Monday, September 26, 2016

Mosul attack Oct 19 according to Erdogan

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed on Sunday that the battle to push the Islamic State (ISIS, Daesh) out of their stronghold of Mosul will commence on October 19.

“It is said that the battle for Mosul against Daesh will kick off on October 19 and that we all have to be prepared for this event,” Erdogan said in a meeting with Turkish community figures based in the United States.

Halgurd Hikmat, media officer for the Peshmerga ministry, told Rudaw English that he could not confirm publicly the date for the launch of the Mosul offensive for security reasons....

-bth: so much for operational security.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Thoughts on Syria - Sept 25, 2016

The Syrian air force attack on the aid convoy to Aleppo this week which Russia then had the audacity to blame on the US has really strained relations with the Sec. of State Kerry to the breaking point.

Added to the challenge is the unwillingness of the US Defense Department to cooperate with the Russians in the war against IS. Unless President Obama comes out strongly on this matter, the issue of cooperation seems dead. Given the US 'accidental' bombing of Syrian militia forces in eastern Syria at the beginning of the week, it isn't even certain that force de-confliction is possible.  On the other hand de-confliction between Turkey and Russia in northern Syria seems to be happening.

Lavrov is quoted as saying he intends to release to the public the secret accord reached mid-month between the US and Russia. At this point, one can only assume the Russians are interested in scoring political points to make it plain to the world that they are a force to be reckoned then any prospect of a ceasefire or sustained relationship with the Obama administration. All this bodes ill in my opinion not only in the ME but in the Ukraine where it feels like another shoe is about to drop.

In Syria the Assad regime feels very confident that their new offensive will  win them the civil war. We shall see. I don't think that despite aerial dominance, there are enough troops on the ground to actually seize and hold  hostile territory.

So it seems fairly likely that after starving out the residents and fighters in eastern Aleppo, the Russian, Iranians and Syrians regime will have their city back in full, what is left of it.  But what about the rest of the country?

Turkey's enclave that has been carved out of northeastern Syria is not going to go away anytime soon. How will Syrian government deal with that? The Turks look like they are invariably handing over administration of that area to a loose group of NGOs linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

And as to the Kurds. Obama has a decision to make as to whether to step up arms support, and in particular, heavy arms to the Kurds in order to get them to move on Raqqa. Personally I don't think the Kurds are going to Raqqa as it does not hold a friendly population,, but it does serve a political agenda for the US Defense Department and if it were an excuse by which the Kurdish forces got heavy weaponry in Syria then perhaps that is how it will unfold during the last months of the Obama administration. I think it more likely that they would push south into east central Syria toward oil and gas fields controlled by IS.

Does the Syrian government have enough manpower? In the summer it seemed the answer was unequivocally no.  Now I'm not so sure.  Also there is the economic disaster of Syria, agriculture, oil and gas, basic infrastructure, factories; it all is very weak despite publicity and PR campaigns by the government.  The Russian blog and media campaign has been relentless and sweeping in scope.

And how will Syria deal with the Kurd which have gotten their act together despite a hopeless geographic situation? Is Assad going to cut a deal for a confederation or is he going to continue his hardline approach of absolute government and directly engage the Kurds?  And if Mosul falls this winter as expected and a wave of Sunni Arabs from Iraq migrate over into eastern Syria, how does that change the equation?

Yet cash flow is a hard thing for Assad and also Iran and Russia. Syria's regime is in terrible financial straits since last May when its currency collapsed. This will make oil and gas fields, grain harvested and stored in silos and electrical power plants all the more important. Iran got relief this year from the US but that does not address the negative impact of oil and gas pricing and the inherent inefficiencies and corruption endemic to Iran.  Russia, has done an admirable job managing its domestic budget despite great hardship, but indications of great strain are everywhere in its economy. Perhaps Russia should get what it wishes, a long and costly engagement in Syria and eastern Ukraine.

Given the US election cycle and Russia's hope that Obama will leave and Hillary will lose, my guess is that it plans to push the limits in Syria and Ukraine militarily until the end of the calendar year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cease fires and Russian election cycle

There has been much internet discussion about the timing of cease-fires in Syria especially with the last one turning out to be almost a nonstarter.

