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US Commander John Nicholson: Fight against Taliban in Afghanistan is a stalemate

© Military.com
Thousands more troops to break Afghanistan stalemate?
A top U.S. commander says the war against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan has ground to a stalemate. General John Nicholson also told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 9 that Russia had significantly increased covert and overt support for the Taliban, with a goal of "undermining the United States and NATO." The assessment by Nicholson, the commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, was one of the most candid admissions by U.S. officials that the fight there faces problems.


Comment: This assessment regarding Russian motives is a Western-ingrained narrative. The situation complexed with the entrenchment of ISIS. It requires uncommon alliances to cooperate and effect a purge.


There are some 8,400 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan since most NATO forces withdrew in 2014. Since then, however, Afghan forces have struggled to fend off the Taliban, which has gained control of more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Nicholson said Afghan forces had suffered significant casualties, impeding their ability to reach full strength. He said he would need several thousand more troops -- U.S. and other countries' forces -- in order to break the stalemate. The Afghan forces remained hamstrung by corruption and leadership problems, stemming from an entrenched patronage system, he said.


Comment: Corruption and leadership problems are nothing new on the face of the earth. Long lasting solutions are ones created by those whose problems they are to solve, not necessarily helped by those who impose. If you win the stalemate, you own keeping the edge. Does the US foresee another long-term commitment?


Comment: With ISIS in Afghanistan, a cooperation has arisen between Russia and the Taliban to eliminate this threat (not, as stated, to undermine the US and NATO!). Russia has asked the US for help. Is Trump serious in his intent to partner with Russia and go after ISIS if it means working with the Taliban?

See also: Moscow: Increase of ISIS presence in Afghanistan is a threat to Russia, 'real action' from US requested


Footprints

Brexit: The 'hard' option or 'soft' option, does it truly matter?

© REUTERS/ TOBY MELVILLE
Copy of the Brexit Article 50 bill to start the process of leaving the EU.
"Which do you choose, a hard or soft option?" It's doubtful that when The Pet Shop Boys wrote that lyric over 30 years ago, they could have envisaged the having great political significance in 2017 - ironically enough, the centenary of the year in which Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin, made the journey "from Lake Geneva to the Finland Station."

Back in 1986, when West End Girls was number one in the pop charts, only the most diehard Euroskeptics could have dreamt that Britain would one day leave the EU. But it's happening now.

Last Wednesday (February 1) the House of Commons voted by 498 to 114 to invoke Article 50— the EU exit clause. "Now we're on our way out of the EU" the front page of the Daily Express declared. The only question left now is: will we have a "hard" Brexit or a "soft" one?

A "hard" or "clean," Brexit would mark a complete break with the EU and its institutions, with the UK out of both the single market and the customs union. A "soft" Brexit would mean staying in the single market, in return for some increased control over the free movement of EU citizens.

Last week, the government finally published its plans in a White Paper. The Brexit Prime Minister Theresa May would like to see won't be as hard as the going used to be at Bath racecourse in August, but probably hard enough to please most of those who voted "out" last June 23.

Comment: In 1975, the question was 'Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Community (Common Market)?' In this clip Peter Shore puts on a credible and convincing performance to disengage the parliament from its fear and immobility and move beyond the paralysis of choice. The lessons learned then are applicable today.




Better Earth

Pakistan's Eurasian Solution for the Conflict in Afghanistan

Moscow will host six-party talks about Afghanistan on 15 February, with Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Iran, India, and naturally Russia expected to be represented. Moreover, Zamir Kabulov - thought of as being the leader of the "Islamophile" South Asian faction in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - extended an invitation to the US as well, though stipulating that it should first be "ready to work constructively with regional powers" and "determine what they are planning to do in Afghanistan." Given these conditions and the fact that the Trump Administration has yet to articulate its strategy on Afghanistan, Kabulov was probably just being diplomatic in inviting his American counterparts, and if they show up at all, they might be represented by low-level token dignitaries like they were for Astana.

Multilateral Syrian And Afghan Talks: Same Format, Similar Hope

Speaking of which, there's an interesting parallel between the Astana process for Syria and the developing Eurasian framework for Afghanistan. At the end of December, Moscow hosted two very high-profile summits dealing with both of these conflicts, with the outcome of the Syrian-related one being the Moscow Declaration and subsequent Astana gathering, while the Afghan one seems to have produced the forthcoming meeting in Moscow next week. Both prior events importantly emphasized the trilateral cooperation between Russia, Iran, and Turkey in Syria, and Russia, Pakistan, and China in Afghanistan, and it's no surprise that both of their follow-up summits expanded the format to include additional players.

