Archive for the ‘Russia – Syrian war’ category

US pilots will defend themselves as Russia threatens aircraft over Syria, Pentagon says

June 19, 2017

US pilots will defend themselves as Russia threatens aircraft over Syria, Pentagon says, Washington ExaminerJamie McIntyre, June 19, 2017

U.S. pilots over Syria will defend themselves if attacked by Russians, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday, following a report that Russia will treat U.S. or coalition aircraft as targets if they fly over areas in western Syria controlled by Russia.

The Russian Defense Ministry made the threat Monday after a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 after that plane bombed U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that are working with the U.S. to defeat the Islamic State on Sunday.

“Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets,” the Defense Ministry said.

“We are aware of the Russian statements,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday morning. “We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened,” Davis said.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said the Russian statement has had no effect on the operations in support of U.S.-backed Syrian fighters moving against ISIS in Raqqa in western Syria.

“Coalition aircraft continue to conduct operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for coalition partner forces on the ground,” said Col. Ryan Dillon, chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.

He also appeared to indicate the U.S. is avoiding the parts of Syria where Russia said U.S. planes would be tracked as potential targets or providing additional airpower to counter threats.

“As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrews given known threats in the battlespace,” Dillon said.

The statement was meant as a warning, said Viktor Ozerov, a member of the Russian parliament, described the Defense Ministry’s statement as a warning.

“I’m sure that because of this neither the U.S. nor anyone else will take any actions to threaten our aircraft,” he said, according to state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. “That’s why there’s no threat of direct confrontation between Russia and American aircraft.”

Russia, beyond making the threat to treat U.S. or coalition aircraft as targets, also said its “deconfliction” line with the U.S. has been shut down. The line was established so U.S. and Russian forces could avoid bombing each other as they fight ISIS.

Both Davis and Dillon insisted the hotline remains the best way to avoid future shoot-downs.

“The coalition is always available to de-conflict with the Russians to ensure the safety of coalition aircrews and operations,” Davis said. “The de-confliction line has proven effective at mitigating strategic miscalculations and de-escalating tense situations.”

Said Dillon: “We used the de-confliction line yesterday and remain open to using it. It has proven its worth in the past to tap down tensions.”

How an Iranian general duped US command in Syria

June 10, 2017

How an Iranian general duped US command in Syria, DEBKAfile, June 10, 2017

Our sources cannot confirm for certain what part the Russians played in Iran’s underhand maneuver. Were they in on it, or were they hoodwinked by Soleimani like the Americans? However, the bottom line of this incident is that Syria’s neighbors, Israel and Jordan, face a new and distinctly troublesome downturn in the strategic situation on their borders. The next arena of potential US-Iranian confrontation is building up in Syria’s oil-rich Deir ez-Zor region.

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The Iranian-made Syrian drone downed by US F-15 fighters in southeastern Syria on June 8 was presented by American media as a “pro-regime” drone. It was in fact, as DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Shahed-129, which was fired as a part of a complicated ruse to dupe the US commanders while pro-Iranian forces surreptiously moved in on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

The Americans had drawn a line in the Syrian Desert sand 55 km outside the Al-Tanf border crossing embedded in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle, which is under the control of US, Western and Jordanian special forces, together with a US-trained Syrian rebel group. The Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US military command in Syria and Iraq were confident that by securing this perimeter, their forces would keep the pro-Iranian advance at bay and the border safe.

When the hostile drone flew past this line, it was shot down. But the Americans were reluctant to let the incident escalate into a major clash, while the Iranians were smarting under the Islamic State attack on Tehran’s national sites. And so they played it down. The next day, therefore, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis reported that “hostilities between the coalition and the pro-regime forces had been avoided thanks to Russian influence. He went on to say: “The calm we see today is largely due to their efforts.”

What brought the Russians onstage?

The sequence of events which unfolded over 48 hours in the Syrian Desert is revealed her by our military sources. The drone was fired as a deliberate provocation to cross the 55-km line enclosing the US-controlled border garrison, on the orders of the Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani. It was intended as a diversion from the real action.

