A few more questions before we start bombing Syria

Over the last few days, the United States, pushed along by an assortment of Western and Middle Eastern allies, has been moving unmistakably toward an imminent military intervention in Syria. While the development has obviously been spurred by the horrifying Aug. 21 chemical attack in Damascus, which killed over 300 people and sickened at least 3,500, the rapidity with which the intervention plans are being developed brings several questions to mind.

1. Secretary of State Kerry said yesterday that the US will soon produce information to back up its claim that the Assad regime perpetrated the recent chemical attack. When will the proof be produced, and what is it?

2. Kerry also accused the Assad regime of cynically covering up evidence by continuing to bomb the attack sites, and of not giving the UN investigators immediate access to the sites. He further cited a sniper attack on the UN convoy as evidence of obstruction. Since the site of the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack is in territory that has been a rebel stronghold for months, is it reasonable for the US to have made this claim?

3. Is there a possibility that the Aug. 21 attack was an accidental hit — of chemical stocks belonging to either the regime or the rebels — by the undisputed massive regime bombardment in the area at the time? It is known that the regime has been frequently moving its chemical weapons to keep them out of rebel hands, and it is also known that rebel fighters, including al Qaeda-linked groups, have sought and reportedly had access to chemical weapons. [See Threat Matrix report, Questions about alleged gas attack in Syria.] The Al Nusrah Front is known to have pursued chemical weapons; credible reports of the group plotting to conduct sarin and mustard gas attacks have emerged from Iraq and Turkey over the past several months.

4. Why is the US so quickly dismissing the UN investigative effort as too late to deliver credible results about the Aug. 21 attack despite the fact that the team had arrived on Aug. 18 to investigate months-old complaints of chemical weapons attacks, including one lodged by the regime in March?

5. Is there a way to rule out the possibility, given the timing of the Aug. 21 attack, that it could have been perpetrated by rebel groups seeking to draw the US into a military intervention against the Assad regime?

6. The regime has much to lose by mounting chemical weapon attacks, and especially while UN inspectors are in country and the world’s eyes are turned toward Syria. Why now? Is the basic vagueness of the US’s accusation due to a Western decision that now is the time to intervene militarily, regardless of who perpetrated the attack, since there is clearly a very distinct danger of the spread of chemical warfare in the region at this point?

Rebel reports of another attack today, this time allegedly involving phosphorous and napalm in Aleppo, do not add clarity to an already very murky picture.

7. What is the US’s endgame in Syria? Reports are emerging that the Obama administration seeks to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons. Is this sound strategy, or a tactic that can potentially backfire?

8. What happens if the US actually succeeds in killing Assad and overthrowing the government? Will Islamist terror groups such as the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq dominate the political scene in Syria, as they have dominated the fighting? And if so, is that in the best interests of the US and the West, or, for that matter, those of Syria and the region? The West’s efforts for a resolution to the conflict in Syria ultimately hang upon the fragile hope that moderate forces will prevail, in a situation where the two strongest military forces, the Assad regime and its largely Islamist opponents, each offer only harsh alternatives.

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  • Mike D. says:

    All very good questions. It’s a classic “FUBAR”. Obama painted himself into a corner last year when he issues statements and threats about his “calculus”. He might be forced into action that he is not very comfortable with. Obama is not proactive. He is a classic example of a reactive personality. His sophomoric advisers can always intellectually reason their way out of any type of action. They require plausible deniability. In other words, they are not leaders. Who cares what the polls indicate. They have information that we are not privy too. Make your call and own it. I’m confident that the Muslim (Shia and Sunni) street regards him as a paper tiger, and in a way that frightens them. They don’t know where the lines are. They respected Bush, much like they do with authoritarian leaders common in the Middle East. A power vacuum will not remain so indefinitely.

