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Story 1: Leading From Behind and Strategic Patience — Obama’s Total Failed Foreign Policy Disaster — No Leadership, No Guts, No Strategy — Obama The Empty Suit — Putin Resets The Middle East — Trump Strategy For Syria, Islamic State and Islamic Republic of Iran — Videos
Russia hits ISIS from Caspian Sea
Four Russian cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea fell short of their Syrian targets and landed in a rural part of Iran, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The errant missiles were part of a volley of 26 long range cruise missiles that Russians fired from ships in the Caspian Sea a day earlier, according to officials who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss intelligence matters.
The Russians fired Kalibir cruise missiles, which had not yet been used in combat conditions. The flight path took the missiles over Iran and Iraq. One U.S. official said they had not been able to detect any casualties or damage from the strikes, suggesting they may have fallen harmlessly in a rural part of Iran.
The development comes amid growing concerns about Russian actions in the region. The Russians have launched airstrikes in Syria, saying they are attacking terrorists. Washington and its allies have accused Russia of trying to prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned Thursday that Russia will soon experience consequences as it ramps up its military campaign in Syria. “In the coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer from casualties,” he said.
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Jim Zirin-Will Obama’s Failed Foreign Policies Hurt the Democrats?-James M. Lindsay
Jim Lindsay focuses on the relationship between foreign policy and domestic political considerations at the Council on Foreign Relations. He considers the domestic political fall-out from Obama’s Iran deal and the failed policies in Syria, and shares with Jim Zirin that it is too early to tell whether these factors will affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
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Closer look at Russian fighter jets bombing ISIS (EXCLUSIVE)
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Donald Trump: ‘Let Russia fight ISIS’
Trump insists Russia will fight ISIS; ALSO says he will send back Syrian refugees Obama bringing in
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Published on Oct 1, 2012
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Syrian forces begin ground offensive backed by Russia air and sea power
By Andrew Roth and Erin Cunningham
Russia’s Caspian Sea fleet on Wednesday launched a complex cruise missile strike against Syrian rebels from nearly 1,000 miles away, a potent exhibition of Moscow’s firepower as it backs a government offensive in Syria’s multi-faction civil war.
The bombardment was the first naval salvo of Russia’s week-old military intervention in Syria, where it has already launched more than 100 airstrikes against the Islamic State and factions of Islamist and U.S.-backed rebel forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
The attack showcased Russia’s advanced military capabilities and closer coordination with the governments of Iran and Iraq, whose airspace the missiles traversed before striking targets in Syria held by the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.
Like Russia, Iran is a key backer of Assad. Iraq’s leadership has close ties with Iran but also depends on support from the United States and Western allies.
[Why Russia is in Syria]
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a nationally televised briefing that the ships launched 26 cruise missiles, destroying 11 targets and killing no civilians. He also said that Russian planes continued to carry out airstrikes Wednesday.
The naval strikes on Wednesday were the first known operational use of state-of-the-art SSN-30A Kalibr cruise missiles, which were still being tested by the Russian navy in August.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strikes spoke to the professionalism of Russia’s revamped army.
“We know how difficult it is to carry out this kind of anti-terrorist operation,” Putin told Shoigu. “Of course, it is early to draw conclusions. But what has been done so far deserves a highly positive assessment.”
The strikes came as Syrian troops backed by Russian air power launched their first major ground offensive since Moscow began its intervention in the conflict Sept. 30.
News reports and video of fighting uploaded to the Internet on Wednesday showed that the Syrian army was moving from the city of Hama toward Idlib, a stronghold held by a coalition of mostly Islamist rebels.
While the Kremlin’s stated aim in the conflict is to fight the Islamic State in Syria, the United States and its allies say Russia is concentrating its firepower against other rebel groups to prevent Assad from being overrun. One video on Wednesday appeared to show the Free Syrian Army, a moderate force backed by the West, firing antitank missiles at government troops advancing with Russian air support.
Ground level: On the scene of controversial Russian airstrikes in Syria
View Photos The actions, quickly criticized by Washington, add an unpredictable element to a multilayered war.
“Russia is targeting civilians and the Free Syrian Army brigades that are supported by America. They are not targeting the Islamic State as they claimed,” said Raed Fares, a Syrian activist in Idlib. “Russia is here to keep Assad in power, so they will strike what Assad strikes.”
In televised remarks on Wednesday, Putin encouraged the Free Syrian Army to join an alliance with Assad’s troops against the Islamic State. At the same time, he belittled the influence of moderate rebels on the conflict.
“True, we don’t currently know where it is and who is leading it,” Putin said of the Free Syrian Army.
