Christoph Germann

Newsbud Partner Analyst & Author, The New Great Game

Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in, Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus region.
Visit Christoph’s website here.

Newsbud Exclusive- Merkel’s Tenuous Pact with America in the Age of Trump.

Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2017 – A Turning Point in US-German Relations?

Upon taking office, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) decided to make “a pact with America the cornerstone of her foreign policy,” reorienting Germany away from Russia and back towards the United States.[1]

This pact has become increasingly tenuous after the election of Donald Trump as this year’s Berlin Foreign Policy Forum demonstrated.

The Berlin Foreign Policy Forum is an annual event hosted by the Körber Foundation in cooperation with Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, bringing together politicians, government representatives, foreign policy experts and journalists to discuss German foreign policy and Germany’s role in the world.[2]

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) opened this year’s forum with an unprecedented attack on Merkel’s pact with America, telling the audience: “Germany cannot afford to wait for decisions from Washington, or to merely react to them. We must lay out our own position and make clear to our allies where the limits of our solidarity are reached.”[3]

Gabriel’s speech dovetailed with a survey published by the Körber Foundation at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, according to which 56 percent of Germans consider relations with Washington to be somewhat bad or very bad.[4]

Relations with the United States under Trump are seen as a bigger foreign policy challenge than relations with Erdogan’s Turkey or Putin’s Russia, ranking second on the list of foreign policy concerns behind refugees.[5]

Moreover, the survey found that a striking 88 percent of Germans would give a defense partnership with European states priority over the partnership with the United States.[6]

Gabriel tried to tap into these sentiments with his speech, calling for a new European foreign policy that recognizes the differences between U.S. and European interests.[7]

Germany and its European partners should be more assertive in setting foreign policy according to their own interests rather than to those of the United States, Gabriel argued.

The German Foreign Minister gave three examples of U.S. actions that run against European interests. [READ MORE]

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Newsbud Exclusive- Germany Protects Gülen Movement from Erdogan

BND Warns Turkey Not to Challenge NATO Line

German-Turkish relations keep plummeting as Berlin and Ankara argue over the threat posed by U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen and his movement, but there is more to the latest dispute than meets the eye.

In recent weeks, tensions have been running high between Germany and Turkey due to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s referendum campaign. Disagreements over the Gülen movement are now adding fuel to the fire.

On March 27, as Turkish citizens living in Germany began casting their ballots in Turkey’s constitutional referendum, German media dropped a bombshell.

The joint investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR reported that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) handed a list of hundreds of suspected Gülen supporters and Gülen-linked organizations in Germany to the Bundesnachrichtendient (BND).

MIT Undersecretary Hakan Fikan, a close confidant of Turkish President Erdogan, reportedly gave the list to BND President Bruno Kahl on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in February.

The MIT target list included the names of more than 300 people and about 200 associations, schools and other institutions supposedly linked to the Gülen movement. Among the information provided to the BND were registered addresses, mobile and landline numbers as well as secretly taken photos, for example by surveillance cameras, suggesting that Turkish intelligence had been spying on suspected Gülenists in Germany.

Instead of supporting the efforts of Turkey’s MIT, BND chief Kahl conveyed the files to the Federal Government and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency tasked with counterintelligence.

Authorities across the country were alerted to the Turkish spying and several federal states began warning the targets on the list that they were being watched by Turkish intelligence.[1]

After the joint investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR broke the story, German media heaped scorn and derision on Turkey’s MIT.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung mocked Turkish spy chief Fidan for thinking that the Bundesnachrichtendienst would help the Turkish government in pursuing suspected Gülen supporters on German territory, calling it a “fatal mistake.”[2]

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, on the other hand, found it hard to believe that the Turks were “naive” and didn’t know any better when they handed over the list. He suggested that it may have been a deliberate provocation.[3]

This view is shared by some members of the German security apparatus. Others have speculated that Turkey’s list might also include a few Turkish intelligence agents who could unmask employees of German intelligence agencies if they showed up to warn the targets. Therefore, most State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution (LfV) handed the investigations to the police.[4]

German Interior Minister de Maizière said he regretted that the existence of the MIT target list was made public while the investigation into Turkish spying was still at an early stage. He would have preferred to learn more about Turkey’s espionage activities on German soil and inform those at risk before going public with the list.

De Maizière blamed the release of the information on the lack of concrete agreements between the federal states on how to handle the issue.[5]

The timing of the release is noteworthy given that the joint investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR broke the story on the same day as Turkish citizens in Germany and five other European countries started to vote in Turkey’s constitutional referendum.[6]

It is important to note that the joint investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR has become the main purveyor of government-sanctioned leaks in Germany.

As Left Party MP Sevim Dagdelen pointed out, it seems probable that the Bundesnachrichtendienst itself leaked the information to the media. She regarded the BND move as a warning to Turkish intelligence, reminding the Turks to keep their espionage activities in line with NATO interests.

Dagdelen noted that German intelligence didn’t mind working through lists of alleged PKK supporters, but Ankara’s pursuit of suspected Gülenists was not in the interest of Berlin and Washington.[7]

Even before reports about the MIT target list emerged, the head of Germany’s BND felt the need to publicly defend the Gülen movement.

In an exclusive interview with Der Spiegel, BND President Bruno Kahl said he did not think that the Gülen movement was behind the failed coup.

“Turkey has tried to convince us on a number of different levels. But they haven't yet been successful,” Kahl stressed.

Furthermore, the BND head objected to Ankara’s characterization of the Gülen movement. Asked whether it was an extremist-Islamist movement or perhaps even a terrorist group, Kahl said it was “a civilian association for religious and secular education.” He also refused to call it a sect, merely acknowledging that “the Gülen movement wasn't a meaningless minority.”[8]

The Turkish government was furious about Kahl’s interview and immediately summoned the German chargé d’affaires.[9]

Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said Kahl remarks were “a mockery of Turkish people’s intelligence.” He accused the German spy chief of “lying to the German people, the Turkish people, and the whole world.”[10]

Defense Minister Fikri Isik went one step further, claiming that “certain circles” in Europe were unhappy with the outcome of the attempted coup.

“If the German intelligence chief says, ‘We are not convinced that FETO is behind the coup attempt,’ then he must be either blind, deaf, or he needs to hide the plotters as they failed in what they wished to happen,” Isik railed. He added: “This then raises a question: Did you cooperate with them? What was your position in this coup plot exactly?”[11]

Kahl’s remarks do indeed raise some questions.

The head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency should know that “the Gulen movement goes much beyond the schools, charities, and inter-faith activities with which it presents itself to the world: it also has a dark underbelly engaged in covert activities such as evidence fabrication, wiretapping, disinformation, blackmail, and judicial manipulation.”[12]

Moreover, it is not exactly a secret that U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen and his followers have been working closely with the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[13] Former high-ranking Turkish officials freely admit this.[14]

As for Gülen’s alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt, Turkey’s Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar testified after his release that one of the senior coup plotters offered to put him in touch with their “opinion leader,” Fethullah Gülen, in an effort to secure his cooperation.[15]

“I am the biggest proof. They wanted me to talk to Gülen,” Akar reportedly told his American counterpart Joseph Dunford when the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman visited Turkey around two weeks after the failed coup attempt.[16]

According to a Western diplomat who has followed Akar throughout his career, “Akar has been, since he took the position, a guy defined by integrity.”[17]

Yet, the head of Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst indirectly accused Turkey’s highest-ranking military officer of being a liar, while doing his best to defend the Gülen movement, designated as a terrorist organization by NATO ally Turkey.

A few days later, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office (GBA) launched an investigation “against an unnamed entity on suspicion of espionage” after information about the MIT target list was leaked to the media. A spokesman for the GBA declined to confirm German media reports that the entity was Turkey’s MIT, but there is little room for speculation.[18]

It was Germany’s second investigation into suspected spying by NATO ally Turkey.

Earlier this year, the GBA launched an investigation into possible spying by Turkish imams working for the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), an arm of the Turkish government tied to the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet).[19]

On March 31, only four days after the bombshell report on Turkey’s MIT, the investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR announced a third GBA investigation.

According to the investigative group, German prosecutors are investigating Halife Keskin, the head of Diyanet’s foreign affairs department and one of the agency’s highest-ranking officials. Keskin allegedly played a key role in Diyanet’s global surveillance effort, which included DITIB imams spying on Gülen supporters in Germany.[20]

American espionage activities on German soil have long been tolerated by the German authorities but Turkish espionage activities are reportedly “unacceptable,” especially if they target the wrong group.

The Gülen movement clearly enjoys the protection of the German government.

As Turkish President Erdogan tries to further consolidate his power in Turkey, it becomes apparent that he can’t expect any help from his NATO partners in fighting the “Gülenist threat.”

With the April 16 constitutional referendum approaching, Erdogan just received another reminder that challenging the U.S.-NATO line on important issues such as Gülen or Russia is dangerous.

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Christoph Germann, Newsbud Author & Analyst, is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] Georg Mascolo, “Türkischer Geheimdienst: Gülen-Anhänger in Deutschland bespitzelt,” Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), 27 March 2017: http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/guelen-spionage-deutschland-101.html.

[2] Georg Mascolo, Reiko Pinkert and Ronen Steinke, “Türkischer Top-Spion beging großen Irrtum,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 28 March 2017: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/tuerken-in-deutschland-der-folgenschwere-irrtum-des-tuerkischen-top-spions-1.3438536.

[3] “Türkischer Geheimdienst: MIT-Liste: De Maizière vermutet Provokation,” ZDF heute, 30 March 2017: http://www.heute.de/de-maiziere-im-zdf-morgenmagazn-mit-liste-als-gezielte-provokation-fuer-deutsch-tuerkisches-verhaeltnis-46869630.html.

[4] Jörg Diehl, Martin Knobbe, Jörg Schindler and Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt, “Michelle Müntefering: Auch deutsche Politikerinnen auf türkischer Spionageliste,” Spiegel Online, 29 March 2017: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/michelle-muentefering-auch-deutsche-politikerinnen-auf-tuerkischer-spionageliste-a-1141025.html.

[5] Ibid., ZDF heute.

[6] “Voting starts in Europe for Turkish referendum,” BBC, 27 March 2017: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39405210.

[7] Sevim Dagdelen, “Zurück auf NATO-Weg,” junge Welt, 29 March 2017: https://www.jungewelt.de/artikel/308021.zur%C3%BCck-auf-nato-weg.html.

[8] Martin Knobbe, Fidelius Schmid and Alfred Weinzierl, “German Intelligence Chief Bruno Kahl Interview,” Spiegel Online, 20 March 2017: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-intelligence-chief-bruno-kahl-interview-a-1139602.html.

[9] Sultan Cogalan, “Turkey summons German envoy over spy chief's comments,” Anadolu Agency, 21 March 2017: http://aa.com.tr/en/europe/turkey-summons-german-envoy-over-spy-chiefs-comments/776645.

[10] “Germany is lying to us,’ Turkish justice minister says,” Hürriyet Daily News, 21 March 2017: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/germany-is-lying-to-us-turkish-justice-minister-says.aspx?pageID=238&nID=111056&NewsCatID=510.

[11] “Refusal to see Gulen's role incriminates Germany: Isik,” Anadolu Agency, 19 March 2017: http://aa.com.tr/en/europe/refusal-to-see-gulens-role-incriminates-germany-isik/775044.

[12] Dani Rodrik, “Is Fethullah Gülen behind Turkey's coup? (with update),” Dani Rodrik’s weblog, 23 July 2016: http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2016/07/is-fethullah-g%C3%BClen-behind-turkeys-coup.html.

[13] Sibel Edmonds, “Turkish Intel Chief Exposes CIA Operations via Islamic Group in Central Asia,” Boiling Frogs Post/Newsbud, 6 January 2011: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2011/01/06/turkish-intel-chief-exposes-cia-operations-via-islamic-group-in-central-asia/.

[14] Dexter Filkins, “Turkey’s Thirty-Year Coup,” The New Yorker, 17 October 2016: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/turkeys-thirty-year-coup.

[15] Ibid., Rodrik.

[16] Abdulkadir Selvi, “Is Gülen very close to CIA?,” Hürriyet Daily News, 23 March 2017: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/is-gulen-very-close-to-cia-.aspx?PageID=238&NID=111136&NewsCatID=581.

[17] Ibid., Filkins.

[18] Madeline Chambers and Andrea Shalal, “Germany opens new probe into suspected Turkish spying,” Reuters, 28 March 2017: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-referendum-germany-espionage-idUSKBN16Z2FQ.

[19] Andrea Shalal, “Germany won't tolerate Turkish spying, says spy chief,” Reuters, 19 January 2017: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-turkey-spying-idUSKBN1532UP.

[20] “Report: German authorities investigate high Turkish religious official,” Deutsche Welle, 1 April 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/report-german-authorities-investigate-high-turkish-religious-official/a-38248062.

Merkel’s Message to US: NATO is not ‘Obsolete’ – and neither is the Russian Boogeyman

CDU Promises Vast Expansion of Military Spending, Putting Election at Risk

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen used the 53rd Munich Security Conference to send a message to the new U.S. administration: NATO is not “obsolete” – and neither is the Russian boogeyman!

“There can be no policy of equidistance between allies on one side and those who on the other question our borders, our values and the principles of international law,” Defense Minister von der Leyen said to applause at the Munich Security Conference.

Without mentioning U.S. President Donald Trump by name, von der Leyen voiced harsh criticism of Trump’s attitudes toward Russia. “We must pursue finding a reliable coexistence with Russia together instead of going over our partners’ heads in a bilateral relationship,” von der Leyen emphasized.[1]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the same line, calling for more multilateral cooperation and touting the importance of NATO in dealing with Russia. Merkel cited Russia’s support of separatists in Ukraine and the “annexation” of Crimea as reasons for reinvigorating NATO and portrayed the military build-up in Eastern Europe as a necessary defensive move.[2]

Moreover, the German Chancellor reassured U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that Germany was committed to reaching NATO’s defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP by 2024. “We will do everything we can in order to fulfil this commitment,” Merkel said, stressing that it will take some time to get to the 2 percent target.[3]

This year, Germany’s military spending is set to increase by 8 percent to 37 billion euros, which translates into 1.2 percent of GDP.

In order to meet the NATO guideline, Germany would need to add some 25 billion euros to its military budget over the next few years, as German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel pointed out in Munich. Gabriel called NATO’s 2 percent metric into question, noting that Greece met the goal while struggling to pay its pensions.[4]

Latvia’s former Defense Minister Artis Pabriks challenged the German Vice Chancellor, saying: “It sounds a little bit bitter if the support [of] my border and the security of my country is in danger because some … nations will not pay their share.”

Gabriel cautioned Germany’s allies against opening a debate over expenditures and stressed that Germany’s contribution to European security also included paying “30 to 40 billion euros per year to take in refugees who came in here largely because military interventions in the past have gone seriously wrong.”[5]

The comments by the outgoing chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) underline that Merkel and her Christian Democrats take high risks when they promise to expand the military budget.

According to a December 2016 poll, two-thirds of Germans oppose spending more on defense.[6] But this didn’t stop Merkel and other prominent members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from pledging a 25 billion euro increase in defense spending over the next few years.

The SPD, which has closed the gap on Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc after nominating Martin Schulz as chancellor candidate, could exploit this issue in the upcoming federal election.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a Christian Democrat and die-hard Atlanticist, lamented after the Munich Security Conference that the SPD was “still a bit hesitant” whereas Chancellor Merkel and Defense Minister von der Leyen had agreed with him to keep expanding the military budget in order to reach NATO’s 2 percent target by 2024.[7]

All three CDU leaders – Merkel, von der Leyen and Schäuble – are known for putting Atlanticism over Germany’s national interests. It hasn’t hurt their careers so far, but it may hurt their chances of winning the election if the Social Democrats open a debate over military spending. Recent polls show that the CDU/CSU bloc can’t afford to lose more ground to the SPD.[8]

Merkel was planning to use the Russian boogeyman during the election campaign in order to divert attention from her disastrous track record.[9] The only problem is that Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies haven’t been able to find any evidence of Russian meddling in German politics.[10]

Last year, Merkel ordered an investigation into potential Russian interference after Russian officials, journalists and members of Germany’s Russian community made the mistake of believing a 13-year-old Russian-German girl who claimed that she had been abducted and raped by migrants. Suspecting that Russian state actors were behind the “Lisa protests” in Germany, German authorities spent almost one year searching for evidence of Russia’s “disinformation campaign.”

Parts of the Russia investigation were supposed to be published, but after seeing the results of the investigation, the government decided to keep the 50-page intelligence report under wraps.

Not only were Germany’s intelligence agencies unable to back up reports that the “Lisa protests” were orchestrated by Russian state actors, they were unable to find any direct evidence of Russia’s alleged disinformation campaign.

In order to save face, the intelligence agents offered two different conclusions: Either Russia is not organizing a disinformation campaign against Germany or – the version preferred by German spies – the Russians are hiding their tracks well. Therefore, the intelligence agencies recommended “further investigative efforts.”[11] The German Chancellery agreed and told them to investigate further.[12]

Chancellor Merkel needs the Russian boogeyman now more than ever as she tries to convince German voters to spend unbelievable amounts of taxpayer money on the military in order to prop up a Cold War military alliance whose purpose it was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

If the Social Democrats decide to make military spending a campaign issue, Merkel could get into serious trouble.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] Michael Birnbaum and Dan Lamothe, “German defense chief hits Trump attitudes on torture, Russia and Muslims,” The Washington Post, 17 February 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/german-defense-chief-hits-trump-attitudes-on-torture-russia-and-muslims/2017/02/17/7f76e56c-f525-11e6-8873-a962f11835fb_story.html?utm_term=.2a037deaaebf.

