The effusive greetings exchanged by yesterday’s enemies, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayiip Erdogan, when they shook hands at St. Petersburg on Aug. 9, cemented a new partnership based on the ruthless pursuit of their common interests, chiefly at the expense of the West.
The ground was well prepared, when the Turkish leader began pivoting away from Europe and NATO (See DEBKA Weekly 718 of July 29: Erdogan Puts One Foot out of NATO).
But, according to DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Moscow and Ankara, the two new friends gave the finishing touches to three further momentous plans:
1. Refugees: Erdogan was not talking idly when he threatened to revoke the Turkish-European accord limiting the flow of Muslim refugee to Europe, if EU countries continued to shirk their commitment to forego passport checks for Turkish visitors.
That threat was just a foretaste of his plans to send a flood of Middle East migrants swarming across the borders into EU members’ countries if they annoy him, while also strong-arming the United States into accepting large numbers of refugees from Syria and other countries.
In short, say DEBKA Weekly’s sources, the Turkish ruler has no inhibitions about using the refugee issue as a bludgeon against the US or any European country venturing to challenge him or his collaboration with Putin.
This would be the first time in NATO history that a member had behaved like the enemy within to the benefit of its main adversary – Vladimir Putin.
In Washington, the National Security Council and the Pentagon are immersed in evaluations of the deals struck in St. Petersburg and preparing to cut deeply into the intelligence and high-value information on Russia passed to Turkish military and intelligence agencies.
According to our Moscow sources, Putin has no objections to the massive flow of Muslim migrants to the NATO countries of Central and West Europe, because, in the first place, that would distance them from Russia’s borders and, in the second, the Europeans would get their comeuppance for their anti-Russian policies on Ukraine and the Baltic
2. War on ISIS: Putin and Erdogan have agreed to work together in Syria and Iraq to deprive the United States of outright victory in the war against the Islamic State. That is because a military triumph would empower America to lay down the law in those countries, a role which Moscow covets for itself.
Erdogan is ready to go along with Putin’s game, after receiving Russia’s pledge to look after Turkish interests in Syria and Iraq.
(See a separate article in this issue on its effect on the Kurds’ situation.)
DEBKA Weekly military and counterterrorism sources say that the Russian-Turkish concord will change the face of the war on ISIS and the prospects of its success.
Since US strategy against the jihadist terrorist group has been geared to a partnership with the Turks and Russians, the Putin-Erdogan deal will compel the next US president to spend his first day in the White House in January 2017 carving out with his military and strategic planners a new plan of action for defeating ISIS.
Many of the US-backed local forces Syria and Iraq will have by then switched sides and ditched their ties with Washington in favor of Moscow.
3. Inviting Iran to join: Putin and Erdogan are expanding their partnership into a bloc by inviting other Middle East regimes to join. Iran, Iraq and Syria are their first natural candidates. This alliance would take Baghdad and Damascus out of the American orbit and into the Russian-Turkish military sphere.
And so, our sources reveal, shortly after St. Petersburg, the Turkish president plans to travel to Tehran for a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources note Putin’s unusual indulgence of Erdogan’s over-the-top demands. He believes that the partnership will take him to his overarching objective, which is for Russia to displace American influence in the region and take over US bases in Turkey and Iraq, in addition to Syria.
Last-minute breaking news: In the footsteps of the Putin-Erdogan summit, a large delegation of Turkish foreign ministry, military and intelligence officials landed in at St. Petersburg Wednesday night, Aug. 10, to discuss following up the two presidents agreement to pre-empt Kurdish statehood, which was reported exclusively hereunder by DEBKA Weekly. We have just learned that they also agreed that Russian and Turkish forces would launch a joint offensive to smash the Syrian Kurdish Forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). It is not clear whether the assault will be carried out by air or land, but intelligence sources expect the Russians to undertake the aerial assault, while Turkish troops will cross the border for the ground offensive.
