Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents

By Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott | WASHINGTON

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election.

The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office.

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The current and former U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the Russian documents’ classified status. They declined to discuss how the United States obtained them. U.S. intelligence agencies also declined to comment on them.

Putin has denied interfering in the U.S. election. Putin’s spokesman and the Russian institute did not respond to requests for comment.

The documents were central to the Obama administration’s conclusion that Russia mounted a “fake news” campaign and launched cyber attacks against Democratic Party groups and Clinton’s campaign, the current and former officials said.

“Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map,” said one of the sources, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Trump has said Russia’s activities had no impact on the outcome of the race. Ongoing congressional and FBI investigations into Russian interference have so far produced no public evidence that Trump associates colluded with the Russian effort to change the outcome of the election.

Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.

Russia Today did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Sputnik dismissed the assertions by the U.S. officials that it participated in a Kremlin campaign as an “absolute pack of lies.” “And by the way, it’s not the first pack of lies we’re hearing from ‘sources in U.S. official circles’,” the spokesperson said in an email.

PRO-KREMLIN BLOGGERS

Russia Today and Sputnik published anti-Clinton stories while pro-Kremlin bloggers prepared a Twitter campaign calling into question the fairness of an anticipated Clinton victory, according to a report by U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the election made public in January. [bit.ly/2kMiKSA]

Russia Today’s most popular Clinton video – “How 100% of the 2015 Clintons’ ‘charity’ went to … themselves” – accumulated 9 millions views on social media, according to the January report. [bit.ly/2os8wIt]

The report said Russia Today and Sputnik “consistently cast president elect-Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional media outlets.”

The report said the agencies did not assess whether Moscow’s effort had swung the outcome of the race in Trump’s favor, because American intelligence agencies do not “analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion.” [bit.ly/2kMiKSA]

CYBER ATTACKS

Neither of the Russian institute documents mentioned the release of hacked Democratic Party emails to interfere with the U.S. election, according to four of the officials. The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin.

The overt propaganda and covert hacking efforts reinforced each other, according to the officials. Both Russia Today and Sputnik heavily promoted the release of the hacked Democratic Party emails, which often contained embarrassing details.

Five of the U.S. officials described the institute as the Kremlin’s in-house foreign policy think tank.

The institute’s director when the documents were written, Leonid Reshetnikov, rose to the rank of lieutenant general during a 33-year-career in Russia’s foreign intelligence service, according to the institute’s website [bit.ly/2oVhiCF]. After Reshetnikov retired from the institute in January, Putin named as his replacement Mikhail Fradkov. The institute says he served as the director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service from 2007 to 2016. [bit.ly/2os4tvz]

Reuters was unable to determine if either man was directly involved in the drafting of the documents. Reshetnikov’s office referred questions to the Russian institute.

On its website, the Russian institute describes itself as providing “expert appraisals,” “recommendations,” and “analytical materials” to the Russian president’s office, cabinet, National Security Council, ministries and parliament. [bit.ly/2pCBGpR]

On Jan. 31, the websites of Putin’s office [bit.ly/2os9wMr] and the institute [bit.ly/2oLn9Kd] posted a picture and transcript of Reshetnikov and his successor Fradkov meeting with Putin in the Kremlin. Putin thanked Reshetnikov for his service and told Fradkov he wanted the institute to provide objective information and analysis.

“We did our best for nearly eight years to implement your foreign policy concept,” Reshetnikov told Putin. “The policy of Russia and the policy of the President of Russia have been the cornerstone of our operation.”

(Reporting by Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay, additional reporting by Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Rohde and Ross Colvin)

5 Things We’re About to Learn About Syria, Putin and Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

5 Things We’re About to Learn About Syria, Putin and Trump

As a result of the US airstrikes against the Syrian regime forces last week, we are all about to learn a great deal. It is, surely, too soon to know precisely what impact the strikes ordered by President Donald Trump will have on the regime and where the Syrian civil war is heading. This is largely because key players including the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran and the Syrian opposition — not to mention the US — are still plotting their next moves.

But it seems certain that the events of the coming weeks will help answer five crucial questions about the civil war and the various actors that are now struggling to shape the outcome of that conflict.

