As V said on this week's Guerrilla Report, major geopolitical events are happening so fast it is difficult to write articles summarizing them. On Wednesday the world was informed Bashir al-Assad had left Syria for the first time since 2011 for a previously unannounced Tuesday meeting with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. The same morning, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported it had intercepted communications between fighters of the Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda loyalist Al-Nusra discussing plans to merge their terrorist organizations into a united front against Assad and the Russian air strikes supporting the legitimate Syrian government.
Despite the Al-Nusra front being bloodthirsty, head-chopping and POW executing jihadists with only slightly less spectacular in terms of their beheading film production values than the Islamic State, 'respected' global wire service Reuters together with the UK Foreign Office parroting BBC had complained between 80 and 90% of Russian air strikes over the last two weeks had hit Al-Nusra and friends, rather than ISIS.
Like the Syrian Arab Army, Russia's Information Warfare Keeps Advancing
RT, getting a bit too cheeky for my taste in plugging Putin's real War on Terror in Syria as opposed to America's fake war on ISIS...
...on the other hand, this is how you 'troll' RT. Bravo. Calling NATO out on their 'Russian planes operating without transponders' hypocrisy
The mainstream media has been accusing Russia of targeting the 'Free Syrian Army', even though one of the FSA's biggest neocon boosters Michael D. Weiss recently admitted on camera that the 'FSA' doesn't exist. Or rather, he said the 'FSA' is simply a flag of convenience for a multitude of anti-Assad Islamist organizations, though ones he was quick to reassure his Reason mag interviewer were "not the kind of Islamists who would fly planes into the World Trade Center". Which of course should make any libertarian or otherwise sane reader of Reason feel all warm and fuzzy about America's mama snackbar screaming jihadi warriors who get off on mass rape and destroying churches...
A neocon hack admits the 'Free Syrian Army' only existed on Facebook -- so why did he 'report' from Syria while 'embedded' with this non-existent 'army' in 2013? How did Weiss' Senate ally Sen. John "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" McCain sneak into Syria for a photo op with this virtual, Facebook-only group? And if McInsane didn't meet with the 'FSA', then who the hell was he meeting in Syria at the U.S. taxpayers' expense?
If the Russian military SIGINT intercepts are true (and we have little reason to doubt Al-Qaeda 1.0 would gladly merge with Al-Qaeda 2.0) then the mainstream media and Western governments will soon have to come up with a new talking point, instead of the 'Russia is only bombing U.S.-equipped moderates instead of ISIS' propaganda line that has prevailed for the last fortnight.
The Michael D. Weiss/Neocon/MSM 'Russia doesn't bomb ISIS only our moderate jihadis' Narrative is Screwed
Similarly, the laughable Daily Beast neocons' claims that 'Russia has become ISIS air force' because Daesh temporarily seized a couple of villages near Aleppo where the Russians bombed the Al-Nusras or Jaesh al Islam terrorists may have to be abandoned. That the Russians hit ISIS' 'capitol' of Raqqa and also bombed the hell out of ISIS near the Kuweires military airport, in order to help the SAA advance on this key objective, has basically been ignored by the MSM and its usual neocon Russia bashers.
Neocon Michael D. Weiss: "Look, I'm out of solutions here..." you sure are Mikey, you sure are...
We suspect the new party line might involve elaborately pro-Establishment, 'AlKGBaeda' theories, perhaps citing the Daily Beast's favorite ex-NSA Russophobe John R. Schindler, that the FSB/SVR/GRU's secret assets inside the Islamic State arranged for the merger with Al-Nusra as part of Moscow's 'reflexive control' toward a 'bomb em' all and let Allah sort em' out' agenda.
Which in fact, isn't quite what the Russians are doing, though we don't doubt for a minute that:
a) the Russian security services and Kadryovsti have their share of assets inside ISIS' Caucasian fighters, which in part explains Russia's superb targeting of the Islamic State's underground caches and command bases while not yet going after the bulk of ISIL's former Soviet Union (FSU) national recruits
b) Yury Barmin's statement that an ISIS/alNusra merger makes Russia's air campaign an even easier 'sell' to Westerners if not their ever loyal to the Washington party line EU/NATO politicians. Hey killing Al-Qaeda AND ISIS is two for the price of one to 'joe and geoff' six packs from Moscow to Manchester...hell, even retired ex-President, Habitat for Humanity home builder and noted peace negotiator Jimmy Carter is ready to pitch in and help the Russians target these barbarians! That's how much the whole world hates ISIS and how well Russia is turning the West's Narrative about the damn-near invincible super terrorist group against it in a massive judo move.