[2] Angela Merkel, Speech at the 53rd Munich Security Conference, 18 February 2017: https://www.securityconference.de/mediathek/munich-security-conference-2017/video/statement-by-angela-merkel/.

[3] Janosch Delcker, “Germany will take own time to boost defense, Merkel tells Pence,” Politico, 18 February 2017: http://www.politico.eu/article/germany-will-take-own-time-to-boost-defense-merkel-tells-pence/.

[4] Sigmar Gabriel, Speech at the 53rd Munich Security Conference, 18 February 2017: https://www.securityconference.de/mediathek/munich-security-conference-2017/video/the-franco-german-view-sigmar-gabriel-and-jean-marc-ayrault/.

[5] Janosch Delcker, “Trump’s demand upsets German election,” Politico, 19 February 2017: http://www.politico.eu/article/trump-nato-germany-munich-news-military-spending-merkel-armed-forces/.

[6] “Umfrage - Nur ein Drittel der Deutschen für höhere Militärausgaben,” Reuters, 15 December 2016: http://de.reuters.com/article/deutschland-aussenpolitik-umfrage-idDEKBN1441VR.

[7] “Schäuble: Haushalts-Spielraum für mehr Verteidigung ist da,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 19 February 2017: http://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/reaktion-auf-us-forderungen-schaeuble--haushalts-spielraum-fuer-mehr-verteidigung-ist-da-7334264.html.

[8] “Poll shows 'reds and greens' could oust Merkel's conservatives,” Deutsche Welle, 19 February 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/poll-shows-reds-and-greens-could-oust-merkels-conservatives/a-37621153.

[9] Christoph Germann, “Newsbud Exclusive- The Disastrous Track Record of the New ‘Leader of the Free World’,” Newsbud, 27 November 2016: http://www.newsbud.com/2016/11/27/newsbud-exclusive-the-disastrous-track-record-of-the-new-leader-of-the-free-world/.

[10] Georg Mascolo, “Bericht der Geheimdienste: Keine “Smoking Gun” aus Russland,” NDR, 6 February 2017: https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/deutsche-geheimdienste-russland-101.html.

[11] Ben Knight, “German intelligence 'finds no evidence of Putin disinformation campaign',” Deutsche Welle, 7 February 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/german-intelligence-finds-no-evidence-of-putin-disinformation-campaign/a-37448072.

[12] Georg Mascolo and Nicolas Richter, “BND: Keine Beweise für Desinformations-Kampagne Putins,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6 February 2017: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/geheimdienste-bnd-keine-beweise-fuer-desinformations-kampagne-putins-1.3365839.

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The NGGR January 18: From Kabul’s Damage Control after Wild Accusations against Russia-Tajikistan to Georgia’s Main Opposition Party Split

The Great Game Round-Up by Newsbud’s Christoph Germann brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Georgia's Main Opposition Party Splits but the Drama Ain't Over

Georgia's largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), has split amid disagreements over the role of UNM leader and former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who gave up his Georgian citizenship for a new political career in Ukraine.

Leading UNM members who regard Saakashvili as a liability announced last week that they would leave the party and start a new political movement to challenge the Georgian Dream government.

The split came after months of infighting fueled by the UNM's devastating defeat in the October 2016 parliamentary elections and the dispute over the upcoming party congress, which is scheduled for January 20.

Several UNM leaders, including former National Security Council Secretary Giga Bokeria, former Parliament Speaker Davit Bakradze and former Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, decided that it was time to move on.

"Saakasvhili was the party's founder, but he has become its undoing," Ugulava stated at the January 12 press briefing, just a few days after his release from prison.

"This man does not radiate leadership anymore. It pains me to say this, but he is not the Mikheil Saakashvili who united the people in 2002 [ahead of the 2003 Rose Revolution] . . ." Ugulava said, calling on the party's supporters "to look forward."

Saakahvili, who had welcomed Ugulava's release from prison a few days earlier, responded on Facebook that he "felt pity" for Ugulava, "who spoke more about me than the Oligarch who imprisoned him."

In Saakashvili's world, the United National Movement just got rid of a few "losers" and foiled another plot by Georgian Dream godfather Bidzina Ivanishvili to take over the party.

In reality, the anti-Saakashvili faction includes half of the party's leadership and most of the party's Members of Parliament. 21 out of 27 United National Movement MPs defected, causing a parliament shake-up. 38 heads of municipal and regional organizations also left the party.

According to the transcript of a supposed conversation between Saakashvili and loyal UNM MP Koba Nakaopia published on the Ukrainian Wikileaks website, Saakashvili is already planning to take revenge on "those ungrateful idiots" who abandoned him.

Among other things, Saakashvili and Nakopia allegedly talked about paying a woman named Eliso who is "working on [Giga] Bokeria and others."

"I’m going to make her fully discredit Bokeria's followers and the Chergoids [possibly Bokeria's wife Tamara Chergoleishvili]," Saakashvili told Nakopia according to the transcript.

It is not the first time that the obscure Ukrainian Wikileaks website has published such material.

In 2015, the site published a transcript alleging that Saakashvili and Bokeria discussed staging an attack on UNM-linked TV station Rustavi 2 in order to provoke mass anti-government protests.

Both Saakashvili and Bokeria dismissed the transcript as a fabrication, but this didn't stop Georgia's State Security Service from launching an investigation. Shortly thereafter, another murky Ukrainian website released authentic recordings of two phone conversations that Saakashvili held with Bokeria and Rustavi 2 director Nika Gvaramia, lending some credence to the previous Saakashvili-Bokeria transcript.

Regardless of whether or not there is any truth to the latest Ukrainian Wikileaks release, it is safe to say that the United National Movement drama is far from over.

Kabul Doing Damage Control after Wild Accusations against Russia & Tajikistan

Current and former Afghan officials have leveled serious accusations against Russia and Tajikistan in recent weeks, forcing Kabul to start off the new year with damage control.

Last month, former Kunduz Governor Muhammad Omar Safi made the bold claim that Russian military engineers based in Tajikistan were repairing tanks and heavy weapons that Taliban fighters had seized from Afghan security forces. Such cooperation between the Russian military and the Taliban has been going on for nearly two years, according to Safi.

The statement came amid increasing criticism of Moscow's ties to the Taliban. A few weeks earlier, Afghan officials alleged - without providing any evidence - that Russia was supplying weapons to Taliban fighters.

Safi's wild claims were a bit too wild for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry. MoD deputy spokesman Mohammad Radmanish cast doubt on whether it was possible to transport heavy weaponry across the Amu Darya River that separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

"[The Taliban] usually drives small vehicles, such as pickup trucks with heavy weapons mounted on them, but they do not have heavy vehicles, such as tanks," Radmanish noted.

Tajikistan's border guard agency quickly dismissed the allegations and the Tajik Foreign Ministry described Safi's statement as "thoughtless and unfounded," concluding that the remarks were "aimed at creating a negative image of the Republic of Tajikistan in Afghan society."

The Tajik Foreign Ministry also harshly criticized remarks made by Afghanistan's Ambassador to Russia, Abdul Qayum Kochi, that caused further tensions.

Kochi, who is an uncle of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, appeared last month in a YouTube video with Afghan-American TV host Shafie Ayar, making a number of controversial statements.

"I met with a senior Russian official and told him that drug crops were grown in Afghanistan but that you [Russians] and the Tajik mafia were behind that," Kochi claimed.

To make matters worse, the Afghan diplomat also demonstrated his lack of knowledge about Tajikistan, saying: "Tajikistan is a very small country, it has five million population and over a million of them are Russians. They have Russian culture and Russian is their official language. They don't have the right to write in Farsi alphabets. Mafias are actively operating the country."

Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry responded by summoning the Afghan Ambassador in Dushanbe and lodging a diplomatic protest. This happened at the end of December, but it became only publicly known when Afghan media obtained Tajikistan's protest note about one week later.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry distanced itself from the remarks, stressing that it was Kochi's personal opinion and did not reflect Kabul's official views. But calls to remove Kochi have been getting louder.

"Russia is very important country for Afghanistan and government should appoint a capable envoy to the country," Mohammad Naim Nazari, the executive director of Afghanistan's Civil Society & Human Rights Network (CSHRN), was quoted as saying.

Zamir Kabulov, Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan called Kochi's remarks "absolutely unacceptable and abusive," noting that he would discuss the issue with the Ambassador during an upcoming meeting.

Afghan parliamentarians told Russian media that they already sent a letter to President Ghani demanding Kochi's removal. Russians and Tajiks wouldn't shed any tears.

# # # #

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Author & Analyst,  is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Newsbud Exclusive- The Anis Amri Timeline: How German Authorities Allowed a Well-Known Terrorist Suspect to Strike Berlin

Berlin Christmas Market Attack Raises Questions About Security Failures 

As more details emerge about last month’s Berlin Christmas market attack, German authorities are struggling to explain why they failed to prevent the attack despite knowing full well that Anis Amri was a ticking time bomb.

“The attack was carried out by a man whom security officials across Germany were very well aware of,” North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Ralf Jäger acknowledged at a January 5 meeting of the state’s parliamentary interior committee in Düsseldorf.[1]

Jäger pointed out that top federal and regional security officials discussed the potential danger posed by Amri seven times at the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center (GTAZ) in Berlin in the months before the attack.[2]

Counter-terrorism experts rated the 24-year-old Tunisian national a “five” on the eight-point scale used to assess an individual's potential danger, with “one” representing the highest threat. This proved to be a fatal mistake.

Nevertheless, the Interior Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia defended the actions taken – or not taken – by security authorities. Jäger emphasized that “in a constitutional state, we can't simply lock up threats as a precautionary measure.”

Dieter Schürmann, the head of the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) in North Rhine-Westphalia, took the same line, saying the authorities’ findings wouldn’t stand up in court and they had “exhausted all legal powers to the limit to ward off potential dangers.”

Schürmann revealed that German authorities knew of 14 different identities used by Amri to register himself across different states and he laid out a detailed timeline of Amri’s activities in Germany, underlining the authorities’ extensive knowledge about the Berlin killer.[3]

Newsbud translated Schürmann’s Amri timeline and complemented it with additional information to illustrate why it is hard to believe that German authorities “exhausted all legal powers to the limit to ward off potential dangers” and that they didn’t see the Berlin Christmas market attack coming.

Additional information is marked with an asterisk (*).

6 July 2015:

Amri enters Germany illegally and is picked up by police in Freiburg.

22 July 2015:

Amri receives a “Certificate of Registration as an Asylum-Seeker” (BüMA) under the name “Anis Amir” in Karlsruhe.

28 July 2015:

Amri receives another BüMA under the “Mohammad Hassan” in Berlin.

*End of July 2015:

Amri is registered at the Berlin State Office for Health and Social Affairs (Lageso) under the name “Ahmad Zaghoul.” He allegedly punches a Lageso security guard in the face. The case against him is later dropped because “Zaghoul” has disappeared.[4]

3 August 2015:

Amri tells the Central Foreigners Authority (ZAB) in Dortmund that his name is “Mohamed Hassa.”

18 August 2015:

During this time, Amri is assigned to the central accommodation facilities of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Hermer and Rüthen as well as the municipal accommodation facility of the town of Emmerich.

*Autumn 2015:

The federal prosecutor’s office launches an investigation into the network of Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A., better known as Abu Walaa, an Iraqi-born hate preacher based in the town of Hildesheim (Lower Saxony). Abu Walaa and his associates are suspected of recruiting people for the Islamic State group and organizing trips to Syria.[5]

*14 October 2015:

The imam of the Fussilet mosque in Berlin, Dagestani-born Gadzhimurad K. alias Murad Atayev, is arrested on suspicion of recruiting people for the Islamic State group and supplying equipment to Islamist groups in Syria. Two of his close Fussilet associates, Ismet D. and Emin F., were arrested on similar charges several months earlier.[6] Gadzhimurad K. described himself as “an information aggregator for the Islamic State” in an interview with Meduza in May 2015. German authorities consider the Fussilet mosque to be a recruitment point and fundraising center for Islamic State fighters.[7]

27 October 2015:

The immigration office of the administrative district of Kleve (North Rhine-Westphalia) informs police that a roommate of “Mohamed Hassa” in Emmerich saw pictures on “Hassa’s” cell phone showing people dressed in black who were armed with automatic rifles and posing with hand grenades.

28 October 2015:

Police launch a so-called “Prüffall Islamismus.” Krefeld police visit the tipster who confirms his statement.

28 October 2015:

Amri gets another BüMA under the name “Ahmed Almasri” at the ZAB Dortmund, assigning him to the accommodation facility Neuss and from there to the municipality of Bestwig.

29 October 2015:

The Foreigners’ Registration Office in Münster issues a BüMA for “Ahmed Almasri,” assigning Amri to the accommodation facility Dinslaken. Afterwards, Amri is assigned to the city of Oberhausen. “Ahmed Almasri” is registered there until 18 May 2016.

*November 2015:

Amri tells an informant of the North Rhine-Westphalia LKA within the Abu Walaa network that he wants to “do something in Germany” and that he can provide a Kalashnikov for an attack.[8]

*Security authorities have at least two informants in the Abu Walaa network.[9]

17 November 2015:

North Rhine-Westphalia security authorities learn that a certain “Anis” wants to carry out attacks with “military weapons” in Germany. Authorities don’t make a connection to the cell phone video.

*According to files shown on ARD-Brennpunkt on December 23, the North Rhine-Westphalia LKA immediately sends its findings to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). The files suggest that security authorities already know the real identity of “Anis” at this point and that Amri is placed under surveillance.[10]

December 2015:

The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA informs all security authorities throughout Germany as well as the federal prosecutor’s office about the potential danger posed by “Anis” who is allegedly not identified at this point.

Mid-December 2015:

Amri registers himself under another name as an asylum-seeker in Berlin and is being referred to Hamburg.

16 December 2015:

Meeting at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in Berlin. The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA presents its findings about “Anis” and his previous stay in Italy. The BKA contacts Italian authorities and is told that “Anis” is possibly the Tunisian national Anis Amri.

21 December 2015:

Briefing at the Lower Saxony LKA after authorities learn of Amri’s ties to Hildesheim (Abu Walaa). The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA presents its findings.

*December 2015:

Federal investigators begin tapping Amri’s phone as part of the Abu Walaa investigation.

29 December 2015:

Authorities learn that Amri plans to commit a robbery or theft in Berlin. Meeting between North Rhine-Westphalia LKA and Berlin LKA. Berlin police ask the district attorney’s office to launch criminal proceedings, judiciary disagrees.

*January 2016:

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) notes that Amri travels under different identities to Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemberg, trying to recruit accomplices to carry out attacks with him. Amri wants to obtain weapons in the French Islamist scene and raise funds with burglaries and robberies, the BfV concludes.[11]

*8 January 2016:

The trial against the head of Fussilet, Ismet D., and the president of the group’s council of elders, Emin F., starts. They are accused of supporting the terrorist group Junud al-Sham in Syria with recruits, money and equipment.[12]

4 February 2016:

The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA participates in a meeting of the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center (GTAZ) in Berlin. Result: the situation makes a “harmful event seem rather unlikely,” the report states. The LKA is told to investigate further.

5 February 2016:

The BKA classifies Amri as a “Gefährder” (someone who poses a serious threat) and informs all security authorities nationwide.

17 February 2016:

Dortmund police classify Amri as a “Gefährder North Rhine-Westphalia” (Islamism). Amri had stayed in Dortmund between 22 January and 12 February 2016.

17 February 2016:
Another meeting at the GTAZ in Berlin. The Berlin LKA wants to take its own measures because of Amri’s repeated stays in the German capital. The BKA agrees to contact Italian and Tunisian authorities. Objective: proper identification of Amri.

19 February 2016:

Another GTAZ meeting. The participants stick to their assessment.

*24 February 2016 to 22 March 2016:

Amri leaves Dortmund for Berlin. A secret informant (working either for the BfV or a State Office for the Protection of the Constitution (LfV)) drives Amri to Berlin. Amri tells the informant that his mission is “to kill on behalf of Allah.” He visits the extremist Fussilet mosque in the German capital. Berlin police keep Amri under surveillance.[13]

24 February 2016:

Investigators learn that Amri wants to meet with an Islamic State sympathizer in Berlin who is supposed to help him with his terrorist plans.

25 February 2016:

The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA proposes to investigate Amri for preparing a “serious state-threatening offense.”

26 February 2016:

Another GTAZ meeting. The participants conclude that there are still no indications of specific dangers after Amri’s stay in Berlin.

10 March 2016:

Amri is no longer classified as a “Gefährder” in North Rhine-Westphalia because he has been living in Berlin since February 24. One day later, Berlin classifies him as a “Gefährder.” Amri is spending the nights at different places in Berlin, he doesn’t register a residence. Amri is still officially registered in Emmerich.

10 March 2016:

The federal prosecutor’s office asks the Berlin public prosecutor’s office to launch investigative proceedings against Amri.

14 March 2016:

The Berlin public prosecutor’s office initiates proceedings against Amri for attempted participation in a homicide. Berlin LKA takes over.

*Mid-March 2016:

Amri is placed under covert surveillance. He is suspected of planning a burglary to raise funds to buy automatic weapons. A covert team follows him and his telephone and computer activities are monitored.[14]

*Investigators note that Amri is gathering information on the internet on how to make pipe bombs.[15]

End of March 2016:  

Amri travels to Dortmund and Oberhausen for a couple of days. He also establishes contacts with the radical Islamist scene there, but investigators don’t receive any information about the planning of an attack or purchase of weapons.

