Posted tagged ‘Syrian military’

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks

July 3, 2017

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks, DEBKAfile, July 3, 2017

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

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The Syrian army Monday July 3 suddenly declared a ceasefire in the fierce fighting with rebel forces in the southern districts on the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

This was just one of three unexpected events occurring in this embattled part of Syria in the last 24 hours:

1. The ceasefire Damascus said would be in force up until Wednesday, July 6 covers all the active battlefronts in the South: Daraa just 1 km from the Jordanian border: Quneitra – from which Syrian military mortars flew across into the Golan all last week; and Suwaydeh which lies east of Daraa.

Oddly enough, the ceasefire was not announced until Monday afternoon, although it went into effect Sunday midnight without notice.  According to our sources, the Russians most likely had to twist President Bashar Assad’s arm to overcome his refusal to order his army to stop fighting. And then too he would only accept a four-day pause before resuming combat.

2.  The announcement coincided with a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats in the Kazakh capital of Astana to discuss the carving out of four de-escalation zones in Syria, one of which is southern Syria, where the ceasefire went into force.

3. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that this step is the first visible sign of an initial understanding reached by American and Russian officers in secret talks Saturday, July 1, in Amman. They discussed the ceasefire in the South for paving the way for establishing a demilitarized zone in eastern Syria.

According to our sources, their understanding covered a 128km strip running from Tabqa in the north up to Karama in the Euphrates River valley. It is not yet clear whether the Syrian army and the pro-Iranian Iraqi and Hizballah forces fighting there will agree to halt their advance on the Syrian-Iraqi border, in compliance with the Russian-US understanding.

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

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.

“Syrian 5th Corps” is new Shiite foreign legion

December 4, 2016

“Syrian 5th Corps” is new Shiite foreign legion, DEBKAfile, December 4, 2016

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The new Shiite foreign legion or international brigade presents a major headache for Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. It provides a cover for Iran and Hizballah to sneak troops right up to their borders. Whenever this happened in the past, Israel and Jordan pushed back hard. But this will be more difficult once the Fifth Corps is set up as an integral part of the Syrian army.

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Syria and its allies came closer than ever to taking Aleppo on Friday, Dec. 2, when they captured the Tariq al-Bab district to gain control of 60 percent of the rebel-held eastern part of the city.

Drawing on the lessons of this success, the winning forces have begun building a military outfit modeled on the format of the victorious coalition. It is designated the “Fifth Corps” of the Syrian army, but DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources can identity the new unit as the framework for an international Shiite brigade or foreign legion.

It is the brainchild of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iranian Mid East operations, who is in Iraq at present, supervising the Shiite militias on the Mosul front. However, his officers are overseeing its construction of the new military legion. It is composed of the remnants of the Syrian army’s First and Second Corps, which took a bad beating in the five years of conflict, the Hizballah expeditionary force in Syria and the Shiite militias which Tehran imported from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight for Bashar Assad.

The new framework aims to field 50,000 to 70,000 fighting men.

Its command structure is already taking shape in a form that is new for the Syrian army and indeed any other fighting force in the region. Syrian, Hizballah and foreign Shiite officers will make up this command, but not direct their own forces, only mixed units composed of Iranian, Syrian, Shiite and Hizballah servicemen.

It will be the first Shiite army or foreign legion ever seen in the Middle East.

An oblique reference to the novel force came from a Hizballah source this week who said: “The Fifth Corps is an important turning-point for the ties between allied forces within the same axis – Syria, Iran, Russia and Hizballah.”

Russia? DEBKAfile’s sources have heard no hint of the Russians joining the new Shiite legion. But Hizballah has been spreading reports in the past fortnight about its deepening ties with Russian officers, mainly on the Aleppo front, and their supposed appreciation of the Lebanese Shiites’ fighting prowess.

The Syrian high command has meanwhile moved forward on the new scheme with a decision this week to send the entire next class of military recruits to the new Fifth Corps.

The new Shiite foreign legion or international brigade presents a major headache for Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. It provides a cover for Iran and Hizballah to sneak troops right up to their borders. Whenever this happened in the past, Israel and Jordan pushed back hard. But this will be more difficult once the Fifth Corps is set up as an integral part of the Syrian army.

Western and Arab observers following the Syrian war believe that, as soon as they finish off the rebels in Aleppo, the new foreign legion’s forces will turn south to repeat the exercise there with Russian support.

The Russian bombardment of rebel concentrations outside the southern towns of Jasim and Daraa Sunday, Nov. 27, was seen a message from Moscow to Jerusalem and Amman that southern Syria is now in line for the next battle.