Comment: See also:


Info

UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon says 'failed' investigation into Iraq War abuse claims will close within months

© Maurice McDonald / Reuters
UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has said the civilian-run investigation into allegations of abuse and torture by British troops in Iraq will be shut down within months. MPs have called for it be replaced by a military-led probe.

Fallon announced the closure of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) after a damning report by MPs was published on Friday.

The defense secretary also confirmed around 90 percent of misconduct cases involving British troops who served in Afghanistan will be dropped, according to Sky News.

In its report, the Commons Defence Committee said IHAT has "directly harmed the defense of our nation" by investigating abuse claims, including the death of an Iraqi teenager 13 years ago.

MPs described the £60 million (US$75 million) government probe into allegations against Iraq War veterans as an "unmitigated failure" and said it should shut down within months.

Bomb

The Oklahoma City bombing - Requiem for the Suicided: Terrance Yeakey

© The Office
This week we turn the focus of our open source investigation to Sgt. Terrance Yeakey, one of the first responder heroes at the scene of the OKC bombing who discovered something that conflicted with the official story of the bombing...something that cost him his life.


Bad Guys

Notorious neocon Elliott Abrams under consideration for Deputy Secretary of State - Update: Trump nixes Abrams for State Dept. job

The Iran-Contra Affair happened some 35 years ago. A major black eye for the Reagan Administration, it was also the first in a long line of blotches on the record of then-Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who was convicted of two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the affair, pardoned in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush. As a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, he was a supporter of the US invasion of Iraq, and played a major role in the failed military coup in Venezuela.

But apparently that's just another way of saying he's experienced, and with the Trump Administration facing criticism for both President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's lack of foreign policy experience, Abrams is back again like a bad penny, and under serious consideration for the position of Deputy Secretary of State.

The position of number two in the State Department is always powerful, but expected to be even more-so this time, with the expectation that the deputy would virtually run the department while Tillerson learns on the job. It's a potentially very dangerous position to put the notorious neoconservative Abrams into.

Tillerson apparently supports this idea, and despite Abrams' well-documented history of lying to Congress, many in Congress are keen on the idea too, as his experience in past administrations, however dishonorably, makes him a known commodity.

Comment: Despite the above speculation, Trump has reportedly nixed Abrams for the sensitive Deputy Sec. of State post over Abrams' criticism of Trump during the presidential campaign, according to CNN:
But Abrams was nixed from the list of contenders after President Donald Trump learned of Abrams' biting criticism last May of his fitness to become president, the Republican sources said.The President found out about Abrams' outspokenness against Trump after meeting with him on Tuesday to consider him for the position, which would have made him Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's deputy. The meeting went well, but Trump could not get past Abrams' past criticism, the sources said.



Cowboy Hat

Trump's straight-talking demeanor with foreign leaders is ruffling the feathers of the Establishment

© Getty
“When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it," President Donald Trump said at last week's National Prayer Breakfast
President Donald Trump spent much of a recent phone call with French President Francois Hollande veering off into rants about the U.S. getting shaken down by other countries, according to a senior official with knowledge of the call, creating an awkward interaction with a critical U.S. ally.

While the Hollande call Jan. 28 did touch on pressing matters between the two countries — namely the fight against the Islamic State — Trump also used the exchange to vent about his personal fixations, including his belief that the United States is being taken advantage of by China and international bodies like NATO, the official said.

At one point, Trump declared that the French can continue protecting NATO, but that the U.S. "wants our money back," the official said, adding that Trump seemed to be "obsessing over money."

"It was a difficult conversation, because he talks like he's speaking publicly," the official said. "It's not the usual way heads of state speak to each other. He speaks with slogans, and the conversation was not completely organized."

Handcuffs

Russian authorities bust drug syndicate with offices in Kiev

© Sputnik/ Igor Zarembo
Russian police and FSB operatives have stopped activities of a drug syndicate with recruiting offices in Ukraine and annual turnover of over 2 billion rubles ($34 million), the Russian Interior Ministry said Friday.

According to ministry's spokeswoman Irina Volk, the so-called KhimProm syndicate had recruiting offices in Kiev, circulating ads with offers of high-salary jobs as couriers and shipping agents in Russia.

"A total of 67 members of the drug syndicate have been arrested, including 47 Ukrainian citizens," Volk said.