[These are the cruise missiles Russia just sent into Syria]
Russian news reports Wednesday said Syrian forces launched a heavy artillery bombardment and were moving toward Idlib, but they added that it was not yet clear how far the Syrian troops had advanced.
The news reports also said Syrian troops used advanced rocket-launch systems similar to the ones that Western officials say Moscow shipped to Syria last week.
In a video posted to YouTube from the town of Kafranboudah, in the western part of the Hama countryside, a Syrian rebel commander said government forces began shelling his unit’s position on the front line early Wednesday. Kafranboudah is about 16 miles east of Latakia province, a Syrian regime stronghold. More than a dozen rebel groups formed a coalition to oust government forces from Hama in August.
Regime soldiers on Wednesday stormed the town from three sides with Russian air support, the rebel commander said, and the fighting has extended nearly 20 miles southeast to the town of Maan. He did not say whether his fighters suffered any losses but said Syrian rebels destroyed at least four regime tanks with antitank missiles.
The West, which has launched more than 7,000 airstrikes against the Islamic State in the past year, has bristled at Moscow’s military buildup in Syria. Russia has deployed surface-to-air missiles, fighter jets and radar-jamming equipment that officials say is meant to interfere with Western forces.
On Tuesday, U.S. and Russian officials tentatively agreed to resume talks on how to coordinate in the skies over Syria. Turkey, a NATO member that shares a border with Syria, has already accused Russia of violating its airspace.
In Rome, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter did not respond directly when asked by reporters about the Russian military’s apparent support for the Syrian government’s ground offensive.
But the Pentagon chief for the first time ruled out any cooperation with Moscow in the fight against the Islamic State, saying that Russia’s strategy was clearly just to support Assad and his government.
“We believe Russia has the wrong strategy. They continue to hit targets that are not ISIL. This is a fundamental mistake,” Carter said, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State.
In the past, the Obama administration has publicly held out hope — however faint — that Moscow might cooperate in the military campaign against the Islamic State.
In his most hard-line comments to date about Russia, Carter rejected the possibility of teaming up with the Russians in that regard. He said the Pentagon still wanted to talk with Moscow about finding ways to manage the crowded airspace above Syria and avoid any hostile or inadvertent encounters. “That’s it,” he said flatly.
There have been no reported close encounters or unsafe incidents involving U.S. and Russian warplanes so far in Syria, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
Russian aircraft have “come closer” to U.S. drones on at least one occasion, the official said, but it was not a dangerous incident.
“Certainly they are in similar battle space, so they see each other and they are aware of each other,” the official said of Russian and U.S. warplanes.
Pentagon officials have said the Russian intervention in Syria has not forced the U.S. military or its coalition partners to alter the rate or location of their surveillance missions and airstrikes against the Islamic State.
The two sides have jousted in recent days over the conditions for holding another round of talks. Washington wants to limit the discussion to technical factors about aviation safety, while Moscow has said it wants a broader conversation about possibly coordinating military operations — something the Pentagon steadfastly opposes.
The senior U.S. defense official said the Pentagon drafted a document last week for the Russians that lays out “basic rules of flight conduct,” such as what language and radio frequencies pilots would use in a hostile or inadvertent encounter.
The Russians have not responded to any of the particulars, the official said.
Russia fires cruise missiles from warships into Syria
Russian warships in the Caspian Sea fired cruise missiles Wednesday as Syrian government troops launched a ground offensive in central Syria in the first major combined air-and-ground assault since Moscow began its military campaign in the country last week.
The missiles flew nearly 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) over Iran and Iraq and struck Raqqa and Aleppo provinces in the north and Idlib province in the northwest, Russian officials said. The Islamic State group has strongholds in Raqqa and Aleppo, while the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front has a strong presence in Idlib.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Russia was continuing to strike targets other than Islamic State militants, adding that he was concerned about the Syrian ground offensive backed by Moscow’s airpower.
The latest developments came a week after Russia began airstrikes in Syria, its longtime ally, on Sept. 30, and added a new dimension to the complex war that has torn apart the Mideast country since 2011.
Activists and rebels say the targets have included Western-backed fighters and other groups opposed to President Bashar Assad.
A Syrian official and activists said government troops pushed into areas in the central province of Hama and south of Idlib in the boldest multipronged attack on rebel-held areas, benefiting from the Russian air cover. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Moscow has mainly targeted central and northwestern Syria, strategic regions that are the gateway to Assad’s strongholds in Damascus, and along the Mediterranean coast where Russia has a naval base.
The Russian airstrikes strikes appear to have emboldened Syrian troops to launch the ground push after a series of setbacks in northwestern Syria in recent months.
