SYRIAN WAR REPORT – AUGUST 20, 2019: KHAN SHAYKHUN IS ABOUT TO FALL INTO HANDS OF SYRIAN ARMY

Militants’ defense in southern Idlib and northern Hama has collapsed.

On August 19, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the Tiger Forces and their allies backed up by Syrian and Russian air power cut off the M5 highway north of Khan Shaykhun capturing several hills and checkpoints in the area. Late on the same day, government forces overrun militants’ fortifications entering the town.

On August 20, units of the SAA and the Tiger Forces continued clashing with militants in the area. The town is about to fall into the hands of government forces.

According to pro-government sources, militants are currently fleeing their positions in Kafr Zita, Lataminah, Moerk and nearby areas.

Turkey attempted to prevent this scenario by sending a large military convoy (28 pieces of military equipment, including at least 7 battle tanks) accompanied by Turkish-backed militants towards Khan Shaykhun. The plan was to establish so-called observation point near Khan Shaykhun and use Turkish troops as human shields to defend militants there. However, the convoy was not able to reach the target.

The Syrian Air Force carried out several strikes on the convoy path near Heish killing at least one militant field commander and destroying a vehicle armed with machine gun. The Turkish Defense Ministry officially condemned the strikes claiming that 3 civilians were killed and 12 others were injured as a result of the action. Ankara claimed that the convoy was initiated to ensure the safety of Observation Point No. 9, to keep supply routes open and prevent civilian casualties in the region.

Turkey even sent F-16 warplanes to Syrian airspace to defend the convoy, but they were welcomed by Russian fighter jets hovering over the same area and retreated.

The deep cooperation of so-called moderate opposition with terrorist groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and their unwillingness to participate in a proposed peace process predetermined a new round of escalation in the Idlib zone. In the near future, government troops will likely focus on clearing northern Hama.

George Takei: ‘Level of Cruelty and Evil’ of Trump Border Enforcement a ‘Grotesque Low’

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By Ben Kew

Star Trek actor George Takei warned that the “level of cruelty and evil” carried out by the Trump administration has fallen to a “grotesque low” because of separations of adults from children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Speaking with The Huffington Post about his latest television show The Terror: Infamy,which dramatizes the experiences of Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II, Takei compared their experiences to that of illegal immigrants in America today.

“[Trump] is trying to say that he’s doing this in the name of America… We will not allow that,” he said. “We will not allow this to get the stamp of Americanism. This is a warped, ignorant and cruel evil form of Americanism that’s happening there.”

The 82-year-old actor spent many of his early years incarcerated in concentration camps across America after Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the detention of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry following Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Although detainees were forced into dire living conditions, Takei went on to argue that the current policy meant that America had “reached a new low,” despite the widespread separation of families during the Japanese internment and the fact that illegals immigrants are separated between adults from children in the interests of their safety.

“When we were incarcerated, the children were always intact with our family. I was never separated from my parents. We have reached a new low,” he said, citing “a level of cruelty and evil with this administration.”

The actor, who was the subject of sexual assault allegations, has long been a vociferous critic of President Donald Trump and his administration. In January, Takei arguedTrump’s White House McDonald’s dinner with the Clemson football players encapsulated America’s “national trauma” under his presidency.

“The White House dinner for the Clemson Tigers summed up our national trauma perfectly,” he said. “An isolated, self-proclaimed billionaire, ever stingy when paying the tab, forces real heroes to listen to him drone on senselessly, making this about him while their food goes cold and soggy.”

Via Breitbart.com

Trump fuels prediction that Russia investigators will face prison

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By Darren Samuelsohn

To hear President Donald Trump and his allies tell it, the federal investigators who spent the past two years investigating the president are about to go down. 

On Twitter, on conservative cable TV and in countless interviews, they’ve claimed the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies are on the verge of being exposed for planting spies, falsifying evidence and forging testimony. They’ve relished in the possibility that a federal prosecutor on the case could file criminal charges. And they’ve predicted jail time for top Obama-era leaders who they say were behind a “deep state” plot to take down Trump. 

