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Unleashed, the threat that knows no borders.
The recent liberation of Palmyra by Syrian government forces was a significant defeat for ISIS and should represent a turning point in the fight against terrorism in Syria. It still may, but the determination of the USA, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to bring down Bashar al Assad jeopardises continued progress towards the ultimate defeat of ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria.

US cooperation with Russia to actively fight Islamist forces and support the withdrawal of financing, weapons and supply of fighters from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, would isolate, weaken and lead to the destruction of ISIS as a fighting force. But the insatiable desire for control and influence in the Middle East drives the US and its allies to support 'Islamists' as proxies­­­ in order to achieve their goal of overthrowing Assad, a stepping stone to the greater prize of regime change in Iran.

These contradictory agendas are why ISIS, while in retreat, is far from a defeated force. ISIS is the key fighting force against Assad, so it will continue receiving support, directly or indirectly. Essentially, this means the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are aiding and abetting, not fighting, terrorism. A perpetual war, chaos and the foreshadowed partition of Syria are the consequences of such destructive policies. John Kerry's enunciation of Plan B threatens realization, sabotaging the gains of the Syrian government as it seeks to reclaim territory from Islamist forces and reunite the country.

ISIS recently captured 11 localities in northern Aleppo province, near the Turkish border. It is still capable of acquiring territory and can capitalise on Syrian army forces being stretched and preoccupied in other regions of the country. ISIS and Al-Nusra are currently attacking the strategically vital M5 highway from Aleppo to Homs, in order to aggravate the humanitarian situation. According to Press TV, ISIS "has taken control of most of the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria after pushing out a rival Takfiri [pseudo-religious] terrorist group."

US and its Allies Backed ISIS Takeover of Palmyra

The Syrian Army faced a number of foreign-supported terrorist factions, stretching the army's resources almost to breaking point, and saved only by the timely intervention of Russia in September 2015. But before this war-changing intervention, the US and its allies - Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel - backed the ISIS takeover and destruction of Palmyra. Most of the weapons ISIS used were from the US, with some ammunition from Israel. It received US Hummers, explosives, and military rations. Who can forget the sight of convoys of Toyota 4-wheel drives filled with ISIS fighters jubilantly waving, anticipating the capture of large areas of north-east Syria, including most of the country's oil fields.

A disturbing element of ISIS' takeover of Palmyra was the way it was able to move across expansive stretches of desert without being targeted by the US. For the US to do so, it would have been assisting the Assad government, and this is definitely not in the US playbook. It is one thing to conquer territory; it is another to retain control. Assad faces this challenge in Aleppo, a site of fierce fighting over a key supply route for weapons and fighters from Turkey.

Desperate to keep the supply corridor into Syria open, Turkey has repeatedly shelled the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), and also Syrian army positions. Turkey intervened with artillery shelling in the battle for Azaz and attempted to stop the YPG from capturing the Menagh airbase, making it clear they are willing to directly intervene directly on behalf of the proxy Islamist forces.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking at a meeting of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Justice and Development Party, made Turkey's position abundantly clear, saying:
"We will return our historic debt. At one time, our brothers from Aleppo defended our cities of Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras, now we will defend the heroic Aleppo. All of Turkey stands behind its defenders."
Davutoglu made the statement after the Syrian military cut off the terrorists' major supplies channels in northern Aleppo province from Turkey.

Erdogan's Dream of a Neo-Ottoman Empire Fuels ISIS Support

Oil Smuggling

The stream of accusations, backed by multiple sources of evidence, is growing against Ankara over illegal oil trade and support of ISIS. Despite the impossible-to-ignore evidence, Western mainstream media has framed the issue as 'tit-for-tat' accusations in a bitter dispute between Russia and Turkey. Meanwhile the US government, decidedly uncomfortable with damning revelations, stubbornly continues to back its NATO ally. The Russian Ministry of Defence (MOD), Syrian authorities, the Kurds and Iraqis have all exposed the smuggling of oil from Syria and Iraq into Turkey. The MOD, after conducting extensive surveillance, released satellite images of convoys of tanker trucks smuggling oil across the Turkish border, unchallenged by Turkish border guards and officials. At last November's G20 summit, held in Istanbul, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed that 40 countries support ISIS. Within days, Turkey, a key supporter of ISIS, and furious that Russian airstrikes were disrupting the lucrative oil-smuggling trade, committed a blatant act of aggression by downing a Russian Su24.

Erdogan's Hatred of Assad and the Kurds

Turkey collaborates with ISIS terrorists for two reasons: to remove Bashar al Assad from power, and to block Syrian Kurds' quest for greater autonomy from Damascus. Turkey is either supporting or turning a blind eye to terrorists crossing its border into Syria. Captured ISIS fighters have said they were trained in camps in Turkey, where they received payments, were supplied with weapons and given passage across the border to fight in Syria.

