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[*] posted on 3-2-2018 at 11:11 AM

US warns of Assad’s evolving CW munitions

Jeremy Binnie, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

02 February 2018

A man crouches next to munitions purportedly recovered in the wake of a suspected chlorine attack on Duma, east of Damascus city, on 22 January. While their fins and warheads are rusty, suggesting they were stored for some time, one was made using a 107 mm rocket motor manufactured in 2016. If they did contain chlorine, they appear to have been designed to release their payload using a valve rather than a small explosion. Source: Hasan Mohamed/AFP/Getty Images

Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad are developing new munitions to deliver chemical weapons, US officials told journalists on 1 February.

The officials said Assad’s forces had continued to make occasional and relatively small-scale use of chemical weapons since the 4 April 2017 sarin attack on Khan Shaykhun that prompted the United States to bomb Al-Shayrat Air Base.

Recent attacks had involved both sarin and chlorine, they said.

"They clearly think they can get away with this if they keep it under a certain level,” the Washington Post quoted one official as saying.

Syria denies that it has used chemical weapons, saying its stockpiles and manufacturing capabilities were destroyed after it signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 as part of a Russian-brokered deal.

However, there are still discrepancies in its declaration to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) has identified the Syrian military as the perpetrator of several attacks, including the one on Khan Shaykhun.

The US officials said information gathered after recent attacks indicated that Damascus had retained a chemical weapons production capability. While there was no evidence that it had developed new agents, it appeared to have “evolved” its delivery systems and tactics, possibly to make it harder to identify the perpetrators.

This evolution includes using ground-launched munitions rather than aircraft, making it less obvious that the Syrian military is responsible.

Russia has defended Damascus from the allegations, partly by arguing that the Syrian military has no need to use such weapons when it is winning the war. The US officials said the Syrian military was using chemical weapons to compensate for its manpower shortage and terrorise people in opposition-held areas.

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[*] posted on 3-2-2018 at 11:14 AM

Turks call in heavy artillery against Kurds

Jeremy Binnie, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

02 February 2018

Turkish 203 mm M110 self-propelled howitzers deployed close to the Syrian border in Hatay province fire on the Afrin area on 1 February. Source: Eren Bozkurt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Turkish military has deployed heavier artillery to provide fire support for its offensive against the Afrin Kurds in Syria as it becomes increasingly clear that it is facing well-prepared defences in difficult terrain.

M110 self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) were seen being transported to the front in Turkey’s Hatay province on 28 January, eight days after the start of Operation ‘Olive Branch’.

The 203 mm guns were subsequently seen firing into the Afrin area defended by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) along with 155 mm T-155 Fırtına SPHs.

The stated objective of the operation is to clear Afrin of Kurdish militants, with the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) claiming on 2 February that 802 ‘terrorists’ had been neutralised, an average of 75 day, a far higher rate than the one claimed against Islamic State fighters during Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ in 2016–17.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said at out the outset of the operation that there were “8,000 to 10,000 terrorists in Afrin”.

The Turks and allied Syrian rebels have attacked on several fronts along the Syrian-Turkish border, but appear to be struggling against well-prepared YPG defences.

After a week of heavy fighting, the Turks and their allies took Mount Barsaya (Burseya) on 28 January. The assault force included Leopard 2 tanks and other armoured vehicles.

A photojournalist working for Turkey’s Anadolu Agency documented the deep trenches, concrete bunkers, and tunnels that had been constructed to defend the isolated high ground in the northeast corner of the Afrin area. One tunnel was reported to be 300 m long. At least one more tunnel was found when Turkish forces entered the village of Qastal Jundu.

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[*] posted on 10-2-2018 at 03:53 PM

Pentagon Official Describes Response to Attack by Pro-Regime Syrian Forces

(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Feb 08, 2018)

WASHINGTON --- When Syrian pro-regime forces attacked Syrian Democratic Forces yesterday, they moved in a battalion-sized unit formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White told reporters today.

White said the attack on the SDF was unprovoked.

“Syrian Democratic Forces acted in self-defense with support from the coalition to defeat an unprovoked attack by Syrian pro-regime forces in eastern Syria,” she said. “Pro-regime forces initiated what appeared to be a coordinated attack on Syrian Democratic Forces east of the Euphrates River deconfliction line.”

After 20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed within about 500 yards of the SDF headquarters, the SDF, supported by the U.S.-led coalition, targeted the aggressors with a combination of air and artillery strikes, she said.

Coalition Advisors with SDF

“Coalition advisors were with the SDF, and this action was taken in self-defense,” White said. “Pro-regime vehicles and personnel that were turned around and headed back west were not targeted.”

The coalition observed a slow buildup of pro-regime forces over the past week, she added. Coalition officials alerted Russian officials of the SDF presence via the deconfliction line in advance of the attack, White said.

“The deconfliction line -- the deconfliction process -- served its purpose,” White told reporters. “Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the attack.”

Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity, she said.

White noted one SDF soldier was wounded, and there were no coalition casualties. “Our forces have the inherent right to self-defense,” she said.

“We are not looking for a conflict with the regime,” she added. “Any action that takes away from our ongoing operations to defeat [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] is a distraction.”

And while the U.S.-led coalition mission hasn't changed and ISIS is on the run, work remains to be done, she said.

“The military goal is to defeat ISIS in Syria,” White said. “Our position is to provide our diplomats with the strongest positions so that they can find a political, a diplomatic solution through the Geneva process.”

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[*] posted on 11-2-2018 at 12:31 PM

Israeli F-16I destroyed in attacks prompted by Iranian UAV infiltration

By: Barbara Opall-Rome   10 hours ago

VIDEO here:
The Israeli Defense Forces on Feb. 10 brought down what they identified as an Iranian UAV in Israeli territory, and a trailer. (Israel Defense Ministry)

A frontline Israeli F-16I was destroyed on Saturday after it came under heavy attack by Syrian-based anti-aircraft missiles during a round of strikes and counter-strikes prompted by an early morning breach of Israeli airspace by an Iranian UAV.

Pilots of the F-16I waited until they returned to Israeli airspace before ejecting from the single-engine fighter, which fell near a kibbutz in the central Galilee region. Both were taken to hospital, where they are being treated for injuries. It was the first time an Israeli fighter plane was destroyed by enemy action since 1982.

A picture taken on Feb. 10, 2018, shows the remains of a missile that landed in the southern Lebanese village of Kaoukaba, near the border with Syria, after Israel's military attacked 12 Syrian and Iranian targets inside Syria in what it described as "large-scale" raids following an exchange of fire earlier in the day. The exchange of fire was the most serious between arch foes Israel and Iran since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011. (Ali Dia/AFP/Getty Images)

In response to the extraordinary downing of an Israeli frontline fighter jet, Israel launched what a military spokesman characterized as a “broad attack” against 12 Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, including Syrian SA-17 and SA-5 anti-aircraft batteries and Iranian assets deployed in country in support of Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad.

“Twelve targets were attacked, including three Syrian air defense batteries and four targets belonging to Iran that constitute part of Iranian entrenchment in Syria,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman, said Saturday.

The latest escalation beyond Israel’s northern border was prompted by an early morning infiltration into Israeli airspace by an Iranian UAV, which was tracked and ultimately downed by an Israel Air Force AH-64D Apache helicopter.

Israeli security stands around the wreckage of an F-16 that crashed in northern Israel, near kibbutz of Harduf, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone it said infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a "large-scale attack" on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria, in its most significant engagement since the fighting in neighboring Syria began in 2011. (Rami Slush/AP)

In response to the initial UAV infiltration, Israel targeted an Iranian UAV command and control trailer at a base near the Syrian capital of Damascus. When Syrian-based anti-aircraft batteries fired on the Israeli F-16 formation sent to bomb the Iranian command and control trailer, Israel launched the second, much broader wave of attacks on Syrian and Iranian assets.

