Pulling nuclear bombs out of Incirlik now could further shatter Turkey’s confidence and trust in the United States

Following the coup attempt in Turkey last July justified concerns and questions arose about the future of the fifty or so US B-61 nuclear bombs stored at Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase. It gave impetus to other more longstanding questions about the wisdom of storing such weapons there in the post-Cold War world, especially questions pertaining to the usefulness of having those non-conventional weapons weighed against the risks.

Image of a B-61 thermonuclear weapon. In the back it is assembled, in the middle it is divided into its major subcomponents, in the front it is almost completely disassembled. The warhead is contained in the bullet-shaped silver canister.

Image of a B-61 thermonuclear weapon. In the back it is assembled, in the middle it is divided into its major subcomponents, in the front it is almost completely disassembled. The warhead is contained in the bullet-shaped silver canister.

Incirlik is not the only base in which the US stores nuclear bombs. Within NATOs nuclear sharing the US has stored all in all 180 B-61 bombs in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey — with the exception of Turkey — including aircraft capable of carrying them to their targets. Turkey has 50 of these bombs on its territory but does not permit warplanes belonging to other NATO countries that can carry them to be based on its territory, nor does it itself possess bomber aircraft capable of delivering these bombs to their targets. Meaning that if NATO had to fight a nuclear war its aircraft would have to fly to Turkey to pick up the B-61’s stored at Incirlik before then flying on to their target. A mind-bogglingly impractical set-up.

On the military side the risk of keeping these weapons in Turkey far outweighs the benefits, that’s quite salient. Given the constant security threat in Turkey’s southeast region – between the threat from the Islamic State (ISIS) and the ongoing war between Turkey and Kurdish militants – the US has already pulled out all the families of US military personnel there. A move which demonstrably showed how concerned they are over security in that increasingly volatile and dangerous region.

(Source: Hans M. Kristensen, "B61-12: The New Guided Standoff Nuclear Bomb", Federation of American Scientists, 02.05.2014.)

(Source: Hans M. Kristensen, “B61-12: The New Guided Standoff Nuclear Bomb“, Federation of American Scientists, 02.05.2014.)

Obviously even running the slight risk of those nuclear bombs falling into the hands of Islamist terrorists, or renegade elements in the Turkish military (after all the coup plotters managed to commandeer F-16 jet fighters from that very same base) rather than simply take those weapons out of Turkey would amount to wanton and almost criminal negligence.

However there is another side to being cautious and withdrawing those weapons from an increasingly unstable Turkey which should not be overlooked, and that’s the political side. On that side the US risks further reducing the already diminished confidence Ankara has in it at a critical time.

The Turkish government was disgusted at the tepid response the Europeans and the US had in the aftermath of the coup attempt when it came to giving solidarity with the Turkish government. From Ankara’s perspective neither of them fully appreciated the fact the Turkish people successfully foiled a military coup and secured civilian control over the government. Instead all Ankara heard were warnings from both about its post-coup crackdown, which the Turkish government sees as wholly necessary given the threat it has faced down.

The striking fact that the US continues to host the man Turkey blames for the coup attempt, the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, also angers Ankara. Giving rise to claims that the US was behind the attempt.

This coupled with the rapprochement it began with Russia earlier this summer is seeing Turkey feel more reassured by Tehran and Moscow – both of whom unequivocally condemned the coup attempt and reiterated their support to the incumbent Turkish government, despite their many differences with it – than by the US and Europe. It’s also worth noting that after the coup the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has chosen to only visit those two countries, priorities of this kind can be very informative.

(Source: Hans M. Kristensen, "Upgrades At US Nuclear Bases In Europe Acknowledge Security Risk", Federation of American Scientists, 10.09.2015).

(Source: Hans M. Kristensen, “Upgrades At US Nuclear Bases In Europe Acknowledge Security Risk“, Federation of American Scientists, 10.09.2015).

This is the political backdrop to which the US is pulling out these nuclear weapons from Turkey. And while Turkey is a NATO member country – and also the only Middle East country with which the US actually has any form of an official military alliance – pulling these weapons out now would symbolize a waning commitment to protect Turkey’s security. Regardless of the fact that removing these weapons would not make an iota of difference to Turkey’s security, especially regarding the kind of threats Turkey will face in the foreseeable future.

Since the Syrian crisis began Turkey’s American and European allies sought to assuage Turkey’s concerns about the security situation south of its border by deploying Patriot air defense missile batteries to show its commitment to that NATO ally’s defense and security. In late 2015 when those NATO allies determined the missile threat from Syria to be a minimum they decided to pull those missiles out of Turkey, however they did their utmost to stress to Turkey that removing them did not mean they reneging on their commitment to safeguard Turkey’s security and territorial integrity.

Throughout the Cold War, the United States deployed thousands of shorter-range nuclear weapons with U.S. forces in Europe, Japan, and South Korea, and on ships around the world. These weapons were intended to extend deterrence and defend allies in Europe and Asia. While most were withdrawn in the 1990s, the United States retains around 200 B61 bombs in Europe. These serve not only to deter potential aggressors, but also as an important element in NATO’s cohesion. — Amy F. Woolf, “U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey“, CRS Insight, 02.08.2016.

In this case however Ankara may see them doing just that, at a time when reassurances in both the political and security arenas are absolutely essential. Even though all the bombs belong to the US, NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) will have a say in any withdrawal of these weapons, since these US nuclear bombs are designated for the alliances’ use. But if the US pushes for a withdrawal of these weapons — possibly without the consent of the NPG — at a time when the Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump questions the usefulness of US commitments to NATO that may not only send the wrong signal to Turkey, but to the rest of the NATO alliance. A withdrawal of these weapons in the near future would also come at a time when the eastern NATO member states are increasingly worried about Russia’s aggressive posturing, meaning any US drawdown in the foreseeable future could potentially send shock-waves throughout the alliance.

In the light of rising doubts about the US’ will to defend the European NATO member countries in case of a massive Soviet military aggression, the UK and France developed their own nuclear weapon program, Germany was integrated into NATO in 1955 and the US came up with the concept of nuclear sharing within NATO as a way of nuclear deterrence in Europe. Since then, US nuclear weapons stationed in Europe are a symbolic reassurance of the willingness to defend NATO member states, which doesn’t possess nuclear weapons on their own.

The US and its NATO allies need to carefully weigh the military necessity of pulling these nukes out of Incirlik against the political risk involved. Otherwise they risk further alienating what amounts to its most strategically-important member state east of Germany.

More information
In August 18, 2016, EurActiv reported that the US moves its nuclear bombs from Turkey to Romania, citing two independent sources. First of all, it is very unlikely that Romania would become a destination of US nuclear weapons given the fact there is no appropriate storage vault for such weapons on Romanian soil. Secondly, the stationing of nuclear weapon there would be a blatant breach of the NATO-Russia Founding Act and a harsh provocation of Russia. After the NATO Summit 2016 in Warsaw early July, where NATO member states remained loyal to the NATO-Russia Founding Act, a unilateral move like this on the part of Washington is highly unlikely. Accordingly, the Romanian foreign ministry strongly denied reports that its country has become home of US nukes. Romania’s Minister of Defense, Mihnea Motoc has stated that “[t]here is no thinking, no plans in this direction. We can only call this information a speculation”.

Posted in English, International, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

There is a lot going on at the Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti

by Dan Gettinger. He is co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.

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A drone circles the Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti looking for suspicious activity. Not an aerial drone, but an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) called the Mobile Detection Assessment Response System (MDARS). These self-driving vehicles provide perimeter security to a hub for U.S. drone operations in the Horn of Africa and one of the largest U.S. military drone bases. The primary responsibility of the MDARS is to conduct patrols to deter anyone from entering the base.

“We can pretty much send [it] everywhere,” James Bowders, the lead operator of the MDARS, explained in the video below released by the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. “So it can go into harm’s way as opposed to a soldier or an airman.”

The new robots aren’t the only additions to Chabelley Airfield. Satellite imagery from July 1, 2016 reveals new drone hangars and a great deal of ongoing construction taking place at the airfield. Three large construction projects totalling an estimated $18.1 million are either currently underway or planned for the next year. Here’s what you need to know about the latest changes to America’s drone hub.

The MDARS
The MDARS in Djibouti is made by Land Sea Air Autonomy, a Westminster, Maryland-based company. The MDARS deployed to Chabelley features an intruder detection system payload that consists of a radar, night-vision camera, and two-way audio system. The system is integrated onto a Polaris Ranger Crew, an off-road vehicle which can normally carry four passengers. Land Sea Air Autonomy’s “Robotic Autonomous Platform“, the system upon which the MDARS is based, can also be integrated into other land or maritime vehicles.