April 2016:

The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA learns that Amri applied for benefits for asylum-seekers in multiple municipalities – with different identities. The LKA files charges against Amri for fraud and false certification, the LKA suggests getting a warrant for his arrest. The district attorney’s office in Duisburg initiates proceedings, but doesn’t want to get an arrest warrant.

*5 April 2016:

Amri is placed under “tight” surveillance in Berlin.[16]

28 April 2016:

Amri files an application for asylum at the Dortmund field office of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). He poses as “Ahmed Almasri,” Egyptian national. It becomes known that Amri was already assigned to Emmerich under another name.

6 May 2016:

The Berlin LKA no longer classifies Amri as a “Gefährder” because a formal asylum procedure is being initiated in North Rhine-Westphalia.

10 May 2016:

Essen police classify Amri again as a “Gefährder.”

25 May 2016:

Wiretapping of Amri, which began in December 2015, is called off after six months. Amri allegedly served as a “disseminator of information” for one suspect (Abu Walaa), but he is not being charged in the case. The wiretapping is halted because Amri’s contacts with the suspect become less frequent.

*14 June 2016:

Gadzhimurad K. is sentenced to two and a half years in prison for recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group.[17]

*The Fussilet mosque, referred to as “mosque of the ISIS people in Berlin” by investigators, has still not been shut down. Since 2015, Berlin authorities have been sitting on a rmotion to ban Fussilet, citing a shortage of staff and legal barriers.[18][19]

15 June 2016:

Another GTAZ meeting, the same result: Amri poses no “specific” danger, he should be deported.

*30 June 2016:

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) rejects Amri’s application for asylum as “clearly unfounded” and declares that he can now be deported. Replacement identity documents from Tunisia are required for his deportation, but the Tunisian government is unresponsive.[20]

*July 2016:

Amri is involved in a knife attack in a row over drugs at a bar in Berlin Neukölln.[21]

30 July 2016:

Amri takes the long-distance bus from Berlin to Zürich. He attracts the attention of federal police during a routine check in the southern German city of Friedrichshafen. Amri conceals his identity, he carries two Italian passports and suspected narcotics. Police detain him. A local court in nearby Ravensburg issues a warrant for Amri’s arrest. He is moved to the local detention center pending his deportation.

1 August 2016:

Amri is released from JVA Ravensburg because the necessary documents are still missing. The Kleve immigration office (North Rhine-Westphalia) had pointed out that authorities are trying to get replacement identity documents from Tunisia, but it would take some time, leaving an application for detention pending deportation with no prospect of success.

18 August 2016:

Authorities lose track of Amri in North Rhine-Westphalia. He was last seen in Dortmund and Emmerich.

*19 September 2016:

The Moroccan intelligence service DGST informs Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) that Tunisian national Anis Amri intends to commit a terrorist attack in Germany.[22][23]

*21 September 2016:

Covert surveillance of Amri, which began in March 2016, is halted after six months. The Berlin LKA didn't apply for authorization to continue active surveillance of Amri after September 21.[24] Surveillance showed that Amri was working as a small-time drug dealer in Berlin and that he was involved in a knife attack over drugs, but allegedly no evidence to substantiate the original warning.[25]

26 September 2016:

Tunisian and Moroccan security authorities inform the North Rhine-Westphalia LKA that Amri is an Islamic State supporter, that he is in contact with suspected Tunisian terrorists in Libya, “wants to carry out a project” in Germany and is staying in Berlin. German authorities receive similar information on October 14 and October 26.

10 October and 27 October 2016:

Police try to find Amri at his registered address in Emmerich, to no avail.

20 October 2016:

Tunisian authorities tell the Central Foreigners Authority (ZAB) in Cologne that Amri – alias Ahmed Almasri – is not a Tunisian national.

21 October 2016:

Interpol Tunis confirms, beyond any doubt, that Amri is a Tunisian national, sharing passport data.

*21 October 2016:

Morocco’s DGST warns Germany again about “the tendencies of Anis Amri and his readiness to perpetrate a terrorist attack.”[26]

27 October 2016:
The Central Foreigners Authority (ZAB) requests passport replacement documents at the Consulate General of Tunisia in Bonn.

28 October 2016:

Amri’s cell phone is located “in the Berlin/Brandenburg region.”

2 November 2016:

Another GTAZ meeting, all authorities are aware of Amri’s stay in Berlin.

*8 November 2016:

Abu Walaa (Islamic State’s “number one in Germany”) and four suspected accomplices are arrested in a series of coordinated raids in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.[27]

*November 2016:

The district attorney’s office in Duisburg suspends the fraud case against Amri because no one in Duisburg can track his whereabouts.[28]

5 December 2016:

The Kleve immigration office (North Rhine-Westphalia) deregisters Amri. He has not been staying at his last registered address, the municipal accommodation facility in Emmerich, for some time.

*19 December 2016:

Amri visits the Fussilet mosque in Berlin before putting his plan into action.[29]

19 December 2016:

Anis Amri drives a truck into the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. Twelve people are killed and 56 others injured.

21 December 2016:

The Consulate General of Tunisia in Bonn sends the passport replacement documents for Amri’s deportation.

*23 December 2016:

Amri is killed in a shootout with police in Milan, Italy.

*9 January 2017:

No one has resigned over the Amri debacle, but “German politicians are falling over each other to come up with new security measures to prevent terrorist attacks.”[30]

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] “German officials: Anis Amri used at least 14 identities,” Deutsche Welle, 5 January 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/german-officials-anis-amri-used-at-least-14-identities/a-37029856.

[2] Ruth Bender, “German Officials Met Seven Times to Discuss Berlin Attacker Before Assault,” The Wall Street Journal, 5 January 2017: http://www.wsj.com/articles/german-officials-met-seven-times-to-discuss-berlin-attacker-before-assault-1483640613?mod=e2tw.

[3] “Chronik: Amris Monate vor dem Anschlag,” Westdeutscher Rundfunk, 5 January 2017: http://www1.wdr.de/nachrichten/anis-amri-chronik-100.html.

[4] Matthias Bartsch et al., “Germany Knew Terrorist Was Dangerous But Failed To Stop Him,” Spiegel Online, 5 January 2017: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-knew-terrorist-was-dangerous-but-failed-to-stop-him-a-1128423.html.

[5] Volkmar Kabisch et al., “"Nummer 1 des IS in Deutschland" festgenommen,” Norddeutscher Rundfunk, 8 November 2016:  https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Schlag-gegen-deutsches-IS-Netzwerk,abuwalaa104.html.

[6] “Berlin imam arrested for supporting 'Islamic State',” Deutsche Welle, 15 October 2015: http://www.dw.com/en/berlin-imam-arrested-for-supporting-islamic-state/a-18785981.

[7] Daniil Turovsky, “‘Islamic State is now a global territory’ ‘Meduza’ interviews a prominent ISIL imam based in Berlin,” Meduza, 26 May 2015: https://meduza.io/en/feature/2015/05/26/islamic-state-is-now-a-global-territory.

[8] Georg Heil, Georg Mascolo and Lena Kampf, “Fall Anis Amri: Verpasste Chancen,” tagesschau.de, 3 January 2017: http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/fall-amri-verpasste-chancen-101.html.

[9] “Tod in Mailand – Terrorverdächtiger erschossen,” ARD-Brennpunkt, 23 December 2016: http://www.daserste.de/information/nachrichten-wetter/brennpunkt/sendung/brennpunkt-tod-in-mailand-terrorverdaechtiger-erschossen-100.html.

[10] Ibid., ARD-Brennpunkt.

[11] Ibid., Heil, Mascolo and Kampf.

[12] Karin Hendrich and Anne Losensky, “„Emir von Wedding“ und sein Komplize schweigen vor Gericht,” B.Z., 8 January 2016: http://www.bz-berlin.de/tatort/menschen-vor-gericht/emir-von-wedding-und-sein-komplize-schweigen-vor-gericht.

[13] Ibid., ARD-Brennpunkt.

[14] Fiona Hamilton, “Inquiry into failure of surveillance operation,” The Sunday Times, 23 December 2016: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/inquiry-into-failure-of-surveillance-operation-29njw02bj.

[15] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[16] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[17] “ISIL's information aggregator How a Dagestani refugee became a Berlin imam working for the ‘Islamic State’,” Meduza, 15 June 2016: https://meduza.io/en/feature/2016/06/15/isil-s-information-aggregator.

[18] “Was wissen wir über die Fussilet-Moschee?,” Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, 23 December 2016: http://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2016/12/moscheeverein-fussilet33-moabit-attentaeter.html.

[19] “Berliner Verwaltung: Zu wenig Personal für Verbotsverfahren gegen Moschee-Verein,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 23 December 2016: http://www.faz.net/berliner-verwaltung-personal-fehlte-fuer-verbotsverfahren-gegen-moschee-verein-14589817.html.

[20] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[21] Hannes Heine and Sebastian Leber, “Anis Amris Leben in Berlin: Der Möchtegern-Gotteskrieger,” Der Tagesspiegel, 5 January 2017: http://www.tagesspiegel.de/themen/reportage/anis-amris-leben-in-berlin-der-moechtegern-gotteskrieger/19211204.html.

[22] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[23] Tom Porter, “Morocco 'warned Germany of Anis Amri terror threat weeks before Berlin attack',” International Business Times, 23 December 2016: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/morocco-warned-germany-anis-amri-terror-threat-weeks-before-berlin-attack-1597949.

[24] Melanie Amann et al., “After Terror Attack, Germany Examines Security Architecture,” Spiegel Online, 6 January 2017: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/after-terror-attack-germany-examines-security-architecture-a-1128917.html.

[25] Ibid., Hamilton.

[26] Ibid., Porter.

[27] “German police arrest five in raid on 'IS network',” BBC, 8 November 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37906960.

[28] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[29] Florian Flade, Tobias Heimbach and Marcel Leubecher, “Salafisten in Berlin: Amri betete, wo der „Emir von Wedding“ regiert,” Die Welt, 5 January 2016: https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article160881946/Amri-betete-wo-der-Emir-von-Wedding-regiert.html.

[30] Ben Knight, “Germany wrangles over new security measures,” Deutsche Welle, 9 January 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/germany-wrangles-over-new-security-measures/a-37068437.

The New Great Game Round Up Dec 15: From Russia-China Competition in Tajikistan to Russia-Taliban Honeymoon

The Great Game Round-Up by Newsbud’s Christoph Germann brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Russia Stepping Up its Game in Tajikistan to Counter Chinese Competition 

At the end of November, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia will supply Tajikistan with "large quantities" of military aircraft over the next year, indicating that China's growing influence in Tajikistan has not gone unnoticed in Moscow.

As defense ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) gathered in the Russian capital for a regular meeting, Shoigu and his Tajik counterpart Sherali Mirzo signed a defense cooperation plan for 2017.

"Next year, a key phase in defense cooperation, supplies of arms and military equipment will begin," the Russian Defense Minister said. "In particular, these are large quantities of aviation equipment, planes and helicopters. I think it will all be done in time. And, of course, will contribute to stability in the region."

Shoigu also noted that Russia will continue to train military personnel for Tajikistan's armed forces, highlighting the threat posed by ISIS and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan's Defense Minister Mirzo took the same line, promising that "the southern borders of our Commonwealth will be securely guarded."

According to an "official source" at the Tajik Ministry of Defense, Tajikistan will receive only new military equipment from Russia. "The forthcoming Russia’s armament supplies to Tajikistan will include a large number of aviation equipment, including combat aircraft, as well as armored vehicles and communication means," the source told Tajikistan's Asia-Plus news agency.

As the MoD source pointed out, Russia agreed to help modernize Tajikistan's armed forces when both sides signed a deal in 2012 to extend the lease of Russia's military base in the country for another 30 years until 2042.

Shortly after the agreement was reached, reports emerged that Russia was planning to provide $200 million in military aid to Tajikistan. Dushanbe was not satisfied with this modest amount and demanded more aid before ratifying the base deal.

In 2015, unnamed sources in Russia's General Staff told Russian media that the planned military aid to Tajikistan could reach $1.2 billion within the next few years. The sources said at the time that most of the aid would be second-hand equipment currently on the Russian forces' balance.

If Tajikistan's MoD source is telling the truth, that is no longer the case and Tajikistan will be receiving new military aircraft, new armored vehicles and other new equipment.

The most likely explanation for Moscow's generous mood are Russian concerns about China's growing influence in Tajikistan. As previously mentioned, China has been boosting its military ties with Tajikistan in recent months, further increasing its influence in the Central Asian country. This has not gone unnoticed in Moscow.

Why else would Russia feel the need to strengthen Tajikistan's small air force with large numbers of - possibly new - military aircraft?

There have been some clashes on the Tajik-Afghan border but the threat of a large-scale terrorist invasion is negligible.

The Taliban just recently stated that they "have no problem with anyone on the Tajikistan border," denying Russian media reports about clashes between Taliban fighters and Tajik border guards. Instead the Taliban blamed the incident on a group of smugglers that "tried to move banned substances into Tajikistan border via Kunduz but were engaged by Tajik border troops."

It seems that Moscow's generous mood has more to do with Chinese competition than with threats coming from Afghanistan.

Washington & Kabul Alarmed at Russia-Taliban Honeymoon

The Taliban have welcomed Russia's growing role in the Afghan peace process but other actors take a dim view of Moscow's activities and the Russia-Taliban honeymoon.

On December 2, U.S. General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters at the Pentagon that Russia had joined Pakistan and Iran as external actors with a "malign influence" in Afghanistan.

"Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban," Nicholson said, accusing Moscow of creating the narrative "that the Taliban are the ones fighting ISIS, not the Afghan government." The general described Russia's behavior as "not helpful," adding that the United States "would like to see a change in their behavior in terms of not legitimizing the enemy."

Reflecting on Nicholson's comments, former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar was quick to point out that this sheds a new light on warming Russia-Pakistan ties:

"From the Indian perspective, Gen. Nicholson’s revelations give an entirely new angle to the Russian-Pakistani ‘thaw’. It is inconceivable that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was not in the loop about Russia’s dealings with Taliban. Quite possibly, ISI played the role of go-between. Indeed, the recent visit by Russia’s spy chief Alexander Bortnikov to Pakistan – first such visit in two decades – takes an altogether new coloring. It’s the Taliban, stupid – not CPEC!"

As previously noted, Russia and Pakistan have recently teamed up with China to hold trilateral talks on Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and China are members of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), but neither of them was invited to meetings between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar, underlining the rift within the QCG.

Attempts to drive a wedge between the Taliban movement and Islamabad have been remarkably successful. Russia's warming ties with Pakistan and the Taliban could be a complicating factor.
A few days after Nicholson publicly criticized Russia, Reuters quoted an unnamed senior Afghan security official as saying that Russian support for the Taliban was a "dangerous new trend."

Taliban officials insisted that Russian support did not extend beyond moral and political support.

As the Reuters article noted, "Afghan officials did not produce evidence of direct Russian aid." The only evidence they could offer were recent cross-border flights by unidentified helicopters and seizures of new "Russian-made" guns.

Russian officials and Taliban representatives have reportedly held several meetings in recent months. This alone was enough to raise concerns in Kabul and Washington. Afghan officials fear that Russia could be providing direct support to the group, including weapons or funding.

Last week, Russia's Ambassador to Afghanistan, Alexander Mantytskiy, held a press conference and appeared before Afghanistan's upper house of parliament to address the concerns. Mantytskiy defended Moscow's outreach to the Taliban, arguing that Russia has common interests with the Taliban in the fight against ISIS.

Russian officials have repeated this line over and over again, but Taliban officials just told Reuters that it had nothing to do with the fight against ISIS. One unnamed senior Taliban official was quoted as saying: "In early 2008, when Russia began supporting us, ISIS didn't exist anywhere in the world. Their sole purpose was to strengthen us against the U.S. and its allies."

U.S. officials will need more than this quote if they want to blame Russia for the failure of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, which President Barack Obama all but admitted in his final major speech on counterterrorism as commander in chief.

"You heard that (President Barack) Obama said America cannot defeat Taliban and that violations will continue in Afghanistan," Russian Ambassador Mantytskiy emphasized during his appearance before Afghanistan's upper house. "It means that America and the west has failed to complete their mission."

As Moscow and Washington trade punches over Afghanistan, the U.S.-backed government in Kabul is facing its next major scandal, underlining that Russia's outreach to the Taliban is one of the smaller problems.

# # # #

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Author & Analyst,  is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Newsbud Exclusive- The World’s Biggest Hostage Crisis Comes to an End

East Aleppo Civilians Describe How ‘Rebels’ Prevented Them from Leaving

As Syrian government forces recapture more parts of eastern Aleppo, many civilians are risking their lives to flee the besieged opposition-controlled areas, telling the world that the so-called “rebels” stop at nothing to prevent people from leaving.

The Syrian government and its Russian allies have long accused armed opposition groups in Aleppo of holding civilians hostage, whereas western governments and media have been promoting a different narrative in tune with “rebel” and “activist” sources. This narrative is now falling apart.

When government forces first managed to encircle the opposition-held districts of Aleppo in July of this year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the opening of humanitarian corridors “to aid civilians held hostage by terrorists and for fighters wishing to lay down their arms.”[1]

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in a July 26 letter to the Security Council that “the Syrian Army informed the civilian residents of those neighborhoods that it has secured safe passages, for those who want to safely exit those areas, and that it has allocated temporary accommodation for them.”

