Category: Regions

Turkey Builds its first Aircraft Carrier, GEOINT shows

Work is underway at Turkey’s first aircraft carrier, TCG “Anadolu” (Pennant number: L-408) at Sedef Shipyard near Istanbul. The Anadolu is built by the Sedef-Novatia joint Turkish-Spanish venture using the…

Work is underway at Turkey’s first aircraft carrier, TCG “Anadolu” (Pennant number: L-408) at Sedef Shipyard near Istanbul. The Anadolu is built by the Sedef-Novatia joint Turkish-Spanish venture using the design of the SPS “Juan Carlos” amphibious assault ship operated by the Spanish Navy. Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) released by the Israeli private geospatial firm IamgeSatIntel shows great progress on the ship. The Anadolu is expected to be completed later this year and to enter service with the Turkish Navy in 2021. 


The TCG Anadolu will be capable of traveling 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) without refueling. The ship is 232 meters in length, 32 meters in width and 55 meters in height, and is said to have a full load displacement of about 27,000 tons.The aircraft carrier will be able to operate four mechanized, two air-cushioned and two personnel landing vehicles, as well as aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). However, Turkey has no fixed-wing aircraft compatible with light-carrier operations and the market offer is extremely limited. 

In mid-2019, the United States ended Turkey’s participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), after Ankara received its first S-400 air defense system (NATO Reporting name: SA-21 “Growler) from Russia. Banned from the JSF program, Turkey lost its order of almost 100 F-35As jets and the ability to follow-up with other purchases. Therefore, the Turkish Navy can stop dreaming about operating F-35Bs from its flatop. The F-35B is purpose-built to be operated from amphibious assault ships and austers landing zones. While Ankara decides whether it wants to build its own STOVL aircraft or acquire an alternative aircraft, the Anadolu will only field helicopters and UAVs in the medium to long term. 




The construction of the ship began in 2016. The Anadolu reflects an increased Turkish interest in projecting power abroad and competing against regional adversaries (Greece, Israel and Egypt). The vessel will augment Turkey’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and support out-of-area operations, such as its foreign deployments in Somalia and Qatar. In addition, the vessel is intended to meet the various needs and requirements of the Turkish Armed Forces – such as sustaining long-endurance missions, humanitarian relief operations – while acting as a command center and flagship for the Turkish Naval Forces.

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Serbia to receive Russian-made Pantsir-S1 Air Defense Systems in late February

Russia’s delivery of Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (NATO Reporting name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) to Serbia will commence in late February this year. The first shipment is rumored to consist of…

Russia’s delivery of Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems (NATO Reporting name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) to Serbia will commence in late February this year. The first shipment is rumored to consist of six Pantsir-S1 batteries.

The Pantsir-S1 is a road-mobile self-propelled SAM system designed to provide point air defense air defense against precision-guided attacks from short-to-medium range and low altitudes. The Pantsir’s main armament is the 57E6/E short-range SAM, which can engage targets at a range of 12 to 20 km and altitudes varying from 5 to 15 km. The Pantsir can carry a maximum of 12 SAMs. As a secondary capability, the battery is equipped with two 30mm twin-barrel cannons. The Pantsir’s sensor package consists of a target detection and designation radar, target and missile tracking radar, and electro-optical sensor systems.

CONTROVERSIAL COMBAT PERFORMANCE

Russia advertises the Pantsir as being a highly resilient air defense system against enemy anti-radiation missiles and drones, however, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has repeatedly overwhelmed and destroyed Pantsir batteries operated by the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) in the past years. A Russian report also revealed that the Pantsir performed poorly in its role to defend the Russian 555th Khmeimim Air Base (Syra) against small consumer drones launched by the Syrian armed opposition groups. This forced Russia to deploy additional assets such as the Tor-M2 to reinforce its defenses after a drone attack damaged multiple aircraft in January, 2018. 

SLAVIC SHIELD 2019

Serbian President Alexandar Vucic first announced that Belgrad had ordered the Pantsir SAM systems during a visit at “Slavic Shield 2019,” on October 24, 2019. As the first exercise between the Serbian Air Defense Units and the Russian Aerospace Forces, Slavic Shield 2019 deepened joint force interoperability and served as a technology demonstrator for Belgrade. During the event, Russia airlifted a multi-layered and diverse package of SAM systems to Milenko Pavlović Air Base in Batajnica (Serbia), including a S-400 SAM system (SA-21 “Growler) and several Pantsir-S1 batteries. This allowed Serbian military officials to inspect the equipment and simulate integration into Belgrad’s air defense network. In addition to the Pantsir, President Vucinic expressed interest in the S-400, but clarified that Serbia cannot afford the system.

Serbia President Vucic at “Slavic Shield 2019” Photo: Damirir Banda, MC Odbrana

Although Belgrad has repeatedly named Russia as it main defense partner and source of military donations, an official booklet of the Serbian Ministry of Defense shows that Serbia’s main military donor is the United States. Serbia received $10 million in military assistance from the U.S. in equipment and money between 2014 and 2018. Second on the donor list is China, which has donated around € 5.2 million, followed by Norway with € 586,000, Denmark with € 494,860 and the UK with £ 169,000, respectively.

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The Drone-Type that Killed Gen. Soleimani, Now in Romania

The United States Air Force (USAF) will deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii (Cluj county), Romania. The mission, starting in January 2020, has been…

The United States Air Force (USAF) will deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii (Cluj county), Romania. The mission, starting in January 2020, has been fully coordinated with the Romanian government. Directed by the U.S. European Command’s air component, the deployment serves to promote stability and security within the region, and to strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners. The MQ-9 Reapers have been previously deployed to the 71st AB in July 2019, when they were temporarily re-positioned from their traditional staging area in Poland.

