Well, the long-awaited "other shoe" is finally dropping. It is clear that Washington has given Turkey a green light to crush the revolutionary Kurds—in Turkey, Syria and Iraq alike—as the price of Ankara's cooperation against ISIS. And it's also pretty clear that crushing the Kurds is far more of a priority for Ankara than fighting ISIS. The New York Times writes: "Turkey's new airstrikes...against the Islamic State...came alongside an equally intense barrage on Kurdish militants in Iraq, whose Syrian affiliates are also fighting the Islamic State." Equally intense or far more intense? Media accounts have few specifics of ISIS targets hit by the Turkish strikes. But Haaretz reports: "Turkish fighter jets launched their heaviest assault on Kurdish militants in northern Iraq overnight since airstrikes began last week... The F-16 jets hit six targets in Iraq and were scrambled from an air base in Turkey's southeastern province of Diyarbakir... Turkey began bombing PKK camps in northern Iraq last Friday in what government officials have said was a response to a series of killings of police officers and soldiers blamed on the Kurdish militant group."
News reports today have Turkey finally intervening in Syria and Iraq against ISIS. The USA Today headline is typical: "Turkey expands anti-Islamic State campaign." However, the specifics about the targeting indicate that anti-ISIS Kurdish forces are actually being hit. BBC News reports that the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) say Turkish tanks shelled their fighters at the border villages of Zormikhar and Til Findire, near Kobani in northern Syria. Daily Sabah quotes an anonymous Turkish official denying the claims: "The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria and the PKK in Iraq... PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort." This strikes us as a disingenuous statement, as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the civil and political entity that runs the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria (in alliance with other formations), while the YPG is its military arm. So the Kurdish self-defense forces could be coming under attack, and this statement would still be (very narrowly) correct. A BBC News account also notes that the intervention comes as the US and Turkey have announced that they are working together on military plans to create an "Islamic State-free zone" in Syria's north—in other words, the long-anticipated buffer zone that is really aimed at destroying the Kurdish autonomous zone and amounts to a de facto Turkish annexation of Syrian territory. The "IS-free zome" (perhaps better dubbed a "PYD-free zone") is reportedly to extend 68 miles (109 kilometers) west of the Euphrates River.
News that Turkey has agreed to allow US warplanes to launch raids against ISIS forces in Syria from Incirlik Air Base comes one day after a border skirmish in which a Turkish solider was killed by presumed ISIS fire from the Syrian side and Turkish forces responded with tank shells. Turkey is also reported to have scrambled fighter jets to the border after the clash, which took place at the border town of Çobanbey, Kilis province. (Reuters, CBC, Daily Sabah, July 23) Since the border incident, Turkey has also launched mass sweeps, arresting more than 290—but targeting supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as well as ISIS. One death is also reported in the sweeps—a militant of the armed left faction Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), who apparently resisted arrest in a raid in Istanbul. Mainstream Turkish sources provided no breakdown as to how many of the detained were jihadists as opposed to radical leftists, but pro-PKK sources reported at least 60 of their followers among the detained. Some of the raids on PKK followers and sympathizers were in Suruç—the border town which was four days ago the scene of an ISIS suicide attack that left some 30 dead at a meeting called by leftist parties to organize solidarity for the anti-ISIS resistance in northern Syria. (Hurriyet Daily News, ANF, July 24)
We aren't sure whether to believe it, and it seems not to have been reported elsewhere, but the pro-opposition Syria Mirror website on July 20 says that activists and eye-witnesses have "confirmed" that five buses full of fully armed North Korean soldiers were seen in Damascus, heading towards Jobar and Eastern Ghouta—two suburbs that have been the scene of fierce fighting for months. The account claims Bashar Assad has long maintained a sort of Praetorian Guard of North Korean troops in a special unit dubbed "Tshulima"—supposedly named for a mythical winged horse, although we can find no reference to either the unit or the mythical beast online. The report also notes longstanding claims of North Korean involvement in the Assad dictatorship's nuclear program.
Russia Today on July 12 announces breathlessly: "Earth is facing the prospect of a 'mini ice age' this century, with our sun's activity projected to fall 60 percent in the 2030s, British astrophysicists say, based on the results of new research that they claim allows exact predictions of solar cycles." The scientists in question are a team from Northumbria University led by a Professor Valentina Zharkova. While the lead researcher's nice Russian name must be appealing to RT, there are other aspects of the story that doubtless make it even more irresistible. We smell Putin propaganda to allow him to go on exploiting Arctic oil without having to worry about contributing to global warming. Why have we seen this reported in few sources other than the unreliable (and state-controlled) RT?
Greece is in turmoil over what can only be seen as the ruling Syriza party's bait-and-switch: the government called a referendum on the EU-mandated austerity plan, voters said "No," and then the administration went ahead and agreed to a similar plan, sparking the worst riots in Athens in years. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stepped down, and most Syriza MPs have broken with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Amid all this, the Jerusalem Post reports more news that will alienate Tsipras from his leftist base. It seems that on July 6, Tsipras' Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias spoke in Jerusalem of developing what the JP calls an "axis of security" (uncertain if Kotzias himself used that phrase) made up of Greece, Cyprus and Israel. This is an ostensible response to what Kotzias called a "triangle of destabilization" delineated by Ukraine, Libya and Iraq/Syria. "We have to create inside this triangle a security and stability framework, and the relations between Israel, Cyprus and Greece are very important," Kotzias said. "I call it the stabilization line in this area."
Fighters loyal to ISIS have seized substantial territory in Afghanistan, according to an ominous Reuters report June 29. Witnesses who fled fighting in Nangarhar province told reporters that hundreds of ISIS fighters in convoys of pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns seized several villages that were held by the Taliban—and put local opium fields to the torch. "They burned poppy fields in Shadal village and banned shops from selling cigarettes," said tribal elder Malek Jan. Taxing opium production is a key source of Taliban revenue, but Reuters reports that ISIS loyalists in Nangarhar appeared to have other sources of money. Witnesses said they had plenty of cash. It is unclear where the money is coming from, but it frees ISIS to stigmatize the Taliban as soft on drugs.
Well, that didn't take long, did it? A massive manhunt is underway in Mexico after the country's most notorious drug lord escaped from the country's highest security prison on the night of July 11. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán stepped into a shower and through a secret door down a tunnel that led out of Altiplano Federal Prison. The lighted and ventilated tunnel was nearly a mile long, Mexico's National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García admitted. Reports indicate the tunnel even had a "rail system." It came out in a warehouse. The Mexican press have now dubbed El Chapo the "Lord of the Tunnels."