The deployment to Chabelley is the culmination of an effort to create a robotic security system that began as early as 1985. The MDARS program, which is a joint Army and Navy effort, was formally initiated in 1988 with the goal of building a security robot for indoors, namely large warehouses and storage areas. The robot was based on the K3A Navmaster robot made by the Virginia-based technology company Cybermotion, Inc. In 1999, the Army awarded General Dynamics Robotic Systems a contract for continued engineering and manufacturing of the MDARS-Interior. However, Cybermotion folded in 2003 and the Army suspended the MDARS-Interior program.

The MDARS-Interior program was the subject of a 2006 audit by the DoD Office of Inspector General which found that poor program oversight by the Army contributed to the failure of the program. Between 1999 and 2003, the Army continued to award General Dynamics contract and milestone extensions as a result of testing failures. A total of $4 million was awarded, up from an initial award of $1.7 million, without any additional oversight by the Army program office.

Following the audit, the Army formally cancelled the MDARS-Interior program, but continued development of the MDARS-Exterior. The MDARS-Exterior program began in 1993 after the Army Program Office awarded General Dynamics Robotics Systems in Westminster, MD a contract to develop an outdoor robot that can maneuver autonomously. A prototype of the platform was successfully demonstrated in 2000 and, by 2007, the Army had ordered half a dozen of the robots for continued tests. In 2010, the first MDARS dneploymet was to the Nevada National Security Site (formerly known as the Nevada Test Site), where it provided 24-hour patrols.

Land Sea Air Autonomy was founded in 2011 by a team that included some former members of General Dynamics Robotics Systems. In 2012, LSA Autonomy produced the MDARS Increment II, the second generation of the long-running patrol vehicle. The MDARS Increment II has an upgraded detection and assessment capability and the ability to provide less lethal response. Unlike the Increment I MDARS, the Increment II robots were created using a commercial platform, the Polaris off-road buggies. The focus of the Increment II is on the autonomous driving and detection capabilities.

Chabelley Airfield
A satellite image from July 1, 2016 reveals changes at the Chabelley Airfield U.S. drone base in Djibouti. The image, which was accessed on Google Earth, shows a base buzzing with activity. Several construction projects are either underway or have been recently completed.

The latest construction is evidence that the U.S. military is readying Chabelley Airfield for continued drone operations in the Horn of Africa. When it was first set up in 2013, Chabelley was only meant to be operational for two years. In March 2014, however, AFRICOM reclassified Chabelley as an Enduring Support Location with a life expectancy of up to 10 years. Around the same time, construction began on an expansion of housing facilities at Chabelley, the first physical signs of the transition to a longer-term deployment.

In contrast to Pakistan, where the number of drone strikes has plummeted, U.S. drone operations in Yemen and Somalia — which are likely staged from Chabelley — have remained relatively steady, according to data compiled by “New America“. In fact, there have already been more drone strikes in Somalia in 2016 than in 2015, and twice as many operations overall. Other nations besides the United States have also deployed drones to Chabelley: between September 2014 and February 2015, the Italian Air Force deployed MQ-1 Predator drones to Chabelley to support counter-piracy missions in the Horn of Africa.

US Drone Strikes in Pakistan Yemen Somalia

The satellite image from July 1, 2016 shows that a project to add additional aircraft aprons and hangars has been completed. Historical satellite imagery reveals that construction began to expand the northeast corner of the base in November of 2014. The first two additional hangars were added in the spring of 2015 and the July 1 image reveals that work has finished on the final two hangars. In addition to the drone hangars, communications equipment and ground control stations for launching the drones have been set up adjacent to the aprons. The finished construction brings the total number of hangars currently in use to 12.

According to the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) military construction budget, the U.S. Air Force has proposed spending $6.9 million on paving the parking aprons and taxiways with asphalt or concrete. Currently, the base is constructed using AM-2 metal matting, 12-feet-long (3.7 m) aluminum panels that are used to rapidly build aircraft parking pads and taxiways. The AM-2 matting, which the Air Force has been using since the 1960s, is not intended for permanent use, and it can damage the aircraft if it is not maintained.

The FY17 budget proposal includes $3.6 million to pave the 3.4 mile (5.5 km) gravel access road between Camp Lemonnier, the much larger U.S. military base that adjoins Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport, and Chabelley Airfield. Currently, the road is subject to protruding boulders, edge washout, and potholes. Construction on internal access roads linking parts of Chabelley Airfield has already begun. On April 30, 2016, the Air Force issued a $22,272 contract to MGT Djibouti SARL for gravel for roads at Chabelley Airfield. The satellite image shows a walled staging area for construction vehicles near the entrance to the airfield.

U.S. Sailors from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 22 use a grater to spread a mixture of sand and gravel in the first step of creating a makeshift road May 2, 2016, at Chabelley Airfield, Djibouti. The road creation process includes leveling the sand and gravel mixture, then applying water before compressing it with a vibratory roller. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr. / U.S. Air Force)

U.S. Sailors from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 22 use a grater to spread a mixture of sand and gravel in the first step of creating a makeshift road May 2, 2016, at Chabelley Airfield, Djibouti. The road creation process includes leveling the sand and gravel mixture, then applying water before compressing it with a vibratory roller. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr. / U.S. Air Force)

The July 1 image shows a construction vehicle working on what will eventually be a 7,720-meter-long perimeter boundary surrounding the base. Currently, the main areas of the base are individually bounded by walls and a road is patrolled by security vehicles, but the base as a whole lacks a protective boundary. In a June 25, 2015 letter of notification to U.S. Representative Charles W. Dent, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Construction, Committee on Appropriations, DoD comptroller Michael McCord determined that the $7.6 million project to build the wall was necessary to meet DoD requirements for physical security. It will be constructed out of four layers of concertina wire, six-foot (1.8 m) metal fence posts and will include pedestrian and vehicle entrances, defensive fighting positions, and an upgraded entry control point. On September 29, 2015, the U.S. Navy awarded ECC-MEZZ LLC, a California-based construction company, a $6.96 million contract to construct the perimeter boundary. The July 1 image shows that part of an existing road in the northeastern corner of the base has been rerouted to make way for the construction of the boundary. According to military construction status reports, this project is expected to be completed in March 2017.

More information
Chris Biggers, “African Drone Apron Update”, offiziere.ch, 20.08.2016.

Posted in Dan Gettinger, Djibouti, Drones, English, Intelligence, International | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The fatal problems with Donald Trump’s isolationist foreign policy

trump-001

US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s sinister excuses for the atrocities of various dictators in the world has been one of his many alarming policy proposals and rhetoric over the course of his presidential campaign. However his aversion to long established alliances such as NATO and proposal to radically upend the post-Second World War-era have been much more worrying.

Never one to miss an opportunity to opine about America’s decline and suggest that the antidote to it lies in more focus on domestic policies, at the direct expense of foreign affairs, Trump has consistently been paving the way for foreign policy which will, whether he intends it to or not, enable autocratic polities across the world to strengthen at the expense of, mostly, democratic American allies.

At the end of the Cold War the US was not only the lone superpower the whole world, but a hyper-power in a world without any superpowers, by some estimates it was the only time in history the world was as unipolar as it was since the times of the Roman Empire.

Today while the US remains the most militarily powerful country in the world it no longer lives in a unipolar world. A resurgent and more autocratic Russia has emerged under its President Vladimir Putin. Putin’s Russia has, just in the last three years, forcibly staked its claim in eastern Ukraine and has also flexed its military muscles at its former Eastern European Soviet satellite states – many of which are NATO member states.

This also comes as China is blatantly and unapologetically flouting international law (just last July it refused to recognize a ruling against it in The Hague over territorial disputes with its neighbours) and staking its claims in the South China Sea, which has worried many countries who are US allies in that region.

In other words, this is one of the worst times imaginable to espouse, as Trump does, Charles Lindbergh-esque isolationist “America First” rhetoric. His proposal also comes as the number of democratic countries in the world begins to pale in comparison to the number of autocracies and dictatorships. One estimate found that over the course of the last 15 years 27 countries which were previously democracies became autocratic states. The trend looks set to continue and will likely speed up if a President Trump has his way.

trump-putin-imageTrump’s fondness of Putin is particularly worrying. If the real estate dealer does become the 45th occupant of the Oval Office will his foreign policy really entail throwing America’s commitments to protect smaller nations like the Baltic states and Taiwan from larger and potentially aggressive countries like Russia and China?

Leaving aside reports that hackers employed by the Russians leaked sensitive material belonging the Democratic National Committee — the governing body of the United States’ Democratic Party — to potentially tilt the balance in Trump’s favour, it seems to be clear that a Trump presidency will — probably unintentionally — serve the interests of the Kremlin and other emergent authoritarian powers willing to coerce or even actively threaten their neighbours to get their way.