Even before Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan sat down to talk In St. Petersburg on Tuesday, Aug. 9, DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Moscow and Ankara reveal the Russian and Turkish rulers had come to a deal that will almost irreparably damage the US war on the Islamic State. They decided to work together to thwart Kurdish aspirations for military and political independence in both Syria and in Iraq.
The fallout on the US-led war on ISIS was direct and instantaneous, in view of the indispensable combat role played by Kurdish fighters.
In Irbil, the autonomous Kurdish Government of Iraq (KRG)’s president Masoud Barazani discovered what was afoot when an ultimatum was slapped down from Ankara to shut down without delay any agency linked to the exiled Turkish opposition leader Fethullah Gulen, whom Edrogan accuses of plotting last month’s abortive coup against him.
Long before the coup, many of Gulen’s Turkish supporters found shelter in the KRG capital of Irbil and set up a center for political activism.
Although the 150,000-strong Kurdish Peshmerga is the largest army in Iraq, Barazani complied, fearing that if he defied Erdogan, the Turkish army would surge across the border and invade his republic.
He also understood that he could not expect much help from Washington. The Obama administration is in no position to cool the Turkish president’s temper so long as it stands by its refusal to extradite Gulen, a US citizen, to Turkey to face charges of orchestrating the coup, which he firmly denies.
The Iraqi Kurdish president went so far as to offer Erdogan a peace offering: He shut his border with Syria in the hope of calming the fiery Turkish president - with disastrous consequences.
It completely choked off military movements between Iraq and Syria of the Iraqi Peshmerga, the Turkish-Kurdish PKK, and the Syrian-Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units), along with reinforcements and weapons supplies for the Kurds battling ISIS in Syria.
Our sources report that the closure of this vital border has also blocked US supply routes of arms and logistical assistance from Iraq to the Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom the Americans see as the spearhead of the war on the Islamic State.
The US was forced in the past week to airfreight essential hardware to the YPG - from Sulaymeniyah, an air base in eastern Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by Barazani’s opposition party - to Rmeilan, the only US airbase in Syria.
Rmeilan is located in the northern Syrian Kurdish province of Hassaka.
The new Putin-Erdogan deal has therefore thrown a large spanner into the creaking but still working arrangement from early in 2016, whereby Russian forces in Syria joined the Americans in backing the main Syrian Kurdish party, the PYD, to lead the war on ISIS. Moscow was even willing for a time to give the Kurds the arms held back from the militia by Washington.
With the two world powers at their back, the Kurds began to entertain hopes of attaining an independent state in northern Syria as their reward for leading the ground campaign against the jihadists.
However, Russian backing now turns out to have been short-lived, lasting only so long as Moscow was intent on punishing Turkey for shooting down its warplane. Now that Putin and Erdogan are burying the hatchet, the Turkish president’s extreme hostility to the Kurds is weighing in strongly to melt their dream.
The only leverage the Syrian Kurds still own, say DEBKA Weekly counterterrorism sources, is their unmatched military prowess and willingness to fight ISIS.
By resorting to stop-go tactics, they can still hope to influence the course of events as the only competent military ground force capable of tackling ISIS available to either the US or Russia.
But Putin appears ready to gamble this resource away for the sake of his entente with Erdogan. His calculus is simple: By throwing the Kurds to the wolves, he wins not only Ankara, but also Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus as partners in a solid new bloc. (See also lead article in this issue.)
The Red Sea land of Yemen has ended its life as an independent republic, sliced up into separate entities amid an implacable civil war that has sputtered on for 12 years.
While intense fighting continues to rage in northern and central Yemen, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels - a Zaidi group from the north waging a low-level insurgency since 2004 - and the ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh last month formed a council to govern the capital Sana’a and most of the north.
This effectively partitioned the country between the Shiite-dominated north and east and the Sunni-dominated south and west. (See attached map.)
