Posted tagged ‘Syria war’

Assad and Putin are testing the US in Syria. Trump is answering.

June 19, 2017

Assad and Putin are testing the US in Syria. Trump is answering., Washington ExaminerTom Rogan, June 19, 2017

(Please see also, Missile strike on ISIS turning Iran into a world power. — DM)

The United States remains the world’s sole superpower. Realistic in our appraisal of national interests and prudent in their pursuit, our adversaries must never doubt our resolve.

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On Sunday, an F-18 fighter jet (almost certainly from the Mediterranean-deployed USS George H.W. Bush carrier strike group), downed a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter jet.

It was the right decision for both tactical and strategic reasons.

For a start, the Syrian jet was bombing United States allies (the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces) on the ground. It was warned, but did not retreat.

Yet it’s not just relevant who the Syrians were bombing, it’s also important where they were doing so. Because the Su-22 was striking targets in north-central Syria, proximate to the Islamic State capital, Raqqa, and a town and dam, Taqba.

That locale matters for two reasons.

First, because the Syrian axis (Bashar Assad, Russia, Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and other associated Shiite militias) are determined to displace U.S./allied forces from that area. The Assad axis recognizes that if it secures Taqba, it can push east of the Euphrates river and degrade anti-regime forces operating there with U.S. protection. As I’ve explained, this area of northern Syria is crucial for the future of the Syrian civil war.

Second, had the U.S. allowed axis forces to displace Kurdish forces from the area, the axis would have been able to disrupt the operation to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State. While the axis argue that they support the U.S.-led effort to defeat the Islamic State, the reality is different.

After all, the axis have vested interests in allowing the Islamic State to survive in some form. While the Islamic State is indeed their enemy, its existence allows the axis to pretend that the choice in Syria is between Assad, and the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Russia, especially, uses this narrative to delegitimate and attack more-moderate U.S.-supported Syrian rebel groups. Ever notice that the Russians always claim they are bombing “terrorists” in Syria? The Islamic State gives them that excuse.

Absent the threat of the Islamic State, the axis powers know that the world would view the Syrian regime much more harshly. Absent international jihadist groups in Syria, the regime would no longer be able to claim “we’re the best of a bad bunch.”

Still, there’s a broader issue at stake here.

This latest axis push against U.S. interests is just the tip of the iceberg. As I noted recently, the axis is also threatening a major U.S. base in south-eastern Syria. Collectively, these efforts are designed to test the Trump administration’s commitment to U.S. interests in Syria. Put simply, by escalating their threat against the U.S., and by dangling the prospect of future U.S. casualties, the Assad axis wishes for the Trump administration to back away from its resistance to Assad’s regime. They believe that, as was the case with President Barack Obama’s red lines, the U.S. can ultimately be compelled to yield.

For that reason, the U.S. response on Sunday was the right one.

A two-person U.S. aircrew in an advanced multirole fighter met a Soviet-era aircraft and outmatched it.

The United States remains the world’s sole superpower. Realistic in our appraisal of national interests and prudent in their pursuit, our adversaries must never doubt our resolve.

Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead

June 12, 2017

Syrian-Hizballah massacre in Daraa: 140 dead, DEBKAfile, June 12, 2017

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, any Syrian rebels surviving the initial onslaught on the town had no choice but to fall back. They could only find sanctuary in two places – Jordan, to the south, or the Al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi border crossing to the east, which is held by US and Jordanian special forces. Those forces did not intervene in the Daraa debacle.

After capturing Daraa, the next victim of a Syrian-Hizballah massacre is most probably Quneitra, which lies less than 9km from the Israeli border. Its capture would bring every last Syrian town bordering Jordan and Israel under their domination.

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Bashar Assad’s troops and his allies, the Iran-backed Lebanese Hizballah, are notorious for their barbaric cruelty to the populations they conquer. But even by their own appalling standards, the massacre they wreaked against the 100,000 citizens of the southern Syrian town of Daraa this week must stand out as a milestone from hell.

Posted in the town, just one kilometer from the Jordanian border, were 3,000 anti-Assad rebels, some of whom joined the Free Syrian Army to be trained and armed by the United States and Jordan. The offensive the Syrian government army and Hizballah launched against their positions on Sunday, June 11, left 140 dead and hundreds injured in its first hours.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that it started with dozens of Syrian air force helicopters dropping 150 explosive barrels on those positions, while Syrian bomber-fighter planes conducted at least 25 sorties against rebel rooftop positions atop the highest buildings, and Syrian artillery fired off some 120 ground-to-ground missiles against various key points in the town of Daraa.

Syrian and Hizballah forces advanced into the town under this hellish blitz.

Our sources report that the spearhead consisted entirely of Hizballah’s Al Qaim Brigade, followed by units of the Syrian army’s elite 4th armored Division, armed with advanced Russian-made T-90 tanks. The commander of the offensive was Col. Ghayath Galla.

(On June 6, DEBKAfile disclosed in an exclusive report that the 4th Division’s commander, Bashar Assad’s younger brother, Gen. Maher Assad, and his officers were sighted inspecting the terrain around Daraa in advance of the offensive.)

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, any Syrian rebels surviving the initial onslaught on the town had no choice but to fall back. They could only find sanctuary in two places – Jordan, to the south, or the Al-Tanf Syrian-Iraqi border crossing to the east, which is held by US and Jordanian special forces. Those forces did not intervene in the Daraa debacle.