A more bipolar world isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However that’s not what Trump is railing against. He favours an America which will be willing to unnecessarily leave longstanding allies to the mercy of increasingly aggressive neighbours. However what Trump is advocating could make the world a far more dangerous place. A world where Eastern Europe is left vulnerable to Russian pressure, and even threats, and China’s neighbours are told they will have to deal with a hostile Beijing on their own will be a much more dangerous world.

Trump’s loose talk about how current American allies will have to rue the day when they cannot count on American support to defend themselves against potential aggressors is a worrying one. It could mean in the long-term that to deter Iran the Saudis opt to acquire their own nuclear weapons (something Trump says he is fine with since it is “going to happen anyway”). The world will be further destabilised by a Trump policy which could well mean that most countries in China’s reach will seek their own nuclear weapons; countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan who have never sparked a major nuclear arms race with China by developing their own nuclear weapons arsenals since they could count on the fact they were safely under Washington’s nuclear umbrella.

The post-Second World War order has had its many imperfections, but making a complete U-turn on it, as Trump is adamantly proposing is bound to do a lot more harm than good. If Trump was prudent when it came to lessening the reliance many of America’s allies have, he would do it in an incremental fashion, delegate more responsibilities to them when it comes to maintaining their conventional means of defense while guaranteeing to deter any aggressor who tries to threaten them with the use of non-conventional weapons.

In other words a “Trump Doctrine” should be more like a “Nixon Doctrine“. When the Nixon administration was gradually reducing the number of American soldiers in Vietnam, US President Richard Nixon outlined a strategy which saw more responsibilities delegated to America’s allies vis-a-vis defense. In no uncertain terms Nixon told America’s allies around the world that the fighting and defense of their lands in any future war against the Soviets, or Soviet supported proxies, was a task which had to be borne by them while America would guarantee their protection under the nuclear umbrella and provide economic and military assistance wherever necessary, the nation under threat in turn would have to provide the vast bulk of the manpower needed to defend themselves.

That would be a sensible policy to follow for an administration which wants to lessen America’s role in the world and involvement in the various issues around it. A rapid de-escalation and radical overhauling of this six-decade-old international status quo is simply asking for trouble, and the man who is so passionately proposing it, is not fit to be the next President of the United States.

Posted in English, Politics in General, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran Bushehr Shipyard Update

dg-may-2015-shahid-nazeri-launched

Imagery acquired during May 2015 shows the launching of the Shahid Nazeri. (DigitalGlobe)

An update for Iran’s southern shipyards couldn’t come at a better time. Last week, Iran unveiled the “Shahid Nazeri”, a high-speed catamaran helicopter carrier (video below). Space photography available in Google Earth (28°58’33,96″N 50°51’22,68″E) shows the first signs of the new vessel’s construction back in November 2014. At the time, imagery captured the boat’s hulls protruding from a shipyard workshop in Bushehr. However, the vessel was under construction much earlier as the bridging superstructure was fitted not long after their appearance. Imagery also shows that the vessel was first launched in May 2015, berthed adjacent to the nearby ship elevator (or synchrolift), and subsequently returned to the workshop. While exact build estimates are difficult to ascertain, the Middle Eastern country has previously built catamaran vessels for the civilian sector.

Little supplemental information has been made available. Iran’s domestic press reports say the vessel can carry up to 100 people and reach speeds up to 28 knots. As far as armaments, none have been observed at this time. After the inauguration, which took place on September 13, 2016, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy Admiral Ali Razmjou, commander of the 2nd naval zone, commented that the vessel will add to the country’s deterrence capability. It goes without saying, the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf remains a source of tension between the two countries, despite the landmark nuclear deal signed last year. Several confrontations at sea have occurred subsequently. FARS News, a government of Iran mouthpiece, further framed the boat’s construction in terms of Iran’s naval strategy by highlighting the recent construction of additional speedboats equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles and other armaments. Iran plans to swarm would-be adversaries in the strait should tensions result in conflict.

Meanwhile, the Sadra island shipyard has made further progress on the construction of the country’s oil and gas platforms. The company, controlled by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ engineering firm, Khatam al Anbiya, is responsible for building platforms for the South Pars gas field, specifically phases 13, 22, 23, and 24. Sadra is one of three companies that have formed a consortium to develop facilities for the field. Pipeline construction for those phases was recently finalized, according to project reports. When complete, Phase 13 will produce 50 MMcm/d of natural gas and 80,000 b/d of gas condensate. The remaining phases are expected to produce 56 MMcm/d of sour gas, 75,000 b/d of gas condensate, 400 tons a day of sulfur, as well as 1 million tons a year of ethane and 1.1 million tons a year of liquefied petroleum gas. In June, total natural gas recovery from the field crossed 431 million cubic meters per day, managing director of Pars Oil and Gas Company said in a statement.

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Imagery acquired during July 2016 of Sadra Island Shipyard at Bushehr. (DigitalGlobe)

As far as the shipyard, no additional construction has been observed in the dry dock further confirming the death of the Iran-PDVSA deal signed back in 2006. As previously reported, the first Aframax tanker, the “Sorocaima”, was never delivered thanks to a weak Venezuelan economy and Western sanctions which, inter alia, made it too expensive to insure. The boat has since been renamed — the “Arita” — and now flies the Iranian flag. Given available AIS data, it would appear the vessel functions as floating storage. Plates of the remaining vessels still lay next to the dry dock. The Goliath gantry crane, which was erected back in 2012 to support the Aframax construction, has yet to be utilized, as far as we can tell. Imagery shows that the crane’s track has yet to be completed. Since building the first Aframax tanker, Iran has still not finished work on its first homegrown tanker which has been under construction since 2009 at the ISOICO shipyard. This may suggest that Iran failed to acquire the necessary knowledge to do so despite hiring outside consultants for the Venezuela project.

Relatedly, Iran continues to ramp up exports since implementation day, according to a recent Reuters report. Iran’s August crude oil exports jumped to more than 2 million barrels per day, a 15 percent increase from July. Iran exported 1.9 million bpd and 1.83 million bpd in June and July, respectively. Data clearly shows that August export levels rose predominantly due to higher imports from India. The South Asian giant received about 576,000 bpd in August, up from 199,000 bpd delivered a year ago when sanctions were still in effect. Before sanctions, the country was Iran’s second largest importer of crude. Essar Oil, a private firm, was the top Indian importer in August, followed by Indian Oil Corporation and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd.

While exports were up, production however remained flat in August with the country pumping 3.6 million bpd, according to OPEC estimates. Despite an ongoing global crude glut, Iran won’t even consider measures to support the crude price until it returns to pre-sanction production levels. If and when that will occur remains unknown. The country plans to complete a new export terminal by the end of the year and has recently inked an agreement with Russia’s Krasnye Barrkady (Red Barricades) to construct additional rigs for exploration in the region. Never mind, the order for at least 10 new petroleum tankers from South Korea.

Posted in Armed Forces, Chris Biggers, Energy Security, English, India, Intelligence, Iran | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Confirmed: New Su-25 Delivered to Iraq (Updated)

Iraqi Su-25 (SEPT 2014)

Iraqi Su-25 at al Rashid airbase (SEPT 2014)

Satellite imagery confirms that Iraq has received additional Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft. Heavily armed, the new attack jets will allow Iraq’s air arm to increase pressure on the Sunni militant group, the Islamic State. Recent imagery suggests that two shipments have occurred since the beginning of the year.

The first, comprised of three aircraft, was delivered by Russia and announced on April 17th, the same day the aircraft arrived. Imagery acquired late in the month showed the total number of Su-25 based at the airfield increasing from 16 to 19.

Subsequently, further deliveries may have occurred. New imagery purchased by offiziere.ch shows a total of 21 x Su-25 parked on the apron in late July. This suggests that at least five aircraft have been delivered since 2016, two more than previously announced. Who delivered the aircraft remains unknown; however Russia seems a likely source.

According to comments made by the Russian ambassador to Iraq, the country is expected to provide between 5 and 10 of the platform in a second batch. The new aircraft may be part of this second batch, adding to the five Frogfoot Russia previously delivered in June and July 2014. They join an existing inventory of Su-25KM, Su-25UBKM, and Su-25SM variants, already in operation.

Further to Russian deliveries, Iraq is believed to have also received  refurbished Su-25s from Iran. Iran delivered five by July 2014, a month after Islamic State overran Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Iraq’s neighbor provided three more plus a replacement aircraft, after a Frogfoot was reportedly damaged. Islamic State also claimed to have shot down a Frogfoot near Ramadi last June.

DG (29JUL16) Al Rashid

The Su-25, the Russian equivalent of the US-built A-10 Warthog, provides dedicated close air support. The twin-engine Sukhoi has five hard-points underneath each wing for carrying weapons and an array of attachments. The aircraft first proved itself in the 1980s during Soviet counter-insurgency missions in Afghanistan, and has since joined the inventories of countries around the world.

