Archbishops from Syria and Iraq blocked from visiting the UK

The bishops were invited to the consecration of the new St Thomas Cathedral, Syriac Orthodox Church (PA)

The bishops were refused entry due to fears that they might not return home

Three archbishops from Iraq and Syria were refused entry into the UK despite being invited by the country’s Syriac Orthodox Church.

Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, Archbishop of St Matthew’s Timothius Mousa Shamani and Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama, were all refused UK visas which would have enabled them to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, last month.

Prince Charles, who has long championed the cause of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, was a guest of honour at the event at St Thomas Cathedral and a personal letter was read from the Queen.

The bishops were told that they were refused entry because they did not have sufficient funds to support themselves and because they might not leave the UK.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, said he was incredulous when he heard the news. He said: “When the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch told me that these two bishops had been refused visas to come to the UK for the consecration of the new Syrian Orthodox cathedral I greeted it with incredulity and disbelief. It's a decision that brings shame on our country.

“These amazingly courageous bishops come from the Mosul region of Iraq – where Christians have been beheaded, crucified, raped and either forcibly converted or forced to flee as their possessions have been seized by radical Islamists. It adds insult to injury that the UK would refuse admission to men who pose no threat and whose community has suffered so much – especially when we still fail to bring to justice Jihadists who have committed genocide.”

In an editorial, the Daily Express condemned the decision, saying: “While we appreciate the necessity of efficient border controls, surely it can’t be beyond the wit of a Home Office pencil-pusher to realise that these men of the cloth were a special case?

“Last week we learned that 650,000 immigrants made their way to Britain, the highest level yet. And yet somehow, while letting all these in, officials contrived to ban these three wise men who have risked their lives for the Christian faith.

“Mary and Joseph were told there was no room at the inn. At this time of the year in particular we would do well to be more mindful of the Christmas message.”

The UK’s Syriac Orthodox Christians Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod told the Daily Express: “These are men who have pressing pastoral responsibilities as Christian areas held by IS are liberated. That is why we cannot understand why Britain is treating Christians in this way?”

Meanwhile, the SNP MP, Kirsten Oswald, raised a similar issue at Prime Minister’s Questions last week.

The MP told the House: “Guests from the Hyderabad diocese have twice been refused visas to visit the Church of Scotland presbytery of Glasgow as part of a twinning initiative, the suggestion being that the visit was not genuine, despite the paperwork being correct and the Church bearing the costs.

“When I raised this with the Leader of the House, he spoke of the need for people to return home after visits, and then the Immigration Minister told me in a patronising letter how to apply for a visa. Will the Prime Minister tell the Church why its visitors are not welcome and what messages she thinks it sends to our faith communities?”

The Prime Minister responded by saying that the Home Secretary should look into the case.

[END REPORT]

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