‘De-escalation’ agreement in part of Syria

Perhaps not coincidental to the Trump-Putin G20 summit in Hamburg:

Associated Press:  US, Russia reach deal on Syria cease-fire

The United States and Russia have reached agreement on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, three U.S. officials said Friday as President Donald Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The deal marks a new level of involvement for the Trump administration in trying to resolve Syria’s civil war. Although details about the agreement and how it will be implemented weren’t immediately available, the cease-fire is set to take effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the cease-fire publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Jordan and Israel also are part of the agreement, one of the officials said. The two U.S. allies both share a border with the southern part of Syria and have been concerned about violence from Syria’s civil war spilling over the border.

This could be significant,and it could be a breakthrough, but note that that is just in one corner of Syria, the furthest corner from Iran and Turkey and the Kurds.

The deal is separate from an agreement that Russia, Turkey and Iran struck earlier this year to try to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria where violence would be reduced. The U.S., wary of Iran’s involvement, was not a part of that deal. Follow-up talks this week in Astana, Kazakhstan, failed to reach agreement on how to finalize a cease-fire in those zones.

Previous cease-fires in Syria have collapsed or failed to reduce violence for long, and it was unclear whether this deal would be any better.

So it may be a significant cease in hostilities, or it may be a symbolic signal to the G20 summit that is as ineffective as previous attempts top sort out Syria.

Implications for Syria aside, the deal marks the biggest diplomatic achievement for the U.S. and Russia since Trump took office. Trump’s administration has approached the notoriously strained relationship by trying to identify a few limited issues on which the countries could make progress, thereby building trust for a broader repair of ties.

For years, the U.S. and Russia have been backing opposing sides in Syria’s war, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington supporting rebels who have been fighting Assad. Both the U.S. and Russia oppose the Islamic State group in Syria.

Things are very complicated in Syria, and also in the US-Russian relationship.

Trump meets Putin

A much anticipated meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has taken place at the G20 meeting in Hamburg. This may have been better done separately so as not to overshadow the G20, but both Putin and Trump seem to like being the focus of attention.

U.S. President Donald Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that it was an “honor” to meet him for the first time and said he looked forward to “positive things” in the relationship between the former Cold War rivals.

Trump and Putin spoke through translators with their respective foreign ministers present for six minutes before reporters were allowed into the room for their statements. Afterwards the reporters were ushered out and the meeting continued.

“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well,” Trump told reporters, sitting alongside the Russian leader.

“We’ve had some very, very good talks. We’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue. We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned. And it’s an honor to be with you.”

Putin, through a translator, said: “We spoke over the phone with you several times,” adding: “A phone conversation is never enough.”

“I am delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President,” he said, noting that he hoped the meeting would yield results.

The body language here seems to tell it’s own story:

Putin has been dealing in international politics for a long tome, Trump is the apprentice.

There is sure to be more reporting and PR on the Trump-Putin meeting.

Turkish-Kurdish tensions rise in Syria

There has always been tension between Kurds in northern Syria and Turkey in the complex Syrian civil war (albeit with a number of other countries directly involved including Russia and the USA).

Reuters reports that there could be yet another open conflict in the mix, with the ead of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia saying that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas amounted to a “declaration of war”.

Kurdish YPG militia expects conflict with Turkey in northern Syria

The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Wednesday that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of northwestern Syria amounted to a “declaration of war” which could trigger clashes within days.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus retorted that his country was not declaring war but that its forces would respond to any hostile move by the YPG, which he described as a small-scale army formed by the United States.

The mounting tensions between two U.S. allies in northwestern Syria risk opening yet another front in the multi-sided conflict, in which outside powers are playing ever greater roles.

Asked by Reuters whether he expected a conflict with Turkey in northern Syria, where the two sides have exchanged artillery fire in recent days, YPG Commander Sipan Hemo accused Turkey of preparing for a major military campaign in the Aleppo and Afrin area.

“These (Turkish) preparations have reached level of a declaration of war and could lead to the outbreak of actual clashes in the coming days,” he said in emailed comments. “We will not stand idly by against this potential aggression.”

Turkey’s policy in northern Syria has been focused on containing the growing sway of Kurdish groups that have established autonomous regions since Syria’s war began in 2011.

