Tuesday 20 October 2015

Syria and the Middle East SITREP October 18th, 2015

 by John Rambo

October 18, 2015
It’s been a mediocre week in Syria. Syrian forces have committed to a relentless offensive and have stepped up their assaults with fresh operations in Homs and Aleppo. Operations are being committed against both the Islamic State and the so called rebels supported by the West.

Gains have been modest, while territory is being recaptured by the Syrian Arab Army (supported by the Russian air force) the offensives, in the words of Russian advisers, have been less than spectacular. The speed of the offensives has been gruelingly slow due to the entrenched resistance seen in places like Aleppo and Hama.

Some of these areas have been in rebel hands for so long they have been reinforced into micro-garrisons. Tunnels are not only used to help shelter fighters during air raids and to move men from one part of the town to another in rapid defense but also to smuggle in supplies from outside the city during government sieges and encirclement.
Needless to say the fighting has been tough, but the SAA, with the aid of the Russian air campaign and Iranian/Hezbollah support, have brought in some hard earned victories.
However there is a lack of a single decisive victory, the big win if you will, for the Syrian Arab Army. Although morale has significantly picked up since the entry of the Russian air force into the fight there is also signs that the Syrian people have become accustomed to war, or ‘crisis’ as the government calls it.

Syria has been a nation at war for quite some time (4.5+ years). Despite this and the fact major parts of the country are destroyed, other parts of the nation have long returned to a level of normalcy. Of course there will always be the security issue as long as the crisis is ongoing. Law abiding citizens turning of age will have to commit to their draft and most likely be deployed in areas of combat against rebels or the Islamic State. Some boys have already been discharged. There is the odd day or two where one or two streets will be shut down due to terrorists but eventually normalcy returns. Life goes on.

Of course that’s not to say large parts of the country haven’t been reduced to rubble. Or that there isn’t an internal refugee crisis. But where the government rules there seems to be a level of order.

The government has had a long-standing program since the onset of the crisis to maintain a series of government grocery shops and bakeries to alleviate demands on the private sector. The government continues to subsidize food and electricity. Roads are fixed and maintained. Syrian TV dramas have continued to film and air over the four years with minor interruptions. Although some parts of Syria are destroyed, major segments still seem to be functioning fine. [Source]

And just like Syrian society so too has the Syrian military accepted the new security situation. Like all conflicts in the Middle East, long protracted wars are the norm. From Lebanon to Iraq to Palestine and back again. The Syrian Arab Army has seen so many causalities and has fought hundreds of thousands of foreign jihadists over the years that to achieve peace now would be as tedious as continuing the war in its current state.
No one has ever put it better than in Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

I am in blood stepp’d in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er,

And that is what many Syrian regulars are feeling today; fighting a war that doesn’t seem to have an end. Despite the heavy propaganda of the ever-so-happy Syrian soldier, who apparently does not feel combat-fatigue fighting a war for almost half a decade, there is a general acceptance of the facts on the ground.

One of these facts it that to root out these Islamists from Syria once and for all is going to take a lot more effort than initially anticipated. The fact Assad had twice offered an amnesty to all draft-dodgers, deserters, and defectors highlights the complicated nature of maintaining dedicated manpower through his regular forces. [Source]

It’s definitely going to take more than the 30 planes and the thousands of troops coming in from Hezbollah and Iran. Something bigger must be brewing to bring the decisive victory needed to shake off the nation’s lackadaisical acceptance of the crisis and shake out the foreign invaders that are destroying the country.

The Russians have been continuously providing fire-support to Syrian troops on the ground. On top of the consistent on-call air support to the SAA, the Russian air force they have also taken the initiative in continuously harassing opposition forces. The opposition has had no respite from combat since the Russians have entered the conflict. When the SAA ground offensives stop, the Russian attack runs pick up the pressure and keep the enemy occupied and suppressed.

It’s starting to appear, albeit unclearly, that Russia’s involvement isn’t part of some larger geopolitical play or a scheme to expand further militarily into the Middle East, but to genuinely deny the fall of Assad. The plan is to truly create favorable conditions on the ground to allow for a better hand at the negotiating table. Right now Russia is content providing these airplanes, but there is no doubt that Russia has the power and projection capability to reset the battlefield should Assad ever be pushed into a corner. Something that can’t be said about the rebels, which the West refuses to support currently through direct air strikes on Assad, and ISIL, which the GCC refuses to continue financing until it comes to heel.

