Thursday, 16 November 2017

Zimbabwe: A COP23 Perspective.

Yesterday (15/11/17) Robert Mugabe retired from his role as President of Zimbabwe.

Very much the father of the nation Robert Mugabe is the only President that Zimbabwe has ever known. As such discussing the nature of his retirement requires you to go a very long way back in history.

From the 14th Century through to really the start of the 20th Century the European nations were in grip of the idea of; "Colonialism." That is to say they would travel the World establishing colonies and then suck those colonies dry for the benefit of a small European elite.

Probably one of the most famous of these colonies is what is now known as the United States of America (USA). They rebelled against their British colonial oppressors in 1776.

The nations of Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain were particularly interested in Southern Africa. Aside from its vast mineral resources in the days before the building of the Suez Canal Africa's Cape of Good Hope was the key logistical hub for ships travelling between the eastern and western hemispheres.

In 1870 a young British man by the name of Cecil John Rhodes arrived in Africa's southern cape. Despite briefly returning to the UK to study at Oxford University Cecil Rhodes spent most of his time buying up diamond mines. In 1888 he founded the De Beers diamond mining cartel.

In 1889 Cecil Rhodes used his role within De Beers to form the British South Africa Company (BSAC). With a Royal Charter from the British Crown BSAC's role was to take control of an exploit all the resources across southern Africa. Rather like the more famous British East India Company BSAC acted as a law unto itself with its own police force and army.

Almost immediately following its formation the British South Africa Corporation tried to seize control over the diamond fields in the Transvaal region of what is now known as the Republic of South Africa. This plunged them into a war against the descendants of Dutch colonialists known as the Boer who had settled the area as farmers.

By 1902 the BSAC had won this Second Boer War. This established as the area under its control what are now considered the nations of Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Although it was never an official term this area was known as; "Rhodesia" in honour of Cecil Rhodes.

In 1928 Britain gave what became the Union of South Africa status as an independent nation. Under duress from the Boers. In 1948 the Union of South Africa introduced the formalised system of White Supremacy known as apartheid.

In the 1960's both by what that time were known as Colony of Southern Rhodesia and the Colony of Northern Rhodesia also wanted to become independent states. In order to put pressure on the Boers in the Union of South Africa the British agreed. On condition those colonies ended their versions of apartheid.

The Colony of Northern Rhodesia was fine with this and became the nation of Zambia in 1964.

However the Prime Minister of the Colony of Southern Rhodesia Ian Smith refused to end apartheid. Instead he unilaterally withdrew from the British Empire and declared the independent nation of the Republic of Rhodesia with Salisbury as its capital.

This triggered a complex, three-way war known as;e "The Rhodesian Bush War." On one side you had Ian Smith's Republic of Rhodesia backed by the White Supremacist government of the Union of South Africa.

On another side you had the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU). The were backed by the Soviet Union as part of their; "Arc of Resistance" which also included the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC).

Britain however decided to pick a third side. The Zimbabwe African National Union -Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). They were led by Robert Mugabe.

In 1979 the ZANU-PF won the Bush War. In 1980 the independent nation of Zimbabwe was formed, Salisbury became Harare and Robert Mugabe President.

Britain backed the ZANU-PF on the assumption that upon becoming President Mugabe would immediately bring Zimbabwe back into what by that time had become the British Commonwealth.

Mugabe though saw things differently. He was going to run Zimbabwe for the benefit of the Zimbabwean people rather than for the benefit of a small British elite. He even merged the ZANU-PF with the ZAPU.

Obviously that sort of dangerous thinking could not go unpunished. So pretty much since 1980 Britain has been trying to oust Mugabe and replace him with an obedient little house boy.

Britain's main weapon in this effort has been economic. The thinking being that if Britain can destroy Zimbabwe's economy its people will rise up in some sort of colour revolution.

In order to achieve this Britain established a vast network of fake civil society and human rights groups to invent accusations. Those fake accusations are then used to impose sanctions.

Even the most well run democracy relies on a degree of patronage and vote buying. In America they refer to this as; "Pork."

Next week the UK will unveil its annual budget. As a result British politics is just grubby MP's grasping for a pay-off to consolidate their position with voters.

Probably the most bizarre example is Carlyn Harris' demand for a Child Funeral Fund. Which makes you wonder how much this Labour MP has tied up in child sized coffins.

Within Zimbabwe probably the most powerful constituency demanding patronage is the ZANU-PF veterans of the Bush War. Even in an absolutely Monarchy people who kill and die for their leader expect to be paid.

By tangling the Zimbabwean economy up in sanctions the UK has been trying to make it impossible for Mugabe to pay out the normal patronage governments have to deal with.

In the absence of hard cash Mugabe has instead offered a piece of Zimbabwe's natural resources. In 2000 he started handing out parts of Zimbabwe's lucrative farming sector.

Mugabe's retirement has come during the final week of the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In this age of the Paris Agreement it seems strange talking about the goals of the UNFCCC. It's almost as if you're reeling off a long list of things that will now never happen.

However prior to the UNFCCC's long suicide note much of the talk was about aiding less developed nations - particularly those in Africa - leapfrog over the fossil fuel stage of their economic development by providing them with green technology.

Those less developed nations main concern is that this leapfrogging hurts their ability to meet their other main developmental challenge - providing jobs.

At its most basic level something like coal mining is just smashing rocks with hammers. Therefore to provide that job a government doesn't also have to provide the same level of education you need to became something like a wind turbine maintenance engineer.

Although not strictly speaking coal mining one of the case studies frequently used to illustrate this point is the 2012 strike action by  platinum miners in Marikana, South Africa. This is in the Transvaal area that Rhodes' British South Africa Company fought the Boers over in 1889.

Many of the Marikana miners have no formal education and can barely read or write. However in 2012 they took strike action to increase their pay. This was to allow their children to go to school so they could get a job outside of mining or one of the more sophisticated jobs within mining.

Obviously if you were to taking mining out of the equation that small, incremental change would not be available to improve the lives of those miners and their families. Hardly something the South African government could sign up to.

Zimbabwe's farms are a prime example of what happens when this delicate process is rushed or goes wrong.

Prior to 2000 Zimbabwe's farms were run by extremely racist white farmers many of whom had emigrated from Britain to join Ian Smith. Being big supporters of apartheid they obviously kept their farming knowledge within white communities.

So when Mugabe handed the farms over to black Zimbabweans they lacked the required farming knowledge and the farms failed.

Also I should point out the UNFCCC goes to great lengths to include civil society and human rights groups as stakeholders within the process. The way these groups have been abused by Britain in their efforts to oust Mugabe makes many people extremely wary of them.

By retiring Robert Mugabe has handed control of Zimbabwe to his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. He obviously has a lot of challenges facing him. Including restoring control of Zimbabwe's farms to people who know how to run and operate farms properly.

His more immediate challenge though seems to be consolidating his power. This transition period has already got Britain's grubby little insects like Morgan Tsvangirai scuttling out of the woodwork.

18:25 on 16/11/17 (UK date).

Edited at around 18:50 on 17/11/17 (UK date) to add;

It turns out I'm finally drunk enough to declare a personal interest in all this.

As I said the British Crown backed Mugabe's ZANU-PF in the Bush War in the assumption that he would immediately bring the newly formed nation of Zimbabwe back into what was by then the British Commonwealth.

However if the house boy refused to be obedient they had a plan in place. They would establish a network of white loyalists within the nation to force Mugabe did as he was told.

Part of that network was supposed to include my father and his family. The hope was he would occasionally invite his father - my grandfather - to visit. During the Second World War my grandfather was - amongst other things - the bodyguard to Lord Mountbatten during the signing of the Japanese surrender.

Lord Mountbatten was of course effectively the adoptive father of British Prince Phillip who went on to marry British Queen Elizabeth II. He was killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) at Sligo Water in 1979.

I never got to meet by grandfather. By all accounts though he was a bit of a big lad. He even managed to keep my very Welsh grandmother in line for a good few years.

The reason why I never got to meet my grandfather is that just before the Zimbabwe plan was meant to go into action I was conceived and he died of a heart attack. As a result the Zimbabwe plan was cancelled.

So apparently it's all my fault Mugabe didn't bring Zimbabwe into the UK Commonwealth. Which nothing else proves Church of England (CoE) 'Protestants' can believe in the Catholic Christian concept of "Original Sin." When it suits them.