The U.S. Air Force built this hangar, which could house manned or unmanned aircraft, at Campia Turzii from October 2017 to May 2018. Documents obtained by Defense News show plans to build a hangar to accommodate medium-altitude, long-endurance drones like the MQ-9. (Valerie Insinna/ Defense News)

The U.S. Department of Defense has invested over $3 million in the modernisation of Romania’s 71st AB in the past two years. Part of the infrastructure upgrade package was the construction of a $950,000 hangar that is able to house medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drones such as the MQ-9 and support drone operations. 

The MQ-9 Reaper is one of the most advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) ever built. As a multi-role platform, the MQ-9 can perform a variety of missions, including intelligence, reconnaissance, target-aquisition and surveillance (ISTAR), ground attack, close air support (CAS), and combat search and rescue. 

While the Reaper is most known for its kinetic strikes against terrorist leaders (including IRGC-QF Gen. Soleimani on January 3) and other high-value targets, the drone is a very effective ISR/ ISTAR asset. The MQ-9’s endurance is 30 hours when conducting ISR sorties, with decreases to 14 to 23 hours (depending on the loadout) when carrying weapons. The Reaper has a 1,850 km range (1,000 nmi; 1,150 mi) and an operational ceiling of 15,000 meters (50,000 ft). It’s sensor suite includes a syntethic aperture radar and infrared forward-looking infrared, which can stream live footage at views ranging from 19mm to 560mm. 

During its stay in Romania, the MQ-9 will likely be tasked with gathering intelligence on enemy intentions and capabilities in the region. The Black Sea will be a main focus of its ISR mission, where the UAV will monitor the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF) for nefarious activity, force buildup and forward deployments. The collection of Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) on Russia’s BSF activities is not only important for NATO’s Eastern flank, but also for monitoring Moscow’s force deployment to Syria. The ports of Sevastopol and Novorossysk are Russia’s main logistics bases supporting expeditionary operations in Syria, and are periodically sealifting capabilities to Tartus (Syria). 

In addition to the Black Sea, the MQ-9 will likely also fly over Eastern Ukraine. American UAVs were frequently spotted on ADS-B receivers loitering over the frontline in Donbas and Luhansk, monitoring for enemy activity (e.g. ceasefire violations, Russian supplies, tactical movements). 



When used as a striking platform, the Reaper can field a “cocktail” of weapons systems such as the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, AIM-9 “Sidewinder” air-to-air missile, GBU-38 with JDAM, and the more famous AGM-114 “Hellfire” air-to-surface missile. Due to its armament, the UAV can target and destroy light infantry, surface vessels and armored tanks. 

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Is Turkey Sending Syrian Rebels to Libya?

Mounting evidence shows that Turkey is deploying “Syrian National Army” (SNA) militiamen to Libya by using commercial airlines. In December 2019, major media outlets broke the news that Ankara plans…

Mounting evidence shows that Turkey is deploying “Syrian National Army” (SNA) militiamen to Libya by using commercial airlines. In December 2019, major media outlets broke the news that Ankara plans to send SNA militants to reinforce the “Government of National Accord” (GNA). Since then, there has been a growing number of indicators and reports that confirm the deployment. In addition to the SNA personnel, Turkey is also in the process of dispatching regular troops to Libya.

BACKGROUND: THE LIBYAN CIVIL WAR

Since the overthrow of dictator Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has been experiencing a civil war between the GNA, which is recognized by the United Nations (UN), and the self-styled “Libyan National Army” led by renegade Gen. Khalifa Haftar. The GNA currently controls less than 20 percent of Libya, but its territory includes the capital Tripoli and the densely populated Tripolitania region. The GNA’s armed forces consist of Islamist militias linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. They are backed by Turkey, Qatar and Italy. 

Led by Gen. Haftar, the LNA is a hotpotch of Arab nationalists (including some Qaddafi loyalists), foreign paramilitary units (e.g. Russian, Sudanese, Chiadian), Madkhali salafists and tribal militias based in Eastern Libya. The LNA receives political and military support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Jordan, Russia and France. The LNA controls the vast majority of Libya’s territory, including the oil-rich southern and central regions. 



Despite the international arms embargo, which bans all weapons transfers to Libya (UN Resolution 1973), the GNA and LNA have received an abundance of military capabilities from foreign backers, including aircraft and air defense batteries.

Thanks to the wholesale influx of sophisticated military hardware from its supporters, the LNA is currently the most capable fighting force on the battlefield:

  • The UAE deployed Chinese-made “Wing Loong II” UCAVs, Pantsir S-1 (NATO Reporting name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) and MIM-23 HAWK air defense systems as well as support personnel (e.g. missileers, UCAV and radio-electronic operators). 
  • Jordan and Egypt provide armored vehicles and spare parts for the legacy MiG and Sukhoi aircraft that the LNA has inherited from Qaddafi’s regime. The Egyptian Air Force donated five MiG-21MFs (NATO Reporting name: “Fishbed-J”) to the LNA’s air wing.
  • Russia provides political support and has sent hundreds of Wagner contractors and a Pantsir S-1 air defense systems (NATO Reporting name: SA-17 “Greyhound”) to reinforce Gen. Haftar’s camp. 

France is secretly supporting Gen. Haftar. Beyond the provision of several US-made Javelin anti-tank missiles, the extent of French support is nevertheless unclear.

COMPILATION: Advanced foreign weaponry in service or support of the LNA

On the GNA side, Turkey provides the bulk of military equipment. Ankara has been supplying the GNA with infantry fighting vehicles (e.g. Kipri 8×8), unmanned aerial combat vehicles/UCAV (e.g. Bayraktar-2TB), small arms and ammunition for years. Turkey’s “partner-in-crime” and fellow Muslim Brotherhood supporter Qatar provides the bulk of finances that keep the GNA functioning, including the salaries of most militias. Italy is also providing direct support to the GNA in the form of medical assistance, diplomatic outreach, and intelligence. 