The Russians entered the picture at this stage with an attempt to cool the situation and restore calm. While they were busy assuring the Americans that the Syrian army, Hizballah and its other pro-Iranian allies would refrain from crossing the 55-km line, Qassem moved a large-scale force up to a point just a few hundred meters from the American line.

By Friday, June 9, as Russian de-escalation diplomacy with the Americans wound down, Soleimani’s forces were found to have quietly reached new positions on both sides of the border.

1. He had moved those forces to a point 56km north of Al-Tanf to a rendezvous with pro-Iranian Shiite militias which had come from southern Iraq. That rendezvous breached the Iraqi-Syrian border and attained Iran’s strategic goal of opening up a land bridge between Iraq and Syria.

2. A second pro-Iranian force captured and cut off the roads from northern Syria to the southeastern town of Deir ez-Zor, thereby segregating US and pro-American forces in the north from the American garrison in the south.

Our sources cannot confirm for certain what part the Russians played in Iran’s underhand maneuver. Were they in on it, or were they hoodwinked by Soleimani like the Americans? However, the bottom line of this incident is that Syria’s neighbors, Israel and Jordan, face a new and distinctly troublesome downturn in the strategic situation on their borders. The next arena of potential US-Iranian confrontation is building up in Syria’s oil-rich Deir ez-Zor region.

One missile takes out ISIS command on Golan edge

June 8, 2017

One missile takes out ISIS command on Golan edge, DEBKAfile, June 8, 2017

DEBKAfile’s military sources report concerns in the US military commend lest Iranian general Qassem Soleimani decides to drop a division of Iranian special forces by helicopter, in order to catch the garrison off guard and capture the border crossing.

This concern increased after the Islamic State conducted a surprise bombing-cum-shooting attack on prize Iranian regime targets in Tehran on June 7. The Revolutionary Guards are bent on revenge and looking for an outstanding military success to cover this humiliation.

The US commanders are also under pressure on another score: the Iranians and Syrians have sent secret messages to Moscow complaining bitterly about the US air strike. They both made it clear that they command sufficient air and artillery fire power to overwhelm and wipe the ground with the American force in Syria.  Both Damascus and Tehran appear to be spoiling for a major showdown between their armies, using Hizballah and other Shiite proxies, and the US-led contingent.

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A single mystery missile, which could have been fired from the ground or the air early Wednesday morning, June 7, wiped out the entire top Islamic State command on the Syrian Golan, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report. All 16 officers of the 2,000-strong Khaled Ibn al Waleed army, the ISIS operations arm on the Syrian Golan, were present in the targeted building in the town of al-Shagara, located in the triangle where the Israeli, Syrian and Jordanian borders meet opposite the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

The unidentified missile blew up in the middle of a hall where the top command echelon were gathered to break their daily fast during the month of Ramadan and draw up plans. None of them survived.

Among them were the group’s chief, Gen. Abu Mohammed al-Makdessi; commander of operations, Gen. Abu Udai al-Homsi; and the group’s explosives expert who doubled as its religious leader, Abu Ali Shabat.

They operated under these aliases to conceal their real identities as former high Iraqi army officers who served in the late Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. They were also in senior command positions at the ISIS Syrian command center in Raqqa, when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided to transfer them to the Syrian Golan to spearhead attacks that were planned to take place inside Israel and Jordan.

It took Al-Baghdad just a few hours to replace Magdessi as Khaled Ibn al-Waleed chief with a new man, Mohamed al-Refaei-Abu Hshem al-Askari.

On Tuesday, June 6, the day before the mysterious missile decapitated the Islamic State’s Golan force, US warplanes acted on another front to bomb a convoy of Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces that were traveling eastward from the southern town of Derra in the direction of the Al-Tanf border crossing.

Al Tanf, where US and Jordanian special forces units have established a garrison, is located in the triangle where the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi borders converge. The US planes destroyed several tanks, troop carriers, artillery pieces and antiaircraft systems, causing also fatalities and injuries, and so halted the convoy’s advance on the strategic crossing.