They’re expecting all of this to come from a spate of Justice Department probes reviewing the full scope of the Trump-Russia investigation, which culminated earlier this year with special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

“This was treason. This was high crimes,” Trump said during a recent Fox News interview with Sean Hannity. “This was everything as bad a definition as you want to come up with. This should never be allowed to happen to our country again.”

These hyperbolic expectations have legal experts, even some who are often sympathetic to the president, skeptical that the final product can equal the Trump-fueled rhetoric.

“What I think is going to happen is nobody is going to be charged with any criminal activity,” said Jon Sale, a former assistant U.S. attorney from Miami and longtime friend of Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney to the president. 

Sale expects the probes will instead offer much less dramatic procedural reforms, likely focused on potential future investigations of presidential candidates.

“I think that’s where this is all leading,” he said.

Such outsize expectation setting has become de rigueur in the Trump era, with the long-running Trump-Russia probe particularly prone to embellished predictions. And each overheated messaging campaign has served a political purpose. For Democrats, it has helped highlight Trump’s norm-busting behavior. For Republicans, it has helped counteract negative narratives about the president as he faces the possibility of impeachment.

During Mueller’s investigation, some Democrats and outside activists predictedgrand criminal takedowns of Trump’s family members. That didn’t happen. Then, attention turned to the special counsel’s report, with expectations that it would include damning details to spark Trump’s impeachment. Not yet. After that, Mueller’s congressional hearings were hyped as a potential game-changer. No dice. 

Republicans are at least equally guilty of making sensationalized promises, too. Remember Devin Nunes’ hotly anticipated memo on supposed illicit Obama-era spying? In early 2018, the California congressman, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee at the time, claimed he had proof that senior FBI officials secretly surveilled the Trump campaign. His allies trumpeted the upcoming findings. 

“I think that this will not end just with firings. I believe there are people who will go to jail,” Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz said during a "Hannity" appearance that January. 

Yet the final product failed to produce much of a ripple. 

Now, with the Mueller investigation wrapped and fading into the rearview mirror, conservatives have placed their hopes in a pair of intertwining DOJ probes examining the Russia investigation itself. 

One is led by Inspector General Michael Horowitz. He’s already examined a number of issues tied to the 2016 presidential election, including a report released last summer that found no indication that political bias influenced the FBI’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of State. A second probe is helmed by U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut. Attorney General William Barr tapped Durham earlier this year to pursue any criminal prosecutions that spill out out of the IG’s efforts.

Neither investigation has a deadline, though Horowitz told lawmakers in June that his investigative work was “nearing completion.” He was referring to a look at the FBI’s use of some information provided by former British spy Christopher Steele to help procure surveillance warrants during the presidential campaign on Carter Page, a onetime Trump policy adviser. Horowitz explained that his team had examined more than 1 million records, interviewed more than 100 witnesses and had been writing its report on the warrants “for some time.” 

It’s unclear how much of that work the public will see — Horowitz told lawmakers that “virtually all of the information we have obtained” has a classified stamp on it.

Conversely, Durham has been silent about his work. In a CBS interview in May, Barr said the longtime federal prosecutor was well-positioned to take up any criminal referrals from Horowitz, while also fulfilling a wider mandate to examine the underlying origins of the FBI’s Russia probe.

But Barr declined to offer specifics about what he hoped Durham would uncover. “Things are just not jiving,” the attorney general said.

Trump and his allies have filled the information void by repeatedly suggesting serious wrongdoing is just on the verge of being uncovered. 

Speaking to reporters after the Mueller report became public, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway insisted that a probe of former DOJ leaders involved in the Russia investigation would show they’d been leaking information to the media. 

“Let’s put them under oath. Let’s investigate the investigators. Why not? Anybody who objects to that is just being partisan and having amnesia about how much we all love transparency,” she said. 

In mid-May, reacting to the news of Barr’s decision to appoint Durham, Joe diGenova, an informal Trump legal adviser, said on Fox News that several Obama-era government leaders were now facing serious legal jeopardy. He singled out former FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan, who he argued would get their comeuppance for leading a scheme from the highest levels of government to set up Trump. 