“Iran is the aggressor here. They sent a UAV on a military mission, violating Israeli sovereignty. The IDF is ready for all scenarios, and urges Iran and Syria to cease aggression,” Conricus said.

All Israeli fighters returned safely from the second wave of retaliatory attack.

In response to the Feb. 10 attacks, Russia, which controls the skies in Syria where the Iranian UAV was launched and where Israel launched its own retaliatory strikes, called on “all sides” to exercise restraint. “We urge all sides to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions that could lead to an even greater complication of the situation, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday.

It added, ”It is necessary to unconditionally respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and other countries in the region.”
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[*] posted on 11-2-2018 at 01:26 PM


February 11 2018 - 9:53AM

Israel has taken its biggest step into the Syrian war yet. What does that mean?

Adam Taylor

The Syrian war has seen no shortage of twists already this year, but this weekend, it saw one of its most consequential. On Saturday, Israel's military announced that it had carried out a "large-scale" aerial attack inside Syria, after back-and-forth clashes overnight in which an Iranian drone was shot down in Syrian territory and an Israeli F-16 was downed by Syrian antiaircraft fire.

Despite its proximity, Israel has largely stood on the sidelines of the Syrian conflict over the past seven years. Saturday's airstrikes, however, suggest that it may soon end up sucked into a conflict that is looking increasingly chaotic after the military defeat of the Islamic State. If Israel does become more engaged in the fighting next door, it could have serious consequences for the war in Syria - and for the region as a whole.

What has Israel's involvement in the Syrian war been so far?

Israel shares a contentious border with Syria - the Golan Heights - and it has long had openly adversarial relations with not only Bashar al-Assad's government but with Syria's allies Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia. However, Israel also had little reason to support the Islamic State or al-Qaeda-aligned Islamist groups that became the Syrian government's primary rivals.

Still, Israel has conducted dozens of covert airstrikes against Hezbollah weapons convoys in Syria. These interventions generally were not announced publicly and were small in scale. Syrian government forces and their allies have generally refrained from responding, wary of opening up yet another front in an already chaotic conflict.

Things began to change over the past year, however, as the Islamic State lost territory and Assad's forces and their allies regained control of the conflict.

Last year, Israel pushed back against a partial cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia, arguing that it allowed Iranian expansion near Israel's borders. Many in Israel feared not only that Iran and its allies would entrench themselves near the Israeli border but that Hezbollah had been using the Syrian fighting as a training and that Iran might help the militia upgrade to the use of precision-guided missiles.

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"We will not allow that regime to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to Washington in December.

Why is what happened on Saturday different from previous Israeli strikes?

Israel has carried out a number of significant attacks in Syria in recent months, but Saturday's incident is different. Israel says the episode began with an Iranian drone crossing into its territory from Syria in the early hours of Saturday. The Israeli military later released footage that it said showed the drone being brought down by an attack helicopter.

Iran has denied this, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahran Qasemi calling the claim "ridiculous." If it is true, however, it would appear to mark a significant provocation from Tehran and perhaps even an attempt to bait Israel into a reaction.

Israel soon sent fighter jets into Syria to attack the T4 military base near the Syrian city of Palmyra, from which the drone supposedly was launched. Syrian forces in turn responded with what the Israeli military called "substantial Syrian antiaircraft fire," which appears to have caused the crash of an Israeli fighter jet after its two-member crew ejected.

The crew members were taken to hospital; one is reported to be in a serious condition. "This is the first such incident in the last 30 years," Israeli military journalist Amos Harel wrote Saturday, adding that Syria's willingness to retaliate to Israeli airstrikes showed "the regime's newfound sense of power."

In a statement, Hezbollah said that the downing of the Israeli F-16 marked a "new strategic phase" in the conflict. "Today's developments mean the old equations have categorically ended," the group said in a statement.

After the downing of the fighter jet, the Israeli military struck again, targeting 12 military sites in Syria - eight Syrian and four that it says were Iranian - marking Israel's most significant strikes in Syria in decades. Brigadier General Tomer Bar, second-in-command of Israel's air force, told Haaretz newspaper that these strikes were "the biggest and most significant attack the air force has conducted against Syrian air defenses" since the 1982 Lebanon War.

If Israel became more militarily involved in the conflict, what would it mean for the Syrian war - and the wider region?

Open conflict across the Syrian border is unlikely to be in the interest of either Israel or Iran-aligned forces at the moment.

But the tit-for-tat fighting shows that neither side is willing to back down. If the conflict escalates, it could end up adding a dangerous angle to the ongoing Syrian conflict - and one that could wind up involving other powers in the region and beyond.

The T4 military base struck by Israel on Saturday houses not only Syrian soldiers but Russian military officers, too. Some Israeli observers have said it is hard to imagine that the Russians there would not have known about the Iranian drone or the subsequent antiaircraft fire. Awkwardly, late last month, Netanyahu visited Moscow to push Russia to rein in its Iranian allies in Syria.

The United States, a key Israeli ally, is already involved in the Syrian conflict, backing Syrian rebels, and at times has found itself at odds with Russia. This past week, US warplanes bombed pro-government forces after they allegedly advanced on US-backed forces in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has said it is unclear whether Russian contractors were among those involved in that advance.

The US- and Russian-backed forces had a common enemy in the Islamic State, but as the fight against ISIS forces is winding down, new conflicts seem to be rising in Syria. Turkey, for example, recently launched its own offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria's north, placing it in de facto opposition to the United States, which had allied itself with some Kurdish forces to defeat Islamic State forces.

An open conflict between Israel and Iranian-backed forces would add to the entanglements and chaos in Syria. It would also risk pulling neighbouring Lebanon or other Arab states into a new war, too.

The Washington Post
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[*] posted on 11-2-2018 at 08:18 PM

Impressive when the F-16 dodged multiple SA-5 and especially SA-17 attacks and managed to return to Israeli airspace. Looks like a rather sophisticated scheme to lure the IDF into an air Defence trap.

The response time of the second wave by the IDF is equally extroadinary. And if the UAV was launched from Palmyra, that is also not a good indication as i remain confident, the runways there should be closely monitored by Russia.
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[*] posted on 11-2-2018 at 09:51 PM

I suspect as I mentioned on the ballistic missile thread, IMI will be celebrating this incident...

In a low speed post-merge manoeuvring fight, with a high off-boresight 4th generation missile and Helmet Mounted Display, the Super Hornet will be a very difficult opponent for any current Russian fighter, even the Su-27/30
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[*] posted on 12-2-2018 at 01:56 PM

Future of captured foreign fighters in Syria unclear

By: Aaron Mehta   5 hours ago

A fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks through an empty rubble-filled street surrounded by damaged buildings on Oct. 28, 2017, in the Syrian city of Raqqa. The US-backed SDF took full control of Raqqa on Oct. 17, wrapping up an operation that lasted more than four months to capture a city that had been the inner sanctum of ISIS's now moribund "caliphate." (Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images)

ROME – As the fight against ISIS in Syria continues, the U.S. backed Syrian Defense Force is finding itself confronting what to do with an increasing number of captured foreign fighters.

The issue is magnified by the reluctance from many countries to accept back captured nationals who left to fight besides ISIS, leaving those captured in a legal limbo – and increasingly crowded facilities.

It’s an issue U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will address during a meeting of the counter-ISIS coalition in Rome on Tuesday, but one without a clear solution at hand.

Speaking to reporters travelling with Mattis, Katie Wheelbarger, principal deputy assistant secretary for international security affairs, said the U.S. is “working with the coalition on foreign-fighter detainees and generally expect these detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition.”

But she acknowledged that issue requires a “whole of government solution” from the various home nations, bringing in their justice systems and interior ministries to “try to find a country by country ability to keep these folks both off the battlefield and out of our cities.”

That is part of Mattis’ message this week – that the other defense ministers from the counter-ISIS mission are communicating to their legal counterparts that solutions need to be found to the issue.

