Tag: Patriot

Diamonds are Forever: Russia Doubles Down on Central African Republic (CAR)

1. Russia has deployed over 300 regular military forces and hardware to the Central African Republic (CAR) in December, according to Russia’s foreign ministry. CAR officials have confirmed this information….

1. Russia has deployed over 300 regular military forces and hardware to the Central African Republic (CAR) in December, according to Russia’s foreign ministry. CAR officials have confirmed this information. They have stated that President Faustin Toaudera, who was running for re-election, requested Russia’s military assistance to prevent election violence. 

ELECTIONS UNDER THREAT OF VIOLENCE

2. In late November 2020, rebel forces launched an offensive against the capital city of Bangui, threatening the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in CAR. President Toaudera has accused the opposition of working with the rebels and preparing a coup against his government. The opposition denies these allegations and accuses Toaudera of inviting the Russian military to reinforce his position. 

3. Presidential and parliamentary elections took place on 27 December amidst violence and widespread reports of irregularities. On January 3rd, the CAR electoral commission announced Toaudera’s victory. 


RUSSIAN AIRLIFT OPERATIONS TO CAR

4. First signs of an increased Russian military presence appeared on social media between 16 and 19 December. Locals shared photos of Russian cargo planes at Bangui Airport. Preliminary OSINT indicates that the following assets airlifted Russian soldiers and equipment to CAR:

16 December: 

  • 2x Ilyushin Il-76 (RF-tail numbers unclear)

Annex 1

24 December: 

  • 1x Antonov An-124 (RF-82034), which delivered two Mi-8AMTsh helicopters (AFIC/NATO Reporting name: Hip)

Annex 2

27 December:

  • 1x Ilyushin Il-76 (RF-76771)
  • 1x Ilyushin Il-76 (RF-86901)
  • 1x Ilyushin Il-76TD (EX-76003)Operated by FLY SKY AIRLINES LLC, flight EX-76003 hauled Toyota Land Cruisers and equipment identified as the Turkish-made Otokar Cobra armored personnel carrier (APC).

Annex 3

28 December:

  • 1x Ilyushin Il-76 [RF-86901]

*Flight log is preliminary and is limited to December 2020, landing dates can be inaccurate, and the list incomplete. 


5. Observed activities of the Russian reinforcements are:

  • Aerial patrol over Bangui. Multiple Social media intelligence (SOCMINT) sources indicate that the two Hi-8s conducted overwatch.

  • Internal foreign defense. Russian forces, likely special operations forces, military intelligence and private contractors, conducted joint operations with the CAR military in the Bangui area of operations. Images show Russian soldiers manning checkpoints, patrolling the periphery, and clearing villages around the capital.  (evidence 1; evidence 2).
  • Enhanced VIP protection. Social media photos show armed men in military fatigues consistent with Russian special forces (Spetsnaz) guarding CAR President Toaudera during campaign rallies.

Annex 5 Russian operatives have been part of Touadera’s security detail for years

  • Public Relations (PR). Russian-supplied BRDM-2 amphibious armored vehicles, branded with the Russian-CAR friendship stickers,  featured in campaign rallies and parades (video evidence starts at 3:05). The same vehicles were then observed in combat and patrol. Russian and CAR forces have reportedly already lost one BRDM-2 in fights with rebel forces. 

 

PRE-EXISTING RUSSIAN ASSETS

6. Russia’s latest military deployment expands its previously discrete presence in CAR. At least two Kremlin-sponsored private military corporations (PMCs), namely Vagner and Sewa Security Services, have been present in the country since 2017 when Russia and CAR signed a security agreement. 

7. As a T-Intelligence assessment found in 2018, “the Russian-CAR security accord mainly seems to serve as a front for advancing the commercial interests of Putin’s oligarchic circle on the mineral market in Africa.” Our OSINT investigation identified “Lobaye Invest” as the leading Russian company profiting from diamond extractions in CAR. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Treasury put Lobaye Invest and owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, who also reportedly heads Vagner, under economic sanctions. 

8. Vagner contractors carry out a number of missions, primarily site and external security for diamond mining operations. While one of the world’s poorest countries, CAR is rich in mineral resources such as gold, (gem-quality) diamonds, and uranium. In 2019, The Africa Report published an extensive inquiry into the network of Russian companies profiting from CAR’s diamond exploitations contracts 

9. “Sewa Security Services” is another Russian private military corporation (PMC) operating in CAR under the 2017 security accord. Sewa is primarily engaged in VIP protection. Throughout the years, press and social media photos have shown Sewa operatives and other contractors guarding CAR political figures, including President Toudega. 