Also long term readers may remember that in 2013 I some small legal issues involving an entirely false claim of racially motivated criminal damage. These allegations were thrown out of Court during COP19. My innocence was not even questioned.

However in the summer long process which took us to that point there was a short but serious discussion over whether Zimbabwe would grant me political asylum/refugee status. After all the Zimbabwe High Commission in London is just across the road from a certain police station.

On Wednesday (15/11/17) the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) held a parade to congratulate Mugabe on his retirement and his service to the nation. It seems that in part this parade was planned by China.

I understand China's contribution to this parade was to schedule it for during COP23. Their intention being to throw all the above in everyone's faces. The hope being to divert attention from how much they're going to make Climate Change worst by growing ghg's under the terms of the Paris Agreement.

Scheduling aside though I think China's motives were legitimate.

Plans for Robert Mugabe's retirement really began in 1996 when he married Grace Marufu. This gold-digging bitch has absolutely nothing to do with the patriotic war of independence.

They gathered speed in 2015 when Robert Mugabe delivered a speech at the opening of Parliament. It was the same speech he'd given as his state of the nation address just two months earlier. Sadly he got through the entire speech without noticing.

They gathered even more speed when last week Robert Mugabe declared that he had fired Zimbabwe's Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Despite VP Mnangagwa not being present in the meeting in which Robert Mugabe claimed he had fired him.

I gather that tomorrow the Zimbabwean people will also be holding a parade to congratulate Robert Mugabe on his retirement and his service to the nation.

I really hope I don't need to make a joke about them needing to hold another parade about two hours later.

19:15 on 17/11/17 (UK date).

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Sulaymaniyah Earthquake.

At 18:18 (GMT) yesterday (12/11/17) a 7.3 Magnitude earthquake struck along Iraq's border with Iraq. The 'quakes epicentre occurred at a shallow depth of just 12km (7 miles) around 30km (20 miles) south of the town of Halabja.

On March 16th 1988 (16/3/88) Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attacked Halabja with a variety of chemical weapons including the nerve agents Sarin and VX. The attack was punishment against Iraq's Kurdish population who had sided with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. The attack killed at least 3,200 people and injured at least 7,000.

Any discussion about the use of chemical weapons - of which there have been many of late - is not really complete without mention of Halabja. However at the time international reaction was remarkably muted. The US even denied that its ally Iraq had committed such an atrocity and instead tried to blame it on their enemy Iran.

The entire area around Halabja sits on the faultline between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates. So earthquakes are not unheard of in the part of the World. However this is certainly the largest and possibly only earthquake I can remember and I've been heavily involved in this region for the past, nearly four years.

In the winter of 2013 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) overran Iraq's south-western Anbar Province. In the summer of 2014 ISIL overran the north-eastern Nineveh Plains area of Iraq including the city of Mosul.

ISIL are an apocalyptic group. They believe their actions will bring about the end of the World. They also believe that this apocalypse will be preceded by an increase in natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.

In April 2015 the central Iraqi city of Tikrit was liberated from ISIL.

In February and June 2016 the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar Province were liberated from ISIL.

In July 2017 the northern Iraqi city of Mosul was liberated from ISIL. This included the liberation of the entire Nineveh Plains area around Mosul and the area between Mosul and Tikrit. Particularly Hawija.

Although ISIL are clearly on the verge of their final battle there is some concern they maintain some presence in the mountainous areas of Sulaymaniyah Province. However this has not yet been confirmed to the point the Iraqis can go and do something about it.

While this has been going on the Iraqi Kurdish Region unilaterally held a vote declaring itself to be an independent nation state. This has led to weeks of tension as Iraqi forces have gradually pushed the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga force back into the Iraqi Kurdish Region from positions they seized in the fight against ISIL.

Sulaymaniyah is part of that Iraqi Kurdish Region. In fact if you include the Iranian Kurdish Region this hasn't been a cross-border earthquake at all. It has simply occurred in the central/southern area of Kurdistan.

The liberation of positions on the Iraq/Syria border west of Mosul led to people talking about the possibility of Iran creating a land bridge through Iraq and Syria.

Yesterday's (12/11/17) earthquake does look as though someone is physically trying to tear Iraq and Iran apart. Although technically I think it was caused by Iraq and Iran being pushed closer together.

Shia-Muslim Iran's main regional rival is Sunni-Muslim Saudi Arabia. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman is currently trying to modernise his country. This includes plans to build nuclear power stations to move away from fossil fuels like oil. There is understandably concern the plans for nuclear powers stations is actually a cover to build nuclear weapons to be used against Iran.

The earthquake occurred at the mid-way point of the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC deals almost exclusively with Climate Change. However in order to understand Climate Change you also have to understand all other aspects of the natural environment.

Up until a few years many Climate Change deniers would point to the greenhouse gases (ghg's) released from natural sources such as volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions are tectonic events which are frequently accompanied by earthquakes. So in order to discuss tectonic events effect on Climate Change you must first understand earthquakes and volcanoes.

Within the business of the UNFCCC there is an area of work known as; "Adaptation." Although everything is interconnected this does not set out to address the causes of Climate Change. Instead it helps nations adapt to the natural disasters caused by Climate Change.

There is certainly no known link between Climate Change and earthquakes. However the natural disasters which are caused by Climate Change such as droughts and the associated famines are slow onset disasters. They take months and sometimes even years of ever so slight changes until their effects can be seen.

Earthquakes by contrast are swift and violent with their effects being seen instantly. As a result earthquakes are often used to highlight the stark difference between rich nation's ability to respond to natural disasters and poor nation's ability to respond.

For example if a 7.0 Magnitude earthquake strikes a rich nation like Japan all that will happen is the electricity and natural gas supply will cut out of around 10 minutes due to an automatic failsafe.  If a 7.0 Magnitude earthquake strikes a poor nation like Haiti suddenly you're talking about 100,000+ dead and millions being made homeless.

One of the things that reduces the impact of earthquakes is a strong regulatory environment. In short regulations are passed to make sure buildings can withstand most earthquakes. Inspections are carried out to make sure those regulations are being followed and violators are prosecuted.

The UNFCCC hopes to use this approach to combat Climate Change. If you're passing and enforcing regulations to make sure buildings can withstand earthquakes, floods and hurricanes its quite easy to also have regulations making sure buildings are as energy efficient as possible.

At past COP Summits there has been extensive discussion of whether nuclear power plants of the type Saudi Arabia intends to build can be considered; "Green Technology." In short whether UNFCCC funds can be used to pay to build nuclear power plants for poorer nations.

In the end it was decided they can't be. The main argument against is that nuclear power is so complicated and potentially so dangerous they only way to do it safely is by building up a deep base of scientific knowledge. That comes only from building your own nuclear power plants rather than importing them from abroad.

The nuclear power debate within the UNFCCC was ended by the 9.0 Magnitude earthquake which struck Japan on March 11th 2010 (11/3/10). Amongst other things this caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Even as possibly the most technologically advanced nation on Earth the Japanese only just got away with that.

COP23 occurs at something of a strange time for the UNFCCC. At the COP21 Summit in 2015 the Paris Agreement was signed. However this does not go into effect until 2020. So at COP23 everyone is really sitting around waiting for either the Paris Agreement to take effect or to be scrapped.

Although there is certainly enough work to justify holding the COP23 Summit things are nowhere near as intense as the were at say COP21. As a result there is a bit of free time to discuss topics that are only loosely related to combating Climate Change.

As a result I am finding it hard to focus on and find a focus within COP23. At the same time I have a clear focus in Iraq and Syria from which I can't seem to escape.

So while I very much disagree with the Paris Agreement and think it needs to be scrapped and replaced I am not boycotting COP23 in protest. It just that amid a very hectic time for me I physically cannot find a way to make it a priority.

The big news to come of COP23 is that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad has signed up to the Paris Agreement. This means that all nations have now signed up to the Paris Agreement although the US has since withdrawn from it.

Like the Paris Agreement itself Bashar al-Assad's decision to sign up to it has absolutely nothing to do with combating Climate Change. By accepting Syria as a party to the Paris Agreement the UN is being forced to confirm that the government of Bashar al-Assad is the government of Syria.

