Category: News

US Bombs Al-Qaida meeting in Idlib, Dozens Killed

Open-source reports claim that the United States conducted an airstrike in Idlib province (Syria) on August 31, 2019. The operation targeted a building near Kafarya village (south of Ma’arrat Misrin),…

Open-source reports claim that the United States conducted an airstrike in Idlib province (Syria) on August 31, 2019. The operation targeted a building near Kafarya village (south of Ma’arrat Misrin), in which the leadership of an al-Qai’da (AQ) affiliated group conducted a meeting. Images and videos shared on social media confirm the attack. It is believed that more than 40 militants were killed in the attack. 


The United States Central Command confirmed the rumors and issued the following statement:

“U.S. Forces conducted a strike against al-Qaida in Syria (AQ-S) leadership at a facility north of Idlib, Syria, Aug. 31, 2019. This operation targeted AQ-S leaders responsible for attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians. Additionally, the removal of this facility will further degrade their ability to conduct future attacks and destabilize the region. Northwest Syria remains a safe haven where AQ-S leaders actively coordinate terrorist activities throughout the region and in the West. With our allies and partners, we will continue to target violent extremists to prevent them from using Syria as a safe haven.”

The targeted militant group targeted is likely Tanzim Huraas al-Din (Arabic for “Guardians of the Religion”). The group of die-hard salafi-jihadists separated from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), after the latter publically broke ties with AQ’s central leadership. Alternatively, the operation may have targeted Huraas al-Din’s allies of the “Ghurfat Eamaliat wa-Harid al-Mu’minin” coalition (Arabic for “Rouse the Believers”). The United States has prosecuted Huraas al-Din before. Two month ago, a United States missile strike broke up a senior leadership gathering in Western Aleppo.

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Iranian Space Launch Fails Again and the CIA Was Watching

On August 29, 2019, Iran failed to launch a satellite, as the “Safir” space launch vehicle (SLV) exploded at Semnan Launch Site One. Commercial satellite imagery published by Planet and…

On August 29, 2019, Iran failed to launch a satellite, as the “Safir” space launch vehicle (SLV) exploded at Semnan Launch Site One. Commercial satellite imagery published by Planet and Maxar Technologies confirms an explosion on the launch pad. The Iranian government only admits to the “loss of a satellite” and has not addressed the explosion. 

The August 29 incident marks the third launch failure of the Iranian Space Agency this year. During a launch attempt in January, Iran lost a “Simorgh” rocket, followed by the explosion of another “Safir” SLV in February. Earlier this month, satellite images confirmed that the Imam Khomeini Space Port (part of the Semnan Launch Site) received a fresh paint job, leading analysts to believe that a new launch is imminent. 

President Donald J. Trump mocked the Iranian failure on Twitter and shared declassified geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) of the wreckage site. Critics claim that Trump’s tweet may have leaked a previously unknown deep-look capability of US spatial assets or revealed a clandestine flyover by a US aircraft. 

As Iran has significantly improved its air sensor network and aerial defense capabilities, it is unlikely that the US would risk losing another unmanned aerial vehicle. Recently, Iran unveiled a new foreign-inspired long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system (“Bavar 373”), which was tested near the Semnan Launch Site. The Bavar 373 was likely deployed to provide area air defense for the formerly undefended space facility. The US’ very high resolution GEOINT was therefore likely collected by either a low-Earth orbit satellite or the U-2 spy plane “Dragon Lady”. Defense journalist Babak Taghvaee has pointed towards the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) KH-12 Block IV as Trump’s “eye in the sky.” 

Why is the US Intelligence community interested in Iran’s space program? 

As SLV technology is interchangeable with ballistic missiles, there are concerns that Iran’s space program is intended to increase the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles. Classified sources indicate that the first stage of the ill-fated “Safir” SLV is based on Iran’s “Shahab 3” medium range ballistic missile (MRBM). The same sources suggest that the SLV’s second stage is inspired by a North Korean variation of the Soviet-made R-27 (NATO Reporting name SS-N-6), which Iran acquired from Pyongyang.