The question of what happens to foreign fighters captured in Syria has gained extra scrutiny in recent days following the capture of two U.K. nationals, part of a foursome known as “the Beatles of ISIS.” British officials have raised concerns about bringing them back for trial.

A U.S. official said that the possibility of moving the two to Guantanamo Bay is not being considered.

Syrian Arab trainees file off a rifle range after completing an iteration of rifle marksmanship training in Northern Syria, July 31, 2017. The Syrian Democratic Forces continue to recruit and train Syrians of all ethnicities who are passionate about joining the counter-ISIS fight to eliminate terror from their homeland. (Sgt. Mitchell Ryan/Army)

While the home countries of these fighter work to find a solution, the jailing facilities are becoming packed with prisoners, including thousands of captured ISIS fighters who are Syrian nationals.

“There are certain days we’re seeing 40-50 a day being captured. So the capacity problem is real. I haven’t heard from the SDF [about] a timeframe problem. I think they are willing to hold them as long [as needed] but its more the volume, especially if they continue to capture them at the rates that they are,” Wheelbargers said.

“These aren’t necessarily the best detention facilities, in the sense they are being held in Syria and it’s not the most secure area,” she added.

The coalition is meeting at a point where Mattis says the fighter against ISIS is in a particularly grueling stretch, as the militant group’s resources and fighters in Syria have condensed down into the Euphrates River Valley area. Mattis compared the situation to a snowball, where the coalition forces are “compacting what’s left of ISIS so the fighting actually becomes a little tougher at that point.”

Also complicating the fight is the “distraction,” as Mattis put it, of Turkey’s operation against the Kurdish area of Afrin. The SDF is roughly 50 percent Kurdish, and some fighters have left the ISIS battle to go back and fight against Turkey.

While the number of SDF leaving for Afrin have been fairly small, Mattis acknowledged that it is slowing down the war against ISIS. That is expected to come up as a topic during the counter-ISIS meeting as well, with Turkey in attendance for at least part of the meeting.
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[*] posted on 16-2-2018 at 08:44 AM

Analysis: Russian ‘expendables’ further complicate Syrian war

Jeremy Binnie, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

15 February 2018

A still from aerial targeting footage broadcast by CNN on 8 February shows a towed artillery piece in Khusham village immediately before it was destroyed in a coalition airstrike during the battle the day before. (CNN)


A battle in eastern Syria involving a large force of Russian mercenaries may have exposed Moscow's inability to control events on the ground. Alternatively, it could have been a high-risk test of the United States’ commitment to defend its Syrian allies that highlighted Russia's disregard for its deniable soldiers.

The battle took place on 7 February, when the US-led coalition reported that it had launched strikes to repel an unprovoked attack by pro-government forces against a well-established Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters where coalition personnel were present. It did not reveal the location of the SDF position, other than it was 8 km east of the Euphrates River deconfliction line that divides US-backed SDF and pro-government forces.

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[*] posted on 16-2-2018 at 09:57 AM

World News
February 16, 2018 / 1:34 AM / Updated 5 hours ago

Russian toll in Syria battle was 300 killed and wounded: sources

Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria last week, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

A Russian military doctor said around 100 had been killed, and a source who knows several of the fighters said the death toll was in excess of 80 men.

The timing of the casualties coincided with a battle on Feb. 7 near the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor where, according to U.S. officials and associates of the fighters involved, U.S.-led coalition forces attacked forces aligned with Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russian officials said five citizens may have been killed but they had no relation to Russia’s armed forces.

The clashes show Moscow is more deeply involved in Syria militarily than it has said, and risks being drawn into direct confrontation with the United States in Syria.

The casualties are the highest that Russia has suffered in a single battle since fierce clashes in Ukraine in 2014 claimed more than 100 fighters’ lives. Moscow denies sending soldiers and volunteers to Ukraine and has never confirmed that figure.

The wounded, who have been medically evacuated from Syria in the past few days, have been sent to four Russian military hospitals, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

The military doctor, who works in a Moscow military hospital and was directly involved in the treatment of wounded men evacuated from Syria, said that as of Saturday evening there were more than 50 such patients in his hospital, of which around 30 percent were seriously wounded.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to disclose information about casualties, said at least three planeloads of injured fighters were flown to Moscow between last Friday and Monday morning.

He said they were flown back on specially equipped military cargo planes which can each accommodate two or three intensive care cases and several dozen less severely wounded patients.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said initial information was that five Russian citizens in the area of the battle may have been killed, but they were not Russian troops. She said reports of tens or hundreds of Russian casualties were disinformation inspired by Russia’s opponents.

The Russian defense ministry did not respond to Reuters questions about casualties in Syria. A Kremlin spokesman, asked about Russian casualties on Thursday, said he had nothing to add to previous statements. The Kremlin said earlier this week it had no information on any casualties.

Reuters was unable to make direct contact with the contractors’ employers, the Wagner group, whose fallen fighters have in the past received medals from the Kremlin.

The military doctor said that a fellow doctor who flew to Syria on one of the recent medevac flights told him that around 100 people in the Russian force had been killed as of the end of last week, and 200 injured.

The doctor who spoke to Reuters said most of the casualties were Russian private military contractors.

Yevgeny Shabayev, leader of a local chapter of a paramilitary Cossack organization who has ties to Russian military contractors, said he had visited acquaintances injured in Syria at the defense ministry’s Central Hospital in Khimki, on the outskirts of Moscow, on Wednesday.

He said the wounded men had told him that the two units of Russian contractors involved in the battle near Deir al-Zor numbered 550 men. Of those, there are now about 200 who are not either dead or wounded, the wounded men had told him.

Shabayev said the ward he visited contained eight patients, all evacuated from Syria in the past few days, and there were more in other wards in the hospital.

“If you understand anything about military action and combat injuries then you can imagine what’s going on there. That’s to say, constant screams, shouts,” Shabayev told Reuters. “It’s a tough scene.”

A source with ties to the Wagner organization, and who has spoken to people who took part in the Feb. 7 clashes, told Reuters his contacts told him more than 80 Russian contractors were killed.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the total of about 300 killed or injured was broadly correct.

He said many of the injured had shrapnel in their bodies that was not showing up on X-rays, making treatment difficult. “The prognosis for most of the wounded is dismal,” he said.


Other military hospitals treating the contractors are the Third Vishnevskiy hospital in Krasnogorsk, near Moscow, the Burdenko hospital near Moscow city center, and the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, according to the doctor, Shabayev, and three other people who know dead or wounded fighters.

When Reuters contacted those hospitals by phone on Thursday, staff either declined to comment or denied having any patients evacuated from Syria.

A Reuters reporter visited the Burdenko hospital on Wednesday and spoke briefly to patients who said they knew nothing about anyone evacuated from Syria. Reporters also visited the hospital in Krasnogorsk, and a fifth military hospital, at Balashikha near Moscow, but were denied entry.

Russia launched a military operation in Syria in September 2015 which has turned the tide of the conflict in favor of Assad.

Russian officials deny they deploy private military contractors in Syria, saying Moscow’s only military presence is a campaign of air strikes, a naval base, military instructors training Syrian forces, and limited numbers of special forces troops.

But according to people familiar with the deployment, Russia is using large numbers of the contractors in Syria because that allows Moscow to put more boots on the ground without risking regular soldiers whose deaths have to be accounted for.

The contractors, mostly ex-military, carry out missions assigned to them by the Russian military, the people familiar with the deployment said. Most are Russian citizens, though some have Ukrainian and Serbian passports.

The United States and Russia, while backing opposite sides in the Syria conflict, have taken pains to make sure that their forces do not accidentally collide. But the presence of the Russian contractors adds an element of unpredictability.


A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said last week that a force aligned with Assad, backed with artillery, tanks, rockets and mortars, had on Feb. 7 attacked fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces near Deir al-Zor.