Investigators found that recruits had been offered short-term courses where they were taught how to use different electronic payment systems, pack and transport drugs. They were supplied with bank cards issued with fake IDs, counterfeit Russian passports, driver's licenses and cellphones with installed messaging apps.

War Whore

NYT's alleged fair and balanced reporting is #fakenews: Claim US wars promote 'freedom and democracy' unlike Russian wars

The New York Times, in its recent rebuff of comments President Donald Trump made about Russia, seems not to have evolved its understanding of US geopolitics past an 8th grade level. Trump had been asked by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly (2/5/17) why he wouldn't condemn Vladimir Putin, whom O'Reilly called a "killer."

"You got a lot of killers," Trump told O'Reilly. "What, you think our country's so innocent?"

Naturally, this prompted a torrent of pearl-clutching from liberal patriots aghast that the president could equate the moral worth of the United States with that of the dastardly Russians. Most prominent among these was the New York Times, whose editorial board published a flag-waving scolding called "Blaming America First" (2/7/17):

Jet1

3 Turkish soldiers accidentally killed in Russian airstrike in Syria, Moscow confirms, Putin apologizes (Update: Turkey accepts bad coordinates given)

© Igor Kovalenko / Sputnik
Russian airstrikes have accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers and injured 11 others in northern Syria, Russia's Defense Ministry confirmed.

A Russian warplane hit a building housing Turkish soldiers in Al-Bab at 8:40 am local time, the Hurriyet Daily reports citing Ankara's statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed condolences over the accidental loss of life in the airstrike, in a phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.

The Russian leader stressed that the accident occurred due to the non-coordination during airstrikes against terrorist targets, Peskov said.

Comment: Turkey accepts apology: Turkey Satisfied With Russia's Response After Airstrike Incident
Turkey has positively assessed Russia's constructive position in connection with the incident in northern Syria, when an accidental Russian airstrike led to the death of three Turkish servicemen, a high-ranking Turkish military source in Ankara told Sputnik.

"Talks have been held with Russian colleagues with the coordination of the administration of our president and prime minister. The death of our servicemen caused us great grief, we are praying for the recovery of our wounded comrades. However, the actions and the constructive position of Russian officials right after the incident were met positively by us," the source said.

A military source in Ankara told Sputnik on Thursday that Russia and Turkey would not set up a joint commission to investigate the airstrike incident as the situation was "quite clear."
Update: Russian airstrike which killed Turkish troops in Syria followed Ankara data - Kremlin
The Russian Air Force strike which killed Turkish soldiers in Syria was guided by positioning data provided by Turkey, and there should not have been any Turkish troops in the area, the Kremlin spokesman has said.

Moscow and Ankara agree that the outcome of the airstrike, which killed three Turkish soldiers and injured 11 others in northern Syria on Thursday, was not deliberate and was due to miscommunication on the positioning data, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

"As for the reasons [of this incident], they are unfortunately clear. There's no controversy. The situation is evident: our military was following the data sent by our Turkish partners, and there shouldn't have been any Turkish troops within the limits of these coordinates," the Kremlin spokesman said.

Asked if there was a mistake on the part of Turkish intelligence, Peskov reiterated that there was a "miscommunication in providing the data."

Citing sources in the Russian military command, media outlet Kommersant reported earlier on Friday that the coordinates for the strike had been agreed beforehand by both countries' militaries. The sources also suggested that one of the reasons for the incident could be the uncoordinated relocation of Turkish ground troops into the area.
Update (Feb. 10): Turkey's Deputy PM called the airstrike "entirely unintended", agreeing with Peskov's above statement by adding that it was caused by an "error in coordination". However, the Turkish MOD responded by claiming that Russia knew the Turkish Army's coordinates:
The Turkish General Staff claimed that Russian military had been warned in advance of the presence of Turkish servicemen in the area targeted by the Russian jets in Syria's al-Bab.
...
"We must clarify the situation in connection with a statement by Dmitry Peskov in order to avoid any misinterpretation," the statement said.
...
According to the Turkish General Staff's statement, the Turkish soldiers were at the same location at the time of the strike as the day before (on February 8) when the Turkish side informed the Russian side of the precise coordinates following an accidental rocket strike from friendly positions in the Russian zone of responsibility.

"We immediately relayed the coordinates to officials at the Hmeymim center...while the Russian military attache in Ankara was summoned to the General Staff HQ and given the precise coordinates again," the statement said.