A member of the close protection unit for Central African republic President Touadera, composed by Russian private security company operatives from Sewa Security, are seen in Berengo on August 4, 2018. – Russian military consultants have set up training for the Central African Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces after delivering weapons to the country. Already trained by the European program (EUTM), the soldiers are trained in the handling of weapons by the Russian consultants. (Photo by FLORENT VERGNES / AFP via Getty Images)

10. Important: It is likely that “Sewa Security Services” is Vagner’s cover name and company under which the PMC operates in CAR. 

11. Vagner and/or Sewa are also engaged in capacity building for the CAR military and, to a lesser extent, foreign internal defense. The Berengo estate, 35 km southwest of Bangui, is operational command and headquarters of the Russian contractors in CAR. 

GEOINT Vagner PMC barracks near Bangui (Analysis by T-Intelligence; imagery courtesy of Planet Inc.)

OUTLOOK

12. It is evident that Russia’s troop deployment aimed to strengthen President Touadera’s position ahead of elections. The Kremlin’s investments in diamond drilling in CAR depend on the stability of Touadera’s presidency. 

13. Apart from local rebels, Russia’s main adversary in CAR is France. Under President Macron, France has worked to rebuild influence in Francophone Africa, which directly threatens the Kremlin’s interests in CAR. To protect its investments, Russia will double down on CAR, increase troop numbers (regular and irregular) and throw more assets into the fight. 


by HARM

editing by Gecko

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Iran Used Cruise Missiles, Suicide Drones in Saudi Attack

During a press briefing in Riyadh, the Saudi Defense Ministry revealed wreckage recovered after the air attack on the petrochemical facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. The physical evidence suggests that…

During a press briefing in Riyadh, the Saudi Defense Ministry revealed wreckage recovered after the air attack on the petrochemical facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. The physical evidence suggests that the weapons used in the attack were a mix of Iranian land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) and expendable unmanned aerial vehicles (XUAVs). According to the Defense Ministry, eighteen XUAVs struck the Abqaiq oil facility. Three LACMs malfunctioned and crashed in the Saudi desert en route to Abqaiq. The raid on Khurais oil field was conducted by four LACMs.


KINETIC PLATFORMS

LACM. The Saudis identified the LACMs as the Iranian-made “Ya-Ali.” With an estimated engagement range of 700 km, the Ya-Ali carries a 200 kg warhead. However, the majority of experts agree that the wreckage bears more similarity with the Iranian “Soumar” LACM or the “Quds-1”, a re-branded version of the Soumar operated by the Houthis. 


While all LACMs seem to have been inspired by the Russian-made Kh-55 Granat (NATO Reporting name: Kent), which was smuggled by the IRGC from Ukraine in 2001, the three missile-types differ in design and mechanical features. Compared to the Ya-Ali, the Quds-1’s rocket booster is smaller and its engine is not internally carried, but situated on the airframe. While similar at first sight, the Quds-1 and Soumar differ in size and airframe design (aft fuselage, stabilizers, exhaust, wings). The two missiles also use different engines. The Quds-1 is believed to be powered by the Czech-made TJ100 turbojet propeller or a replica of it. Both the Quds-1 and the Ya-Ali are believed to share the same 700 km operational range, roughly half of their larger Soumar “cousin.” 

Although operated by the Houthis, the Quds-1 is undeniably linked to Iran’s evolving family of LACMs. Analysts believe that Iran is secretly producing simplified knockoffs of its missile systems for exclusive use by its proxies. This allows the IRGC to equip its allies with high-end conventional capabilities, while maintaining political deniability. 

UAV. The Saudi Defense Ministry identified the loitering munition used in the Abqaiq attacks as “Iranian Delta Wave UAVs.” The IRGC-AF have been secretly working on a myriad of UAV programs for the past decade. While numerous operational and experimental airframes have been unveiled in private or semi-private events for government officials, there is sparse information regarding the Delta Wave XUAV. 

As per ARS Technica: “drone wreckage including one described as an Iranian Delta Wave UAV. The design resembles earlier delta-winged “kamikaze” drones built by Iran.” Vivian Nereim/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Analysts have found that the Delta Wave UAV is based on the IRGC’s “Toofan”, an expandable/ “suicide” UAV capable of 250 km/h top speed for one hour. However, the variants used in the Khurais and Abqaiq attack were smaller with potentially “stealthier” characteristics. 