U.S. special forces were accompanying the SDF forces that came under attack, officials in Washington said.

The U.S.-led coalition in Syria retaliated, killing about 100 of the pro-Assad forces, according to the official.

Since the battle, associates of Russian military contractors have said Russians were part of the pro-Assad force involved in the battle, and among the casualties.

Shabayev, the Cossack leader, said casualties were so high because the force had no air cover, and because they were attacked not by poorly equipped rebels, their usual adversaries, but by a well-armed force that could launch air strikes.

“First of all the bombers attacked, and then they cleaned up using Apaches (U.S.-made attack helicopters),” Shabayev said, citing the wounded men he visited in hospital.

The source with ties to Wagner said they told him the force struck by the U.S.-led coalition was made up mainly of Russian contractors, with a few Syrians and Iranians in support roles.

He said that on Feb. 7 the force had advanced toward the settlement of Khusham, in Deir al-Zor province, into a zone designated as neutral under a deal between the Russian military and the U.S.-led coalition.

The aim was to test if the U.S.-led coalition would react. The force advanced to within less than 5 km (3 miles) of the SDF and American positions, he said.

He said that the U.S.-led forces, in line with procedure agreed with the Russians, warned Russian regular forces that they were preparing to strike. He does not know if the warning was passed on to the contractors.

“The warning was 20 minutes beforehand, in that time it was not feasible to turn the column around,” said the source.

He said once the strikes began, the contractors did not return fire because they believed that would provoke even more strikes from the U.S.-led coalition.

Additional reporting by Anton Zverev in MOSCOW; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood

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[*] posted on 16-2-2018 at 07:28 PM

Syria: T-72 tank destroyed by US MQ-9 Reaper drone

Posted On Thursday, 15 February 2018 22:15

On 10 February, a US MQ-9 Reaper drone destroyed a T-72 tank operated by pro-Assad regime forces in eastern Syria's Deir el-Zor district, U.S. military officials said.

Syrian T-72 with cage armour protection against anti-tank projectiles (Picture source: Army Recognition)

"Coalition forces shot a T-72 tank near Tebiye on February 10, acting for self-defense," said U.S. Colonel Ryan Dillon, adding that pro-regime forces had fired on U.S. special operation forces and SDF fighters near the same region.

Three crew members of the T-72 were killed when the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone hit the tank with precision-guided munition.

No U.S troops nor Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militants were wounded in the incident. The U.S.-led coalition contacted its Russian counterparts via the telephone de-confliction line before striking the tank, coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon said. The T-72 tank had been "maneuvering with coordinated indirect fire" on a position held by the SDF near Al-Tabiyeh. The strike was the second by the U.S. against pro-Syrian regime forces last week, according to the U.S. military's Central Command.

The U.S.' cooperation with the SDF, predominantly led by the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG), has been a thorny issue for Turkey. Ankara has repeatedly warned against the repercussions of using one terrorist group to defeat another, while the U.S. has been touting the "effective results" of its cooperation with the YPG in the fight against Daesh. However, although the fight against Daesh has almost ended, the U.S. still continue to support the SDF/YPG with arms and military equipment.
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[*] posted on 20-2-2018 at 06:32 PM

Syrian regime fighters 'heading to Afrin to join Kurds in fight against Turkish forces'

Agence France-Presse

19 February 2018 • 11:34am

Pro-regime fighters were expected Monday to enter Syria's Afrin after talks with Kurdish forces, in a move that could pave the way for a settlement in a month-old Turkish assault on the northern enclave.

"Popular forces will arrive in Afrin within a few hours to support its people's stand against the Turkish regime's attack on the area and its people," state news agency SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo.

SANA said the forces would "join the resistance against the Turkish aggression".

"This comes in the framework of supporting residents and defending the territorial unity and sovereignty of Syria," the agency added.

AFP correspondents in Afrin and the Kurdish forces holding the enclave could not immediately confirm any deployment but said government-affiliated forces were waiting for orders.

The Syrian region of Afrin, which borders Turkey, is held by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and has faced a month-old assault by Ankara and allied Syrian rebels.

Turkey sees the YPG's presence on its southern border as a direct threat, and observers have noted it would be more comfortable with a regime force deployed there.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, warned the regime not to take the side of the Kurds in Afrin.

“If they are getting there to clean YPG, then there is no problem. But If they are entering Afrin to protect YPG, no one can stop us.

The Afrin operation, dubbed "Olive Branch," has seen Ankara deploy ground troops and pound the region with air strikes and artillery fire.

YPG spokesman Birusk Hasakeh could not immediately confirm the deployment of regime-affiliated forces on Monday.

Syrian government forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas across the country's north in 2012, paving the way for Kurdish authorities to implement de facto self-rule.

But negotiations have been ongoing for a potential return of government-affiliated forces to the enclave, officials have said.

Heve Mustafa, the co-chair of Afrin's executive council, told AFP on Sunday that talks on the subject were ongoing.

"These talks are happening on the military level," she said.

Last week, YPG chief Sipan Hamo told journalists his forces would have "no problem" with Damascus intervening to help repel Turkey's assault.

"We don't have a problem with the entry of the Syrian army to defend Afrin and its border in the face of the Turkish occupation," Hamo said.

But Kurdish officials have remained vague on what kind of regime deployment they would accept in Afrin.

Mustafa's co-chair in Afrin, Othman Al-Sheikh Issa, told AFP last month that Damascus should intervene to stop Turkish warplanes flying overhead.

State media did not elaborate on the make-up of the "popular forces" due to enter Afrin on Monday and made no mention of regular army troops being deployed.

Damascus has denounced Ankara's "aggression" but until Monday had not explicitly said it would intervene.

Turkey and allied rebels launched the offensive on January 20 in a bid to clear the YPG from territory along the border.

The assault has brought to the surface the complex and competing interests of world powers embroiled in Syria's seven-year conflict.

Ankara sees the YPG as a "terror" group and the Syrian arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The United States - Turkey's NATO ally - has allied with the YPG elsewhere in Syria, providing it with arms and other support to fight the Islamic State jihadist group.

Regime ally Russia had also directly supported the YPG in Afrin, training Kurdish forces there before withdrawing as Turkey announced its assault last month.
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 05:20 PM

Pentagon Won't Confirm Russia's Su-57 Stealth Jet Arrival in Syria

Russia's Su-57 stealth fighter, also known as the T-50. (Image: United Aircraft Corporation) 22 Feb 2018 By Oriana Pawlyk

ORLANDO -- Russia's Su-57 stealth fighter, like China's Chengdu J-20, has become a bogeyman to the United States in the competition to possess the best fifth-generation fighters in the world.

But has the Su-57 made its debut in Syria? The Pentagon, won't confirm it.

"The addition of fifth-generation fighters into Syria would certainly not be in keeping with Russia's announced force drawdown," said Eric Pahon, Defense Department spokesman.

"We do not consider these jets to be a threat to our operations in Syria, and will continue to deconflict operations as necessary," Pahon said in a statement Thursday.

"The coalition remains focused on the enduring defeat" of the Islamic State, he added. "We call on all parties, however, to remain focused on defeating ISIS, de-escalating and resolving the Syrian conflict, and protecting innocent civilians."

On Wednesday, videos of two Su-57s began circulating on social media, showing the jets landing at Khmeimim air base in Western Syria.

The Sukhoi-made jet, known also as the T-50 or PAK-FA, is a single-seat, twin-engine multirole fighter intended to go up against the Air Force's F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Russia has been swift to procure and test the fifth-generation-like aircraft in light of the F-35's initial operating capability, which it achieved in 2016.

Russia's new Sukhoi lies "somewhere between the F-22 and F-35," according to Doug Barrie, senior air analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Barrie told Air Force Times in 2016 that even though the T-50 has the sophisticated agility of a future fighter, it will not be as advanced as the most capable U.S. platforms.

