Friday, December 02, 2016

ISIS’s second-in-command hid in Syria for months. The day he stepped out, the U.S. was waiting.- MSN

The effort is being aided, U.S. officials say, by new technology as well as new allies, including deserters and defectors who are shedding light on how the terrorists travel and communicate. At the same time, territorial losses and military defeats are forcing the group’s remaining leaders to take greater risks, traveling by car and communicating by cellphones and computers instead of couriers, the officials and analysts said.
The bad guys have to communicate electronically because they have lost control of the roads,” said a veteran U.S. counterterrorism official who works closely with U.S. and Middle Eastern forces and who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. “Meanwhile our penetration is better because ISIS’s situation is getting more desperate and they are no longer vetting recruits,” the official said, using a common acronym for the terrorist group....
But the quality of the intelligence coming from the region was improving as well. A U.S. official familiar with the campaign described a two-stage learning process: In the early months, the bombing campaign focused on the most visible targets, such as weapons depots and oil refineries. But by the middle of last year, analysts were sorting through torrents of data on the movements of individual leaders.
The information came from a growing network of human informants as well as from technological innovations, including improved surveillance drones and special manned aircraft equipped with the Pentagon’s Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System, or EMARSS, designed to identify and track individual targets on the ground.
In the first year, the strikes were mostly against structures,” said a U.S. official familiar with the air campaign. “In the last year, they became much more targeted, leading to more successes.”...
And yet, insights into the whereabouts of the top two leaders — Baghdadi and Adnani — remained sparse. After the Obama administration put a $5 million bounty on him, Adnani became increasingly cautious, U.S. officials say, avoiding not only cellphones but also buildings with satellite dishes. He used couriers to pass messages and stayed away from large gatherings....
Adnani picked for his headquarters the small town of al-Bab, about 30 miles northeast of Aleppo. There he hid in plain sight amid ordinary Syrians, conducting meetings in the same crowded apartment buildings where he slept. As was his custom, he used couriers to deliver messages — until suddenly it became nearly impossible to do so....
Records generated by commercially available aircraft-tracking radar show a small plane flying multiple loops that day over a country road just northwest of al-Bab. The plane gave no call sign, generally an indication that it is a military aircraft on a clandestine mission. The profile and flight pattern were similar to ones generated in the past for the Pentagon’s EMARSS-equipped MC-12 prop planes, used for surveillance of targets on the ground.
The country road is the same one on which Adnani was traveling when a Hellfire missile hit his car, killing him and his companion....

bth: I think the details of this cat and mouse game were leaked because the Russians claimed credit for a US clandestine attack that killed Adnani. Otherwise why release this kind of information?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Shiite commander denies seeking a corridor into Syria west of Mosul -Rudaw

It is said that you are on your way to the Syrian border and do you intend to enter Syria and fight ISIS there, too?

At the moment there might not be any need for that, but if we are ever required to collaborate with anyone outside our borders for the protection and defense of Iraq, we are ready to work across the continents and seas. The US is coming from the other end of the world to this region, so do we not have the right to do the same for our country?

But your critics say that the Hashd al-Shaabi is working to open a corridor for Iran in order to send forces into Syria. Is this true?

No, it is not. Iran does not need the Hashd al-Shaabi for this. If they wanted to do this, they could do so through Sulaimani and Erbil because Iran has good and historic relations with the Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Even President Masoud Barzani himself said that the first country that stood by Kurdistan was Iran. This is a fact.

The talk of us opening a corridor for Iran is not true. It sounds like something ISIS would say. We will not allow Iran, Syria or Turkey to do such a thing.

bth: an interview worth reading in full. I don't doubt that Iran could obtain other land corridors as the commander points out. But note the discussion of long term alliance between Iran and the Kurds (PUK and KDP). Clearly they are allying to keep Turkey in check.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"Hymn to the Fallen" by John Williams

Speculation and observations on Iran, Syrian Kurds and Turkey Nov 27, 2016

Here is an Iranian article regarding Turkish actions in Syria and the assertion that Turkey has brought in anti-aircraft weapons.