The Islamic State group is not present in the areas where the ground fighting is underway.
The offensive in central Syria and the ensuing clashes with militants, including the Nusra Front, was the first major ground fighting since the Russian campaign began.
Appearing on television with President Vladimir Putin, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 26 missile strikes were conducted from four warships in the Caspian. Shoigu insisted the operation destroyed all the targets and did not launch any strikes on civilian areas.
The launches marked the combat debut of the Russian Kalibr long-range cruise missiles, equivalent to U.S. Tomahawk missiles.
“The fact that we launched precision weapons from the Caspian Sea to the distance of about 1,500 kilometers and hit all the designated targets shows good work by military industrial plants and good skills of personnel,” Putin said.
Andrei Kartapolov of the Russian General Staff told Russian news agencies the strikes were planned so that the cruise missiles would fly “over unpopulated areas.” Shoigu also said Russia has carried out 112 airstrikes on IS positions since Sept. 30.
Iranian state TV, citing Russian media, reported that the Russian missiles flew through Iran’s airspace and hit targets in Syria.
“The Russian military operation in support of the Syrian army continued at new higher technological level,” said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, adding that the Syrian army began an offensive “with our fire support.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a government offensive began early Wednesday on four fronts in Idlib and neighboring Hama provinces in what the group’s director Rami Abdurrahman called “the most intense fighting in months.”
In Syria, the leader of a U.S.-backed rebel group Tajammu Alezzah confirmed the ground offensive in a text message to The Associated Press, saying Russian and Iranian soldiers were involved in the operation.
Russian officials deny sending any ground troops to the battlefield. Iran has been bolstering Assad by sending weapons and advisers, and helping arrange the deployment of Shiite fighters from Iraq and Hezbollah, as well as sending financial aid.
Last month, an intelligence sharing center was set up in Baghdad by Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria to coordinate efforts to combat the Islamic State group.
Maj. Jamil al-Saleh said the offensive, accompanied by air cover and shelling, came from three fronts, including Latamneh, north of Hama province where his Tajammu Alezzah group is based, and Kfar Zeita to the north. The offensive targeted rural areas of Hama and Idlib that are almost totally controlled by rebel groups, he said.
Activist Ahmad al-Ahmad, who is in Idlib, said government troops “heavily” shelled central areas after rebels attacked an army post and destroyed a tank. He said the advance covered an area of over 16 kilometers (10 miles), and was a coordinated, multipronged attack, the boldest in the area in months. The rebels repulsed government troops, al-Ahmad said.
The Observatory, which has a network of activists in Syria, said the main launching point for government forces was the town of Morek on a highway linking Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its former commercial hub. Rebels have controlled areas on the highway since 2012.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said rebels were able to destroy two tanks and an armored personnel carrier in northern Hama province near Idlib. Video on social media by rebel fighters showed government tanks burning, apparently after being hit by U.S.-made TOW missiles.
The Observatory said 37 Russian air raids hit on Wednesday alone.
Syrian state TV quoted an unidentified Syrian military official as saying Russian warplanes attacked IS positions in the towns of Al-Bab and Deir Hafer in Aleppo province.
Two low-flying helicopters were seen in Morek but escaped militant fire, the Observatory said. It was not immediately clear if the pilots were Russians or Syrians. Assad’s air force has Russian-made helicopters.
Although the Islamic State has no presence in the areas hit by airstrikes Wednesday, the Nusra Front is active in central and northern parts of the country — as are the Western-backed rebels. Russian officials have said the Nusra Front is among the groups it is targeting.
At a news conference in Rome, Carter said the U.S.-led coalition that also is conducting airstrikes in Syria has not agreed to cooperate with Russia in the fight against the Islamic State, and no collaboration is possible as long as Moscow continues to hit other targets.
He said the U.S. will conduct basic, technical talks with Russia about efforts to ensure that flights over Syria are conducted safely and, “That’s it.”
Washington is not prepared to cooperate with Russia’s strategy that is “tragically flawed,” he said.
“They continue to hit targets that are not ISIL,” Carter said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “We believe that is a fundamental mistake.”
Since September 2014, the coalition has been hitting Islamic State positions mostly in northern and eastern parts of Syria, as well as in Iraq. U.S. aircraft are still flying missions daily over Syria, the Pentagon said.
Russia’s entry into the crowded and sometimes uncoordinated air wars in Syria is making the U.S. increasingly nervous, reflecting concern at the Pentagon and in Europe about the risk of accidents or unintended conflict.
At least one U.S. military aircraft changed its route over Syria recently to avoid coming dangerously close to Russian warplanes, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. He could not provide details, including how many times this has happened.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu renewed criticism of Russia, insisting the airstrikes were mainly targeting the moderate Syrian opposition and thus helping strengthen IS. He urged Moscow to respect Turkey’s airspace, saying the country would not “make any concessions” on its border security.