“The bottom line is this: This is now big time. This is where Brennan needs five lawyers. Comey needs five lawyers,” said diGenova, former federal prosecutor who nearly signed on to be the president’s outside counsel in the spring of 2018.

Conservative media outlets have fueled the drumbeat about the possible outcomes from the Horowitz and Durham probes. Hannity has made the topic a central theme on his shows. Last week, he told his 3 million viewers his sources were telling him the Justice Department was at work on “explosive” findings about intelligence gathering techniques that go to the origins of the Mueller investigation. 

A similar salvo played out recently when John Solomon, a conservative opinion writer for The Hill, published a column with a headline declaring Comey’s “next reckoning is imminent” because of the probe. It was a stark contrast to how The New York Times and other mainstream outlets portrayed the story — they all led with the fact that the DOJ investigators had decided not to press charges against Comey.

Among Trump supporters, hopes are still high that the Justice Department’s investigators will peel back the curtain on misdeeds across the federal government, from Mueller’s team to the intelligence agencies. 

“None of the culpable parties should be sleeping well because, from my perspective, we finally have people who take their job seriously in the Justice Department,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump adviser who was questioned by the special counsel’s office.

Caputo said he had confidence that the probes would reap results for several reasons, including remarks that Trump made to him during a 45-minute Oval Office meeting this spring.

“We talked about the Russia hoax, the investigation of the investigators and the dozens of families who were crushed by the hoax,” Caputo said. “The president shares my expectation for justice.”

Caputo also said his expectations went up based on Barr’s history as a “man of law and order” and by his own contacts with Durham’s investigators. He said they’d accepted about 140 pages of information he offered about Henry Greenberg, a Russian expatriate who Caputo claims was one of at least three FBI informants who approached him during the 2016 presidential campaign offering to sell the Trump campaign dirt on the Democratic nominee, Clinton. That reception stands in contrast to Horowitz, who Caputo said did not respond when he offered him the same materials.

Some former Trump aides who were pulled into the Russia probe said they want the investigations into the investigators to keep expanding.

J.D. Gordon, a Trump 2016 campaign national security adviser, recently sent his own letter to Durham urging a broader look at Mueller and his team of investigators, whom he accused of illegal leaks and violations of both privacy and defamation laws.

“I am hopeful that between the DOJ-IG report and U.S. Attorney John Durham investigation, we will get a comprehensive look into the origins of Trump-Russia as well as the conduct of the special counsel investigation,” Gordon said in an interview. 

Still, some Trump allies are trying to lower the temperature over the prospect of new prosecutions. Page, the former 2016 campaign adviser at the center of the Horowitz-led probe into FBI surveillance, said structural reforms would be a welcome outcome from the reviews. 

“I’m only primarily concerned about getting to the truth,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, having a clean historical record of what actually happened in that dark period of recent history is infinitely more important.” 

All of the hype can have political implications. 

Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe, a close Trump ally, has even signaled that the impeachment battle could be settled by the probes’ findings. Once DOJ shows Obama’s national security leaders overreached, he argued, “you can pretty much put a pin in any impeachment balloon.”

Meanwhile, Tom Fitton, head of the conservative Judicial Watch, predicted Trump supporters would be outraged if the investigations into the investigators fall short of indictments against the likes of former officials, such as Comey. 

“I think people are going to have a hard time coming to terms with a scandal that’s in many ways worse than Watergate: the hijacking of several executive branch agencies, intelligence, law enforcement, State [Department], Defense [Department], to spy on and target a candidate and then abusing powers once he’s in office to try to overthrow the president. 

“The notion that there’d be no prosecutions of anyone involved in that, that would be further confirmation of the strength of the deep state,” Fitton added.

Caputo said he’s bracing for such an outcome. 

“I know at any moment the establishment could thwart this entire thing,” he said, adding that he has his doubts mainstream news organizations would “carry the truth of this.” 

But others see cynical purposes behind Trump and his allies’ messaging campaign.