.... Ahmad al-Khatib, a journalist with close links to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) terrorist group, disclosed on his twitter page that Turkey is equipping its affiliated forces stationed near the strategic city of al-Bab with Stinger missile system.
The Turkish media had also reported on Saturday that a number of trucks carrying air defense systems were moving from Oguzeli region in Gaziantep towards the Syrian borders.
Tensions between Damascus and Ankara have gone so high that Syrian sources report army's preemptive strike in the Northern parts of Syria to block the Turkish army's attempts to establish a buffer zone in the region.
After liberation of 25 farms and villages from the terrorists' control in Aleppo, the Syrian army forces continued to advance in the region to surround the strategic city of al-Bab from its Southern and Western sides.
The ISIL stronghold city of Al-Bab Northeast of Aleppo is on the verge of a major war among the Syrian army, the Kurds and the Turkey-backed forces that are part of Turkey's Euphrates Shield Operation.
Reports said if the Euphrates Shield Operation forces reach the gates of al-Bab city, the ISIL terrorists will withdraw without any resistance which will pave the ground for the Turkey-backed groups. The ISIL has adopted the same strategy in a number of villages and towns in the Northern parts of Aleppo.
Meantime, possibility is high for direct clashes between the Syrian and Turkish armies as the Turkey-sponsored forces that are backed up by the Tukish army tanks stress that they are resolved to take al-Bab.
Saturday reports said that the Syrian army had inched closer to one of the most important strongholds of the ISIL in the Arab country, and were only three kilometers away from the Northern Syrian city of al-Bab in Aleppo province, while the Ankara-backed militants are also racing towards the city.
According to the Al-Mayadeen TV channel, the army troops managed to dislodge ISIL terrorists from six settlements near al-Bab, and are approaching the ISIL's stronghold city.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) supported by the Turkish Air Force and armored vehicles has also launched an offensive to push terrorists out of the vital Bastion of ISIL as capturing the city is of strategic importance to Ankara in order to prevent the Kurds' reunification.
Military sources had disclosed in mid September that a large number of Syrian soldiers are deployed at Kuweires airbase to start military operations against the terrorists in al-Bab.
"Hundreds of Syrian soldiers are now in Kuweires airbase 40 kilometers to the east of Aleppo city to start al-Bab military operations against the ISIL terrorist group," the Arabic-language media quoted an unnamed military source as saying.
Also, another source said in mid November that the Syrian army has sent around 1,000 reinforcement troops to the Eastern countryside of Aleppo to start the operation that aims to create a safe zone in areas in the vicinity of Kuweires airbase, including al-Bab, adding that the Syrian government troops' military operation in al-Bab region is also meant to block further advances of the Turkey-backed terrorists in al-Bab region.
After recapturing Manbij from ISIL by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), al-Bab and Deir Hafer have turned into the largest bases of ISIL in Aleppo province.....
 A couple of observations. The photo that attaches the original article shows an armored vehicle being towed by Turkish forces presumably into Syria. It is identified as a Stinger anti-aircraft system. It is not. The picture does not reconcile with the statement of facts in the article.

Second, the Iranian source of the article suggests that the Iranians believe the Turks are more interested in preventing the Kurds in Syria from linking up than they are from IS. Indeed Turkey seems to strike everyone but IS when they take action. So now around al-Bab, which is a major transit hub for resupplying IS from Turkey and road junction point that the Kurds need to link their territories, we find it in great dispute. This week it was reported that Syrian air force bombed and killed Turkish soldier and in reply Turkey has fired artillery at Syrian government positions. Now there is talk of bringing in Stingers. We will see how this unfolds.

Third, it is worth noting that Iran has been actively supporting Shi'ite militias in Iraq to take the air base east of Tal Afar in Iraq along the border with Syria in the northwestern corner of Iraq. This would provide a general land bridge for Shia to move supplies from Iran across Iraq into Syria. While their preferred route was rumored to be much further south, this one has the advantage of offering a supply route for Kurdish forces in Syria.

I wonder if there is a growing alliance between Iran and the Syrian Kurds something to the effect, I will supply you with equipment in the event the Americans bail out and the Turks press from the north, and in return, Shi'ite forces get a ground supply route?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Battle for Mosul: Heavy fighting in Tal Afar as Iraqi forces advance

On the Front Line Of the Battle For Mosul

Battle for Mosul: More ISIL tunnels discovered

Battle for Mosul: Thousands of landmines left by ISIL found near Bashiqa

Inside the street battles for Mosul - BBC News

Venezuela’s Currency Just Had the Biggest Monthly Collapse Ever - Bloomberg

Venezuela’s currency - the so-called “strong bolivar” - is weakening beyond levels that analysts had forecast just a few weeks ago as an expanding money supply chases a limited amount of U.S. dollars.
The currency has lost 45 percent of its value so far this month to trade at 2,753 bolivars per U.S. dollar on Thursday, according to, a widely-watched website that tracks the exchange rate in Caracas. That’s the biggest monthly decline ever, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Inflation in the country will likely rise to 400 percent in 2016, according to the median estimate of 13 analysts who responded to a Bloomberg survey. Individual responses ranged from 257 percent to 1,500 percent.
Venezuela’s money supply has risen 127 percent over the past year, according to the latest data available from the Central Bank in Caracas and compiled by Bloomberg.....

bth: it is hard to imagine the situation correcting itself with political opposition splintered and the price of oil remaining below recovery rates in Venezuela.

