Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts

26 September 2017

Weekly Graphic: Turkey and a Dangerous Power Vacuum in Northwestern Syria

Turkish forces recently began massing on the southwestern border with Syria. As many as 80 military vehicles, including an unknown number of tanks and medical aid trucks, were dispatched to a part of Hatay province that’s approximately 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the border. Another convoy of an unspecified number of military vehicles was reportedly sent to another area of Hatay, just 2 miles from Syria’s border, and a third collection of 20 army vehicles was seen close to the border near Bab al-Hawa in Syria, about 7 miles from Reyhanli.

19 September 2017

Syrian army, allies close in on Islamic State in Deir al-Zor

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian troops seized a suburb of the city of Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria on Sunday, tightening the noose around Islamic State militants, a military source said.

Oil-rich Deir al-Zor province, which borders Iraq, is Islamic State’s last major foothold in Syria.

The Syrian army pushed into Deir al-Zor city this month, with Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, breaking an Islamic State siege of an enclave that had lasted three years.

Russia’s RIA news agency cited an unnamed source as saying that the Syrian army cut Islamic State’s main supply line in the city on Sunday after taking control of the al-Jafra district.

The Syrian military source said the army and allied forces captured al-Jafra on the western bank of the Euphrates. Islamic State militants could only escape across the river.

“They have no outlet except crossing the Euphrates towards the eastern bank and fleeing towards the desert, or (the towns of) al-Bukamal and al-Mayadin,” the source told Reuters.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army and its allies took al-Jafra and other villages near the city’s air base overnight.

Islamic State militants still hold nearly a third of the city, the war monitoring group said. Russian jets pounded movements across the river as Islamic State fighters tried to escape in ferries, it added.

With Assad's fate secure, Russia sets its sights on Isis fighters in Syria

With Assad's fate secure, Russia sets its sights on Isis fighters in Syria 

Russian commander says defeat of Islamic State is imminent after Syrian forces recapture strategic town of Okeirbat 

A Russian soldier stands in front of a destroyed tank factory operated by Isis militants. Photograph: Nataliya Vasilyeva/AP

Saturday 16 September 2017 14.31 BSTLast modified on Sunday 17 September 2017 11.00 BST

The head of the Russian army in Syria has said the defeat of Islamic State in the country is imminent during a visit to a strategically located town recently recaptured from Isis by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad.

“All the conditions are in place for the final stage of defeating Isis in Syria,” said Lt Gen Alexander Lapin, standing amid heavy security outside the building of a former Isis sharia court, adorned with the extremist group’s black-and-white logo. “I can promise you that no Isis terrorist will ever set foot in this town again.”

Okeirbat was regained by forces loyal to the Syrian government on 2 September after a three-month assault amid intensive Russian airstrikes. Recapturing the town enabled government-backed forces to push forward towards breaking the long-standing siege on Deir ez-Zor, in the east of the country.

12 September 2017

Israel's Bombing of a Weapons Factory in Syria: What Comes Next?

By Elliott Abrams

This week Israel bombed a site in Syria, from Lebanese air space. This was the so-called Scientific Studies and Researchers Center in Masyaf, a city in central Syria, and it was hit because it is a military site where chemical weapons and precision bombs are said to be produced. Israel had made clear in a series of statements in the last six months that such a facility in Syria producing such weapons for use by Hezbollah against Israel would not be tolerated.

I was reminded of 2007 and 2008, when Israeli officials repeatedly told me and other American officials that the rocketing of Israel by Hamas in Gaza was intolerable. If it does not stop, they said, an operation is inevitable. They meant it, and the result was Operation Cast Lead, which began on December 27, 2008. We in the Bush administration had been given fair warning.

Today again, Israel has given the United States fair warning that there are limits to what Israel will tolerate in Iranian conduct and the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has long intervened, perhaps 100 times over the years, to stop advanced weaponry from being transferred by Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Those were moving targets: caravans of trucks carrying such weaponry. But this week there was a stationary target, and I imagine the decision to fire from Lebanese air space was also a message—to Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.

11 September 2017

The Chechens of Syria

By Vera Mironova and Ekaterina Sergatskova

Before the Syrian conflict, there was little talk outside of the former Soviet Union about the fighting prowess of Chechens. But with the advent of the Islamic State (ISIS), Chechens, or shishani in Arabic, have developed an international reputation as some of the toughest fighters in the world. The rise of one, Abu Omar al-Shishani, to ISIS’ highest military position reinforced this public image, and according to recent interviews in Mosul, Chechens in ISIS were among the foreign fighters most feared by civilians. But those who fight with ISIS are just one group of Chechen forces currently operating in Syria.