Iraq’s Su-25 are subordinate to the 109th Attack Squadron based at Al-Rashid airbase.

• • •

Russian Sukhoi Su-25 planes on the tarmac at Al Muthanna military base in Baghdad, July 2014.

Russian Sukhoi Su-25 planes on the tarmac at Al Muthanna military base in Baghdad, July 2014.

Update: September 20, 2016
Arnauld Delalande, a military aviation enthusiast for over 25 years, criticized the article above in a piece for War is Boring (WiB), titled “Let’s Account for All of Iraq’s Tank-Busting Jets“. Before the publication, Delalande reached out to the author of the article above, but neither the author nor offiziere.ch could incorporate his additional information since the source of his information was anonymous Iraqi pilots, and thus unverifiable.

Actually, we are not even sure if he really has any sources in Iraq. After the publication of his article, Babak Taghvaee, a military aviation historian, tweeted to the editor in chief at WiB, that his source information had been used without citation or permission. Correctly, WiB subsequently added Taghvaee as a co-author.

Instead of relying on unverifiable sources, we would prefer to use satellite imagery, a proven source of intelligence that is gaining a wider audience as of late. The author of the above article has almost 10 years of experience in analyzing satellite imagery for government and clients alike. Because of missing reliable collateral and according to conventions in imagery intelligence, he never concluded that Iraq had received additional Su-25 Frogfoot in 2016, but that satellite imagery “suggests” this possibility. He clearly wrote that further deliveries “may have occurred” since the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, Delalande completely misread that.

Frankly, we don’t know when the aircraft arrived, as we lack sufficient coverage of all of Iraq’s airfields. But this information gap can’t be filled with some disputable comments from Iraqi pilots. Setting aside the citation issues, we also have to assume that Iraqi pilots have no concept of operations security. Not to belabor the point, but the only thing that we explicitly state is that additional deliveries have occurred.

The intent of above article was to provide watchers of the Iraq conflict — the critiquing author included — tangible evidence of the delivered aircraft. From Delalande’s own research, it’s very clear that before the above article went public, he was not aware of Iraq’s full complement of Su-25, despite claims of knowing pilots in the target country. This is demonstrated in the author’s most recent work published in June 2016, in the magazine Combat Air. An excerpt is provided below for reference. It was published after the recent and very public delivery of three additional Su-25 from Russia in April.

Delalande

In the short piece, the author reports on the Iraqi deliveries but only provides a count as high as 16 aircraft, which he repeats in his critique. As Delalande states in the June report, Iraq received (in the order quoted):

3 x April 17, 2016 – from Russia 3 x July 1, 2014 – from Iran
2 x June 2014 – from Russia 4 x July 2014 – from Iran
3 x June/July 2014 – from Russia 1 x July 2015 – from Iran

The 2014 deliveries have been mentioned by entries in the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database while others were also mentioned in an article by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. Imagery baselines created by offiziere.ch prior to April 2016 consistently showed 16 of the aircraft at various times at the airfield, accounting for forward deployments or potential maintenance. After April those numbers grew to 19 and eventually 21 aircraft. In other words, Delalande was short 5 aircrafts before we published the article above.

Delalande writes in his critique that he “asked Iraqi pilots about [and they] confirmed that Iraq has received 21 Su-25s. But they also claimed that there was no recent new batch after the delivery in April”. Why didn’t he give an account of 21 aircrafts in his June report? We agree with him in one point: “curious”.

Furthermore, in his critique he says that he will provide a better account of the aircraft but instead co-opts info provided by Mr Taghvaee and new information presented at offiziere.ch while leaving WiB readers — myself included — without any definite answers. This is evident when he writes:

The three other “missing” units almost certainly arrived aboard An-124s from Russia between August and October 2015 together with serial 2501 and 2502. Thus there was no second delivery in 2016.

In other words, Delalande simply provides another possible explanation, but no verifiable sources or any other evidence, which back-up his assertions. To be clear, we’re not saying he’s wrong, but we certainly don’t know if he’s right.

Nevertheless, we appreciate that WiB posted Delalande’s critique as it allowed us to correct a mistake in the article above. We initially said that a Su-25 was downed near Kirkuk. That was actually an AC-208 Caravan, as clearly stated in the published link. That was an error in our tracking document that has since been rectified.

Posted in Chris Biggers, English, Intelligence, International, Iraq | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Deir ez-Zor incident and the need for a communications mechanism between the US and Syria

The situation around Deir ez-Zor before the US bombing at Saturday, September 17, 2016. The Deir ez-Zor airport is the only remaining entry point for Assad’s forces since the cutting of the land route to the city by ISIS. (Map by @Tutomap).

The situation around Deir ez-Zor before the US bombing at Saturday, September 17, 2016. The Deir ez-Zor airport is the only remaining entry point for Assad’s forces since the cutting of the land route to the city by ISIS. (Map by @Tutomap).

US coalition F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters and A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes inadvertently killed scores, initial estimates range between 62 and 83, of Syrian Army soldiers in a bombing run against Islamic State (ISIS) on Saturday, prompting Russia to call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

That this incident was inadvertent on the part of the US is very plausible. In Deir ez-Zor Syrian soldiers have been entrenched in that city, with their base in its military airport, fighting off a two-year ISIS siege. The US coalition has also been bombing every ISIS-related target in that province they can find, from the marauding militants themselves to oil installations they have used to finance their savage conquests. And there is the fact that the US hasn’t been coordinating in any way with the Syrian regime. Something which was bound to be a problem sooner or later.

In Syria the US has been focused solely on bombing ISIS and, at times, the Islamist group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham). When The US first began bombing ISIS in northeastern Syria back in September 2014, they have refused to coordinate operations with the Syrian regime. As a precaution, the US fighter jets carried HARM anti-radiation missiles, in case Syrian air defenses would suddenly target them.

While Washington refused to coordinate with Damascus, US Secretary of State John Kerry did get Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to give the Syrian regime a heads up about the US airstrikes against ISIS bases inside Syrian territory, assuring Damascus that their forces wouldn’t be targeted. Also, the fact that Syrian forces were mostly out of northeastern Syria — except for their footholds in Deir ez-Zor and the Kurdish-majority cities of al-Hasakah and al-Qamishli — when the US began their air campaign against ISIS, lessened the chance of any direct clash.

With the Russian military intervention in Syria in September 2015 the situation was different. The US, as well as Israel and Turkey, immediately established a communications mechanism with Moscow to ensure there would be no aerial clashes in Syria’s ridiculously congested airspace. Later, when the US deployed special forces to advise their Kurdish allies in the region, they also told the Russians the general areas where those forces are operating.

In August, Syrian bombers launched their first ever airstrikes against Kurdish forces in al-Hasakah after Kurdish and regime forces in that city began clashing. US special forces advisors nearby felt the shudder of the bombs impacting. The US responded by scrambling two F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, which flew to the area to warn off the Syrian planes. The following day the F-22’s came within a mile of Syrian Su-24 bombers in the same area. (Paul Sonne and Raja Abdulrahim, “Pentagon Warns Assad Regime to Avoid Action Near U.S. and Allied Forces“, The Wall Street Journal, 19.08.2016).

Following that incident, US Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters that the US did contact the Russians through their communications mechanism “to have them communicate to the Syrian regime our concerns about what happened and the fact that it shouldn’t happen again. We will continue to use that as a resource given the Russian relationship with the Syrians. But we are also prepared to speak, engage directly, communicate directly [with the Syrians] if needed, in order to avoid these kinds of situations in the first place.”

An U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft prior to strike operations in Syria, Sept. 26, 2014. These aircraft were part of a strike package that was engaging ISIL targets in Syria. (Photo: Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf / U.S. Air Force).

An U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft prior to strike operations in Syria, Sept. 26, 2014. These aircraft were part of a strike package that was engaging ISIL targets in Syria. (Photo: Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf / U.S. Air Force).

Yet a month after that dangerous incident the US has made this fatal mistake in Deir ez-Zor. To add insult to injury these airstrikes enabled ISIS to temporarily advance on regime positions in that contested city. Only subsequent supporting Russian airstrikes, which killed at least 20 of the militants, enabled the Syrian military to recapture that territory and prevent ISIS from overrunning any more of their positions.

Incidentally, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Russians were involved in a not too dissimilar incident in Aleppo back in October 2015. Back then Russian aircraft bombarded rebel positions which were quickly overrun by ISIS in the militant groups most significant advance in the Aleppo province in two years.

Following this latest incident the US really needs to establish some form of a direct communications mechanism with Damascus, which would not violate Washington’s, understandable, aversion to any form of coordination with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime. This should be done in clear recognition of the fact that nobody benefits in the long-term from any ISIS advances in that area, or for that matter in any area. Something that was the predictable, and tragic, result of this mistake in Deir ez-Zor which was not brought about by miscommunication, but by the complete lack of any communication.