First, how much of a gambler is Vladimir Putin? The Russian president has gained a reputation over the past three years as a shrewd risk-taker, able to outmaneuver his opponents with the well-timed coup de main.

Now, the Trump administration has demonstrated that it is willing to use force against Putin’s ally in Damascus, and that it is prepared to risk significantly higher tensions with Moscow. During the Barack Obama presidency, in other words, Putin confronted a US that was predictably — if perhaps understandably — prudent. Now he faces a president whose risk calculus is far harder to discern.

So how will Putin respond? Will he double down on support for Assad — perhaps by helping the Syrian regime harass or target US aircraft — in hopes that he can still out-escalate the Americans? Or will he seek to reduce tensions — perhaps by shoving Assad toward renewed negotiations with the opposition — in hopes of avoiding a sharper showdown with Washington?

Second, how crafty is Assad? The Syrian leader was once seen as the mild-mannered ophthalmologist and a would-be reformer; now he is perhaps the greatest butcher of the young 21st century. Yet brutality aside, Assad’s strategic acumen has so far remained difficult to discern. He has proven a far more skillful survivor than nearly anyone would have predicted in 2011, but his heavy-handedness also helped turn what were at first peaceful protests into a zero-sum civil war; and he has now managed, through ghastly chemical attacks, to turn the initially friendly Trump administration against his remaining in power. So is Assad a shrewd if morally abhorrent statesman, or simply another dictator who substitutes savagery for strategy?

What he does next will tell us a great deal. If Assad confines himself to a symbolic and non-escalatory response, if he desists from using chemical weapons, if he at least feigns a willingness to negotiate with the opposition, he may be able to escape the noose once again — and perhaps even return to the less spectacular forms of murder that the international community has proven willing to tolerate for more than six years. If, however, he lashes out, whether by continuing to use chemical weapons or by seeking to extract revenge on the US, he may succeed in eliciting the decisive international intervention the has so far managed to avoid.

The answers to these first two questions will also bear heavily on the answer to a third: How slippery is the slope? The Obama administration’s go-to argument against military intervention was always that the options that could be executed at a tolerable cost were unlikely to alter the trajectory of the civil war in any meaningful way — and that a first step was thus likely to lead inexorably to pressures to take a second step and then a third.

Proponents of military intervention, in contrast, argued that a bold but limited American stroke could dramatically shift the psychology of the conflict and put Assad and his patrons on the defensive. No second or third step would be necessary, this argument went, because the first step — if executed with sufficient skill and resolve — would be sufficient.

We are about to find out which thesis is correct. Perhaps even the very limited American intervention undertaken to date will force Russia to rethink its support for Assad, or force Assad to accept that he cannot use the only weapons — his chemical arsenal — that might allow him to reconquer remaining rebel-held territories. Perhaps Trump’s limited engagement will thereby create a new strategic equilibrium more favorable to an acceptable political settlement or some other tolerable outcome.

Alternatively, perhaps the psychological impact of the strikes will be equivalent to their military impact — which is to say, not much. Perhaps the strikes will even cause Russia and Iran to redouble their own efforts to checkmate US intervention. In that case, Trump would soon be confronted with the question of whether to double down or risk looking the paper tiger, and the slope may come to seem slippery indeed. The first scenario would make Obama’s caution from 2011 through 2016 look excessive in retrospect; the latter would make it seem fairly wise after all.

These questions, in turn, relate to a fourth key issue: Is a negotiated settlement even possible? Over the past six years, myriad diplomatic and political processes have been launched in hopes of bringing about an end to the civil war. Every single one has failed. In the weeks preceding Assad’s latest chemical weapons attack, it did seem that the conflict was perhaps reaching a new equilibrium, with the regime largely having consolidated control over the western spine of the country, and various opposition forces controlling their own chunks of territory in other areas. But with Assad still determined — at least rhetorically — to retake the entire country, and with many opposition groups still vehemently opposed to his remaining in power, the prospects for turning that equilibrium into a sustainable settlement remain uncertain at best.

The question now is whether the strategic shock of US strike can create a new diplomatic context in which the parties — particularly the regime — are more amenable to compromise. Or, alternatively, will the aims of Assad and the opposition — not to mention the outside parties supporting them — remain so divergent and intractable that no negotiated settlement is possible?

