Syria

‘Adversaries’ jamming Air Force gunships in Syria, Special Ops general says

The head of the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command said Wednesday that Air Force gunships, needed to provide close air support for American commandos and U.S.-backed rebel fighters in Syria, were being “jammed” by “adversaries.” Calling the electronic warfare environment in Syria “the most aggressive” on earth, Army Gen. Tony Thomas told an intelligence conference in Tampa that adversaries “are testing us every day, knocking our communications down, disabling our AC-130s, etc.” Thomas’ remarks, which were first reported by the website The Drive, come on the heels of reports that Russian forces are jamming U.S. surveillance drones flying over the war-torn nation. An Air Force AC-130 gunship was among the U.S. military aircraft used to kill dozens of Russian mercenaries in Syria in early February. The Pentagon said the mercenaries attacked an outpost manned by American commandos and U.S.-backed fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), comprising Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters. Wednesday was not the first time General Thomas has been so forthcoming about Syria in a public setting. Last summer, speaking on a panel at the Aspen Security Forum hosted by Fox News’ Catherine Herridge, Thomas said he had told Kurdish-led fighters battling the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria that they needed to change their “brand” from YPG — a group Turkey considers a terrorist organization — to something else. Thomas called it “a stroke of brilliance” for the Kurdish fighters to add “democracy” to their name. Today, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is the U.S. military’s best ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria, helping to take back 90 percent of territory formerly held by ISIS. It consists of well over 50,000 Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters. There are currently about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

‘They beat our a–es’: Russian mercenaries talk about humiliating defeat by US in reportedly leaked audio

Leaked audio recordings said to be of Russian mercenaries in Syria capture expressions of lament and humiliation over a battle in early February involving US forces and Russian nationals. Published by Polygraph.info — a fact-checking website produced by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, news organizations that receive funding from the US government — the audio recordings paint a picture of Russian mercenaries essentially sent to die in an ill-conceived advance on a US-held position in Syria. Polygraph says the audio recordings are from a source close to the Kremlin. The Pentagon has described the attack as “unprovoked” and started by forces loyal to the Syrian government that crossed over the Euphrates River, which functions as a border between US-backed troops and Russian-backed ones. The Pentagon says that about 500 troops began to fire on the position and that the US responded with air power and artillery strikes. The audio from Polygraph seems to confirm that while giving some insight into the feelings of the defeated forces. Also apparent in the audio is displeasure with how Russia has responded to the situation. Initially, Russia denied that its citizens took part in the clash. Later, a representative said five may have died. Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the fight left “several dozen wounded” and that some had died. The audio recordings, in which voices can be heard saying 200 people died “right away,” appear to back up reports from Reuters, Bloomberg, and the Pentagon that roughly 100 — if not more— Russians died in the fight. Reuters has cited sources as saying the advance’s purpose was to test the US’s response. Russia is thought to use military contractors in Syria rather than its military — experts speculate it’s to maintain deniability for acts of war and conceal the true cost of fighting from the Russian people. The Washington Post reported last week that US intelligence reports with intercepted communications showed that a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin told a senior Syrian official he “secured permission” from the Kremlin before the advance on the US forces. The accounts in the audio also align with reports of how the battle went down, depicting an unprepared column of troops meeting an overwhelming air response before helicopter gunships strafed the remaining ones.

That’s a pretty standard response for something like this.  Clearly the Russians were totally unprepared..  To see a profanity-laced transcript of their reaction to what happened, click on the text above.