After capturing Daraa, the next victim of a Syrian-Hizballah massacre is most probably Quneitra, which lies less than 9km from the Israeli border. Its capture would bring every last Syrian town bordering Jordan and Israel under their domination.

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.

New US base in S. Syria for tussle over control

June 6, 2017

New US base in S. Syria for tussle over control, DEBKAfile, June 6, 2017

The ingathering of major military forces in this part of Syria is ominous: The deployment of a US forward base in the Syrian Desert, and the arrival of the most senior Iranian and Syrian commanders at the head of elite units augur the approach of a major showdown for control of southeastern Syria and its strategic multiple border assets.

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In readiness for a prospective showdown for control of southeast Syria, US Special Forces have set up a forward base at Al-Zukf in the Syrian Desert, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report. The location is 70km northwest of the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle and the Al Tanf crossing, which is controlled by US, Western allied and Jordanian special forces, together with a US-trained Syrian rebel unit, which calls itself the Revolutionary Commando.

(See the map at the top of this article.)

American sources say the Al Zukf base was set up for two objectives: One is to block the path of the Syrian army-Hizballah armored column, which has been advancing for the past fortnight from Al-Suweida in southeastern Syria toward the Al-Tanf crossing.

The other US objective is to capture the key town of Abu Kamal, a distance of 200km northwest of Al-Tanf, from Islamic State control.

However, the overriding goal of the US advance base is to thwart the Syrian, Hizballah and other pro-Iranian forces from gaining control of 300km of the Syrian-Iraqi border and so being able to open up Tehran’s coveted direct land bridge to the Mediterranean through Iraq.

The US force is not alone in its bid for control of this strategic area. It is getting pretty crowded.

The Syria Army’s 4th armored division rolled this week into the southern Syrian town of Daraa close to the Jordanian border and around 330km west of the new Al-Zukf base. The division moved in with high-grade Russian-made T-90 tanks complete with its high command, headed by Bashar Assad’s younger brother, Gen. Maher al-Assad. The general and staff officers were sighted carrying out inspections of Daraa’s terrain in advance of the resumption of hostilities. Parts of this potential battlefield are no more than 1,000 meters from the Jordanian border.

Our intelligence sources also reported that, this week, further north, al-Qods chief, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts, crossed into Syria from Iraq along with his operations staff. They joined the Palmyra-based command and control of the Syrian force, which is heading out of the town in two columns for two towns – Deir ez-Zor, which is surrounded by Islamic State forces, and Abu Kamal, which is under ISIS control. Elements of Russian elite forces and Hizballah are fighting along with the Syrian troops.

The ingathering of major military forces in this part of Syria is ominous: The deployment of a US forward base in the Syrian Desert, and the arrival of the most senior Iranian and Syrian commanders at the head of elite units augur the approach of a major showdown for control of southeastern Syria and its strategic multiple border assets.

After years of empty U.S. promises, Trump arms Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria

May 31, 2017

After years of empty U.S. promises, Trump arms Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria, Hot Air, Andrew Malcolm, May 31, 2017

Now, Kurdish and Arab troops in Syria, working with U.S. Special Forces, will have their own armored cars, heavy machine guns, bulldozers, antitank weapons and mortars because as one Pentagon spokesman put it, the Kurds are the “only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

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About time.

Finally, after years of dangerous dawdling the United States has actually begun arming Kurdish soldiers fighting ISIS in Syria.

Weapons supplies had been stockpiled nearby in anticipation of President Trump’s go-ahead, which came Monday. The armament distributions, which the commander-in-chief approved despite fierce opposition from NATO ally Turkey, will enable the tough Kurdish fighters to participate more aggressively in the imminent assault on the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa.

The Obama administration talked of arming the Kurds, who also led the anti-ISIS fighting in northern Iraq, but wilted in the face of resistance from the Baghdad central government and Turkey. More than $200 million in armaments were earmarked for the Kurds and left behind in the Iraqi capital when Obama withdrew all U.S. troops in 2011. But somehow they never reached the Kurds, who were often left fighting ISIS forces that had better U.S. equipment captured from fleeing Iraqi troops.

Now, Kurdish and Arab troops in Syria, working with U.S. Special Forces, will have their own armored cars, heavy machine guns, bulldozers, antitank weapons and mortars because as one Pentagon spokesman put it, the Kurds are the “only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”

The arming decision comes as Secy. of Defense James Mattis has ordered changes in strategy against ISIS. Mattis describes the change as moving from an “attrition strategy,” which allowed ISIS fighters to escape current battles, to an “annihilation strategy,” which involves encirclement and total destruction. Mattis has also given battlefield commanders increased leeway in decision-making, which under Obama often involved seeking time-consuming approval all the way back to the White House.

Unhappy Turkish officials were informed of Trump’s decision Monday. They regard the Kurdistan Workers Party, P.K.K., as separatist terrorists within Turkey’s borders. Indeed, the U.S. and European allies also list the PKK as a terrorist outfit. However, the U.S. recognizes the separate People’s Protection Units of the Y.P.G. as an ally with the most experienced fighters. Bottom line: The more fighting the valiant Kurds do, the less potential involvement of U.S. forces.

Turkey made its position clear last month by bombing Kurdish units fighting in Syria with the U.S., dashing hopes that President Recep Erdogan would modify his position since he’s consolidated power.

To mollify Turkish concerns, Pentagon officials said the new arms will be doled out only according to the needs of the upcoming assignments. And they said every weapon would be accounted for afterward.

Uh-huh, right.

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.