While not even I have been making it a priority the war in Syria and Iraq has actually had a negative and extremely widespread environmental impact.

The war in Syria started because Turkey wanted to seize the nation by force and run it as part of a new Ottoman Empire. However much like Climate Change deniers supporters of the war have come up with a series of often extremely outlandish alternative causes.

One of these is that between 2006 and 2011 Syria experienced one of the worst droughts in its history. The claim is that this drought raised food prices triggering popular protests against the government.

Although it isn't true in this case that scenario isn't that outlandish. The national anthem of France where the Paris Agreement was signed is full of lines about slitting the throats of the rich to use their blood to water the fields of the poor. That's because the French Revolution of 1789 was triggered by drought and food shortages.

One thing the war has done is dramatically changed landuse within Syria.

Done properly farming cares for the soil and cuts down of soil erosion. Since 2011 farming in Syria has all but stopped being replaced by people setting off bombs left, right and centre. Bombs are very bad for the soil. Describing a bomb crater as an example of soil erosion seems like the height of understatement.

On September 11th 2015 (11/9/15) there was a mass storm at Islam's holiest site - Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Amongst other things this killed 107 people and caused a construction crane to collapse onto one of Mecca's main Mosques.

At the time there was lots of legitimate discussion amongst environmental scientists over whether the increased soil erosion caused by the sectarian war between Muslims in Syria had caused the storm which damaged Mecca. 

In an effort to dominate at COP23 amongst other things Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been putting on his version of the UK's "Paradise Papers." This centres around mass arrests on corruption allegations.

The arrested include the head of the Bin Laden construction company. Whose crane collapsed on Mecca on September 11th 2015 (11/9/15). They also include people involved in the official response to the severe flooding Saudi Arabia experienced in 2016.

With UNFCCC circles there has long been discussion about so-called; "Water Wars." In short Climate Change makes droughts worse. This causes nations to fight wars over dwindling water supplies or use control of those water supplies as a weapon against others.

In the Syria conflict that has started to happen. The main river is really the Euphrates River. This starts in Turkey and runs through Syria and Iraq into the Persian Gulf.

Over the winter of 2016/17 there were extremely heavy rains. This lead to concern the Tabqa Dam which forms Lake Assad out of the Euphrates in Syria could collapse under the weight of water. This concern forced the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to conduct an operation to take control of Tabqa Dam in March 2017.

Immediately after the SDF had taken control of the Tabqa Dam Turkish President/Prime Minister/Emperor Recep Tayyip Erdogan closed dams further upstream in Turkey. The intention being to starve Tabqa Dam of water to prevent the SDF from using it to generate electricity. When this failed Erdogan opened the floodgates in an attempt to flood SDF controlled areas.

Following yesterday's earthquake there is concern about damage to a number of dams across Sulaymaniyah Province.

As a provider of renewable energy hydroelectric dams are always a big talking point at COP Summits. They currently produce about 40% of the World's electricity and the UNFCCC would like to increase that number.

The other big environmental impact of the conflict is oil.

Rather than being refined in formal refineries the war has forced people to refine oil by the crude process. This involves slowly boiling oil in basically a metal bathtub until it turns into gasoline. This releases huge amounts of toxic chemicals into the air, soil and water.

Also ISIL in particular burn oil wells and tires to create toxic smoke to hide their positions from aircraft. In the Battle of Mosul they set fire to a Sulphur mountain close to Qarrayah.

Then you've got all the toxic chemicals and heavy metals released by bomb damaged buildings. I think the reconstruction of Mosul alone is going to provide the UNFCCC with case studies for years to come.

18:20 on 13/11/17 (UK date).

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Operation Featherweight: Month 40, Week 4, Day 4.

This should be read as a continuation of yesterday's post;

What has allowed the Syrians to turn their attention fully on ISIL is an agreement to suspend fighting with the other main terror group operating in the country; The Army of Conquest/Jaish al-Fatah.

This agreement was reached as part of the Astana Process on Syria. Formed in December 2016 This sees Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria meet periodically to discuss the conflict.

The first round of meetings in the Astana Process resulted in the announcement of a ceasefire of December 27th (27/12/16). This is known as the Astana Ceasefire.

Since its creation it has never been clear who the Astana Ceasefire does and does not apply to.

In line UN Security Council Resolution 2170 it does not apply to either ISIL or The Base/Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate The Support Front/Jabhat al-Nusra. At the insistence of Turkey is also does not apply to the SDF.

The confusion comes from the fact that the largest faction within the Army of Conquest is Al Qaeda's affiliate the Support Front.

The second largest faction within the Army of Conquest is the Islamic Movement of the Freemen of the Levant/Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (Ahrar al-Sham). They are very closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and through the Brotherhood to Qatar and Turkey.

Another significant faction within the Army of Conquest is the United Turkmen Army (UTA) who are sometimes known as the Syrian Turkmen Brigades (STB). This is formed of the paramilitary wing of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) known as the Grey Wolves.

Other factions within the Army of Conquest include the small but extremely nasty Army of Islam/Jaish al-Islam (JAI) who are linked to Saudi Arabia and Islamist fragments of the now defunct FSA.

This creates the question of whether the Astana Ceasefire applies to the Army of Conquest. Or does the presence of Al Qaeda within the coalition exclude all members of the coalition?

The fifth round of meetings in the Astana Process held on May 3rd (3/5/17) and May 5th (5/5/17). Here a suggestion was adopted to solve the problem with the Astana Ceasefire.

Rather than arguing about the extent of an individual group's affiliation to Al Qaeda four zones were established in areas where ISIL are not considered to be active. In these zones all fighting would be suspended regardless of whether that included Al Qaeda or not.

Four of these what are termed "Astana Zones" were created.

One was in the north of the country in Idlib Province centred around Idlib City. This area had already being designated; "The Sudetenland." In reference to Turkish President/Prime Minister/Emperor Recep Tayyip Erdogan's desire to annex it as part of his new Ottoman Empire. Exactly like Adolf Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Another two Astana Zones were created in central Syria. In and around Homs Province and in and around the capital Damascus. Particularly the East Ghouta suburb.

The fourth Astana Zone was created in southern Syria. In Deraa and Quneitra Provinces which border Jordan and Israel including the disputed Golan Heights.

Obviously the parties to the Astana Process agreed to these four zones for their own reasons.

For example Erdogan agreed to the establishment of the northern zone because he saw it as a way to annex the Sudetenland. The Syrians agreed to the central zones to free up resources to allow them to go and fight ISIL at the other side of the country.

However the one zone everyone could agree on was the southern zone.

Fighting in this area frequently saw artillery and rocket fire stray into Israel. Periodically Israel would respond attacking the group(s) responsible for the stray fire.

The conflict with in Syria is essentially a sectarian one between Sunni and Shia Muslims. What Sunni groups like the Army of Conquest and ISIL mean when they say they're being "oppressed" is that they're being forced to breath the same air as Shias.

Probably the only thing that unites the Sunnis and the Shias involved in the conflict is their shared hatred for Jews and Israeli Jews in particular.

As a result absolutely no party wants to see Israel join the conflict on their side. It would allow their opponents to portray themselves as the true Muslims and their opponents as the puppets of the Zionist state.

I mean can you imagine what it would do for the street-cred of ISIL, Al Qaeda or Hezbollah if Israel suddenly started acting as their air force?!

Within both the Astana Process and the UN sponsored Geneva Process the Army of Conquest are represented under the name; "Syrian Opposition" by Mohammad Alloush. He is the leader of the Army of Islam/Jaish al-Islam group who are based in southern and central Syria. Particularly in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

In July 2015 a series of propaganda video emerged showing prisoners being beheaded. This was very similar to the many execution videos ISIL released.

The twist though was that in these videos it was ISIL fighters who were the prisoners. They were being executed by members of the Army of Islam for not being extreme enough in their slaughter of the "apostate" Shias.

So in comparison to what is being internationally recognised as the "Syrian Opposition" ISIL are actually the moderates.

The seventh round of meetings in the Astana Process took place on October 30th (30/10/17) and October 31st (31/10/17).

In his role as the representative as the opposition Mohammad Alloush brought a long list of demands with him. These included primarily a demand for more international support to be given to the Army of Conquest and for Army of Conquest prisoners to be freed. Particularly from Homs Central Prison.