THE LNA GAINS THE UPPER HAND

In early 2019, Gen. Haftar announced Operation “FLOOD OF DIGNITY” with the objective to capture western Libya and eventually Tripoli. After successive victories, the LNA reached Tripoli’s suburbs by mid-April 2019. In Ghuryan and southern Tripoli, the LNA encountered a stiff GNA defense augmented by Turkish UCAVs. With the ground advancement blocked, the LNA focused on aerial warfare and targeted GNA airfields that support UCAV operations. However, due to its prolonged forward deployment, the LNA’s supply lines became overstretched and therefore untenable for offensive operations. Gen. Haftar was forced to de facto halt the offensive until the LNA  air wing neutralizes the enemy’s aerial capabilities.

Operation “Flood of Dignity” (operational map) by Rr016

INCREASED TURKISH MILITARY ASSISTANCE TO TRIPOLI

As Gen. Hafar’s forces were threatening to gain the upper hand in the civil war, Turkey has found that only direct intervention can save the GNA from collapse. 

Turkish President Erdogan and GNA Prime Minister al-Sarraj signed two memorandums of economic and military cooperation in late November 2019. Based on these agreements, the GNA submitted a formal request for Turkish military assistance in the form of air, land and maritime forces. President Erdogan ratified the request for assistance and ordered the Turkish Joint Chiefs of Staff to draft deployment plans. 

By the time the Turkish Parliament approved the military mission on January 5, 2020, President Erdogan revealed that Turkish troops are already in Libya in a non-combatant capacity and that “other units” will fight on the battlefield. By “other units’, President Erdogan is believed to hint at Syrian militamen.



REPORTS OF SNA DEPLOYMENT TO LIBYA

Quoting senior Turkish and Libyan sources, Bloomberg was the first outlet to report that Ankara will send SNA groups to reinforce the GNA. In January 2020, The Guardian confirmed the presence of around 2,000 SNA militants in Libya and recorded that their numbers are expected to grow to 5,000 over the next weeks. SNA fighters had signed six-month contracts directly with the GNA, rather than with the Turkish military, The Guardian’s sources say. The Syrian rebels will earn $2,000 (£1,500) a month – a vast sum compared to the 450-550 Turkish lira (£52-£72) they earn in Syria. All fighters have been promised Turkish passports, medical care and repatriation to Syria in case of death. 

These reports are consistent with the claims of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which estimates that 300 Syrian rebels are already in Libya. 

The Sultan Murad Division, Suqour al-Sham Brigade, Faylaq al-Sham, Sham Legion and Mutasim Division are the SNA groups headlining the Libyan deployment. These groups, which are dominated by Syrian Turkmens, have spearheaded all of Turkey’s previous offensives in northern Syria. The U.S. government and Amnesty International have accused some of these groups of war crimes against Kurdish civilians during Operation “OLIVE BRANCH” and Operation “PEACE SPRING”. 


VISUAL EVIDENCE OF SNA PRESENCE

Besides media reports, two phone-recorded videos of military-age males (MAMs) with Syrian accents, claiming to be in Libya to fight against Haftar, provide visual evidence.

Geolocation of the video allegedly showing SNA fighters in Libya

We managed to geolocate the footage, assuming that it was shot in very close proximity of the second video that surfaced on social media, which was geolocated by @S_Corsto in southern Tripoli.

While this confirms the videos’ geographical location is indeed the GNA-held Tripoli, we cannot vouch for the authenticity of the MAMs’ claims or that they are SNA fighters. 

Another piece of hard evidence is a “selfie” taken by a group of five MAMs in front of a fixed-wing cargo aircraft (identified as an Airbus Atlas-400M), supposedly on their way to Libya. Judging by the color scheme and visual elements, the Airbus A400M belongs to the Turkish Air Force. This adds credibility to reports that the Turkish Air Force, together with civilian Libyan airlines, is transporting SNA forces to Libya.

A group of unidentified MAMs pose in front of a Turkish Air Force Airbus A400M

UPDATE January 18, 2019: A video that emerged on social media allegedly shows dozens of Syrian rebels on board an Airbus 320 operated by the Tripoli-based “Afriqiyah Airways.”

TURKISH-LIBYA AIR-BRIDGE

Evidence of the Turkish “air-bridge” to Libya started to surface on social media in late December 2019. It involves the Turkish Air Force and a few Libyan commercial airliners. 

At the beginning, SNA fighters are bused from northern Aleppo province to Gaziantep, a major city in southeastern Turkey. From Gaziantep, the Turkish Air Force flies SNA militiamen into Istanbul by the Turkish Air Force, using Airbus Atlas-400M fix-wing cargo aircraft. For example, call signs “ESEN 01”, “ESEN 02”, “ESEN 03” and “ESEN 04” have been regularly spotted between Gaziantepe and Istanbul, since the air bridge reportedly started on December 27, 2019. As military flights, their ADS-B/Mode-S information, namely origin, destination and flight history, are hidden or incomplete. 

After arriving in Istanbul at Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) or Ataturk International (IST), the SNA militiamen board “friendly” Libyan civilian airliners that regularly fly to the two GNA-held airports in Libya, Tripoli Mitiga International Airport (MJI) and Misrata Airport (MAR). In particular, one “Libyan Airlines” Airbus A330-202 fixed-wing aircraft (registration number 5A-LAT/ LIMA-ALPHA-TANGO) is believed to be spearheading the covert airlift operation. In addition, one Libyan Wings Airbus 319-112 (registration no, “52-WLC”) and another Boeing 737-8GK (registration no, “5A-DMG”) operated by Buraq Air are believed to be involved. 

While all three aircraft are regular operators of Turkish and Libyan destinations, only the Libyan Airlines’ 5A-LAT is of particular interest due to its nefarious flight pattern that is consistent with counter-surveillance measures:

  • LOW PROFILE: 5A-LAT has almost exclusively chartered Istanbul-MJI/ MAR flights for the past months. As a regular operator of this route, 5A-LAT should be the aircraft that attracts the least attention for illicit airlift operations between Turkey and Libya.

SAMPLE: Recent flight history of the Libyan Airways aircraft with registration number 5A-LAT

  • DECEIVE AND COMPLICATE: 5A-LAT has frequently spoofed its ADS-B data to name Tripoli (MJI) as a destination, when it actually landed at Misrata/ MAR.