Ankara says the YPG represents a security threat, seeing it as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.

The Kurds were left without their own state when the United Kingdom broke a promise and prevented Kurdish autonomy after the Ottoman Empire was broken up and borders imposed by the UK and France, leaving the Kurds as large minorities in both Syria and Iraq as well as in southern Turkey. See  Treaty of Sèvres and Treaty of Lausanne.

The USA has been supporting and arming the Kurds in the current conflict, but Turkey has been unhappy with this.

BBC: Syria war: Turkey will never accept US alliance with Kurds – Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated after talks in Washington that he will never accept a US alliance with Kurdish forces fighting in Syria.

“There is no place for terrorist organisations in the future of our region,” he said at a joint news conference with President Donald Trump.

He was referring to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, following a US decision earlier this month to arm the group.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to take the YPG-PYD into consideration as partners in the region, and it’s going against a global agreement we reached,” Mr Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Peace in Syria looks a difficult prospect, as does peace in the Middle East.

An escalation of the Kurdish-Turkish tensions won’t help, especially if it results in yet another sub-war.

Independence Day

It’s the fourth of July in the US, their Independence Day. Fox News has just tweeted:

But just prior to this Fox also shows how non-isolated and independent of international affairs the US is.

Fox News: Russia trolls US, Trump with Fourth of July tweet

The Russian embassy reminded Americans in a tweet Tuesday that a Fourth of July musical staple was actually written about one of that country’s own wars.

“Dear Americans, happy Independence Day! Learn more about Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, now a July Fourth tradition,” the embassy wrote.

The tweet included a link to a Sputnik news agency story about the song’s origins and was published Tuesday as tension rose with Russia over North Korea’s missile program. Both Russia and China announced a joint agreement challenging Trump and urging an end to joint exercises with South Korea.

And the Russian threat to US democracy:

FoxPollHacking

But when they meet at the G20 summit Trump has said he won’t discuss Russian hacking with Putin.

And from Reuters:

As Trump heads to his first face-to-face meeting as president with Putin on Friday at the G20 summit in Germany, he is under pressure at home to take a tough line with the Kremlin.

Allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election have alarmed both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who are pushing to extend tough sanctions placed on Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, a peninsula belonging to Ukraine.

Lawmakers including Republican Senator Cory Gardner are also concerned Russia has prolonged the civil war in Syria by backing its President Bashar al-Assad, a strongman whose forces have used chemical weapons against insurgents and civilians. The chaos has fueled instability in the region and a flood of migrants to Europe.

“President (Trump) needs to make it clear that the continued aggression by Russia around the globe … is unacceptable, and that they will be held accountable,” said Gardner, who was among six lawmakers invited by the White House last month to discuss foreign policy with Trump over dinner.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded Russia sponsored hacking of Democratic Party groups last year to benefit Trump over his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied those allegations while Trump has repeatedly dismissed the idea of any coordination between his campaign and Russia as a “witch hunt.”

Still, just the optics of Trump meeting with Putin, a former KGB agent, are fraught with risk, foreign policy experts say.

Trump has signaled an interest in cooperating with Russia to defeat Islamic State in Syria and to reduce nuclear stockpiles.

The lack of a unified strategy has left U.S. allies anxious. And it has lowered expectations for American leadership to help resolve crises in Syria and Ukraine, where Russian cooperation would be critical.

“Trump is like a horse with his front legs tied,” said a German diplomat, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “He can’t make any big leaps forward on Russia. If he tried people would immediately suspect it was all part of some big conspiracy.”

Speaking with reporters last week about Trump’s upcoming meeting with Putin, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said his boss would like “the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia. But he’s also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior.”

The White House has been mum on what Trump would be willing to give Russia in exchange for that help.

Other Washington veterans say Trump won’t be able to make meaningful progress with Russia on anything until he confronts Putin about the suspected election meddling.

“(Trump) really has to raise the Russian election hacking last year, and has to say something like, ‘Vladimir, don’t do this again. There will be consequences,'” said Steve Pifer, a long-time State Department official focused on U.S.-Russia relations.

So far Trump has shown little inclination to do so, a situation that has heightened speculation about the potential impact from his coming encounter with the Russian leader.

“The shadow of all these investigations hangs over this,” said Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University and former National Intelligence Officer for Russia.