What we see Moscow doing is using force in the classically Clausewitz-ian sense, as a continuation of politics by other means and forcing adversaries to negotiate on Russia and its Syrian client's terms. But with a Russian-brokered peace in Syria far off, as The Saker reminded his readers Tuesday, a whole lot more bloody hard fighting remains ahead for the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the Iranians and their Iraqi and Lebanese Hezbollah allies.
John McInsane's Syrian 'moderates' are at it again -- this time recruiting kids down to ages 12 and 14 while beheading POWs
Washington Lays Down the Law for Iraq: If You Allow the Russians in to Bomb ISIS We'll Cut Off All Foreign Aid to Baghdad This Should Make the Iraqis Very Happy and Now They Will Quietly Obey Whatever the Americans Say (Not)
As the Russia Analyst got into bed before dawn Wednesday Russian and German media reported that the Iraqis had been threatened with a cutoff of American aid if they allowed Russia to bomb the Islamic State from their bases and territory. This would lead RT reporter Murad Gazdiev (a name that sounds quite Caucasian if not Azeri) to tweet that 'the masks are off' regarding whether Washington's highest priority is fighting ISIS, or resisting Moscow's expanding influence across the Middle East:
Murad was not the only one joining in the general tweet-pile on regarding Washington's threats against its soon to be former Iraqi allies in the fight against Daesh/Islamic State...
The Iraqis have also noticed that since the establishment of the combined intelligence sharing center in Baghdad with Iraq, Iran and Russia their army and militias have been much more effective against Daesh, taking back one of the most important refinery complexes in the country...
aand here's the meme that appeared after the first week of Russian bombing reportedly sent several thousand ISIS fighters scurrying for Turkey...
[embed]https://twitter.com/PhilipRuiter/status/656915522135719936[/embed] After the sun set Wednesday evening in Washington and a new day was about to dawn in Moscow, AP State Department ace reporter Matthew Lee tweeted that Secretary of State John F. Kerry was flying to Vienna, Austria for urgent talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the foreign ministers of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
As Bassem (@BBaseem7) tweeted something indeed seems to be going down between the Russians, the House of Saud, the Turks, and an increasingly desperate-to-save-face Obama Administration.
As the Prussian king Frederick the Great used to say diplomacy without armaments is like music without instruments. If old Friedrich der Grosse were brought back to life today, he'd probably add there's no diplomats talking without clocks and money transfers ticking in addition to bombs falling. We don't know whether Webster Griffin Tarpley is right about secret Russian weapons or power-mad moves by Washington's War Party to prop up the petrodollar at any cost with escalation in defiance of Obama's orders.
As the Russia Analyst noted in Wednesday's post, we do see many signs that the hype about Russian casualties and arms supplies to the jihadists is increasing, despite the diplomatic tete a tetes that have so far established rules for Russian and American flyers to avoid collisions or clashes over Syria. Julian Roepcke, the Bild correspondent whose fanatical Russophobia and zeal for the Syrian jihadist cause probably would've embarrassed his spiritual forebears at Signal or Völkischer Beobachter, brag-tweeted on Wednesday about nasty surprises awaiting the Russian air force, according to his rebel 'sources'.
Why the Syria Jihadis' TOWs Are Potent, but Not Unbeatable 'Wonder Weapons'
We've reported that the Russians have taken precautions against MANPADs through the use of swarming/wingman tactics and deploying large quantities of flares during their low level Hind gunship missions. But it seems Julian has far more faith in jihadists ability to use MANPADs against Russian jets bombing at high speeds or from altitudes at the very edge of any Stinger missile's range than do the Syrian rebels themselves. The fact is, in any war, weapons and tactics evolve according to the needs of the men fighting it, to the ebb and flow of combat. As we wrote Wednesday just because the neocons believe that jihadi TOW stocks and more importantly, cannon fodder numbers are basically limitless does not make this so. TOW missiles themselves, contrary to their portrayal in rebel media, aren't American wunderwaffen for which no Russian counter has been developed.