Finally, as these issues come into sharper focus, we will also learn more about a fifth crucial question: Is the Trump administration capable of effective strategy?

Crises can be clarifying moments. They can cast new light on the contours of an ongoing conflict; they can lay bare the characteristics — and competence — of the parties involved. The Syria crisis is the acid test of the Trump administration: We are about to find out whether the president and his advisers can make the grade. Given the outsized role that the US plays not just in Syria but around the world, this may well be the most important question that the Syria crisis will help us answer.

Bloomberg View

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says news of gas attack ‘100% fabrication’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS)

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says news of gas attack ‘100% fabrication’

WORLD Updated: Apr 13, 2017 20:51 IST

AFP
AFP
Damascus
Assad on chemical attack

In the interview, Assad asked: “We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all?”(AFP)

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said a suspected chemical weapons attack was a “fabrication” to justify a US strike on his forces, in an exclusive interview with AFP in Damascus.The embattled leader, whose country has been ravaged by six years of war, said his firepower had not been affected by the attack ordered by US President Donald Trump, but acknowledged further strikes were possible.Assad insisted his forces had turned over all their chemical weapons stocks years ago and would never use the banned arms.

The interview on Wednesday was his first since a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.

“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication,” he said of the incident.

Read more

“Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack,” added Assad, who has been in power for 17 years.

At least 87 people, including 31 children, were killed in the alleged attack, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

But Assad said evidence came only from “a branch of Al-Qaeda,” referring to a former jihadist affiliate that is among the groups that control Idlib province, where Khan Sheikhun is located.

Images of the aftermath, showing victims convulsing and foaming at the mouth, sent shockwaves around the world.

But Assad insisted it was “not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now.”

“We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all?”

He said Khan Sheikhun had no strategic value and was not currently a battle front.

“This story is not convincing by any means.”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has begun an investigation into the alleged attack, but Russia on Wednesday blocked a UN Security Council resolution demanding Syria cooperate with the probe.

And Assad said he could “only allow any investigation when it’s impartial, when we make sure that unbiased countries will participate in this delegation in order to make sure that they won’t use it for politicised purposes.”

He insisted several times that his forces had turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action.

Read more

“There was no order to make any attack, we don’t have any chemical weapons, we gave up our arsenal a few years ago,” he said.

“Even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them, and we have never used our chemical arsenal in our history.”

The OPCW has blamed Assad’s government for at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 involving the use of chlorine.

The Khan Sheikhun incident prompted the first direct US military action against Assad’s government since the war began, with 59 cruise missiles hitting the Shayrat airbase three days after the suspected chemical attack.

Assad said more US attacks “could happen anytime, anywhere, not only in Syria.”

But he said his forces had not been diminished by the US strike.

“Our firepower, our ability to attack the terrorists hasn’t been affected by this strike.”

Russia’s President Putin Cautions Iran and Syria’s Assad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS PAPER ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Putin Cautions Iran and Assad

When asked by a reporter if he expected more US missile strikes on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin replied: “We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared … in other parts of Syria, including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons).”

According to Reuters, Putin said Russia would be urgently asking the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global chemical weapons watchdog, to investigate the incident in Idlib.

Putin said that he realized that Russia will receive criticism for its role in Syria, but he hoped that eventually positions will be eased.

So, what do these statements mean with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson due to arrive at Moscow for direct talks?

Surely, no one in his right mind would believe that the US is “planning to plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons).”

As Putin said, if the US wanted to strike Damascus criminal Bashar al-Assad, there are simply several and logical justifications for it. This has been the case since the presidency of Obama and the US does not need to wait for Assad to use chemical weapons to launch strikes.

Therefore, the only reasonable analysis of Putin’s statement is that he is warning Assad and Iran against doing anything that could lead to more US strikes against the regime which would embarrass Russia, who will in turn not take any action that could lead to a military confrontation with the US.

No matter what Russia’s interest in Syria may be, Moscow will not go all the way to defend Assad because its real interests are in Europe. It has now become evident that President Trump is not the ally Russia was hoping for, but he is rather the president who launched a military strike against Assad.