  • Tony says:

    Say what you like about Obama, he really only has one option. As usual, The Onion hits the nail on the head:

  • donowen says:

    USA bombs Syria/ Qaeda..
    Syria/ Rebels/ Qaeda bomb Israel…
    Israel bombs Syria/ Rebels/ Qaeda….
    USA bombs Syria..
    Israel bombs Syria and Iran…
    Iran bombs Israel..
    Please continue

  • Patrick D. says:

    They are preparing to make in Syria the same mistake, as they did in Irak, Libya, Egypt. they are looking to kill Asad, let them achieve their objective… Al nusrah is longing to came in power in syria by their bombing. In a future not far, their blindness will vanish very very soon and there will be no more than their eyes to weep. Go ahead Obama, Cameron and french Hollande. Erare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum does not apply to you. Go ahead in Syria !!

  • Will Fenwick says:

    There is also the significant threat of retaliation by the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance, their “Axis of Resistance” as they call it. Syrian Scud D Missiles have a range of over 500 Kilometers and can easily target the British Sovereign Base areas in Cyprus and American bases in Turkey, Jordan, and possibly even Bulgaria. Cypriot air defenses are rather weak and retaliatory Syrian air raids on Cyprus or Jordan arn’t out of the question either. Attacks by Iran, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad against Israel or western targets overseas are also possible.

  • Kent Gatewood says:

    Will we bomb chemical weapons sites?
    Is that safe?
    Will we violate Lebanon’s air space?

  • Scott J says:

    The Assad regime is ruthless and cruel. It is not a friend of America, what with its alignment with the likes of Iran and Hizbollah.
    But anything the U.S. does to weaken the Assad regime then, by definition, strengthens and emboldens his enemies. Which we should not care about except that his worst enemy right now is Al Qaeda. The same AQ that carried out the 9/11 attacks. The same AQ that has killed and maimed our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The same AQ that we are still at war with.
    So if we weaken Assad, and thereby strengthen AQ, are we not constructively aiding them?
    Why do we even have to ask this question?
    12 years ago, America was attacked. And our understanding of who our enemy was quickly became crystal clear. Now, we are about to side with that same enemy. No, not officially, but constructively.
    Keeping in mind the 9/11 victims, our fallen and wounded troops, and all their families … I am utterly and completely aghast at my government.
    Incompetent, leaderless, disloyal …. words that come to mind.

  • Mike d. says:

    There,s aways numerous options. I hope you are in the “know” that the “onion” is a satiracle publication that makes john stewart look amateurish.

  • Stephanie says:

    What does the Assad regime have to say about the attack? I have yet to hear their response.

  • Bill S. says:

    There’s more wiggle room than commentators are crediting Mr. Obama with. Another option is arming the FSA with much heavier weaponry than to date. The excuse would be that that rebel and government forces are so intermingled with each other and the civilian population that any direct military action by the USA would result in unacceptable civilian casualties.

  • Kyle says:

    Realpolitik; this has become Al Qaeda Vs Hezbollah. Best to let them bleed each other dry. The civilian casuality toll is truly abhorant. Seems to happen everyday, unfortunately, throughout human history.
    It’s a shame, because Iraq and Syria were 2 of the most secular Arab countries in the Mid East, 10 years ago. Both had a vast and vibrant upper middle class sector of doctors and intellectuals. AQ has unfortunately infiltrated both countries deeply.
    While both were unfriendly/ politically hostile to Isreal, neither posed an immediate threat; especially compared to the jihadism currently running rampant in both countries, not to mention the Sinai peninsula . I honestly don’t understand Isreal’s stand against Assad. While it may hurt Syria (and Iran) in the short term, they may soon face hostile Jihadis on all sides. God bless and protect them.
    Say what you want about Obama’s red line, but I respect the fact he was able to stay out of the fighting for so long. We desperately need to achieve energy independence, so we can stop being dragged into such situations, in this part of the world. Let energy dependant China deal with the extenuating circumstances.
    I am no Obama fanboy. However; for those of you making the Iraq War Vs. Syria War comparisons; this administration has done all they can to avoid committing troops to the current crisis. As one who has lost friends and family to wars of the past decade; I can only hope we don’t commit any of our current heroes to bleed to death in a desert they had no national interest in defending.
    God bless America and all our soldiers.

