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Author: Subject: Syrian Civil War and all involved
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[*] posted on 9-6-2017 at 10:29 PM
Syrian Civil War and all involved


Iran says it hit targets in Syria with Zolfaghar ballistic missiles

Jeremy Binnie, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

19 June 2017


A photograph purportedly shows one of the missiles that the IRGC launched from Iran at Islamic State targets in Syria on the night of 18-19 June. The missile can be identified as a member of the Fateh-110 family. Source: IRIB

Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) announced on 19 June that it had launched ballistic missiles from Iran at terrorist targets in Syria: a move that seemingly confirms it has significantly extended the range of its solid-fuel missiles.

An IRGC spokesman told the Tasnim News Agency that six ballistic missiles were launched from the Iranian provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan and flew 650-700 km to hit terrorist headquarters and depots in Syria's Dayr al-Zawr province during the previous night.

He said the missiles were launched as part of Operation 'Laylat al-Qadr': a response to the 7 June attack on the parliament building and the mausoleum of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran, which was claimed by the Islamic State militant group.

The Iranian media released imagery of ballistic missiles being launched at night time, including photographs showing a member of the Fateh-110 family of solid-fuel ballistic missiles.

As well as being easier to deploy than liquid-fuel 'Scud'-derivatives, these missiles are believed to have guidance systems that use commercial global navigation satellite systems (GNSSs) to make them far more accurate.

The IRGC spokesman said Zolfaghar (Zulfiqar) ballistic missiles, the newest and longest-range member of the family, were used in the attack. Unveiled in September 2016, the Zolfaghar is claimed to have a range of 700 km.

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[*] posted on 21-6-2017 at 03:30 PM


US forces shoot down another Iranian drone in Syria

By: Shawn Snow, June 20, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in southern Syria on Tuesday, the second such air-to-air encounter this month as opposing forces converge around a key American training garrison near the border with Jordan and Iraq.

The Shaheed-129 drone was armed and displayed hostile intent when it was intercepted by an F-15E Strike Eagle around 12:30 a.m. local time near the Syrian city of Tanf, according to U.S. Central Command. It was observed heading toward coalition forces, who were outside the outpost, officials said.

The incident occurred in approximately the same location where, on June 8, a U.S. jet shot down a similar drone that attacked coalition and partner forces on the ground. In that instance, the munition turned out to be a dud. 

No Americans or U.S. allies were wounded in either incident, officials said. 

Tuesday's encounter is the latest development in what's become an increasingly hostile standoff between the U.S. military and the various forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's fight to stay in power. On Sunday, a U.S. F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 attack jet after it fired on U.S. allies near the city of Tabqa, which is well to the north of Tanf. That incident flared long-simmering tension between the U.S. and Russia, which backs Assad and declared over the weekend it would begin to target coalition aircraft if they stray into territory the regime seeks to control.

These skirmishes illustrate how congested and complex the battle space has become in Syria.

American forces and their allies are focused on fighting the Islamic State. But as the terror group loses ground in and around the city of Raqqa, which is its self-declared capital, the chase is migrating southeast, into the Euphrates River valley. And there, warring parties in Syria's ongoing civil war continue to jostle over territory.

As a result, there is greater risk of conflict between the U.S. and Iran.

On Monday, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps demonstrated some of its military prowess by launching ballistic missile strikes from western Iran against ISIS targets in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zour, according to The Guardian. Propaganda videos followed, highlighting an Iranian Shaheed-129 filming the strike.

Some analysts believe Iran is attempting to establish a land corridor in Syria, linking its capital, Tehran, all the way to Lebanon, where its militant proxy, Hezbollah, operates.

“I think Iran is trying to preemptively shape what a U.S.- Iran conflict would look like, keep us focused on eastern Syria and away from key Iranian interests in the west,” said Jennifer Cafarella, an expert on the Syrian conflict at the Institute for the Study of War.

Iranian interests in the west include Lebanon and the Syrian city of Quneitra, a small city nestled near the Golan Heights. Israel has controlled the Golan Heights since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Attempting to de-escalate the situation, U.S. officials in Baghdad have sent out notices reminding parties involved in Syria that there is a de-confliction mechanism in place with Russian forces to reduce the chances of "strategic miscalculation."

On Tuesday, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. did not use the deconfliction line before destroying the Iranian drone because the event unfolded very rapidly. It was a “matter of minutes” between intercept and shoot-down, he said.
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[*] posted on 21-7-2017 at 12:11 PM


McCain: Cutting Syria train-and-equip 'irresponsible'

By: Tara Copp, July 20, 2017 (Photo Credit: Mohamad Abazeed/AFP via Getty Images)



WASHINGTON — Members of Congress said they were deeply concerned following reports that the U.S. is planning to abandon a covert operation to train and equip Syria moderate rebels.

The program, run by the Central Intelligence Agency, is separate from the one run by the Department of Defense. The move to end the program was first reported by The Washington Post. Pentagon officials referred questions about that program’s potential termination to the White House.
  
The Defense Department’s program, which had a shaky start in 2015 after almost all of the original trainees fled, has now trained thousands of Kurdish and Arab Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State group. Those forces have been getting additional training and assistance at various U.S. bases throughout Syria in preparation for the fight to retake Raqqa. The Pentagon requested $500 million in the 2018 defense budget to continue the program. 

However, that program also faces significant challenges. NATO ally Turkey opposes arming many of the Syrian rebel forces the U.S. has partnered with and earlier this year conducted airstrikes in northern Syria that killed several U.S.-partnered forces. In addition, Russia and the besieged government of Syrian president Bashar Assad have also targeted Syrian Kurds and Arabs trained by the U.S.

The U.S. has conducted airstrikes to protect the trained forces, downing a Syrian jet, two pro-regime drones and destroying pro-regime fighting positions that were attacking the trained fighters.

Still, the CIA’s program was seen as an integral part of securing a future for Syria that did not include Assad, whose regime has killed hundreds of thousands of its own civilian during its civil war, which began in 2011. Reports of the covert program’s demise were met with swift criticism on Capitol Hill.

"If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin," said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"Making any concession to Russia, absent a broader strategy for Syria, is irresponsible and short-sighted," McCain said.

Mattis briefed members of the Senate on Wednesday and members of the House of Representatives on Thursday on the overall ISIS strategy, including the train-and-equip program. McCain, who was in Arizona and who announced on Wednesday that he had a brain tumor, said that it would be premature to cut the program since the administration has not yet provided its full strategy for defeating the Islamic State. 

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., attended the Thursday ISIS briefing by Mattis and said he had a chance to ask if the Pentagon was ending the program.

"Let’s say that I have emerged from that briefing very concerned that we have cut our already inadequate support for reasonable Arab forces in Syria," Sherman said. "The vast majority of Syrians are looking for an end to the Assad regime, and we seemed to have abandoned those of our allies trying to achieve that effort in return for nothing."

Mattis told reporters he would "prefer" not to discuss the issue.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said the DOD program continues. 

"We continue to support the [Syrian Democratic Forces] and other vetted Syrian groups that fight ISIS," Davis said. 
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[*] posted on 21-7-2017 at 01:12 PM


Pentagon Irked After Turkey Publishes Map of US Military Posts in N. Syria

(Source: Voice of America News; issued July 19, 2017)


This map of US military posts in northern Syria, published by the Turkish state-owned Anadolu press agency, has irked the Pentagon. (Anadolu Agensi image)

The Pentagon says it has raised its concerns with Turkey after a Turkish news agency published a map of U.S. military posts in northern Syria.

The state-run Anadolu News Agency printed the map Wednesday, showing 10 U.S. locations in a portion of Syria under Syrian-Kurdish control.