Being President was never going to be easy.

Neither was being independent going to be, not just for the US but also for countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Qatar or South Korea.

US shoot down Syrian jet

The US has shot down a Syrian jet. This has escalated tensions between the US and Syria, and between the US and Russia.

Fox News:  Navy jet shoots down Syrian warplane that attacked US-backed rebels

A U.S. Navy fighter jet shot down a Syrian government warplane after it attacked Washington-backed fighters near ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, the U.S.-led coalition said Sunday.

In a statement, the coalition headquarters in Iraq said that a F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 that had dropped bombs near positions held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The statement said coalition aircraft had “conducted a show of force” to turn back an attack by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s forces on the SDF in the town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqah.

The coalition said the shootdown took place “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces.”

Aljazeera TV (thanks Gezza):

Iran has fiired missiles into Syria, targeting ISIS, who they blame for the recent terrorist attack in Tehran. More details later. Main item is London van attack.

… … … …

The US has shot down a Syrian regime jet over Raqqa. They claim it was attacking SDF forces, which they have *advisers* embedded with.

Damascus says it was targeting ISIS.

… … … …

Aljaz tv 1 pm.

This incident has infuriated Russia, which has now declared it will treat any coalition aircraft West of the Euphrates as a target !!

The Independent:  Russia to treat US jets in Syria as ‘targets’ after America guns down first regime warplane

Russia has said it will treat US warplanes operating in parts of Syria where its air forces are also present as “targets” amid a diplomatic row caused by the downing of a Syrian jet.

The country’s defence ministry said it would track US-led coalition aircraft with missile systems and military aircraft, but stopped short of saying it would shoot them down.

A hotline set up between Russia and the US to prevent mid-air collisions will also be suspended. Russia’s Defence Ministry said the suspension of its communication line with the Americans would begin immediately.

The US did not use its hotline with Russia ahead of the downing of the Syrian government warplane, said the ministry, which accused the US of a “deliberate failure to make good on its commitments” under the de-confliction deal.

“The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” the ministry said.

“The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-country are a flagrant violation of international law and an actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Downing the jet was akin to “helping the terrorists that the US is fighting against”, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, said.

Fox News: US responds to Russian threat after shoot-down of Syrian jet

U.S. pilots operating over Syria won’t hesitate to defend themselves from Russian threats, a Pentagon spokesperson said Monday in the latest escalation between the two superpowers since a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian aircraft on Sunday.

“We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened,” Capt. Jeff Davis told Fox News.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford doubled down on that rhetoric during a Monday speech at the National Press Club.

“I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russia federation operations center — and I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves,” Dunford said.

Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said coalition aircraft would continue conducting “operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for Coalition partner forces on the ground.”

It’s hard to see how the Syrian conflict will end well any time soon.

Complicating Middle East split

Five Middle East countries have severed ties with Qatar, complicating an already very complex situation there, and and making things awkward for the US which has a major military base there.

NY Times: 5 Arab States Break Ties With Qatar, Complicating U.S. Coalition-Building

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed all ties with Qatar

early Monday, in a renewal of a four-year effort to isolate it and in a sign of a new boldness after a visit to the region by President Trump.

In an abrupt and surprising move, the five Arab states not only suspended diplomatic relations, as they have in the past, but also cut off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar. All but Egypt, which has many thousands of people working there, ordered their citizens to leave the country.

Qatar, like other monarchies in the Persian Gulf, is a close ally of Washington, and it hosts a major American military base that commands the United States-led air campaign against the Islamic State.

As such, the feud among regional allies threatens to stress the operations of the American-led coalition and complicate efforts in the region to confront Iran — but could also be a heavy blow to Tehran’s regional ambitions, if Qatar is forced to sever ties.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson offered to broker the impasse on Monday in the hope of preserving the Trump administration’s efforts to create broad coalitions against Iran and terrorist groups in the Middle East.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand may be little more than some time out from difficult and complex issues elsewhere in the world.

The severing of all connections by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen created an immediate crisis for Qatar. Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave their posts in Bahrain, while Qatari citizens were allotted two weeks to depart Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia said it was taking the action to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.” The Foreign Ministry of Qatar released a statement saying the action had “no basis in fact” and was “unjustified.”