Russian warplanes violated Turkey’s borders twice over the weekend, drawing strong protests from Turkey’s NATO allies. Turkey scrambled F-16s in response and also summoned the Russian ambassador to lodge protests.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said it had proposed a meeting between Turkish and Russian military officials in Ankara on avoiding Russian infringements of its airspace.
Russia’s Kalibr Cruise Missiles, a New Weapon in Syria Conflict
By mounting a missile strike on Syria from warships nearly 1,000 miles away on Wednesday, the Russian military demonstratedan important new capability. But the reports on Thursday that some of its missiles had fallen short and crashed in Iran suggested that Russiahas not yet entirely mastered it. Here is a look at the missiles.
Q. What kind of missiles were they?
A. Moscow has said they were Kalibr ship-launched cruise missiles, also known as 3M-14s or, in NATO parlance, SS-N-30s. They are a fairly recent addition to an established family of ship-launched missiles that are mostly intended for ship-to-ship or shorter-range missions. The new model, intended for land attacks, is reported to have a much longer range than its siblings, perhaps reaching 1,550 miles.
Q. What is a cruise missile?
A. Unlike a ballistic missile, which is fired on a fairly simple high-altitude arc like a cannonball, a cruise missile does most of its flying horizontally at low altitude, like an airplane or a drone. The missiles can trace a complex flight paths, and some, like the Kalibr, are believed to accelerate to supersonic speeds as they approach their targets, making them hard to detect and intercept. Depending on their guidance systems, cruise missiles can be highly accurate, compared with ballistic missiles. But they are single-use weapons and are relatively complicated and expensive to manufacture.
Q. How was the strike launched?
A. The Defense Ministry said the missiles were fired from four ships in the Caspian Sea and flew across Iran and northern Iraq to reach their targets. Russia has maintained a naval flotilla in the Caspian — which is landlocked from the rest of the world’s seas — for nearly 300 years. The flotilla currently has no aircraft carriers or other large capital ships, but it has frigates and Buyan-class missile corvettes, including two that were commissioned just last year, the Grad Sviyazhsk and the Veliky Ustyug. Those two ships reportedly fired cruise missiles at sea targets during a major naval exercise last month.
Q. Does the United States use similar weapons?
A. Yes, frequently. The best-known American cruise missile, the Tomahawk, has been used in both Persian Gulf wars and against targets in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Libya, Yemen and most recently Syria.
Pentagon: Some Russian cruise missiles crashed in Iran
By Thomas Gibbons-Neff
Several cruise missiles fired from Russian ships at targets in Syria Wednesday crashed in Iran, according to Pentagon officials.
Twenty-six cruise missiles, launched from the Caspian Sea, traveled more than 900 miles over Iran and Iraq before hitting targets throughout Syria, according to a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry.
However, according to a senior U.S. defense official who requested anonymity to discuss intelligence matters Thursday, a few of the missiles did not make it to their intended targets.
[Syrian forces begin ground offensive backed by Russia air and sea power]
Reports on Iranian TV indicated that an “unidentified flying object” had crashed and exploded in a village near near the Iranian city of Takab. A number of cows were killed in the ensuing blast.
While it is unclear what made the missiles crash, videos posted on social media showed them flying overhead at low altitude. While it is common for cruise missiles to fly low (to avoid radar detection), it can make traversing mountainous terrain perilous.
The Russian Defense Ministry in Wednesday’s statement however, said that the new Kalibr-NK cruise missiles all hit within nine feet of their intended targets. The strikes landed in Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo provinces, and Russian officials said they destroyed Islamic State positions, including training camps and ammunition depots.
The Kalibr cruise missile is a relatively new addition to Russia’s arsenal, and according to IHS Jane’s analyst Jeremy Binnie, Wednesday’s launch was the first time the missile’s 900-plus-mile range had been made public.
[Russia declares partial victory in bombing campaign in Syria]
While cruise missiles are traditionally used at the beginning of bombing campaigns to hit multiple high-value targets simultaneously while avoiding radar detection and maintaining the element of surprise, Russia’s strikes did none of those things. Instead, Binnie believes, everything that was targeted by the Russian cruise missiles could have easily been hit by other Russian assets within Syria (more than 50 aircraft) or possibly by Russian ships in the Mediterranean Sea.
“I think if you look at what cruise missiles are traditionally used for . . . this isn’t one of those scenarios,” Binnie said. “Russia has been striking the [Islamic State] for more than a week, and the U.S. has been for more than a year.”