This was the second US air strike in three weeks on a similar target. The first was on May 18.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report concerns in the US military commend lest Iranian general Qassem Soleimani decides to drop a division of Iranian special forces by helicopter, in order to catch the garrison off guard and capture the border crossing.

This concern increased after the Islamic State conducted a surprise bombing-cum-shooting attack on prize Iranian regime targets in Tehran on June 7. The Revolutionary Guards are bent on revenge and looking for an outstanding military success to cover this humiliation.

The US commanders are also under pressure on another score: the Iranians and Syrians have sent secret messages to Moscow complaining bitterly about the US air strike. They both made it clear that they command sufficient air and artillery fire power to overwhelm and wipe the ground with the American force in Syria.  Both Damascus and Tehran appear to be spoiling for a major showdown between their armies, using Hizballah and other Shiite proxies, and the US-led contingent.

Powerful pro-Iran Badr Brigades to enter Syria

May 31, 2017

Powerful pro-Iran Badr Brigades to enter Syria, DEBKAfile, May 31, 2017

Their entry into Syria could raise the total of pro-Iranian Shiite forces fighting in Syria to 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

For Israel, Hizballah’s hostile penetration of Syrian borders abutting its territory is child’s play compared with a major military force capable of transforming Syria into a huge staging area for Iranian aggression against the Jewish state.

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Hadi al-Amiri, commander of the strongest Iraqi Shiite militia, the Badr Brigades, said Wednesday, May 31, that his forces are preparing to enter Syria. The advanced capabilities of this powerful Iranian-led militia, would tilt the Syrian war strongly in Iran’s favor, with alarming ramifications for the US, Israel and Jordan.

Al-Amri, in making this announcement, cited Iran’s new slogan: “Iraq’s security will be maintained only if Syria’s security is preserved.” In other words, the Syrian conflict would end only when pro-Iranian Shiite militias, including Hizballah, control Syria like they control Iraq.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the Badr Brigades’ path into Syria was secured this week when an Iraqi Shiite conglomerate breached the Iraqi-Syrian border in the north, on the orders of Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. This opened Iran’s coveted overland corridor through Iraq to Syria.

The combat capabilities of the Badr Brigades, estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 strong, are impressive. One of the most professional and well-trained military forces in Iraq, its recruits receive instruction at special camps operated by Revolutionary Guard Corps on Iranian soil. The militia consists of special forces, tank, mechanized infantry, artillery and antiaircraft units. The high quality of their munitions may be seen in the photo at the top of the story.

Their entry into Syria could raise the total of pro-Iranian Shiite forces fighting in Syria to 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

Intelligence sources expect the Badr Brigades to first head south towards the Deir ez-Zor area to link up with the Syrian Arab Army and Hizballah forces, which are threatening the US special forces and allied hold on a key crossing that commands the triangle where the Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi borders meet.

They would need to cover 230km from Palmyra to Deir ez-Zor, the while fighting small, scattered ISIS concentrations. Wednesday, May 31, Russia came down on the side of Tehran, with a cruise missile strike on ISIS targets around Palmyra. They were fired from the missile frigate Admiral Essen and the submarine Krasnodar for the purpose of softening jihadi resistance to the Badr Brigades’ southward advance.

The consequences of this massive pro-Iranian intervention in the Syrian war are dire for the US, Israel and Jordan. For Washington, it lays the ground for Tehran’s domination of Syria – in the face of President Donald Trump’s solemn vows to prevent this happening.

For Israel, Hizballah’s hostile penetration of Syrian borders abutting its territory is child’s play compared with a major military force capable of transforming Syria into a huge staging area for Iranian aggression against the Jewish state.

Jordan’s foreboding comes from its judgment that pro-Iranian Shiite militias sitting on its borders are a greater threat even that ISIS.

Read more about this pivotal development in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly. If you are not yet a subscriber, click here to sign on.

Russian siege on Raqqa, distant from US troops

May 27, 2017

Russian siege on Raqqa, distant from US troops, DEBKAfile, May 27, 2017

DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose that Putin has ordered the Russian commanders in Syria to impose an aerial and special forces ground siege on the northern town of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital. This move was designed to match the American initiative on the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border, without a military clash.