According to Soviet BearRus speaking in the video above, Moscow is sending the Syrians more of its highly modern T-90 as well as older model T-72s equipped with the Shtora-1 defense systems. What these devices do, as the Russian language video demonstrates below, is detonate smoke grenades on the turret of the tank as soon as a TOW or other ATGM's laser rangefinder is detected, preventing the older model TOWs the Syrian jihadists have from getting a lock.
Even if the gunner precedes to guide the missile to the target manually, the Shtora-1 has two other answers. It can set off grenade charges that blast an incoming missile, so that the TOW gunner has to maintain his lock and let the rocket slow down in an attempt to bypass this defense system (slowing down and then firing a lethal charge is what the Russian Kornet missile does to defeat such systems). Last but not least, the Shtora-1 contains a nasty surprise for any mama snackbaring morons who don't know about Russian tank turrets having autoloaders -- the system can rotate the main gun around within 2 to 3 seconds of ATGM launch detection and fire a 125mm round down the bearing of the attacker to within about 3 degrees of the launcher. Any TOW crew that cannot 'shoot and scoot', thereby losing the lock or breaking the wire on the missile will likely get killed or injured without heavy cover from the tank round's blast.
Washington's pet Allahu Akbar-ing TOW jihadis get a nasty surprise from a Syrian T-90 tank blasting them within two seconds of launch
The Russians have blown up so much ordinance in just two weeks of bombing at a pace of barely 50 to 60 sorties a day that already, the jihadis are having to move their best TOW gunners and remaining missile stocks around. With Moscow's plans to increase the number of sorties to up to 300 per day, using the closed Latakia airport as a second air base, the war will shift from a 'reconnaissance by fire' to a true massed firepower offensive. It was these plans that we presume were the primary topic of conversation between Bashir al-Assad and Putin Tuesday at the Kremlin. We also believe the diplomatic initiatives the Kremlin would pursue seeking to persuade the Turks and Saudis to cut off aid to their proxies in Syria were also shared with Assad, who in turn can inform the Iranians.
Just How Well or How Badly is the Offensive Going for Assad and the Russians? We'd Say 'Not Bad'
Blogger Patrick Bahzad, who purports to be a retired U.S. Army officer, sums up the SAA's offensive after two weeks quite nicely. Suffice to say, despite all the bulls--t and bravado of the pro-TOW jihadi Twitterati, the SAA is grinding down the rebels. Washington, Ankara, Riyadh and Doha's pet jihadis have totally lost the initiative on the battlefield, which they enjoyed as recently as this summer:
The attritional character of the current ground offensives against entrenched rebel positions, some of whom have been fortified for months and years, is obvious. The unknown factor is the current depletion rate of rebel manpower, ammunition and weaponry, which makes a forecast regarding the length of the current campaign difficult.
However, it looks like the idea of stretching rebel forces thin, forcing them to organise/reorganise defensive lines in areas located wide apart, notably through starting an operation in Aleppo, behind major rebel lines, will take its toll on the logistics and CC capabilites of the rebels.
While news has been publicized about senior Iranian IRGC deaths, it should be noted that the rebels have lost a very significant number of front-line commanders ("Jaish al-Islam" in Damascus, "Jabhat al-Nusra" and "Ahrar al-Sham" in the NW) and that an undetermined number of foreign fighters were killed around Idlib. These kills bear the hallmark of the RuAF strategy, aimed at:
- logistical depots and bases of the rebels,
- rebel frontline positions (CAS) and
- CC facilities and individual commanders.
In this regard, the absence of a unified command structure among the rebel factions might cost them dearly in a not so distant future, as the R+5 seems intent on keeping the momentum and intensifying the operational pace. The number of airstrikes has significantly increased in the last two days and correlating the targets of these strikes with imminence of renewed ground operations suggests that the major axis of R+5 offensives will focus again on the Rastan enclave and a further push into SW Aleppo. The outcome of the relief operation to Kuweires airbase, located East of Aleppo, will also be interesting to follow.
Previously to the push around Aleppo, major combat operations were taking place North of Hama and in Ghab plain. In that regard, there is a big question mark regarding the whereabouts of the several thousand strong Iranian force, most of which has not been seen in large numbers on the battlefield so far.
Quite possibly, there is an ongoing troops buid-up in Latakia province, with the recent attacks on Salma being only a probing a testing phase for a larger engagement which would target the border areas to Turkey and the Jabal al-Akrad in particular.