Also in the Ukraine Russian backed rebels last week declared a unilateral ceasefire out of nowhere. The spokesman was in a civilian suit where usually he is in combat fatigues. This seems odd given the substantial build up of Russian donated armor over the summer to the rebels.

My speculation is that Putin wanted a ceasefire in Syria that he could blame the Americans on when it failed and he wanted a ceasefire in Ukraine the week leading up to the Duma elections. 

Putin's party won decisively and the day after the elections the Russians declared the Syrian ceasefire dead.

If things heat up in Ukraine, I would suspect that it will be timed in November or late October leading up to the US elections and before the weather turns unfavorable. November has historically been an active combat period in the Ukrainian conflict.  Also one may see Putin stirring up Ukraine in advance of the US election in order to embarrass Hillary.

EXCLUSIVE-Battered by war, Syria's wheat crop halved this year to new low - Thomas Reuters

ABU DHABI/BEIRUT, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Syria's wheat harvest nearly halved to 1.3 million tonnes this year, the lowest in 27 years, as fighting and poor rainfall further degraded the farming sector and the nation's ability to feed itself.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad was forced to tender this summer for an unprecedented 1.35 million tonnes of imported wheat from political ally Russia to ensure supply of the flat loaves that are a staple for the Syrian people.
Before the five-year-old civil war, Syria was a wheat exporter producing four million tonnes in a good year and able to export 1.5 million tonnes...

Two dry spells, one in December and the other between mid-February and mid-March helped to cut the 2016 crop down from the 2.44 million tonnes in 2015, when most areas had ample rainfall.
In areas were there was rain, like the northeast province of Hasaka which accounts for almost half the country's wheat production, only 472,000 hectares were planted out of a planned 706,000 hectares due to the security situation, Yao said.
There has been heavy fighting in Hasaka as an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led air strikes pushed Islamic State militants out of some territory this year....

The outlook for wheat is not good. For the coming 2016/2017 planting season the government-run General Organisation for Seeds Multiplication only managed to distribute 30,000 tonnes of wheat seed compared to 450,000 tonnes prior to the war.
Of the country's total wheat production this year, only around 400,000 tonnes were procured by the government, a source at the General Organisation for Cereal Processing and Trade (Hoboob), the state body responsible for wheat, said.
The figure is far short of the one to 1.5 million tonnes needed to provide bread to government-held areas of Syria....

-bth: a couple of take aways besides the general food shortage.  Russia will be able to import wheat into the government controlled sector giving it influence.  Second, the struggle around grain silos will likely intensify.  This has been an observable factor in Iraq and Syria in recent years.  Also one might expect IS to try to abduct farmers' families to be held as hostage for a percentage of the grain yields. This has happened in recent years and I see no reason it will not increase or intensify.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Congress about to cause a series of 3 quarterly funding disasters for American public

... "The military services basically write off any major planning for the first quarter of the fiscal year due to Congress’ inability to pass appropriations bills on time, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Sept. 15 hearing.

Richardson’s revelation comes as the military is bracing for the possibility of another long term continuing resolution for 2017. It is almost a certainty that Congress will pass at least a short term resolution to keep the government running when the 2016 fiscal year ends at the end of September.
For all but one of the past eight years, the military services have dealt with the uncertainty of a long-term continuing resolution, Richardson said.

“Behaviors have modified to adapt to the reality of the last eight years. Big programs that require authorities for new starts, those are all prohibited in a continuing resolution environment and so rather than put those programs in the first quarter and put them all at risk, we just live in a three-quarter year and that first quarter is a light touch on just trying to keep things going,” Richardson said.

Other military service chiefs testified that the inability to plan ahead and a truncated fiscal year lead to the services wasting money on contacts...."

"... House Armed Services member Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said a short-term continuing resolution was the best among “a host of bad options” because it avoids a shutdown and gives lawmakers an opportunity to work out appropriations over the post-Nov. 8 election “lame duck” session.   

