Moscow slams ‘illegal’ US presence in Syria as Pentagon reserves right for ‘defensive’ attacks

Russia has reminded the US that its presence in Syria is illegal after the coalition struck pro-government militias. Washington however reserved the right for “defensive” attacks to achieve peace “from a position of strength.”

The US presence in Syria is “actually illegal,” the Russian Ambassador to the UN reminded his Western counterparts on Thursday at a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council. “Nobody invited them there,” Vasily Nebenzya stated, emphasizing that a hard fought for stability in Syria is being jeopardized by US actions.

On Wednesday, the US-led coalition said it carried out several “defensive” airstrikes on Syrian forces in Deir Ez-Zor province in retaliation for what they described as an “unprovoked” attack on the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and foreign military “advisers.”

FILE PHOTO. Oil well on the outskirts of the city of Deir ez-Zor. © Mikhail Voskresenskiy

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Syrian militia unit was advancing against a “sleeper cell” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists near the former oil processing plant of al-Isba, when it suddenly came under massive air strikes. At least 25 militiamen were injured in the attack, the Russian MoD noted, clarifying that pro-government troops targeted by the coalition did not coordinate their operation with the Russian command.

The US, however, maintains that the militia attacked the SDF. The Pentagon said Syrian forces moved “in a battalion-sized unit formation, supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars.” The battle which lasted over three hours, the US claims, began after 30 artillery tank rounds landed within 500 meters of the SDF unit’s location.

“At the start of the unprovoked attack on Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers, coalition aircraft, including F-22A Raptors and MQ-9B Reapers, were overhead providing protective overwatch, defensive counter air and [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] support as they have 24/7 throughout the fight to defeat ISIS,” Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told

“Following a call for support from Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, a variety of joint aircraft and ground-based artillery responded in defense of our SDF partners, including F-15E Strike Eagles,” he said in a statement Thursday. “These aircraft released multiple precision-fire munitions and conducted strafing runs against the advancing aggressor force, stopping their advance and destroying multiple artillery pieces and tanks.”

@RT_com 'Actions of the US coalition do not comply with legal norms. Beyond all doubt, it is aggression'

Damascus called the attack a “war crime,” while the Russian military asserted that Washington’s true goal is to capture “economic assets” in Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova affirmed that the US military presence in Syria poses a dangerous threat to the political process and territorial integrity of the country, while Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the strike another violation of Syria’s sovereignty by the US.

The US, however, remained unmoved, promising to continue to support the US-allied forces in Syria at any cost. “We continue to support SDF with respect to defeating ISIS... ISIS is still there, and our mission is still to defeat ISIS,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Thursday. “We will continue to support them. Our goal is to ensure that our diplomats can negotiate from a position of strength, with respect to the Geneva process.”

@RT_com 'What right does the US have to defend illegal formations in Syria?' - former US diplomat @JimJatras

“They [US] constantly assert that they are fighting international terrorism there, but we see that they go beyond this framework,” Nebenzya told the UNSC. He warned the US-led coalition members that it is “criminal” to engage the only forces “who actually fight” international terrorism in Syria.

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Coalition will investigate own airstrike that reportedly killed 30+ civilians in Syria – Pentagon

The Pentagon will aid in investigating reports that at least 33 civilian died near the Syrian town of Raqqa during a US-led coalition airstrike, officials said on Wednesday, following accusations from both local media and monitoring groups based abroad.

“At this time, we have no indication that an airstrike struck civilians near Raqqa as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims,” said an official statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“However, since we have conducted several strikes near Raqqa we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation.”

“CJTF-OIR [Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve] takes all reports of civilian casualties seriously and assesses all incidents as thoroughly as possible. Coalition forces work diligently to be precise in our airstrikes. Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.”

According to local media reports, bombs from a US-led coalition plane hit a school in Al-Badia Al-Ad Dakhiliyah in the south of Al-Mansur, where at least 50 families from Raqqa, Palmyra, and Aleppo had been taking shelter. The school building itself was completely destroyed.