Unconfirmed info regarding the state of the rebel factions makes for a picture that is consistent with the intended goals of the R+5:
- TOW teams deployed in Ghab plain were sent back to SW Aleppo to counter advancing government troops. If the rebels are forced to send already committed forces to hot spots of R+5 offensives, this is a rather ominous sign;
- internal feuds could have erupted within Jaish al-Fath, as one of its most radical components - the Jihadi "Jund al-Aqsa" - stated it was not willing to confront ISIS if called upon to do so. According to unverified sources, the predominantly Moroccan and North African "Jund al-Aqsa" got into firefights with "Ahrar al-Sham" groups in at least one location under their control.
Based on Bahzad and Southfront's descriptions, what the SAA, Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Shi'a militia allies have been doing thus far is clearing out threats to the logistical 'spine' of the country. It was the risk that Assad's enemies could cut the vital highway between the capitol Damascus and the regime's coastal stronghold in Latakia province where Russian bases can operate safely that prompted Putin's intervention. Now the SAA is effectively encircling the remaining rebel pockets around Homs, as well as the countryside outside Hama.
The Syrians have also beaten the jihadists back from the Damascus eastern outskirts territory of East Ghouta and made significant progress in the south pushing the enemy towards the Israeli-held Golan Heights, this time without any interference from the Israelis due to the Russian Bear dominating the skies. As we've argued in this space before, if neither Israeli nor Turkish pilots will risk their necks to establish a 'safe zone' or 'no fly zone' over 'America's' rebels, why should the United States military? Unless of course, you happen to be crazy-eyed, like John McCain or Hillary Clinton:
That SAA progress has been at some places slow, particularly in Damascus' suburbs urban terrain or in areas where the Russian air strikes need to be called in to remove the jihadists from the high ground, is an unavoidable fact. The Saker is not wrong to preach caution and to admonish his readers not to get triumphalist about the Russian intervention. The SAA has suffered severe casualties and poor coordination between air power and frontline commanders for many months now. The Iranians troop levels have not been as large as some anticipated at the start of the Russian air campaign, but we believe the Persians are holding their best troops in reserve for a major breakthrough this winter after the jihadists have been 'softened up'.
When Will the Dragon Join in the Anti-ISIS Offensive? What Are the Chinese Waiting For?
Putin and his allies have several more 'cards' up their sleeves besides what we've seen thus far from the air and cruise missile strikes by the Russians. Namely, an Iranian pincer move with the Persians IRGC joining Hezbollah and Iraqi militias in the encirclement of the rebel stronghold Aleppo, simultaneous with a Houthi/Yemeni army offensive against the Saudi-led coalition occupying their country. There is simply no way in our minds, a commander as devious and feared by the Americans as Gen. Qasem Soleimani would be making such a spectacle of himself taking selfies with his men near the frontlines in Aleppo if he were not seeking to distract Saudi, Israeli and U.S. intelligence from another move on the chessboard. We believe this move will be a Houthi/Yemeni 'Tet' style offensive that will inflict painful losses on the Saudis. The other factor in the combined Syria/Iraq theater is the one we mentioned above: Washington's pressure on the Iraqis to not allow the Russians into their bases could backfire. Because instead of getting Russian planes flying into Iraq to bomb the Islamic State, we expect another player to emerge: China.
Coming to a Daesh front line near you in Anbar province?
The Chinese have modernized versions of Russia's Tupolev-16 long range bomber, the H-6K. These versions carry cruise missiles as well as 'dumb' bombs that can be used in multiple-hour long loiter missions, not unlike how we saw Diego Garcia-based B-52s fly in November 2001 to blast Taliban lines in Afghanistan. With the Islamic State reeling from the loss of the Basji oil refinery complex and additional hammer blows from the Shi'a led Iraqi Army and militias, we could see a delineation or division of labor between the Russians and Chinese.