U.N.: N.Korea supplying Syria chemical weapons program

A North Korean mining firm, reputed to be a front for Pyongyang’s weapons development programs, attempted to ship materiel to Syrian officials tied to the country’s chemical weapons program, according to a confidential United Nations assessment of international sanctions against the North. Details of the U.N. findings, first reported by Reuters, found officials from Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation {KOMID) had sent a pair of shipments of unknown contents to members of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre or SSRC. The Syrian government organization has been responsible for developing chemical and biological weapons for the regime in Damascus since the 1970’s. The shipments never arrived in Syria after being intercepted by international authorities from U.N. partner nations, Reuters reports. “Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria. Another member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria,” the U.N. review states. KOMID has repeatedly trafficked in materials associated with ballistic missile development and other conventional arms programs, and was blacklisted by the U.N. security council as a result of those activities, Reuters reports. As a result, the U.N. “is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and [North Korea],” the report states. North Korea and Syria had reportedly been cooperating on efforts to repair and maintain Syria’s arsenal of short-range Scud missiles and the country’s air defense systems. Two American destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles attacked the al Shayrat airbase in western Syria in April. The strike was in retaliation for a Syrian chemical attack against anti-government fighters in Idlib province that left over 70 dead, including 11 children. Damascus had been ordered to dismantle its chemical stockpiles as part of Russian-brokered 2013 peace pact between Syria and the U.S.

U.S. Airstrikes Hit Syrian Military Vehicles for Violating ‘De-Confliction Zone’

American airstrikes targeted a group of Syrian militia vehicles after they ignored U.S. warnings and violated a “de-confliction zone” on Thursday. CNN reports that the strike occurred near a base American forces use to train allied Syrian opposition fighters. A convoy of twenty vehicles approached the town of An Tanf on Wednesday night, evidently searching for opposition fighters and raising concerns among the U.S. coalition. A total of thirteen vehicles penetrated the de-confliction zone, but the U.S. did not take action until five of them came with 29 kilometers of the base. When five Syrian military vehicles persisted in approaching the base, the U.S. conducted a “show of force” with two warplanes to persuade them to halt. When the Syrians insisted on proceeding into the area, the U.S. planes were cleared to fire. Although one of CNN’s sources said it remained unknown whether the American planes only fired warning shots, a second U.S. defense official said an airstrike “did hit the convoy after the vehicles continued toward the base.” According to ABC News, U.S. officials said several of the Syrian vehicles were destroyed in the strike. Voice of America News reports the decision to launch the airstrike was made by a commander on the ground, and does not reflect a broader change in U.S. policy. According to these sources, militia forces loyal to the regime of Bashar Assad crewed the vehicles, not regular Syrian army troops. Military Times quotes officials describing the targeted militia as “pro-regime” but “not directly associated with the Syrian government.” The Associated Press quotes officials who said the targeted vehicles included “a tank and a bulldozer,” which pro-regime militia were apparently using to set up fighting positions inside the protected area. Ominously, the Syrian regime has its own base fairly close to the one American forces are using to train opposition fighters, and the Syrian base is said to be ready to support “about a battalion’s worth of troops.”

Russia to US in Syria: If we kill you, it’s your fault

Russian President Vladimir Putin has longed to have the US coordinate efforts with Russia in Syria to provide legitimacy to the Russian expeditionary force in the Syrian theater. Recently news leaked that Russian combat aircraft purposefully bombed a secret US base on the Jordanian-Syrian border. US and British troops were active from time to time at the facility and a group of British troops had just left. Four American-backed rebels were killed in the attack. Since the base was not in the normal attack area of the Russian and Syrian forces, the Pentagon confirmed the attack seemed deliberate. The Kremlin was obviously sending the Americans a message, cooperate with Russia in Syria or else. Secretary Kerry and President Obama immediately backed down and gave Russia what they wanted, a formal cooperative announcement in the Syrian theater against the Islamic State. Now the plot thickens as Russia denies the event and even suggests it could target US and US-backed forces again. Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov, an official representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense, made their position clear: if Russian bombers did accidentally hit U.S. troops in Syria, Russia would place all blame for the casualties on the Pentagon, TASS Information Agency reported on July 23. “The fact that anti-ISIS coalitions, deployed in Syria, find themselves under threat from Russia’s air force—the responsibility for this rests exclusively with their military leadership. For our part, we constantly—and through all available channels—call on our partners to provide information on the locations of the units of ‘moderate opposition.’” he said. According to Konashenkov, the Russian military discussed the situation with their American counterparts. “Even after the [first] airstrikes in June, on the training camp for the rebel fighters in At Tanf,” he explained, “our American colleagues were saying [to us], ‘Don’t hit there—where you just hit,’” reports Observer Politics. The Kremlin obviously thinks it can dictate facts on the ground in the Middle East against the feckless Obama administration which has simply decided to kick the can to the next American president. We will see if this scenario holds up under a Trump administration.

