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Echoing Mount Sinjar, SNC Says ISIL Strands 7,000 on Syria-Turkey Border

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 18 -- The day after the US House of Representatives voted to arm and train "moderate" rebels in Syria, the Syrian Opposition Coalition said training 5,000 will not be enough. An hour later, they put out a statement about ISIL stranding 7,000 civilians on the Syrian - Turkish border:

"As the 'Islamic State' intensifies shelling on Ayn al Arab (Kobanę in Kurdish) in northern Syria, thousands of people remain trapped in the towns and villages in the area. As as a result, activists reported a mass exodus of civilians from the neighboring villages of Kaalak, Zark Qumshi, Zalkhek, and Turaman. The Syrian Coalition condemns ISIS's brutal tactics and calls on Turkish authorities to open borders in the area and provide refuge to those fleeing from the barbaric group. More than 7000 civilians are reported to be stranded along the Turkish Syrian borders since Thursday, most of them women and children."

 Echoes of Mount Sinjar in Iraq - and that led to airstrikes. Earlier on September 18, the Syrian Coalition put this out:

"Abdelahad Astepho, member of the political committee, said that the US Congress’s vote in favor of President Obama’s plan to train and equip the Free Syrian Army is 'a step in the right direction though it was made late. Limiting the training and equipment program to 5,000 FSA fighters is not enough to counter the threat of the Assad regime and ISIS. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the number of trainees to solve the whole problem of terrorism once and for all. Moreover, limiting the program to this small number may prolong the bloody conflict, thus prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people.' Astepho calls on the US Senate 'to back the training and equipment program and for its immediate implementation, as any delay will cost Syrians more lives. Any delay in the implementation of this plan will lead to further expansion of the terror practiced by the Assad regime and the terrorist group ISIS.'"

 This after on the Senate floor just who these "moderate" rebels are was still being questioned. If 5000 is not enough, how many would be? To the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 17, former Ambassador Bob Ford said there are 80,000 "non-Nusra, non-ISIL" rebels. Where do these figures come front?

   Back on September 13, hours after US President Barack Obama's speech, the Syrian Coalition put out a press release requesting airstrikes and cash from Congress, pronto.

  Now on September 13 the Coalition has put out this, about UN envoy de Mistura:

"Khatib Badla, member of the political committee, said that the new UN special envoy to Syria will not be able to succeed in his mission if he follows the same approach followed by his predecessors who failed to bring the Assad regime to the negotiating table," commenting on the statements of the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who described as “useful" his meeting with Assad...

 De Mistura has described his meeting with Assad as “long and very useful,” and underlined the “necessity of combating terrorism and helping Syrians solve their crisis politically. “Terrorist threats have become a source of concern for people all over the world, de Mistura told reporters after the encounter. He added that “combating terrorist groups is one of the UN's priorities and this move would not be made without solving the country's crisis to create better situations for Syrians, stressing this move would be made to coincide with a comprehensive political process taking into consideration UN Resolution 2170 tasked with combating terrorism.”

  Inner City Press five days ago asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric the following, in writing:

"please confirm or deny that Mr. de Mistura will be (allowed to be) based in Brussels, and separate state his contract status: When Actually Employed? Paid at USG level? Is he being allowed to continue working with / for any non-UN organization, if so which, and what review of possible conflicts of interest was made, and by whom?"

  Five days and no answer: UNtransparent.

On September 11, the Syrian Coalition's Hadi al-Bahra said:

"We urge the US Congress to approve the president’s policy as soon as possible, and to allow the training and equipping of Free Syrian Army. The Syrian Coalition, the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, stands ready and willing to partner with the international community not only to defeat ISIS but also rid the Syrian people of the tyranny of the Assad regime. Carrying out airstrikes against ISIS inside Syria might be crucial to international efforts aimed at eliminating the extremist group."

  The Turkey-based Coalition is calling for air strikes on Syria with no mention of even seeking UN Security Council approval; their lobbying is directed at the US Congress because inaction might tie up the money.

  Where is this all headed?

   Obama's September 10 speech was 2010 words long, mentioning Yemen and Somalia twice each, but Libya not once. Libya was an intervention Obama directed for the US, that has left dueling militia and missing passenger jets in its wake.

   The speech mentioned the UN once, the UN Security Council session on foreign fighters that Obama will chair on September 24. But what about at least seeking UN Security Council approval for air strikes on Syria? Apparently not.

   In calling for the arming of the Syrian opposition, including by Saudi Arabia, some question the qualitative difference with arming and training of rebels in Ukraine and snark: my rebels good, your rebels bad.

   Before the speech there were these quotes, embargoed until exactly 6:30 pm:

“So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”
“But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

  Whether it has been successful in Yemen -- where the Houthis drove all the way to Sana'a -- or Somalia where the US' local partners raised Shabelle Media, is UNclear. We'll cover the speech.

   Starting from the beheading of US journalist James Foley, the Syrian Coalition has pushed harder to equate Assad and the Islamic State, and to present themselves, based in Turkey, as a key to fighting ISIL. Their pitch on the Arab League meeting is below.

 But first, this read-out from a Senior US State Department official, of Secretary of State Kerry's call with Nabil al-Arabi:

"Secretary Kerry spoke with the Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby today to discuss developments in the region and to provide an update on efforts to combat ISIL in advance of the Arab League meetings which start tomorrow.  They discussed the need for the Arab League and its members to take a strong position in the coalition that is developing against ISIL and the importance of decisive action to stop the flow of foreign fighters, counter ISIL's financing, and combat its incitement.

"The Secretary emphasized that the military aspect is only one part of this effort and that to degrade and destroy the threat posed by ISIL will require a holistic approach that will take time, persistence and require coordination with our Arab partners at the international, regional, and local level – combining military, law enforcement, intelligence, economic, and diplomatic tools. Both leaders also recognized that Iraq is on the front line in the war against ISIL and that Iraq, the United States, the region, and the international community must stand together to assist Iraq in facing this threat."

  Earlier on September 6 the Syrian Coalition issued a statement that:

"Nasr al-Hariri, Secretary General of the Syrian Coalition, calls on the Arab League to go beyond political recognition of the Syrian Coalition and grant it full legal recognition as the representative of the Syrian people during a meeting held today with Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi.

 "Al Arabi invited the Syrian Coalition to occupy Syria’s seat in the Arab League tomorrow and speak on behalf of the Syrian people. 'Fighting terrorism cannot be done piecemeal, therefore the Arab League’s resolution must include putting an end to the terror practiced by the Assad regime against the Syrian people,' Al Hariri said commenting on the Arab League’s intention to pass a resolution to confront terrorism during the upcoming ministerial meeting."

  The Syrian Coalition said it will churn out a quote right after Obama's speech.

Footnote: Agence France Presse, purporting an info-graphic of journalists killed last year, listed four as killed "in Gaza." Since all other listed jurisdiction are full UN member states, some surmised AFP's nomenclature let off the hook the killer of those journalists. Despite calling it social media, weeks later AFP had not responded.


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