The Iranian government criticized the Saudi-led action against Qatar in a diplomatically worded rebuke. “Neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on his Twitter account. “Coercion is never the solution,” Mr. Zarif said. “Dialogue is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan.”

Why make this move, and why now?

It was not immediately clear why the five countries decided to take this action now. Last month, Qatar’s state news media published comments attributed to the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, referring to tension with Washington over Iran policy and saying Mr. Trump might not be in power for long. Qatar denied the comments, saying it had been the victim of a “cybercrime.”

But most analysts pointed to President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

But the move also creates potential complications for the United States — raising questions about whether the Trump administration knew it was happening; if they understood the pitfalls; if they attempted to counter it and could not.

Everything is a complication in the Middle East.

In another indication of how the Trump visit may have emboldened Gulf monarchies, Bahrain has cracked down on opposition from its Shiite majority over the last two weeks.

In international affairs even the best intentions rarely achieve their aims without at least some adverse reactions and effects.

Its actions are a study in contradictions. Qatar has good relations with Iran, but hosts the American air base, is helping to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and supports insurgents against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Tehran. And yet, the Qatari emir once gave Mr. Assad an Airbus plane.

Home to some Israeli officials, Qatar has also given refuge to Khaled Mashal, a leader of Hamas, the hard-line Islamist group in Gaza that advocates the destruction of Israel.

Tensions had been building for years, beginning with Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and through the broadcasts of the Pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera, which Qatar funds.

Qatar’s rivals have also faulted it for condoning fund-raising for militant Islamist groups fighting in Syria, although several of the other Sunni-led monarchies in the region have played similar roles.

So the US has a military base that it uses to fight ISIS in a country that allegedly supports fund raising for ISIS.

Qatar’s opponents have recently added a third allegation to those grievances: that it is conspiring with their regional rival, Iran.

In his visit to the Middle East Trump named Iran as the main enemy of peace in the Middle East.

However the crisis is resolved, if at all, Mr. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who appeared in their first joint news conference, in Sydney, Australia, after talks with their Australian counterparts, insisted that it would not undermine the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Tillerson will visit New Zealand today. I doubt whether political protests against Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord – see Futile protest against US climate stance – will be very high on Tillerson’s list of concerns.

Syrian mass killings accusation

There have been many killed in the Syrian civil war including many atrocities and alleged atrocities.

The US has now accused the Syrian government of burning bodies to hide mass killings, with the support of Russia and Iran, but this has been denied.

Fox News: Syrian regime using crematorium to ‘cover up’ mass murders, State Department says

The Syrian regime is using a site outside Damascus to cremate the bodies of thousands of prisoners it has abducted, jailed and murdered during the country’s long-running civil war, the U.S. State Department alleged Monday.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones showed surveillance photos that — combined with intelligence assessments and other reports — officials believe show Bashar Assad’s government is complicit in covering up evidence of mass killings at the Sednaya Prison. Located near Damascus, the prison previously has been called a “human slaughterhouse” by Amnesty International.

“Although the regime’s many atrocities are well-documented, we believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Sednaya prison,” Jones said Monday.

Jones also charged that the “atrocities” were carried out “with unconditional support” from Russia and Iran.

Amnesty International has previously called Sednaya a “human slaughterhouse,” estimating 13,000 people were killed there from 2011-2015. It is believed Assad’s regime kidnapped more than 100,000 people during that time.

In presenting the photographs, Jones said Syrian President Assad’s government “has sunk to a new level of depravity” with the support of Russia and Iran and called on both countries to use its influence with Syria to establish a credible ceasefire and begin political talks.

I wonder if Trump talked about this in his meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week.

However Syria has denied the accusations.

Aljazeera: Assad government denies US allegations of mass killings

An earlier report accused Syria of hanging up to 13,000 prisoners at Saydnaya [Reuters]

The Syrian government has “categorically” denied US accusations of mass killings at a prison near Damascus, including executing political opponents and burning the victims in a crematorium at the site.

The allegations are “a new Hollywood plot” to justify US intervention in Syria, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

It described the accusations made a day earlier by the US state department as “lies” and “fabrications”, noting what it called a US track record of making up false claims as a pretext for military aggression.

 

Israel air strike in Syria

It is being reported that Israel has become more directly involved in the war in Syria, with a claimed air strike on a Hezbollah military target near Damascus airport.