Turkey says the Kurdish People's Protection Unit is the armed branch of the Kurdish Democratic Party, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group.

A Pentagon spokesman said U.S. military officials cannot identify the source of the map, but "would be very concerned if officials from a NATO ally would purposefully endanger our forces by releasing sensitive information."

The Pentagon would not confirm if the information on the map is accurate.

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[*] posted on 17-8-2017 at 03:51 AM
Aussie intel pinpointed Sharrouf for US strike


http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:5elZteJ...

Quote:
Australian intelligence agencies played a key role leading up to the planning of a US airstrike in Syria that is believed to have killed the nation’s most notorious terrorist, Khaled Sharrouf, and his two sons.

The Australian has been told that information supplied to the Five Eyes intelligence network, believed to be from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, was critical to tracking down the key Islamic State figure and convicted terrorist, who slipped out of Australia on his brother’s passport in December 2013, a year after being released from prison.

A government source said a large airstrike on a number of ­vehicles outside Islamic State’s self-declared capital Raqqa, under the supervision of the US Joint Operations Command, had killed the 36-year-old Sharrouf.

Reports provided to the Australian government suggested two of Sharrouf’s sons, Abdullah, 12, and Zarqawi, 11, who had been used by their father in ISIS propaganda material, were also killed. Abdullah was infamously photographed carrying a severed head.




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new dark age. Repent your sins, for the apocalypse,
and the end, is extremely f@#king nigh!
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[*] posted on 17-8-2017 at 06:29 PM


Russia praises Syrian helicopter assault

Tim Ripley - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

16 August 2017


Pro-government soldiers celebrate victory after taking Al-Sukhnah, 40 km south of Al-Kadir. Source: Syrian Arab News Agency

The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has praised the Syrian military for what it described as the first-ever helicopter assault that it has carried out against Islamic State militants.

The MoD said on 14 August that the night-time operation was carried out two days previously, under the command of General Suhail al-Hassan with the assistance of Russian military advisors; the ministry added that the landing zone was near Al-Kadir in Al-Raqqah province, 120 km west of the city of Dayr al-Zawr. Gen Hassan is well known as the commander of the Syrian Arab Army's (SAA) elite Tiger Force.

The aircraft took off from Jirah Air Base in the east of Aleppo province, and included Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters that destroyed vehicles and directed SAA artillery fire, the MoD said.

After these strikes, the Syrian paratroopers captured the high ground around Al-Kadir and stormed the settlement, destroying a headquarters and warehouses, as well as disabling two tanks and three armed vehicles. The paratroopers then held Al-Kadir until the main force, advancing overland, arrived on the morning of 12 August.

The MoD also posted on its YouTube channel some of the footage of the operation that had already been broadcast by Syrian television. This showed two Russian Ka-52s and a Mil Mi-17AMShT helicopter preparing to take off from Jirah, as well as four Syrian Mi-17s with their cargo doors removed, and a Syrian Mi-24/35 attack helicopter.

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[*] posted on 17-8-2017 at 10:42 PM


Iran Building Weapons Factories in Syria, Lebanon, Israeli Media Reports

(Source: Radio Free Europe; issued Aug 16, 2017)

Israeli media are reporting that Iran is building a factory in northwest Syria to manufacture long-range rockets.

The reports feature satellite images showing a site under construction in northwest Syria near the Mediterranean coastal town of Baniyas that purportedly could be used to produce and store the weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned recently that Iran is augmenting its presence in Syria as the six-year civil war there has turned more favorably toward Tehran's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Our policy is clear: We vehemently oppose the military buildup by Iran and its proxies, primarily Hizballah, in Syria and we will do whatever it takes to protect Israel's security," Netanyahu said in a speech last week.

Iran, which has not officially commented on the Israeli reports, is Israel's avowed enemy and for years has provided Assad with military advisers and militias to wage his civil war.

An Israeli Channel 2 television news report showed images it said were taken by an Israeli satellite showing a weapons-factory construction site and indications that explosives would be stored there.

The report compared images of buildings it said were of a rocket factory near Tehran to structures at the Syrian site, and said there was a strong resemblance between them.

The Times of Israel reported that the missile factory is being built in a bastion of support for the embattled Assad government and could be used for the production and underground storage of Scud missiles capable of striking Israel.

It said dirt berms could be seen around the factory buildings in satellite photos to protect them from attack. It added that the same site can viewed by anyone on Google maps.

The Times said Iran was also helping Hizballah build subterranean factories in Lebanon to make Fateh-110 medium-range missiles that would be able to reach most parts of Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman last month publicly warned Hizballah and Iran against building the weapons factories.

"We are fully aware" of the rocket factories, Liberman told military correspondents at a briefing in Tel Aviv. "We know what needs to be done.... We won't ignore the establishment of Iranian weapons factories in Lebanon."

The alarms raised by Israel about Iran establishing a long-term military presence in Syria and Lebanon have been heeded by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which has said this year it will not accept any peace settlement in Syria that allows Iran to maintain a military presence in the country.

U.S. news reports say Israeli intelligence officials will discuss the situation in Syria and Lebanon with U.S. counterparts in a visit to Washington this week.

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[*] posted on 23-8-2017 at 07:47 PM


North Korean shipments to Syria intercepted

Jeremy Binnie - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

22 August 2017

Two possible arms-related shipments heading from North Korea to Syria have been intercepted in the past six months, according to a UN panel of experts report seen by Reuters on 21 August.

"Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria.

Another member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a [Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation] KOMID contract with Syria,” the news agency quoted the report as saying. “The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Centre [SSRC], a Syrian entity identified by the panel as co-operating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers.”

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[*] posted on 31-8-2017 at 02:15 PM


Russia claims Pantsyr-S1s in Syria have shot down foreign UAVs

Jeremy Binnie - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

30 August 2017


A Pantsyr-S1 is seen at Humaymim Air Base in a still from a documentary aired by Russia’s Zvezda TV in June. Source: Zvezda TV

Key Points
- Russian Pantsyr-S1s have supposedly shot down five UAVs in Syria this year
- There are Pantsyr-S1s deployed in the Tartus and Masyaf areas as well as at Humaymin Air Base.

The Pantsyr-S1 air defence systems that Russia has deployed to Syria have shot down three IAI Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) since the beginning of this year, according to information displayed during Russia’s Army-2017 show held near Moscow from 22-27 August.

The claim was made as part of an exhibition the Russian military put on during the show to highlight the contribution its systems have made during the war in Syria.

Two of the Herons were supposedly shot down near the port city of Tartus on 9 April (range: 13.7 km, altitude: 6.4 km) and 20 May (8.8 km, 7.3 km), and the third near Masyaf on 6 July (16.1 km, 4.1 km).

The Heron is operated by Israel and Turkey, both neighbouring countries that would be interested in monitoring military activity inside Syria.

It was also claimed that an RQ-21A Integrator and a Bayraktar UAV were shot down near Tartus on 27 May and 11 May respectively.

Developed from the Insitu Integrator, the RQ-21A Blackjack is operated by the militaries of Canada, the Netherlands, the United States, and at least one Middle-Eastern country that has not been identified.

The one supposedly shot down in Syria was hit when it was flying at an altitude of 7.3 km ­– significantly higher than the 4,572 m service ceiling Insitu lists for the Integrator – and at a range of 19 km, close to the maximum attributed to the Pantsyr-S1.

Turkish company Baykar makes UAVs called the Bayraktar TB2, which can be armed, and the far smaller Bayraktar Mini UAS. Both are in service with the Turkish military and Qatar has bought the Mini.