Iranians and Walid suicide units on Golan border

July 8, 2016

Iranians & Walid suicide units on Golan border, DEBKAfile, July 8, 2016

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A flurry of false Hizballah claims amid rising military tension this week was designed to cover up a direct Israeli hit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards HQ in South Syria, DEBKAfile military and intelligence sources disclose.

Whereas Hizballah reported on July 5 that Israeli helicopters had attacked Syrian army positions near the Golan town of Quneitra, in fact, one of the two Israeli “Tamuz” IDF rockets fired on July 4, in response to stray cross-border Syrian army mortar shells, struck the Syrian Ministry of Finance building near Quneitra, which housed Iranian Guards and Hizballah regional headquarters. An unknown number of Iranian officers were killed as a result.

On July 6, Hizballah sources reported a high level of tension at its east Lebanese outposts in Hasbaya, al-Qarqoub and Mount Hermon, indicating possible preparations to retaliate for the Iranian casualties.

The mortar shells that occasionally stray into Israel are aimed by the Syrian forces in Quneitra at Syrian rebel engineering units, which are digging an anti-tank trench on the town’s southern edge to prevent Syrian tanks from mounting an all-out assault against them (See attached map).

These skirmishes are put in the shade by the dangerous gains by Islamist terrorists in southern Syria.

Both ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front have overrun the entire Syrian strip bordering on Israel and Jordan – a distance of 106km from Daraa up to the Druze villages of Mount Hermon.

The Islamists have seized control of this strategic borderland by taking advantage of the fighting between Syrian army and Syrian rebel forces in southern Syria.

Israel and Jordan were also remiss. The IDF and the Jordanian Army were so busy trying to prevent the Syrian army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah from encroaching on their northern defense lines in northern Jordan and the Golan that they failed to notice the Islamic terrorists creeping up on their borders.

The terrorist presence which Israel finds most alarming is that of the “Khaled Bin Al-Walid Army” – a militia linked to both ISIS and al-Qaeda, which now controls a 36km band bordering on central and southern Golan from south Quneitra to the Jordan-Israel-Syria tri-border area – opposite Hamat Gader and Shaar HaGolan (See map).

The Khaled Bin Al-Walid Army was spawned by a union between the Islamist Liwa Shouada Yarmouk and Mouthana Islamic Movement militias. Its commander is Abu Abdullah al-Madani,  a Palestinian from Damascus, who is one of al-Qaeda’s veteran fighters. Close to Osama Bin-Laden, he fought with hhimagainst the Americans when they invaded Afghanistan 15 years ago. Ten years ago, he moved to Iraq, still fighting Americans, now alongside the al-Qaeda commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

When al-Qaeda was defeated in Iraq, al-Madani moved to Syria.

DEBKAfile counter terror sources report that this veteran of Islamist terrorism, who is believed to be in touch wit Bin Laden’s successor Ayman al Zawahri, is active in three areas:

1. He is purchasing and stockpiling chemical weapons – a high priced commodity frequently traded among various Syrian rebel organizations.

2. Abu Abdullah al-Madani is recruiting from his militia suicide units for which he is personally training for operations inside Israel. DEBKAfile sources say that his plan is being taken very seriously by Israel security chiefs.

3. He is maintaining operational ties with Al Nusra commanders in the border region, possibly seeking access to the Israeli border through their turf for his chemical weapons and suicide units.

ISIS routs new US-backed Syrian force at Abu Kemal

July 1, 2016

ISIS routs new US-backed Syrian force at Abu Kemal, DEBKAfile, July 1, 2016

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A battle on June 29 between ISIS and a pro-American Syrian rebel force near the Syria-Iraq border will go down as one of the most striking defeats ever suffered by an American-backed Syrian force trained in Jordan in the annals of the war on terror.

It was not the first, say DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources. In August 2015, a force from Al Qaeda’s affiliate Nusra Front destroyed a similar rebel force called Division 30. And 12 hours earlier, on June 28, ISIS suicide bombers murdered 44 people in a bloodbath at Ataturk international airport in Istanbul.

The following timeline of events is instructive:

1. In March and April of this year, military instructors from the CIA, together with Jordanian intelligence officers and special operations units, established a new militia to fight ISIS called the New Syria Army. Most of the recruits were from Syrian refugee camps. The US furnished the militia with funds and advanced weapons.

2. They were trained by US and Jordanian military instructors at Jordan’s al-Rukban base in the Berm area on the Syrian border.

3. In May, American commanders in Jordan decided that the militia would launch its first mission in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq.

4. In June, it became clear to the Americans and the Jordanians that the time had come for the new force to go into action.

There were five reasons:

A. After the capture of the Iraqi city of Fallujah from ISIS, the pro-Iranian Shiite militias that participated in the campaign, namely the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Badar Forces, had started moving west toward the Iraq-Syria border (see map).