DELIVERY AND EXECUTION

The relatively medium range of both the LACMs and XUAVs add extra credibility to American, Saudi, and  independent OSINT findings that the attack did not originate from Yemen, but from the north, with Iran’s southwestern province as the likeliest launching point. 

The kinetic solution as well as the flight path proved ideal to bypass Saudi air defenses. The Iranian weapons flew low (not higher than 200 meters) and slow, blending with ground clutter, which likely caused radar dopplers to filter them out. To support the attack, the IRGC-AF have certainly obtained actionable intelligence regarding the radio-electronic order of battle of the Royal Saudi Air Force in Abqaiq and Khurais and of US installations in Kuwait, using both human reportings and geospatial means. With Kuwait as the likely intermediate airspace, the IRGC gambled that local US air defenses were either inactive/idle or subject to disadvantageous rules of engagement (force protection only). 

Open-source commercial satellite imagery dating from June, 2019 shows that the AN/MPQ-53 sensor near Abqaiq was pointed towards the southwest. In addition, the IRGC-AF likely collected critical information on whether the point air defense installations such as the “Shahin” and “Oerlikon” (aided by Skyguard radars) near Abqaiq were active. 

Using a custom script in Sentinel-1 SAR multi-temporal imagery, OSINT analysts have found that none of the Saudi AN/MPQ-53/65 radars were active on Saturday (September 16, 2019). VH-VV polarization and ascending-descending orbit convergence show that only Bahraini, Qatari and Emirati PATRIOT systems and some (non-AN/MPQ-53/65 ) radars in Kuwait also were “online.” 


For more on the September 14 Air Attack on Saudi Arabia consult our preliminary attack path assessment and the initial after-action briefing.

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Russian Mercenaries Land in Venezuela to Protect Maduro: A Wagner Job?

According to an exclusive report by Reuters, a group of up to 400 Russian private contractors arrived in Venezuela last week. The mercenaries will provide protection for President Nicolas Maduro,…

According to an exclusive report by Reuters, a group of up to 400 Russian private contractors arrived in Venezuela last week. The mercenaries will provide protection for President Nicolas Maduro, who fears opposition sympathizers in his own security forces. Reuters claims that the contractors are employees of the infamous private military company (PMC) “Wagner group.” There are speculations that Wagner contractors active the Central African Republic and Sudan were airlifted on an Il-96-300 flight of Russia’s Special Flight Detachment from Dakar (Senegal) via Paraguay and Cuba.   

However, there is reason to doubt that Wagner is behind the deployment. Why?

1.The Source: Reuters only named source is Yevgeny Shabayev, the head of a Russian veterans’ organizations with close ties to the PMC scene. While a facebook post by Shabayev confirms that Russian contractors deployed to Venezuela via Cuba, he does not mention Wagner (facebook post not available anymore, see the Defense Post). Instead, he states that a group of security professionals, who specialize in VIP protection and recently returned from Gabon, received the order to put together a task force. In an interview with the Russian outlet Lenta.ru published two days ago, Shabayev explicitly states that the contractors do not belong to the Wagner group.

2. Mission Profile: Wagner is not the PMC of choice for politically sensitive VIP-protection jobs like the Venezuela operation. As Wagner’s operations in Ukraine and Syria have attracted intense media attention, the company is increasingly sidelined for more discreet competitors such as the elusive PMC “Patriot,” which reportedly specializes in VIP-protection. To avoid media attention, Patriot hires well-paid specialists for short-term contracts and changes names and local subsidiaries frequently. Reports suggest that the Russian Ministry of Defense in particular prefers Patriot’s incognito operating style over Wagner’s growing notoriety. Shabayev’s description of the group assembled for Venezuela fits the Patriot model (ad-hoc, VIP-protection, security specialists connected to the Ministry of Defense) better than Wagner.   

3. The Reuter’s report has raised credibility questions. Yevgeny Shabayev is indeed a controversial figure, who has repeatedly sought media attention in the past month. His claim of 400 mercenaries in Venezuela is likely inflated. This does however not necessarily mean that the entire story is fabricated. Shabayev is currently the target of massive media campaign, spearheaded by the Federal News Agency (a pro-Kremlin outlet owned by Wagner-founder Prigozhin). Clearly, the Kremlin has a strong interest to discredit reports about Russian mercenaries as “fake news.”


by Gecko 

This article has been updated

Photo credit: Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images

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