Regional Review

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The mainstream media no longer reports the news. MSNBC reports on the glorious long march of the Democrat party and all of the cool things that candidate and yet unindicted felon Hillary Clinton is doing – going to Chipotle to buy a burrito to prove she’s just like the little proles who adore her, etc. Fox does a better job than the others, but there is no time to get into the nitty gritty. That’s why I blog on all this from time to time. Some of you don’t care, others do. I find that keeping up helps me with some of the projects that I become involved with in my consulting realm.


Establishing a “base” in a country five thousand miles from home is not consistent with Mao’s great vision for China nor that of the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy. So please call it something else. They are communists, not imperialists. That’s the Chinese story and they are sticking with it for domestic consumption. Since ‘great powers’ have foreign bases, the Chinese want some too.
We will get to the “base, which you may refer to as an installation,” later. First the Chinese footprints in the Middle East in the vacuum created by US complacence.
On 21 January, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans to help Egypt improve its infrastructure by aiding in the construction of about $15 billion worth of projects.

I prefer to think of the $15 billion as a bit of the interest on debt that the US paid to China this past year…part of the Obama Administration’s rampant borrowing that left the US $19 trillion in debt. But I’m a cynic. Back now to President Xi Jinping.
Xi said the projects, which range from the energy to transportation sectors, are intended to increase Egypt’s industrial capacity. Some already have been started and others are still under review. Xi made the announcement at a joint news conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.
Egypt is the second stop of Xi’s first trip to the Middle East as China’s President. Chinese generosity to Egypt seems to put China on the side of the Saudis in the confrontation with Iran. It also is consistent with China’s policy of promoting regional stability. Xi’s statement indicates China supports Egypt in doing more to stabilize regional affairs and China is willing to help.
In Saudi Arabia, Xi and King Salman signed an agreement on creating a strategic partnership as well as 21 other agreements. Security issues almost certainly were discussed in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has a ballistic missile unit based in the southwest. Technical open sources report that it is equipped with Chinese DF-21 (CSS-5) medium range ballistic missiles. 
I don’t know whether Pakistan or China (which are closely allied in the field of nuclear weapons technology and ballistic weapons) will be the first to sell nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia. You can toss a coin. In the absence of US assurances, the Saudis must take their friends where they find them. 
Now to the base. A Chinese spokesman said of the proposed Chinese base in Djibouti, “In recent years, China has dispatched naval vessels to the Gulf of Aden and to the waters off Somalia to conduct escort missions. As we have met many real difficulties including rest and recreation, food, fuel supply for officers and men in the course of executing missions, it is necessary to have highly-efficient logistics support in nearby areas.”
“China and Djibouti carried out consultations on building logistics facilities and reached a consensus, which is helpful for the Chinese troops to further execute well their escort missions and make new contributions to regional peace and stability. The nature of the relevant facilities is clear, that is, provision of logistics support for escort vessels in the Gulf of Aden and off the waters of Somalia.”
Other press services reported that Djibouti has approved China’s request for banking facilities and for creating a trade zone in Djibouti.
They don’t like the word ‘base”. The operative words in the spokesman’s comments are “…and make new contributions to regional peace and stability.” He corrected the impression that the installations were only to support the anti-piracy and ship escort missions. 
China has been sending three ship task groups to the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia since 2008. The increase in sustainment and time at sea afforded by a logistic support facility will enable Chinese ships greater flexibility in supporting regional policy and more opportunities to show the Chinese flag, including in the Mediterranean Sea.  
Press reports during the past week indicate several nations are shifting their military forces around in the touchy Syrian zone of conflict. The changes portend increased fighting and tension along Syria’s northern border.
Turkey doesn’t care much about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)  but they really hate the Kurds. 
America allegedly (under Barack’s rule) likes the Kurds, but we do almost nothing to support them in their fight against ISIL. We also like the Turks, our NATO allies.
Turkey has a complex relationship with the USA, to put it mildly. On one hand they are a traditional bulwark against Russian expansion and are a member of NATO. On the other hand WERE a secular Muslim nation – but aren’t anymore, thus ‘death to the infidels’.
Turkey is now making good on President Erdogan’s vow that the Syrian Kurds must be halted at the Euphrates River. Turkish press reported the presence of Turkish soldiers in Jarabulus, a Syrian border town just west of the Euphrates. The town has been held by ISIL , but the Turkish soldiers entered unopposed. 
Other press services reported observing Turkish mine clearing operations near Jarabulus, removing mines laid by ISIL, again without opposition.
A cynic might point to  a degree collusion between Turkey and ISIL. I don’t suggest that they are in lock step, but they talk.
Turkish border forces stopped a humanitarian relief convoy bound for Kobani. The Turks said the convoy was illegal because it aided a terrorist organization, the Syrian Kurds who beat ISIL to regain control of Kobani last year. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to be terrorists. The US declared that the Kurds are allies, but have betrayed them to the Turks over and over and over again.
Turkish air forces this week bombed Tal Abyad, another town recently liberated by a mixed force of Arabs, Assyrian Christians and Syrian Kurds. Casualties and damage are not known.
The Turks objected to an invitation to Syrian Kurds to send a delegation to attend the international peace talks which are still set for 25 January. The Turks oppose any action to legitimize the Syrian Kurds.
The Turks claimed that their military deployment to Jarabulus is to improve their capability to fight ISIL. There are few signs that the Turks in Jarabulus will fight any group but the YPG who control Kobani and Tal Abyad. 
The Turks have failed to get widespread support for their plan to create a buffer zone or protected area along the border for the Syrian opposition groups that Turkey supports and for refugees. The Turkish government appears to have decided to go ahead on its own, but probably with Gulf state assistance. In creating a buffer zone, the Turks would fuel the crisis with Russia because that airspace would be denied to the Russians and the Syrians. The zone would also act as a block to any move by the Syrian Kurds to expand their area of control west of the Euphrates.
Russian Expansion? Two usually reliable press services reported that Russian military engineers and surveyors were observed at the Syrian air force base at Qamishli. They noted that virtually identical behavior preceded the Russian air force’s arrival at Humaymim air base outside Latakia. The Russians have released no information about an expansion of their air presence to the Syrian interior. The logistics of such an undertaking would seem to be challenging and costly.  They have a budget.
This is not the first report that the Russians explored alternate basing options. A report last year said that the Russians were investigating whether to use an air base near Homs as a forward operating base. As careful planners, they would survey other airstrips.
US forces have secured access to and will soon be operating from Rmelan airfield provides an explanation for and lends credibility to the report that Russia is examining the suitability of Qamishli as a forward operating base. It is located 70 kms west of Rmelan. The YPG controls Rmelan. The Syrian air force controls Qamishli.