Binnie went on to say that the cruise missile strikes were probably a show of Russian military force and technology, noting that the ships that fired the missiles — mostly small missile corvettes — were intended to demonstrate that even the small ships in the Russian navy are stronger than they look.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the smaller ships that participated in the strikes are approximately 230 feet long and their primary weapon is the Kalibr cruise missile. The flagship of the strike group, the Dagestan, is 320 feet long and displaces 2,000 tons.
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Iran troops to join Syria war, Russia bombs group trained by CIA
By By Laila Bassam and Andrew Osborn
Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, a further sign of the rapid internationalization of a civil war in which every major country in the region has a stake.
Russian warplanes, in a second day of strikes, bombed a camp run by rebels trained by the CIA, the group’s commander said, putting Moscow and Washington on opposing sides in a Middle East conflict for the first time since the Cold War.
The U.S. and Russian militaries were due to hold talks via video link to seek ways to keep their militaries apart as they wage parallel campaigns of air strikes in Syria, a U.S. defense official said.
Russian jets struck targets near the cities of Hama and Homs in western Syria on the second day of their air campaign.
Moscow said it had hit Islamic State positions, but the areas it struck are mostly held by a rival insurgent alliance, which unlike Islamic State is supported by U.S. allies including Arab states and Turkey.
Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group which is part of the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters one of the targets was his group’s base in Idlib province, struck by around 20 missiles in two separate raids. His fighters had been trained by the CIA in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, part of a program Washington says is aimed at supporting groups that oppose both Islamic State and Assad.
“Russia is challenging everyone and saying there is no alternative to Bashar,” Haj Ali said. He said the Russian jets had been identified by members of his group who once served as Syrian air force pilots.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said later that Moscow was targeting Islamic State and did not consider the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army a terrorist group, adding that they should be part of a political solution in Syria.
The aim is to help the Syrian armed forces “in their weak spots”, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Two Lebanese sources told Reuters hundreds of Iranian troops had reached Syria in the past 10 days with weapons to mount a major ground offensive. They would also be backed by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah allies and by Shi’ite militia fighters from Iraq, while the Russia would provide air support.
“The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers … we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more,” one of the sources said.
So far, direct Iranian military support for Assad has come mostly in the form of military advisers. Iran has also mobilized Shi’ite militia fighters, including Iraqis and some Afghans, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.
SAME ENEMIES, DIFFERENT FRIENDS
Russia’s decision to join the war with air strikes on behalf of Assad, as well as the increased military involvement of Iran, could mark a turning point in a conflict that has drawn in most of the world’s military powers.
With the United States leading an alliance waging its own air war against Islamic State, the Cold War superpower foes, Washington and Moscow, are now engaged in combat over the same country for the first time since World War Two.
They say they have the same enemies – the Islamic State group of Sunni Muslim militants who have proclaimed a caliphate across eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
But they also have very different friends, and sharply opposing views of how to resolve the 4-year-old Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes.
Washington and its allies oppose both Islamic State and Assad, believing he must leave power in any peace settlement.
Washington says a central part of its strategy is building “moderate” insurgents to fight against both Assad and Islamic State, although so far it has struggled to find many fighters to accept its training.
Moscow supports the Syrian president and believes his government should be the centerpiece of international efforts to fight extremist groups.
It appears to be using the common campaign against Islamic State as a pretext to strike against groups supported by Washington and its allies, as a way of defending a Damascus government with which Moscow has been allied since the Cold War.
The Russian strikes represent a bold move by President Vladimir Putin to assert influence beyond his own neighborhood: it is the first time Moscow has ordered its forces into combat outside the frontiers of the former Soviet Union since its disastrous Afghanistan campaign in the 1980s.
In the second day of strikes, Russia said it launched eight sorties with Sukhoi warplanes overnight, hitting an ammunition depot near Idlib, a three-storey Islamic State command center near Hama and a car bomb factory in the north of Homs. None of those areas has a large presence of Islamic State.
Al-Mayadeen, a pro-Damascus television channel based in Lebanon, said the jets carried out at least 30 strikes against an insurgent alliance known as the Army of Conquest. The alliance includes the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, but not Islamic State.
The station later said Russian forces had also struck Islamic State positions in Raqqa province in the east. This could not be immediately confirmed.
The Russian and Iranian intervention in support of Assad comes at a time when momentum in the conflict had swung against his government and seem aimed at reversing insurgent gains.
“The Russian strikes are a game changer. Damascus is off the hook,” a diplomat tracking Syria said.
The Army of Conquest in particular has been advancing against government forces in northwestern Syria, supported by regional countries that oppose both Assad and Islamic State.