Politically and militarily active Chechens are divided into three groups—all of which have sent foot soldiers to Syria. The first group is made up of supporters of the current head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. They are known as the Kadyrovtsy. As the official armed forces in Chechnya, they have the best military training and the most experienced fighters. Their main opponents are the Ichkeriysy, from the Independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, and the Emiratovsy, of the Islamist Emirate Caucasus.

The Ichkeriysy are mainly nationalist followers of Sufi Islam. They fought during the first and second Chechen wars for an independent state of Ichkeria, which existed from 1991 until 2000 and was recognized only by the Taliban government of Afghanistan. Although these fighters have extensive military experience, there are few left. Many of them have emigrated to Western Europe.

Rumors Fly That Russia Has Dropped "The Father of All Bombs" in Syria


The Russians have been especially secretive about the weapon and, if true, this would be its first combat use ever.

A rumor has appeared on social media suggesting that Russia has dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb, nicknamed the Father of All Bombs, on ISIS terrorists in Syria. If confirmed, this would be the first time Russia has employed this weapon, which is has otherwise revealed very little about, in combat.

On Sept. 7, 2017, posts appeared on Twitter alleging that witnesses and activists near the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, had seen the weapon in action.. As yet, though, there has been no reporting in English language Russian news outlets or an official statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

There are few concrete details about the FOAB, formally known as the Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power (ATBIP), and almost no official pictures or video of the bomb – one Tweet even used a picture of a mockup of the Soviet hydrogen bomb Tsar Bomba instead. It apparently uses a high explosive filler boosted with a mixture of aluminium powder and ethylene oxide, components common to other known thermobaric weapons, to create the high-intensity blast and associated shockwave.

7 September 2017

What Causes Wars? Religion? Oil? The REAL REASON Will Shake Your Beliefs

Was the Syrian civil war partly caused by climate change? In an interview with Sky News on November 23, Britain’s Prince Charles made headlines when he informed listeners of a direct link between climate change and the ongoing civil war in Syria. 

“There is very good evidence indeed that one of the major reasons for this horror in Syria was a drought that lasted for about five or six years,” he told Sky News, adding that climate change is having a “huge impact” on conflict and terrorism. Before him, United States President Barack Obama, Al Gore, and the democratic presidential hopefuls Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, had linked climate change to the Syrian conflict.

Have you ever wondered why most of the wars and conflicts between and with countries are now being linked to human-induced climate change or against the Earth? Does religion, politics or oil have nothing to do with wars? 

The National Geographic Channel’s 2007 documentary Six Degrees Could Change the World, explained that at 2 degrees Celsius warmer, urban Bolivians will move into rural areas in search of water; at 4 degrees hotter, we are set to experience worldwide political upheaval, economic disaster, and armed conflict as heat-weary migrants seek climate refuge in places like Northern Europe and New Zealand.

30 August 2017

Pentagon may have up to 20,000 troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan; it reports only 14,000

The Pentagon may have far more troops serving in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan than it has officially told the American public, due to the way some forces aren’t included in an official count.

Officially, the Pentagon has set force management levels of 8,448 for Afghanistan, 5,262 for Iraq and 503 for Syria. But there are far more troops in all three places, as not all of those units are required to be counted against the force management levels.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has previously acknowledged the discrepancy. On Tuesday, Mattis said that before he adds any of the potentially 3,900 troops the Pentagon seeks to carry out President Donald Trump’s revised strategy for Afghanistan, he would square how many troops are there now.

“The first thing I have to do is ‘level the bubble,’ and account for everybody that is on the ground there now, the idea being that we’re not going to have different pockets that we are accounting for,” Mattis said.

As of April, there were more than 7,000 forces on the ground in Iraq and more than 900 in Syria, defense officials have previously said on the condition of anonymity. On Tuesday the Wall Street Journal and NBC reported that the actual number of forces in Afghanistan at present is about 12,000, citing unnamed sources.

29 August 2017

Pentagon Hiding the Presence of Thousands of Troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria

Caps on troop levels in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria mandated by the Obama administration have led to an elaborate Pentagon accounting system that conceals thousands of troops from the public — one that is quickly unraveling as the Trump administration prepares to send more troops to the region.