The Russian president sought to assure the West that his country welcomes criticism of its role in Syria because he wants to convince the West that he is still in the political game. In addition, Russia’s position in Syria is not ideological or a matter of life and death, like it is with Iran and the terrorist “Hezbollah” organization, but it is negotiable.

As it stands, Putin will not allow any more embarrassments in Syria. We say “embarrassment” because Russia did not respond militarily to the Turkish downing of the Russian fighter jet, so how will it respond to US strikes against Assad after he used chemical weapons which Moscow pledged to remove in 2013?

Russia is in a tight spot and that is why Putin’s statement is more of a warning to Iran and Assad against doing anything reckless than being an accusation against the US. If Washington is colluding like that, it is better if Moscow halts the negotiations or not be so eager to welcome the Secretary of State.

It seems that Putin’s announcement is directed at Iran and Assad more than it is at the US.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin’s mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor’s degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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Russia Knew About Syria’s Chemical Weapons Strike Before It Happened: U.S. Officials

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

Russia Knew About Syria’s Chemical Weapons Strike Before It Happened: U.S. Officials

3:41 PM ET

(WASHINGTON) — A senior U.S. official says the United States has concluded that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week.

The official says a Russian-operated drone flew over a hospital in Syria as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment.

Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what American officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons.

Until Monday, U.S. officials had said they weren’t sure if the drone was operated by Russia or Syria. The senior official said it still wasn’t clear who was flying the jet that bombed the hospital.

The official said the presence of the drone couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.

The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters and demanded anonymity.

Iran’s Master Butcher Ali Khamenei Says U.S. Missile Strike On Syria ‘Strategic Mistake’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday said the recent US missile attack on a Syrian air base was a “strategic mistake”.“The Americans’ action is a strategic mistake, as they are repeating the mistakes of their predecessors,” Khamenei’s official website quoted him as saying.

As Europe is now facing the threat of terrorists, the US will not stay away from this threat as well, he added.

The US fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base in central Syria at dawn on Friday, saying the strike was intended to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Thursday said the recent Syrian air strike on a rebel-held town in Idlib Province in northwestern Syria struck a rebel depot containing chemical materials, and denied that the air force used toxic gas during the attack.

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Migrants in Turkey pray for return to Syria, work farms to survive

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Migrants in Turkey pray for return to Syria, work farms to survive

By Tuvan Gumrukcu | REYHANLI, TURKEY

Ahmad Mustafa fled northern Syria to Turkey four months ago, badly injuring his hand along the way.

But while the free healthcare he gets as a refugee is helping him heal, Mustafa and many of the nearly 3 million Syrian migrants who have fled to Turkey are gradually losing hope for their war-ravaged homeland.

“We have no hope for Syria at this stage. Russia, Iran, and the United States are all hitting us from different sides,” Mustafa said, his right arm still in a sling.

“Our hope is that God will change things,” he said, speaking through a translator.

Mustafa is part of what Ankara says is the world’s largest refugee population, many of whom barely eke out a living in places like Reyhanli, a dusty border town in the southern Hatay province that teems with Syrian refugees and where some signs in shop windows are printed in both Arabic and Turkish.

Ankara has also set up refugee camps on the Syrian side of the border and the Turkish Red Crescent estimates it is providing aid to around 5 million people inside Syria.

But while a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian government air base this week may have kindled some optimism that Washington could step up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, nobody in Reyhanli expects to be able to go home soon.

“They are hitting us from the air, killing civilians in cities,” said Samial Dude, a former truck driver from the area around rebel-held Idlib, who also now lives in Hatay.

“We don’t have guns. We don’t even know who’s bombing us, we are just being bombed. Even animals are treated as more important than Syrian people,” he said.

The United States fired missiles at a Syrian air base on Friday in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed 87 people, including children, in the northwest Idlib province.

Both Washington and Ankara blame the Syrian government for the poison gas attack, but Damascus has denied responsibility.

Six years of civil war have killed an estimated half a million people and set new standards of savagery for civilians, with half of Syria’s population uprooted in the world’s biggest refugee crisis.

SEASONAL LABOR

In Turkey, where Ankara provides the migrants with some aid, many work as seasonal laborers on farms to survive.