Russia says its air strikes, unlike Washington’s, are legitimate because they have Assad’s blessing, and more effective because they can coordinate with government forces to find targets.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi of neighboring Iraq, where Washington is also leading an air war against Islamic State while Iran aids government forces on the ground, said he would be open to Russian strikes as well.
In Syria, insurgent-held Idlib province is of particular strategic importance to the government because it is close to Assad’s heartland on the Mediterranean coast, where Russia also has its only Mediterranean naval base.
A Syrian military source said on Thursday that Russian military support would bring a “big change” in the course of the conflict, particularly through advanced surveillance capabilities that could pinpoint insurgent targets.
Putin’s gamble of going to war in Syria comes a year after he defied the West to annex Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, drawing U.S. and EU economic sanctions while igniting a wave of popular nationalist support at home.
He appears to be betting that decisive action to aid Assad will improve Russia’s position at future talks on a political settlement, safeguard its control of the naval base and limit the influence of regional rivals like NATO member Turkey. It could also help his image at home as a strong leader willing to challenge global rivals, first and foremost the United States.
US, Russia hold military talks to avoid mishaps over Syria
The Pentagon held talks with Moscow officials Thursday to try to avoid mishaps between the two military powers, though it wasn’t clear how fruitful the effort was amid a second day of Russian bombing in Syria.
US military officials were furious Wednesday after Russia only gave them an hour’s vague “heads-up” it was about to begin bombing. The warning didn’t specify when or where the strikes would occur, only that coalition planes should avoid the area.
With a US-led coalition carrying out near-daily plane and drone strikes in Syria, the new reality of Russia flying sorties in the same air space has left the Pentagon worried about planes crossing paths and sparking a major international incident.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Defense Department officials spoke with Russian counterparts for about an hour via video in what he said was a “cordial and professional” exchange.
He gave few details but said officials discussed which international frequencies could be used if a pilot was in distress and what language aircrews should communicate with each other in.
“We made crystal clear that at a minimum the priority here should be the safe operation of the aircrews over Syria,” Cook said. No follow-up calls had been scheduled yet, he added.
The United States has repeatedly stressed the urgent need for Russia to communicate with it about when and where it plans to fly its fighter jets and bombers. In military jargon, such discussions are known as “deconfliction.”
Russia on Wednesday launched its first air strikes in Syria, marking its explosive arrival in the 4.5-year-old conflict that has claimed some 250,000 lives.
Strikes continued Thursday with Russian warplanes hitting opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Russians currently have at least 32 warplanes deployed in Syria, US officials say.
Putin’s Jets in Syria Are a Threat to the U.S.
Putin just deployed an array of jets and missiles to the Middle East. But they’re not the kind of weapons he’d need to fight ISIS. They’re built for countering another major power.
On September 30, Russian lawmakers unanimously approved President Vladimir Putin’s plan to begin combat operations in Syria—and hours later Moscow’s warplanes in the region began attacking what the Russians said were ISIS militants.Right before the bombs rained down, a Russian general arrived in Baghdad warned the U.S. military planners to keep America’s own warplanes out of the way. U.S. officials said they would not alter their flight plans.This is the beginning of a dangerous new phase of the international intervention in the Syrian civil war. Not only has Russia tried to order U.S. forces to step aside, it actually has the firepower to back up its demands. Some of the 35 warplanes Russia has deployed to Syria are specifically designed for fighting foes like the United States, not ISIS.Seemingly out of nowhere on September 21, they appeared at an air base in Latakia, a regime stronghold in western Syria—28 of the Russian air force’s best warplanes, including four Su-30 fighters and a number of Su-25 attack planes and Su-24 bombers.Soon six more Su-34 bombers and at least one Il-20 spy plane followed, part of a contingent of Russia forces reportedly including some 500 troops plus armored vehicles and SA-15 and SA-22 surface-to-air missiles.For U.S. and allied officials observing the deployment, there has been plenty of cause for confusion…and alarm. It’s not just that, more than four years into Syria’s bloody civil war, Russia has decided to jump in and make things more complicated.No, it’s what kinds of weapons—planes and missiles, especially—Moscow decided to send, and what those weapons say about the Kremlin’s ultimate plan in Syria. Many of them don’t seem to bewell-suited to fighting ISIS. They’re built to battle adversaries like the United States.To be clear, 35 warplanes and a few surface-to-air missiles aren’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. There’s no shortage of military aircraft flying over Syria five years into the country’s bloody civil war.Every day some of Syria’s aging Soviet-made planes—from the 300 or so that have survived four years of combat—take off from regime airfields to bomb ISIS militants and secular rebels slowly advancing on Syria’s main population centers.Meanwhile hundreds of jets from the American-led international coalition have been waging, since the fall of 2014, an intensive air campaign against ISIS and al Qaeda targeting just the militants.What’s weird and alarming about the Russian contingent is that it’s not really optimal for attacking lightly armed insurgent fighters. Surface-to-air missiles areonly good for destroying enemy aircraft, which Syrian rebels do not possess. And the Su-30s are best suited for tangling with other high-tech forces.Who in region possesses these high-tech forces? The United States, for one. Israel, too. Why, the United States, of course. Russia’s warplanes and missiles in Syria could pose a threat to America’s own aircraft flying over the country—all in order to carve out and preserve a portion of Syria that the United States can’t touch.Officially, Russia has deployed its forces to Syria to reinforce embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and help defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
“There is no other way to settle the Syrian conflict other than by strengthening the existing legitimate government agencies, support them in their fight against terrorism,” President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with American news networks ahead of his September 28 meeting with President Obama at the United Nations in New York City.