These next few days are going to highlight the reserve capacity of the rebels and Islamic State. As all factions have been fighting for a week we’re starting to see if the rebels and the Islamic State have the operational capability and strategic depth to withstand an extensive SAA ground offensive supported by accurate Russian firepower from the air. Iranian troops have landed in the thousands to reinforce the ground offensives. More Shia militias, trained by Iranians, have been imported from Iraq and Shia volunteers (or mercenaries) from Afghanistan are being shuttled to the combat zone.

It also seems there’s a bit of politics occurring in the background. Meetings between Russian and Saudi delegates. Russians trying to bring the Americans in with the Americans shunning all attempts. Secret Israeli and Saudi meetings. Everything is happening quietly and quickly.

So here is where we stand:


• A double force multiplier: the SAA is being supported by Russian airstrikes as well as Iranian air mobility and airlift capability. This allows the SAA to use its limited manpower to deploy to any front by Iranian helicopters/planes supported by Russian air cover. [Source]
• A continuous offensive with major operations renewed in Homs and Aleppo. [Source]
• Syrian military intelligence have infiltrated into many of the factions on the ground providing direct intelligence for air strikes, some going undercover for three years and perhaps longer. This partially explains the accurate intelligence on large stores of munitions and important facilities. [Source]

• TOS-1 have been seen deployed in Syria, a thermobaric weapon designed for anti-garrison/defense bombardment. Probably a response to the mediocre effect of ground offensives. [Source]


• Russia continues to provide air support to the Syrian Arab Army on the ground as well as take out high-level opposition targets such as foreign training camps [Source]
• Russian air force has also undertaken an entropy-based strategy against opposition forces, both rebels and ISIL, in a continuous effort to not only destroy fighters and degrade command capabilities (through both destruction of command centers and jamming of enemy signals) but also force the opposition to continuously expend effort (fuel, man hours, tools, etc.) avoiding Russian helicopter gunships and strike-fighters (by constantly having engines running, repositioning, dedicating manpower to watch out for incoming Russian air assets, etc.) [Source]
• In effect all the Russian air force has to do is just launch fighters and automatically thousands of jihadi’s will be awoken in the middle of the night to frantically rush to reposition or hide their assets in a vain attempt to preserve their assets.
• Russia has significantly degraded a lot of the war projection capabilities of ISIL inside Syria as many of their heavy munitions areas have been destroyed. [Source]
• Russia still enjoys major popular support domestically for the air intervention in Syria with the latest anti-intervention rally in Moscow drawing out more journalists than protestors [Source]
• The Russian air force in Syria has to worry about MANPADS such as captured Soviet-era Igla and Strela systems, Chinese MANPADS, and potentially advanced Western MANPADS from Turkey, Israel, or the US. This worry is doubled for low-flying Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships. [Source]
• Anti-air systems such as ZPU-1, 2, and 4s may also prove to be hazardous. Syria is known to have over 4000 anti-air guns which many fell under rebel control and can be seen mounted atop trucks in various youtube videos [Source]


• Iran has finally provided some visible forms of support with the deployment of an IRGC brigade to help with the offensives in Homs and Aleppo. [Source]
• Iran has lost another two senior IRGC officers in Syria highlighting the increased presence of Iranian units inside Syria. [Source]
• Delayed the deployment of significant number of troops by two weeks in an effort to better understand the commitment of Russian involvement. Although Russia is seen as a more honest international broker than the United States, Iran hasn’t forgotten how easily Russia postponed the S-300 contract due to international (and rumored Israeli) pressure. [Source]
• The Iranian leadership currently fears that the Russians will allow “some” Israeli airstrikes to hit their targets inside Syria as part of an appeasement. They also have fears that the Russians may strike a bargain with the Saudis sometime in the future which will limit Iranian influence in Bahrain and Yemen.
• Iran has also brought in Iraqi Shia militias and Shia Afghanis to fight in Syria. Many claim the (Shia) Afghanis are nothing more than mercenaries hired by Iran (Afghanistan has had a history of warlords for generations) [Source]
• Flexing its military muscles, Iran has showcased one of its many massive underground missile bases highlighting its capability to withstand pre-emptive first-strike operations and be able to retaliate with massive saturation missile attacks. Might be as a warning to Israel of repercussions prior to deploying ground forces in Syria. Or possibly another show of force prior to entering talks with the US which consistently talks about “all options are on the table” [Source]
• Hezbollah also lost a prominent commander operating in Idlib. [Source]
• These targeted killings of senior Iranian and Hezbollah commanders could be the work of Western intelligence which passed down information to opposition forces and the Islamic State. Israel, Turkey, or the US. Of course pure speculation.