Russia approached this round of talks with a suggestion of its own. The Army of Conquest, the Syrians and the SDF meet directly. Either at Khmeimim Air Base in Syria or in Sochi, Russia. Something that Alloush had already indicated he would be very opposed to.

The seventh round of meetings in the Astana Process ended without a single concession on Alloush's demands. It did though end with an agreement from Turkey at least that the Army of Conquest, the Syrians and the SDF would meet for direct talks in Sochi on November 18th (18/11/17).

However since then Alloush has announced that the Army of Conquest will be boycotting the meeting. Turkey has also announced that it will also being boycotting the meeting if the SDF attend. The SDF already have some contact with the Syrians through the Russians. As a result the Sochi meeting has been postponed.

That is why I refer to "meetings within the process" rather than "talks." The talks never stop.

Alloush and the Army of Conquest have approached the Astana Process in much the same way as they've approached the Geneva Process.

They see them not as mechanisms to achieve peace in Syria. Instead they see them simply as a mechanism to remove Syria's secular government and put themselves in power.

As a result Alloush and the Army of Conquest are becoming extremely frustrated with particularly the Astana Process.

At around 17:50 on 11/11/17 (UK date) I will have to pick this up later.

Edited at around 20:10 on 11/11/17 (UK date) to add;

Amid this frustration Alloush and the Army of Conquest growing ever more exercised in recent weeks.

In preparation for the seventh round of meetings in the Astana Process the Army of Islam jacked up food prices in East Ghouta which they control. This meant that although there was ample food in the shops the poorer residents could not afford to buy it and a small number began to starve to death.

The Army of Islam then took photographs of their victims - particularly the photogenic babies - and circulated them on the Internet.

The intention being to force international aid agencies such as the UN and the Red Cross/Crescent to deliver more food aid. Which the Army of Islam would then sell at a massively inflated price using the proceeds to fund more terror attacks.

It must be said that legally and morally it is extremely difficult to explain why international aid agencies such as the UN and the Red Cross/Crescent feel they are able to operate in Army of Conquest controlled areas.

Following the seventh round of meetings in the Astana Process the Army of Islam became even more aggressive. They teamed up with Al Qaeda to form the Army of Mohammad (Alloush)/Jaish al-Mohammad Operations Room.

On November 3rd (3/11/17) this newly formed Army of Mohammad launched an operation designated; "Break the Chains of Harmon." The objective of this operation was to advance from an area known as the; "Beit Jinn Pocket" to the nearby Druze town of Hadar.

The Beit Jinn Pocket sits around 30km (15 miles) south-west of the West Ghouta suburb of Damascus. The town of Hadar sits around 5km (3 miles) beyond the Beit Jinn Pocket.

Both of them sit in the Syrian Golan Heights. The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) peacekeeping zone actually runs through Hadar and parts of the Beit Jinn Pocket.

The Druze are followers of an ancient religion quite unlike any other. The closest thing I can think of to compare their belief system to is the Unified Field Theory of Quantum Physics.

The Druze consider God to be physically present in all things at all times. They are very into numerology and the power of colour. They worship five key colours each representing a metaphysical power.

However if their sacred text the Epistles of Wisdom doesn't cover a subject they will seek guidance from other sacred text. After all they believe God is within those texts.

As such the Druze also follow practises commonly found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Even classical Greek and Roman philosophers.

One of the key differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims is that the Sunnis believe the Prophet Mohammad was God's final prophet. Shias believe there is one more prophet yet to be sent.

As a result Shias believe the Qu'ran can be interpreted by scholars while Sunnis believe it is not open to interpretation by humans. Shias sometimes venerate some of these scholars in rather the same way Catholics venerate Saints.

Druze believe that all things - including religious texts - can be interpreted on three levels; "Zahir," "Batin" and "Anagoge."

As a result when they interpret aspects of the Muslim faith they tend to lean toward the Shia branch of the religion. However they are Druze rather than Muslims so aren't either Sunni or Shia.

The important thing to remember though is that Salafi Sunni groups such as ISIL, Al Qaeda and the Army of Islam view the Druze in the same way they view followers of the Yezidi religion;

They are devil worshippers - worse even than the Jews - and they must be exterminated.

As they are a religion rather than a ethnic or national group you get Druze in all sorts of countries including Germany, Colombia, Australia and Canada. However the majority of them are spread across Israel, Syria and Lebanon.

Probably the most famous Druze at the moment is Amal Clooney. She's Lebanese born and currently lives in the US.

I am not going to re-argue the Six Day War here. However in 1967 Israel militarily took control of the Golan Heights.

This split Druze families apart. You had people who were convinced they were Syrian Druze like their parents and cousins suddenly waking up to discover they were in fact Israeli Druze.

At the best of times the Golan Heights are a delicate subject. There is after all the UNDOF peacekeeping force deployed there.

Along with the West Bank the Israeli Golan Heights are considered part of the 1967 Occupied Territories. However if Israel were to withdraw the Golan Heights would be returned to Syria rather than Palestine.

In the summer of 2015 the Army of Conquest - particularly the Army of Islam - conducted a series of massacres in Syrian Druze villages. Most notably in Qalb Lawza.

This genocide sent many Syrian Druze fleeing to safety in Israel. It also made the relatives of the massacred living in Israel extremely angry.

At the time the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) highly elite Golani Brigade were engaged in some battlefield diplomacy. They would occasionally allow wounded fighters belonging to the Army of Conquest into Israel for medical treatment.

Rather than being support this was a situation where people were pointing guns at each other. The alternative to allowing the wounded medical treatment was a full on shooting war.

When the Army of Conquest started massacring Syrian Druze Israeli Druze rioted through the streets in protest at Israel providing the Army of Conquest with medical care. This went so far that they hijacked IDF ambulances and killed the Army of Conquest fighters within.

Obviously Israel stopped providing the Army of Conquest with medical care.

The Army of Mohammad's objective in the Chains of Harmon offensive was to provoke this same backlash from Israel's Druze. The hope being that it would force Israel to act militarily against the Army of Muhammad to protect Syria's Druze.

In fact in an extremely rare move on November 4th (4/11/17) Israel said publicly that it would be prepared to intervene militarily in Syria to prevent a genocide at Hadar.

The Army of Mohammad's thinking was that if the IDF did fight them it would reinvigorate their cause. It would allow them to present the Syrian government as puppets of the "Evil Zionist Regime" and they as the only true Muslims prepared to slaughter the Jews.

Failing that it would tear apart the only Astana Zone that everyone can agree on. Hopefully bringing down the entire Astana Process with it. Fighting has also recently increased across all of the Astana Zones.

In the end the Israelis allowed Syrian Druze militias into Israel and then back into Syria to defend Hadar. By November 6th (6/11/17) the Chains of Harmon offensive ended in a decisive Syrian Druze victory.

As you would expect the Army of Mohammad has blamed the failure of the offensive on; "Collusion between the apostate Syrian Regime and the Zionists."

The US was granted observer status within the Astana Process back in January 2017. However the UK remains excluded.

In an effort to be included in the Astana Process the UK has been focusing its efforts on its relationship with Israel and this southern Astana Zone. After all you can quite clearly see into this Astana Zone from Israel.

Over the summer the UK's then Secretary of State (Senior Minister) for International Development Priti Patel held a series of off-the-books, back-channel meetings with various Israeli officials. This is a story that has been rumbling quietly in the British media for a couple of weeks now.

However it really exploded on - I think - Tuesday (7/11/17). It emerged that Ms Patel had visited the Israeli Golan Heights and suggested British aid money could be given to refugees there. The Syrian Druze who'd escaped genocide both in 2015 and earlier that week.

As longtime supporters of the Palestinian cause this made the UK Labour Party apoplectic with rage. They demanded that Ms Patel be fired from the government and on Wednesday (8/11/17) she was. Prompting talk about whether the Conservative government which lacks a Parliamentary majority could survive.

In doing this the UK Labour Party made themselves look extremely foolish.

For starters they publicly declared that keeping the British public safe from Islamist terrorism and protecting a religious minority from genocide were both things so shameful if you were to do it you should be fired immediately. Hardly in line with the image of a caring party Labour are trying to project.

Mainly though this was part of a wider British plan. Both for this week's Brexit negotiations and the ongoing 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23)to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Labour did not realise its role in this wider plan.