“There are more than 2,000 militants in Syria from the former Soviet Union,” Putin said. “Instead of waiting for them to return home we should help President al-Assad fight them there, in Syria.”
Sure enough, Su-25s, Su-24s, and Su-34s are capable ground-attack planes, roughly equivalent to U.S. Air Force A-10 attack jets and F-15E fighter-bombers.
But that’s only a portion of the Russian air arsenal. The problem is, the Su-30s are next to useless for fighting ISIS. The Sukhoi fighters are primarily air-to-air fighters—and some of the best in the world. Besides Russia, China also flies versions of the twin-engine, supersonic Su-30 and has even begun outfitting them with new air-to-air missiles that U.S. Air Force Gen. Herbert Carlisle has repeatedly described as one of his biggest worries.
In a series of aerial war games in the last decade, India’s own Su-30s have tangled with—and reportedly defeated—American and British fighters in mock combat, sparking minor controversies in both countries as their respective air forcesscrambled to explain why the Russian-made planes weren’t necessarily superior to U.S. F-15s and British Typhoon jets.
It’s obvious why Russia, China, and India, among other countries, would deploy Su-30s to counter heavily armed enemies possessing high-tech fighters of their own. But that doesn’t explain the Russian Su-30s in Syria. “I have not seen [ISIS] flying any airplanes that require sophisticated air-to-air capabilities,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the military head of NATO, told an audience in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 28.
Moreover, Breedlove said Russia didn’t need to deploy the SA-15 and SA-22 surface-to-air missiles to Syria if its mission is to help Assad beat ISIS. “I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require SA-15s or SA-22s,” he said, using one of several acronyms for the militant group.
Breedlove said he suspects Russia is trying to set up what the military calls a “anti-access, area-denial,” or A2AD, zone in western Syria. Moscow has recently established these zones in the Baltic region and in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. “We are a little worried about another A2AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean,” Breedlove said.
The point of these zones is to give Russia exclusive access to strategic regions, Breedlove claimed. In the case of western Syria, an A2AD zone helps to ensure that Moscow can send forces into the eastern Mediterranean, which NATO has dominated since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Russian access to the Mediterranean via Syria requires that Assad’s regime survives, however. In that sense, Moscow’s strategic aims dovetail with the Syrian regime’s goals. Thus the Su-25s, Su-24s, and Su-34s very well could end up joining Damascus’s air war on the rebels and militants. The Su-30s, however, will probably be guarding against a very different enemy.
Of course, high-end warplanes can be repurposed to fight lower-tech foes—the U.S. has done just that, in its decade and a half bombing Afghanistan and Iraq. And many militaries deploy air-to-air fighters merely as precautions. A small contingent of U.S. Air Force F-22 stealth fighters, which can carry bombs but are best at aerial fights, plays a leading role in the coalition air campaign targeting ISIS.
The F-22s act as “quarterbacks,” according to Carlisle, using their sophisticated sensors to spot targets for other planes and also protecting those planes against Syrian fighters and missiles. To date, the Syrian regime has not attempted to interfere with the U.S.-led bombing runs, but the F-22s keep flying.
But neither has the coalition tried to interfere with the Syrian air force’s attacks on opposition fighters—yet. U.S. Army Special Forces have been training, at great expense, a small number of Syria rebels the Pentagon had hoped could form the core of a reinvigorated, secular rebel force that can knock back ISIS.
The problem is, many rebel trainees in the American program have made it clearthey prefer to fight the regime first. Many have dropped out of the program in the face of Washington’s demands, compelling the Pentagon to remove them from the training effort. U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Congress, using the administration’s preferred acronym for ISIS, that he wants recruits “to have the right mindset and ideology, not be aligned with groups like ISIL…[and] to fight ISIL.”