In this scenario, Russia will step up its air strikes in Syria using the expanded Latakia airport base and the additional runway/s there, while China's long range aviation operates out of bases in Iran to hit Daesh targets in western Iraq. None other than SouthFront, one of our premier sources for accurate and timely info on the conflict, has stated that China may be eyeing bases in Iran in order to strike ISIS targets in Iraq. The security issues and risk of suicide bomb attacks that plagued the U.S. when it came to air operations at Balad or other Air Force bases in Iraq would certainly be insignificant by comparison in Iran's Persian heartland. The last thing Russian or Chinese generals in charge of their nation's long range bombers want to worry about on their first joint, SCO expeditionary mission is suicide-vest equipped jihadists with satellite maps provided by You Know Who (Langley) crawling under their wire and setting off bombs within their perimeter.
Chinese J-11 license built versions of Russia's Sukhoi 27 multirole fighter, which has the range to strike targets in western Iraq from Iran
In this way, Moscow can increase the pressure on Daesh, and China will 'punk' Washington at the very moment the Obama Administration is trying to 'look tough' over Beijing's artificial South China Sea island bases. The Iranians could also cement their place in the new Shanghai Cooperation Organization led order by hosting long range Chinese and possibly Russian aviation to act as a 'force multiplier' for the shared Russian-Iranian-Iraqi intelligence command center in Baghdad.
The only reasons we can think of why China stays aloof from the anti-Daesh air campaign thus far is because it's been:
a) waiting to see how far the US Navy intends to push to within the 12 mile exclusion zones around Fiery Cross reef and other Spratly Islands bases
b) waiting on the Iranian ground offensive to start and force ISIS to pull more troops off the Anbar province front so a rapid, prestige enhancing breakthrough can be achieved for the Iraqis with the help of Chinese bombs raining down on ISIS exposed in the open desert
c) evaluating using its own satellites and intelligence sources in the Mideast particularly in Baghdad where it has major oil interests how successful the Russian campaign has been
d) finalizing secret and not so secret arms sale and energy concession agreements with the Iraqi government, which will likely include more armed Chinese-manufactured drones patrolling Iraqi skies
The Diplomatic Dance: Moscow Rules for Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Americans Just How Badly Are the Saudis Doing? And Will They Negotiate in Good Faith or Be Forced To by the Oil/Proxy War Pincers?
The coming weeks will be critical and may decide whether the Russians will succeed in a military and diplomatic masterstroke, or get bogged down by the fanatical resistance of the jihadists in Syria and the stubborn refusal of Washington, Riyadh, Doha and Ankara to accept a face-saving peace that will in fact represent a defeat. The infighting in the House of Saud exposed by the anonymous prince letter and the war in Yemen is forcing the previously intransigent Saudis to negotiate with Putin. So too, is the alarming decline in Saudi market share in the world's biggest oil importer, China, which seems to have deliberately favored the petro-yuan paying Russians and Iranians over the Gulf States still stuck on the petrodollar. Today Moscow exports more crude to China than Saudi Arabia. If you add in Persian crude, it isn't even close. Presumably this is what EVOLUTION Consulting meant by the BRICS capacity to absorb market share and to do it on a more long term basis than the Western petrodollar dependent powers. Nonetheless, that the 30-year-old Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman negotiating with Putin is also the Kingdom's defense minister nominally responsible for the debacle in Yemen demonstrates the complexity of this diplomatic dance.
The Turks too, are in a world of hurt as their economy and currency the lira suffer. The November 1 elections could prove embarrassing to Erdogan's ruling Law and Justice Party (AKP), forcing him to share power with some sort of opposition bloc. The vote is expected to force a shift towards negotiations with the Kurds, something Washington already demands of Ankara as a de facto if not de jure Kurdistan may prove to be the only remaining piece of the Iraq and Syria puzzle left for the Americans to 'salvage'. In the worst case scenario from Washington's point of view, the nearly landlocked Kurds (except for whatever territory they end up grabbing adjoining Assad's coastal Latakia province near the Turkish border) may be the only 'friend' they will have left when Putin is done smacking the Turks and Saudis into compliance with the new Eurasian order in the Mideast.
The terror attack recently carried out against an anti-war, pro-peace with the Kurds student rally in the Turkish capitol of Ankara was a message from ISIS not to betray them, according to Southfront. But the flow of Daesh contraband crude to Turkish middlemen is now acknowledged by none other than Establishment Pentagon journalist Bill Gertz, who lists the Islamic State's annual revenues at an astounding billion bucks. As we predicted back in August, the Turks are the perfect 'fall guys' to explain away the spectacular rise of the Islamic State, and all the long Toyota pickup truck convoy signs of ISIL's state sponsorship.