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[*] posted on 31-8-2017 at 04:05 PM


Posted On Wednesday, 30 August 2017 10:34

Russia and Syria create joint air defense with S-400 missile and Pantsir missile/gun systems

According to the Russian new agency TASS, A unified air defense system has been set up in Syria thanks to efforts of Russian and Syrian military experts, Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces Major-General Sergey Meshcheryakov told a round table dedicated to the Syrian experience at the Army-2017 International Military-Technical Forum.

 
Russian S-400 air defense missile system deployed in the Khmeimim airbase in Syria.
 
"Today, a unified integrated air defense system has been set up in Syria. We have ensured the information and technical interlinkage of the Russian and Syrian air reconnaissance systems. All information on the situation in the air comes from Syrian radar stations to the control points of the Russian force grouping," he said.
 
The Russian air defense group in the Hmeymim airfield area includes a radio engineering battalion, a battery of the Pantsir-S air defense missile and gun systems and the S-400 air defense missile systems.

"These air defense missile systems are capable of destroying targets within a range of up to 400 kilometers at an altitude of up to 35 kilometers," Meshcheryakov said.

He added that the Russian Aerospace Forces had inflicted substantial damage on the Islamic State (outlawed in Russia) terrorist infrastructure by destroying their ammunition and fuel depots, weapons and military equipment repair plants and significantly worsening militants’ logistics support and their ability to quickly redeploy reinforcements.

"Thanks to regular airstrikes against the oil infrastructure and the destruction of oil convoys, substantial economic damage has been inflicted on the enemy as well," Mescheryakov concluded.

 
Russian Pantsir-S1 short-range gun/missile air defense system deployed in the Khmeimim airbase in Syria.
 
Currently, Russia’s S-400 and S-300PMU2 air defense missile ystem provides protection against air threats for its military bases in Syria. The S-400 Triumph missile system and the Pantsir complex, which is a short to medium range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon system, are ensuring the protection of Russia’s Air Force at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria,

Additional defense systems, including S-300 complexes, are deployed to provide air defense for a station in the Syrian port of Tartus that provides technical support for the Russian Navy.

There is four air defense systems used to protect the Khmeimim airbase in Syria, the first layer is provided by the S-400 and S-200VE for long-range. The second one is handled by the S-300PM2 and Buk-M2E for medium-range. The third layer is furnished by the Osa-AKM and S-125 Pechora-2M SHORAD systems and finally the Pantsir-S1 to offer close protection for the base and S-400 air defense missile systems.
  
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[*] posted on 1-9-2017 at 03:21 PM


Coalition Strikes Block Highway Used by Fleeing Terrorists

(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Aug 30, 2017)

SOUTHWEST ASIA --- The coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was not party to an agreement between the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and ISIS, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials said today.

According to news reports, about 670 ISIS terrorists and their families, surrounded by Lebanese and pro-regime Syrian forces, attempted to ensure safe passage across Syria by offering to trade the bodies of nine Lebanese soldiers captured in 2014.

"Russian and pro-regime counter-ISIS words ring hollow when they cut deals with and allow terrorists to transit territory under their control," officials said.

"ISIS is a global threat; relocating terrorists from one place to another for someone else to deal with is not a lasting solution," the officials said. "This is just further evidence of why coalition military action is necessary to defeat ISIS in Syria."

"The coalition has not struck the convoy," officials said. "In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the coalition cratered the road heading east between Hamaymah and Abu Kamal to prevent the further transport of ISIS fighters to the border area of our Iraqi partners and struck individual vehicles and fighters that were clearly identified as ISIS."

"In accordance with the law of armed conflict, the coalition will take action against ISIS whenever and wherever we are able to without harming civilians," the officials said.

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[*] posted on 15-9-2017 at 02:18 PM


‘I Want to Finish This’: US Special Ops Leaders Urge Washington to Stick by the Syrian Kurds

By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Council on Foreign Relations

September 13, 2017

Commanders inside Syria say rebels are doing all they hoped for — and are the best shot to break the region's cycle of terrorism.

KOBANI, Syria – Talking with American special operators as we walk in the summer heat through the sprawling training facilities of the Syrian Arab Coalition, one sentiment is immediately obvious: relief.

It is not that these elite American troops are relaxed about the mission; it is that they make clear they think it’s working and see that the end is achievable. And for those of us who have written about and covered the post-9/11 wars, that is indeed a shift.

“My military guidance is clear; what we are trying to do here in terms of the campaign against Daesh is clear; the direction that we receive from CENTCOM is clear,” said one senior U.S. commander, a leader of the mission to train and assist the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the Syrian Arab Coalition are a part. “We help the SDF clear territory, we help the internal security force hold territory, and to the extent we can within our authorities, there is a bit of building going on.”

The view from this dusty base in northern Syria is that the mission – and the Washington policy decision to fight ISIS “by, with, and through” local forces trained by elite Americans – is succeeding. But that mission is on a collision course with geopolitical reality. Washington has backed the Syrian Kurds’ central role in the SDF, while Turkey considers those forces to be separatist terrorists. U.S. special operations forces leaders here say they feel Syrian Kurds have a chance to help end the cycle of insurgency that has burned across Iraq and Syria since 2003, and turn at least part of a war zone into a governable peace. But if Washington turns its back on the SDF to placate a NATO ally, these leaders say the American-trained and -armed Syrian forces could be overrun, their gains lost – and this special operations mission will be for naught. 

On this sun-scorched ground, that policy debate feels far removed from the Kurds and Arabs standing in front of U.S. forces, donning new uniforms as they prepare to eject ISIS from terrain it holds or to bar its return. Officials spoke with us about the U.S. mission in Syria, but asked us to protect American names, ranks, and roles due to the nature of the work and the mission.

“I want to free people and innocent kids from ISIS,” said Abdullah Ibraheem, an SDF trainee from Raqqa. He will spend two weeks in basic training before heading to the front lines. “I want to protect my dignity, my country, and free it from terrorism…I’m excited to be going to the battle. I’m happy I’ll free the children.”

The Americans’ affection for these fighters is clear.
We are finishing the Iraq war.

“It is a dream SF mission,” a second U.S. special operations forces commander in Syria said. He was referring to the Army’s Special Forces, the Green Berets who have trained foreign fighters for decades. “It is a textbook mission for special operations.” Why? Because, they say, of the forces they are backing are in the fight. Reliable. “They are more like us; they are just aggressive,” this commander said of the SDF and its Kurdish contingent, the YPG, to me. “A stable group of pragmatic people.” And in the case of the Kurds, pragmatic people who see this conflict as an opportunity to govern themselves. “They want to win,” says the second commander. “You don’t spend your time pushing them into the fight — they want to go into the fight.”

“There is a real desire to be seen as a legitimate partner,” he said of the Syrian Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces more broadly. “These people want to do the right thing. They see it as this is their opportunity to change the perception of them.”

Indeed, the varying perceptions of Syrian Kurds and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units of the YPG are a source of tension between the State Department and the Pentagon.

For their part, the U.S. special operators see them as partners who never leave a fight. And the mission, they say, doesn’t cost a lot for all that it offers America. “It is not a major investment,” says the second commander. “We have a working partner here and that is a rarity in this part of the world.”

And they say there is one scenario that could turn the situation from dream to nightmare: the U.S. abandons the Syrian Kurds.
“The best way for us to force them back into the extremist camp is to leave them,” the second commander said.

American commanders say it’s crucial to stick with the SDF, including YPG, while the multi-ethnic coalition is making progress in retaking ground. After the SDF liberates territory from ISIS, the plan is for local security forces to hold those streets – in Raqqa, under the auspices of the Raqqa Internal Security Forces, or RISF – while a civil council with a male and female head helps citizens make local decisions on local issues. That, too, has been working in other liberated villages and towns.