Al-Mansu is around 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) west of Raqqa, which is held by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Earlier in March, officials from Operation Inherent Resolve admitted responsibility for at least 220 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq during their campaign against IS. However, the monitoring group Airwars has asserted that this figure may be far below the real death toll, which may be as high as 2,700.

The Pentagon admitted that it had carried out 19 strikes near Raqqa on Monday, three of which destroyed a local IS base. The airstrikes are meant to support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of armed groups currently advancing on Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the extremist Islamist group.

On March 16, a mosque packed with worshipers in the Syrian village of Al-Jinah was hit by a missile strike in which at least 50 people were reportedly killed. The Pentagon has denied responsibility, claiming that it had targeted a nearby town hall being used as a meeting place for IS, with spokesman Captain Jeff Davis claiming the mosque remained “relatively unscathed,” despite video evidence to the contrary.

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Russia disagrees with Trump labeling Iran ‘number one terrorist state’

Russia disagrees with a remark recently made by US President Donald Trump’s that branded Iran as “the number one terrorist state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, citing partnership between Moscow and Tehran.

“We do not agree with the definition,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday. “All of you know that Russia enjoys warm relations with Iran, we do cooperate on a range of issues, and we do appreciate our economic ties which, we hope, will go further,” he added.

Trump lambasted the landmark nuclear deal reached in 2015 between Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States, plus Germany), and the European Union.

In the first part of the interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, which was published on Sunday, Trump said “they [Iran] have total disregard for our country, they’re the number one terrorist state, they’re sending money all over the place and weapons.”

Earlier in February, one day after the White House imposed new sanctions on Iran in response to a ballistic missile test, US Defense Secretary James Mattis called Tehran the world’s “biggest state sponsor of terrorism.”

“It's no secret for anyone that Moscow and Washington hold diametrically-opposed views on many international and regional policy issues,” said Peskov. “Meanwhile, it can’t be and should not be an obstacle when it comes to forging normal communication and pragmatic mutually-beneficial relations between Russia and the US.”

A meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, is currently being arranged, Dmitry Peskov also said on Monday.

“Such contacts are being prepared. We’ll inform you of the possible date in due time,” Peskov said when asked if a meeting with the Iranian president was on Putin’s schedule.

Earlier on Monday, Russia’s ambassador to Iran, Levan Dzhagaryan, told RIA Novosti that “Rouhani’s visit [to Russia] is expected to take place in late March.”

“During the talks with the Russian leadership, [the sides] will discuss the main aspects of bilateral relations concerning the political and trade and economic sectors. Aside from this, attention will be paid to the most urgent issues on the regional agenda, such as the situation in Afghanistan, the Caspian problem, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Dzhagaryan said.

The Syrian issue will also “take up significant space in the agenda of negotiations,” the ambassador added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov echoed the Kremlin’s statement, stressing that Tehran takes an active part in fighting Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL).

“Iran has never been complicit in any links to IS or Al-Nusra Front whatsoever,” the minister said.

“Moreover, Iran contributes to combatting IS. We have long advocated the idea of creating a unified anti-terrorist front. I am convinced that Iran must be part of our common effort if we evaluate potential contributors to such an alliance objectively,” Lavrov said.

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Pentagon and CIA to Decide on Illegal Interrogation Methods

Washington, Jan 26 (Prensa Latina) The possible US decision to reintroduce illegal interrogation methods to prisoners falls today to the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to President Donald Trump.

According to him, who will serve a week in office tomorrow, drowning and other procedures, considered as torture, works well.

However, Trump assured in an interview last night with ABC that he will let the respective Pentagon and the CIA chiefs, James Mattis and Mike Pompeo, decide on the existence of such practices.

I will respect what they say; if they do not want to do that, that is fine; if they want to do it, then I will continue until the end. I want to do everything that one is authorized to legally do, he said.

For the Republican president, it is necessary to fight fire with fire facing the decapitations of Americans and other crimes committed by the terrorist group Islamic State.