Jaafari’s American counterpart Samantha Power described the letter as “chilling,” commenting on Twitter that Jaafari “warns Syrians to leave eastern Aleppo and entrust their lives to a government that has bombed and starved them.”[2]

Likewise, the Guardian said the announcement of humanitarian corridors “must be exposed as a cynical ruse,” stating that “it is no surprise that Aleppo’s population is not rushing towards these exit corridors, which have not in any case materialised on the ground.”[3]

Contrary to the Guardian’s claims, civilians in eastern Aleppo tried to use the exit corridors, much to the dismay of the armed opposition groups. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), only “around 12 people managed to use the Bustan al-Qasr corridor before rebel groups reinforced security measures and prevented families from approaching the corridors.”[4]

Instead of putting pressure on the “rebel groups” to allow civilians to leave, the United States and its allies supported a major offensive led and organized by terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra to break the siege and “put some pressure back on Russia and Iran,” as one western diplomat put it.[5]

The Nusra-led July-August offensive was successful but didn’t change the course of the battle for Aleppo.

A few weeks later, Nusra terrorists and their brothers-in-arms in eastern Aleppo found themselves again under siege.

Before pursuing a military solution, the Syrian government and Russia announced a unilateral cease-fire to allow civilians and surrendering fighters to leave the opposition-controlled areas.

Once again, the opposition groups in eastern Aleppo did their best to prevent this.

ITV News, reporting from government-held western Aleppo on the first day of the unilateral cease-fire, confirmed that “rebels” were firing on checkpoints and exit corridors, making it extremely dangerous for anyone to leave eastern Aleppo. Describing the situation at one of the checkpoints, ITV News correspondent Dan Rivers said: “We were forced to run for cover as rebel sniper fire sent soldiers and onlookers scattering for their lives.”[6]

As The Independent’s Bethan McKernan pointed out, “several residents inside east Aleppo reported that people trying to cross into the West were shot at by mortar fire.”

Despite all evidence to the contrary, antigovernment fighters and their supporters kept denying that civilians were being held hostage in eastern Aleppo. “Rebel sources and activists from the Aleppo Media Centre said reports of the opposition stopping evacuations were fabricated,” McKernan noted.[7]

“All the human corridors that the regime is promoting, are all lies,” antigovernment activist Bassem Ayoud told The New York Times. “What’s happening is an extermination of people.”[8]

These dubious claims went largely unchallenged; instead, many western journalists and analysts cheered on another “rebel” offensive intended to break the siege of eastern Aleppo.

As was the case with the July-August offensive, the October-November offensive only prolonged the suffering of civilians in both eastern and western Aleppo.

Two days into the offensive, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy to Syria, said he was “appalled and shocked by the high number of rockets indiscriminately launched by armed opposition groups on civilian suburbs of western Aleppo in the last 48 hours.”

“Those who argue that this is meant to relieve the siege of eastern Aleppo should be reminded that nothing justifies the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons, including heavy ones, on civilian areas and it could amount to war crimes,” de Mistura said in a statement issued by his office on October 30.[9]

Despite showing a total disregard for civilian life, the jihadist-led opposition fighters were not able to break the siege this time around, suffering a devastating defeat in “the mother of all battles,” as they called it.

During this time, Russia refrained from resuming airstrikes on Aleppo, sticking to the unilateral cease-fire, but only a few dozen civilians were able to leave the opposition-controlled areas. Among them was Khaled Kadoura who fled to the government side with his wife Samira and their eight-year-old son. Kadoura painted a much different picture than “rebel” and “activist” sources, telling Robert Fisk from The Independent:

“On the day this started [20 October], the armed groups in east Aleppo surrounded the people who wanted to leave with a sort of ‘security circle’ to prevent them going out. They even had weapons in their hands. They shot at some people – I was told six died – and they killed a pregnant woman. She was killed and there were others wounded. They accused the [Syrian] government of shelling the passageways. We waited till night to cross and we waited till after the Maghreb prayers when we knew that the armed men near the crossing point would have gone to rest. Later, they were all arrested and accused of taking bribes to allow us to cross. We had to be so careful because of mines.”

After he fled with his wife and son, his 27-year old brother Hamzi was arrested by Ahrar al-Sham and sentenced to execution, Kadoura said.[10]

Despite all that, western media outlets kept echoing absurd opposition propaganda.

Summarizing the period of the unilateral cease-fire, Kareem Shaheen and Emma Graham-Harrison from the Guardian wrote: “Almost no one came through the corridors, which opposition fighters said were not actually safe.”

The fact that opposition fighters were firing on the exit corridors was not mentioned in the article.

No one at the Guardian bothered to question the claims of Fastaqim spokesman Sharif al-Halabi as he told them that the opposition still had the support of most people in the besieged areas.

“Of course under bombardment people are going to be restless and complain, but the fact of the matter is the majority of those who live in the liberated areas are with the Free Syrian Army despite the siege,” the Guardian quoted al-Halabi as saying.[11]

But a few weeks later, opposition lines in eastern Aleppo began collapsing, enabling tens of thousands of civilians to flee and tell the world their side of the story.

17-year-old Rasha told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that opposition fighters did not allow her to leave when she wanted to move to her parents’ new home outside Aleppo.[12] “All my neighbours wanted to leave but the rebels prevented them many times,” Rasha said in an interview.[13]

Another woman would speak only in confidence about the dangerous journey to the government side. She explained to the BBC that opposition fighters tried to prevent civilians from leaving saying that they would be killed by the Syrian army if they crossed over. As if this was merely a side note, the BBC noted in passing: “Like many others, she recounted how they came under rebel fire as they tried to escape.”[14]

Likewise, the Associated Press (AP) buried a remarkable eyewitness account in the last two paragraphs of its report from Jibreen, where thousands of men, women and children from eastern Aleppo have taken refuge:

"We were under pressure by all means, psychological and financial. The gunmen were trying to prevent us from leaving until the army came," said 36-year-old Amina Rwein, who fled with her husband, seven daughters and three sons.

"We came under fire from the gunmen as we were leaving and the army hit the minaret from where the sniper was shooting, and then we crossed," she said.[15]

Many people who fled eastern Aleppo told similar stories, confirming that the so-called “rebels” shot at civilians to prevent them from leaving.

“I wanted to leave with my kids 15 days ago but the rebels shot at me and said 'Hey, you bastard -- do you want to join the regime?” one man told CNN at a camp in Jibreen.

For some reason, none of this made the headlines.

Moreover, CNN and others kept promoting the same “rebel” and “activist” sources that had just been exposed as participants in a devious propaganda campaign, such as the pro-opposition Aleppo Media Center.[16]

Thanks to the support of western media, “rebel” and “activist” sources have been able to deceive the public for months while hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians were being held hostage in eastern Aleppo.

Needless to say, not all civilians want to cross over to the government side, but it is impossible to tell how many civilians are still staying in the ever shrinking opposition-controlled areas and how many of them are being prevented from leaving.

On December 7, the United States, the United Kingdom and other NATO countries issued a statement claiming that “some 200,000 civilians, including many children, in eastern Aleppo are cut off from food and medicine supplies.”[17]

Although opposition fighters already lost control of three quarters of their territory in eastern Aleppo, international humanitarian officials estimate that only around 30,000 civilians have fled to government-held areas in the past week.[18]

It is only a question of time before Syrian government forces recapture all opposition-held districts of Aleppo. Once the dust settles, it will become clear how many people were really living in eastern Aleppo under the rule of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other opposition groups.

Supporting these groups and helping them spread their propaganda will only prolong the suffering of civilians in Aleppo.

When opposition fighters invaded Aleppo more than four years ago after the city refused to join the uprising, a “rebel” commander told the Guardian:

“Around 70% of Aleppo city is with the regime. It has always been that way. The countryside is with us and the city is with them. We are saying that we will only be here as long as it takes to get the job done, to get rid of the Assads. After that, we will leave and they can build the city that they want.”[19]

As the world’s biggest hostage crisis comes to an end, the armed opposition and its supporters have to ask themselves if trying “to get rid of the Assads” was really worth all the death and destruction.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

 

[1] “Calls grow for Syria government to end Aleppo siege,” Agence France-Presse, 29 July 2016: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/Jul-29/364570-calls-grow-for-syria-government-to-end-aleppo-siege.ashx.

[2] Andrey Ostroukh, Raja Abdulrahim and Farnaz Fassihi, “Russia, Syria Promise Exit Corridors for Rebels, Civilians in Aleppo,” The Wall Street Journal, 28 July 2016: http://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-promises-exit-corridors-for-rebels-civilians-in-aleppo-1469719490.

[3] “The Guardian view on the battle for Aleppo: stop it now,” The Guardian, 29 July 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/29/the-guardian-view-on-the-battle-for-aleppo-stop-it-now.

[4] Ibid., Agence France-Presse.

[5] Erika Solomon, “Outside help behind rebel advances in Aleppo,” Financial Times, 8 August 2016: https://www.ft.com/content/da076830-5d77-11e6-a72a-bd4bf1198c63.

[6] “Gunfire intensifies in Aleppo despite ceasefire,” ITV News, 20 October 2016: http://www.itv.com/news/2016-10-20/itv-news-witnesses-fierce-gunfight-in-aleppo-despite-ceasefire/.

[7] Bethan McKernan, “East Aleppo civilians ‘shot at’ by rebels to prevent them leaving during truce,” The Independent, 21 October 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/aleppo-crisis-latest-rebel-assad-blame-un-lack-evacuations-a7374081.html.

[8] Anne Barnard, “Wary of Russian Guarantees, Residents Stay Put in War-Torn Aleppo,” The New York Times, 20 October 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/21/world/middleeast/aleppo-syria-russia-cease-fire.html.

[9] “Media statement from the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura,” UN Department of Public Information, 30 October 2016: http://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/media-statement-office-united-nations-special-envoy-syria-mr-staffan-3.

[10] Robert Fisk, “'We were living a real tragedy in east Aleppo': One family's journey across the city amid the bloodshed,” The Independent, 1 November 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/thousands-of-civilian-families-forced-by-militias-to-remain-in-eastern-aleppo-a7389346.html.

[11] Kareem Shaheen and Emma Graham-Harrison, “Russia and Assad to pound rebels as east Aleppo braces for attack,” The Guardian, 5 November 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/05/russia-and-assad-prepare-pound-rebels-east-aleppo-braces-for-aerial-onslaught.

[12] Maher Al-Mounes, “Aleppo family reunited after months separated by war,” Agence France-Presse, 2 December 2016: https://www.yahoo.com/news/aleppo-family-reunited-months-separated-war-142742007.html.

[13] “Aleppo family reunited after months separated by war,” Agence France-Presse, 2 December 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0jrHGRTbfc

[14] Lyse Doucet, “Aleppo siege: 'We are crying and afraid',” BBC, 3 December 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38194962.

[15] “Syria: Thousands of Aleppo's Displaced Pack Market Shelter,” The Associated Press, 3 December 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/12/03/world/middleeast/ap-ml-syria-aleppos-displaced.html?_r=0.

[16] Frederik Pleitgen and Angela Dewan, “Syrian war: CNN goes inside Aleppo under airstrikes,” CNN, 5 December 2016: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/04/middleeast/syria-civil-war/.

[17] Joint statement from the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States on the situation in Aleppo, 7 December 2016: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-statement-on-aleppo-7-december-2016.

[18] Anne Barnard, “Syrian Forces Said to Drive Deeper Into Rebel-Held Aleppo,” The New York Times, 7 December 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/world/middleeast/syria-aleppo.html.

[19] Martin Chulov, “Syrian rebels fight on for Aleppo despite local wariness,” The Guardian, 21 August 2012: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/21/syrian-rebels-aleppo-local-hostility.

 

 

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 30, 2016

China Urges Turkey to Extradite Embassy Bombing Suspects to Kyrgyzstan & Major Powers Vying for Influence in Afghanistan

Newsbud’s New Great Game Round-Up by Christoph Germann brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

China Urges Turkey to Extradite Embassy Bombing Suspects to Kyrgyzstan

Three months after the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek was hit by a suicide car bomber, Kyrgyz authorities are still trying to catch several suspects accused of ordering, financing and preparing the attack.

The trace leads to Turkey, but Kyrgyzstan's suspect list has left more questions than answers.

On September 6, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (GKNB) identified the suicide bomber as an ethnic Uyghur carrying a Tajik passport with the name Zoir Khalilov. According to the GKNB, he was a member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Syria.

The Kyrgyz state security service said that Uyghur terrorist groups in Syria affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra were behind the bombing. Emissaries of al-Nusra allegedly organized and financed the attack through Sirojiddin Mukhtarov, the leader of Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad(KTJ), a predominately Uzbek group which pledged allegiance to al-Nusra last year.

Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, also known as Jannat Oshiqlari, reportedly has a Uyghur wing consisting mainly of young and inexperienced recruits.

KTJ leader Sirojiddin Mukhtarov alias Abu Saloh is a native of Kashgar-Kyshtak, a village in Kyrgyzstan's Osh region on the edge of the Fergana Valley. There is some confusion about whether he is an ethnic Uyghur or Uzbek. Mukhtarov played a central role in organizing the attack, according to Kyrgyz authorities.

Five citizens of Kyrgyzstan, four ethnic Uzbeks and one ethnic Kyrgyz born in Uzbekistan,were arrested in the wake of the embassy bombing while another four Kyrgyz citizens were added to the international wanted list.

The four wanted suspects - Mubarak Turganbaev, Burhanidin Jonturaev, Ilyas Sabirov andIzzotillo Sattybayev - were said to be hiding in Turkey, but three of them already went public,claiming they had nothing to do with the bombing.

Shortly after the GKNB declared the representative of "Adal-Tour" in Turkey "M.T." wanted for financing the attack, Adal Tour employee Mubarak Turganbaev denied the accusations on Facebook. Turganbaev said that his company delivers cargo and remittances from Turkey to Kyrgyzstan and explained why his name may have come up during the investigation:

"A man called Burkhan, who has a restaurant business in Turkey asked to transfer $5,000 to a certain Iskender in Bishkek. The mobile phone number 0709-66-87-40 was indicated. Our staff transferred him the money. I want to say I have not participated in a terror act. A warrant was issued for my arrest without anyone making an attempt to contact me for questioning. I did not flee anywhere, and I am in close contact with the consul of Kyrgyzstan in Istanbul. I do not have and never have had links with terrorists."

In early October, Turganbaev took a flight from Istanbul to Kyrgyzstan to give testimony. He was immediately arrested and has since been in custody.

Meanwhile, the Burkhan in Turganbaev's account, Burhanidin Jonturaev, also took to Facebook to declare his innocence, claiming that he unwittingly participated in the plot by helping a friend. Jonturaev said he was cooperating with the investigation and his lawyer had met with the consul of the Kyrgyz Republic in Turkey to hand over relevant documents, but he didn't want to fly to Bishkek for fear of being arrested.

Likewise, Ilyas Sabirov told the media that he had nothing to do with the bombing and that he already testified in the Kyrgyz consulate in Istanbul.

As Kyrgyz authorities are struggling to solve the case, the Chinese government is running out of patience.

On November 17, Kyrgyzstan's Ambassador to Turkey Ibragim Dzhunusov met with his Chinese counterpart Hongyang Yu "to discuss the situation, related to the question of detention of suspects in Turkey, who are suspected of carrying out terrorist attacks at the Embassy of Chinese Republic in Bishkek on August 30, 2016 and according to the available information are hiding in Istanbul."

Hongyang Yu informed the Kyrgyz side that China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi had raised the issue a few days earlier in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu, "during which the Chinese part stressed the need for the speedy arrest of terrorists sheltering in Turkey and extradition them to the Kyrgyz Republic."

Kyrgyz Ambassador Dzhunusov noted that Kyrgyzstan had asked the Turkish authorities to detain the suspects and was still waiting for a response.

This is hardly surprising given Kyrgyzstan's treatment of Turganbaev and the many unanswered questions surrounding the case. The more details emerge, the more confusing it gets, but Beijing is apparently not willing to wait any longer and wants to see some results.

Major Powers Vying for Influence in Afghanistan

With all the focus on Syria, Afghanistan has largely dropped off the radar of Western media while the struggle for influence in the war-torn country is intensifying.

The Afghan government and some Taliban members seem to believethat they can find a solution to the conflict without Pakistan. Russia and China have a different view.

Zamir Kabulov, Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan, announced earlier this month that Moscow will host consultations on Afghanistan between Russia, China and Pakistan in December. "We are discussing this with the Chinese, the Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis," Kabulov said.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry confirmed Kabulov's statement, emphasizing that a working level meeting in the Russia-China-Pakistan format had already taken place.

Both Pakistan and China are part of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), which also includes Afghanistan and the United States. Islamabad still views the QCG as the "appropriate forum" for Afghan peace talks, but Kabul and Washington opted for talks in Qatar without Pakistani and Chinese involvement.

Attempts to drive a wedge between the Taliban and Pakistan have already produced some tangible results.

According to Pakistani and Taliban sources, the Taliban need two or three months for internal consultations before deciding whether or not to resume talks with Kabul. Pakistan had reportedly given them an ultimatum: Consult with Islamabad during the negotiations or have all top Taliban leaders leave Pakistan along with their families.

"We are now exploring the options for talks with foreign stakeholders, as well as with the Afghan side," a member of the Taliban's political office in Qatar told Pakistan's The Express Tribune in a recent interview.

The Taliban leader also welcomed Russia's growing role in the Afghan peace process, saying that the Taliban view Moscow's efforts as "positive."