B. Syrian army and Hizballah forces had embarked on a parallel eastward movement from the vicinity of Deir ez-Zor toward the Iraqi border (see map). Their goal was to link up with the Iraqi Shiite militias on the Syrian-Iraqi border and create a land bridge for the use of all pro-Iranian forces in the two countries.

C. Washington and Amman regarded this development as dangerous and resolved to preempt it.

D. To that end, the New Syria Army was to be sent into action to take the town of Abu Kamal near the border.

E. The commanders assumed that the loss of Abu Kamal would deal a blow to ISIS forces in eastern Syria and plant a pro-American wedge against the linkup of the two pro-Iranian forces and so foil their projected land bridge athwart Iraq and Syria. .

5. On June 21, an ISIS suicide bomber driving a stolen Jordanian military truck blew himself up in the area of Jordan’s al-Rukban base on the Syrian border, in an attempt to avert the coming Abu Kemal attack by inflicting heavy losses on the new militia.  Most of those killed were Jordanian border guards.

6. After the attack, US and Jordanian helicopters airlifted the new militia combatants to a forward base set up at al-Tanf inside Iraq, 230 kilometers from Abu Kamal. They were attacked twice by Russian air strikes in an effort to thwart the pro-US militia’s return to Syria.

7. On June 29, the new Syrian force nonetheless launched its attack, under the direction of Jordanian special operations and military intelligence officers, and the supervision of American elite forces officers at the US-Jordanian war room north of Amman.

8. However, the new Syrian militia was speedily ambushed by ISIS, which apparently was tipped off about the impending attack and its routes of approach. Dozens of Syrian militiamen were killed or wounded, and the force fled from the battlefield. Those unable to flee were shot dead or decapitated.

9. The Jordanian officers who commanded the force were among those who fled.

10. ISIS videos of the battle showed that advanced US military equipment provided the militiamen had fallen into the terrorist organization’s hands, recalling the sights from Iraq of two years ago, when ISIS captured as booty masses of American military hardware from fleeing troops.

The US and Jordan once again failed to establish a Syrian force capable of fighting ISIS. They also lost the chance to gain control of the situation in eastern and southern Syria.

No official in Washington was ready to comment on the battle.

US, Russia aim to ‘decapitate’ Syrian military

May 7, 2016

US, Russia aim to ‘decapitate’ Syrian military, DEBKAfile, May 7, 2016

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The US, Russia and the Syrian rebels started discussions this weekend over the composition of a list of Syrian generals who will be dishonorably discharged over war crimes they committed during the country’s civil war, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources say in an exclusive report.

The generals will not face trial at an international tribunal over their war crimes. They will be able to leave Syria along with their families and their possessions, just like President Bashar Assad and his clan.

Our sources add that atop the list are the commanders of the Syrian air force who carried out the majority of the Assad regime’s attacks on the rebels over the past five years, including the atrocities of the past few days.

The sources say that the Americans and the Russians intend to “decapitate” the command but leave the military’s structure in its current form while integrating rebel fighters and commanders into its units. The rebel commanders are to receive ranks equivalent to their current ones in the new Syrian army.

DEBKAfile’s exclusive report on Wednesday, May 4, that Russia is ready to discuss the terms for Assad’s ouster surprised and stunned the political and military hierarchy in Tehran. In urgent consultations held the same day, it was decided to dispatch Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, to Moscow without delay in order to determine whether the report was accurate.

The senior Iranian diplomat arrived in the Russian capital the following day and met with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, the chief strategist of Russia’s Middle East policy.

Immediately after the meeting, Amir-Abdollahian said Iran will continue supporting Assad and the Syrian people in fighting terrorism, and make efforts to achieve success at intra-Syrian talks, namely the negotiations in Geneva between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition. The Iranian diplomat did not say a single word about Assad’s future.

However, Moscow was one step ahead of Tehran. Shortly before Amir-Abdollahian deplaned in the Russian capital, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a bombshell statement, saying “Assad is not our ally, by the way. Yes, we support him in the fight against terrorism and in preserving the Syrian state. But he is not an ally like Turkey is the ally of the United States.”

Our sources said it was a put-down for both Washington and Ankara, whose relationship has deteriorated recently.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Assad has not failed to notice the latest developments, and he continues to use Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces to attack the rebels in the parts of Aleppo that they control. This comes despite the announcement on Saturday, May 7, by Moscow and the Russian military in Syria that the ceasefire in the northwestern city had been extended by 72 hours.

Assad is keeping the Syrian army in reserve to defend his region against the US-Russian plan to depose him.