But local leaders say they will need more resources if the civil councils are to have a chance at achieving lasting stability.

“Water, electricity. Security is very important for us,” said Leila Mustafa, co-head of the Raqqa Civil Council and a Kurdish civil engineer. Right now, she says, she and other civil council members are working without pay to serve their city. “To rebuild Raqqa, we need a lot of money and a lot of support.”  

Her sentiment was echoed by her counterparts in Manbij.

Liberated from ISIS one year ago,  the the northern Syrian town has been slowly rebuilding on its own, without help from the international community.

“People are looking for public services,” says Ibrahim Qaftan of the Manbij Civil Council. “America can help us provide these faster and more easily, so our services will not be slow” to appear and to make a difference in people’s lives. 

Special operations leaders see the on-the-ground need and are helping State Department officials meet civil council members in person and via video conference; they know that their diplomatic colleagues will ultimately decide whether and how to offer sustained support here. They also know that lack of services and lousy governance often leads to disenfranchisement, insurgency, and a return in force by U.S. troops. For now, they say the “whole of government” approach is on track to work in Syria. And they say they see Syrians pushing their own country forward. 

“There will be bumps and hiccups, but the model I see unfolding before me — as the noose tightens on Raqqa and more terrain is liberated and the Raqqa Internal Security Forces come in behind and take over some of those zones —  is working,” says the senior U.S. special operations forces commander, the leader of the SDF train-and-assist mission. “A lot of times when the Raqqa Internal Security Forces, or RISF, take over territory from SDF, we haven’t had anything to do with it at all. Syrians themselves work it out and the RISF tells us. We say, ‘That is great, that is why we are giving you training and equipment, vehicles and communications tools, so you can keep building your capability.’”

Not everyone is as optimistic. Veteran diplomats immersed in the region’s bigger-picture realities are skeptical of elite troops’ judgement on the Middle East’s political futures.

The best way for us to force them back into the extremist camp is to leave them.

“I trust them to carry out military operations,” said James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, of U.S. special operations officials. “I’m not sure they are the right folks to fathom very intricate political ideological and ethnic movements in a region as alien to even those of us who have spent much time there.”

Jeffrey has advocated for swift military action against ISIS since its emergence, but also has warned about the delicate intricacies Washington must consider within Syria. He says he understands special operations leaders supporting their battle buddies, but it is a lot more complicated.

“We have seen this movie many times,” Jeffery told Defense One in an email. “I’m actually in favor of moving heaven and earth to keep supporting (the Kurds) but that means, one, knowing why in larger scheme of things and, two, bringing Turks on board.” That latter part, hearing Turkey’s concerns and bringing them on board, he says, is absolutely essential.

The job of supporting Syrian fighters has become easier also since President Donald Trump’s White House loosened authorities – or perhaps has simply been less involved in day-to-day operations. SOF leaders say the biggest difference is the four-fold increase in U.S. special operations trainers on the ground in Syria since late spring. Overall, several hundred more U.S. special operations forces have arrived this year. While the Pentagon will not give exact figures, the total number of Americans involved in the mission inside the country is estimated at roughly 1,000.

The American focus is not just on the size of the SDF and the number of internal security forces to hold the streets they retake afterward, but also their ethnic makeup. While Turkey and other critics have charged that the SDF is just a dressed-up Kurdish force with a few Arab forces included, U.S. officials say Arab leaders are very much a part of this mission, and that ethnic makeup is less important to the individuals actually doing the fighting. Or the civilians charged with rebuilding afterward.

“Folks on the ground here are focused on effectiveness and securing liberated territory from Daesh and far less concerned about what the man on the left or right’s ethnicity is,” says the special operations train-and-assist mission leader. “They often, in the meetings I see, chuckle a little bit when folks ask them, ‘What percentage of you are Arab and Kurdish?’ They don’t understand the significance of the question because for them they are a little bit all in this together. They are in a fight to secure liberated territory and keep it liberated from ISIS.”

U.S. special operations forces say that once territory is liberated, and responsibility for it is handed over to RISF and the Raqqa Civil Council, it should silence critics who say Syrian Kurds are trying to keep hold of Arab lands.

I don’t want my son fighting over here, I don’t want my daughter fighting here, I want to finish this.

U.S. special operations leaders in Syria have their own experience with such handoffs during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they want those hard-won lessons of governance to be heeded.

“I can draw a direct line between the work we have done with our civilian colleagues on the civil councils and security forces, and the efficacy of the [counter-ISIS] campaign, keeping the campaign on track, preventing reemergence,” the senior commander said. “I see legitimate means of addressing grievances without resorting to violence, I see legitimate security forces that protect people equally without repression, I see the rule of law taking root, and I see civil councils [that] are actually able to provide resources for the disadvantaged members of their population.” Reemergence. In other words, insurgency. It is what everyone is watching for. And so far, U.S. officials say, they haven’t seen signs of it.

“I was in Baghdad when it was liberated, I was in Afghanistan on the invasion,” the commander said. “When I look at the trends, I don’t see signs of fracture and we are watching for it very closely. And we don’t see it. Because when the SDF liberates towns, they really are serious about deferring to local councils once they are established and it is not just lip service.”

Baghdad is on the mind of many special operations leaders I spoke with in and out of Syria about the mission to defeat ISIS.

“We are finishing the Iraq war — these are the same people we have been fighting,” the second commander said. “This is a generational war and this is our generation.”

And, in his view, the fight would be closer to ending if the U.S. stands by the Kurds — and the Arabs who are fighting alongside them.

“The endgame I am fighting for is an alternative in Syria. SDF are perfectly capable, with assistance, of doing the job. It is a [counter-terrorism] mission, a defeat-ISIS mission, that in the process is going to produce an alternative,” the second special operations leader said. “I don’t want my son fighting over here, I don’t want my daughter fighting here, I want to finish this.”

Kamiran Sadoun contributed to this report. 

Reporting for this story was supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.
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[*] posted on 20-9-2017 at 04:09 PM


U.S. military closes outpost in southeastern Syria, ceding territory to Iranian proxies

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff September 19 at 8:45 AM


Anti-government Syrian fighters from Maghaweer al-Thawra next to American forces at the Syrian-Iraqi crossing border point of Tanf. (Hammurabi’s Justice News/AP)

The U.S. military acknowledged Tuesday it has closed an outpost in southern Syria in recent days amid reports that American forces and their contingent of Syrian proxies had pulled out from an important base in the area — effectively ceding the ground to Iranian-backed militias.

The decision to vacate the Zakaf outpost, a small, barrier-walled compound just miles from the Syria-Iraq border, appeared to represent a tacit acknowledgment that U.S.-backed forces will now be in an increasingly difficult position to recapture strategic border towns where the Islamic State’s most senior leaders have been sighted in recent months.

Although the U.S.-allied forces and the Iranian-aided militias are both fighting the Islamic State, they also are in competition for sway over parts of Syria if the Islamic State loses more ground. Most important of all is Deir al-Zour, the largest swath of Syria to remain under the extremist group’s control.

The closure also could put more territory under control of Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias that have pushed through the province in recent months. The pro-Syrian government forces, equipped with armored vehicles and pickup trucks, came dangerously close to U.S.-backed Syrian fighters over the summer. Their proximity sparked multiple incidents that included strafing runs on the militias by American aircraft and the shooting down of two Iranian-built drones, one of which occurred near the base at Zakaf.

Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in the region, said over email that the “decision to establish and close temporary bases is determined by operational requirements and the progress of the campaign.”

“Throughout Syria and Iraq, the Coalition has established and closed numerous bases, as warranted by the operational situation, in order to ensure we provide effective support to our partner forces,” he wrote.

A local resident, Mahmoud Abu Salah, confirmed that the outpost had been evacuated in recent days.

Dillon added that coalition troops and their Syrian partner forces — known as the Maghawir al-Thawra, or Commandos of the Revolution — are still located at Tanf, a larger outpost roughly 45 miles away from Zakaf that acts as a gateway to the Syria-Iraq-Jordan tri-border crossing to the south.

The group’s fortunes, like those of most other Washington-backed rebels, have waned following defections and the ebbing of international support.

Recent advances by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have effectively ended hopes of any meaningful anti-Islamic State offensive out of Tanf. But the withdrawal of coalition forces could now have unintended consequences elsewhere in the desert province, including the removal of the protection it offered tens of thousands of civilians through proximity to their nearby displacement camp.

It is unclear if the closure of the Zakaf outpost is the result of a cease-fire deal for parts of Syria reached in July by Jordan, Russia and the United States or from further unreported discussions between the countries.

Zakaf was constructed this summer and the Maghawir al-Thawra posted multiple pictures of the outpost to its media arm showing U.S.-led coalition forces mingling among their fighters, and boasted to news outlets about its key location. The small fortification appeared to be an effort by the U.S.-led coalition and the Maghawir al-Thawra forces to extend their presence closer to Bukamal, an Islamic State-controlled key border town that U.S.-backed forces, then called the New Syrian Army, tried to liberate in June 2016.

The offensive stalled and ultimately failed, forcing the Syrian fighters to retreat across the desert to Tanf. Since their defeat, the New Syrian Army changed its name, was re-equipped and retrained by British and U.S. Special Operations Forces and quietly began pushing back toward Bukamal.

Over the summer, however, the Syrian Army and its Iranian-backed proxies effectively cut off the U.S.-backed forces from any overland approach to Bukamal, bypassing the coalition’s outposts at Tanf and Zakaf and linking up with their Iraqi counterparts at the Iraqi border. Since then, U.S. officials have said that the Maghawir al-Thawra fighters will likely have to be airlifted into the Euphrates River Valley if they’re going to fight the Islamic State.

The shuttering of Zakaf comes as another U.S. proxy group, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, continues to make gains in the northern Euphrates River Valley and in the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa. Roughly 70 percent of the city has been retaken from the militant group as the urban battle stretches into its third month. The SDF has also recently pushed south of Raqqa toward the Islamic State-held city of Deir al-Zour. With Maghawir al-Thawra sidelined, Dillon said that the SDF will effectively take the lead to seize Bukamal, approaching the town from the north instead of the west.
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[*] posted on 22-9-2017 at 12:45 PM


Syrian troops cross Euphrates

Tim Ripley - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

21 September 2017


A still from a video released by the Islamic State on 20 September that purportedly showed a drone attack on Syrian government forces crossing the Euphrates in the vicinity of Dayr al-Zawr city. Source: Amaq News Agency

Key Points
- Syrian government forces have established a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Euphrates
- The SAA is now in a position to secure crucial oil fields and prevent the SDF advancing further down the Euphrates valley

Syrian Arab Army (SAA) troops have staged a river crossing to set up a bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Euphrates: a move that escalates the risk of fighting with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) operating on that side of the river.

The crossing was reported by several sources on 18 September, with the TASS news agency quoting the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) as saying that "storm troops of the Syrian army have driven [Islamic State] militants out of a number of villages on the eastern shore of Euphrates and are carrying out an offensive in the eastern direction, broadening the foothold they seized".

The MoD statement said the Syrian units involved in the operation included the 4th Tank Division and were backed by Russian Aerospace Forces.

Russian television news channels broadcast footage showed SAA personnel and vehicles being ferried across what appeared to be a section of the Euphrates east of Dayr al-Zawr Air Base.
The Russian footage showed Syrian soldiers using Soviet-era PMP pontoon bridge sections and BMK water boats as ferries as well as PTS-M amphibious vehicles.

Two days before the crossing, the US-backed SDF, which is advancing on Dayr al-Zawr city from the north, accused Russia of injuring several of its fighters in an airstrike and threatened a harsh response to any attack by Russian-backed government forces.

The US-led coalition confirmed the strike, saying, “Russian munitions impacted a location known to the Russians to contain Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisors” east of Dayr al-Zawr city.

(314 of 492 words)
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[*] posted on 2-12-2017 at 12:36 PM


Russia Calls Time on Syrian Campaign

(Source: British Forces News; issued Nov 30, 2017)

Russia has confirmed it plans to pull its forces out of Syria. Nikolay Patrushev, the head of Russia’s National Security Council, said "preparations are underway" for a military withdrawal.

Russia's intervention in Syria's civil war began in September 2015 and has been instrumental in helping government forces retake territory.

The air campaign has raised its profile in the Middle East and turned the course of war in President Bashar Assad's favour.

Russia has an air base and a navy supply facility in Syria, which it plans to expand.
Syria wreckage

Previously General Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s General Staff, said Russia would "probably" reduce its military presence in the war-torn country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also said that military operations in Syria were “nearing completion”.

Syria's President Basher Al Assad has thanked the Russian military for "saving his country".

Meanwhile, Egypt has announced that it is close to a deal with Russia that would allow Russian military jets to use Egyptian air bases and airspace.

The move is being seen as a snub to the United States, who have been providing military support to Egypt since the 1980s but have since cut or withheld aid amid concerns over Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's human rights record and his ties to North Korea.

The Russia-Egypt deal, which would allow each country's warplanes to use air bases of the other, is to last five years and could be extended further if agreed.

For Egypt, the deal is significant as President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government has expanded military ties with Russia and signed deals to buy Russian fighter jets, helicopters and other weapons.

Egypt was Moscow's closest Arab ally in the 1950s and 1960s, when nationalist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser turned away from the United States and secured Soviet backing. His successor, Anwar Sadat, broke ties with Moscow and evicted Soviet military advisers.

Under Mr el-Sissi, who developed friendly ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egypt has expanded economic ties with Russia and shown a renewed interest in Russian arms.

-ends-
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[*] posted on 28-12-2017 at 10:53 PM


ISIS Fighters Move With 'Impunity' in Syrian Regime Territory

Military.com 27 Dec 2017 By Richard Sisk

The remnants of ISIS forces in Syria have been moving through areas nominally in the control of the Russian-backed regime with "impunity" from attack as they search for a safe haven, a coalition commander charged Wednesday.

"From our point of view, it seems to us that ISIS are moving through regime areas with impunity" in eastern Syria while apparently fleeing to the west in an effort to reach territory controlled by other rebel groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, British Army Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney said.

In recent weeks, ISIS fighters, or their sympathizers, reportedly have mounted small attacks in the southern neighborhoods of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

"We are seeing the movement of limited numbers of ISIS militants westwards" from eastern Syria near the Iraqi border, said Gedney, the deputy commander for strategy and support for the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve.

In a video briefing to the Pentagon from Baghdad, Gedney said that the free movement of the ISIS fighters was evidence "the regime is either unwilling or unable to defeat [ISIS] within their borders."

While in the regime's areas, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters essentially are immune from attack by the U.S. and its partnered forces, Gedney said.

"We've got no intention to operate in areas that are currently held by the regime," Gedney said. "We can only defeat ISIS in areas our partners control."

In eastern Syria, where the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have captured Raqqa and pursued ISIS' remnants in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, the fight was not over, Gedney said.