These statements by Trump occurred in the context of press releases about his government's presumed assessment of reinstalling secret CIA prisons abroad, known as black sites.

According to Mattis, US Secretary of Defense, building trust with the detainees and rewarding their cooperation is much better.

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Pentagon Wants Psychologists to Reverse Ban on Aiding Torture

The Pentagon is pushing military psychologists to pass a resolution at this year's conference that would allow members to help with torture practices.

The largest psychologists’ association in the United States is reconsidering its ban on helping with torture practices.

RELATED: CIA Knew Torture Program Was Illegal Back in 2002

At its annual conference in Denver that started Thursday, the American Psychological Association will vote on whether to ignore its “do no harm” obligation and allow members to help out with “enhanced interrogation” tactics—a euphemism for torture—at CIA black sites and other detention centers like Guantanamo Bay.

Following a years-long controversy over collusion between psychologists and the U.S., Defense Department, confirmed by the Hoffman Report released last year, the APA introduced strict rules to prevent even tangential aid to torture programs.

“small but powerful group” of military psychologists and former APA leaders are pushing for a rollback, according to psychologist Stephen Soldz, who advocated for the ban. According to the Colorado Independent, the Pentagon pushed the APA to introduce the resolution doing away with is prohibition on being an accesory to violations of international law.

IN DEPTH: US Senate Report on CIA Torture

“The people proposing this bill were very smart and submitted it almost without anybody knowing it. It’s hard to believe, but this is happening without the rank and file membership’s awareness,” psychology professor Dan Aalbers, one of the main backers of the reform, told the Colorado Independent. He added that the vote could be “very close.”

“It’s surreal, really, given the overwhelming support for the new ethics policies, that this issue is popping up again,” said Aalbers.

While some argue psychologists should offer their support to detainees, others maintain that support is fine only as long as the psychologist is acting independently and not on behalf of the military. Military psychologists have been pressured to deny signs of PTSD, for instance.

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The Russian Army Asserts its Superiority in Conventional Warfare

The Russian military intervention in Syria, which was at first considered a risky bet by Moscow against the jihadists, has transformed itself into a demonstration of power which upsets the strategic balance of the world [1]. Originally conceived to isolate and then destroy the armed groups equipped by states who support the jihadists in violation of the pertinent resolutions of the Security Council, the operation has now blinded all the Western actors and their allies.

The Pentagon is now divided between those who tend to minimize the facts while attempting to find a weakness in the Russian system, and those who, on the contrary, consider that the United States have lost their superiority in terms of conventional warfare, and that it will take long years before they are able to recover it.

We remember that in 2008, during the war in South Ossetia, although the Russian forces had managed to repel the Georgian attack, they had above all shown the world the deplorable state of their equipment. And only ten days ago, ex-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and ex-National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice were describing the Russian army as a « second-rate » force.

So how has the Russian Federation managed to rebuild its defense industry, and to design and produce very high-technology weapons without the Pentagon measuring the importance of the phenomenon, and allowing itself to be over-taken? Have the Russians used all their new weapons in Syria, or do they have other surprises in reserve?

The confusion in Washington is so great that the White House has cancelled the official visit by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a delegation of the Russian Chief of Staff. This decision was taken after an identical visit to Turkey by a Russian military delegation. There is little point in discussing the operations in Syria, because the Pentagon does not know what is happening there. Furious, the « liberal hawks » and the neo-conservatives are demanding a relaunch of the military budget, and have succeeded in stopping the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

In the most bizarre fashion, the Atlantist commentators who are witnessing the out-distancing of US military power are now denouncing the dangers of Russian imperialism. And yet Russia is only acting to save the Syrian People, and proposing that other states work in collaboration with them, while the United States, when they enjoyed military pre-eminence, imposed their economic system and destroyed a number of states.

We are obliged to note that the hesitant declarations by Washington published during the Russian deployment before the offensive, should not be interpreted as a slow political adaptation of official rhetoric, but should be understood for what they actually reveal – the fact that the Pentagon did not know the terrain. It had become deaf and blind.