With new plans to ramp up the war in Afghanistan, the military is finding it exceedingly difficult to maintain a practice that purposely doesn’t count certain troops in the battle zone that military officials insist was not designed to be misleading but many critics now assert is at best an officially sanctioned charade.

The U.S. already has as many as 12,000 troops in Afghanistan, significantly higher than its 8,400-person cap. If President Donald Trump sends nearly 4,000 additional troops, as officials predict, the total will be nearly double the current public number. In Iraq, where the Baghdad government faces political resistance to a large American troop presence, the 5,200 troop figure the Pentagon uses in public serves as a useful fiction. In fact, more than 7,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, according to recent reports.

And in Syria the official 503 U.S. troops mostly covers special operations units. But hundreds of other troops who support them and their local allies remain classified — including the Marine artillerymen and Army Rangers whose vehicles are frequently photographed by local journalists.

26 August 2017

How Bashar al-Assad Won the War in Syria

Daniel R. DePetris

The way he has prosecuted the war has been as effective as it has been inhumane.

On August 21, 2013, the international community awoke to a scene of absolute terror. Broadcasted on television screens around the world were pictures and video of men, women, and even small babies sprawled on the floor, gasping for breath. Many were already dead from exposure to the sarin gas that was delivered from the Syrian army’s surface-to-surface missiles. The attack in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, which left an estimated 1,400 people dead according to U.S. intelligence community assessments, was the most gruesome chemical weapons strike since former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gassed Kurdish civilians in the town of Halabja in 1988. Four years later, I still remember the New York Post cover page the next morning, dead Syrian children on one side and a grinning Bashar al-Assad on the other.

To the world’s credit, the 2013 chemical attack was so visually upsetting and such an appalling violation of international law that the United States and Russia, by then in complete opposition to how to manage the Syrian dictator, came together (with the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council) to force Assad to give up his declared chemical weapons stockpile and to enlist Syria as a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The first international chemical weapons inspectors were deployed on Syrian soil a short time later—and despite the enormous stress of working in a war zone and dealing with Syrian government officials who were less than truthful, managed to remove and destroy 1,300 tons of chemical weapons. “Never before,” the OPCW’s director boasted at the time, “has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict.”

11 August 2017

Economics Could Be the Key to Ending the Syrian Civil War

John Allen, Michael O'Hanlon

Rebuilding Syria will take upwards of $100 billion a year—the kind of money that Assad's allies simply do not have.

President Donald Trump’s early moves on Syria policy have had their virtues. He has gradually ramped up the military pressure against ISIS, building on efforts established in the last years of the Obama administration. Trump has also worked to reestablish a credible U.S. redline against chemical weapons use, and also, to begin a new dialogue with Russia as of his July 7 meeting with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany that led to ideas for small ceasefire zones. King Abdullah II of Jordan has helped establish one such zone in southern Syria and there is some hope that it could serve as a model for things to come. Trump has also wisely disengaged from the futile Geneva negotiation process that the Obama administration believed might create a new government of national unity; the reality is that, backed up by Russia and with considerable battlefield momentum in recent years, the government of President Bashar al-Assad isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Devolution of power, at least temporarily, to various regions and subregions in Syria is a much more promising concept than wholesale replacement of the central government in Damascus.

3 August 2017

Russia Showcases Global Ambitions With Military Parades, One in Syria


MOSCOW — Russia’s global military ambition was on display Sunday when the country celebrated Navy Day with large military parades not only in St. Petersburg, but also off the coast of Syria.

The parades of ships, submarines and aircraft were held at Russian naval bases in Sevastopol, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and at Tartus in Syria, where Russia is expanding its military presence.

The main parade took place in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city and home of the navy’s headquarters.

Russian sailors standing on the deck of a small rocket ship during the the naval parade in St. Petersburg, along the Neva River.

Aboard his presidential cutter, Russia’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin, greeted crews of five ships and a submarine lined up for him on St. Petersburg’s Neva River. Thousands of viewers filled the city’s granite embankments.

Later, Mr. Putin disembarked onto the Admiralty Embankment to deliver a speech from a tribune.

“Much is being done today for the development and renovation of the navy,” Mr. Putin said. “New ships are being commissioned; the fleet’s combat training and readiness are being perfected.”