Russia's Afghanistan envoy Kabulov confirmed that Moscow has been in contact with the Taliban to ensure the safety of Russian nationals and political representatives in Afghanistan. According to well-informed Afghan political analyst Jawed Kohistani, "there has been systematic contact between the Taliban and Russia since 2009."

While the Taliban are exploring their options, some Taliban members are claiming that the leadership shura as well as justice, recruitment and religious councils already moved from Pakistan to southern Afghanistan.

There hasn't been any confirmation of such moves. Leaving Pakistan is an impractical idea, as Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada, a senior diplomat under the Taliban regime, pointed out: "If we left Pakistan we would not survive one week."

However, he also mentioned that "the Taliban want to get away from the influence of Pakistan in order to have respect among Afghans."

Moreover, Kakazada told the Guardian about the Taliban's precarious financial position, which might help explain why the Taliban are now offering to protect major government projects, such as the Mes Aynak copper deposit and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

Both projects have been hampered by poor security, among other things.

China made a substantial investment in the Mes Aynak project and is yet to see any return. This is one of the reasons why Beijing is looking to assume a bigger role in Afghanistan, which - according to India's WION news outlet - includes regular military patrols deep inside Afghan territory.

China's Defense Ministry dismissed the WION report, saying: "Reports in foreign media of Chinese military vehicles patrolling inside Afghanistan do not accord with the facts."

An Afghan official, speaking condition of anonymity, also denied the story.

Meanwhile, Indian media published another interesting report. Indian officials confirmed to The Hindu that India is stepping up its military assistance to Afghanistan. The focus lies on restoring Afghanistan's fleet of Soviet-era helicopters and transport aircraft. This involves a trilateral framework with Russia, according to Indian officials.

Kabul has long called on India to provide more military assistance to Afghanistan, but New Delhi has been cautious not to provoke Pakistan. With tensions between the two nuclear powers escalating, this could be changing. It is possible that India also had a hand in the growing rift between Pakistan and the Taliban.

Even though Afghanistan rarely makes the headlines these days, the struggle for influence is far from over.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- Newsbud Author & Analyst

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Analysts, is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Newsbud Exclusive- The Disastrous Track Record of the New ‘Leader of the Free World’

Angela Merkel Is Concerned About the Next Election – And With Good Reason

Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election came as a shock to many, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel has made no secret of her admiration for Hillary Clinton. “I admire her strategic thinking and her strong commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership,” Merkel told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview earlier this year. “Whenever I was able to work with Hillary Clinton, it was a great pleasure.”[1]

But instead of congratulating her old friend Hillary, the German Chancellor was forced to congratulate Republican candidate Donald Trump on winning the U.S. presidential election.

Merkel didn’t even bother hiding her disappointment, issuing a carefully crafted statement that sounded more like a warning to President-elect Trump than a congratulatory message:

“Germany’s ties with the United States of America are deeper than with any country outside of the European Union. Germany and America are bound by common values — democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation, both with me personally and between our countries’ governments.”[2]

Merkel’s words were well received by the establishment press, which had just suffered one of its worst defeats and was trying to portray Trump’s victory as an attack on Western values.

British historian Timothy Garton Ash described Merkel’s statement as “the most dignified response I have seen to Trump’s election” and concluded:

“The phrase “leader of the free world” is usually applied to the president of the United States, and rarely without irony. I’m tempted to say that the leader of the free world is now Angela Merkel.”[3]

Likewise, The New York Times and others also declared German Chancellor Merkel the new “leader of the free world” after Hillary Clinton couldn’t take up the role.

In this regard, Merkel’s job is “to defend Western liberal constitutionalism against the politics of resentment and anger,” as Constanze Stelzenmüller of the Brookings Institution put it.

There is a lot at stake in Germany’s 2017 federal election when Merkel seeks a fourth term in office.

“Should she lose, the loss would not just be Germany’s,” Stelzenmüller warned.[4]

Still in shock after Brexit and Hillary Clinton’s defeat, large parts of the political and media establishment in the West are now rallying behind Angela Merkel to support her fight against “the politics of resentment and anger.”

However, the German people are not necessarily keen on renewing Merkel’s mandate. Especially the handling of the refugee crisis has cost her much popularity, but that is not the only reason why many Germans are resentful and angry.

Merkel has damaged three important pillars of German post-war politics: the German welfare state, European integration and German Ostpolitik.

Even before coming to power, CDU leader Angela Merkel actively supported the dismantling of the German welfare state, initiated by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder with his controversial Agenda 2010.

In late 2005, Merkel then picked up where Schröder left off, personally thanking him in her government policy statement for implementing the Agenda 2010 reforms despite opposition.

A decade later, Germany is near the top of the inequality scale in terms of wealth distribution. The top 10% of German households own about 60% of the country’s wealth, whereas the lower half of households own just 2.5%.[5]

Only a few people benefit from the booming economy while the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.

“Germany’s increasing wealth goes hand in hand with growing inequality,” concluded a report by Germany’s Joint Welfare Association Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband last year.

Merkel and her supporters often cite record low numbers of unemployment as a measure of success, neglecting the fact that record numbers of Germans are living in poverty. Unemployment has simply been turned into low-paying jobs, leading to a major increase in the number of people who are poor despite having a job.[6]

The risk of falling into poverty has grown under Merkel, rising from 14% in 2006 to around 16% in 2015.

Her championing of neoliberal policies has done incredible damage in Germany and beyond.

Greece has been devastated and the European project has been damaged beyond repair. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi recently warned that Merkel’s obsession with austerity is strangling Europe, and that is hardly an overstatement.[7]

To make matters worse, the German Chancellor has led Europe into a new Cold War.

Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany jettisoned the cooperative Ostpolitik in favor of a policy of confrontation towards Russia, which eventually culminated in a NATO-backed coup d’état in Ukraine.

Instead of preventing the United States from installing a rabid anti-Russian regime in Kiev, the Merkel-led government supported the move, provoking a predictable response from Russia.

Merkel’s treatment of Russia has been criticized by former Chancellors Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder as well as large parts of the population, to no avail.

Although the overwhelming majority of Germans opposed economic sanctions against Russia, the German government readily agreed to follow Washington’s lead.[8]

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden boasted later of “America’s leadership and the President of the United States insisting, oft times almost having to embarrass Europe to stand up and take economic hits to impose costs.”[9]

Thanks to Merkel, Germany is taking the biggest economic hit.

The French Centre d'Études Prospectives et d'Informations Internationales (CEPII) examined the impact of the diplomatic conflict on Western exports, estimating the total export loss at $60.2 billion between December 2013 and June 2015.

“Germany is losing the most exports in absolute terms, more than US$832 million per month,” according to the CEPII analysis. “In percentage terms, Germany is bearing 27% of the global lost trade, while other major geopolitical players like the United States (0.4%), France (5.6%) and the United Kingdom (4.1%) incurred much less.”[10]

Chancellor Merkel’s subservience to Washington regarding the Ukrainian conflict came as no surprise. Putting American over German interests has been a hallmark of Merkel’s career, even before coming to power.

After SPD Chancellor Schröder announced that Germany would not support U.S. plans to invade Iraq, Merkel assured the U.S. establishment that “Schroeder doesn’t speak for all Germans.”[11] She did her best to drum up support for the Iraq War, delivering a remarkable speech to the German Bundestag on September 13, 2002 that should have disqualified her from ever running for office.[12]

Today, Merkel denies having supported the Iraq War in an attempt to distance herself from U.S.-NATO actions that have led to the refugee crisis. But her support of these actions is more apparent than ever.

In early 2012, just a few months after the United States and its allies launched a covert war on Syria, Germany began working on “The Day After.”

“The Day After” was the name of a secret project organized by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a government-funded think tank with close ties to the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), in close cooperation with the Orwellian-named United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

Around 45 Syrian opposition members “of all stripes,” including members of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Muslim Brotherhood, were flown into Berlin to “support a democratic transition in Syria.” Bringing the Islamist participants to the United States would have been difficult. This was one of the reasons why Berlin was chosen as the venue for the project.[13]

Germany has supported the U.S.-led war on Syria in various ways, for example with a spy ship off the Syrian coast. German officials were convinced that Assad’s fall was only a matter of time. “We can be proud of our important contribution to the fall of the Assad regime,” a BND official told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper in August 2012.[14]

Four years later, hundreds of thousands of people are dead, more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria and around 5 million Syrians have fled the country, many of whom are now seeking refuge in Germany.

The German Chancellor has been heavily criticized for her handling of the refugee crisis but her role in creating the crisis deserves close scrutiny as well.

Angela Merkel’s time in office has been disastrous – not just for Germany.

While the Western establishment is celebrating the new “leader of the free world,” many Germans are desperately looking for alternatives in the 2017 federal election. Merkel is already raising the specter of Russian interference, fake news, bots and trolls, underlining her concerns with regard to public opinion.[15][16] Her hopes of winning another election rest on the lack of attractive alternatives, not her popularity.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] Patrick Donahue, “Merkel Lauds Clinton, Brushes Off Trump Attacks Over Refugees,” Bloomberg, 6 March 2016: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-06/merkel-lauds-clinton-brushes-off-trump-attacks-over-refugees.

[2] Anthony Faiola, “Angela Merkel congratulates Donald Trump — kind of,” The Washington Post, 9 November 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/11/09/angela-merkel-congratulates-donald-trump-kind-of/.

[3] Timothy Garton Ash, “Populists are out to divide us. They must be stopped,” The Guardian, 11 November 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/11/populists-us.

[4] Constanze Stelzenmüller, “Is Angela Merkel the leader of the free world now? Not quite.,” Brookings Institution, 17 November 2016: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/11/17/is-angela-merkel-the-leader-of-the-free-world-now-not-quite/.

[5] Norbert Häring and Jan Mallien, “Germany’s Deep Wealth Divide,” Handelsblatt, 22 March 2016: https://global.handelsblatt.com/politics/germanys-wide-rich-poor-gap-477017.

[6] Rick Noack, “Germany’s economy is the envy of Europe. So why are record numbers of people living in poverty?,” The Washington Post, 20 February 2015: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/20/germanys-economy-is-the-envy-of-europe-so-why-are-record-numbers-of-people-living-in-poverty/.

[7] John Follain, “Austerity Only Benefits Germany and Destroys Europe, Renzi Says,” Bloomberg, 20 September 2016: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-20/austerity-only-benefits-germany-and-destroys-europe-renzi-says.

[8] Hardy Graupner, “Majority of Germans against anti-Russia economic sanctions,” Deutsche Welle, 7 March 2014: http://www.dw.com/en/majority-of-germans-against-anti-russia-economic-sanctions/a-17480983.

[9] Remarks by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the John F. Kennedy Forum, Harvard Kennedy School, 3 October 2014: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/10/03/remarks-vice-president-john-f-kennedy-forum.

[10] Matthieu Crozet and Julian Hinz, “Collateral Damage: The Impact of the Russia Sanctions on Sanctioning Countries’ Exports,” Centre d'Études Prospectives et d'Informations Internationales (CEPII), June 2016: http://www.cepii.fr/CEPII/en/publications/wp/abstract.asp?NoDoc=9213.

[11] Angela Merkel, “Schroeder Doesn't Speak for All Germans,” The Washington Post, 20 February 2003: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2003/02/20/schroeder-doesnt-speak-for-all-germans/1e88b69d-ac42-48e2-a4ab-21f62c413505/?utm_term=.29eec0667360.

[12] Speech by Angela Merkel to the German Bundestag, 13 September 2002: http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btp/14/14253.pdf.

[13] Jörg Lau, “Assad-Gegner: Das neue Syrien kommt aus Wilmersdorf,” Die Zeit, 26 July 2012: http://www.zeit.de/2012/31/Syrien-Bundesregierung/komplettansicht.

[14] “Deutsches Spionageschiff hilft syrischen Rebellen,” Die Welt, 19 August 2012: https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article108682338/Deutsches-Spionageschiff-hilft-syrischen-Rebellen.html.

[15] “Merkel warns of Russian cyber attacks in German elections,” Deutsche Welle, 8 November 2016: http://www.dw.com/en/merkel-warns-of-russian-cyber-attacks-in-german-elections/a-36314197.

[16] Caroline Copley, “Merkel fears social bots may manipulate German election,” Reuters, 24 November 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-merkel-socialbots-idUSKBN13J1V0.

 

 

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 15, 2016

Examining the impact of Turkish-Russian rapprochement on NATO's Chechen 'Rebels' & Pakistan’s Taliban Warning

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Turkish-Russian Rapprochement Bodes Ill for NATO's Chechen 'Rebels'

Long before NATO member Turkey started flooding neighboring Syria with arms and fighters, the country already played a major role in destabilizing Russia's North Caucasus with a similar approach. Back in the day, the "Syrian rebels" were called "Chechen rebels" and NATO was doing its best to support them.

The Turkish government generously provided refuge to Chechen fighters and refugees, using them later as cannon fodder in Syria or as bargaining chips vis-à-vis Russia.

Turkey has long been a mecca for Russian-speaking jihadists, even before the Syrian conflict, but this could be changing very soon as a result of the recent Turkish-Russian rapprochement.

On October 26, Turkish authorities launched a nationwide counter-terrorism operation, raiding a total of 31 addresses in five provinces and detaining 81 people, including 60 foreign nationals.

Turkish newspaper Hürriyet described the detained suspects as "militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)" and said the operation was carried out "after receiving new information on a group that recruits militants and provides logistical support for the jihadists in Syria and Iraq."

According to the Russian news site rusvesna.su ("Russian Spring"), the operation was actually the result of "joint operative-investigative activities between Russian and Turkish intelligence" and targeted "representatives of the Crimean branch of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the North Caucasus wing of ISIS."

The detained suspects were primarily from Russia's North Caucasus and the post-Soviet states, causing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to wonder whether Erdogan has decided to surrender the North Caucasus to Putin.

A security source told Russian Spring that Turkey's cooperation was a gesture of thanks for intelligence warnings about the attempted coup against President Erdogan in July of this year.

Neither Russian nor Turkish authorities have been willing to confirm reports claiming that Russian intelligence warned Erdogan of an imminent coup just hours before it happened.

As Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu stressed, Ankara "received unconditional support from Russia, unlike other countries" during this difficult time. Ever since, Erdogan has spared no effort to restore relations between Turkey and Russia "to the pre-crisis level and beyond."

Turkish-backed "Syrian rebels" in and around Aleppo have already suffered from the Turkish-Russian rapprochement and it seems that NATO's "Chechen rebels" are also facing uncertain times.

On November 4, Russia's LifeNews announced that Turkish police had detained eight North Caucasus fighters, including the prominent Chechen commanders Aslambek Vadalov, Tarkhan Gaziyev and Mahran Saidov. A security source said the men fled the North Caucasus and joined the fight in Syria before moving to Turkey when it became too dangerous.

Upon hearing the good news, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov immediately issued a statement, praising Turkish President Erdogan and urging him to extradite Vadalov, Gaziyev and Saidov:

"Chechnya together with all Russian people hailed your decisive steps aimed at maintaining peace, stability, preventing a state coup and eradicating terrorism. The detention of dozens of dangerous criminals signals the firmness of your intensions. I make a request to you to allow the extradition of the gunmen."

A few months earlier, Kadyrov had already called on the Turkish authorities to crack down on Chechen terrorists hiding in Turkey after Turkish media identified Chechen "freedom fighter" turned Islamic State commander Akhmed Chatayev as the mastermind behind the June 28 Atatürk Airport attack. At the time, Kadyrov published a list of 12 Chechens that he wanted to see detained and extradited. Vadalov, Gaziyev and Saidov were on that list.

The Chechen Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate for Chechnya had just offered a reward of 3 million rubles for the capture of Saidov shortly before Russian media reported his arrest.

Erdogan won't be swayed by a few million rubles, but Russia's unconditional support over the coup attempt could prompt him to do something that seemed completely impossible only a few months ago.

The extradition of the prominent Chechen commanders would signal a significant shift in Turkish foreign policy, causing the United States to pay a heavy price for backing the wrong side on that fateful night of July 15.

Taliban Postpone Talks with Kabul after Pakistan's Warning

After Pakistan had not been invited to secret talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar, everyone was waiting for Islamabad's reaction.

According to a report by The Associated Press, the Pakistani government didn't take the news very well.

When a three-person Taliban delegation traveled from Qatar to Pakistan to brief Pakistani officials about the talks, they were given an ultimatum: Consult with Islamabad during the negotiations or have all top Taliban leaders leave Pakistan along with their families.

While the Taliban were weighing their options, Sayed Ishaq Gailani, a former MP and leader of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan, told Pakistan's The Express Tribune that several Afghan political leaders were in contact with the Taliban office in Qatar, spearheading efforts to broker further meetings. Gailani complained about the "lukewarm" response from the Kabul government, saying: "The government is not yet cooperating with us, but we will continue our efforts."

According to Gailani, around 15 political and former mujahideen leaders are involved in the peace initiative. They approached China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, looking for a possible venue for talks with the Taliban. Turkey reportedly declined to host such talks in the current post-coup environment and Saudi Arabia's participation seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, Gailani and other Afghan leaders were very optimistic that peace talks with the Taliban's Quetta Shura would begin soon. "We had exchanged views and held talks with the Quetta Shura; the only issue is a proper venue which needs to be certified for the talks," Gailani stressed.

However, a few days later, The Express Tribune announced that the Taliban are not ready to hold talks with Kabul, quoting a Taliban source as saying:

"The Taliban representatives have wrapped up their nearly two-week visit and conveyed to Pakistani officials that they have not yet decided to enter into dialogue with the Kabul administration. The Taliban leaders insisted they could only say whether or not the group will join talks after two or three months."