Weapons Supply Through Turkish Border

Grenade box
© AFP Getty Images
ISIS militant examines a supply crate of grenades on the Syria-Turkey border.
Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, victims of the ongoing suppression of Turkish media freedom, are standing trial in Turkey, behind closed doors, after publishing a report on the funneling of weapons to Islamists in Syria. At first Turkey denied the accusations, saying the trucks were carrying humanitarian supplies, but later backtracked and claimed the weapons were for the Free Syrian Army. The narrative then changed again when Istanbul claimed it was supplying local Turkmen, who fight both Syrian state forces and ISIS.

Diligent investigative reporting cost Lebanese-American journalist Serena Shim her life, dying mysteriously in a car accident while reporting on weapons being carried across the Turkish border for ISIS. As covered by one blogger:
On October 17th last year, just two days before her death, Shim had told Press TV that the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had accused her of "spying". She stated it was "probably due to some of the stories she had covered" about Turkey's role in the Islamic State terror group and particularly in regard to the militants in Kobani. It was Shim who had reported on ISIL militants being smuggled across the Turkish border into Syria in trucks deceptively bearing the symbols of NGOs like the World Food Organisation.
Chemical Weapons Supplied Through Turkey

Turkish MP Eren Erdem of the Republican People's Party (CHP) has made allegations that chemical weapons materials were brought into Turkey and used to produce Sarin gas in Syria at ISIS camps. Erdem told RT that:
"All basic materials are purchased from Europe. Western institutions should question themselves about these relations. Western sources know very well who carried out the Sarin gas attack in Syria."
Investigations, by the General Prosecutor's Office in the city of Adana in southern Turkey revealed that a number of Turkish citizens assisted ISIS with acquiring Sarin gas. Adana authorities conducted raids and 13 suspects were arrested. However, as quickly as the case was opened it was closed, the suspects released, further investigations dropped, and the case disappeared down a black hole. Erdem himself faced death threats and treason charges for daring to reveal Turkey's role in enabling terrorists to acquire illegal chemical weapons.

The US Role in the Creation of ISIS

Opinion is divided on whether the USA deliberately created ISIS or created the conditions for ISIS to evolve.

The former argument says it was deliberately created, consistent with a long history of backing 'Islamists' in pursuit of US geostrategic interests. The latter argues that the destruction and decimation of once prosperous Iraq fomented the rise of ISIS, which was able to rapidly accrue firepower by capturing and using, to its advantage, a vast array of weapons left in Iraq.

US Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned in an August 2012 classified report, that Salafists were the dominant insurgent forces fighting in Syria and that the US and its allies were fully aware of and supported the Salafist-led insurgency. The report stated:
"...the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al- Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria," being supported by "the West, Gulf countries and Turkey."

"If the situation unravels, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria... and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime."
What this report illustrates is that far from being a popular revolt which evolved into armed defence against a deadly crackdown by Syrian security forces, the insurgency was directed and driven by jihadist Islamists, fully backed by Western and regional powers. The US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar capitalised on popular discontent, using it as false legitimacy to unleash their Islamist proxy forces on unsuspecting Syrians.

In truth, the US planned for the overthrow of Assad at least as far back as December 2006, according to a Wikileaks release of a US State Department cable that recommended taking advantage of an "increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists [in Syria].

Assad was merely one of 7 victims of regime change plans spanning 5 years. This staggering genocidal vision is the pursuit of geostrategic ambition to gain total control over the oil-producing regions of the Middle East and North Africa. As Henry Kissinger said, "control oil and you control nations."

ISIS is in financial trouble. Oil smuggling revenue, as well as revenue from antiquities seized in Palmyra, have dried up following systematic and accurate bombing by the Russian air force. While ISIS fighters are enduring their own brand of austerity because of the debilitation of their income streams, there is no cessation of support from the Gulf States and Turkey, from whom the continued supply of weapons and fighters ensures that this conflict will drag on.

Saudi and Turkish-financed weapons and supplies continue to cross the porous Turkish border, despite a cessation-of-hostilities agreement designed to ease the conflict and enable Geneva peace talks. The claim is made that the weapons are for "moderate rebels", however it has been amply demonstrated that these so-called moderates are either killed by Islamists or absorbed into their forces, surrendering their weapons as they do so. The infamous CIA training and supply of moderates was a debacle because they immediately surrendered their weapons to both al-Nusra and ISIS. It is patently absurd to believe it is possible to target weapons in areas that are so hotly contested, with allegiances as fluid as the shifting desert sands, given the widespread ISIS presence and control.

Afghanistan 'Stingers' Redux?