More information
The Syrian military declared Monday, two days after the incident, that the seven-day partial cease-fire in Syria was over. The US disputed the Syrian military’s declaration, suggesting that it would not consider the cease-fire over unless that was announced by Russia:

While we have seen comments attributed to the Syrian military, our arrangement is with Russia, which is responsible for the Syrian regime’s compliance, so we expect Russia to clarify their position. — John Kirby, Spokesperson for the United States Department of State, cited in Anne Barnard and Michael R. Gordon, “Syrian Military Declares Cease-Fire Over, but U.S. Says Talks With Russia Continue“, The New York Times, 19.09.2016.

Posted in English, International, Security Policy, Syria | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What ISIS wants: The strategy behind the attacks in Europe and the US

by Dr. Adrian Hänni and Lukas Hegi (originally published in German).

At least 35 of the 86 fatal victims of the attack in Nice on 14 July 2016 were Muslims. Whether gunmen, psychopaths, or terrorists: They create suffering, regardless of religion and culture. Their goal is to divide society and incite people to turn on each other. Are they really unsuccessful in this? One look at the media answers this! Photo: The grieving family of 4-year-old Kylan Majri, who was killed in the terrorist attack in Nice. (Photo: Francois Mori / The Associated Press).

At least 35 of the 86 fatal victims of the attack in Nice on 14 July 2016 were Muslims. Whether gunmen, psychopaths, or terrorists: They create suffering, regardless of religion and culture. Their goal is to divide society and incite people to turn on each other. Are they really unsuccessful in this? One look at the media answers this! Photo: The grieving family of 4-year-old Kylan Majri, who was killed in the terrorist attack in Nice. (Photo: Francois Mori / The Associated Press).

On the occasion of the 2016 Nice attack, the editor in chief of a Swiss newspaper argued about the rational behind the attacks by the terrorist militia “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) in European cities and made the assessment that the fanatics are about to “lose the war against civilians”:

“The weapon that the deluded terrorists employ is fear: they want people in Europe to feel safe nowhere and to expect attacks everywhere. The calculation behind this: Frightened citizens might then move their governments to stop fighting against the jihadists to escape further attacks.” — Robin Blanck, “Sinnlos, feige“, Schaffhauser Nachrichten, 16.07.2016, own translation.

These statements are vague and problematic, but they are also exemplary of the widespread misunderstanding of ISIS’ motives to incite and organise terrorist attacks in the West — a misunderstanding of the terrorist militia, which unfortunately prevails in many editorial offices. As Western societies must deal with the threat posed by ISIS, they should also be aware of the enemy’s objectives.

In anticipation of the apocalypse
A widely held belief is that ISIS’ leaders want to make Western populations influence their governments to abandon military operations against the militia out of fear of more attacks. However, seized and leaked documents, as well as various writings and videos by followers and strategists of the “Islamic State” show that the objective is quite the opposite. The terrorist attacks in Europe are not somehow supposed to make Western governments cease their military intervention against the self-styled Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, but rather provoke them to escalate their local military deployments and use of ground troops.

Such an escalation would allow the jihadists to portray the conflict with greater credibility as a war waged by the West against the Islamic world. But most decisive is a broader strategic rationale set by the millennial project of religious fanatics who see themselves as warriors in the final, decisive battle. The logic of ISIS is in fact strongly influenced by apocalyptic prophecies. The jihadists believe they are in the end times and anticipate the final battle with the infidels (i.e. the western armed forces) to take place in Dabiq, a Syrian town near the Turkish border, which ISIS conquered in summer 2014. This obsession with the end of the world is crucial if we want to understand the excessive violence used by ISIS. When the execution of former US soldier Peter Kassig was announced in a video by the terrorist militia in November 2014, a British ISIS fighter stated: “Here we are burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.” (Hannah Allam, “Peter Kassig’s Friends Hope Unusual Islamic State Video Means He Fought His Beheading“, McClatchy DC, 16.11.2016).

The Last Hour would not come until the Romans land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them). — Sahih-Muslim Hadith, Vol. 41, Kap. 9, Hadith 6924.

The Twittersphere, too, is rife with these eschatological prophecies, leading to the paradox result that military interventions are welcomed with joy. When the Turkish Parliament authorised military strikes against the terrorist militia in Iraq and Syria in October 2014, an ISIS sympathiser rejoiced: “Turkey’s entry into the war will permit the foreign invasion of northern Syria, meaning from the plain of Dabiq. The battles [of the End Times] have grown near.” (McCants, p. 104). The ISIS fighters in turn pray to God that he will protect and help the “Islamic State” until its army is fighting against the Crusaders in Dabiq (“Remaining and Expanding” Dabiq, No. 5, 21.11.2014, p. 33). “If you think all these mujahideen came from across the world to fight Assad, you’re mistaken”, explained a jihadist fighter in Aleppo. “They are all here as promised by the Prophet. This is the war he promised – it is the Grand Battle.” (Mariam Karouny, “Apocalyptic Prophecies Drive Both Sides to Syrian Battle for End of Time“, Reuters, 01.04.2014).

Seized al-Qaeda documents show that the apocalyptic idea prompted Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to go to Iraq in 2002 to ​​await the invasion of the US and its allies. For Zarqawi, Dabiq meant the final destiny for the “fire” his fighters had “kindled in Iraq”. (William McCants, “The ISIS Apocalypse-The History, Strategy and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State“, New York, St Martin’s Press, 2015, p. 10).

ISIS-fighter in Dabiq (photo by Charles Lister).

ISIS-fighter in Dabiq (photo by Charles Lister).

 
Eliminating the grayzone
In addition to an escalation of the military conflict, ISIS leaders are primarily concerned with dividing and polarising Western societies. They call this strategy “extinction of the grayzone”, whereas grayzone stands for ​​the peaceful coexistence of religious groups. The specific aim of the attacks is to incite hostilities between Muslim populations and the Western societies in which they live. ISIS is consciously trying to trigger a backlash by Western governments and populations against the Muslim minorities and create an escalating spiral of mutual alienation, distrust, hatred, and collective revenge on both sides. In such a scenario, the terrorist militia hopes to imposture as the only effective protector of the increasingly beleaguered European Muslims, who will, so the jihadist assume, in large numbers choose hijra, the emigration into the lap of the Caliphate. (“From Hypocrisy to Apostasy: The Extinction of the Grayzone”, Dabiq, No. 7, 12.02.2015).

Of course, not every violent offender who commits attacks in Europe or the United States on behalf of ISIS has exactly these objectives in mind. Their motives are often very personal and not always predominantly of an ideological and political nature. Some probably use the label “Islamic State” primarily to give their crimes greater attention and a higher meaning. But the strategists and leaders of the IS who organise, direct, inspire, and claim for themselves attacks in the West act according to this “strategy of divisions”. Between Muslims and non-Muslims in Western societies on the one hand, between the West and the Islamic world on the other.

The group thrives on division and rage. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi — the self-crowned caliph of this death cult — wants to make this a war between Islam and the West. But we don’t have to play by his rules. — Kevin Knodell, “The Islamic State’s Assault on the ‘Gray Zone’“, War is Boring, 28.07.2016.

 
The trap of the jihadists
If you want to analyse whether the jihadists are successful with their inhumane and brutal strategy of terror, you must measure it by their own objectives. We are optimistic that Western democracies can successfully overcome this challenge, but warn of the sometimes blind naivete in considering this as a matter of course. This naivete seemingly resonates in the lines of the Swiss editor in chief mentioned above: “Each additional attack leaves deep concern and compassion, but not fear. Despite the terrorist attacks, Europeans stick to their liberal values; people go to concerts and other large events and do not let them dictate their lives. The fanatics’ calculation is not coming to fruition; they are losing the war they are waging against civilians.” (Robin Blanck, “Sinnlos, feige“, Schaffhauser Nachrichten, 16.07.2016, own translation).

French police fines woman 38 Euro for wearing leggings, a tunic, and a headscarf on a Nice beach. After the attack in Nice, a ban has been enforced — at least temporarily — on wearing clothes at the beach that

French police fines woman 38 Euro for wearing leggings, a tunic, and a headscarf on a Nice beach. After the attack in Nice, a ban has been enforced — at least temporarily — on wearing clothes at the beach that “clearly reveal belonging to a religion“.