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USS Chancellorsville Avoids Collision with Russian ‘Admiral Vinogradov’

On June 7, 2019 at 11:45 am, the Russian Navy Udaloy-class destroyer Admiral Vinogradov (DD572) made an unsafe maneuver against the Ticonderoga-class guided missile destroyer USS Chancellorsville (CG-62). The latter…

On June 7, 2019 at 11:45 am, the Russian Navy Udaloy-class destroyer Admiral Vinogradov (DD572) made an unsafe maneuver against the Ticonderoga-class guided missile destroyer USS Chancellorsville (CG-62). The latter was recovering its Seahawk helicopter on a steady course, when the Russian destroyer closed in at 50 to 100 feet. The USS Chancellorsville was forced to execute all engines back full and maneuver to avoid collision. The two vessels came so close that U.S. sailors were able to photograph their Russian counterparts sunbathing on the front deck. Moscow blamed the U.S. for the incident and claimed that it took place in the East China Sea.

Target (TGT) designates the incident location – 23°49’19.00 N 126°39’37.00E – aprox. 36 km north of the P-8 aircraft (ACFT).

However, imagery released by a U.S. P-8 Poseidon maritime security and anti-submarine aircraft shows that the Russian destroyer was pushing towards the Chancellorsville, while the U.S. vessel was dropping speed. Furthermore, GPS coordinates from the P-8’s infrared search and track camera show both the aircraft (ACFT) and the two vessels (TRT) maneuvering in the Philippine Sea, as confirmed by the U.S. Seventh Fleet.

Photo taken by the P-8 Poseidon aircraft via U.S. Navy

The combined presence of the USS Chancellorsville and P-8 Poseidon as well as the deployment of a Seahawk during the incident indicate that the assets were on anti-submarine duty in support of the Pacific Fleet’s Carrier Strike Group Five. Given this situation, it is highly likely that the Russians approached the USS Chancellorsville to conduct a close inspection of weapons system loadout. The American destroyer is equipped with the latest Aegis air defense suite (i.e. Baseline Nine, SM-6 etc.), engagement and sensor fusion technology (i.e. Cooperative Engagement Capability/NEC, Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air/ NIFC-CA) that enables beyond visual range engagement at classified ranges. The USS Chancellorsville also carries the Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile (TALM) and the latest block-version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile.

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Haftar Goes After Tripoli, US AFRICOM evacs forces

On April 7, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) partially evacuated its military forces from Tripoli due do the deteriorating security situation in Libya. The AFRICOM personnel, tasked with supporting the U.S….

On April 7, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) partially evacuated its military forces from Tripoli due do the deteriorating security situation in Libya.

  • The AFRICOM personnel, tasked with supporting the U.S. diplomatic mission and counterterrorism efforts, was extracted by a U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft from the beach of Janzour (15 km west of Tripoli). The LCAC dispatched from one of the U.S. Navy assets operating in AFRICOM’s area of responsibility – likely the San Antonio-class USS Arlington amphibious transport dock, which was last reported near Carthage on March 24. The evacuated personnel was transported to Catania, Italy.

  • The drawdown of U.S. forces also seems to include special operations units and intelligence personnel based in covert facilities throughout Libya. CIA-affiliated private airlines such as Tepper Aviation – likely tasked with extracting personnel – conducted several flights to Libya in the past 36 hours. On April 7, a Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Beech B300 King Air was tracked on ADS-B exchange while conducting sorties over Misrata, likely providing ISR for an ongoing evacuation. Misrata airfield is the main covert facility used by the U.S. and allies in Libya and the largest air base of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accords (GNA). The evacuation of U.S. personnel from Misrata has become necessary, as the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) under Haftar has recently announced plans to capture the city and establish a no-fly zone over western Libya.  

RECENT ESCALATION

After capturing the former Tripoli Airport on Sunday, the LNA is advancing towards Tripoli’s southern outskirts. Tripoli is currently controlled by the U.N.-recognized GNA which encompasses a myriad of militias, including Islamists. Haftar is in close contact with Russia and receives covert military support from Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and potentially the United Arab Emirates. As the LNA and GNA are preparing for a head-on confrontation over Tripoli and potentially Misrata, both sides are mobilizing their anti-surface and counter-air assets to support operations.