Why Raqqa? Firstly, it is in the north, far from the American positions. Second, Russian intelligence had apparently discovered a deal between the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF – and ISIS which allowed the jihadists safe passage out of their stronghold towards the south.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin acted to strengthen the military alliance he had set up with Iran and Turkey for working together in Syria – as a counterweight to President Donald Trump’s spectacular success in forging a Sunni Arab bloc during his four days in the Middle East.

It was a tough call. Putin’s allies demanded action to prevent a Syrian rebel force, backed by US, Western and Jordanian special forces, from taking control of the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Russian leader had to find a way to satisfy them without getting into a clash of arms with American troops.

On Saturday, May 27, as Trump flew home from his nine-day trip, Putin turned the dilemma over with his two allies, President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the newly-elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.

Three days earlier, the Russian president was put on the spot by Iran’s National Security Adviser Ali Shamkhani, who arrived in Moscow Wednesday, May 24. He slapped down a demand from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for an answer as to how the Russian leader proposed to put a stop to the takeover by American special forces and their allies of the eastern province of Deir ez-Zour and the Al-Tanf crossing at the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle. (See attached map)

Shamkhani warned Putin that without fast action, the Americans would block the routes from Baghdad to Damascus against the passage of Iranian and Russian forces.

The Russian leader took a couple of days to come up with a stratagem, which he revealed to Erdogan during their conversation on Saturday.

DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose that Putin has ordered the Russian commanders in Syria to impose an aerial and special forces ground siege on the northern town of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital. This move was designed to match the American initiative on the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border, without a military clash.

Why Raqqa? Firstly, it is in the north, far from the American positions. Second, Russian intelligence had apparently discovered a deal between the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF – and ISIS which allowed the jihadists safe passage out of their stronghold towards the south.

The Russian siege on Raqqa was therefore a move against the US-backed SDF and the Kurds, without getting entangled in a direct showdown with the US forces in the South: Putin had installed a Russian-backed foothold in northern Syria to counter the US-led front in the south.

Immediately after the Putin-Erdogan phone call, a Russian military source in Moscow released this story: “Russian intelligence drones have set up a perimeter around the city ([Raqqa] to monitor possible terrorist escape routes, with combat aircraft and special forces units engaged in preventing militants’ escape.” The report went on to warn that any attempts by ISIS fighters to leave the town “will be squashed.”

Putin’s maneuver in Syria was designed to achieve three goals:

1. To counterbalance the America-led takeover of the Syrian-Iraqi border in the south, the Russians would assert control of the northern section of that same border.

2.  To showcase the Russian army as the great champions fighting the Islamic State terrorists, compared with the American troops and their allies who had turned aside from this mission, although President Trump had made it the centerpiece of his nine-day trip.

Putin was careful not to name his objective as the conquest of Raqqa, but only a siege operation.

3. To hit US allies, such as the Syrian Kurds in the north, without tangling with the Americans in combat.

Iraqi officers land in Syria, stir Israeli concern

May 17, 2017

Iraqi officers land in Syria, stir Israeli concern, DEBKAfile, May 17, 2017

Israel was deeply disquieted to discover that Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi had secretly pivoted his support away from the US-Jordanian campaign for control over the borders of Iraq and Syria, and switched instead to alignment with Moscow and Tehran.

Israeli policy-makers are worried that President Donald Trump will be constrained by the daily barrage of personal attacks descending on from fully focusing on the forces building up dangerously against US military plans in Syria.

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Israeli security chiefs were gravely concerned Wednesday, May 17, when they learned that a high-ranking Iraqi military delegation had arrived in Damascus, the first in decades during which the Iraqi and Syrian ruling regimes were at odds, for a discussion on the situation unfolding on the Syrian-Iraqi border – in particular the Al-Tanf crossing.

DEBKAfile’s military sources reported on May 15 and May 16 on the potential for a clash of arms over this strategic crossing, which is situated at the intersection of the Jordanian, Iraq, and Syrian borders and commands the No.1 Route linking Baghdad with Damascus and the Jordanian capital of Amman.