SAMPLE: 5A-LAT descends for landing at MAR despite filing MJI as its destination, on January 8, 2020

In some instances, the aircraft even took off from Istanbul without transmitting any official destination. The technique is used to deceive and complicate adversarial intelligence collection efforts. 

SAMPLE: 5A-LAT leaves IST without a transmitting a destination on January 9, 2020

  • DENY: 5A-LAT has almost always disabled its ADS-B transponder, when it entered Libyan airspace en route to MJI or MAR. In some instances, the aircraft also deactivated its transponder during its departure from Libya or Turkey, despite having stated its destination. We assess that this is not a deceptive act, but a security measure, when transiting Greek and Egyptian flight information regions (FIRs) or when in range of the LNA’s aerial systems. With foreign assistance, the LNA has conducted air strikes against GNA-held airports, which destroyed aircraft and infrastructure, in the past. Due to their ability to carry military equipment, weapons or fighters, cargo planes are high-value targets on the Libyan battlefield.

SAMPLE: 5A-LAT reactivates its transponder after clearing out of Greek and Egyptian FIRs, only to “go dark” again before landing in MJI, on January 15, 2020.

The Boeing 747-412 with registration number ER-BBJ is another aircraft of interest for the Turkish-Libyan airbridge. The ER-BBJ is operated by the Moldovian company “AeroTransCargo” and is exclusively used for cargo deliveries. AeroTransCargo’s sub-company “Airstok” has managerial links with a Libyan charter Global Aviation Services Group (GASG), which was reported by the United Nations for smuggling pistols to Tripoli (MJI) in 2017. According to C4ADS, at least four AeroTransCargo aircraft – registration numbers ER-JAI, ER-BBJ, ER-BAJ, and ER-BAM – traveled between Turkey and MJI under GASG call signs between April 19, 2017 and May 5, 2019. 

The ER-BBJ made at least 5 flights from Istanbul (SAW) to MJI in December alone. 

SAMPLE: ER-BBJ disabled its transponder while passing through Greek airspace and FIR, and before entering Libyan airspace, on December 15, 2019.

During its flight, the aircraft used the same counter-surveillance techniques as 5A-LAT, deactivating its transponder (Mode-S in the ER-BBJ’s case) when nearing Egyptian/Greek FIRs and while approaching Libya. The ER-BBJ deliveries were sometimes succeeded by increased military activity between the GNA and LNA.  However, AeroTransCargo firmly denies allegations that it is smuggling weapon systems into Libya. 


ROLE OF SNA, TURKISH INTENTIONS UNCLEAR

The introduction of SNA groups reflects a quantitative increase in Ankara’s commitment to  Tripoli and their mutual economic interests. The move is designed to reverse the setback that GNA forces suffered in 2019, by injecting several thousand battle-hardened fighters in the GNA’s ranks. Depending on the exact troop number, the influx of several hundreds to thousands of Syrian rebels will have a minimal to moderate impact on the battlefield. Ankara hopes that the new contingent will break the deadlock in southern Tripoli and Guryanh and push Haftar’s offensive back. 

Besides acting as “canon fodder,” the SNA could serve in external security roles, guarding Turkish military garrisons and forces in Libya. Notoriously undisciplined and poorly trained, the SNA fighters are however unlikely to be tasked with training and advising missions, which will be exclusively performed by regular Turkish troops. 

The status and timetable of the SNA deployment remains unclear and very fluid. Turkey has likely calculated that the increased military support to the GNA will force Gen. Haftar to sign a ceasefire. It is likely that Ankara’s latest threats were exclusively aimed at pressuring the LNA to halt its operations against Tripoli and that President Erdogan did not seriously plan to conduct a prolonged military campaign in Libya.

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Iranian SA-15 SAM Downed Flight PS752 over Tehran, Intelligence Shows (CONFIRMED)

UPDATE: The Iranian government has admitted that its armed forces are responsible for the downing of the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 (flight PS75). Tehran added that the shoot-down was a…

UPDATE: The Iranian government has admitted that its armed forces are responsible for the downing of the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 (flight PS75). Tehran added that the shoot-down was a mistake caused by “human error.”

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shot down flight PS752 over Tehran, intelligence suggests. Based on SIGINT data collected by US agencies, the U.S., British, Canadian and Iraqi governments were able to confirm what the OSINT circle has been theorizing for the past days:


  • A Russian-made Tor M-1/2 SAM system (NATO Reporting name: SA-15 “Gauntlet”) downed the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 shortly after the aircraft took off from Tehran – Imam Khomeini International Airport at 6.12 AM (local time) on Jan. 8, 2020. All 176 passengers died. The shoot-down was probably unintentional, but the theory of deliberate action cannot be excluded.

Iranian Tor-M1/2 (SA-15)

  • The IRGC-Aerospace Force (AF) fields numerous Tor M-1/2s for point air defense of sensitive facilities and long-range SAMs.
  • The aviation incident occurred five hours after the IRGC-AF launched a missile barrage at Iraqi installations hosting Coalition/ U.S. forces. It is very likely that the IRGC mistook/misidentified the PS752 for a US aircraft especially as Iran was tensely expecting an American retaliation for the earlier attack in Iraq.

HARD EVIDENCE:
  • Two photos showing the debris of a Tor M1/2’s (SA-15) surface-to- air missile (SAM) proximity fuse/”seeker” close to the crash site. Visual forensics certify the resemblance between the debris and the seeker section of a SA-15 SAM.

Debris of SA-15 SAM near PS752 crash site via T-Intelligence

  • A video showing an aerial detonation in the immediate proximity of flight PS752 while airborne. The “contact” is consistent with SAM interceptions.

*This is likely the second SAM launched (per “2-for-1” SAM engagement doctrine/ two missiles fired for one target). The explosion caused by the first SAM probably attracted everyone’s attention, hence why people started filming and caught the second SAM on tape. 