HAFTAR’S NO FLY ZONE

Despite their threats of a no-fly zone, Haftar’s forces are unable to conduct air interdiction operations (neither airborne nor ground-based) against advanced adversaries such as the U.S., the U.K., Italy or France. However, the LNA’s air capabilities are slightly superior to the GNA. Haftar’s small aviation is able to conduct tactical air strikes at a higher pace than its Tripoli-foe and has the potential to engage in interceptions. Overall, both sides suffer from a severe lack of trained personnel, spare parts and logistical support, limiting their anti-surface an anti-air assets to low-intensity engagements.

  • The LNA’s air inventory consists of two Mirage F-1, twelve MiG-21MF (NATO reporting name: Fishbed-J), three MiG-23ML (Flogger), and one Su-22 fighter bomber (Fitter). It is believed that the vast majority of the LNA’s aircraft are serviceable due to repair and maintenance support provided by Egypt and the UAE. The LNA also fields several ZPU-2 and ZU-33-2 anti-aircraft artillery and Soviet-made shoulder-mounted man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).
  • In contrast, the GNA operates two MiG-23ML (Flogger), one MiG-25 (Foxbat), five G-2 Galeb, thirteen L-39ZO Albatros fighter jets, eight Mi-24 and three Mi-35 attack helicopters (Hind and Hind-D). The Czechoslovak-made L-39ZO Albatros light aircraft serve as the GNA’s main attack aircraft, as the fleet has been repaired by Ukrainian specialists and undergone trainer-to-fighter conversion. Despite these limitations, the GNA is still able to neutralized “easy” targets (e.g. vehicle columns and exposed infantry units) of the “Islamic State” and LNA. In terms of anti-air systems, the GNA has one 2K12 Kub (NATO reporting name: SA-6 Gainful), which was recently declared operational and is believed to still house a few S-125 (SA-3) surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.

  • Anti-surface operations are already underway. Recently, the GNA reportedly struck an LNA convoy near Garyan (90 km south of Tripoli). On April 8, an LNA MiG-21 bombed the runway of Mitiga Airport, near Tripoli. Furthermore, both sides have mobilized their SA-6 SAMs. However, there is no indication to whether those systems are operational. 

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US, UK and France Will Maintain Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Syria

Despite the initial announcement to withdraw all U.S. servicemen from Syria, the Trump administration will keep 400 troops in northeastern Syria and al-Tanf as part of a “multinational peacekeeping force.” Since…

Despite the initial announcement to withdraw all U.S. servicemen from Syria, the Trump administration will keep 400 troops in northeastern Syria and al-Tanf as part of a “multinational peacekeeping force.” Since the U.S.-led Coalition against ISIS (Da’esh) is transiting to the next phase of contingency operations, the reduced troop count is adequate to maintain military pressure on the terror group, prevent a large-scale Turkish attack on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and restrict Iran’s freedom of operations in Syria. Former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and several military commanders publicly disagreed with Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, arguing that a continued U.S. presence is necessary to prevent the resurgence of Da’esh (Consult our assessment on the CONSEQUENCES OF A U.S. TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA here).

While officially branded as a “monitoring and observer force”, the remaining U.S. troops will likely consist of special operations force (SOF) elements tasked with terminal attack control (for air operations), indigenous capacity building, direct action, reconnaissance and counter-insurgency operations. Regular troops will provide force protection. Air assets based in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility will continue to provide close air support and prosecute the remaining Da’esh high-value targets (HVTs) scattered in the Middle Euphrates River Valley. Besides American forces, the multinational peacekeeping force will likely include French and British SOF elements, which have liaised with the Coalition since 2014.  Allied contribution to the multinational peacekeeping force could bring the troop count to over 1,000.

Reports suggest that the U.S. administration is also pursuing other NATO allies to contribute to the force. As the Da’esh threat is an inherently transnational issue that concerns the security of all NATO and European Union states, a concerted effort is required. Countries such as Belgium, Denmark and Germany, that still have citizens under Da’esh command, should have a particular interest to commit troops or expand their Iraq deployments to prevent battle-hardened jihadists from returning to their home countries in Europe.