Wednesday saw a flurry of military activity in the area by US, British and Jordanian special forces, on the one hand, and Syrian, Hizballah and other pro-Iranian forces, on the other. A race appeared to be quietly developing over who would reach the border first and seize control of the Al-Tanf crossing.

On this very subject, the Iraqi military delegation held separate talks in Damascus with senior officers of the Russian command in Syria and senior Iranian officers posted at Syrian General Staff headquarters. Concurrently, the Russian military command announced that Russia, Iran and Iraq were holding consultations on how to secure the border regions between Syria and Iraq.

Our forces add that the three groups of officers got down to brass talks, in fact, on ways to fit Iraqi army units into the Syrian-Iranian effort for guaranteeing full control by Damascus and Tehran of the sensitive border regions.

Israel was deeply disquieted to discover that Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi had secretly pivoted his support away from the US-Jordanian campaign for control over the borders of Iraq and Syria, and switched instead to alignment with Moscow and Tehran.

Israeli policy-makers are worried that President Donald Trump will be constrained by the daily barrage of personal attacks descending on from fully focusing on the forces building up dangerously against US military plans in Syria.

US, UK, Jordanian forces enter S. Syria

May 15, 2017

US, UK, Jordanian forces enter S. Syria, DEBKAfile, May 15, 2017

DEBKAfile’s military sources explain that Damascus and Tehran acted to pre-empt the US-Jordanian-Israeli military operations along the Israeli and Jordanian borders with Syria, lest they lead to the carving out of US-controlled security zones in southern Syria.

Iran continued to pour additional troops into Damascus through the Baghdad-Damascus highway, on the one hand, while, on the other, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi offered Washington two of his army’s divisions, which would be sent into Syria to support US military operations in the southeast.

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US special forces, together with British and Jordanian elite troops, moved into southern Syria late Sunday, May 14. They were acting to counter the Syrian-Iranian scheme to nullify the American plan for posting Jordanian forces in southeastern Syria, which timed for the days before US President Donald Trump’s trip to the Middle East.

The US-led armored force with British and Jordanian units crossed from northern Jordan through the Tanf Border-Crossing between the Hashemite Kingdom, Iraq and Syria, and took up positions capable of consolidating their control of the main road between Palmyra and Baghdad. Some of their moves were coordinated with Israel.
(See map).

This push aimed at countering the drive in the last few days by hundreds of Syrian troops, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Hizballah’s Radwan special forces, with tanks and heavy equipment, to take over the town of Sabaa Biyar. Located in sparsely desert territory, this town lies 110km west of the Syrian-Iraqi border, 95km north of the Syrian-Jordanian border and 128km east of Damascus.

Its high strategic importance for Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah lies in its command of the border between Syria, Iraq and Jordan and of Highway No. 1 which links the Jordanian capital of Amman with Baghdad.

DEBKAfile’s military sources explain that Damascus and Tehran acted to pre-empt the US-Jordanian-Israeli military operations along the Israeli and Jordanian borders with Syria, lest they lead to the carving out of US-controlled security zones in southern Syria.

Our military sources add that Moscow too eyes the new US-led military movements with mistrust, in view of its potential impact on the Russian plan for four ceasefire zones in Syria, in cooperation with Iranian and Turkish forces. The Russians are accordingly feeding Tehran and Damascus intelligence on the US-led movements.

On Sunday, too, the Israeli Defense Forces launched a large-scale military exercise in the Galilee and Golan regions close to its borders with Syria and Lebanon. The war game may well run over its final date in order to keep a substantial military force poised on along Israel’s northern borders, in case of attempts to disrupt the Trump visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel from May 22 to May 24.

Other military movements in the region this week were taken by the Iraqi army and Iraqi Shiite militias under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers. Iran continued to pour additional troops into Damascus through the Baghdad-Damascus highway, on the one hand, while, on the other, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi offered Washington two of his army’s divisions, which would be sent into Syria to support US military operations in the southeast.

For the time being, the Trump administration’s plans for an offensive against the Islamic State appear to have been put on a back burner.