“I have been paying rent for six years and all my earnings go to pay it off,” said Mohammad Hammadi, adding that he spends much of his time working with an aid organization to help migrants who are even worse off than he is.

President Tayyip Erdogan, long one of Assad’s most vocal critics, is popular with the migrants in Hatay, who say he opened Turkey’s borders to them when leaders in the Arab world did not. Erdogan has called on the West should do more to help Turkey shoulder the humanitarian burden.

Turks will go to the polls on April 16 for a referendum on whether to change the constitution and give Erdogan sweeping presidential powers. Although they will not be able to vote, some Syrians migrants hope that Erdogan does secure more power.

“Of course we want Erdogan to become stronger, maybe then he can help us more. Maybe then he can build homes for us here,” said Gaceel al Awaad, who earns about 30 lira ($8) a day working in fields, almost all of which goes to pay rent.

“We just pray to God that we can return as soon as possible. This is the only concern for Syrians in Turkey.”

(Writing by David Dolan; editing by Alexander Smith)

With Strike Aimed at Halting More Gas Attacks, U.S. Tries to Send Syrians Message

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

A satellite image of the damage assessment of Al Shayrat airfield in Syria after an American missile attack. Credit U.S. Department of Defense

WASHINGTON — The American cruise-missile strike that destroyed at least 20 warplanes in Syria on Friday was devised by American war planners as a one-time operation to deter President Bashar al-Assad from using his secret stockpile of chemicals ever again.

Military officials said it was never intended to be the leading edge of a broader campaign to dislodge Mr. Assad from power, or force a political settlement in a country that has been ripped apart by six years of a bloody civil war.

The question for the Pentagon, however, is whether this 21st-century equivalent of a shot across the bow will ensure that poisonous gas will no longer be among the many scourges that plague Syria, or whether it will gradually draw the United States in a multisided military tug of war over the future of the Syrian state.

If there is one description that summed up the plan, which was developed at the headquarters of the United States Central Command in Tampa, Fla., it is “proportional.” Details of the plan were described to reporters at a briefing on Friday by senior military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity in accordance with Pentagon protocol.

Continue reading the main story

The Americans wanted to send a specific signal by striking only the airfield that a Syrian Su-22 warplane had used for its mission on Tuesday to drop a chemical bomb in the middle of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in southern Idlib Province.

Before the American attack could go forward, however, American intelligence officials had to satisfy senior commanders — and, presumably, President Trump — that it had the culprit. The evidence was abundant, and American intelligence analysts concluded they had “high confidence” in their assessments.

The Americans had tracked the Syrian jet as it took off from the Al Shayrat airfield and dropped a bomb in the middle of a street. The time of the chemical attack, just before 7 a.m., correlated with reports that residents were exhibiting signs of having been subjected to nerve agent. The crater from the bomb showed staining that experts associated with a shell filled with chemical agents.

American intelligence officials also suspect that an attempt might have been made to frustrate efforts to gather evidence of a chemical assault. After victims were rushed to a hospital, a small drone appeared overhead before disappearing. About five hours later, the drone returned and another airstrike hit the medical center; American officials do not know if the drone or the second strike was launched by Syria or Russia.

The shifting fortunes on the battlefield may explain why the Assad government mounted its largest chemical weapons attack since August 2013. In recent weeks, rebel forces have pushed to connect the areas they controlled in Hama and Idlib Provinces. The Syrian government’s control of the Hama airfield was at risk; it was being used by the Assad government as a helicopter base and, it is suspected, as a factory for some of the barrel bombs Syria’s forces had used to deadly effect.

American military officials say they do not believe the strike on Tuesday, which they said was carried out with a nerve agent, was necessarily unique. On March 30, panicky Syrian forces may have used a similar nerve agent in Hama Province, though American officials said they lacked forensic evidence to prove it. On March 25, the Syrians also mounted an attack using chlorine; its use in war is illegal under an international convention banning chemical weapons.

Having concluded that chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces, the next challenge for the Trump administration was to settle on a response. The military options were developed on Wednesday, and when they were narrowed down, the Al Shayrat airfield was in the cross hairs.