“I think most of [the probes] could be closed but the attorney general won’t let them be closed. That’s an acknowledgment that there’s no there there,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan R Street Institute and a former senior counsel to Clinton-era independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

“The value in them,” he added, “is their existence and the president and Sean Hannity gets to tout them as evidence that where there’s smoke there must be fire.”

Via politico.com

ANTIFA SMUGGLED IN CONCRETE SLABS TO THROW AT TRUMP SUPPORTERS DURING PORTLAND EVENT

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Paul Joseph Watson reports:

A video out of Portland illustrates how Antifa used broken up concrete slabs to attack Trump supporters during this past weekend’s protests.

“We caught Antifa smuggling concrete slabs within a black case then breaking up the slab & using it to throw at buses carrying right wingers stuck in traffic. This is further evidence of their pre-meditated violence & criminal activity in Portland,” tweeted Elijah Schaffer.

The video shows how Antifa avoided any police scrutiny by transporting the slabs inside a hard black case.

https://twitter.com/ElijahSchaffer/status/1163258439784529920?s=20

They were then broken up and lobbed towards buses carrying counter-demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Democratic New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland described Antifa as “peaceful protesters” during an appearance on CNN.

Haaland was responding to President Donald Trump’s tweet in which he said Antifa could be designated a terror organization.

Apparently, according to Haaland, throwing concrete slabs at people is peaceful!

Twitter, Facebook suspend China-linked disinformation campaigns targeting Hong Kong

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By Cristiano Lima

Twitter and Facebook today announced takedowns of Chinese government-linked disinformation campaigns that sought to undermine the protests in Hong Kong.

Twitter said in a blog post it has suspended 936 accounts originating in China that were part of a “significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong,” where protesters have taken to the streets to oppose a bill that would allow local authorities to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China.

“Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” the company said. The accounts were suspended for violating a number of the social network’s policies, including its rules against spam and fake accounts.

The takedown represents a small fraction of the activity discovered by Twitter, however, which said it took down “a larger, spammy network of approximately 200,000 accounts” before they became “substantially active” on the platform. Twitter is banned in China, but the company said some of the accounts were able to circumvent the ban by using virtual private networks, or VPNs.

Working off a tip from Twitter, Facebook cybersecurity chief Nathaniel Gleicher said his company suspended five accounts, seven pages and three groups with “links to individuals associated with the Chinese government” that “frequently posted about local political news and issues including topics like the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.” The pages amassed at least 15,000 followers and the groups at least 2,000 members.

Via politico.com

SYRIAN WAR REPORT – AUGUST 19, 2019: TIGER FORCES ADVANCE TO ENCIRCLE KHAN SHAYKHUN

Government forces are rapidly advancing in southern Idlib inflicting large casualties to radical militant groups.

During the weekend, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the Tiger Forces and their allies have liberated the villages of Khirbat Abidin, Hursh al-Tawilah, Mughr Hunta, the farms of Nijm, Nisr and al-Safar, and the Nar Hill. According to pro-government sources, at least 7 units of military equipment and 2 dozens of militants were eliminated in recent clashes.

In own turn, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies carried out several counter-attacks involving suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices in Madayah and northwest of Khan Shaykhun. Despite some tactical successes, they were not able to turn the tide of the battle and stop the SAA advance.

Government forces are currently aiming to cut off the M5 highway and encircle the town of Khan Shaykhun and other militant positions to the south of it.

On August 17, members of the Turkish-backed National Syrian Army (NSA) shelled positions of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) at the town of Tell Rifaat and the nearby villages of Zyuan, Nyrabia and Tell Madiq in northern Aleppo. According to pro-YPG sources, the shelling also targeted a positions of the Russian Military Police near Tell Rifaat. No casualties among Russian personnel were reported.

The NSA shelling started in response to an attack by YPG-linked Kurdish rebels in the Afrin Region. The rebels’ attack resulted in the deaths of 5 Turkish-backed militants. Tell Rifaat and its surroundings are under the joint control of the YPG and the SAA. YPG-linked cells use this area as a safe heaven to carry out attacks on Turkey-led forces in northern Aleppo thus provoking Turkish responses and increasing tensions between Damascus and Ankara.