Last week, U.S. and coalition aircraft carried out 23 strikes in eastern Syria against ISIS vehicles, fighting positions and other targets, Gedney said. "Our pursuit of these terrorists is as tenacious and determined as ever," he said.

In Raqqa, which ISIS had called the capital of its "caliphate," the focus was on removing improvised explosive devices left behind by ISIS to allow displaced persons to return, Gedney said.

Despite the coalition's successes in Syria and Iraq this year, there were no plans as yet to begin troop withdrawals, Gedney said.

"Our coalition will remain committed to the mission in Syria" until such time as political leaders decide otherwise, he said.

The situation was similar in Iraq, where the coalition was putting more emphasis on training police and border guards, Gedney said.

"As soon as we can, we will move troops out of theater," he said, but there was no timetable for withdrawals.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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[*] posted on 2-1-2018 at 09:52 PM


Rump Islamic State poses ongoing threat in Syria

Tim Ripley - Jane's Intelligence Review

02 January 2018


In a screen capture from a video broadcast by Amaq, a group of Islamic State fighters conducts a raid on an SDF position near Jafir oil field, south of Deir al-Zour, in October 2017. The group’s propaganda output on social media has declined since the height of its ‘caliphate’. Source: Amaq/Al Masdar News

Key Points

- By late 2017, the fighting strength of the Islamic State in Syria was largely exhausted, with the group contained in several territorial pockets by Kurdish and Syrian forces and US airpower.
- Nonetheless, it appears that the group chose to withdraw rather than suffer overwhelming casualties, enabling many of its senior leadership and professional fighters to escape to the Iraq-Syria border region.
- Lacking control over urban areas, the Islamic State will struggle to resupply its forces and effectively co-ordinate its global jihad, but local branches are likely to become increasingly autonomous, ensuring that the group will continue to inspire regional and international terrorist attacks.

Images of the ruins of the Syrian city of Raqqa after its capture by Kurdish-led fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in October 2017 suggested that few Islamic State fighters could have survived four months of devastating airstrikes by the US-led coalition.

However, when it emerged in mid-November that thousands of Islamic State fighters, religious leaders, political operatives, and their families had left the city under an agreement brokered by the SDF and its US allies, it became clear that the fate of the militant group in Syria was far more complex. Unlike in Iraq, where thousands of trapped Islamic State fighters were killed or captured in the ruins of Mosul and the nearby ‘Hawija pocket’, militants in Syria had far more options to escape, potentially giving the group an opportunity to regenerate.

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[*] posted on 11-1-2018 at 01:11 PM


Syrian military says it thwarts Israeli strikes

Jeremy Binnie - Jane's Defence Weekly

10 January 2018

Yeah right, of course they did................

The Syrian military announced on 9 January that it had prevented three Israeli attempts to attack targets in the Al-Qutayfah area northeast of Damascus earlier that day.

In a statement reported by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the military’s General Command said Israeli aircraft launched several missiles over Lebanese airspace towards Al-Qutayfah at 0240 h local time (0040 GMT). It claimed the missiles were intercepted and one Israeli aircraft was hit by Syrian air defences.

A second attack using ground-to-ground missiles launched from the Golan Heights at 0304 h local time was also thwarted by Syrian air defences, it said.

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[*] posted on 15-1-2018 at 01:10 PM


Turkey vows imminent assault on Kurdish enclave in Syria

By: Zeynep Bilginsoy, The Associated Press   4 hours ago


A picture taken on June 9, 2017, shows the main entrance to the city of Afrin, along Syria's northern border with Turkey. (George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president said Sunday the country will launch a military assault on a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria “in the coming days” and urged the U.S. to support its efforts.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation against the Afrin enclave aims to “purge terror” from his country’s southern border.

Afrin is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a bloody insurgency within its borders.

A YPG spokesman in Afrin said clashes erupted after midnight between his unit and Turkish troops near the border with Turkey. Rojhat Roj said the shelling of areas in Afrin district, in Aleppo province, killed one YPG fighter and injured a couple of civilians on Sunday.

Turkey and its Western allies, including the U.S., consider the PKK a terrorist organization. But the U.S. has been arming some of Syria’s Kurds to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria — a sore point in already tense U.S.-Turkish relations.

The Turkish president said “despite it all” he wants to work with the U.S. in the region and hopes it will not side with the YPG during the upcoming Afrin operation.

“We expect (the U.S.) to support Turkey in its legitimate efforts” to combat terror, said Erdogan.

Also Sunday, Erdogan’s spokesman responded to reports the U.S.-led coalition would establish a 30,000-strong border security force in Syria involving the Kurdish militia as “worrying.”


A picture taken on June 9, 2017, shows workers building a wall in the countryside of Afrin, along Syria's northern border with Turkey. (George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

In December, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. was developing an expanded training program for Kurdish and Arab border guards in Syria to prevent the resurgence of ISIS.

Ibrahim Kalin, the presidential spokesman, said the U.S. was taking steps to legitimize and solidify the YPG. “It’s absolutely not possible to accept this,” Kalin said and repeated that Turkey would defend itself.

Erdogan said the new operation into Afrin would be an extension of Turkey’s 2016 incursion into northern Syria, which aimed to combat IS and stem the advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

Turkish troops are stationed in rebel-held territory on both sides of Afrin.

Roj said the Kurdish militia will fight to “defend our gains, our territories.” Senior Kurdish official Hediye Yusuf wrote on Twitter that the Turkish operation against Afrin is a “violation” of the Syrian people and undermines international efforts to reach a political solution in Syria.

The Turkey-PKK conflict has killed an estimated 40,000 people since 1984 and the resumption of hostilities in July 2015 killed more than 3,300 people, including state security forces, militants and civilians.
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[*] posted on 16-1-2018 at 02:16 PM


Russia and US engage in 'military base race' in Syria

By: Agnes Helou   5 hours ago


Russian pilots walk to their Su-30 jet at Hemeimeem airbase, Syria, on Oct. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

BEIRUT – A military bases race is underway between Russia and the U.S. as each nation seeks to expand its presence in Syria and counter asymmetric threats.

The U.S. has a military presence in several key locations, but there are two areas with heavy U.S. troop presence that are being transformed to military bases, according to a military source: The first is located in Al Tabaqah near Al Raqqa north Syria, where the U.S. special forces troops are training Kurdish groups; the other is constructed in Al-Tanf where the U.S. troops prevent Syrian and Russian armed forces from crossing.”

Al Tabaqah was a Syrian military airbase before revolts ended the hold. U.S. also has special operations forces along the Jordan- Iraq- Syria borders in Al Tanf, a crossing where Syrian revolt groups are trained. The U.S. military presence in Deir Ezzour and in Al Tanf have “sandwiched” this area, impairing Iran’s efforts to build the bridge connecting Iran with the Mediterranean.

By comparison, Russia has two permanent military bases in Syria – an air base in Hmeimim and a naval base in Tartous.

“Russian officials want an immediate exit from Syria because they are aware that if the region’s dynamics are altered, Russia will encounter guerrilla warfare against its presence in Syria,” said Elias Hanna, a retired general of the Lebanese Army, pointing to an attack on Hmeimim by drones from a distance of 50-100 km away Jan. 6.

“It is impossible for an ISIS member to design a drone [able to] travel 50-100 km,” he added. “It needs the capabilities to connect to satellites and GPS” – which is a grave concern to Russia.

The Russian military presence in Syria is based on an agreement signed between the legitimate internationally recognized Syrian government of Assad and the Russians, under which Russia built two permanent bases for an indefinite period of time. Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law ratifying a deal with the Syrian government allowing Russia to keep its air base in Syria for almost half a century, according to July 2017 documents.