25 July 2017

*** In Syria, the U.S. Reverses Course

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Forecast Highlights

The end of a CIA program for training and equipping rebels is a strategic shift by the United States in its approach to the Syrian civil war as it looks beyond the inevitable conventional defeat of the Islamic State. 

Such a shift, however, even if it leads to less violence in the short term, is unlikely to secure a stable Syria. 

Syria will remain a hotbed of unrest and conflict, a situation that the Islamic State will exploit to rebuild and other extremists will use to form new militant groups. 

Previous U.S. policies to influence the Syrian civil war haven't worked, or at least that's what the White House seems to believe. The Washington Post reported on July 19 that U.S. President Donald Trump decided a month ago to phase out the CIA's covert train and equip program launched in 2013 to support Syrian rebel forces opposed to the government of President Bashar al Assad. The end of the program points to a strategic shift by the United States in its approach to the Syrian civil war, acknowledging Washington's inability to force al Assad from power and its almost exclusive focus on the fight against the Islamic State over the past few years. But what happens in Syria after the militant group's inevitable conventional defeat can't be ignored. And unfortunately for the United States, no matter what it does diplomatically or militarily, even if its efforts lead to less violence in the short term, it won't secure a stable Syria.

24 July 2017

The Campaign for Ar-Raqqa City: June 20 – July 17, 2017

By Christopher Kozak

The U.S. Anti-ISIS Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) achieved small but significant gains against ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City between June 20 and July 17. The SDF completed its full encirclement of Ar-Raqqa City on June 29 after seizing a number of villages on the southern bank of the Euphrates River. Operation Inherent Resolve Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend stressed that the maneuver emplaced a “physical band” that would “prevent escape or reinforcement” by ISIS in Ar-Raqqa City. The SDF later breached the heavily-fortified Old City of Ar-Raqqa on July 3 after coalition airstrikes destroyed two twenty-five meter sections of the historic Rafiqah (Old City) Walls. These breaches enabled partner forces on the ground to avoid pre-positioned ISIS defenses at existing channels through the wall, including prepared direct and indirect fire zones, land mines, IEDs, and SVBIEDs. The SDF simultaneously continued to secure incremental gains along both the eastern and western axes of Ar-Raqqa City.

23 July 2017

Why Emmanuel Macron Is Now the Man to Watch in Syria

Curt Mills

In throwing Bashar al-Assad a bone—breaking with his predecessors—the new French president is emerging as potentially the world’s most powerful foreign-policy realist.

When historians look back on the European Union’s July 17 move to sanctionSyrian scientists and military personnel over alleged use of chemical weapons, it may be remembered as another failed half-measure by the West to pressure Syrian president Bashar al-Assad out of power. That’s because one man, new French president Emmanuel Macron, is potentially changing the game on the Syria question, having thrown Assad a life-preserver last month by declaring he sees “no legitimate successor” to the Alawite strongman.

Indeed, Macron may well be on his way to establishing himself as the globe’s preeminent foreign-policy realist.

“President Macron prides himself on his realism,” Art Goldmacher of Harvard, a longtime observer of contemporary French politics, tells the National Interest. “This is the basis of his approach to the economy, where he says that French industry needs to become more competitive, and to domestic security, where he insists that combating terrorism requires that more powers be granted to the police.”

15 July 2017

Ceasefire or No, US and Russia Remain ‘A Second or Two Away’ from Accidental War Over Syria

The head of Air Combat Command says one mistake by a pilot in an advanced warplane could mean an unintended escalation in Syria.

A fragile ceasefire may have taken hold in Syria but the country’s airspace — crowded with Russian, U.S., Syrian, and coalition warplanes — is as dangerous as ever, the commander of U.S. Air Combat Command says.

“Every day, we are a second or two away from miscalculation between airmen are flying on top of each other with advanced weapons, which could lead to an escalation in that conflict,” Gen. James M. “Mike” Holmes said at an Air Force Association event on Tuesday.

The fog of war over Syria has been thick since September 2015, when Russian forces arrived to bolster the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. The U.S. and Russian forces immediately set up a deconfliction line, basically a telephone in the U.S. Air Operations Center that connected to directly the Russians’ similar base. But in April, a confusing situation became a tense one after the U.S. fired a series of Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

With Capture of Mosul From ISIS, Attention Now Turns to Raqqa in Syria

WASHINGTON - The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group may increase airstrikes and overhead surveillance support for the fight to retake Raqqa, Syria, now that the militants have been largely defeated in Mosul, Iraq, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters he doesn’t see a significant expansion of the U.S. and coalition effort in Raqqa. But he said he thinks there will probably be “a greater level of resourcing,” including intelligence and reconnaissance assets as well as more strikes.