Russian forces are establishing several positions in the southern Deir Ezzor countryside, pro-opposition media reported on August 16 citing local sources. The reports claimed that Russian units are working to establish new positions in the town of al-Jalaa.

Located less than 30km away from the border with Iraq, al-Jalaa is one of the largest towns in the western part of the Middle Euphrates River Valley. A highway leading to al-Qa’im border crossing passes through the town.

The deployment of Russian forces in al-Jalaa could be related to the near opening of the Syrian-Iraqi border as well as the ongoing security operations against the remaining ISIS cells in the region.

China lashes out at Taiwan over Hong Kong asylum offer

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By Kelvin Chan and Yanan Wang

HONG KONG (AP) — China lashed out at Taiwan on Monday over its offer of political asylum to participants in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement, a day after hundreds of thousands of people marched peacefully in the latest massive demonstration in the Chinese territory.

The government of Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers its own territory, strongly supports the protests, and Hong Kong students in Taiwan held events over the weekend expressing their backing. Taiwan’s president made the asylum offer last month, though it’s not clear if requests have been received.

Taiwan lacks a formal legal mechanism for assessing and granting asylum requests, although it has granted residency to several vocal opponents of the Chinese government.

On Monday, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Taiwan’s offer would “cover up the crimes of a small group of violent militants” and encourage their “audacity in harming Hong Kong and turn Taiwan into a “heaven for ducking the law.”

Ma demanded that Taiwan’s government “cease undermining the rule of law” in Hong Kong, cease interfering in its affairs and not “condone criminals.”

Organizers said at least 1.7 million people participated in Sunday’s Hong Kong rally and march, although the police estimate was far lower. Police said the protest was “generally peaceful” but accused a large group of people of “breaching public peace” afterward by occupying a major thoroughfare and using slingshots to shoot “hard objects” at government headquarters and pointing lasers at police officers.

The protests have at times been marked by violent clashes with police, who say they have arrested more than 700 participants since the demonstrations started in June. However, law enforcement officers kept a low profile Sunday, with no riot police seen from the procession’s main routes. When stragglers convened outside a government complex in the late evening, other protesters urged them to go home.

More protests are planned for the coming weeks, with various rallies organized by accountants, transport workers, high school students and relatives of police officers.

Demonstrators’ frustrations over what they perceive to be the government’s refusal to respond to their demands boiled over last week with the occupation of Hong Kong’s international airport, during which a reporter for a Chinese Communist Party-owned newspaper was assaulted, and attacks on a number of police stations.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to Beijing in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems,” which promised residents certain democratic rights not afforded to people in mainland China. But some Hong Kongers have accused the Communist Party-ruled central government of eroding their freedoms in recent years.

The protest movement’s demands include the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, democratic elections and an independent investigation into police use of force.

Asked Sunday about the situation in Hong Kong, U.S. President Donald Trump said the use of Chinese troops to put down the protests — similar to the bloody crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 — would worsen the current U.S.-China trade dispute.

“I mean if it’s another Tiananmen Square, I think it’s a very hard thing to do if there is violence,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey. “I think there’d be tremendous political sentiment not to do something.”

Trump had originally said the protests were a matter for China to handle but has since suggested that Chinese President Xi Jinping could resolve the situation by meeting with protest leaders.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang avoided commenting on Trump’s remarks directly, but referred to the president’s previous statements on the protests.

“We have noticed that President Trump has previously stated that Hong Kong is part of China, and that they must solve it themselves and do not need advice. We hope that the U.S. side can match its acts to its words,” Geng told reporters at a daily briefing.

China has furiously rejected all outside calls for it to discuss protesters’ demands.

Members of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police force have been training for days across the border in Shenzhen, including on Sunday morning, fueling speculation that they could be sent in to suppress the protests. The Hong Kong police, however, have said they are capable of handling the demonstrations.

Via apnews.com