“Syria is located in a strategic position – it is the gateway to the Middle East and the Gulf; this is why we witness such a competition in sharing influence, not the least of which [involves] constructing military bases,” said retired Lebanese armed forces general Wehbe Katicha. “Note that the Russian arms had a huge increase in exports after the operations in Syria.”

Katicha stressed the strategic influence of Syrian ports that constitute a linking point for trade between the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“The strategic influence of Syria is at the [core[ of the ‘military base race,’ where we witness a competition between major countries to prove their military presence,” he said. “Moreover, Russia is trying to come back as a great power in the region; this is [the reason for] risking extending its military presence in Syria, even though it knows that asymmetric threats might constitute an obstacle.”
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[*] posted on 18-1-2018 at 03:46 PM


Tillerson signals deeper US military commitment in Syria

By: Matthew Pennington, The Associated Press   1 hour ago


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, speaks with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled deeper U.S. commitment to Syria on Wednesday, saying America would maintain its military presence there to prevent an Islamic State resurgence. He said the U.S. also would push for broader political changes in the Middle East country.

Speaking at Stanford University after being introduced by former top diplomat Condoleezza Rice, Tillerson said the Trump administration was determined not to repeat President Barack Obama’s “mistake” when he withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. Republicans for years have argued the withdrawal created the opening for IS’ rapid expansion.

Instead, Tillerson stressed that U.S. forces would remain in Syria for the foreseeable future as President Donald Trump and his aides implement a new strategy to stabilize Syria, where a civil war has killed as many as a half-million people and created millions of refugees since 2011. There are currently some 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, mainly training local forces to root out remaining extremist strongholds.

“Let us be clear, the United States will maintain a military presence in Syria focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge,” Tillerson said. Recounting what he said went wrong in Iraq, Tillerson said: “We cannot allow history to repeat itself in Syria.

ISIS presently has one foot in the grave and by maintaining an American military presence in Syria until the full and complete defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two.”

Beyond counterterrorism, though, Tillerson outlined a much broader mission for U.S. forces in Syria than when Trump first entered office with an almost singular focus on defeating terrorists. Alongside defeating IS and al-Qaida, Tillerson cited several longshot propositions as American goals: Securing a successful U.N. peace process, getting Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power, ridding Syria of Iran’s influence and eradicating all weapons of mass destruction in the country.

Backed by Russia and Iran, Assad has reasserted control over much of Syria. And Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. have grown worried that both of Assad’s allies are now entrenched in the country, with Iran in particular posing an immediate threat to neighboring Israel. Military leaders, meanwhile, worry that Assad’s inability to quell local unrest will mean that IS or another such formation is likely to reappear in the future.

Tillerson illustrated how the U.S. would continue trying to isolate Assad’s government even as the U.S. objective is “stabilization.” Washington won’t allow international reconstruction aid to flow to any part of Syria under Assad’s control, he said. It will discourage countries from trading with his government.

“Instead, we will encourage international assistance to rebuild areas the global coalition and its local partners have liberated,” Tillerson said, suggesting such an approach might pressure Assad to resign. “Once Assad is gone from power, the United States will gladly encourage the normalization of economic relationships between Syria and other nations.”

More immediate, Tillerson called for Russia to continue working with the U.S. on a “de-escalation” area in southwest Syria and stick to commitments to a U.N.-led peace process. The U.N. mediation has languished for years without any progress and fighting between Assad’s military and rebel groups persists.

In Syria, the United States also is contending with disagreements with close partner Turkey. The NATO ally is fiercely opposed to an expanded training program for Kurdish and Arab border guards in Syria. It sees the Kurdish forces working with the United States as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
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[*] posted on 18-1-2018 at 05:52 PM


As ISIS threat fades, fight over who gets credit rises

By: Leo Shane III   11 hours ago


U.S. Army 3rd Brigade 10th Mountain Division 5-25 Field Artillery, Charley Battery waits after a fire mission near Rawah, Iraq, on Nov. 16, 2017. (Spc. Torrance Saunders/Army)

WASHINGTON — Now that the military mission against the Islamic State group in the Middle East is winding down, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have shifted to the next looming fight: deciding who deserves credit for the success.

On Wednesday, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sparred over whether battlefield success against ISIS in recent months is the result of new leadership from President Donald Trump or a years-long military strategy just now coming to completion.

Defense Department officials said the extremist group has lost nearly all the territory it once held, and the military mission has shifted from liberating large swaths of Iraq and Syria to rooting out enemy fighters hiding in remote areas.

Trump has repeatedly said that his decision to boost troops numbers in the region, allow more airstrikes and special operations forces missions against ISIS strongholds, and more aggressively pursue victory have made the difference in the once-stagnant conflict.

Republicans on the oversight committee echoed those comments, attacking former President Barack Obama for micromanaging the war and failing to take the threat seriously.

“President Trump has made great strides in the fight against ISIS,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., chair of the panel’s defense subcommittee. “But the American people are not seeing that story. Instead, they see nightly stories in the mainstream press about Russian interference and other issues.

“The days of feckless leadership are over … We have an administration that appreciates the danger posed by the Islamic State, and is actually playing to win.”

The hearing’s panel of witnesses included Sebastian Gorka, former deputy assistant to Trump on national security, who praised his former boss and — prompted by lawmakers — attacked Obama for “not having the will to win” during his presidency.

“The Trump administration has taken what the Obama White House called a generational threat and made it strategically irrelevant in the space of just a few months,” he said.

Democrats disputed that. They noted that the lengthy military campaign against ISIS began in October 2016, before Trump’s election. And they also credited Obama with forcing regional military leaders to accept more responsibility in the counteroffensive, after they allowed rise of the militant group in the years after the Iraq war. The overall campaign against the ISIS threat, formally known as Operation Inherent Resolve, began in October 2014.

In response, Republicans revived campaign rhetoric from last year’s presidential contest blaming Obama for the formation of ISIS and the “abandonment” of the region after the Iraq war.

Democrats countered with concerns that increased airstrikes in the region under Trump have lead to a growing number of civilian deaths.

The sparring devolved into yelling when Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., questioned Gorka over past comments from Trump related to the Holocaust that he called anti-Semitic.

Gorka pleaded with the subcommittee chairman to rein in Krishnamoorthi, accusing him of wandering off-topic and spreading lies.

In the middle of the exchange were a trio of other outside experts who offered more moderate assessments of the progress in Iraq.

Hudson Institute fellow Michael Pregent testified that “both the Obama and Trump administrations achieved success against ISIS.” Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, stated the recent military progress “is not due to any one person or any one president.”

Gorka and Republican members of the committee disputed that assertion.

All four witnesses warned that the next step for the effort against ISIS is countering continued propaganda by the group which could help galvanize terrorist attacks by affiliated individuals and recruit a new wave of ISIS fighters.

“The main danger for the future is that we declare victory and walk away,” Pape said. “Without a political strategy to address Sunni disenfranchisement, a new ISIS 2.0 could emerge.”
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[*] posted on 20-1-2018 at 04:10 PM


Rex Tillerson’s Syria Policy Is Sensible—But It’s Fanciful

By Kori Schake
Research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, The Atlantic

January 19, 2018

The resources the administration is willing to commit are at yawning variance with its ambitious goals.

Secretary of State Tillerson’s speech on U.S. Syria policy, delivered at Stanford on Wednesday, was both sensible and fanciful. It was sensible in that it gave a history of Syria’s grisly war, stated clearly America’s interest in continued involvement even as isis is defeated, and outlined policies consistent with those interests. It was fanciful in that the policies outlined would require a much greater measure of American involvement than has been in evidence by this administration—or were committed in yesterday’s speech—to succeed.