SOFT EVIDENCE:
  • Aircraft crash site is close to a known Tor M-1/2 deployment (within kinematic range).
  • As opposed to the Iranian position, the Boeing 737-aircraft did not attempt to return to the airport. The pilots instantly lost communications with the tower and did not send an SOS signal. Flight path post-contact rather suggests the loss of flight control mechanics than a return-to-base.



THE CLASSIFIED INTELLIGENCE
  • Three intelligence sources (two US and one Iraqi) told major news outlets that the U.S. Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellites picked up radio-emission spikes, indicating radar activity, and detected two surface-to-air missile (SAM) launches shortly before the plane crashed. The U.S. CIA, NGA and DIA aero-space assets were virtually certain focused on Iran to gather early-warning and telemetry data on possible missile launches.
OFFICIAL RECORD
  • Iranian officials blamed the accident on a technical malfunction such as a critical engine failure and dismissed the theory that its missiles brought the plane done. However, Iranian officials said they will not provide the plane’s “block box” to the other countries involved in the investigation. The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation claimed that the plane would have “dropped” from the sky if hit by a missile, while video evidence shows the aircraft ablaze and descending before exploding.
  • However, THAT IS INCORRECT. Point air defense systems such as Tor M-1/2 use proximity fuze, designed to detonate the SAM when entering the target’s “kill-zone”, which increases interception chances, instead of a hit-to-kill kinematic solution (as other SAM systems use). Once detonated, the SAM’s warhead inflicts structural damage with the intent to destroy the target.

  • This is consistent with the PS752’s last minutes – ablaze, instantly losing control and radio-contact – before exploding. In addition, the PS752’s 8,000 feet altitude was within the Tor M-1/s’s engagement envelope.

European security officials agree with the US assessment. The Canadian government has already amended its official political position to include the latest US-supplied intelligence.

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Iran Retaliates with Ballistic Missile Strike at Coalition Bases in Iraq

Iran launched a missile attack on Coalition facilities in Iraq as retaliation for the United States UAV-strike that killed IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani.  SITUATION REPORT At approx. 1.30 (Baghdad…

Iran launched a missile attack on Coalition facilities in Iraq as retaliation for the United States UAV-strike that killed IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani

SITUATION REPORT

  • At approx. 1.30 (Baghdad time), the IRGC-Aerospace Force (IRGC-AF) launched 15 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) from Khermanshah (Iran) against Ain Al-Assad AB and Erbil AB in Iraq. 
  • Ten SRBMs targeted Ain Al-Assad AB and five Erbil AB (which also hosts Italian, British and German forces). However, four SRBMs malfunctioned on their way to Erbil and failed. At least one SRBM was reportedly intercepted by a US C-RAM system at Ain Al-Assad. FYI: There are no THAAD nor Patriot air defense systems deployed in Iraq. 
  • Judging by the engagement range and operational history, the IRGC-AF likely fired Qi’am-1 or Fateh-class SRBMs (e.g. Fateh-313). 
  • No known casualties resulted from the strike, but the US Department of Defense and the Iraqi Security Forces are still in the process of conducting a battle damage assessment. 

Preliminary determination of the IRGC-AF’s SRBMs’ flight path from Iran to their targets in Iraq via T-Intelligence

  • Unconfirmed reports indicate that inbound missile warnings were issued, allowing Iraqi and Coalition forces to take shelter in bunkers. This means that the SRBM launches were detected by US early warning assets such as aerial platforms, satellites or ground-based radars. All US bases in the region and joint Coalition-Iraqi facilities in Iraq have been on high alert since early January. 
  • Iran has officially claimed the attack. The Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, called the attack “proportional”. Follow-up strikes are not expected.
  • The direct Iranian SRBM attack on Coalition forces is unprecedented, although very ineffective. If the DOD’s BDA proves that there are no human or major infrastructure losses, the chance of a US response are low. Both the US and Iran are interested in de-escalating the confrontation without losing face.

PRELIMINARY-BATTLE DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

This section will be updated when new information becomes available. 



ANALYSIS

We assess with a high degree of confidence that the IRGC’s SRBM salvo at targets in Iraq was ineffective due to technological malfunction and careful pre-planning to mitigate US/Coalition losses. By mounting a major but non-lethal attack, the IRGC hoped “to kill two birds with one stone:” 

  • High internal expectations. The IRGC satisfied Iran’s internal thirst to avenge the death of Iran’s “national treasure” Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani and claim success. The IRGC claims it killed “80 Americans and destroyer several aircraft.” 
  • Controlled escalation. The IRGC hopes to dissuade U.S. President Trump from ordering counter-attacks that could lead to an open armed conflict.

The IRGC’s plan should work, in theory. We know that for the past few days, the United States Department of State was engaged in back-channel negotiations with Iran via Qatar, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran and Oman. Washington’s message was clear: “we expect a retaliation from you but it must be proportionate. American losses are off-limits and will trigger additional air strikes.” Washington enforced its threat with the swift deployment of 6,000 forces (consisting of paratroopers, marines and special forces) to the Middle East for contingency operations.

It seems that Iran obeyed the “rules of the game.” Iraq’s “care-taker” Prime Minister claims that Tehran notified him before the strike and then he notified the U.S, therefore helping the Coalition prepare for the “missile rain”. Despite Tehran’s efforts to craft a balanced aggression, the IRGC’s attack was unprecedented as it directly targeted a site housing US forces and used BMs. Tehran threaded carefully but still walked a thin line. 