Faced with having their regional hegemonic ambitions thwarted, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have raised the stakes by threatening to supply rebel groups with anti-aircraft weapons.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in an interview with Der Spiegel, said that arming Syrian rebels with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles would shift the balance of power in Syria:
We believe that introducing surface-to-air missiles in Syria is going to change the balance of power on the ground. It will allow the moderate opposition to be able to neutralize the helicopters and aircraft that are dropping chemicals and have been carpet-bombing them, just like surface-to-air missiles in Afghanistan were able to change the balance of power there. This has to be studied very carefully, however, because you don't want such weapons to fall into the wrong hands.
Sorely lacking here is an objective account of just who these "moderates" are and what helicopters and aircraft would be "neutralized". Here, Sputnik explains who Saudi Arabia supports in Syria:
...the militants that Saudi Arabia supports include al-Fatah, an Idlib-based coalition of Islamist groups including al-Nusra Front, Ahrar ash-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa, all three of which are affiliated with al-Qaeda. Elsewhere across the country, Riyadh has provided assistance to other al-Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham-affiliated groups, and to the Free Syrian Army, an organization which has been whittled down into a small group that actively cooperates with Islamist militants, and which the Pentagon itself has previously estimated consists of "more than 50%... extreme Islamist groups."
As for the aircraft and helicopters the Saudi propose be on the receiving end of these anti-aircraft missiles, the Saudis may have implied that Syrian state aircraft would be targeted, but the reference to how surface-to-air missiles changed the balance in Afghanistan can only be read as a none-too-subtle threat to Russia, which in the 1980s lost to the mujahideen (Saudi Arabia's 'holy warriors', later known as 'al Qaeda') when 'stinger' shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles were supplied to them by the CIA. In the Der Spiegel interview, al-Jubeir makes the Saudi position on al-Assad crystal clear, saying:
"I don't think anyone can predict what the short term will look like. In the long term, it will be a Syria without Bashar Assad. The longer it takes, the worse it will get."

"We have always said there are two ways to resolve Syria, and both will end up with the same result: a Syria without Bashar Assad. There is a political process which we are trying to achieve through what is called the Vienna Group. That involves the establishment of a governing council, which is to take power away from Bashar Assad, to write a constitution and to open the way for elections. It is important that Bashar leaves in the beginning, not at the end of the process. This will make the transition happen with less death and destruction."

"The other option is that the war will continue and Bashar Assad will be defeated."
Plan B: Deadlier Weapons to "Moderate" Rebels
manpad
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Manpads and militants, a lethal combination.
It's easy to see where the Saudis are getting their ideas from. The Wall Street Journal reported on 12 April about the US' Plan B, which envisages carrying on with the charade of pretending to support a negotiated peace in Syria. The WSJ revealed, just before the start of the latest round of Syria peace talks in Geneva on 13 April, CIA plans to arm "vetted rebels" (obviously an evolution from "moderate" ones) with more powerful weapons, primarily manpads to counter Syrian aircraft, tanks and artillery:
The preparations for a so-called Plan B center on providing vetted rebel units with weapons systems that would help them in directing attacks against Syrian regime aircraft and artillery positions, the officials said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in February that President Barack Obama's top military and intelligence advisers were pressing the White House to come up with a Plan B to counter Russia in Syria. Since then, fresh details have emerged on the nature of the new weaponry that could be deployed under the covert program.

Officials said the CIA has made clear to its allies that the new systems, once agreed upon, would be given to the rebels only if the truce and the concurrent political track toward a lasting peace—Plan A—fall apart and full-scale fighting resumes.
An unmistakeable message is being conveyed by Washington. Sabotage the ceasefire and "rebels" will receive more powerful weapons, transforming them into a more potent fighting force. The "lasting peace" of Plan A is the resignation of Assad. The Syrian government, backed by Russia, has repeatedly stated that the will of the Syrian people, through elections, will decide if Assad remains the President of Syria. These irreconcilable positions virtually guarantee a resumption of hostilities.

Sure enough, the breakdown of the ceasefire appears certain. The opposition's High Negotiations Committee (HNC) spokesperson, Riyad Naasan Agha, told Sputnik that there is a general feeling that the ceasefire in Syria has ended. Making strident demands from a greatly weakened negotiating position, Agha posted a statement on behalf of the HNC on his Facebook page, saying that "the main issue is forming a governing body in which Assad has no role," and thus demonstrating that the opposition has entered a realm of delusion. Right on cue, the opposition has withdrawn from the peace talks and rebel forces have launched assaults against government forces in Latakia province and Hama.

The HNC claims mounting frustration over deteriorating humanitarian and security situations, accusing government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, of violating the ceasefire. Senior opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush told Reuters there was no way the opposition could continue in peace talks while the humanitarian situation deteriorates. Perhaps Alloush missed the news that Russia has been successfully delivering humanitarian aid to liberated towns across Syria.

The Syrian people have shown great courage and resolve in resisting the barbaric ISIS. They have endured assaults on multiple fronts, from terrorists coming across the Turkish border in the north, to Israel supporting ISIS and Al Nusra in the Golan Heights to the south. Sustained by rogue regional regimes and US complicity, ISIS still has impact. It needs to be crushed and rendered impotent. Hopefully the accomplishment of this task can occur without an escalation between the US and Russia resulting in them aiming their military firepower at each other.