Indeed..

Iran touts Israel invasion to recruit teenage boys to fight in Syria

Iran has begun to ask its teenage boys to volunteer to fight in Syria in a sign the hard-line Islamic regime’s military is suffering rising casualties in the five-year war and needs a morale boost, an opposition group says. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) released a translated video it says was produced by the Tehran’s Bassij Music House and was shown over several days on state-run television this month. The selling pitch to youngsters: You will be defending sacred Shiite shrines in Syria and will position yourselves to invade Israel, whose destruction is an Iranian regime priority. The four-minute clip shows a group of boys in a courtyard, with three of them singing to another boy they are trying to recruit as he watches from a window. The singers are dressed in camouflage and combat boots. On camera, they tie on a cloth headband to complete the warrior look. “This promotional clip first of all manifests the anti-human nature of the regime which seeks to even mobilize the children of its own loyalists as cannon fodder,” said Shahin Gobadi, an NCRI official based in Paris. “We monitor the Iranian regime’s state media thoroughly. Our people noticed this on the state media, and then our people were able to download it from one of the regime’s websites.” Iran is already sending unconventional fighters to Syria to protect its ally, President Bashar Assad. The BBC reported this month that the regime has rounded up, or recruited, thousands of ethnic Afghans and sent them to Syria. Some quit the battlefield and ended up in refugee streams to Europe. “The men, who are mainly ethnic Hazaras, are recruited from impoverished and vulnerable migrant communities in Iran, and sent to join a multi-national Shia Muslim militia — in effect a ‘Foreign Legion’ — that Iran has mobilized to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” the BBC said. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the dominant military force in Iran, has made major commitments to fight wars in Syria and Iraq. The NCRI said the Guard Corps has taken heavy casualties in battling a range of rebel groups, including the al Qaeda-connected Nusra Front and the Islamic State terror army. At least one prominent Guard general was killed in Syria during the battle for the city of Aleppo. Tehran contends its troops are only advising the Syrians. The NCRI opposition group says there are 8,000 Iranians in Syria fighting on the government’s side. Outside experts have put the number much lower, at about 2,000. On Thursday, Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, was turned once again into a major battleground in the civil war. Airstrikes and artillery killed more than 60 people in the past 24 hours, including dozens at a hospital in a rebel-held neighborhood, Aid agencies warn that Aleppo is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster with the collapse of a two-month cease-fire and stalled peace talks. The intensified violence — by far the worst since the partial cease-fire began — coincides with reports of a military buildup outside Aleppo that many fear is a prelude for a government attempt to force a complete siege of the city’s neighborhoods. Battle-hardened residents were shocked by the bloodshed. Opposition activists accused the government of carpet-bombing rebel-controlled areas, while Syrian state media said more than 1,000 mortar rounds and rockets were fired at government-held districts, killing 22 people. Video posted online by opposition activists showed rescuers pulling bodies from shattered buildings in the rebel neighborhoods of Sukkari, Kallasa and Bustan al-Qasr. Chief opposition negotiator Mohammed Alloush blamed the government of Mr. Assad for the violence, saying it shows “the environment is not conducive to any political action.” “What is happening is a crime of ethnic and sectarian cleansing by all means,” Mr. Alloush told The Associated Press, adding it was an attempt by Mr. Assad’s government to drive residents from Aleppo. A Damascus-based Syrian military official denied the government had hit the hospital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov also denied bombing any hospitals in Aleppo, saying its aircraft have not flown any missions in the region for several days. Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State group, said fighter jets from the international coalition have not carried out any airstrikes in Aleppo in the past 24 hours. About 200 civilians have been killed in the past week in Syria, nearly half of them around Aleppo. With the U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva completely deadlocked, Syrians are watching the escalating violence with dread, fearing that Aleppo is likely to be the focus of the next, more vicious phase of the 5-year-old war. In Iraq the Revolutionary Guard has been fighting and organizing Shiite militias since 2014 to contest Islamic State terrorists who invaded western and northern Iraq. Mr. Gobadi said the recruitment pitch for teenagers is the first time Tehran has turned to children volunteers since its long war with Iraq in the 1980s. The song encouraging teenage volunteers refers to their supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and to Shiite shrines in Syria. “On my leader [Khamenei’s] orders I am ready to give my life,” the boys sing, according to an NCRI translation. “The goal is not just to free Iraq and Syria; My path is through the sacred shrine, but my goal is to reach Jerusalem. … I don’t regret parting from my country; In this just path I am wearing my martyrdom shroud. … From Mashhad [northeast Iran], I will walk on foot to Damascus. I am like the bird who flocks to the sacred shrine.” The headband is tradition, Mr. Gobadi said, explaining why they don it during the song. Historic Shiite shrines are located near Damascus. Much of the Iranian ground-forces fighting has been near Aleppo, to the north of Damascus. “Since the Iran-Iraq War it has been customary for the IRGC and Iranian paramilitary forces to wrap a piece of cloth on their heads,” he said. “They write religious sentences or verses on them as a sort of slogan. In this particular case the loose translation is that ‘we defend the sacred shrine with all we have.’ In the Iranian regime’s lexicon, ‘defending the sacred shrine’ is the equivalent of deploying the forces of the IRGC and, more recently, the regular army to Syria to defend the Assad regime as it massacres the people of Syria. This is while the majority of the Iranian regime’s casualties are near Aleppo, which is several hundred kilometers away from the holy Shiite shrines near Damascus.”