The often restive south was not left long up for grabs. The United Arab Emirates with tacit Saudi and American endorsement moved in fast to secretly establish an independent Sunni state as its satellite called The Arab State of Hadhramout. It covers a large and highly valuable chunk of real estate that gobbles up the Gulf of Aden coast from the port of Aden to the Yemen-Oman border.
In consequence –
1. The UAE has secured complete control of the strategic Gulf of Aden.
2. Its territory has expanded to take in a formidable area of southeastern Yemen along with the island of Socotra and a small archipelago of four islets in the Indian Ocean opposite the Gulf of Aden.
Seven months ago, the Emirates formally obtained a 99-year lease on Socotra from Yemen's President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
On Aug. 8, Saudi-backed Yemeni fighters trained in the United Arab Emirates landed in the southern part of Socotra and took charge. The UAE now plans to build there naval and air bases from which to rule the sea routes from the Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. A new defensive system will guard the State of Hadhramout from naval attacks by sea.
3. DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that the Yemeni units which landed on Socotra are members of a special operations contingent of the big new Yemeni army, which hundreds of Emirate army and intelligence officers are in the process of building in Mukalla, capital of Hadhramaut and its main sea port.
The army is projected to number from 10,000 to 15,000 troops.
4. Their principal task will be to eradicate within the new state boundaries the presence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS.
5. The Emirates propose to gain strategic depth for their new state by the annexation of two more provinces. One is Shabwah whose main town is Ataq, 458km southeast of Sana'a and which lies midway between Al Mukalla and Aden. It is through this province, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that Saudi Arabia plans to run an oil pipe from its eastern oil fields to the Gulf of Aden.
This pipeline will give the Saudis the option of shipping its oil to export destinations without having to send tankers through the Straits of Hormuz under the guns of Iran.
7. The second province to be tagged onto UAE-ruled Hadhramaut is Al Mahrah with its capital Al Ghaydah, which touches the full length of the Yemeni-Omani border. This “acquisition” is designed to be a buffer between Hadhramaut and Oman, thereby securing the support of its close neighbor for the new state.
Western media announced for the umpteenth time this week that the Iraqi army is preparing to launch its oft-delayed offensive for recapturing the northern city of Mosul, two years after it was seized as the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq.
The town’s suffering inhabitants and the refugees who managed to escape its horrors breathed a deep sigh of relief at the prospect of finally getting rid of the vicious jihadist jackboot.
But this optimistic presentation was another deception.
According to DEBKA Weekly’ military and intelligence sources, the US war command estimates that the campaign for liberating Mosul will not be ready to go for 8 to 12 months, in view of the following major hindrances:
1. The Iraqi army lacks the fighting manpower for attacking and holding the city. In the last few days, the US command has been winding up a slow and laborious process of isolating Mosul and its million inhabitants from the town’s environs. As we have reported before, this is a process of isolation – not siege, since neither the US command nor the Iraqi army can field enough manpower or resources for a total siege on Mosul.
2. To make up the numbers, the Americans are recruiting, training and arming new Iraqi brigades to augment the units positioned around the city. This process will take up to a year to complete.
3. The Obama administration could if it wished find the extra manpower for storming Mosul by enlisting pro-Iranian Shiite militias, such as the Popular Mobilization forces and Badr Brigades.
Both are subject to the direct command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Forces.
The US is making a show of reluctance before calling on Shiite assistance in the light of past incidents of Shiite fighters going on murderous and looting sprees through liberated Iraqi Sunni towns.
Mosul is the ultimate symbol of a Sunni-ruled city in Iraq.
But President Barack Obama’s apparent reluctance gradually faded in July during the battle for recovering another Sunni-ruled town, Fallujah. At first, the Americans agreed to the pro-Iranian militias taking part in the fighting, provided they stayed outside the city and did not break through to its interior. But then, the Americans stood by when Shiite forces overran strategic sites inside Fallujah.
Therefore, DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources calculate that Obama will eventually relent once again and approve pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias’ participation in the battle for Mosul, once it gets going.