Equipped with bunkers for storing chemical munitions, the airfield had been built as a potential launching pad for attacks with chemical weapons — weapons that Mr. Assad was supposed to have given up as part of an agreement that was worked out by the United States and Russia.

Surveying the airfield, American war planners developed a list of 59 targets: aircraft, hardened plane shelters, radars, an air defense system, ammunition bunkers and petroleum storage sites. One Tomahawk cruise missile was fired at each of the 59 targets, and the Pentagon asserted that each hit its mark. An additional missile aborted after launch and fell into the Mediterranean.

One American official who spoke separately from the briefing estimated that 20 to 25 Syrian warplanes were destroyed in the attack, at 3:40 a.m. local time, four hours after President Trump’s order to go ahead was relayed to the Central Command. The runway was not a target.

The strike was aimed at avoiding the 12 to 100 Russian pilots, maintenance and other military personnel who manned a helicopter unit at different parts of the base, and to avoid striking Russian aircraft. American officials said they had no independent information on possible casualties but were confident that Russians were not among them.

The presence of the Russians is just one factor that is leading American intelligence officials to investigate if Moscow was complicit, disinterested or ignorant of the Syrian government’s use of a covert chemical arsenal.

As long as Syrian forces do not use chemical weapons again, American officials have signaled that Mr. Trump’s first use of force against Mr. Assad’s military is likely to have been a shot heard around the world — but also a riposte that will not be repeated.

Limiting the effect of even a narrow operation, however, may be difficult. One potential danger is that Shiite militias backed by Iran, including Shiite fighters in Iraq, might try to retaliate against American troops.

Another is that Russian and American relations may deteriorate to the point that the procedures the two nations use to notify each other about air operations in Syria will be suspended, raising the risk of an inadvertent confrontation.

A more fundamental question is whether the Trump administration will now pursue a diplomatic strategy to quell the fighting in Syria, which has attracted thousands of militants, including many of the volunteers who have joined the Islamic State.

Cliff Kupchan and Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, predicted that Mr. Assad would avoid a direct confrontation with the United States in the near term, calculating that he has enough aircraft, barrel bombs, missiles and troops to continue his fight against the rebels without resorting to poison gas.

Mr. Assad and his aides, they wrote in an assessment, “will probably steer away from any escalation that would lead the international community to recommit itself to a regime change policy.”

Mr. Trump’s intervention against the Assad government may be over for now, but the Syrian war appears certain to go on.

UN: Aleppo Bombing Are A War Crime: So Are Presidents Putin & Assad War Criminals?

 

This past week as the very weak humanitarian cease-fire in Aleppo Syria broke down Russian and Syrian Jets restarted bombing the eastern half of this once beautiful city. The UN says there are still more than 250,000 civilians ‘trapped’ in the eastern half of the city that ‘the rebels’ still control. In reality almost all of Syria has become a stew of who hates who, who is backing who, and who is killing whom today. The UN says the people of the city are trapped and starving and have no way out from the conflict. We have heard in the past few days that Russian and Syrian Jets have been bombing and shelling pretty much anything and every thing not caring whom they kill. This sounds a bit like Hitler ordering the bombing of London during WW-2. We hear on our evening news how the hospitals in Aleppo have been bombed several times and that the Syrian government is using Barrel Bombs on the population. They have also been know to use chemical weapons of the citizens several times during this almost six-year Civil War. The UN says that the actions by Russia and Syria do amount to War Crimes. So my friends, my question is simple. If in deed these are by legal definition War Crimes, should anyone be charged with these crimes? These crimes are in fact ‘mass murder’ so does the World Court in the Netherlands at the Hague actually hold anyone in either government as the ‘criminals?’ Or is the Hague really just a paper tiger that only holds weak small third world countries Leaders at fault for their crimes? I ask you for your opinion, will Presidents Putin of Russia and President Assad of Syria be charged as War Criminals and put out warrants for their arrest? I believe that the answer to that is no. I don’t think they have the guts to charge President Putin with anything just as they did not charge President George W Bush, VP Dick Cheney or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for their illegal actions in Iraq. Folks, this article is just my opinion. Time will tell us all if I am correct or not. I believe I am going to be right on this issue or I wouldn’t have written this article to you. I wouldn’t bet the title to the farm on it, but then again, I don’t bet, I don’t have a farm and I don’t have a title. I hope you all have a great day, stay safe, stay out of Aleppo, God’s blessings to you all.