Muslim ‘Barbarians’ Destroy, Pillage Ancient Artifacts in Syria

Archaeologists have offered a grim assessment of the damage wrought by Islamic State militants to a museum in the Syrian city of Palmyra, suggesting it is far more extensive than was first thought. The museum itself was destroyed and some of its most distinctive statues were shattered by the Muslim extremists during the 10 months that ISIS controlled the town before being expelled last month. The militants had cut off the heads and hands of statues and demolished others before being driven out of the city. Bartosz Markowski of the Archaeological Center at Warsaw University, revealed Saturday that most of the 200 objects on display on the ground floor had been destroyed, smashed by hammers and mallets, and many other artefacts were stolen, presumably for sale on the black market. Markowski and his colleagues spent a week painstakingly collecting fragments of priceless broken sculptures and preparing them to be sent to Damascus for conservation in a rescue mission they hope will help salvage most of its contents. Last fall Islamic State militants demolished three ancient arches in Palmyra, as part of their campaign to obliterate important historic monuments across the territories of Iraq and Syria. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jihadists used explosives to destroy the 2,000-year-old arches while leaving the supporting columns in place, apparently because the symbols and inscriptions on the arches clash with the radical Islamist ideology of the group. The Islamic State believed the pre-Islamic monuments of the region to be idolatrous. After seizing the city in May, 2015, ISIS extremists destroyed the shrine of Baal Shamin and the Temple of Bel. The Temple of Bel was 2,000 years old and regarded as the greatest jewel of Palmyra’s antiquities. Along with ideological opposition to the monuments, ISIS also used the sale of ancient artifacts on the black market to fund the war effort of the “Caliphate.” The Islamic State’s systematic pillaging and demolition of cultural artifacts in the Middle East has been called the worst large-scale destruction of the region’s cultural heritage since the Second World War. The terrorists, who have struggled to finance an expensive war especially with falling oil prices and coalition bombing of ISIS-held oil fields, have drawn a significant portion of their income from the sale of precious historical treasures. For the jihadists such a situation is a win-win, since they derive substantial economic benefit from the looting as well as stripping an entire region of important ties to its religious and cultural patrimony. Palmyra was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the museum was among the biggest tourist attractions in Syria. Prior to Syria’s civil war, which began in 2011, Palmyra attracted 150 thousand tourists a year.