While impossible to predict President Trump’s next step, the chances of a U.S. military counter-strike have significantly decreased due to the lack of human losses. If Washington greenlights another strike, it will very likely target BM launchers, SAM systems and Command & Control (C2) nodes in western Iran. The objective of a new military attack would be to reduce the IRGC’s capability to plan, mount and execute BM attacks and “knock-off the door” (destruction/ suppression of enemy air defense systems) for follow-up air strikes, if required. The hypothetical scenario will likely lead to an low-intensity open conflict, restricted to air-naval engagements, between the two parties. However, there is no indication at this time suggesting that the U.S. President will follow an escalatory course of action

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Security Travel Alert for American and British Citizens

The deepening crisis in the Middle East has prompted American and British authorities to review travel advice information for the region. Following the United States UAV-strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary…

The deepening crisis in the Middle East has prompted American and British authorities to review travel advice information for the region. Following the United States UAV-strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF) Major-General Qassim Soleimani, tensions have been high between Iran, which seeks retaliation, and the US-led International Coalition against ISIS. 


SECURITY RISK FOR FOREIGN CITIZENS

Even before the strike, intelligence suggested that Iran and its network of Shiite paramilitary groups – many sanctioned terrorist groups – were plotting to kidnap, attack or kill foreign citizens in Iraq, in particular U.S. diplomatic personnel. With the recent developments, the security risk for foreign citizens has significantly increased. Currently, there is also a risk that foreign nationals – in particular American and British – could be arbitrarily detained by security personnel in Iran, or by militiamen in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

MORTAR, ROCKET AND MISSILE THREAT

In addition, there is a heightened risk of mortar, rocket and missile attacks in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). 

STAY AWAY FROM CROWDS

Angry crowds have taken to the streets to condemn the killing of IRGC-HQ Maj. Gen. Soleimani in the Middle East. Many demonstrations are led or coordinated by hostile militias, which could result in violence. You should avoid any rallies, marches, processions, and keep away from military sites.

FURTHER ADVICE: Please monitor your country’s foreign travel service for updates and editorial reviews. Things can change fast as the situation in the Middle East is extremely fluid. 


NATIONAL ISSUED ALERTS

U.S CITIZENS, BE ADVISED:

Most of the U.S Department of State (DOS)-issued travel warnings in the Middle East are not new and have remained unchanged for years. However, the DOS has reviewed and amended its travel advice for Iraq and Iran in the past two weeks. 

for U.S. DOS travel map go to travelmaps.state.gov

IRAN. Last updated on December 26, 2019. The DOS maintains the Level 4 Travel Advisory Level (TAL) – DO NOT TRAVEL for Iran. The DOS advise all U.S. citizens against all travel to Iran due to risk of kidnapping, arbitrary arrest and detention for U.S. citizens. The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iran.

IRAQ. Last updated on January 1, 2020. The DOS maintains the Level 4 TAL – DO NOT TRAVEL for Iraq. The DOS advise all U.S. citizens against all travel to Iraq due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict. 

On December 31, 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad suspended public consular services, until further notice, as a result of damage done by Iranian-backed terrorist attacks on the diplomatic compound. On October 18, 2018, the DOS ordered the suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.  That institution has not reopened. Only the U.S. Consulate General Erbil remains open and continues to provide consular services. 

BRITISH CITIZENS, BE ADVISED

 

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has reviewed the Foreign Travel Advice (FTA) for Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Turkey. 

IRAN. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise all British nationals against all but essential travel to Iran and against all travel to:

  • within 100km of the entire Iran/Afghanistan border
  • within 10km of the entire Iran/Iraq border
  • the province of Sistan-Baluchistan
  • the area east of the line running from Bam to Jask, including Bam

However, for British-Iranian dual nationals the FCO advise against all travel to Iran. If you’re in Iran, you should consider carefully your need to remain. If your continued presence is not essential, you should consider leaving. There is a risk that British nationals, and a significantly higher risk that British-Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained or arrested in Iran. 

The criminal justice process followed in such cases falls below international standards. Iran does not recognise dual nationality. If you are a dual British-Iranian national and are detained in Iran, the FCO’s ability to provide consular support is extremely limited



IRAQ. As of January 4, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Iraq, except for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where the FCO continue to advise against all but essential travel. If you’re in areas of Iraq where the FCO advise against all travel, you should consider leaving by commercial means.

If you’re in Iraq or decide to travel, make sure you have robust contingency plans in place and keep these under review. You should keep up to date with the latest developments across the country, including via the media and this travel advice, avoid any rallies, marches or processions, and follow the instructions of local authorities.

SYRIA. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Syria. British nationals in Syria should leave by any practical means. Consular support is not available from the British government from within Syria, as all services of the British Embassy in Damascus are suspended and all diplomatic and consular staff have been withdrawn. If you need to speak to a consular officer in the UK, call the FCO in London on +44 (0)20 7008 1500.



YEMEN. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Yemen. This includes the mainland and all islands. If you’re in Yemen, you should leave immediately. If you choose to remain in Yemen, you should minimise movement around the country and within cities and towns, monitor developments in the local security situation and follow other precautions in this travel advice. Consular support is not available from the British government from within Yemen. If you need to speak to a consular officer in the UK, call the FCO in London on +44 (0)20 7008 1500.

TURKEY. As of January 6, 2020, the FCO advise against all travel to Turkish areas within 10 km of the border with Syria, except the city of Kilis. This amendment was brought in connection with the recent tensions in Iraq and augments the existing security alert concerning Turkey. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:

  • all other areas of Sirnak, Kilis (including Kilis city) and Hatay provinces
  • the provinces of Diyarbakir, Tunceli and Hakkari

GULF STATES. The FCO reviewed the FTA for Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, KSA and Oman, but has not issued a warning against travel. However, all of these countries have pre-existing security alerts due to terrorism. The risk of terrorist attacks in the Gulf is likely or very likely (depending on the state). Exercise caution and regularly check the travel advice for each country.

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Baghdad Parliament Votes to Expel US & Coalition Forces from Iraq

The Iraqi Parliament has voted to expel US and Coalition forces from Iraq. The draft resolution will force the Iraqi Government to cancel the request of assistance submitted to the…

The Iraqi Parliament has voted to expel US and Coalition forces from Iraq. The draft resolution will force the Iraqi Government to cancel the request of assistance submitted to the Coalition in 2014 to fight ISIS. If enacted, the resolution will force all foreign forces participating in the Coalition against ISIS to leave Iraq permanently and cease operations in Iraqi airspace. Iraq’s “care-taker” Prime-Minister Abdul Mahdi advised the MEPs to vote in favor of the resolution. 