One of the most famous terror groups currently operating in Syria are a group calling themselves; "Syrian Civil Defence" who are often referred to as the "White Helmets." Although they claim to be a humanitarian group they are an armed terror group, indistinguishable from other groups such as the Army of Islam, Al Qaeda or ISIL.

The White Helmets played a key role in helping the Army of Islam starve civilians to death in East Ghouta as part of the preparations for the most recent round of Astana Meetings.

The White Helmets most high profile supporter in the UK was Labour MP Jo Cox. In June 2016 Jo Cox was eliminated by the British Security Service as a threat to national security. On Tuesday (7/11/17) the British Queen was handing out medals over the killing of Jo Cox.

This was intended to raise questions amongst Brexit and COP23 delegates;

Was the UK Labour Party calling for Priti Patel to be fired out of a deep, ideological support for the Army of Conquest. Or were they just blindly trying to bring down the government in a quest for power with absolutely no understanding of the wider issues?

I think you know which way I'm leaning on that question.

At COP23 in particular that was very stupid thing for Labour to be doing. Their last big effort to bring down the government and seize power was the June 13th (13/6/17) Grenfell Tower fire.

In part that fire was spread due to cladding attached to the outside of the building. Labour claim the cladding had been fitted for purely aesthetic reasons. The implication being that the evil Conservatives didn't want to look at poor people.

That Labour claim is whole and total lie. The cladding was fitted to reduce heat transfer and therefore greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions to allow Britain to meet its obligations under the UNFCCC.

So although it isn't officially on the agenda it is inevitable that the Grenfell Tower fire will come up at COP23.

There it will be discussed by fire investigators who may well have reached conclusions on the causes of the fire that are very different to the version of events London's Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan is currently trying to convince voters is true.

The UK is certainly interested in whether of those fire investigators are going to go public with their findings.

Also Priti Patel is a Hindu of Ugandan-Indian immigrant parents. These are some of the Indians that Idi Amin expelled from Uganda.

The major flaw of the Paris Agreement which serves the UNFCCC is that it is not legally enforceable. That means that nobody is actually obligated to do anything to combat climate.

Funnily enough with the exception of US President Trump politicians in many nations have had no trouble signing up to an agreement that doesn't require them to do anything.

Even within this honour based system nations like India are actually pledging to grow their ghg emissions. India is currently the World's fourth largest emitter of ghg's.

The current Prime Minister of India is Narendra Modi. He is a Hindu nationalists and his followers really do not like Muslims.

This dislike of Muslims has led to Modi being a big supporter of Israel. Just this week the Indian Air Force is participating in Israel's Blue Flag military exercises for the very first time.

Getting an Indian Hindu caught up in an Islamphobia scandal seems a good way for the UK to give Modi a poke in the ribs over his support for the Paris Agreement.

22:30 on 11/11/17 (UK date).

Friday, 10 November 2017

Operation Featherweight: Month 40, Week 4, Day 3.

This has to be read as a direct continuation of yesterday's post;

I should start by correcting a small error I made in that post.

I stated that both banks of the Khobar River from a Shadaddi to the Euphrates River had been liberated on November 6th (6/11/17). I also stated that the villages of Qushayriyah and Hariza sit on the Khobar north of Shadaddi.

In fact it was both banks of the Khobar River from Suwar to the Euphrates River that had been fully liberated on November 6th (6/11/17).

The villages of Qushayriyah and Hariza actually sit between Markadah and Suwar. Rather than sitting directly on the banks of the Khobar they sit slightly to the west between the Niamh and Siobhan axis. Their liberation is part of the efforts to secure the area behind the advances.

Also I completely forgot to mention that alongside battling to liberate Raqqa the SDF have also been advancing along with northern bank of the Euphrates. From Karamah to Deir-ez-Zour City.

On October 14th (14/10/17) the SDF liberated the Husayniyah area. This sits around 4km (2 miles) south-west of the Deir-ez-Zour Industrial Zone.

As a result the SDF established a continuous line of control from Raqqa to the Deir-ez-Zour Industrial Zone. Linking the Wrath of Euphrates and Cizre Storm operations.

The second distinct force currently conducting operations against ISIL in north-eastern Syria are the Syrians themselves.

Certainly since the early 1980's Syria has been supported by Iran. That support has continued. Since the spring of 2013 Syria has also been supported by the Iranian allied Lebanese group Hezbollah. In the autumn of 2015 Russia threw its considerable military support behind Syria.

Since May 2017 the Syrians have been conducting operations to liberate the centre of Syria from ISIL. Both in the north and the south of the country.

To the north the Syrians liberated the town of Maskanah on June 4th (4/6/17). The last ISIL occupied town in Aleppo Province Maskanah sits in the banks of the Lake Assad which is formed out of the Euphrates River. It sits around 90km (50 miles) west of Raqqa - the self-proclaimed capital of ISIL's self-proclaimed Caliphate.

This put the Syrians in close contact with the SDF's Wrath of Euphrates operation. So the Syrians diverted around Tabqa and Raqqa. On July 30th (30/7/17) they liberated the town of Dalhah. This sits on the Euphrates around 25km (15 miles) south-east of Raqqa.

At the same time the Syrians were advancing west-to-east across the south of the country from the capital Damascus.  By June 9th (9/6/17) they succeeded in reaching the Iraqi border at al-Tanf. This is located around 280km (170 miles) east of Damascus and 160km (95 miles) north-west of the Iraqi town of Rutba.

From al-Tanf the Syrians have advanced towards Palmyra around 180km (110 miles) to the north-west almost in the exact centre of Syria. Palmyra was of course liberated from ISIL by the Syrians in March 2017.

This established the al-Tanf - Palmyra Line.

The Syrians forces from Palmyra and Dalhah then converged on the town of as-Suknah on August 6th (6/8/17). As-Suknah sits around 130km (75 miles) south of Raqqa, 65km (40 miles) north-east of Palmyra and was the last ISIL held town in Homs Province.

From as-Suknah the Syrians objective has been to advance on the city of Deir-ez-Zour. This straddles the Euphrates around 120km (70 miles) south-east of Raqqa and around 120km (70 miles) north-east of as-Suknah.

Since March 2014 the entire portion of Deir-ez-Zour City which sits on the northern banks of the Euphrates has been under ISIL occupation. ISIL have also been able to occupy a portion of the city on the southern banks of the Euphrates. Broadly the Jbela and Hamidiyeh districts down to al-Arfi Street.

The Syrians however have been able to cling onto two pockets on the outskirts of the city;

To the west they have been limited to an area stretching from their 137th Brigade Base into the south-west of the city up to the Cemetery area.

To the east they have been restricted to an area stretching from the Airport complex into the south-east of the city up to the al-Rasafah district.

On September 5th (5/9/17) the Syrians were able to break through from as-Suknah to their 137th Brigade Base. This ended the more than three year siege on their forces in western Deir-ez-Zour City.

It also established the Suknah - Deir-ez-Zour Line.

On September 9th (9/9/17) the Syrians were able to advance across the Cemetery to the Harabesh Quarter district. This linked the west and eastern parts of Deir-ez-Zour city held by the Syrians lifting the siege on the Airport complex.

Rather than immediately moving to liberate all of Deir-ez-Zour City the Syrians first concentrated on liberating all of the areas around the city. This included the area north of the Suknah - Deir-ez-Zour Line along the banks of the Euphrates between Dalhah and Deir-ez-Zour.

This was completed on September 24th (24/9/17) with the liberation of the town of Madan. This sits around 55km (30 miles) south-east of Raqqa and around 65km (40 miles) north-west of Deir-ez-Zour City.

While the Syrians were doing this ISIL launched an offensive of their own.

Launched on September 28th (28/9/17) this was designated; "Abu Muhammad al-Adani Offensive." It was intended to break Syrian lines both between Deir-ez-Zour and as-Suknah and between as-Suknah and Palmyra.

On September 29th (29/9/17) the Syrians launched an offensive of their own to counter the al-Adani offensive.

By October 6th (6/10/17) they had pushed ISIL all the way back to the outskirts of Mayadin. This sits on the Euphrates around 60km (35 miles) south-east of Deir-ez-Zour.

On October 14th (14/10/17) the Syrians liberated Mayadin.