  • . says:

    The scenarios presented in paragraphs three and five are distinct possibilities.

  • From Lebanon says:

    1- Assad tanks and soldiers entered ghoutha and forbided to anyone the access to the city even UN mission , only 3 days later they accepted that UN enter.
    2- chemical weapons are protected by Assad army and the opposition didn’t access them yet
    3- USA can easily check satellite fotos to see from where the rockets to ghoutha have been launched and the writer said it is an opposition city means it is a target to assad.
    4- the opposition in Syria including the free Syria army cannot be summarized by Al nousra and jihadists especially that free Syria army and kurds are fighting them now

  • John says:

    Russia bombs USA …
    USA bombs Russia…
    China inherits the world.

  • EW says:

    Syria has used poison gas more than once recently. They used it in the past (as did Saddam).
    Because the west did nothing when it was used (aside from the typical “condemnations” – Assad is using it again, now.

    The West is happy to ignore this as long as possible. It is easy to say “we don’t have absolure proof therefore we can do nothing”. But, this is no more than mild encouragement considering the people involved.

    Assad is a sociopath (as are a few others in the ME). The normal rules of civilized societies do not apply nor do they work in that case. One does get civilized behavior by treating Charles Manson, Hitler, Assad, Ahmadinijad and similar by saying “Pretty please?”.

    Consider the formal definition of sociopathy (Anti social personality disorder):

    1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
    2. Deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
    3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
    4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
    5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
    6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
    7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen fom another;

  • Diggs says:

    I’d add another question. When two forces that are both hostile to the United States are fighting and weakening each other, why would we want to help either side win?

  • Tony says:

    Mike d: yes I know The Onion is satirical. Ever heard the expression “It’s funny because it’s true”?

  • Darren says:

    @ Will
    The SCUDs can reach Cyprus but that will put them well within the engagement envelope of the same AEGIS-class cruisers that are firing Tomahawks. Assuming they send a couple of ships that are BMD-capable, that brings us back to the eternal question from ‘The Usual Suspects’, namely “What happens if you shoot at the Devil and miss?”

  • TTT says:

    I am no expert, but wouldn’t such a strike mean we are siding WITH Al-Qaeda?
    Bashar Assad does a lot of bad things, but at least he is secular.

  • Cleo Noel says:

    All great questions which you will get scanty to no answers on !! Why does everyone act like it is a new military adventure if we TLAM Syria? I don’t know for sure cause I am just a poor, DHS-targeted, civilian away from the DC Temples of Power. However, I would bet my last wooden nickel that there is a linkage between the Turkish SOF General who led the US/UK/French/Qatar/Jordan/Turkey SOF during the Libya fiasco; the Beneghazi “affair”, and is now involved with training, equipping, and soon to be calling in / laser spotting targets for the FSA !! The Saudis and Qatar have been sending the “rebels” weapons including .50cal sniper rifles and AT rockets – pictures have been on the internet. Really, study history – we had CIA paramilitary guys in Vietnam long before we had an overt military presence there as advisors. The US war in Syria just like Libya began while you were sleeping months if not years before now! How much Blowback we will get after the Jihadis win and return to the West is anyones guess !

  • Lookingon says:

    With everything there are intended and unintended consequences with any action taken against a foreign government or even group in the current political and social environment. With the spread of fanatical Islam you have to look long and hard at intervening in a prominently Muslim nation. With the use of social media, propaganda spread on the internet, recruitment through social media/internet, misinformation, manipulation of facts or situations to better one side or another, you have you weigh what is known and not known as well.
    Acting within Syria by the US will not just affect the current civil war within Syria, it will have a ripple effect throughout the world. If the US just launches missiles and bombs sites that are strategically important to the Assad regime but fail to remove him from power what will that entail? Will that embolden him to press on, will that make him more willing to slaughter and crush the opposition since the US intervened? Will the Islamist use the bombing to overthrow his regime and get a hold of chemical weapons to be used throughout Africa and Europe? Will they use the distraction to cement their efforts in both Syria and Iraq? Will Iran retaliate by increasing their support of the current insurgents in Iraq and have strikes against Israel by their puppets?
    But with all that said, if we fail to act after the saying ‘red line’ has been used it will show that the US is weak, ineffective and nothing more than a paper tiger which will embolden despotic regimes and terrorists alike. That they can act and not have to worry about it because the US won’t do a thing, well as long as it does not directly impact the US.
    Then again by not acting within the beginning of the civil war the US and the world has allowed Islamist to get a foot hold within that civil war and country. Honestly the world has brought on this dire situation on itself. Now the question is how does the world react and what will the consequences be of that action?
    For me I say we bomb the strategic sites, remove him from power, secure and neutralize the chemical weapons, and from there well hopefully get it right. not that it would be even close to being easy. For those who might even begin to reply about warhawking etc, I am currently in Afghanistan and would eventually be one of the boots on the ground. Yeah I know the risks and side effects of going in. it would turn into another Iraq, attrition style insurgency. Right now there are just no good choices no matter which side you are on.

  • Raymond says:

    I think the Fox Report today showing that we intercepted phone calls from the Syrian Commanders who authorized the attack speaks for itself

  • Don says:

    According to VP Biden’s recorded remarks in 2007 (see YouTube link below), a president who attacks – without prior congressional approval – another sovereign nation that is not directly threatening the USA, should be impeached.
    I’ll be expecting Mr. Biden, in his role as President of the Senate, to speak to Congress about this issue if his superior, the President of the United States, attacks Syria without obtaining prior congressional approval. (Since Mr. Biden is a man of his word, and a logical, consistent thinker.)

  • VA Teacher says:

    Here’s one you left out:
    “Given that Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, what is the justification under international law for unilateral U.S. action against Syria? Or it is U.S. policy that one country can launch a unilateral, offensive military strike against another country because it disagrees with that country’s internal policies?”

  • M.H says:

    In terms of geopolitic strategy in the region, the Iranian nuclear problem is more important than the Syrian civil war.
    Conducting an air strike against the Syrian regime is not going to achieve any military or political win, perhaps it will favor jihadist groups more than moderate rebels.
    Only a ground operation can remove both syrian regime and the jihadists, it also will help in selecting an honest and trusted government.
    The Arab league ( Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Gulf Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco) + Turkey have all the military and financial capabilities to conduct a ground operation with support from UN and NATO.

  • kimball says:

    Raymond is right on here.
    Humans are only stats in this game, Sunnis walk around with a hard on and our “leaders ” fancy the
    Wahabits for the short run and that is correct, oil but zero true power.
    This game is all spin and makes you doubt the “Arab spring”, maybe a boosted media trick to do a double push, weaken the “Brotherhood” and applauding the military back in power.
    Chems attack is as likely to be conducted by Dagestanis or whatever, collateral damage goes straight north or south depending on branch of faith.
    Erdogan is barking too and Cameron, the leader of a truly bancrupt nation is playing high stakes with no funds.
    The only winner seem to be China and then Israel too for some time.
    Eight questions were presented and ok but the great game question was not among.

  • Bill Baar says:

    No one mentions the Kurds. They’re firm allies and one group we should not be foresaking in Syria.

  • Mike D. says:

    Ive got to admit the first time i read a copy of the onion i was hood winked. But after continuing reading the paper I eventually caught on! Its great stuff, and i agree with your assessment.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    Darren, most of them are equipped with the Aegis BMD system. Ramage, Barry, and Mahan have it, but i don’t believe gravely does. I don’t know what the standard mix of missiles is per ship, but i assume their VLS cells are only loaded with a few BMD missles each since the majority are likely to be Tommahawks and Standards with perhaps a couple ASROCs each. I imagine with a Syrian barrage of a few dozen missiles would easily see some hit their target zones. Though the media is only reporting that “Scuds” are a risk, the Syrians also have hundreds of Tochka, Fateh, Zelzal and other missiles in their inventory that can hit cyprus. Pretty much the only Ballistic missile in their inventory that doesn’t have enough range is the Frog-7 which likely makes only makes up some 5 – 10 percent of the ballistic missile force.
    Since the Syrian anti-air defense envelope extends out into Cyprus. Its also possible that the Syrians could use their Petya class frigates to bombard the eastern British SBA in Cyprus with their 76mm guns though i’ve heard scattered reports that they may be unseaworthy. Their three Polnocny class landing ships could also be used for coastal bombardment as they are listed as having MRLS launchers. Despite the shoddy state of the Syrian navy, they still can easily overpower anything the Cypriots try to defend with and can easily escape back to the safety of their shore batter missile envelope.