On Thursday, Gen Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, said he was unaware of reports surrounding the Su-57 in Syria, but added the situation in Syria grows more complex by the day.

"It's one thing to do the counter-air mission with a long lookout in front of you, it's different to do when everyone's tightly packed in there," Holmes said during a roundtable discussion with reporters here at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare symposium.

"So our guys will continue to prep for the scenarios that they're deployed to face," Holmes said.

When asked whether it was concerning to have another stealth aircraft in the mix, Holmes emphasized the tough environment and constricted air space in the region.

"Certainly, the higher the complexity and the higher the technology ... it raises the level of complexity for the crews to deal with," the commander said.

Russia first deployed forces and aircraft to Syria in 2015, changing the dynamic as U.S. and coalition troops began their air campaign against the Islamic State a year earlier. Russian President Vladimir Putin said a withdrawal of their bulk of troops would begin in 2017.

It's not surprising the Russian air force may want to step up its tactics and procedures in a war environment.

Last month, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance said that the Russian air force has been focusing on intently watching how fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft perform within the Syrian airspace.

"In the skies over Syria, it's really just been a treasure trove for [the Russians] to see how we operate," Lt. Gen. VeraLinn "Dash" Jamieson told congressional staffers and reporters during an Air Force Association briefing in Washington, D.C.

"Our adversaries are watching us, they're learning from us," she said at the time.

That same month two F-22 fighters intercepted two Russian Su-25 fighter jets, conducting multiple maneuvers, firing warning flares and, in one instance, aggressively flying to avoid colliding with one another.

A Russian Su-35 multi-role fighter was also involved.

An F-22 ended up trailing the Su-35 after it flew across the river into territory deemed unsafe to coalition aircraft.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.
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[*] posted on 25-2-2018 at 02:44 PM

(Updated) Satellite Images Confirm Two Russian Su-57 Stealth Jets Deployed in Syria

(Source: Voice of America News; posted Feb 22, updated Feb 23, 2018)

By Jamie Dettmer (Edited Feb 24)

Moscow has deployed two of its latest-generation stealth warplanes to Syria. Satellite imagery circulated Feb. 23 on social networks confirmed video footage cirdulating Feb 23 and showing a pair of Su-57s landing at a Russian airbase in the war-torn country.

The deployment comes amid rising alarm that the Syria conflict that started out as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and is now split into several separate struggles could erupt into a wider regional clash between outside powers.

Update: Satellite image confirms deployment

Satellite image confirms two Su-57s on the apron at Hmeymim air base in Syria.

The video allegedly shows a pair of Su-57s — Moscow's most advanced combat warplanes — landing this week at Russia's Hmeimim air base southeast of the city of Latakia on Syria's Mediterranean coastline. It quickly circulated Thursday on social media sites.

Downplays threat

The U.S. Defense Department on Thursday declined to confirm the deployment of Russia's newest stealth jets to Syria, but voiced concern despite downplaying the threat.

"The addition of fifth-generation fighters into Syria would certainly not be in keeping with Russia's announced force drawdown," Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said in a statement.

"We do not consider these jets to be a threat to our operations in Syria, and will continue to deconflict operations as necessary," Pahon said.

"We call on all parties, however, to remain focused on defeating ISIS, de-escalating and resolving the Syrian conflict, and protecting innocent civilians," he added, using an acronym for the militant group.

U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Russia of using Syria "literally as a showroom" for its military and defense industries.

"They have absolutely made an effort to show off a bunch of military capabilities," a U.S. official previously told VOA, regarding Moscow's use of airpower and missile technology.

If Russia has deployed Su-57s, it would mark a significant addition to Moscow's firepower in a theater of war that now features a dizzying array of competing forces and increased military involvement by outside sponsors, including Russia and Iran on Assad's side; Turkey, which is determined to stop Syrian Kurds from establishing an autonomous state of their own; and the U.S., which has aligned with the Kurds to defeat the Islamic State.


Every day in Syria's crowded airspace, warplanes from a half-dozen countries are flying in ever closer proximity, increasing the dangers of a clash, which could turn a war of proxies into an all-out confrontation between jostling outside powers, all of whom are determined to shape the outcome of the messy Syria conflict.

Footage posted Thursday by Syrian political activists purported to show four Su-35 fighter jets and four Su-25 strike aircraft escorting the Su-57s as they came in to land at the Hmeimim air base.


Russia has manufactured a dozen Su-57s. The single-seat, twin-engine jets are due to enter operational squadrons formally next year after years of problem-plagued development. Nicknamed the "F-22 killer," the Su-57 has been earmarked by the Russian military as a direct competitor to America's U.S. F-22 Raptor.

Russian and Syrian officials have not commented on the unverified video footage, but pro-Assad news sites welcomed the additional firepower.

Beirut-based Al-Masdar News, which boasts close links with the Syrian military, said: "With the arrival of the Su-57s (and additional warplanes in general), it appears that Moscow is expecting major escalations in Syria during 2018 and — having been caught off-guard in the past — wants to be fully prepared for any drastic situation that may arise."

In December, Russian leader Vladimir Putin declared Moscow's mission in Syria had been accomplished — a declaration coinciding with confirmation that he'd seek a fifth term as Russia's president in elections in March. He said Russia would start a military drawdown.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on the same day as Putin's victory declaration was made that 38 warplanes had returned to Russia.

Story history:
-- Feb 24 at 16:00 GMT: added tweet with satellite photo of two Su-57s on apron at Hmeymim air base in Syria and revised headline.


Mission Possible: Here's What Those Russian Su-57 Jets May Be Doing in Syria

(Source: Sputnik News; posted Feb 23, 2018)

The appearance of two Su-57 fighters at Syria's Hmeymim air base, yet to be confirmed by the Russian MoD, has nevertheless got defense observers and armchair analysts alike talking. But what might the planes be doing there? Is their deployment strictly testing-related, or is it also meant to send a political message? Sputnik investigates.

Deployment Details

So far, both the Kremlin and the MoD have stayed mum on the subject of the Su-57’s possible mission to Syria. But a simple observation of Su-57-related news from recent months seems to indicate that the deployment is highly likely.

For instance, on February 8, Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov announced that the military was set to buy a batch of Su-57s for combat trials, with the first stage of state trials already completed. Two weeks before that, Boris Obnosov, CEO of Tactical Missiles Corporation, a company engaged in the development of weapons for the fighter platform, confirmed that the Su-57 had begun flight testing with its advanced new weaponry onboard. Hinting that the results of their work would be seen "in the imminent future," Obnosov added that Su-57 test launches of new weapons developed by the Raduga and Vimpel design bureaus would start "soon."

Vladimir Gutenov, Duma lawmaker in charge of a commission supporting the Russian defense industry, told Sputnik that while he could not independently confirm the Su-57s' deployment to Syria, he "whole-heartedly welcomed" the reports. According to the lawmaker, the planes "need to be tested in combat conditions, in conditions of [enemy] resistance." Furthermore, he said, the presence of the Su-57s will doubtlessly send a political message, serving as a deterrent "for aircraft from neighboring states which periodically fly into" the Middle Eastern country uninvited.

What Russian Experts Are Saying

Russian military experts have offered a myriad of possible reasons for the Su-57s' deployment to Syria.

For instance, Andrei Frolov, editor-in-chief of Arms Export, a Russian military publication, told RBC that the deployment would help to advertise the planes, especially to the Indian market, in light of the joint Russian-Indian Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) program.

For one thing, he said, "Lockheed Martin is active on the Indian market. Furthermore, there are difficulties with India on the FGFA project. The public launch of the Su-57 last year and its deployment to Syria now is aimed at convincing the Indians that the FGFA is a real project, which has a prototype that not only flies, but is capable of operating in a warzone."