Despite boycotts from Kurdish and some Arab Sunni parties, the Iraqi Parliament met the necessary majority of 165 MEPs due to massive mobilization from the ruling Coalition led by Saairun and Fatah, and other smaller factions. 

BAGHDAD’S RULING COALITION 

Saairun (“Alliance towards reform”) is an electoral coalition between the Sadrist Integrity Party, led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Iraqi Communist Party. The alliance is “shepherd” by Muqtada al-Sadr himself, who led Jaysh al-Mahdi (“Mahdi’s Army), the largest anti-American Shiite militia, prior to 2011. While Jaysh al-Mahdi was disbanded in 2008, al-Sadr still commands several major paramilitary units such as “Saraya al-Salam” (Peace Brigades), which are part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). Despite having close ties with Iran, al-Sadr was recently seen as a voice for Iraqi sovereignty and unity, rejecting both US and Iranian hegemony over Baghdad. Saairun won the 2018 legislative election with 14 percent and received 54 seats in Parliament. 

Sadr (R) attends an Ashura ceremony in Tehran with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei [Getty]

Fatah is a coalition of the political organisations linked to several key PMUs, including major pro-Iranian groups such as the Badr Organization (BO), Kata’ib Imam Ali (KIA) Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asab al-Haq (AAH) – the last two being US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). Although expect to win the 2018 elections, Fatah finished second with 13,8 percent of the votes. After five months of negotiations, Fatah managed to form a ruling coalition with Sadr’s Saairun, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and other smaller factions. The fragile coalition appointed Abdul al-Mahdi as a compromise PM. 

VOTE UNDER PRESSURE

Following the United States’ Joint Special Operations Command (JSCO) air strike that killed IRGC-QF Major-General Qassim Soleimani, PM Mahdi called for an emergency Parliamentary session. PM Mahdi slammed the United States for acting outside its military mandate – training Iraqi forces and fighting ISIS – and using Iraqi airspace without the Government’s approval.

In the meanwhile, Fatah was drafting a resolution to cancel the Coalition’s military mandate in Iraq and eject the US forces out of the country. In the days leading to the Parliamentary session, the PMUs, and in particular KH, warned MEPs that they will publicize the home address those who vote against the bill.  

Kataib Helbollah fighters. Image: @WithinSyriaBlog/Twitter

With the exception of Fatah’s representatives, Iraqi MEPs did not take this vote lightly. The implications for Iraq and regional security are significant. 

IMPLICATIONS

    • Expelling the Coalition from Iraq means surrendering Baghdad to Iranian influence. There will be no political counterweight to the PMUs, which will be free to grow into a military-political entity parallel to the Iraqi military and government – akin to Iran’s IRGC –  and transform Iraq into a Khomeinist republic. 
    • The removal of US/ Coalition troops from Iraq will cripple Iraq’s capacity to combat ISIS and stop the terrorist group from reverting back to a para-state actor. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will lose the capacity to receive ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), CAS (Close Air Support) and other forms of air support. NATO’s train and equip programs, including “train-the-trainer” modules will also end. With the US gone and Baghdad under the PMUs’ rule, ISIS and Sunni-Shia sectarianism are expected to grow. 

  • The void in the ISF’s capabilities and defense capacity could be filled by a third party such as Russia, which will likely try to take advantage of the situation. In addition, the IRGC will be free to help the PMUs develop an air wing, equipped with Iranian-made loitering drones/ expendable-unmanned aerial vehicles (X-UAVs) and surface-to-air (SAM) missile systems. 
  • The IRGC will also be free to deploy advanced striking capabilities on Iraqi soil (e.g. cruise missiles, ballistic missiles) and enable the PMUs to autonomously operate them. This will only increase tensions with Israel and the Gulf States.  
  • The vote does not not mean that US troops will be forced to leave immediately. However, when they do withdraw, Washington and its Coalition partners will only rely on their few local allies, namely the KDP’s Peshmerga and the DOD-trained Iraqi Special Operations Force (IQSOF), for contingency operations (intelligence and strike support). Kurdish autonomy will be the last pressure tool against an Iranian-controlled Iraqi Government. 



  • Without a military presence in Iraq, the Coalition will lose most of its established logistics nodes and lines of communications to supply troops in Syria. This will lead to a swift reduction of Coalition’s forces in Syria and ultimately, to a complete withdrawal.
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Iran’s Retaliation: What to Expect

After the US airstrike that killed General Suleimani, Iranian retaliation is very likely, but not guaranteed. Given the magnitude of the US response to the Embassy attack in Baghdad, Tehran…

After the US airstrike that killed General Suleimani, Iranian retaliation is very likely, but not guaranteed. Given the magnitude of the US response to the Embassy attack in Baghdad, Tehran is likely exploring ways to retaliate without overplaying its hand. Iran can either use its own personnel (IRGC or Artesh) or proxy forces (in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen) to prosecute military, civilian or political targets.


There is NO GUARANTEE the response will be immediate. Iran does not have the logistical capability to mount prompt attacks against time sensitive targets and terrorist attacks against high-value targets require months of planning (e.g. ID target, assess security profile etc.). Our ROUNDUP is as follows:

  • The biggest threat is a direct Iranian kinetic strike on static US/Coalition installations in the region. The IRGC-Aerospace Force is capable of launching ground-based ballistic and cruise missile strikes against US regional installations. In case of a saturation attack, US air defenses could be overwhelmed. However, this course of action is UNLIKELY due to the risk of starting an all-out war. Despite advances in its conventional capabilities, direct confrontation still remains Iran’s biggest weakness. The threat of saturation missile attacks on regional installations will remain Iran’s main deterrent against an US/Israeli raid on its nuclear facilities. While highly unlikely, the Department of Defense has actively prepared for such attacks for months. The newly announced deployment of 4,000 troops will further reinforce US regional capabilities. 