• Currently the Iraqi army is fighting Sunni tribes and the Islamic State in the West and North of the country in another major offensive. Efforts are focused on the Baiji area in a drawn out mop up operation to secure a strategic hub for continued offensives into the Anbar province (which is ISIL territory) [Source]
• Iraq has been diversifying its arsenal away from the US for some time. Not only do Iranian and Russian weapons fill the armories of Iraq but so do the Chinese with missiles, heavy weapons, and drones [Source]
• There is more evidence that Iraq has shifted closer and closer to the Iranian sphere of influence than the US.
• There is still currently 15,000 Western-affiliated forces in Iraq which doesn’t include Kurdish units or the Iraqi military. US (4850 regulars + 7000 contractors) Australia (~900 troops), Canada (~700 troops), Spain (300 trainers), etc.; the so called Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve or CJTF-OIR for short.

United States of America:

• No more carriers in the Middle East. The USS Theodore has completely left the Arabian Sea [Source]
• Currently the US is in the midst of a showdown with China over its island expansion and may be repositioning the aircraft carriers for some kind of double down on a show-of-force. [Source]
• The US seems to have accepted the status quo of the situation but continues to refuse to work with Russia in Syria. [Source]
• It is unclear if the US is committing strike-fighters or just drones for its bombing campaign in Syria. Although the last carrier pulled out of the Middle East the US still enjoys the deployment of various expeditionary air groups in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. [Source]
• US media claims 300 Cuban special forces are also deployed inside Syria but could very well be false information to distract from domestic issues for political reasons as relations between the US and Cuba begin to thaw. [Source]
• The US has shifted its aid from training the rebels to just providing the opposition with arms and ammunition. The goal of this is to continue the chaos but not have it be effective enough to turn the tide. [Source]
• Undoubtable just like in the past some aid will end up in ISIL hands, either through miss drops or being turned over/traded by other Islamists.
• It is unclear if the US plans to commit to some counter action in another theater against Russia for its interference in the Western-driven plans to overthrow Assad.

Islamic State:

• They haven’t stopped committing the offensives.
• The Islamic State has no allies currently, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, once supporters of ISIL, now refusing to support the group until they return to following orders [Source]
• False reports about another Baghdadi strike. Intelligence so far have managed to strike Baghdadis entourage three times but never the man himself. [Source]
• There is some anecdotal evidence indicating Baghdadi was recruited by some Western intelligence agency. This would clearly implicate Western involvement in the creation of ISIL. Evidence such as Baghdadi being a US prisoner for some time and released. Israeli air attacks on Syrian assets occurring simultaneously with some Islamist attacks.
• As previously noted by others, the US and co. can “turn on” these groups, but they can’t switch them off. I like to call it letting the Islamist genie out of the bottle, once out you can’t put it back in.

Rebel Factions including Al-Nusra:

• The rebels seem to still have a large number of TOWs on hand. [Source]
• False flag massacres have been occurring to try to shift international media attention to demonize the actions of the SAA and the Russian air force. [Source]
• Right now the rebels are lacking a cohesive strategy once again in dealing with the Russian air strikes and renewed ground offensives. All hope awaits outside intervention. Considering the US has stopped training the rebels officially, the GCC and Turkey may be given an incentive to pick up where the Americans left off.
• The rebel public relation and propaganda campaigns have taken a dive for the worst being unable to show any tangible victories against the government asides from a few TOW videos against obscure targets [Source]
• Al-Qaeda commanders have been killed in an airstrike, rumored to be sent directly by Ayman al-Zawahri (part of the original OBL Al-Qaeda) [Source]

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and co.:

• Saudi Arabia and Russia have had a high-level meeting about the situation in Syria. It’s unclear if Saudi Arabia is acting in its own interests or as an ally of the US. Russia remained cordial. It’s safe to say this meeting was probably met with coldness by the Iranians. [Source]
• The IMF has given a very dire prediction of the Saudi economy. The oil bubble has allowed Saudi Arabia to grow much faster without adjusting for its new expenses should the price of oil fall; which it has. [Source]
• The campaign in Yemen is sloppy and was committed haphazardly by a young 30 year-old Saudi defense minister, the youngest defense minister in the world [Source]
• The Arab Coalition bombing campaign of Yemen has been mostly ignored by the mainstream media due to US political clout. The bombing is so indiscriminate that the Saudis even strike their own allies from time to time [Source]
• The warfare seen in Yemen and the south of Saudi Arabia is escalating ever so slowly. SCUDS have been fired by Houthi forces against Saudi military positions inside Saudi Arabia [Source]
• These North Korean SCUDS were probably purchased by the Yemen government in the 90s and captured by the Houthis and then turned on the Saudis.
• Yemeni Houthi forces have also attacked military bases near the Yemen border inside Saudi Arabia inflicting substantial causalities [Source]
• Saudi Arabia clearly has its own problems in its own backyard right now.
• Saudi Arabia is backing the Hadi-government, which is supported by the Arab Coalition and indirectly by the US due to Saudi support.
• The Shia Houthis (rebels or revolutionaries) who were predominately in the north, have taken over the government after grievances were not addressed appropriately. They are supported given minimal support by Iran.
• Yemen also hosts Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIL, and several other Islamists groups (including the Somalian Al-Shahaab). Members of AQAP have split and pledged their allegiance to ISIL; it is only a matter of time before more AQAP forces switch over.
• The US continues to commit drone strikes inside Yemen against AQAP.
• Saudi Arabia and Israel may work together to counter Iran. Either by finding a way to include the Palestinians instead of pushing them into Iran’s corner or to completely denounce the Palestinians for Israeli support against Iran. (Especially with the US) [Source]
• It is said that Saudi Arabia has access to nuclear weapons through a loan-agreement with Pakistan, which is considered the “vanguard of the Sunni faith”. Although the transfer of these weapons will be very unlikely (due to the international crisis Israel will make of it) it is not the first time this agreement has been mentioned. This threat could be a way to counter any Iranian nuclear ambitions, if any. [Source]


• Turkey is playing hard ball right now, rejecting EU offers. It’ll continue to play the refugee card until it can get something out of this entire debacle. [Source]
• A drone of unknown origins was shot down on the border of Turkey and Syria. The US suspects it’s Russian in origin but there are many operators of drones inside Syria including Iran, Syrian government, and rebel forces. [Source]
• Turkey has previously committed its own false flag operations, such as the rumored rockets fired from Syria inside Turkey which was seized upon to force NATO to deploy Patriot batteries on the border. [Source]
• This could be another desperate attempt to extend the Patriot missile deployment by NATO.
• The patriot missile batteries are being pulled out despite an October 8th appeal by Turkey to NATO [Source]
• Turkey and the Kurds (PKK) are still skirmishing inside Turkey, violence looks like it’s going to escalate. [Source]


• Israel currently facing an escalation of violence from the occupied peoples of Palestine. In turn Israel has increased security killing several Palestinians, many captured on camera. [Source]
• So far the mainstream media has managed to minimize the coverage of Israel.
• It is unclear to what level the West Bank is armed, citing previous Iranian threats of arming the West Bank after the latest war against Hamas in Gaza [Source]
• It’s also unclear to what level this escalation will bring by the Palestinians, who are being strangled in Gaza by Egypt and Israel, and are being prosecuted by Israel in the West Bank. [Source]
• Israel continues to buy oil from the quasi-state Kurdistan at a discounted price, which directly funds the Peshmerga and its fight against ISIL as well as solidifying its independence from Turkey and Syria. [Source]
• Israel has had a rough plan of attack against Hezbollah while the organization was distracted by the war in Syria. This plan was clearly interrupted by the Russian involvement.
• It would involve a heavy propaganda blitz in tangent with an operation to attempt to migrate as many Lebanese civilians from southern Lebanon to the north of the country (this required chartering vessels to shuttle civilians from Tyre to Tripoli). After the warning period involving loud speakers, leaflets, and hacking into TV signals and radio stations, Israel will treat all people who decide to remain in the area as enemy combatants. [Source]
• Critics have said it’s a way for Israel to use the Lebanese as a human shield by having them positioned close to Israeli ground units as they are being evacuated.
• Should the evacuation fail Israel has steadily increased the rhetoric in the past about striking Hezbollah in villages with no regard to civilian causalities [Source]
• Once civilians have been reduced and the world has been informed of the extraordinary effort Israel has gone to inform civilians to flee, it will level the whole of South Lebanon in a non-stop bombing campaign before a ground incursion even begins.
• This plan does not factor in Hezbollahs capability to infiltrate forces inside Israel through tunnels, as seen by Hamas in Gaza against an IDF army outpost inside Israel. [Source]

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian   
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