It seems that the Taliban need more time to think about Islamabad's ultimatum and their next moves.

The Afghan government is lurching from one crisis to another and the situation on the battlefield is developing in favor of the Taliban. There is no need to make any rash decisions.

Moreover, it is not clear how Donald Trump's surprising election victory is going to affect the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

Both the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently signed a peace deal with Kabul, have called on Trump to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Judging by his cabinet shortlist, President Trump's foreign policy isn't going to be as isolationist as many people assume. But the rising number of dead Americans is making it increasingly difficult to sell the unpopular Afghanistan war to the American public.

According to a study carried out by Afghanistan's TOLOnews, October was the deadliest month in the past two years with more than 6,000 insurgents, nearly 500 security forces and more than 700 civilians killed.

Despite the disastrous security situation, Afghanistan may have to accomodate 1.5 million Afghan refugees by the end of 2016. Most of them return from Pakistan or Iran but the International Organization of Migrants (IOM) has also recorded an increase of 400% in the number of Afghans returning from Europe. The European Union (EU) wants to increase the number even further.

Tens of thousands of Afghans who have immigrated to Europe in the last year or two could be deported as part of a controversial agreement between the EU and Kabul, allowing the EU to deport an unlimited number of Afghan asylum seekers. The European Union had threatened Afghanistan with a reduction in aid, leaving Kabul no other choice but to agree to the deal.

A recent report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Bank predicted that "additional returns from Pakistan, Iran, or Europe are likely to result in further secondary displacement, unemployment and instability."

15 years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the situation is worse than ever before. The only ones that can afford to sit back and weigh their options are the Taliban.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- Newsbud Author & Analyst

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Analysts, is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Germany’s Social Democrats to Challenge Merkel with ‘Pro-Russian’ Ostpolitik 2.0

German Media Alarmed as SPD Prepares Russia-Friendly Election Campaign

In June of this year, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier shocked the political and media establishment in Germany and other NATO countries when he criticized NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe, saying:“What we should not do now, however, is further inflame the situation with loud sabre-rattling and war cries. Anyone who believes that symbolic tank parades on the Alliance’s eastern border will increase security is wrong. We would be well advised not to deliver up any excuses for a new, old confrontation.”[1]

Steinmeier instead called for dialogue and cooperation with Russia, just a few days before the July 8 NATO summit in Warsaw.

His comments reflected growing divisions within Germany’s ruling coalition over policy toward Russia with Steinmeier’s Social Democrats (SPD) backing a more conciliatory approach than Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Senior CDU members responded to Steinmeier’s words with fierce criticism and accused the Foreign Minister of being a “Putin apologist.”

During a meeting of the CDU leadership in Berlin, Volker Bouffier, Minister President of the German state of Hesse, called on Steinmeier to clarify his remarks, emphasizing: “We, actually, always agreed that we […] really protect NATO territory.”[2]

However, this sentiment is not shared by the majority of the German population.

A representative survey by TNS Emnid in March 2016 found that over half of Germans (57 %) do not support sending German troops to defend NATO members such as Poland or the Baltic states if they are attacked by Russia. Only one out of three Germans (31%) think Germany should fulfill its obligations as a NATO member and stand in defense of Poland and the Baltic states.[3]

Steinmeier’s comments drew sharp criticism and even ridicule from the political and media establishment but were well received by the general public.

Spiegel Online, one of the most widely read news sites in Germany, asked its readers what they thought of Steinmeier’s statement. About 90,000 people cast their votes in a Spiegel Online poll. More than 70% of them agreed that it was “an important signal for a rapprochement with Russia.” Only around 14% regarded it as a “sign of weakness towards the Kremlin” and 13% as a domestic political move.[4]

There seems to be a huge disconnect in Germany between public opinion and the discourse in politics and media when it comes to Russia and NATO’s “sabre-rattling.”

Steinmeier and his SPD colleagues have realized this and are reportedly planning to exploit it in the 2017 German federal election.

According to a recent report by the German newspaper Die Zeit, the Social Democrats want to position themselves as the "peace party" in the coming elections:

“That means "no" to new sanctions against Russia, "no" to a heightened conflict with Vladimir Putin, and "yes" to further talks. In this way, the party aims to differentiate itself from Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU). That the Social Democrats could attract angry pro-Putin citizens from the left and the right is part of the plan. But they don't want to get caught playing this double game.”

As Die Zeit notes, “the test phase to find out which Russian tone of voice best suits the party faithful has already begun.”[5]

Steinmeier’s “sabre-rattling” comments should be seen in this context.

A few weeks after criticizing NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe, the German Foreign Minister laid out his plan for cooperation with Russia on arms control in the pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) in an article titled “Dialogue instead of Arms Race.”[6]

As the FAZ published Steinmeier’s op-ed, all SPD members received an email with the same title from the party chair containing the electronic signatures of Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

“The old ghost of bloc confrontation seems to have reawakened,” they wrote, calling on their fellow Social Democrats to uphold the legacy and continue the work of SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt and his right-hand man Egon Bahr, the architects behind West Germany’s “Ostpolitik.”

Pointing out that no other party has supported German-Russian relations in a similar way, the SPD leaders stressed:

“Back then, we didn't allow ourselves to be diverted from our course, nor will we allow that to happen today.”

The email reads like a preliminary draft for the 2017 election campaign.

SPD deputy chairman Ralf Stegner already went on the record as saying: “A new policy of détente that eases tensions and concentrates on peace in Europe should be among our five big election platforms.” Stegner said he feels a “massive desire to deescalate tensions with Moscow” not only in the east of the country but also on his home turf in Schleswig Holstein.[7]

With recent polls showing a drop in popularity to just 22%, the SPD is looking for ways to challenge the CDU/CSU faction, which is currently polling at 34%.[8]

Developing some kind of Ostpolitik 2.0 that addresses the rising fears of a military confrontation with Russia makes a lot of sense.[9]

As Professor Filip Kovacevic has pointed out, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier is not a “Putin apologist” or “pro-Russian,” as some of his public statements might suggest, quite the contrary.[10]

In fact, Steinmeier has often put American interests over German interests during his career.[11] The same applies to many of his SPD colleagues, but taking a “pro-Russian” stance could pay off for the Social Democrats in the 2017 German federal election.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s Minister President Erwin Sellering was the last Social Democrat who ran a Russia-friendly election campaign. Inviting former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and pleading to abolish sanctions immediately played well with the electorate in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Sellering won by a large margin. His election campaign could serve as a model for future campaigns.

However, if the Social Democrats decide to go ahead with their plan, they are going to face a lot of criticism not only from Merkel’s CDU and other parties, but also from the media. Nothing illustrates this better than the report by Die Zeit, which is a prime example of the anti-Russian propaganda that is prevalent in German media:

“How long can the SPD maintain its deference to Russia if Vladimir Putin continues the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Syria, or finds a new way to escalate the situation in Eastern Ukraine?”

When one asks leading Social Democrats this question, they seem as clueless as ever.“[12]

German media is even more hostile towards Russia than American or British media.[13] This has been particularly apparent in the reporting on Syria and Ukraine.

Running a Russia-friendly election campaign is going to be an uphill battle, so it remains to be seen if the Social Democrats can really pull it off and challenge Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party in the next federal election.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] “Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on relations between NATO and Russia,” Federal Foreign Office, 19 June 2016: https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2016/160619_BM_Bild_am_Sonntag_engl_version.html.

[2] “CDU-Politiker attackieren Steinmeier als “Putin-Versteher”,” Reuters, 20 June 2016: http://de.reuters.com/article/deutschland-russland-nato-union-idDEKCN0Z60XC.

[3] “Frayed Partnership - German public opinion on Russia,” Bertelsmann Stiftung/Institute of Public Affairs, 22 April 2016: https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/our-projects/strengthening-and-connecting-europe/news/stress-test-for-german-russian-relations/.

[4] Vanessa Steinmetz, “Nato-Kritik des Außenministers: "Keine Ahnung, wo Steinmeier plötzlich den Mut hergenommen hat",” Spiegel Online, 21 June 2016: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/leser-reaktionen-auf-steinmeiers-russland-zitat-a-1098959.html.

[5] Fabian Klask, “SPD: Where Is It Headed?,” Die Zeit, 8 November 2016: http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-11/spd-russia-peace-harmonization-election-campaign/komplettansicht.

[6] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Dialog statt Wettrüsten,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 26 August 2016: https://www.spd.de/aktuelles/detail/news/dialog-statt-wettruesten/26/08/2016/.

[7] Ibid., Klask.

[8] “Umfrage - SPD fällt auf tiefsten Stand seit drei Monaten,” Reuters, 6 November 2016: http://de.reuters.com/article/deutschland-wahlen-umfrage-idDEKBN1310GR

[9] Andreas Rinke and Erik Kirschbaum, “A third of Germans fear war erupting with Russia over Ukraine, Syria: poll,” Reuters, 26 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-germany-idUSKCN12Q2GN.

[10] Filip Kovacevic, “The Leaked Montenegrin Government Files: Part II – the U.S. Agents of Influence within the German Government,” NewsBud, 29 September 2016: http://www.newsbud.com/2016/09/29/the-leaked-montenegrin-government-files-part-ii-the-u-s-agents-of-influence-within-the-german-government/.

[11] Markus Kompa, “Doppelagent Steinmeier enttarnt,” Telepolis, 5 October 2014: https://www.heise.de/tp/news/Doppelagent-Steinmeier-enttarnt-2411623.html.

[12] Ibid., Klask.

[13] Alexey Khlebnikov, “Russia is now monitoring the world’s mass media for bias,” Russia Direct, 25 February 2015: http://www.russia-direct.org/analysis/russia-now-monitoring-world%E2%80%99s-mass-media-bias.

The New Great Game Round-Up: November 1, 2016

China's Growing Security Role in Central Asia & Are the Taliban Breaking Ties with Pakistan?

China's Growing Security Role in Central Asia

China appears to be taking a more proactive role in maintaining security and stability in Central Asia amid rising concerns over the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and threats to Chinese assets and interests in the region.

At the end of August, Beijing's worst fears came true when an ethnic Uyghur crashed a car through the gates of the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek before detonating an explosive device inside the vehicle, killing himself and injuring three embassy staff.

According to Kyrgyzstan's state security service, the attack "was ordered by Uighur terrorist groups active in Syria and affiliated to the terrorist organization the Nusra Front whose emissaries ... financed the terrorist action." The GKNB security service also said that the attack was coordinated through a native of Kyrgyzstan living in Turkey.

Uyghur jihadists in Syria operate under the banner of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which works closely with Nusra and is currently participating in a major "Syrian rebel" offensive intended to break the siege of "rebel-held" eastern Aleppo.

Due to their "intermingling" with Ahrar al-Sham and other so-called "moderate opposition forces," both the TIP and Nusra have enjoyed the protection of the United States and its allies despite being designated as terrorist organizations. NATO member Turkey has played a key role in funneling Uyghurs into Syria and has been accused of supporting the Turkestan Islamic Party.

Li Wei, an anti-terror expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that China is trying to shut down transit points in Southeast Asia and seeks to establish closer cooperation with other countries, including Turkey, "to crack down on East Turkestan separatists."

The attack on China's embassy in Kyrgyzstan has also sparked calls for closer anti-terror cooperation with the Central Asian republics.

Praising the close cooperation in investigating the incident, Chinese official Ma Peihua recently announced that China wants to send a security group to Kyrgyzstan in order to ensure the safety of its embassy and strengthen the relations between the countries' law enforcement agencies.

As more details begin to emerge about the August 30 attack, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Kyrgyz authorities to turn down any Chinese request.

Fourteen Kyrgyz border service and Interior Ministry officers have reportedly been arrested on suspicion of arms trafficking in connection with the embassy bombing. They are accused of selling arms to criminal gangs which were involved in the Chinese embassy attack and another attack against a Kyrgyz prosectuor earlier this year. 26 other officers have been dismissed.

An op-ed in China's Global Times described the arrests as "the latest achievement in Bishkek's anti-terror operations," noting that "it serves as a reminder that Beijing should also get ready to take vigorous measures to tackle overseas terrorists that have hurt China's interests." The proposed measures include increasing assistance to other countries in counter-terrorism operations as well as "direct attacks abroad, including surgical strikes by the Chinese military."

At the end of last year, Beijing passed a new anti-terrorism law allowing the military to carry out counter-terrorism operations abroad provided that the foreign country in question grants its approval.

The Central Asian states are possible candidates for such an operation.

China recently conducted its first-ever joint bilateral counter-terrorism exercises in Tajikistan, underlining Beijing's willingness to assume a bigger security role in the region. A small contingent from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) joined Tajik troops for drills near the Afghan border in the remote Tajik region of Gorno-Badakhshan, which borders both Afghanistan and China's Xinjiang.

Tajikistan's Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo said at the closing ceremony that "the exercise has shown that servicemen of the two countries are ready to provide support to each other in the fight against international terrorism in case of necessity."

Moreover, China is assisting Tajikistan in protecting the porous Tajik-Afghan border by financing and building eleven border posts as well as a training center for border guards.

At the beginning of August, China teamed up with Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to create the "Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in Counter Terrorism." The chiefs of general staffs of the four armed forces met in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, to announce the formation of the new anti-terror alliance. All three countries - Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan - border Xinjiang, illustrating why Beijing decided to establish this mechanism.

Xinjiang plays a vital role in China's economic developments and the One Belt, One Road initiative.

In order to ensure Xinjiang's stability and protect its interests, China is now gradually assuming a bigger security role in the region.

Are the Taliban Breaking Ties with Pakistan?

Ever since the Guardian reported two weeks ago that representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban have restarted talks in Qatar, there has been a lot of speculation surrounding this unexpected development.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed the report as propaganda but other Taliban officials confirmed it, saying the talks yielded little results. One Taliban official based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was quoted as saying:

"Like our previous meetings, it was a waste of time and resources, as we could not achieve anything from the meeting."

Many experts have cast doubt on whether the Taliban are really interested in peace talks at this point given their current advantage on the battlefield. Wahid Muzhdah, a Kabul-based expert and former Taliban official, said he believed that peace negotiations were not on the agenda during the talks and suggested that the reports should be looked at in the context of the upcoming U.S. elections. "I believe the reports are aimed at creating a successful picture of the US strategy in Afghanistan," Muzdah said.

As previously mentioned, one of the most interesting aspects of the Qatar talks was the absence of Pakistani officials while a senior U.S. diplomat reportedly attended the meetings.

Three senior Taliban member later traveled to Pakistan to brief Pakistani officials about the talks in Qatar but Pakistan's Foreign Ministry stressed that Islamabad views the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States as the "appropriate forum in which Pakistan is ready to play its role."

Recent arrests of senior Taliban officials in Pakistan indicate that the Pakistani authorities are trying to re-establish their control over the "Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process."

Amid rising tensions between the Taliban and Pakistan, the former head of the Taliban's Doha office, Sayyid Muhammad Tayyab Agha, sent a bombshell letter to new Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, urging the Taliban leadership to leave Pakistan and break ties with Islamabad.

Agha put forward several noteworthy demands, such as controlling the activities of foreign fighters and cutting all "direct or indirect contact with the Pakistani, Iranian, or other foreign intelligence services."

Considering that the Taliban have always been dependent on outside support, especially from Pakistan, these demands are somewhat curious.

Interestingly enough, Agha's Pashtu language letter was given to Radio Free Europe's Pashtu-language Mashaal Radio shortly after the Guardian broke the story of the Qatar talks. The letter is just the latest in a series of attempts to drive a wedge between the Taliban and the movement's most important foreign backer, Pakistan.

The United States and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul have long tried to sow divisions within the Taliban movement - with little success.

But if Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is to be believed, the Taliban are now about to fall apart amid disagreements over relations with Pakistan.

Never mind that the Afghan government is also falling apart and that the Taliban have taken more territory in Afghanistan this year than at any time since 2001.

It seems that the U.S. wants to weaken the Taliban and reduce Pakistan's influence over the group by exploiting tensions between the two sides. The question is how Pakistan will react to that.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- Newsbud Author & Analyst

Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Washington War Party Urges Obama to Go to War against Assad & the Russians

Clinton Fans Call on Obama to “Save Aleppo” as NATO-GCC-Backed ‘Rebels’ Prepare New Offensive

On October 21, The Washington Post published a noteworthy op-ed titled “Bring Syria’s Assad and his backers to account now,” written by retired U.S. Marine General John Allen and self-proclaimed Syria expert Charles Lister. Allen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and serves on the board of advisors of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) cutout. The retired four-star general attracted a lot of attention earlier this year when he delivered a forceful endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention.

Lister was formerly a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and is now a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Institute, which describes itself as “an unbiased source of information and analysis” on the Middle East and partners with corporations such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco. Lister has dismissed conflict of interest allegations by saying his contact with the Syrian opposition “had absolutely nothing to do with Qatar” and stressing that his “work on this is 100% funded by Western govts.”[1]

Allen and Lister harshly criticize U.S. “inaction” in Syria in their October 21 op-ed, emphasizing that “the Assad clique and its backers must be brought to account before it is too late.”

The authors’ case rests on the premise that U.S. policy in Syria has been characterized by inaction and “has never sought to decisively influence the tactical situation on the ground.”[2]

Since the beginning of the conflict, advocates of greater U.S. military involvement have tried to promote the myth of “U.S. inaction in Syria.”

Even after U.S. media disclosed the existence of a CIA weapons supply and training program in summer 2012, efforts to promote this myth continued unabated.