For his part, Nikolai Antoshkin, Col-Gen (ret.) a veteran Soviet and Russian military pilot, commander and combat training specialist, explained that while the first squadron of production Su-57s would soon be deployed to the Lipitsk Combat Training Center, "fighters, like any other weapon, are tested mainly in combat. Therefore, sending the Su-57 to Syria is a natural solution."

Emphasizing that the Su-57 was an excellent tool which would "come in handy" in the event of any "provocations against our forces in Syria," Antoshkin also commented on rumors circulating online about the US Air Force allegedly suspending its F-22 Raptor flights over Syria due to the appearance of the Russian planes in the country.

For one thing, Antoshkin recalled, the Su-57 is equipped with 3D thrust vector jets, as opposed to the F-22's 2D thrust vector jets, meaning higher maneuverability for the Russian plane. "In addition, these engines allow our fighter to reach speeds up to Mach 2 without an afterburner. With its onboard Belka radar station, the Su-57 can detect 'stealth' aircraft, and track over 10 targets simultaneously. Add to this the plane's excellent radio-electronic warfare module, which suppresses enemy missiles' homing systems."

As far as onboard weapons are concerned, the observer recalled that "the Su-57 has two large internal weapons compartments, taking up practically the entire useful length of the aircraft. Each compartment can carry up to four K-77M air-to-air missiles," which have a range of nearly 200 km and serve as the rough equivalent to the US's AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile.

Ultimately, Antoshkin stressed that while deploying just two planes is not enough to provide Russia with an overwhelming military advantage in the Syrian theater, it would cause Russia's potential adversaries to think twice: "I think it will give our geopolitical rivals an extra reason to ponder whether it is worth raising their hand against Russia," the veteran air force officer concluded.

Western Military Observers Respond

Wednesday's photo and video evidence purporting to show two Su-57 fifth-gen stealth fighters flying around Hmeymim certainly got the Pentagon's attention, with a DoD spokesperson complaining that the deployment was an indication that Russia was not living up to its "announced force drawdown."

Many Western military observers were similarly critical, with Business Insider quoting experts who claimed that the deployment was a "cynical move" aimed at boosting Russian arms sales and gaining valuable intelligence on advanced US air power operating in the region.

Popular Mechanics was somewhat more evenhanded, pointing out that the deployment will give the Russian military an opportunity to "learn a lot about how the jet works in less-than-ideal conditions, how good its sensors are at picking up targets in the air and on the ground, and how difficult it is to maintain the planes thousands of miles from Mother Russia." However, that publication too offered its share of criticism, suggesting the Su-57s might stoke conflict with F-22s over US-controlled airspace in Syria, and would face the constant threat of mortar or drone attacks so long as they remain stationed in Hmeymim.

The National Interest's Dave Majumdar did one better, actually speaking to a Russian military expert – Vasily Kashin of the Moscow-based Center for Comprehensive & International Studies. According to Kashin, the Su-57s' deployment amounts to "testing in actual war," something that would help prepare the planes for mass production.

As for Majumdar, as far as the analyst can tell, the deployment will likely help the Russian military gain valuable operational experience and performance data on the Su-57's advanced avionics, including its active electronically scanned array radar and ELINT systems. Even "limited combat missions" are a possibility, he wrote.

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[*] posted on 26-2-2018 at 09:25 AM

Syria 'martyred' as Iran, Turkey defy UN cease-fire resolution

26 February 2018 — 6:16am

The UN Security Council has approved a 30-day truce across Syria to allow humanitarian aid to penetrate the worst-hit areas, but reports of persistent fighting continue to pour in along multiple fronts.

Beirut: Iran says pro-Damascus forces will press ahead with attacks on an insurgent enclave near the Syrian capital, as ground fighting raged on there in defiance of a UN resolution demanding a 30-day truce across the country.

Turkey, too, said its military operations in another theatre of war in the north of Syria would not be affected by the unanimous Security Council vote demanding the truce to allow for aid access and medical evacuations.

Anti-government rebels said they clashed with pro-government forces near Damascus on Sunday, as rescuers and residents said warplanes struck some towns in the eastern Ghouta pocket.

Pope Francis on Sunday said Syria was being "martyred" by continued attacks killing civilians in the eastern Ghouta district, calling for an immediate end to violence and access to humanitarian aid.

"All this is inhuman," Francis told tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square for his weekly blessing. He spoke hours after the United Nations adopted a resolution demanding a 30-day truce across Syria to allow aid access and medical evacuation.

"In these days my thoughts have often been taken up by the beloved and martyred Syria," he said, noting there had been thousands of civilian victims of violence that had not spared even hospitals.

"You can't fight evil with another evil," he said, asking his listeners to join together in a moment of silent prayer.

Francis called for an immediate end to the violence so food and medicine can get in and the sick and wounded can leave.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes and artillery killed nine people and injured 31 in the eastern suburbs. The UK-based monitoring group said Sunday's bombing was less intense than attacks over the past week.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

The latest escalation by Damascus and its allies has killed more than 500 people in the enclave over the last week, the Observatory says. The dead included more than 120 children.

Signalling the war remained a top focus of world leaders, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and French and German counterparts Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel spoke by phone and discussed the ceasefire's implementation.

Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri, whose government backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Tehran and Damascus would respect the UN resolution.

But the Iranian military chief of staff also said the truce did not cover parts of the Damascus suburbs "held by the terrorists", the Tasnim news agency said.

Several ceasefires have unravelled quickly during the seven-year war in Syria, where Assad's military has gained the upper hand with the help of Iran and Russia.

The UN resolution on Saturday followed seven straight days of bombing by pro-government forces on eastern Ghouta, in one of the bloodiest offensives of the war.

The Security Council voted unanimously to demand the truce to allow for aid access and medical evacuations.

The United Nations says nearly 400,000 people live in eastern Ghouta, a pocket of towns and farms under government siege since 2013. It is the only big rebel bastion left near the capital.
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[*] posted on 17-3-2018 at 01:41 PM

Russia deploys two frigates to Eastern Mediterranean

Tim Ripley, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

16 March 2018

A Russian Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate is seen in a photograph that was part of series that the Egyptian Ministry Defence released on 13 March to show a joint Egyptian-French naval exercise in the Red Sea. Source: Egyptian Ministry of Defence

Key Points

- Russia has deployed two frigates to the Mediterranean, one with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles
- A second Russian frigate armed with Kalibr missiles is in the Red Sea

Russia appears to be building up its naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean at a time that the United States is threatening to intervene against Syrian government forces attacking the rebel enclave east of Damascus.

Two major Russian naval vessels – the Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate Admiral Essen and the Krivak II-class anti-submarine frigate Pytivyy – were photographed passing southwards through the Bosphorus by independent ship observers on 12–13 March. Admiral Essen is armed with Kalibr cruise missiles with a range of 2,500 km.

The Russian Ministry of Defence announced on 15 March that the Black Sea Fleet had made “a planned transition from Sevastopol to the Mediterranean” and released a photograph of a Krivak II class.

The ships will join the Russian naval contingent off the coast of Syria as tension grows with the United States over the East Ghouta enclave that has been under sustained attack by government forces since February, despite the UN Security Council passing a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the Security Council said on 12 March that Washington “remains prepared to act” to enforce the ceasefire if the UN does not act.

The following day, General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian Armed Forces, told a media briefing in Moscow that Russia would react if its military personnel in Syria came under attack. “If lives of the Russian officers are threatened, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation will retaliate against missile and launch systems [that carry out those attacks],” he said.

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[*] posted on 19-3-2018 at 09:45 AM

Turkish forces raise flags in Afrin and declare victory over Kurds

19 March 2018 — 4:17am

Istanbul: Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies swept into the north western Syrian town of Afrin on Sunday, raising their flags in the town centre and declaring full control after an eight-week campaign to drive out Kurdish YPG forces.