“It gives us a shot at getting a shot at some regular order, maybe a minibus or two—maybe defense—and CR-ing the rest,” Kinzinger said. “The minibus thing is probably where you’d probably get the most people in agreement and some success.”

Senate and House Armed Services Committee leaders are in negotiations to reconcile each chamber’s versions of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, where the biggest sticking point is the House bill’s diversion of $18 billion in wartime overseas contingency operations funding for troops and equipment. 

Thornberry, on Friday, signaled the NDAA negotiations on defense spending authorization could influence negotiations on a defense appropriations bill. 

“We try to stay together with the authorization and appropriations, so I guess, yeah,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry said he favors finalizing the NDAA before the end of September, and quipped the number of sessions to negotiate the bill, “depends on how long they’ll take to agree with me.”  

-bth: So what does this mean?  It means that to avoid a full government shutdown at the end of September the do-nothing Congress is going to pass a short-term continuing resolution into December, just past the elections. Billions of dollars of unnecessary waste will occur because of this which could have been used for healthcare or education or bridges. Instead the entire federal government will twittle its thumbs during this period. Then just after the election we will find out that the administration and congress swept under the carpet a giant funding gap emerging in health insurance.  So after a staged debate in December a continuing resolution or some sort of 9 month funding will allow both defense and health insurance to go forward in some grand compromise.  But then by April we will face a new crisis as the Operational Contingencies fund was only funded for 6 months which means soldiers in the field in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will suddenly find no funding support which will result in another Ryan orchestrated budget crisis right as folks file their income taxes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

General Sulaimani says will keep serving Islamic Republic, Iranian nation as a soldier until die

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Quashing rumors of having plans to go into politics, Commander of Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Qassem Suleimani underscored that he will always remain a simple soldier serving Iran and the Islamic Revolution.

In a statement on Thursday, General Suleimani described media speculations about his plans to run in the upcoming presidential election as “divisive” reports by the enemies with the purpose of fomenting discord within the Iranian nation....

Russian hacking a question of revenge and respect - WaPo

Moscow and Washington disagree over the definition of cybersecurity. The United States wants the agreement to cover only computers and networks, the technology of cybersecurity. Russia wants it to include the content that moves on the Internet, which Washington interprets as condoning censorship.
The United States signed a cybersecurity agreement last year with China.
“It’s an emotional story of Russia not being treated like a superpower and, for many of them, it’s a personal story,” said Andrey Soldatov, an expert on Russian Internet surveillance and the country’s security services.
Soldatov said the recent anti-Russia rhetoric “is quite sad, to be honest. . . . Before, only Russians spoke about interference from outside countries during elections. And now we see the use of exactly the same words from the Americans. It gives a trump card to the Russians. . . . They can say, ‘Well, you started it, and we’re just defending ourselves.’ ”
Far from worrying about retaliation, Russia’s leadership is probably enjoying the attention, said Gleb Pavlovsky, Putin’s former political strategist and now an independent political consultant out of favor with the Kremlin.
“The kinds of statements from the United States about Russian hackers make the Kremlin happy,” he said. “They show the Kremlin is capable of affecting the U.S. elections. All that’s left is for Russia to affect the stock market in New York and everything will be perfect.”

bth: The only thing that is going to change in the near term is that people will have to start automatically encrypting their messaging. There is no reason Putin or the Chinese will stop and there is no reason to think that the US and its allies will reduce their efforts even against their own citizens. Wide-spread encryption in the private sector is the only real solution that I see which will act as a deterrent.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Madison Rising - The Star Spangled Banner

9-11 Sounds of Silence Tribute (Disturbed)

Excerpt of Russian article on Syrian army and why it can't win

Excerpts from An article worth reading in full.

... While militias, Iranian volunteers, Hezbollah and PMCs fight in lieu of the Syrian army, Bashar Assad’s soldier busy themselves with collecting bribes at checkpoints. This view becomes more and more widespread among military experts aware of the actual situation in Syria. The country’s air force is worn down and uses home-made bombs, the soldiers dig moats to protect from terrorists’ tunnels, while the militants enjoy tactical and moral superiority, says Mikhail Khodarenok,’s military observer....