There Is No “Red Line” Concerning Chemical Weapon Usage In Syrian Civil War

(This article is courtesy of the BBC)

Syria conflict: Government helicopters ‘drop chlorine’ on Aleppo

Media captionDozens were treated for breathing difficulties, as Jeremy Bowen reports

Syrian government forces have been accused of dropping barrel bombs containing chlorine from helicopters on a suburb of Aleppo, injuring 80 people.

Volunteer emergency workers say people suffered breathing difficulties after an attack on the Sukkari area.

The reports could not be independently verified. AUN-led inquiry concluded last month the that government had used chlorine on at least two occasions.

The Syrian government has always denied using chemical weapons.

It comes as Syrian opposition leaders prepare to meet in London on Wednesday to launch a new plan for a political transition to try to end the five-year civil war.

The umbrella group representing opposition factions, the High Negotiations Committee, will be hosted by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria group of countries, which have supported the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, will also attend.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told the BBC that he still believed in a political solution to the conflict, and that Mr Assad was not in a “position of advantage or victory”, despite his forces’ recent advances.

Media captionSaudi Arabia FM is not optimistic about Syrian peace plan

“But if Bashar al-Assad continues to be obstinate and continues to drag his feet and continues to refuse to engage seriously, then obviously there will have to be a Plan B which will involve more stepped up military activity,” he said.

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Can the opposition plan work? – BBC Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet

This new plan is the Syrian opposition’s most comprehensive answer to that question: What happens if President Assad goes?

It’s meant to reassure the president’s foreign backers, like Russia and Iran, that there can be a stable transition which avoids the collapse of state institutions, and violent chaos that’s shattered neighbouring states like Iraq. That’s a concern shared in many capitals, and most of all Damascus.

But the demand for President Assad and his closest Syrian allies to step down has always been rejected in Damascus, and will be again. It’s never clear how much Moscow and Tehran are able and willing to change that. This plan is meant to test that.

But the Syrian army, backed by powerful outside support, is making gains on the ground, through force, or local deals which amount to surrender. If this plan doesn’t work it will be back to Plan B – more military support to all sides in a devastating war.

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Distressed children

A volunteer emergency response worker from the Syria Civil Defence said he had reached the scene of the Aleppo attack on Tuesday shortly after a helicopter had dropped barrels containing what he said were four chlorine cylinders.

The Syria Civil Defence, an organisation that operates in rebel-held areas and is also known as the “White Helmets”, posted video on its Facebook page showing distressed children using oxygen masks to breathe.

UGC image shows civilians in hospital gowns with breathing masks, reportedly after a Chlorine attack in a suburb of Aleppo, Tuesday 6 September 2016Image copyrightUGC
Image captionImages taken by the rescuers show civilians with breathing masks in an unidentified local hospital
Child uses oxygen mask after alleged chlorine gas attack in Aleppo. 6 Sept 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionChildren with breathing difficulties were pictured being treated

Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use in weapons is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. If high concentrations of the chemical enter the lungs it can cause death.

Opposition activists and medics accused the government of another chlorine attack in Aleppo in August.

Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, has accused rebels of firing shells containing “toxic gas” at government-held areas in Aleppo.

Brutal fighting

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said on Tuesday that a brief period of relief early this year for civilians caught up in the war in Syria had been replaced by an even more brutal resumption in fighting.

Its 12th report said the cessation of hostilities in February had allowed some towns to receive their first aid in years but it only lasted a few weeks.

Men inspect a damaged site after double airstrikes on the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo on 27 AugustImage copyright Reuters
Image captionAleppo has been repeatedly targeted by government forces, activists say, as they try to recapture parts of the city

The report says 600,000 Syrians now live under siege with up to 300,000 trapped in the city of Aleppo.

On Sunday, Syrian government forces were reported to have recaptured parts of Aleppo city which were lost to rebels last month, placing rebel-held districts in the city’s east once again under siege.

A monitoring group said government troops had recaptured two military academy sites in the Ramouseh district, in the south of the city, and severed a recently established rebel supply line.