While they were repelling the al-Adani offensive and liberating Mayadin the Syrians also started liberating Deir-ez-Zour City itself. On September 19th (19/9/17) they crossed from the Airport complex into the Jafra Farms area.

On November 3rd (3/11/17) the Syrians fully liberated Deir-ez-Zour City. However ISIL do maintain a small presence on Hawijat Kati Island. This sits in the Euphrates north of the H7 Highway bridge.

The liberation of the cities of Mayadin and Deir-ez-Zour left ISIL in control of just one population centre in the Euphrates River basin. This is the town of Abu Kamal/Al-Bukamal. It sits around 8km (5 miles) from Syria's border with Iraq.

Alongside liberating Mayadin and Deir-ez-Zour cities the Syrians were also conducting another operation.

The were advancing from both the Tanf - Palmyra Line and the Suknah - Deir-ez-Zour Line on the T-2 Airbase.

With it's strange arrangement of runways in an X formation the T-2 Airbase sits just on the edge of the Abu Kamal municipal area. Around 70km (40 miles) west of the town itself. It is seen as the military gateway to liberating Abu Kamal.

On October 26th (26/10/17) the Syrians liberated the T-2 Airbase. On November 5th (5/11/17) the Syrians reached the Syria/Iraq border from the T-2 Airbase.

This led to some concern amongst CJTFOIR that this meant the Syrians would soon liberate Abu Kamal. From there they would be able to cross the Euphrates and advance north along the Syria/Iraq border cutting of the SDF's Cizre Storm operation. Hence the unfounded suspicions about the ISIL VBIED attack on the IDP camp close the Jafra Oil & Gas Field.

As the Syrians were doing all that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were conducting an operation of their own to liberate the al-Qaim municipal area. This was the last population centre under ISIL control in Iraq. It's sits on the Euphrates River around 15km (9 miles) from the Syrian town of Abu Kamal.

At al-Qaim ISIL were so unable to mount a defence that the operation happened so quickly I didn't have time to catch up with it. However it was launched on October 25th (25/10/17).

The operation was primarily conducted by the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) militias who are a recognised part of the ISF. Specifically the "Movement of the Party of God's Nobles/Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba" militia. They are not to be confused with Lebanon's Hezbollah although they are both Shia-Muslim groups.

On November 3rd (3/11/17) Syrian forces crossed into Iraq and liberated al-Qaim alongside Harakat al-Nujaba. On or around November 6th (6/11/17) Harakat al-Nujaba then crossed into Syria and liberated all the villages between the Syria/Iraq border and Abu Kamal. This allowed the Syrians to enter Abu Kamal on Wednesday (8/11/17).

Officially though none of that happened.

The battle for Abu Kamal has been somewhat confusing. Initially it appeared that ISIL fled the town in panic. That allowed the Syrians to declare the town fully liberated on Wednesday (8/11/17) - the same day they had entered it.

However it now seems that ISIL have been able to regroup outside of the town. Along with sleeper cells remaining in Abu Kamal they have launched something of a fightback. While the picture is still confused it is extremely unlikely that this counter-attack will succeed in re-capturing the city.

Obviously the SDF still need to complete their Cizre Storm operation by driving ISIL from the Syria/Iraq border north of the Euphrates River.

The Syrians also have some tidying up of their own to do. For example ISIL still maintain a small presence in Hama province where they are working with Al Qaeda on the boundary of the notorious "Sudetenland" area.

However we are days if not hours away from being able to say;

"ISIL Have Been Eradicated as a Territorial Force."

17:05 on 10/11/17 (UK date).


Thursday, 9 November 2017

Operation Featherweight: Month 40, Week 4, Day 2.

In the summer of 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) were at their most powerful.

They controlled large swathes of both Iraq and Syria. They'd declared themselves to be an Islamist Caliphate. Their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to be it's Caliph and the Syrian city of Raqqa to be its capital.

ISIL's peak really occurred in May 2015 when they seized the central Syrian city of Palmyra. This placed them in control of roughly 50% of Syria and allowed them to destroy the monuments and ruins of the ancient city some of which date back to 2000 B.C.

ISIL's destruction of Palmyra was part of a wider strategy by the group. They wished to destroy anyone and anything that did not agree with their own twisted ideology.

In August of 2014 this thirst for destruction saw ISIL conduct a genocide in and around the Iraqi town of Sinjar/Shingal. Here ISIL targeted members of the Yezidi religion whom ISIL considered to be devil worshippers.

Faced with the shame of this genocide the world was finally forced to act.

The United Nations (UN) issued resolution 2170 (2014) under Chapter 7 of its charter obligating military action against ISIL and their associates. This led to the formation of a US-led international military coalition. Combined Joint Task Force: Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTFOIR).

While the international community was mobilising in the autumn of 2014 ISIL launched an attack against the Syrian city of Kobane. This sits right on the border between Syria and Turkey around 30km (20 miles) east of the Euphrates River.

Kobane was defended by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). With scant support from CJTFOIR the YPG repelled ISIL's onslaught and finally drove them from Kobane in January 2015.

The YPG then set about driving ISIL from the area along the Syria/Turkey border between the Euphrates River in the west and Syria's border with Iraq. This was completed in July 2015 with the liberation of Tal Abyad - a border town around 45km (25 miles) east of the Euphrates.

In August 2015 the YPG had driven ISIL from the city of Hasakah. This sits around 60km (35 miles) west of the Syria/Iraq border and around 75km (45 miles) south of Syria's border with Turkey.

At the same time the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were working to drive ISIL from Iraqi territory. With no help from CJTFOIR they liberated the city of Tikrit in April 2015. This sits in the centre of Iraq around 175km (105 miles) north of the capital Baghdad.

In February 2016 the ISF liberated the city of Ramadi. This western Iraqi city sits around 100km (60 miles) west of Baghdad.

In June 2016 the ISF liberated the city of Fallujah. This also sits in western Iraq around 50km (30 miles) west of Baghdad and 50km (30 miles) east of Ramadi.

In July 2017 the ISF liberated the city of Mosul. This sits in northern Iraq around 400km (240 miles) north of Baghdad and around 130km (80 miles) south of Iraq's border with Turkey.

The liberation of Mosul meant that ISIL were limited to just the north-east of Syria in the area around the Euphrates River basin. The exception being the Iraqi town of Qaim. This sits on the Euphrates River just 15km (9 miles) inside of Iraq.

Within north-eastern Syria there have been two distinct forces conducting multiple operations against ISIL.

One of these is the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF/QSD). This is a coalition formed by the YPG in October 2015.

Alongside the YPG the SDF is made up of Assyrian/Syriac Christian, Turkmen and Arab Muslim forces. The Arab element which makes up around 50% of the SDF is comprised of both elements of the long defunct Free Syrian Army and local tribes indigenous to north-eastern Syria.

The SDF is supported by CJTFOIR both with air power and Special Operations Forces (SOF's). The SDF also contains a small International Brigade made up of foreign volunteers.

In November 2016 the SDF launched an operation codenamed; "Wrath of Euphrates."

The first phase of this operation saw the SDF advance south from positions around 70km (45 miles) north of Raqqa. This was completed in late November with the SDF taking up positions around 25km (15 miles) north of Raqqa having liberated around 600kmsq (360 milesq).

The second phase of the operation saw the SDF advance south along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River effectively from where it entered Syria from Turkey. This was completed in January 2017 with the SDF taking up positions at Lake Assad around 55km (30 miles) west of Raqqa. In the process the SDF liberated around 3,200kmsq (1.920 milesq).

The third phase of the operation saw the SDF advance to take up positions east of Raqqa. This was completed in March 2017 with the SDF taking up positions at Karamah around 30km (20 miles) east of Raqqa. In the process the SDF liberated around 1000kmsq (600 milesq).

On March 23rd (23/3/17) the SDF launched an operation to liberate the town of Tabqa. This sits on the southern banks of the Euphrates around 50km (30 miles) west of Raqqa. The adjoining Tabqa Dam forms Lake Assad out of the river.

On May 5th (5/11/17) the SDF completed the liberation of the town of Tabqa and took control of the Tabqa Dam.

On June 6th (6/6/17) the SDF launched an operation to liberate the city of Raqqa itself. After of 133 days on intense urban fighting Raqqa was fully liberated on October 19th (19/10/17).