Are they really? In the US, the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, called for an entry ban for all Muslims because of the threat of terrorism and openly called for violence against dissidents. In many European countries, attacks, discrimination, and public hate speech against Muslims are rapidly increasing. In Germany, there were 75 politically motivated attacks against mosques in 2015, more than three times as many as in 2010. Suspects were only identified in 16 cases (Ralf Pauli, “Jede Woche ein Angriff“, Tageszeitung, 08.05.2016). Alternative for Germany deputy leader Alexander Gauland recently even demanded the suspension of the right of asylum for Muslim refugees after a young man with an ax attacked passengers in a local train near Würzburg and another blew himself up in Ansbach (“Angriff auf das Grundgesetz: AfD-Vize Gauland will Asylrecht für Muslime aussetzen“, Spiegel Online, 27.07.2016). In France numerous major events and markets were cancelled this summer due to the terrorist threat. The country has been in a state of emergency for eight months, which has allowed the police to carry out thousands of often arbitrary raids without a court order, and which was extended for another six months after the tragedy in Nice. At the public memorial on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, sons and daughters of Muslim victims of the July 14 massacre were attacked by the crowd (Yasser Louati, “After Nice: Grief and Disgrace”, Middle East Eye, 29.07.2016). The director of French domestic intelligence, Patrick Calvar, told Parliament about his fear that the radicalisation of a heavily armed ultra-right, which seeks confrontation with the Muslim community, could tilt social balance and even bring France to the brink of civil war:

Cela d’autant que l’Europe est en grand danger: les extrémismes montent partout et nous sommes, nous, services intérieurs, en train de déplacer des ressources pour nous intéresser à l’ultra-droite qui n’attend que la confrontation. Vous rappeliez que je tenais toujours un langage direct; eh bien, cette confrontation, je pense qu’elle va avoir lieu. Encore un ou deux attentats et elle adviendra. Il nous appartient donc d’anticiper et de bloquer tous ces groupes qui voudraient, à un moment ou à un autre, déclencher des affrontements intercommunautaires. — Patrick Calvar, Commission de la défense nationale et des forces armées, 10.05.2016.

Vigilance, fortitude, and above all a cool head are therefore needed to allow the challenge arising from the jihadists to dissipate in a free, open, and tolerant society. First, responsibility lies with the media and politicians who reflexively ascribe all (alleged) attacks to ISIS — often without specific evidence for its actual involvement. This widespread automatic response inflates the influence and clout of ISIS and is grist to its propaganda mill. ISIS, in turn, is just waiting to claim responsibility for the attack in such a case, Max Bearak recently wrote in the Washington Post. According to Bearak, most attacks were perpetrated by people who had never been in direct contact with ISIS and so the terrorist militia was not even aware of them.

An illustrative example is the attack on a nightclub in Orlando on 12 June 2016. Although officials of the US Department of Homeland Security denied a connection between the perpetrator Omar Mateen and ISIS, many media outlets and politicians declared that the gunman had acted on behalf of the terrorist militia. ISIS then took responsibility, although they apparently had not heard of Mateen before the shooting and despite it being extremely doubtful whether its ideology and propaganda were decisive causes of the attack, given that Mateen “praised both the IS and its archenemy, Dschabhat al-Nusra (new Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) as well as the common enemy of both organisations, the Shiite Hezbollah. There is no coherent view behind this; this is a half-digested news thunderstorm.” (Yassin Musharbash, “Aber er hat doch IS gesagt!“, Die Zeit, 14.06.2016, own translation).

In the case of the murder of regional public health officials at a Christmas party on 2 December 2015 in San Bernardino, California, it seems as if ISIS prematurely assumed responsibility as well. Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people with automatic weapons and planted a homemade bomb that fortunately did not explode. The two perpetrators were subsequently killed in a firefight with police. Although ISIS praised both perpetrators as “Soldiers of the Caliphate” and the press reported an alleged oath of allegiance to ISIS, the FBI denies that the couple made such a pledge. A connection seems doubtful. (Shane Harris, “Was the San Bernardino Massacre Really ISIS-Inspired?“, The Daily Beast, 16.12.2015).

Media, politicians, and supposed terrorism experts should therefore investigate much more diligently instead of rashly calling the self-proclaimed Caliphate responsible for an attack. This only helps spread the IS propaganda message that the group can kill “infidels” virtually anywhere, anytime. In addition, the classification of the acts, in connection with the excessive media exposure, risks inciting further potential perpetrators.

Ultimately, we are all responsible. In order to not fall into the trap set by the terrorists, we must reject the simplistic, apocalyptic narrative of a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam. At least 35 of the 86 fatalities of the Nice attack were Muslims.

Posted in Adrian Hänni, English, France, Lukas Hegi, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Afghan Local Police: An Expensive Project with Doubtful Results

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

A group of Afghan Local Police in Qalizal district of Kunduz province (Photo: Nasirahmad Waqif).

A group of Afghan Local Police in Qalizal district of Kunduz province (Photo: Nasirahmad Waqif).

As regimes, governments, and states in the Third World have struggled to combat insurgencies, they have often turned to militias and paramilitaries to supplement overworked armies and militaries. In Afghanistan, America and Britain have sponsored the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a pseudo-law enforcement agency, to hold and secure cities, towns, and villages reclaimed from the Taliban.

In theory, the ALP should work well. It allows the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) to send fighters to the battlefield as local policemen defend the rear. Because the Taliban draws its support from Pashtuns and has worked toward infiltrating Tajik and Uzbek communities, the ALP can serve a critical role in providing local protection from the Taliban and support for the Afghan government. In practice, however, the ALP has often created more problems than it has solved, threatening Afghan and Western successes on the battlefield.

While the [ALP] forces have performed well in some parts of the country, in other parts, like Kunduz, they are seen as a source of chaos and banditry rather than security. — Mujib Mashal, “Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns“, The New York Times, 16.10.2015.

The ALP’s community-centered nature has left it open to infiltration by Taliban saboteurs, spies, and other double agents. On one occasion in 2012, an ALP member killed ten of the law enforcement agency’s officers. In the same year, the American-led coalition in Afghanistan had to suspend training of some ALP units as it dealt with the possibility of infiltrators. “The training of the ALP recruits has been paused while we go through this re-vetting process, to take a look at this process to see if there’s anything we can improve,” Lieutenant Colonel John Harrell, a spokesman for American special operations forces, told al-Jazeera. “It may take a month, it may take two months, we don’t know.”

Though the ALP’s incidents of friendly fire are neither unique nor universal (the ANA and ANP having plenty of the same problems) the ALP presents a dilemma for Afghanistan’s national security in that it lacks the ANA and the ANP’s cohesiveness and discipline. The Afghan government will face difficulties in trying to control the ALP. “With such little oversight, local politicians had turned the units into personal bodyguards and otherwise abused the force,” noted War Is Boring last year in an article about the Battle of Kunduz, when the Taliban had managed to capture Kunduz for a few days. News media and human rights defenders have criticized the ALP for corruption and war crimes.

Col. Nooristani (left), the Regional Training Center Commander in Nangarhar province, talks to a new Afghan Local Police recruit during a visit from U.S. military advisers from Train, Advise, Assist Command – East on March 17, 2015.

Col. Nooristani (left), the Regional Training Center Commander in Nangarhar province, talks to a new Afghan Local Police recruit during a visit from U.S. military advisers from Train, Advise, Assist Command – East on March 17, 2015.

Adam Stump, the US Defense Department’s spokesman for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, described the purpose of the ALP in an email: “The ALP is designed to provide local security and conduct local counterinsurgency missions, primarily against Taliban members in and around villages. […] The ALP is not, however, intended to conduct offensive operations against al Qaeda, ISIL–Khorasan, or other terrorist organizations” (ISIL–Khorasan refers to the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan). Therefore, the ALP faces obvious limitations in which insurgents it can fight, and observers have doubted the law enforcement agency’s effectiveness. Only last year, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published the report “Afghan Local Police: A Critical Rural Security Initiative Lacks Adequate Logistics Support, Oversight, and Direction“. The title implies the ALP’s inherent dilemma: though Afghanistan needs a local law enforcement agency in theory, the ALP has failed to fulfil this role in practice without “adequate logistics support, oversight, and direction”. Even so, the Americans continue to bankroll the ALP, hoping that the benefits outweigh the risks.

The law enforcement agency comes with a hefty price tag. According to Stump, the American government will spend in 2017 almost eighty million dollars on the ALP, thirteen million of which will go to equipment but only five hundred thousand of which will go to training. The rest, sixty-five million, covers “salaries, subsistence and other pay”. On the one hand, the American government funds much of Afghanistan’s security forces, so the ALP is by no means a rare example. On the other, the Americans and the British invented and subsidized the ALP, meaning that they bear responsibility for its success or failure. Stump assured in his email that the policemen are receiving training in human rights from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Whether this training has helped, remains far from obvious.

Afghanistan was omitted from this year’s [Child Soldiers Prevention Act] list, despite evidence that the Afghan Local Police, a government-backed militia engaged in combat operations against the Taliban and other insurgents, recruits and uses children as soldiers. — US: Don’t Fund Child Soldiers Abroad — State Department List Adds Iraq, Excludes Afghanistan“, Human Rights Watch, 30.06.2016.