A System of Generalized Jamming

We know, since the incident of the USS Donald Cook in the Black Sea on the 12th April 2014, that the Russian Air Force has at its disposition a weapon which enables it to jam all radars; all control circuits, all systems for the transmission of information, etc. Since the beginning of its military deployment, Russia had installed a jamming centre at Hmeymim, to the North of Latakia. Then, suddenly, the USS Donald Cook incident occurred, but this time within a perimeter of 300 kilometers – which includes the NATO base at Incirlik (Turkey). And this is still going on. Because the event happened during a sand-storm of historical proportions, the Pentagon first thought its measuring equipment had malfunctioned, but then discovered that it had been jammed. Completely.

Modern conventional warfare is based on what is known as « C4i » - an acronym which corresponds to the English terms « Command », « Control », « Communications », « Computer » and « intelligence ». The satellites, planes and drones, ships and submarines, tanks and now even the combatants themselves, are all connected to one another by a system of permanent communication, which enables the Chiefs of Staff to oversee and command the fighting more efficiently. It is this entire system - NATO’s nervous system – which is presently jammed in Syria and part of Turkey.

According to the Romanian expert Valentin Vasilescu, Russia has installed several Krasukha-4, equipped its planes with SAP-518/ SPS-171 jamming equipment (like the plane that overflew the USS Donald Cook), and its helicopters with the Richag-AV system. Besides this, it is using the spy-ship Priazovye (Project 864 Vishnya class, to use NATO terminology), in the Mediterranean.

It seems that Russia has agreed not to interfere with Israëli communications – a US preserve – which means that it will not deploy its jamming system in South Syria.

Russian planes have enjoyed the privilege of violating Turkish air space many times. Their purpose was not to measure the reaction time of the Turkish Air Force, but to verify the efficiency of their jamming capabilities in the area concerned, and also to keep an eye the installations which are at the disposition of the jihadists in Turkey.

High-performance Cruise missiles

Russia has used several new weapons, like the 26 stealth (or LO technology) cruise missiles (3M-14T Kaliber-NK), equivalent to the American RGM/UGM-109E Tomahawk [8]. Fired by its fleet in the Caspian Sea – with no military necessity – they reached and destroyed 11 targets situated at 1,500 kilometers distance, in the non-jammed area – so that NATO could appreciate their performance. These missiles crossed Iranian and Iraqi air space at an altitude varying between 50 and 100 meters, depending on the terrain, and flying just four kilometers away from a US drone. None of them were lost, compared to US missiles, which have a margin of error between 5 % and 10 %, depending on the models [9]. At the same time, this salvo demonstrated the waste of the incredible sums of money spent on the useless « anti-missile shield » built by the Pentagon around Russia –even though it was officially intended for protection against Iranian launch sites.

Taking into account that these missiles can be fired from submarines situated anywhere in the oceans, and that they can transport nuclear warheads; the Russians have clearly made up for their delay as far as launchers are concerned.

Finally, in the case of a nuclear confrontation, the Russian Federation would be destroyed by the United States – and vice versa – but would win in the case of a conventional war.

Only the Russians and the Syrians are capable of evaluating the situation on the ground. All the other military information from other sources, including the jihadists, are without foundation, since only Russia and Syria have an overall picture of the terrain. Moscow and Damascus intend to profit as far as possible from their advantage, and are therefore keeping their operations secret.

From the official communiqués and the confidences of certain officers, we may conclude that at least 5,000 jihadists have been killed, including several leaders of Ahrar el-Sham, al-Qaeda and the Islamic Emirate. At least 10,000 mercenaries have fled to Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. The Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah have re-captured the area without waiting for the promised Iranian reinforcements.

The bombing campaign should end by the Orthodox Christmas. The question which will then have to be answered is whether or not Russia will be authorized to finish its job by pursuing the jihadists who have found refuge in Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. Failing this, Syria will have been saved, but the problem will still not have been resolved. The Muslim Brotherhood will not fail to seek revenge, and the United States will not fail to use them again against other targets.

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