“It will become more of a priority now that Mosul is concluded,” said Townsend.

The added support would aid the U.S.-backed Syrian forces who have encircled Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, breaching the fortified defenses and moving closer to the heart of the city. Officials are predicting a long, tough battle, estimating that more than 2,000 militants are holed up with their families and tens of thousands of civilians in the city’s center.

Townsend, however, cautioned that the battle in Iraq is not over. He said he believes Iraqi troops still need time to oust any remaining IS fighters from Mosul. And once that is done, he said, they will probably take a break to reset and rest before launching their fight against IS in Tal Afar and other remaining insurgent strongholds in western Iraq.

10 July 2017

Is War Between a Rising China and a Dominant America Inevitable?Is the U.S. Flirting with World War III in Syria?

By Tim Joslyn

Beginning as a national protest in 2011, the Syrian conflict has evolved into a complex regional and international conflict. Local protests spread into an armed rebellion, then becoming a national civil war and, finally, a proxy war reminiscent of the Cold War. In the mold of all such conflicts, regional and global powers were involved in the crisis from the civil war’s beginning. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad sought support –– from Russia, Iran, and Lebanon –– to put down rebel forces. As the Islamic State (IS) violently took over a third of Syria and Iraq, America got involved by enlisting a coalition to defend Iraq from IS and push them back into Syria’s eastern territory.

Beyond this simple plan for containment, no clear strategy was established for America’s involvement, what a successful intervention would look like, or an open public discussion of dealing with Russian military involvement. Initially, it was hoped that reclaiming lost Iraqi ground would be the end of U.S. involvement.

President Obama argued IS would only be defeated by engaging them within Syria, placing American forces and weaponry in opposition to Russian, Iranian, and Lebanese forces. Until recently, the armed conflict has been complex and bloody, but outright war between opposing forces has been avoided. However, over the past week, there were worrisome instances of U.S. allied forces being threatened by the Syrian regime and its allies. Once the U.S. fired back, the Russian response significantly raised the specter of a much larger conflict, perhaps even global.

8 July 2017

Russia Deploys a Potent Weapon in Syria: The Profit Motive


MOSCOW — The Kremlin is bringing a new weapon to the fight against the Islamic State militant group in Syria, using market-based incentives tied to oil and mining rights to reward private security contractors who secure territory from the extremists, Russian news outlets have reported.

So far, two Russian companies are known to have received contracts under the new policy, according to the reports: Evro Polis, which is set to receive profits from oil and gas wells it seizes from the Islamic State using contract soldiers, and Stroytransgaz, which signed a phosphate-mining deal for a site that was under militant control at the time.

The agreements, made with the Syrian government, are seen as incentives for companies affiliated with Russian security contractors, who reportedly employ about 2,500 soldiers in the country, to push the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, out of territory near Palmyra, in central Syria.

Most Middle Eastern wars are suspected of having some variant of this deal, but it is seldom made as explicit as in the Russian contracts.

“It’s all very simple,” Ivan P. Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Trends Studies, said by telephone of the deals, struck in December but just recently reported. “If a company provides security, then the country getting that service should pay. It doesn’t matter how the payment is made.”

7 July 2017

Postscript to the proxy war

Mohamad Bazzi
On June 18, a U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian regime jet after it bombed American-backed rebels in northern Syria — the first time the U.S. has downed a Syrian warplane since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011. Two days later, the Pentagon announced it had shot down an Iranian-made drone in the country’s south-east, where American personnel have been training anti-Islamic State fighters, and where a complex geopolitical battle is unfolding.

Since President Donald Trump took office, the U.S. military has struck the Syrian regime or its allies at least five times. Even if the Pentagon may not want to directly engage Syrian forces, or their Russian and Iranian-backed allies, there’s a danger of accidental escalation, especially as various forces continue to converge on eastern and southern Syria to reclaim strategic territory from the Islamic State (IS).

Mr. Trump’s willingness to use military force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his chief supporters risks sparking a widening confrontation, while distracting from what Mr. Trump insists is his top priority: defeating the IS in both Iraq and Syria. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump campaigned on a pledge to avoid direct U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict. Today, he has become a major player in a regional proxy war that could determine West Asia’s dynamics for decades.