The actual fighting against opposition groups is mostly done by Syrian militias, the Lebanese Hezbollah Shia units, Iranian and Iraqi volunteers and Private Military Companies (PMCs).
The main military actions Assad’s army engages in is extorting a tribute from the locals. The Syrian armed forces have not conducted a single successful offensive during the past year.
Apparently Syria’s General Staff has no coherent short-term or mid-term strategic plans. Assad’s generals do not believe their troops can bring the country to order without military aid from foreign states. They do not plan large-scale operations, giving the reasoning of ostensibly high combat capabilities of the illegal armed groups, lack of ammunition and modern equipment, a fear of heavy losses and a negative outcome of the fighting.
The Syrian army’s junior officers, NCOs and privates have little enthusiasm to charge and fight for their motherland. The general morale deterioration is exacerbated by the fact that the history of the modern Syrian army has known no military victories.
Assad’s army bears the brand of constant defeats and humiliations since the first Arab-Israeli wars of 1947-1948.
The Syrian army fighters see no close end to the crisis. There are no set dates of ending military service. The achievements of soldiers and officers are not encouraged or awarded. The materiel and food supplies are inadequate. There are no benefits for soldiers or their families.
Most importantly, even if the Syrian leadership wished to solve these problems, they couldn’t raise the funds to do so. Assad’s government currently has no stable income sources. Years of fighting have severely disrupted the country’s economy. Industrial production has fallen by 70%, agriculture — by 60%, oil production — by 95% and natural production — by 70%. The Syrian treasury has no money even for immediate defense expenditures.
This situation is further exacerbated by the Syrian army being severely understaffed and underequipped. Currently, the staffing and equipment levels stand a bit over 50% of the required figures. The yearly draft does not satisfy even the minimal needs of the army. Due to this, since 2011 sergeants and privates who have served their terms have not been discharged.
The draft fails due to a number of reasons. Some potential conscripts support the anti-government forces and actively dodge the draft. Others have joined the illegal armed groups. Still others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, preferring not to fight for any of the sides. Many potential recruits have become refugees outside Syria, some of them in Europe. A large part of the population lives on territories outside the government troops’ control. Finally, recruits and their families fear reprisals from the militants.
The majority of Syrian army units are based at fortified checkpoints. There are in total about 2 thousand such checkpoints throughout Syria. Thus, over a half of the army operates with no connection to their units.
Sitting inside those fortified checkpoints, the Syrian regulars are mostly doing defensive duties and extorting money from the locals. They do not conduct any major operations to liberate population or administration centers.
Such pillars of any military as "A superior’s order is the law for his subordinate" and "An order is to be performed at all costs, precisely, timely and with no objections", are at best limitedly enforced in the Syrian army.

"Barrel" bombs

It is hard to find anything worthy of studying or imitation from the Syrian army’s military practice.
The only worthy examples are of the "How not to wage war" variety.
The Air Force deserves a special mention. The Syrian Arab Air Force conducts a significant number of sorties daily (reaching 100 in certain days in 2015), over 85% of which are bombing runs. The Air Force’s contribution to the overall fire damage is about 70%. The airstrikes are conducted by several dozen fighter/bomber jets and around 40 army aviation helicopters.
The SyAAF’s main modus operandi is solitary sorties. Flights in pairs and larger units are not done in order to save resources. In order to decrease losses, the bombing runs are done at heights of 3 thousand meters and above. In extreme cases, dive bombing is used.
Due to the lack of air ordnance, the Syrian army has until recently used even sea mines, torpedoes and depth charges for ground attacks. The so-called "barrel bombs" are also widely used. Over 10,000 of the latter have been dropped on the enemy.
A "barrel bomb" is a type of home-made air ordnance weighting 200 to 1000 kg. It is a section of a wide oil pipeline welded shut with metal plates from both sides and stuffed with a high amount of explosives. A "barrel bomb" is highly explosive and is used to destroy buildings and attack large gatherings of the militants.
There is no pilot training to replenish the combat losses (training in Russia has been discontinued). The aircraft are not being repaired (the only aircraft repair plant is inside the Aleppo warzone).
Various estimates put the air force’s losses since the start of the conflict (April 2011) at about 200 planes and over 150 pilots.