BBC: ‘Israeli strike’ hits military site near Damascus airport

An Israeli missile strike has caused a large explosion and fire at a military site near Damascus international airport, Syrian state media report.

A fuel tank and warehouses were damaged, the Sana news agency said.

But Syrian rebel sources said an arms depot run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which is fighting in Syria as an ally of the government, was hit.

Israel said the explosion was “consistent” with its policy to prevent Iran smuggling weapons to Hezbollah.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that the powerful blast was heard across the capital at dawn on Thursday and that it was believed to have happened near the main road that leads to the airport.

Sana said several missiles had been fired at a military site south-west of the airport, causing explosions that resulted in some material losses.

Pro-government Al-Mayadeen TV cited sources as saying that missiles had been fired by Israeli jets flying inside the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

But it stopped short of confirming it was responsible.

Israel regards Hezbollah, and its key backer Iran, as its biggest threat.

Hezbollah has supported the Syrian government in the civil war.

Israel is alleged to have previously launched strikes in Syria in 2013.

  • On 30 January 2013, about ten jets bombed a convoy believed to be carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Lebanon. The attack, attributed by some media reports to Israeli airforce, did not result in any counterattacks from Syria, although Syria has said it reserves the right to retaliate. Western intelligence sources reported that Iranian general Hassan Shateri had been killed in the airstrike. Iran acknowledged his death at the hands of the Israelis without further details. Israel refused to comment on its involvement in the incident.
  • News organizations reported that Israel allegedly attacked Syria on the night between 2 and 3 May 2013. US officials said that the Israeli war planes shot into Syria from Lebanese air space, and that the warplanes did not enter Syrian air space. No counter-attacks by Syria were reported at any front, and the Syrian ambassador to the UN said that he was not aware of any attacks on Syria by Israel. Israel as well declined any comment.
  • Another alleged attack was reported to be a set of massive explosions in Damascus on the night of 4–5 May 2013. Syrian state media described this as an “Israeli rocket attack”, with the targets including a military research center of the Syrian government in Jamraya. The Daily Telegraph reported anonymous Israeli sources as saying that this was an Israeli attack on Iranian-made guided missiles allegedly intended to be shipped to Hezbollah. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, said at least 42 Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes.
  • Another violent event, possibly linking Israel, occurred in July 2013 in Latakia. Both Syria and Israel denied any report, while Hezbollah claimed that large explosions in Latakia area were caused by rebel mortar fire. Reportedly, the attack targeted Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles near the city of Latakia, and killed several Syrian troops. Russian news agency also reported of Turkish involvement in the incident.
  • On November 2013, a US official stated that Israel conducted an air strike on a Syrian weapons store near Latakia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_involvement_in_the_Syrian_Civil_War

SyriaWarMap

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22798391

ISIS ‘caliphate’ crumbling?

The Guardian reports that as military pressure continues against ISIS in Syria foreign fighters are trying to get out of the caliphate.

Isis faces exodus of foreign fighters as its ‘caliphate’ crumbles

Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Islamic Stateand trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.

Sources within Isis have confirmed that the group’s ranks in its last redoubt in Syria have rapidly shrunk as a ground offensive has edged towards Raqqa and Tabqa in the country’s north-east, where foreign fighters had been extensively deployed over the past four years.

Officials in Turkey and Europe say an increasing number of Isis operatives who have joined the group since 2013 have contacted their embassies looking to return. Other, more ideologically committed members are thought to be intent on using the exodus to infiltrate Turkey and then travel onwards to Europe to seek vengeance for the crumbling caliphate, raising renewed fears of strikes on the continent.

Among them, western intelligence agencies believe, are prominent members of the group’s external operations arm, who joined Isis from numerous European countries including Britain, France and Belgium, as well as Australia. At least 250 ideologically driven foreigners are thought to have been smuggled to Europe from late 2014 until mid-2016, with nearly all travelling through Turkey after crossing a now rigidly enforced border.

So good news perhaps for Syria, but potentially bad news for Europe and elsewhere.

Masrour Barzani, chancellor of security for the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, said: “The nature of the fight against Isis will change into an intelligence war. Defeating Isis militarily deprives them of territory and prevents them attracting and recruiting foreign fighters. This in turn discourages foreign fighters from staying in the so-called Islamic State and they will eventually try to escape or surrender.