“It turns out to be very hard to identify people who meet both of those criteria,” Carter added.
Worse, once the recruits complete their training and go to fight ISIS, the U.S. military will have “some obligations” to protect them, Carter said. If U.S.-trained rebels turn their weapons against the Syrian regime and Russian warplanes bomb them, would that compel American F-22s to attack the Russians—and then force the Russian Su-30s to intervene?
It’s not hard to see how Russia’s support of Assad could run afoul of America’s support for secular Syrian rebels—and how Moscow’s effort to establish an aerial foothold in Syria could draw U.S. and Russian jet fighters into battle with each other.
Don’t pretend for a moment that that terrifying notion hasn’t crossed the minds of generals and politicians in both Moscow and Washington.
Russia has sent over 50 military aircraft to Syria: ministry
Russia has sent more than 50 military aircraft as well as marines, paratroopers and special forces into Syria, where it has launched air strikes against Islamic State militants, the defence ministry said on Thursday.
“More than 50 warplanes and helicopters are part of the Russian airforce striking Islamic State targets in Syria,” defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told the Interfax news agency.
Russia on Wednesday waded into the multi-front conflict, launching air strikes against what Moscow said were IS militants battling its Soviet-era ally Syria.
In the run-up to the strikes, Russia had expanded its naval facility in the port city of Tartus and established a military base in Latakia, the stronghold of the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Konashenkov said marines, paratroopers and special force units would be mobilised to protect Russia’s military assets.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a broad UN-backed coalition to fight IS jihadists as he addressed the UN General Assembly for the first time in a decade.
Moscow has been pushing for a broader coalition to fight the Islamic State group to include allies of the Assad regime, an idea that the West has rejected.
Putin’s proposal is seen as a direct challenge to US President Barack Obama who has vowed to crush IS and called on countries to join the United States in its campaign.
Moscow has ruled out joining the US-led coalition.
“Theoretically, it would look nice (to join the US-led coalition) from a political point of view, but I think that we have difficulty understanding the principles on which the coalition is acting,” foreign ministry official Ilya Rogachyov said.
“On the basis that the coalition currently exists, we are unlikely to join,” he told the state news agency RIA Novosti.
Russia has appointed Lieutenant General Sergei Kuralenko to represent Russia at the Baghdad-based intelligence task force Moscow is setting up with Iran, Iraq and Syria, a defence ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
Here’s how the Russian Air Force moved 28 aircraft to Syria (almost) undetected
- David Cenciotti, The AviationistSatellite imagery released in the last couple of days has exposed the presence of 28 Russian aircraft at al-Assad airfield, near Latakia, in western Syria.The photographs taken from space gave us the possibility to identify the combat planes as 4x Su-30SMs, 12x Su-25s (based on their color scheme, these are Su-25SMs belonging to the 368th Assault Aviation Regiment from Budyonnovsk) and 12 Su-24M2s along with about a dozen helicopters, including 10 Mi-24PN, Mi-35M and a couple of Mi-8AMTSh choppers, from the 387th Army Aviation Air Base Budyonnovsk.One of our sources with IMINT Imagery Intel experience, who has had access to the imagery in the public domain, noticed something interesting on one of the Su-30SM: the first on the left (the one closer to the runway threshold) should be equipped with a KNIRTI SPS-171 / L005S Sorbtsiya-S mid/high band defensive jammer (ECM) at the wing tips. To be honest this is almost impossible to verify unless more high-resolution images become available.
Whilst satellite shots provided much details about the deployed assets, they obviously didn’t help answer the basic question: how did they manage to reach Syria undetected?
According to one source close who wishes to remain anonymous, the Russian combat planes have probably deployed to Latakia trailing the cargo planes that were tracked flying to Syria and back on Flightradar24.com, something that other analysts have also suggested.
There is someone who believes that during their ferry flight, some if not all the formation (each made of a cargo plane and four accompanying fast jets), may have made a stopover in Iran before flying the last leg to Latakia. This would also explain why some Il-76s (with an endurance that would allow a non-stop fly from Russia to Latakia) were observed stopping at Hamadan on Sept. 18-19, just before the Sukhois started appearing on the tarmac at Latakia.
Also interesting is the activity of several Israeli aircraft, including a G550 “Nachshon Aitam,” a sort of mini-AWACS equipped with 2 L-band antennas, on both sides of the fuselage, and 2 S-band antennas, on the nose and tail of the aircraft.
The G550, a so-called CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) asset, flew a mission over the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Lebanon on Sept. 20 (and could be tracked online on Flightradar24.com…). Just a coincidence?
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