In early 2013, about eight months after The Washington Post first reported that the United States is coordinating the flow of weapons to the so-called “Syrian rebels,”[3] the editorial board of The Washington Post warned of the “consequences of U.S. inaction in Syria,” accusing the Obama administration of not doing enough to support the “rebels.”[4]

Neither The Washington Post nor any other major media outlet in the United States has been willing to publicize the true extent of U.S. covert operations in Syria, which started as early as April-May 2011.[5]

From the very beginning, U.S. policy sought to decisively influence the tactical situation on the ground in favor of the foreign-backed anti-Assad opposition. But instead of exposing the U.S.-led war on Syria, the media has been feeding into the false narrative of “U.S. inaction in Syria.”

Referring to this narrative, Allen and Lister call for accelerating and broadening the provision of lethal and nonlethal assistance to “vetted moderate opposition groups.”[6]

The United States’ vetting process of militias plays a central role in all of Lister’s policy proposals.[7] What Lister fails to mention is that this vetting process consists of nothing more than trace searches in old databases and half-hearted interviews. U.S. Special Forces soldiers on the ground in Turkey and Jordan told SOFREP that many “rebels” had sympathies with terrorist groups but knew exactly how to sell themselves during such interviews.[8]

As U.S. Special Forces soldiers on the ground voice their indignation over a mission that nobody believes in because they are just training the next generation of jihadis, Allen and Lister want to increase U.S. assistance to “vetted” groups in order to “save Aleppo,” which has become the focal point of the Syrian conflict:

“For a start, the United States must save Aleppo. Damascus, Moscow and Tehran are razing the city to prepare for an eventual ground assault. As both the CIA and Pentagon have concluded, an opposition loss in Aleppo would severely undermine the United States’ counterterrorism objectives in Syria. The city’s symbolism and strategic value are unmatched, and allowing it to fall would dramatically empower extremist narratives. Groups linked to al-Qaeda would reap the rewards of our shortcomings.”[9]

At the beginning of October, just hours after the U.S. suspended talks with Russia over Syria, The Washington Post reported that the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are pressuring President Obama to approve “kinetic actions” against Syrian government forces, arguing that an opposition loss in Aleppo “would undermine America’s counterterrorism goals in Syria.”[10]

Given the fact that the opposition in “rebel-held” eastern Aleppo is led by Jabhat al-Nusra, this argument seems rather dubious.[11] Despite rebranding itself as “Jabhat Fatah al-Sham” and supposedly cutting its ties with al-Qaeda, the group is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations. Another group present in eastern Aleppo, Ahrar al-Sham, is also closely tied to al-Qaeda.[12]

It is not exactly clear why “groups linked to al-Qaeda would reap the rewards” if groups linked to al-Qaeda are defeated in eastern Aleppo or why their defeat “would severely undermine the United States’ counterterrorism objectives in Syria.”

If Allen and Lister want to stop empowering extremist narratives, they could start by revising their portrayal of the battle of Aleppo and the Syrian conflict in general.

Nusra and its allies are not defending civilians in eastern Aleppo, as frequently claimed, but holding them hostage in order to maintain a foothold in the strategic city, which was invaded by “rebels” in summer 2012 after refusing to join the uprising.

As soon as Syrian government forces and their allies first managed to encircle the “rebel-held” areas of Aleppo in July of this year, they announced the opening of humanitarian passages for civilians and surrendering fighters. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), only “around 12 people managed to use the Bustan al-Qasr corridor before rebel groups reinforced security measures and prevented families from approaching the corridors.”[13]

Instead of telling the “rebel groups” in eastern Aleppo to stop holding civilians hostage, the United States and its allies supported a major offensive led and organized by al-Nusra to break the siege and “put some pressure back on Russia and Iran.”

One Western diplomat tried to play down the outside support, saying:

“The rebels’ problem has never been a lack of weapons. This was internally planned, and it succeeded not because of outside support but because Fatah al-Sham and the other jihadi groups are incredibly disciplined, with plenty of guys willing to blow themselves up at the front.”[14]

Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other involved groups referred to the Aleppo offensive as the “Ibrahim al-Youssef battle,” a reference to the Syrian army officer who led the Aleppo Artillery School Massacre in the late 1970s.

In June 1979, Ibrahim al-Youssef and members of a Muslim Brotherhood splinter group killed dozens of Alawite cadets after separating them from their Sunni colleagues. During the July-August Aleppo offensive, a spokesman for the Nusra-led forces said they would continue what Ibrahim al-Youssef had started and kill the Alawites.[15]

Ibrahim al-Youssef’s son Yasser is a political representative for the U.S.-vetted “rebel group” Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, which participates in the battle of Aleppo and lately joined the Nusra-led military alliance Jaish al-Fatah. Zinki is probably best known for beheading a child captive on camera. The group reportedly lost U.S. backing in August or September of last year and was in talks with the U.S. over the restoration of its support when the incriminating footage emerged.[16]

Yasser al-Youssef has become the media’s go-to-guy for information about the “rebels” in and around Aleppo. After the Syrian government and its Russian allies recently announced a unilateral cease-fire to allow civilians and surrendering fighters once again to leave eastern Aleppo, Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Yasser al-Youssef as saying that opposition fighters wanted “nothing to do” with the Russian initiative and asking: “Who are they to decide to displace the Syrian people who rebelled against the dictator Assad?”[17]

Meanwhile, the Associated Press (AP) quoted Zinki’s al-Youssef as saying that the opposition had agreed to the initiative to evacuate wounded and allow in aid. According to al-Youssef, the evacuations didn’t materialize because the Syrian government and Russia gave no assurances the wounded would not face arrest.[18]

As both sides were blaming each other for the breakdown, Western journalists on the ground confirmed that “rebels” were firing on the checkpoints and exit corridors, making it extremely dangerous for anyone to leave eastern Aleppo.[19]

When Allen and Lister say “the United States must save Aleppo,” they are not referring to the civilians in eastern Aleppo who are being held hostage by the “rebels” or to the civilians in western Aleppo who are being killed by indiscriminate “rebel” shelling. They are referring to al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Zinki and other “rebel groups” in eastern Aleppo.

On the same day the Allen-Lister op-ed was published, Lister gleefully announced on Twitter that Ahrar al-Sham, Zinki and allied militias are preparing another offensive to break the siege of Aleppo. Nusra will of course join the fight, but “the impetus and most of the planning for this offensive largely excluded” the terrorist group, as the PR disaster during the July-August offensive is still fresh on everyone’s mind. “Regional states have provided substantial support to buttress the offensive,” according to Lister.[20]

U.S. allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar already provided substantial support to buttress the July-August Aleppo offensive – with the full blessing of the United States.[21] Washington’s primary objective was to put some pressure back on Russia and Iran, not to save civilians. As before, the new offensive is going to prompt an adequate response from Russia and its allies, thereby prolonging the suffering of civilians in Aleppo.

With current U.S. policy leading nowhere, the Obama administration is divided over Syria. Whereas the hawks around CIA director John Brennan and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter want to escalate the conflict, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are increasingly skeptical of such plans.

Obama is reportedly not willing to approve plans to supply CIA-vetted militias with more powerful weapons.

One senior U.S. official told The Washington Post that CIA-backed units are “not doing any better on the battlefield, they’re up against a more formidable adversary, and they’re increasingly dominated by extremists,” raising the question of whether the program can accomplish anything beyond adding to the carnage in Syria.[22]

The Lister-approved vetting process is apparently not working.

Moreover, the sceptics in the administration fear that the new weaponry could end up killing Russian military personnel and they want to avoid risking a confrontation with Russia.

But not everyone shares this opinion.

Due to his reluctance to escalate the conflict in Syria, Obama has alienated Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which favors more U.S. military action, including cruise missile strikes on Syrian government forces.[23]

That is also a key point of the Allen-Lister plan.

When The Washington Post first reported on U.S. plans to target Syrian government forces, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov stressed that Russian troops were now widely deployed across Syria, implying that any such attack would run the risk of killing Russian soldiers.[24]

Allen and Lister are of course aware of this risk. Explaining how to punish cease-fire violations by Syrian government forces with U.S. military action, they note in passing:

“We should expect the possible intentional co-mingling of Syrian and Russian forces and assets as a deterrent. While this may complicate targeting strategies, we should not miss the opportunity to hit offending Syrian elements and units, while sustaining counter-Islamic State operations elsewhere.”[25]

Neither Allen and Lister nor Washington’s foreign policy elite seem to mind risking a direct military confrontation with Russia. But President Obama and other sceptics in the administration don’t want to start World War III over Syria, as one senior administration official who is involved in Middle East policy emphasized:

“You can’t pretend you can go to war against Assad and not go to war against the Russians.”[26]

While the war party in Washington is waiting for Obama to leave office, Russia is preparing for a showdown in Syria with the largest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War.[27]

As Allen and Lister point out, the war party “cannot wait for a new administration in Washington” because “events are moving too quickly.”[28] They may have lost Aleppo by the time Hillary Clinton takes office.[28]

So Obama might have to deal with more “accidents,” such as the September 17 Deir Ezzor attack, during his last months as President of the United States.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

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[1] Charles Lister, Twitter, 22 December 2015: https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/679221373810565120.

[2] John Allen and Charles R. Lister, “Bring Syria’s Assad and his backers to account now,” The Washington Post, 21 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/bring-syrias-assad-and-his-backers-to-account-now/2016/10/21/554b56ba-97a6-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html.

[3] Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, “Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination,” The Washington Post, 15 May 2012: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/syrian-rebels-get-influx-of-arms-with-gulf-neighbors-money-us-coordination/2012/05/15/gIQAds2TSU_story.html.

[4] “Consequences of U.S. inaction in Syria are clear,” The Washington Post, 28 January 2013: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/consequences-of-us-inaction-in-syria-are-clear/2013/01/28/a03dad0e-6978-11e2-95b3-272d604a10a3_story.html.

[5] Sibel Edmonds, “BFP Syria Coverage Track Record: What & When We Exposed, and the MSM- Quasi Alternative Culprits Who Fought Our Exposés,” Boiling Frogs Post, 29 August 2013: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2013/08/29/bfp-syria-coverage-track-record-what-when-we-exposed-and-the-msm-quasi-alternative-culprits-who-fought-our-exposes/.

[6] Ibid., Allen and Lister.

[7] Charles Lister, “A Plan for Winding Down the Syrian Civil War: Surge, Freeze, and Enforce,” War on the Rocks, 30 September 2016: http://warontherocks.com/2016/09/a-plan-for-winding-down-the-syrian-civil-war/.

[8] Jack Murphy, “US Special Forces sabotage White House policy gone disastrously wrong with covert ops in Syria,” SOFREP, 14 September 2016: https://sofrep.com/63764/us-special-forces-sabotage-white-house-policy-gone-disastrously-wrong-with-covert-ops-in-syria/.

[9] Ibid., Allen and Lister.

[10] Josh Rogin, “Obama administration considering strikes on Assad, again,” The Washington Post, 4 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2016/10/04/obama-administration-considering-strikes-on-assad-again/.

[11] “Al-Qaeda Fighters In East-Aleppo (Defined) Down To Three!,” Moon of Alabama: http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/10/number-of-al-qaeda-fighters-in-east-aleppo-defined-down-to-three.html.

[12] Christoph Germann, “Syria ‘Cease-Fire’ Brings U.S. & Russia Closer to War,” NewsBud, 10 October 2016: http://www.newsbud.com/2016/10/10/syria-cease-fire-brings-u-s-russia-closer-to-war/.

[13] “Calls grow for Syria government to end Aleppo siege,” Agence France-Presse, 29 July 2016: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/Jul-29/364570-calls-grow-for-syria-government-to-end-aleppo-siege.ashx.

[14] Erika Solomon, “Outside help behind rebel advances in Aleppo,” Financial Times, 8 August 2016: https://www.ft.com/content/da076830-5d77-11e6-a72a-bd4bf1198c63.

[15] Hassan Hassan, “The tale of two victories against Syria's worst killers,” The National, 15 August 2016: http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/the-tale-of-two-victories-against-syrias-worst-killers.

[16] Sam Heller, “In Syrian Proxy War, America Can Keep Its Hands Clean or It Can Get Things Done,” The Century Foundation, 17 August 2016: https://tcf.org/content/commentary/syrian-proxy-war-america-can-keep-hands-clean-can-get-things-done/.

[17] “UN to begin evacuations from Aleppo if truce holds,” Agence France-Presse, 21 October 2016: http://tribune.com.pk/story/1205307/un-begin-evacuations-aleppo-truce-holds/.

[18] “Evacuations From Aleppo Fail to Materialize Despite Lull,” The Associated Press, 21 October 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/10/21/world/middleeast/ap-ml-syria.html.

[19] “Gunfire intensifies in Aleppo despite ceasefire,” ITV News, 20 October 2016: http://www.itv.com/news/2016-10-20/itv-news-witnesses-fierce-gunfight-in-aleppo-despite-ceasefire/.

[20] Charles Lister, Twitter, 21 October 2016: https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/789461220331958272.

[21] Ibid., Solomon.

[22] Greg Miller and Adam Entous, “Plans to send heavier weapons to CIA-backed rebels in Syria stall amid White House skepticism,” The Washington Post, 23 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/plans-to-send-heavier-weapons-to-cia-backed-rebels-in-syria-stall-amid-white-house-skepticism/2016/10/23/f166ddac-96ee-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html.

[23] Greg Jaffe, “Washington’s foreign policy elite breaks with Obama over Syrian bloodshed,” The Washington Post, 20 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/washington-foreign-policy-elites-not-sorry-to-see-obama-go/2016/10/20/bd2334a2-9228-11e6-9c52-0b10449e33c4_story.html.

[24] Ibid., Germann.

[25] Ibid., Allen and Lister.

[26] Ibid., Jaffe.

[27] Robin Emmott, “Major Russian naval deployment to intensify Aleppo assault: NATO diplomat,” Reuters, 19 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-nato-idUSKCN12J2C6.

[28] Ibid., Allen and Lister.

The New Great Game Round Up Oct 20th: From Georgia’s Elections to Taliban’s Rise

The Great Game Round-Up by Newsbud’s Christoph Germann brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Georgia Elections: Russia Wins, Saakashvili Loses

The run-up to the parliamentary elections in Georgia underlined how much was at stake for the ruling Georgian Dream coalition and its main rival, the United National Movement (UNM), when Georgians cast their votes on October 8.

Opinion polls had suggested a head-to-head race as many voters were undecided and disappointed by both parties. This disaffection was reflected in the low turnout of 51.6%, reportedly the lowest ever for a parliamentary election in the country.

In the end, Georgian Dream celebrated a much bigger victory than expected while former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was forced to postpone his return to Georgia indefinitely.

The Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG) party won 48.67% of the vote, whereas Saakashvili's UNM received just 27.11%. Only one other party passed the 5% threshold needed to get into parliament: the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots of Georgia (APG). The Free Democrats (FD) led by former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania didn't make it into parliament, receiving merely 4.62% of the vote.
77 out of 150 seats in the Georgian parliament are determined by proportional representation. The remaining 73 are elected in local constituencies.

Georgian Dream's 48.67% translate into 44 parliament seats. The United National Movement secured 27 seats and the Alliance of Patriots 6 seats.

Moreover, according to preliminary results, GDDG candidates are winning outright in 23 constituencies, bringing the total number of Georgian Dream seats to 67. Second round runoffs are expected in 50 constituencies.

In light of the devastating election results, the United National Movement briefly considered boycotting the new parliament and second round runoffs but ultimately decided against it, ignoring the advice of UNM founder Saakashvili who warned that participating in the runoffs "would actually legitimize the elections held with gross violations."

Saakashvili and the UNM claimed that the elections were neither free nor fair. International observers came to a different conclusion. Not even U.S. Ambassador Ian Kelly was willing to back up the UNM's claims and told them to respect the democratic process:

"I think, that the UNM ran a good campaign and they should feel proud of the campaign that they conducted and I would very much expect them to approach this situation in a calm and peaceful way and take their seats when the time comes."

As the Financial Times' Jack Farchy noted, the election result "is unlikely to alter Georgia’s pro-western foreign policy, with both Georgian Dream and UNM favouring closer ties with the west." Both parties are strongly committed to Euro-Atlantic integration and Georgian Dream has spared no effort to lead the country into NATO. That is why Washington doesn't feel the need to take action - for now.

However, the bad performance of Irakli Alasania's Free Democrats and the remarkable success of the Alliance of Patriots, which favors greater integration with Russia and opposes Georgia's accession to NATO, could cause concerns in the West.

These results illustrate a noteworthy trend of rising pro-Russian sentiments and declining support for Euro-Atlantic integration in Georgia.

After the Free Democrats failed to garner 5% of the vote, former Defense Minister Alasania announced that he will temporarily leave politics and not participate in the second round runoff in his district.

During his time as Defense Minister, Alasania was arguably the most popular Georgian politician in Brussels and Washington. He was seen as the man who would lead Georgia into NATO. His sacking in November 2014 caused a great stir.

The fact that Alasania, who embodies Georgia's NATO aspirations more than any other politician, has now quit politics after receiving less than 5% of the vote while the pro-Russian Alliance of Patriots secured 6 seats in the new parliament, is certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the recent parliamentary elections. This won't have gone unnoticed in Brussels and Washington.

Taliban Restart Talks With Kabul from Position of Strength

About one year after Taliban forces briefly seized the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, the strategic city is again on the verge of falling to the Taliban.

Tens of thousands of residents were forced to flee as government forces struggled to fend off a multi-pronged Taliban attack that began on October 3. Heavy fighting engulfed parts of Kunduz for nine days until local officials could announce that the city had been cleared of Taliban fighters.