  • Cleo Noel says:

    Great blog about Syrian FAE (Fuel Air Explosives) Rockets being used … here is extract…from
    “It fits much more logically with what we would expect the Syrian regime to use while the UN chemical inspectors were in the same city; 3) an undetonated or not fully detonated fuel air explosive would spread a deadly chemical cloud just like a chemical air burst (which it is) of whatever chemical fuel is in the weapon, often ethylene oxide. It is a deadly cloud to inhale, but not near as deadly as sarin, mustard, or vw, or example, which explains the reports of these attacks have not been nearly as deadly in the past as one of have expected from a chemical warfare attack. In fact, the symptoms of the victims fit perfectly with ethylene oxide inhalation, much more so than the symptoms and effects on first responders, etc., do with sarin.
    Here is what the US Defence Intelligence Agency said about the fuel air explosive: “Since the most common [Fuel Air Explosive] fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents.”
    Finally, Ethylene Oxide, commonly used in fuel air explosives, can be deadly if inhaled in high enough concentrations and if inhaled can cause muscle twitching, flushing, headache, diminished hearing, acidosis, vomiting, dizziness, and transient loss of consciousness. It can irritate the skin but is not deadly to the touch. It is much less deadly than sarin or other common weaponized chemical weapons.”
    So the macabre irony is that in a sense civilians died from chemicals but not CW Agents (not the same thing). If the munitions had exploded as designed than a thermo baric reaction would kill many but since it killed them by inhalation it is spun differently. So depending on how bad you are itching for Assad to be overthrown you could spin it as a “CW Attack” – cynical and dishonest but probably will work for Obama !!!

  • blert says:

    Thermobaric warheads — duds — composed of ethylene oxide — set to the wrong time delay may entirely explain the controversy.
    There is video on the Web showing the 155th Brigade doing its thing. It’s clear that this outfit is not trained or ready to deal with Sarin, starting with a total lack of protective gear.
    The symptoms detailed by the MSM are entirely consistent with EO poisoning. It’s not only incredibly inflammable, but toxic, too.
    Significantly, it fades so quickly that it’s possible for unprotected parties/ morticians to process the dead using Islamic burial rites without dying in the attempt. That’s impossible with Sarin. Agitprop photos clearly indicate that the dead victims WERE treated by unprotected Muslims. (With some posed, living, Islamists stuffed into the picture to amplify the propaganda value.)
    As so significant are the accounts that tell of a bombs being dropped immediately after the poison gas.
    Such tales have mistaken the FAE detonations of follow on rockets — now correctly timed — as coming from aircraft. For the targets at issue, everything points to mere rocket attack.
    Assad’s air force is incapable of bombing accuracy. It’s a third world air force that’s been shot up for months on end. The only bombing done is via high speed dashes — and pairs of jets — unable to hit targets much smaller than a city.
    Yet the tales tell of a seriously heavy air strike. Again, they’re mistaking FAE detonations for iron bombs; which is understandable. Rockets do throw their warheads through the air. FAE will go off like a much bigger bomb.
    In sum, the President has no casus belli. The SAA fired some duds — and ended up killing their enemies by ethylene oxide vapor.
    BTW, the US has this type of weapon in its inventory. It’s deemed to be just a souped up form of high explosive. (!)

  • John.Frank says:

    According to the following report, the “smoking gun” piece of intelligence was doctored.

    In turn, the administration has now “backed off” and is instead relying on deductive reasoning to support the “claim.”