It sounds pedantic to insist Tillerson’s speech represents a policy, not a strategy. But the semantics connote an important distinction, which is that Tillerson’s speech in no way demonstrates how to turn the ambitious objectives he articulated into actuality. Strategy connects objectives to outcomes through means—it tells how things will be achieved.

As quick-draw Tamara Cofman Wittes has already pointed out on Twitter, Tillerson’s speech was short on the essential connective tissue that is strategy.

The five objectives listed in the speech lasted about 10 minutes in the telling and contained numerous subordinate clauses. It was a vast expansion of America’s anti-isis war aims, to include: long-term presence of U.S. military forces engaged in combat operations; expansion of the military mission from defeat of isis to also preventing Iranian influence in post-isis Syria; “stabilization” (that is, provision of humanitarian, economic, and political assistance) of areas under rebel control; national elections under United Nations supervision; and “[rallying] the Syrian people and individuals within the regime to compel Assad to step down.”

Tillerson’s arguments sounded very much like the president’s national-security team knew what it wanted, which was a policy similar to what the United States carried out in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War (providing security through continuous military operations in conjunction with local forces, facilitating humanitarian assistance and stabilization of controlled territory, reestablishing political processes to bring forward indigenous leaders supportive of America’s political agenda, refusal to legitimate the national government, calls for regime change), and then slipped it past a president who opposes doing all of those things. Tillerson was at pains to emphasize that “stabilization is not a synonym for open-ended nation building.”

So a president who is against regime change, long-term military commitments, nation building, and democracy promotion has now adopted a Syria policy that incorporates all those elements.

As a supporter of those things, I support what Tillerson announced Wednesday. For a brief, fleeing moment, I thought I had misjudged the National Security Strategy released by the administration a few weeks ago. I was dismissive of the NSS because, while sensible in numerous ways, it was so obviously at variance with the behavior of the administration. Yesterday I began to think the national-security wing of the administration was ascendant, that the president had become so enervated or bored by the job that he was letting the professionals run policy.

But the resources the administration is willing to commit to this problem are at yawning variance with achieving those ambitious goals. It is unlikely the Trump administration will actually implement the Syria policy outlined by Tillerson Wednesday.

Nothing he called for was freshly invented—all of these elements have been floated before. They have never been achieved for the simple reason that greater means have been brought to bear against their success. Rebels did not beat back government control of territory because Russia and Iran cared more about the outcome than America did. Turkey remains unreconciled to U.S. policy and willing to prevent its success. Rebels have not unified under a political leadership suffering Syrians will support, because the rebels are fighting for different Syrian futures. None of those things become more malleable as a result of Tillerson’s speech; none of them will unless the United States is willing to push an awful lot more effort into the mix.

And that seems unlikely, given the president’s opposition to all of the means necessary to change that equation.

Still, it matters that the secretary of state gave a detailed accounting of Syria’s Civil War: its origins in peaceful protest; Bashar al-Assad’s brutal attempts to bleed Syria’s population into submission; the human catastrophe it has become with 5 million refugees fleeing Syria and 6 million displaced within the country; Iran and Russia’s military assistance, preventing Assad’s overthrow; and the American degradation of Syrian airpower in retaliation for Assad’s chemical weapons use, alongside its tolerance of Assad’s continuation in power. Even if the policy doesn’t have an implementing strategy, Tillerson’s speech was an important statement of what the United States sees as the nature of this tragic conflict, and who bears responsibility for its depredations.

Perhaps the speech will turn out to be useful in the way American refusal to acknowledge Soviet conquest of the Baltic states, or America’s speaking publicly about dissidents jailed in other repressive countries, was useful: by giving heart to suffering people that we see their struggle and hope for their success. It is unlikely to result in much more than that.
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[*] posted on 23-1-2018 at 10:30 AM


Turkish intervention in Syria likely to force US to choose between NATO ally, Turkey, and the YPG

Ege Seckin - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

22 January 2018


Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters are seen as they prepare in Azaz region for Operation Olive Branch, launched in Syria’s Afrin region, on 21 January 2018. Source: Getty Images/Anadolu Agency

Key Points
- If, as is likely, Russia chooses to restrict Turkey’s access to the airspace over Afrin, there will be an increased risk of unintended incidents between Turkish, Russian, and Syrian government aircraft.
- If, as claimed by Turkish President Erdoğan, the operation is eventually expanded to target Manbij, there will be an increased likelihood of the US being forced to make a choice between its NATO ally Turkey and its trusted Syrian proxy force, the SDF. It would also risk giving rise to casualties among US Special Forces working with the SDF.
- The likely high levels of domestic public support for the operation renders it likely that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will push for an early election in mid-2018, with a view to capitalise on the boost in popularity he will probably gain as a result.

Event

On 20 January 2018, Turkey launched a cross-border military operation, Operation Olive Branch, targeting the Kurdish-majority district of Afrin in Aleppo province, northwest Syria.

Afrin is controlled by Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel‎: YPG). The YPG has close ideological and organisational ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan: PKK), which has been waging a 40-year insurgency against the Turkish government inside Turkey.

Turkey sees the elimination of Kurdish autonomist ambitions in northern Syria, both in Afrin and further east, between the border towns of Kobanê and Hasakah, as an extension of its campaign against the PKK. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the operation would later be expanded to include Manbij, which is also controlled by the YPG, located east of Afrin.

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[*] posted on 1-2-2018 at 07:58 PM


Turkey’s challenge to Iran-backed offensive in Syria aimed at offering US alternative to Kurds in curbing Iranian expansionism

Firas Modad and Ege Seckin - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

30 January 2018


A Turkish soldier inspects a tunnel at Burseya Mountain, in Syria's Afrin district, after Turkish forces captured the location from the Syrian-Kurdish YPG under Operation Olive Branch, on 28 January 2018. Source: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Key Points

- The Turkish deployment was probably intended to pre-empt a planned offensive by the Syrian government and its allies from southern Aleppo towards the besieged Shia villages of Kefraya and Foua, currently isolated territorial pockets inside the opposition-held Idlib province.
- The completion of such a Syrian government offensive, including taking control of Idlib city and province, would bring President Bashar al-Assad significantly closer to achieving a total military victory, as well as ending Turkey’s leverage over Iran and the Syrian government.
- Escalatory Turkish intervention against Iran’s interests in Syria would risk Russian retaliation. Russia is, however, highly unlikely to escalate against Turkey militarily in the coming three months. Meanwhile, Turkish and Iranian policies in the region are likely to increasingly diverge, driving higher violent risks in areas like Iraq and northern Syria.

Event

On the night of 29 January 2018, Turkey reportedly deployed a military force with more than 100 vehicles to the opposition-held front line in southern Aleppo, before withdrawing it the following day, probably as a result of Russian and Iranian pressure.

The Turkish deployment comprised 20 tanks, 30 armoured bulldozers and 70 other vehicles including artillery, Panthera F9 APCs, ambulances, and trucks. It appears to have been aimed to establish a monitoring and deterrent presence in Al-Eis, an opposition-held town in southern Aleppo province. The adjacent town, Al-Hadher, is reportedly held by the Iran-backed allies of the Syrian government. Some social media reports claim that fighting took place between Iran’s proxies and the Syrian government on the one side and the Turkish forces on the other. If confirmed, this would signify a first in the Syrian war, with previous Turkish military action in Syria having been directed at either the Islamic State or Kurdish forces. The Turkish force was reportedly attacked with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) as it withdrew out of Syria on 30 January, killing three personnel.

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