Yes, this does constitute some US “boots on the ground” but the way it lays out, much of the defense in depth of the air field will be provided by Kurds, and elements of the 82nd ABN Division will handle point defense and the air defense artillery. It’s not a combat ground force in the traditional sense as presently envisioned. It’s a force which will defend US air craft and ground support for those aircraft. I can’t see that role expanding much in the near term given the Obama Administrations past conduct of military moves in the area.

The details of the military moves are not confirmed. No major forces have moved. The early indicators point to an increase in fighting along the northern Syrian border and increased involvement by outside military powers. 

The fighting will become much more complex because the national forces are in closer proximity to each other and have completing and contradictory goals. For example, the US forces at Rmelan would be operating from an airfield formerly controlled by Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units. They are the sworn enemy of the Turks.
Russian operations are clearly aimed at preserving the Syrian government. Starting in December, the Russians actually boasted about their support for the Syrian Kurds to whom the Russians say they are providing military assistance. Russian operations from Qamishli, close to the Turkish border, would provoke the Turks.
The risks of “inadvertent” clashes and “accidental” air attacks will increase. The Russians still have a bone to pick with the Turks (occasional American allies) for shooting down their aircraft and President Putin has said that the Turks need to be punished. Whatever your opinion of Putin, he usually does what he says, unlike “Old Red-Line, the American President”.

4 thoughts on “Regional Review

  1. I think the old Chinese curse would be apt here: "may you live in interesting times."

    Much like saying " a pox on your house."

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