    Verify chemical weapons use before unleashing the dogs of war

    The Obama administration has selectively used intelligence to justify military strikes on Syria, former military officers with access to the original intelligence reports say, in a manner that goes far beyond what critics charged the Bush administration of doing in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war.

    According to these officers, who served in top positions in the United States, Britain, France, Israel, and Jordan, a Syrian military communication intercepted by Israel’s famed Unit 8200 electronic intelligence outfit has been doctored so that it leads a reader to just the opposite conclusion reached by the original report.

    The doctored report was leaked to a private Internet-based newsletter that boasts of close ties to the Israeli intelligence community, and led to news reports that the United States now had firm evidence showing that the Syrian government had ordered the chemical weapons attack on August 21 against a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus.

    Use the link above to read the rest of the article by well known Middle East expert Ken Timmerman.

    FYI, on August 28, the writer published an analysis concerning the Syria “crisis”:

    Syria: Bring on the inspectors, not the cruise missles and bombers

    – and –


  • Kolia Zhivago says:

    This is all well and good…up to a point…but just because the US should punish CW use and can do it doesn’t mean to say it should do so by unilateral military strikes against Assad’s military ONLY. The first use of CW in Syria in March and April seem to point to the rebels: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBsW342pMKM&feature=share#!….
    “United Nations chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Syria on 18 August to investigate three locations where chemical weapons were allegedly used, at
    * Al-Asal, Aleppo, on 19 March;
    * Damascus, on 19 March;
    * Maqsood Aleppo on 13 April, and
    * Idlib, on 29 April.
    whilst doing that investigation, the 21 August attacks took place and so the UN also began) visiting the locations round Damascus where chemical weapon attacks are alleged to have taken place on 21 August.Correspondents say it is hard to believe that the Syrian government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, would carry out a chemical weapons attack with the inspectors in the country” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23788674?goback=%2Egmr_3927167%2Egde_3927167_member_271489128#%21 …. (so it was either an insider Generals coup attempt to get US involved and be there to bring Assad down or the rebels did it for the same reason or Assad is mad). The consensus is that it is likely that it was a government operation. However the earlier March/April CW attacks may well have been by the rebels. If that were true what would/should do about that? Carla Del Ponte, prominent member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in relation to the March/April 2013 use of sarin gas said that the first use of chemical weapons in Syria that the Commission investigated, appeared to have been by the rebels..Carla Del Ponte is a well-respected lawyer and was a former Swiss Attorney General, prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). She would not make such statements lightly. It certainly casts reasonable doubt on US claims that only Assad’s regime has access to and used chemical weapons…http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=260:human-rights-abuses-in-syria-including-cw&Itemid=482#!
    so if the US is going to play ‘John Wayne’ (as arguably it should given the horrific nature of attacks on civilians CW or otherwise that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity) about red lines it should also hit the ‘black flags of the Jihadist extremists (with whom we are at war anyway and who have also committed war crimes and crimes against humanity) …..but the US is not thinking strategically and say it is PURELY about preventing/deterring Assad (or anyone else) from using chemical weapons.”…THAT IS THE BIG PROBLEM. As the British Parliament debate clearly showed, ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmBk-Hqo14I#! ) the major concern of most people is what will happen if the strikes so weaken Assad that the black flag dominated FSA get hold of more and more CW of which there are over 1,000 tonnes scattered all over Syria in over 50 locations (most, if not all of which will be left intact by the US for fear of spreading contagion). See Dr Lewis MP’s videos that show why the Brits voted against air strikes. As for the rebels having had some access to CW and using it in March and April this year, The UN has already said that they have….Certainly, as the Jihadi’s are peppered throughout the FSA as well as in their own battalions, it is highly likely that as Assad crumbles, one or more of the 50 CW ammo dumps will fall into the hands of extremists. A recent congressional report says 75,000 troops would be needed to safeguard the WMD caches. If the US has already ‘tied its hands’ with a promise that there would be ‘no boots on the ground’. When that happens watch out on your next commute on the subway.


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