4. Washington this week faced a fresh complication: A demand by President Tayyip Recep Erdogan for Turkish forces to take part in the battle for Mosul. To meet a certain veto by autonomous Iraqi Kurdish government (KRG) of direct Turkish intervention, Ankara has offered militias composed of native Iraqi Turkmen who were trained and armed in Turkey.
Our sources say that Washington is divided on how to handle this offer. One camp advocates approval to help ease the strains in US relations with Ankara; the opposite camp warns that Turkey is the thin end of the wedge for Russia to gain a foothold in northern Iraq.
5. However unlikely this may sound, it is a fact that the United States is short of money for financing the large-scale military campaign required to liberate Mosul. Not many Americans realize that as many as 40,000 US officers and soldiers are already engaged in the war on the Islamic State – whether in the Middle East, North Africa or running US command centers at home. Most are not involved in actual combat, but rather in training foreign forces, logistics, the planning of operations and gathering intelligence.
To fill the counter-terror war chest, Washington turned to Gulf and European allies. The sum of $2 billion has so far been raised.
Since its capture on Jan. 13, 2014, the northern Syrian town of Raqqa on the banks of the Euphrates has evolved as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s seat of global terror under its foreign affairs section headed by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani.
Born 37 years ago in Syria under the name of Taha Falaha, it was al-Adnani who issued ISIS’ first directive to attack Westerners, telling jihadis to hold no bars: “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”
Al-Adnani’s formal role as spokesman for ISIS is a cover for his high rank as bloodthirsty planner of the latest round of international terror atrocities. Some observers tag him as next in line to succeed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph of the Islamic State.
Raqqa, which is Adnani’s center of foreign operations, is also the training ground for foreign operatives. It was there, that the cell leaders and “soldier” terrorists who perpetrated mass murder attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Nice and Bavaria, were trained and given their orders.
The jihadis assigned to carry out the next round of attacks in the West will also set out from Raqqa and travel to their destinations through Turkey.
Since all these facts are known to Western, Russian and Middle East counterterrorism agencies, the big question is this: Why don’t America and Russia, both of whom maintain bases not far from Raqqa and whose homeland is threatened by ISIS, go ahead and smash this breeding ground of world terror?
Occasional pinprick-attacks have come nowhere near damaging the Islamist State’s core operations.
Russia’s Khmeimim base in Latakia is just 293km away from Raqqa as the crow flies, while the US Rmeilan base in the northern province of Hassaka is even closer, just 168km away. There, the Americans maintain special operations units and a helicopter squadron.
But since the Russian air force established its base in Syria eleven months ago, it had never conducted a single air strike on Raqqa any more than other forces had approached the jihadists’ base of global terror - until Thursday, Aug. 11, when it was targeted for its first Russian bombardment.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources postulate some answers to this conundrum:
1. Neither President Barack Obama nor Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to deploy the large-scale ground force of multiple division-strength that would be needed for an offensive to capture Raqqa.
2. Military deployments for taking Raqqa did not even come up in the talks on US-Russian military and intelligence cooperation in Syria conducted in recent weeks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
All they discussed was the start of Russian air strikes on ISIS’ Syrian capital.
3. US military planners have tried fruitlessly to dump the task of recovering Raqqa on the Kurdish People's Protection Units-the YPG. The militia’s leaders withheld their response to this proposal while waiting expectantly for a good supply of advanced US weapons to be forthcoming for the job and a Washington pledge to promote Kurdish national aspirations.
They waited in vain.
So, when a wave of ISIS terror hit Europe and brought the Americans back to press the Kurds into service for capturing Raqqa, they were turned down flat, not surprisingly.
The heads of the Syrian Kurdish community have apparently decided against taking part in the forcible capture a Sunni Arab-held town for fear of turning the entire Sunni Arab world against them. As a minority scattered across both Sunni and Shiite Muslim countries alike, the Kurds are wary of challenging either to a fight.
US war planners are now stuck without a single ground force for operations in Syria.
And that is not the end of their troubles.