“However, the threat foreign fighters can still pose upon returning to their countries should not be underestimated.”

That’s likely to be difficult to deal with.

Up to 30,000 foreign fighters are thought to have crossed into Syria to fight with Isis. The US government estimates that as many as 25,000 of them have since been killed. Around 850 British fighters have joined Isis or other jihadi groups such al-Nusra Front and in some cases the war against the regime of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. It is believed around half of these fighters have returned to the UK and around 200 have died.

Maher said a military defeat of Isis would cripple the group’s recruitment ability. “Islamic State has projected a narrative of momentum and success,” he said. “Their slogan has been ‘remaining and expanding’, and a lot of young people bought into that. As the caliphate begins to crumble, that same appeal simply isn’t there any more. It’s potency and relevance has been diminished.

“What you will now see is the most hardened and committed members of the group retreat to the desert as Islamic State prepares for its next phase, as an aggressive insurgency in Syria and Iraq. However, a significant proportion of its recruits from Europe and the west will lose confidence in the group and defect or surrender.”

So they are losing a lot of soldiers and their support looks like crumbling, but it doesn’t take many to cause problems if they spread out around the world.

Big dicks from North Korea to Iran

While North Korean ‘pre-emptive strike’ rhetoric has ramped up the US has added Iran to it’s nuclear targets.

Reuters: North Korea warns of ‘super-mighty preemptive strike’ as U.S. plans next move

North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike” after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States was looking at ways to bring pressure to bear on North Korea over its nuclear programme.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, did not mince its words.

“In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” it said.

This follows multi-pronged verbal attacks from the US.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a tour of Asian allies, has said repeatedly an “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said during a visit to London the military option must be part of the pressure brought to bear.

Tillerson told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that the United States was “reviewing all the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as the other ways in which we can bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang.”

And Tillerson has also aimed similar threats at Iran.

NBC News: Tillerson: Iran Left ‘Unchecked’ Could Follow North Korea’s Path

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday the United States will conduct a “comprehensive review” of its policy toward Iran, including the 2016 nuclear deal, which he said had merely delayed Iran’s goal of becoming a nuclear state.

“This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face in North Korea,” Tillerson said. “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran. The evidence is clear Iran’s provocative actions threaten the U.S., the region and the world.”

Tillerson notified Congress on Tuesday that despite finding that Iran was meeting the terms of the deal, the Trump administration was reviewing whether to break from the agreement, saying in part that Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran is closely involved in supporting the Assad government in the Syrian civil war. The US launched a military strike against a Syrian airfield recently.

The US also tried out their biggest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan last week. This didn’t go down well with ex-president Hamid Karzai.

Time: The Former President of Afghanistan Called the Recent U.S. Bombing ‘an Immense Atrocity’

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that the U.S. is using Afghanistan as a weapons testing ground, calling the recent use of the largest-ever non-nuclear bomb “an immense atrocity against the Afghan people.”

Last week, U.S. forces dropped the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb in eastern Nangarhar province, reportedly killing 95 militants. Karzai, in an interview with The Associated Press, objected to the decision, saying that his country “was used very disrespectfully by the U.S. to test its weapons of mass destruction.”

The office of President Ashraf Ghani said following the bomb’s usage that there was “close coordination” between the U.S. military and the Afghan government over the operation, and they were careful to prevent any civilian casualties.

But Karzai harshly criticized the Afghan government for allowing the use of the bomb.

“How could a government of a country allow the use of a weapon of mass destruction on its own territory? Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, how could they allow that? It just unimaginable,” he said.

Since the missile strike and the massive bomb drop the US has launched a war of words on multiple fronts, from Iran to North Korea.

This is a very risky strategy by the Trump regime. The threats and shows of military force may pay off. They could also end very badly if someone’s provocation (from any side) goes too far.

There’s also risks of perception of provocation and unintended consequences, especially if Korea or Iran or Syria or ISIS or Al Qaeda get reported on Fox News insulting the size of Donald Trump’s ego.

The well being of parts of the world, and possibly the whole world, is dependant on the temperaments and self control of a small bunch of bozos, some of whom (on the US side) have no experience with international diplomacy or military strategy.

Big dicks with big weapons are a worry.