In the aftermath of almost losing Kunduz, the Afghan government considered expanding the ALP. “The plan would involve a sudden, and potentially poorly vetted, expansion of the Afghan Local Police, an American-created force that in many areas of the country has become synonymous with human rights abuses even when directly supervised by the American Special Forces”, observed The New York Times. “Some of the NATO countries involved in Afghanistan have already expressed concerns about the move.” In other words, expansion could exacerbate the ALP’s already-numerous problems. Human rights defenders opposed the idea. “The Afghan Local Police needs to be fixed before it can be expanded,” argued Human Rights Watch already five years ago. “Instead of rushing to triple the size of the Afghan Local Police, the US and Afghan governments should be adopting mechanisms to ensure these forces abide by the law.”

If trends continue, the ALP will remain a militia plagued by corruption, war crimes, and warlordism instead of a true law enforcement agency. For the ALP to maintain Afghanistan’s national security as the international community, reform is necessary.

Posted in Afghanistan, Austin Michael Bodetti, English, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Israeli Operation “Peace for Galilee” to the Turkish Operation “Euphrates Shield”

The ongoing Turkish operation “Euphrates Shield“, launched on August 24 to keep both Islamic State (ISIS) and Kurdish forces off Turkey’s southeastern border, shares some important similarities to the 1982 Israeli Operation “Peace for Galilee” which are worth exploring and pondering.

The 1982 Israeli Operation “Peace for Galilee”.

The 1982 Israeli Operation “Peace for Galilee”.

Pretexts
One similarity between Operation “Peace for Galilee” and Operation “Euphrates Shield” is the fact that both operations had been planned for quite some time before they began. Years before the Israeli armada rolled into Southern Lebanon to oust Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters from their strongholds they had long sought a pretext to do so.

In 1978 following a massacre of Israeli civilians on the Coastal Road to Tel Aviv by PLO infiltrators the Israelis, under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, launched Operation “Litani“, named after the river in Lebanon which they hoped to push the PLO north of, to oust the PLO from the Lebanon-Israel border.

The Israelis managed to push the PLO briefly past the north of the Litani River during that week-long operation. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was set up to police a tentative ceasefire between the two sides after Israel withdrew. Israel was itching for another chance to finally push the PLO from that border region, from where they were launching indiscriminate rocket attacks from Lebanese territory into Israel in spite of the ceasefire and UNIFL’s presence.

Israel final got its pretext to go after the PLO in early June 1982 when the Israeli ambassador Shlomov Argov was shot by terrorists in London. The assassins were Palestinians, but not members of the PLO. Argov was shot by Abu Nidal, a Palestinian terrorist network and sworn enemy of the PLO which was sponsored by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The Israelis, keen on using that assassination attempt as their casus beli, immediately launched a long-planned assault against the PLO two days later. Begin was even said to dismiss the distinction when it was brought up by remarking, “They’re all PLO. Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal. We have to strike at the PLO” (Dan Murphy, “For Israel in Gaza, a war of choice and an uncertain outcome“, The Christian Science Monitor, 29.07.2014).

Situation map of Operation „Euphrates Shield“ from Friday, September 9, 2016 provided by TR Diplomacy.

Situation map of Operation „Euphrates Shield“ from Friday, September 9, 2016 provided by TR Diplomacy.

Similarly in northwestern Syria Turkey had long sought to intervene over its border to establish a border zone against ISIS and Kurdish forces it opposes given their links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). However after over a year of planning for such an intervention it never got off the ground. They initially hoped to intervene against ISIS with American support in June 2015. That plan, however, had to be abandoned following the Russian intervention in Syria later that year and the fallout between Ankara and Moscow over the warplane incident in November. Since the thaw in strained relations with Russia over the summer Turkey had more freedom to intervene in Syria.

Ankara watched with great annoyance over the summer as Kurdish-led forces got closer to the northwestern part of Syria where they wanted to intervene. Then 53 Kurds in Turkey were killed in a suicide bomb attack perpetrated by ISIS on a wedding in the Turkey’s frontier Gaziantep region on August 20. Four days later Turkish tanks had rolled over the border and ISIS quickly withdrew from the border-town of Jarabulus .

There is one small distinction in this broad comparison: Israel used an attack by a non-PLO group against one of its ambassadors as the main justification for taking immediate action against the PLO. Turkey was actually attacked by ISIS. However, when Turkey went into Syria it was clear that its primary aim is preventing Syrian Kurdish forces, who haven’t leveled terrorist attacks against Turkey, from making any more advances in that region.

Turkish tanks at the Syrian border.

Turkish tanks at the Syrian border.

 
Goals
Initially Operation “Peace for Galilee” envisioned a large Israeli push into South Lebanon to push the PLO 40km north of Lebanon’s southern border. However Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon clearly had other things in mind and had misled Prime Minister Begin about the extent of the operation. Israel’s enormous ground invasion far exceeded a limited 40km incursion and pushed deeper into Lebanon, eventually besieging PLO forces in the capital Beirut.

After a negotiated agreement the PLO left their positions in Beirut for Tunisia, effectively ending the war. Although out of that Israeli invasion came Hezbollah, which fought the Israelis for a subsequent 18 years (along with a war in the summer of 2006 and various skirmishes since) and remains a threat to Israel today.

While it’s unclear how far Operation “Euphrates Shield” will go – Ankara incidentally has said it wants to push at least 40km deep into Syria to create a large buffer to keep the Syrian Kurdish Cantons of Kobanî and Afrin separate – it’s already showing signs that it may exceed its mandate of making a limited push into Syrian territory to occupy that country’s northwestern border from Jarabulus westward to Azaz. Already extra Turkish tanks are reportedly entering Syria near the border at al-Rai, bringing the total number of Turkish tanks in Syria approximately to 80, where they may well punch further south to ISIS-occupied Al-Bab to head-off any advances by Syrian Kurdish-led forces in that area.

Such an advance would bring them at least 40km south from their border, putting them deeper into Syria’s war-wrecked Aleppo province, where just another 40km down the road from Al-Bab is the city of Aleppo, the largest battlefield in the Syrian war.

Turkish M60T Sabra deployed into al-Rai offensive beginning of September.

Turkish M60T Sabra deployed into al-Rai offensive beginning of September.

 
Tactics
Both campaigns saw armor working with allied forces in the respective countries. The Israelis worked with the South Lebanese Army (SLA) militia while the Turks are backing Syrian militiamen fighting under the flag of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) group.

Both campaigns also rely on quite conventional tactics. Israel sent approximately 78,000 soldiers along with 3,000 tanks and armored vehicles into Lebanon during the Galilee operation, along with air support (Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, “Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It“, University Of Chicago Press, 2012, p. 196). Turkey sent far fewer soldiers, less than 500 are in Syria as of writing, many of them special forces, along with estimated 70-80 tanks (50-60 tanks in the eastern battlespace of Jarabulus – Qiratha – Arab Hasen – Arab Ezzeh respectively around 20 tanks in the battlespace of al-Rai) and armored vehicles covering the advances of at least 1,500 FSA gunmen, along with both air and artillery support. Its reliance on heavy firepower and overwhelming force to advance across short distances is not unlike how the Israelis used overwhelming force in their thrust into, and through, south Lebanon.

Even with so much force at their disposal the Israelis did get bogged down in urban fighting with PLO guerrillas in the coastal Lebanese cities of Tyre and Sidon, guerrillas who attempted to bleed the Israeli attackers out, and successfully managed to kill scores of them in the process. Overall though the Palestinians lost far more fighters than the Israelis lost soldiers.

As the Turks advance further south into Syria they too may have to endure fighting against an entrenched enemy which may attempt to bleed them out and make their intervention as costly as possible. Given this and other precedents this present war has with Operation “Peace for Galilee” it would do the Turks good to learn the lessons from that operation before pushing any deeper into Syria.

Posted in English, History, International, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Friends or foes? – A closer look on relations between the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian regime

by Shell Shocked. Special thanks to @SerioSito and @QalaatAlMudiq

Sheikh Maqsood View on Sheikh Maqsood and with Castello Road in the background.

Sheikh Maqsood

View on Sheikh Maqsood with Castello Road in the background.

On Tuesday, 9th August 2016, the high-ranking commander, Major Yasser Abd ar-Rahim of Fatah Halab’s operations chamber in Aleppo gave a statement. It included some drastic messages towards the Kurdish so called People’s Protection Units (YPG) which controls the neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsood, located in the very north of the city. Abd ar-Rahim stated that the Syrian opposition militias will take “revenge” and that the Kurds “will not find a place to bury their dead in Aleppo”. Not only does he charge the YPG of killing rebel fighters but also of collaborating with loyalist forces during the heavy battle raging in and around Aleppo since late June.