VIEW FROM TEHRAN via T-Intelligence

  • There is however, a SIGNIFICANT CHANCE that Iran could mirror the US’ direct action against Brigadier-General Qasim Soleimani and conduct/order its own assassinations. While it is unlikely that the IRGC could find, fix and finish a high-value US officer, they could compensate through a wave of ESCALATORY VIOLENCE directed against US personnel. While such attacks have been marked as a “red-line” by the Trump administration, Tehran could see it as “fair game” for retaliation. This possibility is taken SERIOUSLY by the Department of Defense, which announced that it will scale down operations in Iraq due to security reasons. 



  • LIKELY, Tehran will seek to make use of its asymmetric tactics, paramilitary allies, and irregular warfare style that it has learned to master in the past four decades. Such types of action include suicide attacks, kidnappings, and stirring violent unrests. The possibility of attacks on US consular facilities, diplomats and officers outside the Middle East, including Africa and South America, should not be ruled out. 

Behind the scenes an ongoing diplomatic process aims to de-escalate the tensions. The Swiss embassy in Iran, which also represents American diplomatic interests, and the Government of Qatar are acting as back-channel mediators between the US and Iran. 


TEHRAN EXPECTED TO TREAD CAREFULLY 

President Trump’s decision to remove Qasim Soleimani from the battlefield should – in theory – reinstate a credible deterrence and a strong red-line against Iran. Failure to retaliate meaningfully after the hundreds of rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq and the assault on the Embassy, would have been perceived by Tehran as a sign of weakness. The risk of not responding was significantly higher than of idling. Punishing Iran for its “grey-zone” aggressions and dragging the IRGC’s covert actions out of the shadow will expose the Islamic regime in Tehran to the world.

Ayatollah Khamenei tasked his IRGC generals to launch a “harsh retaliation.” Failure to react to the loss of its “national treasure” will make Iran look weak Soleimani’s deputy and now-successor, Brigadier-General Ismail al-Qa’ani will have to thread carefully or risk dragging Iran further into a conventional confrontation.

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IRGC-Quds Force General & PMU Commander Killed in US airstrike in Baghdad

IRGC-Quds Force Commander, General Qasim Soleimani, and Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) Commander/PMU Deputy Chairman, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad International Airport. The targets are confirmed…

IRGC-Quds Force Commander, General Qasim Soleimani, and Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) Commander/PMU Deputy Chairman, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad International Airport. The targets are confirmed killed by all sources. Soleimani and his associates were planning to attack and kidnap American diplomats in Iraq. 

This is the biggest targeted killing operation since the death of Bin Laden. As the commander of the IRGC’s external operations branch, Qasim Soleimani was in charge of exporting the Khomenist revolution and IRGC model for two decades. He did this by founding, arming and training Shiite fundamentalist militias – including terrorist organisations – in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Qasim Soleimani and his Iraqi partners are responsible for thousands of American and Coalition deaths since the start of the Iraqi War. 

With Soleimani coordinating all of Iran’s extra-territorial operations and overseeing the Syrian battlefield, his death will have a major impact, at least in the short-term, for the IRGC. Plans, drafted by Soleimani himself, nevertheless remain that call for the destruction of Israel and for the removal of US forces from Iraq. Washington and Jerusalem could have killed Soleimani many times before, but refrained from “pulling the trigger” out of fear of retaliation. However, in light of the recent attacks on international shipping, Coalition bases and on the US embassy, the gloves were off. 



STRIKE PACKAGE

We can confirm with a high degree of confidence that the kinetic package that killed Qasim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis consisted of four AGM-144 “Hellfire” air-to-ground missiles. Since the blast area was determined to be a target-rich environment, the strike platforms fired standard Hellfire missiles that had explosive warheads – ensuring maximum effect – and not the secretive (CIA-exclusive) AGM-144X9 “Flying Ginshu” with pop-blades – lately featured in air raids against al-Qa’ida militants in Idlib. The missiles were fired by a MQ-9 “Reaper” UCAV and/or AH-64 Apache attack helicopter participating in the operation. Besides Soleimani and Muhandis, the kinetic strike killed three Hizbollah and PMU militants. The operation was overseen by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). 

Minutes before the strike, Qasim Soleimani and three Hizbollah militants flew from Damascus to Baghdad on board ChamWings flight 6Q501. They landed between 12.30 and 12.40 (local time) at Baghdad Airport. From touchdown, JSOC had a very short strike window to bomb the two-vehicle motorcade brought by al-Muhandis to greet Soleimani, without damaging the airport or losing them in Baghdad’s civilian-dense traffic.

RETALIATION STILL EXPECTED

  • The airstrike was launched to prevent further counter-retaliations directed by the IRGC and executed by its Iraqi proxies such as KH on American and Coalition targets. Based on the US assets deployed to the area, we determine that the US prepared to face hostage situations, kidnappings and an armed assault on the embassy. The US has also called for its citizens to immediately leave Iraq
  • The biggest fear is that Iran will make use of its ultimate deterrence plan and launch missile attacks on US facilities in the Middle East. To mitigate this risk, the US scrambled F-35As and F-22s to police the regional air space.
  • Intense military air traffic, involving multiple aerial assets, over Europe. US SOF elements have been forward deployed from Souda Bay (Greece) to Jordan, while KC-135 tankers were moved from the UK to Greece and Cyprus. Over 22 C-17 heavy lifters formed an “air-bridge” between the continental US and the Middle East, in the past 72 hours. ISR platforms are online 24/7 over the Persian Gulf, Eastern Mediterranean and Iraq. 



ALERTS

RISK OF WAR is increasingly high. 

An ARMED ASSAULT on the US Embassy in Baghdad remains possible, but very difficult, given the influx of US forces in the region.  

TERRORIST AND ASYMMETRIC ATTACKS in Iraq or abroad, including suicide attacks and kidnappings, are very likely.


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