The liberation of Raqqa however has not been the only operation the SDF have been conducting against ISIL in the Euphrates basin in Syria. On September 9th (9/9/17) they launched a second operation codenamed; "Cizre Storm."

At around 18:20 on 9/11/17 (UK date) I will have to pick this up after dinner.

Edited at around 19:55 on 9/11/17 (UK date) to add;

Their gains in Tal Abyad, Hasakah and Raqqa have given the SDF control over a vast area of northeastern Syria. As it encompasses parts of several of Syria's provinces and is constantly growing for operational reasons this has been designated; "Shangri-La."

The only area of north-eastern Syria which Shangri-La does not encompass is a roughly 1500kmsq (860 milesq) area stretching across the Khobar River.

Roughly in the shape of a triangle this has as its tip the point where the Euphrates River enters Iraq. It's base is an imaginary line stretching between the towns of Madan and al-Shadaddi.

Madan sits on the Euphrates River roughly 70km (40 miles) south-east of Raqqa and 110km (70 miles) north-west of Mayadin. Al-Shadaddi sits on the Khobar River roughly 150km (90 miles) east of Raqqa and roughly 130km (75 miles) north of Mayadin.

The objective of the Cizre Storm operation is to advance from the Madan-Shadaddi Line, across the Khobar River to where the Euphrates River enters Iraq. This will liberate the area from ISIL and properly establish Shangri-La with the Euphrates River as its southern boundary.

Initially the Cizre Storm operation made dramatic progress. After just four days it arrived at the Industrial Zone on the outskirts of Deir-ez-Zour City on September 13th (13/9/17).

The capital of Deir-ez-Zour Province Deir-ez-Zour City is located on the Euphrates River. Roughly 65km (40 miles) south-east of Madan and 50km (30 miles) north-west of Mayadin.

This was achieved by establishing a roughly 3km (1.8 mile) wide and 55km (30 mile) deep corridor from the Madan-Shadaddi Line to the Industrial Zone. Unfortunately the operation then stalled for a full seven days.

On September 20th (20/9/17) the Cizre Storm operation received fresh impetus. The SDF established three axis breaking off from the Industrial Zone corridor to the Khobar River.

As referring to the first axis, the second axis, the third axis gets tedious I decided to designate these as; "Aisling (Ash-lean)," "Niamh (N-eve)" and "Siobhan (She-vaughn)."

The first axis; "Aisling" advanced south-east from the Industrial Zone along the banks of the Euphrates in the general direction of the town of al-Zuwaymiyah. This sits on the junction where the Khobar River meets the Euphrates River roughly 8km (5 miles) from the Industrial Zone.

The second axis; "Niamh" advanced east from the Industrial Zone corridor towards the town of as-Suwar. This sits on the banks of the Khobar River roughly 9km (5 miles) from the Industrial Zone. It is connected to the Industrial Zone by the H7 Damascus to Qamishli Highway.

The third axis; "Siobhan" advanced south from Shadaddi towards the town of Markadah. This sits on the banks of the Khobar River roughly 45km (30 miles) south of Shadaddi and roughly 35km (20 miles) north of as-Suwar.

On September 26th (26/9/17) the Niamh axis reached as-Suwar and the town was fully liberated. It then began to advance north along the banks of the Khobar towards Markadah.

On October 4th (4/10/17) the Siobhan axis reached Markadah. However rather than moving to liberate the town the SDF encircled it and began to advance south towards as-Suwar.

On October 15th (15/10/17) the Niamh and Siobhan axis' kissed just south of Markadah. Once united they went on to liberate Markadah on October 20th (20/10/17).

Meanwhile the Aisling axis advanced steadily along the banks of the Euphrates. On September 23rd (23/9/17) it liberated the Conoco gas plant at the al-Isba Oil & Gas Fields. On September 30th (30/9/17) it liberated the Jafra Oil & Gas Fields.

On or around October 10th (10/10/17) the Aisling axis reached and liberated al-Zuwaymiyah completing its advance towards the Khobar River.

On October 20th (20/10/17) the Aisling axis crossed the Khobar River quickly liberating the villages of al-Mashiqa, al-Lawziyah and Shuhayl.

On October 22nd (22/10/17) the Aisling axis had fully liberated the Omar Oil & Gas Field. Being some 160kmsq (95 milesq) in area the liberation of the Omar Oil & Gas Field now puts the SDF's Aisling axis just 40km (25 miles) from Syria's border with Iraq.

On November 5th (5/11/17) the Aisling axis liberated the Sarhit, Shudayha, Younes, Galban and Shaitat Oil & Gas Fields. These small fields sit in an area just beyond the main Omar Oil & Gas Field.

Having raced across the Khobar the Aisling axis has mainly been concentrating on securing the area along the banks of the Euphrates between the Deir-ez-Zour Industrial Zone and the Omar Oil & Gas Field.

On October 26th (26/10/17) it succeeded in liberating the village of Jadid Uqaybat. This sits around 15km (8 miles) west of where the Euphrates meets the Khobar and around 8km (5 miles) south of the Jafra Oil Field. It is significant because it is the birthplace of Amer al-Rafdan - one of the founders of ISIL.

Also on October 26th (26/10/17) the Aisling axis liberated the town of Diban. This sits on the opposite bank of the Euphrates from Mayadin around 20km (12 miles) east of where the Euphrates meets the Khobar.

On Tuesday (7/11/17) the Aisling axis began advancing on the town of Busayrah. This sits almost on a island directly where the Khobar and Euphrates Rivers meet.

On Wednesday (8/11/17) the SDF began their operation to liberate Busayrah entering the town. They also liberated the village of al-Khan which overlooks Busayrah.

Today (9/11/17) the SDF liberated al-Shahi another village which overlooks Busayrah. Efforts to liberate Busayrah itself are ongoing.

On Saturday (5/11/17) the SDF got a sharp lesson in why alongside making rapid advances it is important to secure the areas behind those advances.

A Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) attacked a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP's) located between the Jafra and al-Isba Oil & Gas Fields. It killed at least 100 civilians.

At the time there was some suspicion - particularly amongst CJTFOIR - that this attack had been carried out by Syrian forces rather than ISIL. The suspicion being that it was intended to put pressure on the SDF's Aisling to focus on securing its lines rather than advancing towards the Syria/Iraq border.

However those suspicions have proved to be unfounded. The attack was carried out by ISIL and was motivated by nothing more than the vicious spite of a soon to be eradicated enemy.

Having met just south of Markadah on October 15th (15/10/17) the Niamh and Siobhan axis have been jointly working to liberate the towns and villages in the Khobar River basin. On both the west and east banks.

On October 26th (26/10/17) the combined Niamh and Siobhan axis liberated the town of Adil. This sits on the eastern banks of the Khobar around 5km (3 miles) south of as-Suwar.

In quick succession the SDF then liberated the villages of Harqa, Badiyh al-Hurayji, Bir Mazaal, Bir Sayad and Suwaylem on October 31st (31/10/17). On November 2nd (2/11/17) they liberated Jadidah Baqarah.

On Monday (6/11/17) the SDF's combined Niamh and Siobhan axis' liberated  al-Kajah, al-Hujnah, Tayib al-Far and Sukkar. This completed the liberation of the Khobar River basin from Shadaddi to the Euphrates River.

Since then he SDF's combined Niamh and Siobhan axis' have focused on liberating the Khobar River basin north from Shadaddi to Hasakah.

On Tuesday (6/11/17) they liberated the village of Qushayriyah. Today (9/11/17) they have liberated the village of Hariza.

I will have to leave the second force currently conducting operations against ISIL in north-eastern Syria until tomorrow.

21:55 on 9/11/17 (UK date).

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Back to House.

Yes it is Tuesday night. No I have not been to the pub.

Yesterday (6/11/17) I complained that with the COP23 Summit and the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) life was being really hectic. So I did the only logical thing when times are troubled. I started binge watching the US TV show; "House."

This is the perfect thing for uncertain times. After all each episode across all eight seasons is the same predictable three act play.

Act One: A person is admitted to hospital with a mystery illness.

Act Two: The doctors think they have diagnosed the illness and start treatment. The treatment fails.

Act Three: The doctors diagnose another illness and start treatment. That treatment works and everybody ends up happy.