His claims specifically refer to incidents, which occurred during the first phase of the battle of June/July 2016. When loyalist forces worked their way south on to Castello Road – by then the only route left to supply rebel held parts of Aleppo – YPG and rebels clashed several times.

On 8th July, YPG made a first push towards the Youth Complex, which neighbors Castello Road. Capturing this area would have at least partly given control over supply routes into rebel-held Eastern Aleppo to the Kurds. Because of Sheikh Maqsood’s elevated position (see pictures above) they had already had a good view over the street and the traffic for years. Fighting between both YPG and different rebel groups continued for several days, leading the YPG to target mortar fire on the road. The Youth complex was eventually taken by the Kurdish forces on 30th July.



As if this fighting was not to fuel allegations of a YPG alliance with regime troops against rebel forces, at the end of July a picture emerged on Twitter. Originally posted on a pro-regime account, a group of men allegedly serving in loyalist units was posing with a man wearing a YPG uniform. Already massively criticized and receiving hostile treatment for raising weapons against rebel forces, the picture, although not fully verifiable, made the situation even worse.


However, the scenery of the Aleppo battle is not the first one to produce such accusations. The earliest skirmishes are reported to have taken place in 2012 which also involved groups fighting over the control of Sheikh Maqsood in October though regime troops were not directly at the scene. In October of the same year during the Battle of Ras al-Ayn all three parties were involved. Regime positions inside the city, located in Hasakah governorate directly on the Syrian-Turkish border, were attacked by Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters – who were soon backed by Jihadists from Jabhat an-Nusra and Ghuraba ash-Sham – managed to drive the regime forces out, but were also involved in shootings with YPG gunmen. This was followed by a series of clashes and ceasefires which eventually resulted in the Kurds taking over the whole of Ras al-Ayn by summer 2013.

Rumors that YPG troops may have been supported by Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) close air support during the Battle of Tal Tamer in March 2015 are hard to analyse. However, this story seems quite unlikely, it is inconsistent and has not been referred to on a greater scale (not to mention stories of 100 Hezbollah fighters aiding YPG).

Without a doubt the biggest event to spark accusations of a YPG-regime cooperation took place around late 2015 / early 2016. Firstly, a dispute erupted between several rebel groups (not all of them linked to the FSA) and the YPG about whether the latter had entered into an agreement with the regime to supply Sheikh Maqsood via loyalist-held ground. Those charges were lodged by Yasser Abd ar-Rahim among others. That very Major already mentioned at the beginning of the text. Ironically, this all happened after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had been founded: a coalition of Kurdish YPG, units of former FSA affiliated groups with mostly Arab Sunni men in their ranks, Sunni tribesmen and some minor Christian militias.

Map showing the course of the 2016 Northern Aleppo offensive. Dotted red line show government frontline before offensive, dotted orange line shows YPG frontline before offensive (Offensive began 1 February 2016; map created by MrPenguin20, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

Map showing the course of the 2016 Northern Aleppo offensive. Dotted red line show government frontline before offensive, dotted orange line shows YPG frontline before offensive (Offensive began 1 February 2016; map created by MrPenguin20, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

In the meantime, both YPG and rebels occasionally traded fire near the isolated Canton Afrin until full action began in February 2016. On 1st February a coalition of regime troops constituting of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), National Defence Forces (NDF), Lebanese Hezbollah, Shia Iraqi and Afghan militias, as well as Iranian troops started their attack on the besieged towns of Nubl and az-Zahraa.

This attack posed a real threat to the rebels, because it eventually cut the vital supply route from Turkey to Aleppo. Just as rebel forces needed as much power as possible to cope with the attackers, the SDF/YPG launched an own attack aiming eastbound, finally reaching and capturing the town of Tel Rifaat and the Menagh Air Base. This effectively cut off the rebel supply route for the second time and led to widespread criticism from western media and observers.

Amnesty International states that between February and April 2016 no less than 83 civilians, 30 of them being children, died in indiscriminate retaliation attacks on Sheikh Maqsood. The organization blames various groups of the Fatah Halab faction for this. Moreover, new weapons were used against the Kurdish neighborhood. For example, in April 2016 the US-backed Mountain Hawks Brigade targeted multiple SDF/YPG positions on Sheikh Maqsood’s outskirts.


However, the situation is a lot more complicated that one might think it is. The actions mentioned should not distract from the fact that SDF/YPG and regime forces also have a history of attacking each other. Disputes in Aleppo date back to September 2012 when Sheikh Maqsood came under fire. Kurdish activists blamed the Syrian government and stated that this was a retaliation attack for hosting opposition members which led to the death of 21 civilians. A similar attack happened again on 26th February 2013, once more causing damage and killing civilians.

For over two years the situation remained quite calm until the SDF signed a truce with the Islamist rebel factions of Fatah Halab on 19th December 2015. Some days later, SDF and regime troops clashed on a larger scale and Sheikh Maqsood even became the target of SyAAF attacks. Since then, no major fighting has taken place between the two parties in the area of Aleppo city. But in fact, both sides did battle each other on other occasions, especially in the northeastern governorate Hasakah. The Assad-led government maintains exclaves in two major cities there: Hasakah city and Qamishli. Both of them repeatedly became the setting of deadly engagements of different intensity, the latest having started on 16th August 2016, involving mainly loyalist NDF militiamen on one side and Kurdish Asayish and YPG troops on the other. After one week of fighting, the regime had to acknowledge a bitter defeat: under an agreement, all NDF inside the city were dissolved or brought to outer bases without permit to enter the city again. The only loyalist units left are police forces, which may act inside the so called security square, an area that covers no more than 5% of the city itself.


 
Conclusion
Seen as a whole, absolute assessments are impossible to be made. The Syrian battlefield should be rather seen as an accumulation of many smaller battlefields which are not necessarily linked with each other in a direct way. Two parties which are fiercely fighting each other at one scene, are not unlikely to live side by side at another one. In its core, it is a way of fighting war which is characterized by a shortage of men on all sides. Battles are only fought when it seems inevitable to do. Reasons for actively starting skirmishes may vary, but often include ascertaining a certain weakness on the opponent’s side or counter some kind of provocations. Although hard to verify, preceding clashes seemed to be sparked by events such as detention of rivals, ignoring checkpoints and fortifying one’s own positions. Rather than having the will to expel rival groups once and for all, those clashes are about setting boundaries and pointing out the limits one party is willing to accept: a trial of strength.

In fact, when it comes to bringing in supplies, both sides are somewhat dependent on the other. At least since April 2016, Sheikh Maqsood has been under siege from the rebel side in Aleppo. It remains unclear to what extent goods can be smuggled into the Kurdish district through the frontline. Medicine and foodstuffs are mainly coming in through corridors linking Kurdish and regime-held areas though it’s not enough to meet the needs. Whereas rebel groups such as Fastaqim Union described that as being sign for a YPG-regime-pact, the Kurds said that these corridors were opened by Kurdish and Syrian Red Crescent.

The SDF and the Assad regime both have other main enemies: whereas the regime is mainly fighting against rebel groups of various political and religious views, trying to build a truncated Syrian state, the SDF have their eyes on connecting the three self-declared cantons in northern Syria. Both goals do not really make them get into each other’s way to a larger extent. Assad gave up governing the Kurdish areas quite at the beginning of the Syrian uprising, resulting in the SAA pulling out of major areas or at least not showing too much interest in recapturing areas previously lost. This is why territories held by either SDF or Assad and his allies only share four borders: Qamishli region (1), Hasakah region (2), Aleppo countryside/Canton Afrin (3), Western Aleppo city/Sheikh Maqsood (4).

map

Politically and even more militarily the respective situation on these four frontlines has never been the same. When there were clashes in Sheikh Maqsood, the state of affairs in Hasakah governorate usually remained quite calm and vice versa. As a matter of fact, tensions and occasional fighting between Kurdish forces and loyalist Gozarto Protection Forces in Qamishli during January 2016 happened just two weeks prior to the double cut of rebel supply lines in northern Aleppo region.

All this leads to the conclusion that in general terms there is no such thing as an SDF-regime pact. Both sides might sometimes act in a manner which benefits them both during certain operations, however, it remains unclear to what extend this is planned or arranged. Some kind of master plan Assad and the SDF/YPG stick to does not exist on a wider scale. The system both sides are perfectly skilled in is being opportunistic. Whenever it serves their goals, they will keep up ceasefires and accept each other’s presence. However, if one contestant is becoming either too weak or too strong, an attack is likely to follow. Still, especially with Turkey and Russia coming closer together again, it remains unclear whether the Kurds and the Syrian regime are able and willing to uphold their respective strategies.

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