A spokesman for the rebel fighters said they entered Afrin before dawn, meeting no resistance. Britain-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said pockets of YPG fighters defied orders to withdraw, but Turkish forces were in control.

The fight for Afrin, a once stable pocket of north-west Syria, has opened a new front in Syria's multi-sided civil war and highlighted the ever greater role of foreign powers such as Turkey in the seven-year-old conflict.

Ankara says Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters are an extension of a militant group waging an insurgency inside Turkey, and vowed to crush what it described as a "terror corridor" of YPG-controlled territory along Turkey's southern border with Syria.

It launched its campaign eight weeks ago and has threatened to extend the offensive to another Kurdish-controlled region further east where US forces are stationed alongside the YPG, Washington's ally against Islamic State in Syria.

"Afrin city centre is under control as of 8.30 this morning," Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told a rally commemorating the World War One Gallipoli campaign, adding that Turkish and Free Syrian Army flags had been raised in the town centre.

"Most of the terrorists have already fled with tails between their legs. Our special forces and members of the Free Syrian Army are cleaning the remains and the traps they left behind.

"In the centre of Afrin, symbols of trust and stability are waving instead of rags of terrorists."

An official from the local Kurdish authority said Kurdish forces were present across the Afrin region and would "strike the positions of the Turkish enemy and its mercenaries at every opportunity."

"Our forces all over Afrin will become a constant nightmare for them," Othman Sheikh Issa, co-chair of the Afrin executive council, said in a televised statement.

Statue town down

A Whatsapp group run by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces said Turkish and Syrian rebel troops tore down a statue in Afrin, in what it called a "blatant violation of Kurdish people's culture and history".

Turkey's armed forces said that troops were combing the streets for mines and improvised explosive devices.

Free Syrian Army spokesman Mohammad al-Hamadeen said the fighters entered the town from the north, east and west.

Kurdish forces had pulled back to Syrian government-controlled areas around the city of Aleppo, or to the Kurdish-held region east of the Euphrates river, he said.

"Maybe (Afrin) will be cleared by the end of the day – it's empty of fighters, they cleared out," Hamadeen told Reuters.

Turkey's government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said the military campaign would continue to secure areas around Afrin and make sure food and medicine were available.

"We have more to do. But the project of building a terrorism corridor and building a terrorist state is over," he said.

The World Food Programme said it was distributing food to 25,000 people in the nearby towns of Nubl and Zahra, including people just arriving from Afrin.

More than 150,000 people fled Afrin in recent days, the Syrian Observatory said, as Turkey pressed on with its campaign despite a UN Security Council call for a 30-day ceasefire across Syria.

Ankara said the demand did not apply to Afrin, but its operation has faced criticism in the West.

France's foreign minister said Turkey's concerns for its border security did not justify "the deep incursion of Turkish troops in the Afrin zone", which could also weaken international action against remaining Islamic State fighters in Syria.

France, like the United States, has given arms and training to a YPG-led militia in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, and also has dozens of special forces personnel based in the region.
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[*] posted on 24-3-2018 at 02:35 PM

Turkey looks to expand against Kurds in Syria, Iraq

Jeremy Binnie, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

23 March 2018

A Turkish Leopard 2 tank rolls through Afrin town on 18 March. Source: Abdulfettah Huseyin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Key Points

- Turkey has been buoyed by military victory against the YPG in Afrin
- Ankara is now threatening to attack Manbij if the US does not force the YPG to withdraw

I've been convinced for a long time now, that Erdogan wants an Armed Confrontation against the USA in particular. Politically, he see's this as a expression of Muslim independence, and a negation of years of close involvement under the guise of NATO.......

Encouraged by its victory in Afrin, Turkey appears intent on expanding its buffer zone in Syria and possibly into Iraq.

Nearly two months after the start of Operation ‘Olive Branch’ against the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, the Turkish military and its Syrian allies captured the region’s main town on 18 March, in the process effectively linking the swath of territory they control along the Turkish border in Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish group defending the enclave, released a statement saying it was withdrawing from Afrin town to minimise civilian casualties, but pledged to continue guerrilla operations “until every inch of Afrin is liberated”.

However, the military materiel abandoned by the YPG indicated that it had been forced to withdraw before it could fully prepare for a new phase in the conflict. The Turkish military took a team from Turkey’s Anadolu Agency state news service to an underground storage facility that still contained large quantities of ammunition, including several TOW 2 anti-tank missiles and numerous mortar rounds.

Ankara is now looking to expel the YPG from areas along the Turkish border further to the east and Manbij, a salient of territory east of the Euphrates. While Afrin was an isolated enclave, a similar operation further to the east would pit the Turkish military against the YPG’s main forces and escalate tensions with the United States, which has supported the Kurdish group’s campaign against the Islamic State.

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[*] posted on 3-4-2018 at 08:35 PM

US Sends More Troops to Syrian Town Where US, British Soldiers Killed

In this picture taken on Thursday, March 29, 2018, a fighter, second from right, of U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council stands next to U.S. humvee at a U.S. troop's outpost on a road leading to the front line between Syrian Manbij Military Council fighters and Turkish-backed fighters, at Halawanji village, north of Manbij town, Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) 2 Apr 2018 By Richard Sisk

The U.S. has sent more troops into the Syrian crossroads town targeted by Turkey where Special Operations Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar and British Sgt. Matt Tonroe were killed last week by a roadside bomb.

Pentagon spokesmen declined to discuss numbers, but an official acknowledged that a "planned reinforcement" had taken place in Manbij in northeastern Syria near the Turkish border.

News videos showed Stryker fighting vehicles and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles flying U.S. flags on patrol in the town, which was retaken from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters by the U.S.-backed, mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after a long siege in 2016.

The Turkish state news agency Anadolu said that as many as 300 additional U.S. troops had arrived in Manbij to bolster the small contingent already there, but the Pentagon official said the Turkish estimate was overblown.

The fall of Manbij set the stage for a drive south by the SDF that resulted last year in its retaking of Raqqa, the self-declared ISIS caliphate.

Army Rangers and Stryker vehicles first moved into Manbij in March 2016 to conduct "deterrence patrols" when Turkish forces and Syrian regime forces separately began converging on the town. The Turkish and Syrian forces later backed off.

However, the SDF's gains are now threatened by Turkish forces and their militia proxies, known as the Free Syrian Army, which was once trained by the U.S. before the effort was abandoned.

For months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to move against Manbij.

In addition, his government announced Monday that he would host a three-way summit on Wednesday in Ankara with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on efforts to end Syria's seven-year-old civil war.

Erdogan has charged that the SDF is dominated by the Kurdish YPG, or People's Protection Units. He has pledged to rid the border area of the group, considered a terrorist organization in Turkey.

His pledges have set up the possibility of a clash between the forces of NATO allies Turkey and the U.S. in Manbij.

The U.S. has sought to ease Turkish concerns and stressed that its only political goal in Syria is the defeat of ISIS.

Last Thursday, Dunbar, 36, of Texas, and Tonroe, 33, of the Parachute Regiment, were killed by an improvised explosive device while on a mission to capture an ISIS operative, according to a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

Dunbar, a 13-year Army veteran with three tours in Iraq and three in Afghanistan, was assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Special Operations Command, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The designation of headquarters for Special Ops at Fort Bragg has been used in the past to indicate that the service member was part of Delta Force, the secretive counter-terrorism unit.

Dunbar was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal (3rd Award), the Army Commendation Medal (4th Award), and the Army Achievement Medal (6th Award). His military education included the Military Free Fall and Jumpmaster Course, and the Special Forces Sniper Course.

British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said that Tonroe's "sacrifice, unflinching commitment and bravery" would never be forgotten, while his commanding officer said his bravery was matched by his compassion.

Last week, President Donald Trump surprised the Pentagon with an ad lib during an infrastructure speech in which he said that U.S. troops would "be coming out of Syria, like very soon."