Photo credit: Cpl. Carlos Lopez (Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade)

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Immediate Measures to Protect Ukraine’s Navy: The Harpoon Solution

1. The Kerch blockade is a limited operation that advances Russian sea command objectives in Black Sea. The Ukrainian Navy, now contained to Odessa as the remaining major port, will…

1. The Kerch blockade is a limited operation that advances Russian sea command objectives in Black Sea. The Ukrainian Navy, now contained to Odessa as the remaining major port, will permanently lose the ability to operate in the Azov Sea. By further isolating the port of Mariupol, Russia is weakening Kyiv’s supply lines to Eastern Ukraine. While there is no immediate danger of a large-scale Russian land offensive, continued acts of maritime aggression have to be expected.

2. The Kerch blockade forces the Ukrainian Navy into a uniquely vulnerable position. Isolated in Odessa, the Ukrainian fleet could be annihilate by the Russian Navy and Aerospace Forces within days. Kyiv therefore requires a credible deterrent to prevent and counter further Russian attacks at sea. The Trump administration’s transfer of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Kyiv in April 2018, has already raised the stakes for Russia to intervene in Eastern Ukraine considerably. A similar solution is now needed for the navy.

3. A feasible short term solution to safe the Ukrainian Navy would be the acquisition of Boeing’s advanced anti-ship missile (ASM) Harpoon (Block II or above). The Harpoon belongs to the most advanced current generation of over-the-horizon ASM weapons. It can be launched from aircraft as well as surface and subsurface vessels. The Block II version has a range of 124 km, while the 2015 Block II Extended Range (ER) can engage targets in a 248 km radius thanks to its improved turbojet engine. The missiles travel with subsonic speed at sea-skimming altitude to avoid radar or infrared detection. The Harpoon’s 221 kg warhead is constructed to inflict terminal damage on enemy vessels. Both version are adequate given the expected engagement range in the Black Sea. One Block II missile has an estimated cost of over $1 million.

4. Ukraine’s total defense budget for 2018 runs to $600 million, which encompasses expenses for all branches of the armed forces as well as research and development programs. However, the U.S. Department of Defense’s budget has allocated up to $200 million to enhancing Ukraine’s defence capabilities, including coastal and maritime assets.  

5. The purchase of a small number of Hapoons is thus feasible and would have immediate effects. In the longer term, Kyiv should also strive to build or acquire multirol corvettes and operationalize the Ukrainian-made long-range ASM “Neptune.”

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Helping Out: NATO Expands Support for Iraq

1. NATO has agreed to organize a military training mission in Iraq to project stability in the Middle East – Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Thursday following the North Atlantic…

1. NATO has agreed to organize a military training mission in Iraq to project stability in the Middle East – Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Thursday following the North Atlantic Council (NAC) assembly of the Ministries of Defense gathered in Brussels. The project was considered the government from Baghdad and Prime-Minister Abadi sent an official request to NATO.

2. The mission will be non-combatant. It will seek to equip the Iraqis with the know-how needed to continue operating in the volatile national security environment, consolidate the Armed Forces, and help stabilize the country after a lengthy and costly war against ISIS. NATO’s involvement comes as Iraq faces a bill of more than $88 billion to rebuild the country, officials told a donor conference in Kuwait this week. Iraq declared victory over Islamic State in December, having taken back all the territory captured by the militants in 2014 and 2015.

3. The Alliance already has a small team of military and civilian personnel in Iraq and uses mobile teams to train national forces in de-mining, countering home-made bombs and dealing with explosives. Individual states have their own training missions ongoing together with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), namely the United States, France, Germany, Belgium, Norway and others. This enhancement of NATO presence could go up to 200 troops. The training would take place in the capital Baghdad, other Iraqi cities and even in neighboring countries like Jordan.

4. Germany’s defense minister mentioned the possibility that some might take place in the northern city of Erbil. Beyond tactical, organizational and technical traineeships for Iraqi servicemen, this commitment will open new academies and schools for the local forces.

5. A similar framework took place before, in 2004, when the Iraqi Interim Government invited NATO to train its new Armed Forces – a request backed by the U.N. Security Council resolution 1546. Titled NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I), the operation was also non-combatant and helped establish a sustainable and operational armed force. Primary NATO contributors to NTM-I were the U.S, Italy, Denmark, Holland, UK, later joined by Turkey, Romania, the Baltic states and Bulgaria. External partners were Jordan, which graduated up to 50,000 Iraqi troops, Egypt and Ukraine.


ANNEX: In December 2017, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) also completed a training with NATO hosted by the Serbian Armed Forces in the southern city of Nis.

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