The show is that predictable that even if you come in half-way through you can tell you're in Act Two because someone will use the line; "Is it Lupus?"

This predictability became such a running joke apparently the writers started using it as a punishment. The actor who'd annoyed them that week would be given the line. Then at the end of each season they'd tot up how many times each actor had used the line. The one who'd used it the most then had to pay a fine.

Re-watching all this I can't help but regret that the show ended before they were able to cast Selena Gomez as a gueststar. After all this US popstar/actress has got to be the World's most famous Lupus sufferer. It might just be the magazines I read but it seems like every day I'm reading about Selena Gomez's battle with Lupus.

Reading those articles though uou can see why Lupus is such a staple of medical mystery dramas.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system sometimes gets confused and starts attacking normal, healthy cells. Although I'm sure there is a good reason for this at present no-one seems to know what that reason is. Nor do they know why it stops and goes into remission as suddenly and mysteriously as it starts.

The most common treatment for Lupus is through low doses of a powerful chemotherapy drug. This suppresses the immune system to stop it attacking healthy cells. The irony is that this drug sometimes decides to team up with the Lupus and they both start attacking healthy cells.

Normally Lupus attacks the soft tissue in the joints such as the hands, knees, feet etc. This leads to inflammation that is extremely painful and can seriously effect someones quality of life.

However on rare occasions Lupus can start attacking healthy cells in the vital organs.

The big example from Selena Gomez was the kidneys. The Lupus causes inflammation in the kidney preventing it from doing its job. In Selena Gomez's case this became so severe that she had to have a kidney transplant.

In a way Selena Gomez was lucky. Most humans have two kidneys and really you only need a quarter of one in order to live. As a result transplants can be arranged from a live donor and if not you can live on kidney dialysis for years.

It's much more serious if the vital organ affected is something like the lungs. You can't really do a lung transplant from a live donor and you use your lungs so many times a minute you can't really wait a week to fit in an appointment at a dialysis clinic.

If Lupus starts attacking the soft tissue in the lungs then they can no longer supply the bloodcells with oxygen. This means that the bloodcells can longer supply all the other cells in the body with oxygen. Below a certain point those cells shutdown and die. This is known as respiratory failure and can lead to a much more serious medical condition known as; "Death."

Fortunately that failure point is actually extremely low. Normally Lupus goes into remission long before things reach that point. If it doesn't you can use steroids to suppress the immune system shutting down the Lupus. You can also gives the lungs extra help in the form of oxygen, pressurised oxygen and even, in extreme case, intubated ventilation.

The medical drama doesn't end there though. If you start suppressing your immune system - particularly if you've got damaged lung tissue - you become very susceptible to all the bacteria, virus' and fungi that hurtle around during Flu Season.

Synonymous with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) probably the most famous of these is Pneumocystis Pneumonia (PCP). Although as a general rule if you're going to get one of these opportunistic infections you're going to get all of them.

Last Tuesday (31/10/17) there was an Islamist terror attack in New York City, New York, US.

This led to some discussion about whether the alleged attacker should be transported to Guantanamo Bay and subjected to interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. This involves pouring water over a person's face to simulate drowning.

ISIL make frequent use of Chlorine gas as a Chemical Weapon. This mildly inflames the soft tissue in the lungs.

Both waterboarding a chlorine gas are designed to make people think they cannot breath. The intention being to make the person panic. When you panic the body thinks you need more oxygen. Something which you can't do making the panic much worse.

So if you ever find yourself in a situation like that it's important to remember that you're not going to die. Well not of that. Not in the foreseeable future.

Also Southern Rail are dicks. That's nothing to do with anything. I just think we all need to be periodically reminded that Southern Rail are dicks.

Tomorrow (8/11/17) members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers across Britain are going on strike in a dispute about driverless trains.

Customers of Southern Rail are not expected to notice.

23:45 on 8/11/17 (UK date).

Monday, 6 November 2017

The Sutherton Springs Shooting (skeleton)

On Sunday (5/11/17) there was a mass shooting in the small town in Sutherton Springs, Texas, US. This attack has left at least 26 people.

Today (6/11/17) the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC deals with literally everything under the Sun. So meetings such as COP23 are usually accompanied by a variety of stunts and coded messaging between nations.

This year the UK seems to have opened the bidding with an BBC expose which has been dubbed; "The Paradise Papers." This reveals the dealings of tax havens across the Caribbean. Particularly the island of Bermuda.

COP23 is being held in Bonn, Germany. However officially it is being hosted by Fiji. Within UNFCCC negotiations Fiji is part of a distinct group of nations called; Small Island Developing States (SIDS). This group includes many of the Caribbean islands such as Bermuda.

Although there is a wide variety within the SIDS grouping these nations tend to be medium to poor income nations.

However that lack of economic development being the result of poor governance. Instead the size of their economies is limited by their size.

For example the British Virgin Islands has a tax base of just 30,000 citizens. As a result many of them act as tax havens to boost their economies. After 1% tax on USD10m nets a lot more money than a 20% tax on USD20,000.

Through Hurricanes Irma and Maria the Caribbean SIDS have been in the news a lot recently. In that coverage pretty much every lazy journalist used the headline; "Paradise Lost" in a play on John Milton's epic poem.

There is a US TV show called; "The Unit." This is about a secret Special Operations Forces (SOF) Unit. Their cover is that the are members of; "303 Logistical Studies Group." That highlights the overlap between war fighting a the military's expertise in logistics which is makes them extremely useful in responding to natural disasters.

In one episode of The Unit they use the Milton poem as a code cipher. Although the show continued long afterwards that Paradise Lost episode is the last one distributed in the UK. It's provided for a silly media in joke.

The shooter in Sutherland Springs had been discharged from the US Air Force. He'd served in a logistical studies group.

At the time many people suggested Hurricanes Irma & Maria were punishment for President Trump withdrawing the US from the UNFCCC's Paris Agreement. To me though it seemed like a reward.

Although bad Hurricanes Irma & Maria were not as bad as they might've been. Irma in particular seemed to protect the US by lashing out at Cuba. Something Trump likes to do.

Also they provided Trump with an opportunity to show himself to be a competent leaders. His Democrat critics were so desperate for a "Katrina Moment" that never arrived they resorted to sabotaging the relief effort on Democrat-run Puerto Rico.

By calling attention to the Caribbean SIDS the UK seems to be indicating that it too would like to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Even if they're not prepared to say it explicitly.

Mainly though it is an attempt to dominate proceedings. Already the Paradise Papers have raised the issue of the Trump/Russia saga and linked to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It will likely reference many more things over the next two weeks.

As a Church shooting events in Sutherton Springs invokes memories of the June 17th 2015 (17/6/15) Charleston shooting.

A major element of UNFCCC negotiations is the issue of good governance and the rule of law. After all there's no point passing a domestic law to cut pollution if it's not enforced.

The main failing of the Paris Agreement is that it has no legal force. So people are free to cheat.

Following the Charleston shooting then President Obama gave eulogies at some of the funerals and declared the accused shooter guilty. This denied him a fair trial.

Although it was more a series of incidents across the Black Lives Matter campaign within UNFCCC the Charleston shooting became a symbol of how Obama cannot be taken seriously on issues of rule of law and good governance.

COP23 takes place at the same time as President Trump's tour of Southeast Asia. This region was at the centre of Obama's "Pivot Towards the Pacific" policy. At the centre of that policy is the Democrat People's Republic of Korea (DPRK/North) nuclear weapons program.

Within nuclear warfare strategy there is something called; "Madman Theory." This dictates you must show an opponent you are prepared to sustain very high casualties and even certain death to achieve your aims.

As with the Mandalay Bay shooting the fourth worst mass shooting in US history certainly makes that gesture.

Also there is a strategically important airbase in Syria know as T-2. This is really the Syrians gateway to the city/town/village of Abu Kamal. ISIL's last real position in either Syria or Iraq.

The runways at T-2 form an X shape. Rather like the crossroads by the Church in Sutherton Springs. Also one of the actors in The Unit starred in the movie; "Terminator T2."

I stopped short of dealing with the T-2 issue in my last previous most because it requires more attention then I could give it at the time.

Due to COP23 I really need to be reading rather than writing. So I'm not about to dive in now.

21:30 on 6/11/17 (UK date).