The position of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has been that U.S. troops must remain until ISIS is defeated and a diplomatic solution to the civil war has been put in place.

On TV's Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it would be a blunder for Trump to order U.S. forces out of Syria prematurely.

"It'd be the single worst decision the president could make," he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at
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[*] posted on 4-4-2018 at 06:41 PM

US military withdrawal would increase likelihood of conflict between Turkey and Iran-backed forces in Syria

Firas Modad - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

03 April 2018

Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army forces in Afrin, Syria, on 18 March. An Iranian-backed Shia proxy has fought alongside the Kurdish YPG in Afrin. Source: Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Key Points

- The withdrawal of US troops would create a power vacuum encouraging the Syrian government and Turkey to step into the area of northeastern Syria vacated by the US.
- Turkey would likely use Syrian proxies to attack the Kurds, while the Syrian government would rely on Iran-backed militias.
- If Russia permits Turkish intervention, this would raise the risk of direct conflict between Turkish troops and Iranian IRGC proxies over energy, electricity, and road infrastructure.


US President Donald Trump said on 29 March that the United States would withdraw from Syria “very soon”, without specifying an exact date.

Unnamed US government senior officials said that President Trump had previously told his advisers of his intention, although no timeline had been specified, according to a Reuters report. It is highly likely that Trump will declare the war against the Islamic State in Syria as accomplished, which would prompt a withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, furthering the retraction of US influence in the region, and reducing US influence over the terms of any eventual peace negotiations.

Limits to negotiations

Russia would likely see a US withdrawal as an opportunity to sponsor negotiations between the Syrian government and the Turkey-backed opposition, also forcing the Kurds of the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG) to accept Damascus’s dominance or otherwise risk another Afrin-style Turkish military operation. However, a negotiated settlement in Syria is unlikely; Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shows no willingness to offer compromises and a Syrian sectarian power-sharing agreement is unlikely under his authoritarian and minority-Alawi rule. Assad would almost certainly demand that all heavy weaponry held by non-government forces be handed over to the Syrian state, which the Kurds and the Islamists in Idlib would either reject out of hand or demand that it be made in tandem with power-sharing measures, prisoner swaps, and constitutional reforms.

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[*] posted on 7-4-2018 at 01:21 PM

Manbij standoff continues as Trump signals Syria withdrawal

Tim Ripley, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

06 April 2018

The new US outpost south of Dadat is seen on 2 April. Satellite imagery shows it was largely constructed over the proceeding three days. Source: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

- US special forces have established a new outpost on an obvious Turkish route to Manbij
- France is reportedly also committed to defending the SDF

Uncertainty continues to surround the US-led coalition commitment to defend the northern Syrian town of Manbij from attack by Turkish forces.

US President Donald Trump repeated his wish to withdraw US troops from Syria on 3 April. “We were very successful against [the Islamic State]. We’ll be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it’s time to come back home and we’re thinking about that very seriously,” Trump told reporters at a White House event.

Senior US diplomats and military leaders rejected a rapid pull out during a US Institute of Peace conference held on the same day. US Central Command Chief General Joseph Votel said, “The hard part, I think, is in front of us, and that is stabilising these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, there is a military role in this.”

Meanwhile, US soldiers were filmed at an outpost near Manbij in northern Syria that satellite imagery shows was largely established sometime after 30 March. The outpost is about 2.5 km south of Dadat, where Turkish forces and allied Syrian groups hold a salient of territory on the southern side of the Sajur River. Ankara has threatened to attack Manbij to clear it of Kurdish fighters from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but its forces would have to go past the new outpost if they advanced from the north.

The footage filmed by a Kurdistan 24 TV crew showed a 120 mm XM905 dismountable mortar system and a 40 mm Mk 47 Striker automatic grenade launcher set up to defend the outpost. Both weapon types are in service with US special forces.

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[*] posted on 10-4-2018 at 09:10 AM

Syria and Russia blame Israel for airstrikes

Jeremy Binnie, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly

09 April 2018

The Israeli military released this image of a UAV at T4 after it said it had hit Iranian targets at the base on 10 February in response to an Iranian UAV incursion. Source: Israel Defense Forces

Syria and Russia both said the Israeli military was responsible for carrying out airstrikes on the T4 (Tiyas) air base in the central province of Homs on 9 April.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) cited a military official as saying that Israeli F-15 fighter jets fired several missiles from Lebanese airspace at dawn on 9 April, but some of the missiles were successfully intercepted by Syrian air defences.
T4 is around 100 km from the Lebanese border.

The Russian Ministry of Defence released a statement to news agencies saying that two Israeli F-15s launched eight guided missiles at T4 air base from Lebanese territory between 0325 and 0353 Moscow time (0023 and 0053 GMT). It said that Syrian air defences destroyed five of the missiles, but three reached the western part of the airfield.

Satellite imagery shows Russian helicopters are deployed at the eastern end of the runway.

Israeli officials did not comment on the Syrian and Russian statements, but its military announced on 20 February said it had targeted an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operation at T4 in response to a UAV incursion into Israeli airspace earlier that day.

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[*] posted on 14-4-2018 at 12:32 PM
US and allies launch strikes on Syria chemical weapons sites

The US, UK and France have bombed multiple government targets in Syria in an early morning operation targeting alleged chemical weapons sites.

The strikes are in response to a suspected chemical attack on the Syrian town of Douma last week.

"A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now underway," President Trump said in an address to the nation.

Explosions were reported near the Syrian capital Damascus.

Officials at a Pentagon briefing listed three targets that had been struck:

A scientific research facility in Damascus, allegedly connected to the production chemical and biological weapons

A chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs

A chemical weapons equipment storage and an important command post, also near Homs

Syrian state television said government forces had shot down more than a dozen missiles.

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis told reporters there were no reports of losses in the operation.

"Right now, this is a one-time shot, and I believe it has sent a very strong message," he said, saying the first wave of strikes was over.

President Trump had earlier said: "We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."

UK Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed British involvement, saying there was "no practicable alternative to the use of force".

But she also said the strikes were not about "regime change".

UK strikes carried out by four Tornado jets hit a military site near the city of Homs, which is believed to have housed precursor materials for chemical weapons, the ministry of defence said.

French President Emmanuel Macron also confirmed his country's participation in the operation.

The strikes were ordered "on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities" of the Syrian government, Mr Trump said.

The US president said the purpose was "to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons".

"These are not the actions of a man, they are the crimes of a monster instead," he said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria has denied carrying out the attack and its ally, Russia, had warned that Western military strikes would risk starting a war.

A US official told Reuters news agency that Tomahawk cruise missiles were being used against multiple locations in Syria.

The agency also quoted a witness in Damascus as saying "at least six loud explosions" were heard in the capital.

Syrian state television also confirmed strikes on Damascus. The country's air defences have also been deployed, reports say.

British-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said strikes had hit the Syrian Scientific Research Facility in the capital, along with several military sites.


The darkest hour of Humanity is upon us. The world
shall meet it's end and we shall be submerged into a
new dark age. Repent your sins, for the apocalypse,
and the end, is extremely f@#king nigh!
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[*] posted on 14-4-2018 at 02:08 PM

Allegedly JASSM-ER has made it’s operational debut launched from B-1B’s...

In a low speed post-merge manoeuvring fight, with a high off-boresight 4th generation missile and Helmet Mounted Display, the Super Hornet will be a very difficult opponent for any current Russian fighter, even the Su-27/30
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[*] posted on 14-4-2018 at 04:37 PM

Amazing. I remember every power involved certifying the destruction of the chemical weapons and its depots by the USS Cape Ray.

When this coalition is now able to attack chemical sites, I am very surprised they know of the sites but did not call them out during the last chemical weapons incidents in Syria. I am curious whether these warehouses or bunkers were actually housing something and hope this attack was just a show of force on empty buildings.

Let’s see how Russia, China and Iran with its proxies now make their moves ...
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