At that point, the blame game was already well underway. Many residents were furious and called on the government to punish those responsible for the crisis, arguing that this wouldn't have happened if people had been held to account after the fall of Kunduz last year. "The problem should be solved; otherwise, Kunduz will again fall to the Taliban," one tribal elder said.

Kunduz is one of five(!) provincial capitals that are currently threatened by the Taliban.

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, just saw one of the worst massacres of Afghan forces in the ongoing war. According to Afghan officials, at least 100 police officers and soldiers were killed when the Taliban opened fire on them from all directions after promising the group a safe passage of retreat to Lashkar Gah.

The United States and its allies are beginning to worry about the rising casualties among Afghan forces, as U.S. Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, recently told Voice of America:

"We do have concerns about the number of ANDSF casualties and it is something we work closely with our Afghan partners to address."

Afghan media noted that "the latest figures show an unprecedented rise in Afghan army casualties as compared to the previous years." According to a senior Afghan official who spoke to The New York Times on condition of anonymity, about 4,500 Afghan soldiers and police were killed and more than 8,000 wounded from March to August.

As the security situation continues to deteriorate and the casualties keep rising, the Afghan government is having difficulty replacing the fallen with army and police failing to meet their recruitment goals.

Unsustainable casualty rates, tens of thousands of "ghost" soldiers, poor leadership and corruption weaken the Afghan security forces and affect their ability to contain a resurgent Taliban.

The current situation on the battlefield strengthens the Taliban's hand in talks with Kabul. Senior sources within the insurgency and the Kabul government told the Guardian that representatives of the two sides have been holding secret talks in Qatar since September - with U.S. but without Pakistani involvement.

"Pakistan was double dealing and insincere with the Afghan government. We no longer think we need Pakistan and the Taliban think the same thing," a close aide of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was quoted as saying.

A western official in Kabul interpreted the recent arrests of senior Taliban officials in Pakistan as an attempt by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to "re-establish control over the process."

Pakistan won't easily relinquish its control and new Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada knows better than anyone else that the Taliban need Pakistan, so it remains to be seen if talks without Pakistani involvement can really produce tangible results.

# # # #

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Author & Analyst,  is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The Jaber al-Bakr Story: How a White Helmets Volunteer Almost Blew Up Berlin Airport

Chemnitz Terror Plot Turns the Spotlight on NATO’s Terrorist Breeding Ground in ‘Rebel-Held’ Syria

The two-day manhunt, spectacular arrest and shocking death of a Syrian terrorism suspect in Germany have attracted a lot of attention and raised a lot of questions.

On October 8, German police raided an apartment in the eastern city of Chemnitz after being tipped off by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. They found 1.5 kilograms of TATP, the explosive of choice for ISIS terrorists, but the target of the raid, a 22-year-old Syrian refugee named Jaber al-Bakr, managed to escape.

Three alleged associates of al-Bakr were detained in connection with the raid, two of whom were later released. A 33-year-old Syrian refugee, identified only as Khalil A., remains in custody. Kahlil A. was renting the Chemnitz apartment where al-Bakr was staying. He is accused of allowing al-Bakr to use his apartment and of ordering bomb-making materials for him online. Security sources referred to the apartment as “a virtual bomb-making lab.”[1]

After the botched raid on Saturday, German police immediately launched a nationwide manhunt for al-Bakr.

On Sunday evening, three Syrians contacted police in the city of Leipzig, about an hour’s drive from Chemnitz, and informed them that they had captured the wanted suspect.

36-year-old Syrian refugee Mohamed A. later told German media that he and two of his friends had picked up al-Bakr at Leipzig main station after he sent out a request via a Syrian refugee online network for a place to stay. When they noticed that a manhunt for al-Bakr was underway, they decided to tie him up and informed the police.

At 0:42 a.m. local time on Monday, special police forces entered the apartment in Leipzig and found the terrorism suspect tied up.

Mohamed A. and his friends were hailed as heroes by German politicians and media. Some politicians even called for awarding them the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany’s highest civilian honor.[2]

Jaber al-Bakr, on the other hand, told investigators during his interrogation that the three Syrians from Leipzig were involved in the planning of the attack.[3] A few hours later, the most important witness in the case was dead.

Al-Bakr was found hanged in his jail cell at 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday. He had been held in solitary confinement at Leipzig prison since his arrest on Monday. Wardens initially checked on him every 15 minutes. This interval was extended on Wednesday afternoon to every 30 minutes. During the last regular check-in at 7:30 p.m., al-Bakr was still alive. When a trainee guard decided 15 minutes later to check again, she found him hanging from the bars of his cell with his T-shirt. Attempts to revive al-Bakr were unsuccessful and at 8:15 p.m. he was declared dead.

His defense lawyer, Alexander Hübner, accused the authorities of a "justice scandal" and stressed that al-Bakr's suicidal tendencies had been well documented. Hübner pointed out that his client went on hunger strike directly after his arrest on Monday.[4]

One day before his apparent suicide, al-Bakr had already pulled a lamp in the cell out of its fitting and tampered with power sockets. Prison authorities dismissed it as vandalism.[5] The suspected would-be suicide bomber was not classified as an “acute suicide risk.”[6]

Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary group leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), described the al-Bakr story as an “unprecedented sequence of failures by the police and judicial system."[7]

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere demanded a “rapid and comprehensive inquiry” and stressed that al-Bakr's death had made the task of investigating the possible Berlin airport bomb plot much harder.[8]

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said that al-Bakr initially wanted to target trains in Germany before finally deciding on one of Berlin’s airports.[9] The agency believes that the attack was planned for this week.[10]

The information came from U.S. intelligence, which had tapped phone calls between al-Bakr and an ISIS member in Syria. In a call on October 7, al-Bakr reportedly told his contact in Syria that 2 kilograms of explosives were ready and that a "big airport in Berlin" was "better than trains." According to German security sources, al-Bakr had already spent a night in the German capital during the second half of September to spy out Berlin Tegel Airport.[11]

Jaber al-Bakr was born on January 10, 1994 in Sa’sa’, south of Damascus. He left Syria in 2014 and arrived in Germany in February 2015, receiving asylum in June 2015.

Al-Bakr’s family and former roommates confirmed that he traveled at least twice to Turkey after arriving in Germany. During these trips, al-Bakr also spent a lot of time in Syria. One of his former roommates recalled talking to him over the phone while he was in the northwestern city of Idlib.

According to his roommates, al-Bakr was never particularly religious, but after returning from Turkey, he changed radically. His 18-year-old brother, who is living in Syria, said in a live chat with Germany’s Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) that someone must have brainwashed or manipulated Jaber.[12]

The suspect’s 31-year-old brother Alaa al-Bakr told Der Spiegel by phone from Sa’sa’ that Jaber first returned to Syria via Turkey in September 2015 and then joined ISIS in Raqqa.[13]

In an interview with Reuters, Alaa said he believed imams in Berlin brainwashed Jaber into returning to Syria for jihad. According to his older brother, Jaber explained his trip to Syria earlier this year by saying that he wanted to volunteer with the White Helmets: “He went to Turkey seven months ago and spent two months in Syria. He called us and told us 'I'm volunteering with the White Helmets (emergency teams) in Idlib'.”[14]

Jaber also mentioned that he was with Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib and doing "humanitarian aid work."[15]

When Alaa talked to his brother two months ago, Jaber said that he was in Idlib and asked him how to get back to Germany. “He asked me if there was a way to go back to Germany but he had burned his documents,” Alaa told The Wall Street Journal, adding that he didn’t know his brother got back.[16]

Jaber al-Bakr’s Facebook page indicates that he sympathized with ISIS since at least January 2016. According to investigators, al-Bakr returned from Turkey at the end of August after spending several months abroad. Shortly thereafter, he caught the attention of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.[17]

If Alaa al-Bakr’s account is accurate and his brother Jaber was able to travel between Germany and Syria at will, possibly without documents, authorities in Turkey and Germany have a lot to answer for.

Even more explosive is the revelation that Jaber al-Bakr spent a lot of time in Idlib, supposedly volunteering with the NATO-funded White Helmets, working with NATO-backed Ahrar al-Sham and doing “humanitarian aid work,” while becoming a bomb-making ISIS terrorist.

In contrast to the city of Raqqa, Idlib is not an ISIS stronghold. The northwestern province of Idlib and its provincial capital of the same name are “rebel-held” territory, at least according to Western governments and media.

Idlib province is reportedly roughly divided into areas controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra, areas controlled by Ahrar al-Sham, and areas where they share control.[18]

Al-Nusra was until recently the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda and is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations. Ahrar al-Sham, on the other hand, enjoys the support of the U.S. and its allies and is being protected from the terrorist label despite its close ties to al-Qaeda and other designated terrorist organizations.[19]

In March 2015, the military alliance “Jaish al-Fatah” (“Army of Conquest”), led by al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, seized Idlib city from government forces. Idlib was only the second provincial capital to be captured from the government since the start of the conflict, the other one being Raqqa.

The attack on Idlib city had been planned for months. In November 2014, NATO member Turkey and close U.S. ally Qatar began providing increased logistical and military support to Ahrar al-Sham and several other factions active in northwestern Syria, thereby enabling Jaish al-Fatah’s series of victories in spring 2015.[20]

When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was later asked about the fall of Idlib, he emphasized that “the main factor was the huge support that came through Turkey; logistic support, and military support, and of course financial support that came through Saudi Arabia and Qatar."[21]

Needless to say, all of this constituted a clear violation of international law.

The process that followed Jaish al-Fatah’s takeover of Idlib province has been described as the “Talibanization of Idlib.” As Joshua Landis and Steven Simon noted, “rebel-held” Idlib doesn’t present an attractive or viable alternative to government-held Syria, quite the contrary:

“Schools have been segregated, women forced to wear veils, and posters of Osama bin Laden hung on the walls. Government offices were looted, and a more effective government has yet to take shape. With the Talibanization of Idlib, the 100-plus Christian families of the city fled. The few Druze villages that remained have been forced to denounce their religion and embrace Islam; some of their shrines have been blown up. No religious minorities remain in rebel-held Syria, in Idlib, or elsewhere.”[22]

When Jaber al-Bakr traveled to Idlib earlier this year, he traveled to a city where youths are being publicly flogged for accompanying girls in public or exchanging “indecent pictures.”[23]

“Rebel-held” Idlib is a place where terrorist groups like al-Nusra and the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which are accused of organizing terrorist attacks abroad,[24] can do as they please while enjoying NATO protection due to their “intermingling” with Ahrar al-Sham and other so-called “moderate opposition forces.”

It is not hard to imagine how spending time in Idlib could have contributed to al-Bakr’s radicalization. More difficult to answer is what an ISIS member was doing in Idlib and if he really worked with Ahrar al-Sham and volunteered with the White Helmets.

If Jaber al-Jabkr was a White Helmet “rescue worker,” this would add to the growing evidence that there is no clear line between the self-described “unarmed und neutral rescue workers” and combatants - or even members of designated terrorist organizations.

The White Helmets are not a legitimate Syrian Civil Defense group, as Western governments and media would have you believe.[25]

The White Helmets are a propaganda tool funded by the same governments that are funding the armed opposition in Syria. The U.S. and its NATO allies have provided millions of dollars to the White Helmets while trying to shield themselves from the obvious threat posed by members of the group. When White Helmets leader Raed Saleh was denied entry into the U.S. earlier this year, State Department spokesman Mark Toner explained it as follows:

“And any individual – again, I’m broadening my language here for specific reasons, but any individual in any group suspected of ties or relations with extremist groups or that we had believed to be a security threat to the United States, we would act accordingly. But that does not, by extension, mean we condemn or would cut off ties to the group for which that individual works for.”[26]

After the Germany’s Foreign Ministry “recently increased its financial contribution by two million euros to a total of seven million euros for this year,” the German authorities would be well advised to rethink their support of the White Helmets in light of the al-Bakr revelations.[27]

The story of Jaber al-Bakr provides more evidence that the NATO-funded White Helmets serve as a cover for extremists and that “rebel-held” Idlib is turning into a terrorist breeding ground, similar to Afghanistan under Taliban rule. This terrorist breeding ground is being fostered by NATO members and their GCC allies - and innocent people in Syria, Germany and elsewhere are going to pay the price for that.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] “Germany manhunt: 'IS link' to bomb suspect Al-Bakr – police,” BBC, 10 October 2016:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37604247.

[2] Madeline Chambers, “Germans say ‘hero refugees’ deserve medals for tying up suspected bomber,” Reuters, 12 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-bomb-migrants-idUSKCN12C18B.

[3] “Al-Bakr beschuldigt Leipziger Syrer des Mitwissertums,” Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, 12 October 2016: http://www.mdr.de/sachsen/leipzig/al-bakr-beschuldigt-syrer-aus-leipzig-des-mitwissertums-100.html.

[4] Michael Nienaber and Paul Carrel, “Germany aghast after Syrian bomb suspect kills himself in jail,” Reuters, 13 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-bomb-suspect-suicide-idUSKCN12C2K6.

[5] Johannes Graf, “Suizid trotz Vorschriften: Die letzten Tage des Jaber Al-Bakr,” n-tv, 13 October 2016: http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Die-letzten-Tage-des-Jaber-Al-Bakr-article18851046.html.

[6] Ben Knight, “Terror suspect Albakr not classified as 'acute suicide risk' before Leipzig jail death,” Deutsche Welle, 13 October 2016: http://www.dw.com/en/terror-suspect-albakr-not-classified-as-acute-suicide-risk-before-leipzig-jail-death/a-36030348.

[7] Ibid., Nienaber and Carrel.

[8] “German terror suspect Jaber al-Bakr's jail death a scandal, says lawyer,” BBC, 13 October 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37641263.

[9] “IS bomb suspect planned to target Berlin airport: official,” Deutsche Welle, 11 October 2016: http://www.dw.com/en/is-bomb-suspect-planned-to-target-berlin-airport-official/a-36010910.

[10] “Justizminister: Keine akute Selbstmordgefahr bei Albakr,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 13 October 2016: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/suizid-von-jaber-al-bakr-anwalt-kritisiert-saechsische-justiz-14478174.html.

[11] Michelle Martin, “Syrian bombing suspect in Germany spoke to IS contact about attack plans: newspaper,” Reuters, 15 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-bomb-suspect-idUSKBN12F07R.

[12] “Terrorverdächtiger Syrer sympathisierte mit IS,” Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, 12 October 2016: http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/politik/inland/Terrorverdaechtiger-hatte-facebook-kontakt-zu-is-100.html.

[13] “Albakr soll sich in Deutschland radikalisiert haben,” Spiegel Online, 14 October 2016: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-soll-sich-in-deutschland-radikalisiert-haben-a-1116645.html.

[14] Joseph Nasr, “Berlin bombing suspect radicalized by imams in Germany, brother says,” Reuters, 14 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-bomber-idUSKBN12E2ET.

[15] Eva Marie Kogel, “„Die Polizei hat meinen Bruder umgebracht“,” Welt, 15 October 2016: https://www.welt.de/print/die_welt/politik/article158777693/Die-Polizei-hat-meinen-Bruder-umgebracht.html.

[16] Ruth Bender and Mohammad Nour Alakraa, “Terror Suspect Found Dead in German Jail Cell Had Traveled to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, 13 October 2016: http://www.wsj.com/articles/terror-suspect-found-dead-in-german-jail-cell-had-traveled-to-syria-1476375285.

[17] Florian Flade, Annelie Naumann, “Die mysteriöse Türkei-Reise des Dschaber al-Bakr,” Welt, 12 October 2016: https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158688067/Die-mysterioese-Tuerkei-Reise-des-Dschaber-al-Bakr.html.

[18] Sam Heller, “The Home of Syria’s Only Real Rebels,” The Daily Beast, 17 June 2016: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/17/the-home-of-syria-s-only-real-rebels.html.

[19] Christoph Germann, “Syria ‘Cease-Fire’ Brings U.S. & Russia Closer to War,” NewsBud, 10 October 2016: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2016/10/10/syria-cease-fire-brings-u-s-russia-closer-to-war/.

[20] Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (London: C. Hurst & Co., 2015).

[21] Tom Perry, Humeyra Pamuk and Ahmed Tolba, “Assad says Turkish support 'main factor' in Idlib takeover,” Reuters, 17 April 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-assad-idUSKBN0N80N820150417.

[22] Joshua Landis and Steven Simon, “Assad Has It His Way,” Foreign Affairs, 19 January 2016: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2016-01-19/assad-has-it-his-way.

[23] Ullin Hope, “Idlib youths flogged for unsanctioned contact with girls,” NOW, 22 January 2016: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566524-idlib-youths-flogged-for-unsanctioned-contact-with-girls.

[24] Olga Dzyubenko, “Kyrgyzstan says Uighur militant groups behind attack on China's embassy,” Reuters, 7 September 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-kyrgyzstan-blast-china-idUSKCN11C1DK.

[25] Vanessa Beeley, “EXCLUSIVE: The REAL Syria Civil Defence Exposes Fake ‘White Helmets’ as Terrorist-Linked Imposters,” 21st Century Wire, 23 September 2016: http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/09/23/exclusive-the-real-syria-civil-defence-expose-natos-white-helmets-as-terrorist-linked-imposters/.

[26] Mark Toner, U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing, 27 April 2016: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/04/256667.htm.

[27] Federal Foreign Office, “Federal Foreign Office to support Syrian White Helmets with seven million euros, Press release, 23 September 2016: https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2016/160923_Weisshelme.html.