Syrian rebels, including mainly the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Kurdish YPG, were able to snatch from ISIS large sections of the northern town of Manjib, 30km from the Turkish border. This drove the Islamists from their main crossing point between Syria and Turkey, while leaving them in control of parts of Manjib.
To win the day and push the jihadis out of this Syrian-Turkish border region, it would be necessary to capture another town, Jarabulus, which actually sits on the Turkish border and the bank of the Tigris, 32km north of Manjib.
Only if Jarabulus falls, will the rebel gains in Manjib count as a major achievement.
But this week, Turkish President Reccep Erdogan declared that he will not tolerate a Kurdish advance towards Jarabulus; if they defy him, he will order the Turkish army to attack them.
For all these reasons, the US war on ISIS in northern Syria is fatally stalled just before it started making progress.
Delta Airlines, the second-largest airline in the US and the third-largest carrier worldwide, suffered a disaster when its computer system crashed on August 8, forcing it to ground all 6,000 of its flights worldwide except those already in the air. Some flights were cancelled and others were delayed, in some cases even by several days.
The official cause of the incident that occurred at 2:30 a.m. eastern time in the US, according to Delta’s internet site, was a power outage that led its computer systems to crash. The first signs of repairs to the system were only evident six hours later.
However, an analysis by DEBKA Weekly’s cyber defense and technology experts has concluded that such an outage could not have shut down all of the airline’s systems. Rather, it is likely to have been the result of one of the biggest cyberattacks on the US, although Washington has too much pride to admit it.
The aviation giant, which employs 80,000 people, has 180 million customers a year in the US.
The airline’s computer network supports all of Delta’s commercial activity, including ticketing, preparation of boarding passes, cargo management, scheduling of takeoffs and landings, availability of planes, designation of ground and air crews, maintenance, seating, upgrades, payments to suppliers, and operations of the airline’s websites and self-service kiosks.
As a result, the entire computer infrastructure including databases, servers and routers are not in a single room or center, but rather are scattered in different cities, countries and continents far from each other. This system has been instituted in the age of Cloud computing, a technology that helps reduce risks and raise the speed of normal operations.
Also, the control centers for some of Delta’s systems are located deep in the ground and have many sources of electricity, including generators that are supervised 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Large-scale computer systems such as those of Delta are backed up in such a way that if one part, such as a power supply, database or server, ceases to function, a backup system automatically kicks in, in its place.
In addition, like all other huge companies, Delta has a disaster recovery plan. This layer of defense has been established to ensure the continued operations of critical systems in emergency situations, based on the assumption that the worst-case scenario will eventually happen. Under this backup method, customers will be able to receive services from systems that are nearly identical to the ones that crashed.
Considering these factors, it is clear that a power outage cannot be an acceptable explanation for the catastrophe that shut down Delta. A spokesman for the utility providing electricity to Delta’s headquarters, Georgia Power, said that there was no outage in the area of the headquarters, and not a single customer in the area complained of a cutoff of the electricity supply.
Thus, there can only be two possible reasons for the halting of service: a cyberattack or a malfunction.
A cyberattack is the most reasonable possibility since Delta, like other major US airlines, faces the threat of terror. The computer crash is likely to have been the result of malware that was secretly injected into the systems several months ago, and then activated to shut down the company’s critical systems, and even worse, to block implementation of its disaster recovery plan.
Since Delta’s primary systems were apparently infected with malware, there was no chance to operate the backups, so Delta engineers were forced to isolate segments of the systems, purge the malware and load backup systems. This long, painstaking and complex process takes days.
The chances of a programming or operational malfunction are believed to be slim, mainly because of the dispersal of the systems in different cities, countries and continents, as well as Delta’s large number of technology strategies, external suppliers and manufacturers.
Still, it cannot be ruled out that engineers started to fix a small local malfunction at 2:30 a.m. but caused a series of malfunctions that had a domino effect, causing the shutdown of the airline as well as losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.