The tunnel war

Tunnel and anti-tunnel tactics have seen widespread use during the Syria war. Tunnels are used to blow up multi-storey buildings used as command posts or ammunition and materiel depots. Drilling machines can dig tunnels at a speed of 3-4m/day while improvised machinery can do 1-2m/day.
Underground tunnels and passages have been gun in Syria since the times of the Roman Empire and the founding of the first cities, such as Palmyra (Tadmor), Damascus, Raqqa and Homs. The local soil encourages this. Being rather soft and clayey, the soil does not slough, which is why both sides of the conflict toil endlessly to dig underground passages of all kinds and purposes.
Militants dig tunnels or use a wide network of old ones to achieve surprise during attacks on military facilities and government troops. Despite a severe underground threat, the Syrian army has a rather negligent attitude to this. There is almost no information on caves or underground communications in towns or militant-controlled territories adjacent to them.
However, various anti-tunnel techniques are used to protect government troops and important facilities, such as using georadars (anomaly detectors), building counter-tunnels, digging shafts and building anti-tunnel moats.
The main technique government troops employs against enemy tunnels is drilling shafts.
Using dedicated drilling vehicles, holes up to 15 m deep are dug around important facilities at a distance up to 15 m. Then plastic tubes are inserted into the shafts and filled with sand. The fighters of the unit defending the facility monitor sand level in the tubes. Sagging sand indicates ongoing digging.
Another technique to counter enemy "diggers" is anti-tunnel mines — using excavators to extract soil up to 12 meters deep around military positions and important facilities. The time required to build a moat like that depends on the specifications of excavators involved and the heaviness of soil.

Militants’ morale and tactical advantage

Among the leadership of terrorists and armed Syrian opposition groups there are many former Iraqi officers who used to serve under Saddam Hussein.
They have amassed huge experience during the Iran-Iraq war and the two Gulf wars. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) higher officers are former General Staff leaders, brigade and division generals and colonels, while the rebel units are mostly staffed with deserters from Assad’s army.
The militants are highly mobile and capable of rapidly creating assault groups at critical points of the frontline. They have good knowledge of the area (70% of the illegal armed groups’ fighters are Syrian nationals) and command significant financial and human resources.
In the absence of a precise front line, the armed opposition groups engage in active focal fighting. Most of their efforts are applied to holding commanding heights and towns prepared for a perimeter defense. This enables fire control of government troops’ movement lines.
The high survivability of the militants during stationary fighting in fortified areas is ensured by using shelters prepared in advance. Those shelters often hide their actual location, numbers and composition.
The militants place observation points close to the contact line for advance detection of the government troops’ assault groupings. A post is manned by 2-3 people with means of observation, communication and transportation. The militants srtive to maintain control over areas by conducting local counterattacks, sabotage in the rear (including suicide attacks), constantly work to seize initiative from the government troops.
As a rule, counterattacks are performed by small groups of 10-15 militants in 3-4 cars with mounted heavy machine guns and 82mm mortars, supported by multi-launching rocket systems. One to five such groups may take part in an attack.
The purpose of the counterattacks is regaining initiative with the aim to reestablish control over the lost position an the territory in general.
When under attack from Russian forces, the armed groups leave their positions and towns, maintaining small groups of observers.
The militants’ units that have sustained significant damage are redeployed to Turkey or to areas under active ceasefire to restore capabilities, reinforce and resupply.
The morale and combat capabilities of the militants are highly above those of the SAA soldiers.
The illegal armed groups have integrated guerrilla and terrorist techniques into their tactics, combining them with conventional warfare methods utilized by regular troops. Their tactics continue to adapt based on the enemy’s behavior.
The command system the illegal armed groups have created enables prompt and rather efficient reactive measures towards changing conditions. The militants’ success is made easier by the openness of Syria’s borders (the government only controls the Syria-Lebanon border and a 50 km stretch of the Syria-Jordan border....

bth: Again the article is well worth reading in full. These factors would explain the inability of the Syrian Arab Army to make advances on almost any front outside of eastern Syria.