Monday, November 14, 2016

TALOS: Aurora's Autonomous Rapid Resupply Helicopter Program

Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS)

Changing face of Russian warfare


This linked article from provides a good overview of Russian weapons making  difference in the Ukraine conflict.  The five key items are:
  • Cyber war - perhaps a deniable nuisance more than a decisive factor but a costly one nonetheless
  • Air Defense - which has effectively shot down Ukrainian manned aircraft and helicopters. Perhaps this is an early indicator of the end of manned aircraft in modern state on state warfare.
  • Little Green Mem - deniable methods of changing the facts on the ground before diplomatic and political 'soft power' methods have a time to react.
  • Artillery - with air defenses providing cover, artillery turns out to be surprisingly effective when counter fire options are not available. Perhaps we should be providing counter fire solutions to the Ukrainians.
  • Drones- combined with artillery, scout drones turn out to be a poor man's air force and amazingly effective at a tactical level. America has focused on weaponizing and long duration, but the fact is, cheap short range drones combined with artillery firepower are devastating combinations.
One wonders what the US or NATO could do in this situation? Perhaps the only solution is to make the intervention by Russia extremely costly. Economic sanctions have done a lot of this slow and painful work. But providing defense weapons to Ukraine, counter fire, anti-drone and drone systems and support in cyber warfare may also discourage this and future Russian military actions in Eastern Europe by making is prohibitively expensive.

David Brooks, manufacturer of faulty body armor and stock swindler dies in prison

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed the death. A lawyer for Mr. Brooks’s children, Judd Burstein, said the cause was being investigated.
Mr. Brooks was the founder and former chief executive of DHB Industries, one of the largest makers of bullet-resistant vests and other body armor used by the military and law enforcement. The company originally had its headquarters in Westbury, N.Y. It now operates as Point Blank Enterprises and is based in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Mr. Brooks was serving a 17-year sentence after being convicted in 2010 for his role in what prosecutors described as a $200 million fraud.
During an eight-month trial, spectators were riveted by testimony detailing Mr. Brooks’s lavish lifestyle, which had captured the attention of the tabloids when he threw what was rumored to be a $10 million bat mitzvah party for his daughter featuring the rapper 50 Cent and the rock group Aerosmith.
His company was said to have paid him more than $6 million in personal expenses, some of it used to pay for prostitutes for his employees, plastic surgery for his wife, a burial plot for his mother and a $100,000 jewel-encrusted belt buckle.
Prosecutors also accused him of funneling money from the company to support a thoroughbred horse-racing business.
Mr. Brooks was accused of misleading investors about the company’s finances. He made $185 million by selling his shares when they were at a record high, prosecutors said....

bth: He was making body armor that wasn't meeting spec, not reporting it and even when the government discovered it for six months they continued to purchase it. The government got him on financial misdeeds but his real crime was faking the QA on the body armor. The government claimed he misstated inventory write-downs but that was a back end way of saying the stuff was bad and he hadn't registered the expense associated with it. Meanwhile he was blowing money on every conceivable indulgence and his family was caught in a separate sting in the UK moving duffle bags of cash between safety deposit boxes to hide the assets. A total crook.

Serbia deports Russians suspected of plotting Montenegro coup - The Guardian

Serbia has deported a group of Russians suspected of involvement in a coup plot in neighbouring Montenegro, the Guardian has learned, in the latest twist in a murky sequence of events that apparently threatened the lives of two European prime ministers.
The plotters were allegedly going to dress in police uniforms to storm the Montenegrin parliament in Podgorica, shoot the prime minister, Milo Ðjukanović, and install a pro-Moscow party.
The Russian fingerprints on the October plot have heightened intrigue about Moscow’s ambitions in a part of Europe hitherto thought to be gravitating towards the EU’s orbit.
A group of 20 Serbians and Montenegrins, some of whom had fought with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, were arrested in Podgorica, the Montenegrin capital. In Serbia, meanwhile, several Russian nationals suspected of coordinating the plot were caught with €120,000 and special forces uniforms...

bth: this seems to be a pattern of Russian covert actions to keep eastern European countries from migrating to NATO or EU. This suggest ill intentions of Russian government backed mafia like groups in Montenegro, Serbia and similar articles have appeared regarding Moldova and Bulgaria. This activity is going unreported in the US.

Iraqi Shi'ite forces and the airbase at Tal Afar

BAGHDAD, Nov 8 (Reuters) - A coalition of mainly Shi'ite Iraqi militias advancing on the Islamic State-held town of Tal Afar plans to seize a nearby military air base from the jihadists, the first time the Iran-backed forces have targeted such a base, militia officials said on Tuesday.
The Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) paramilitary forces are deployed in the arid region west of Mosul as part of a wider military campaign to retake the largest city under Islamic State control in Iraq or neighbouring Syria.
The town of Tal Afar, and its air base, are located on the highway west of Mosul. Capturing them would help cut Islamic State supply lines between Mosul and its Syrian territories, and offer a base for the Hashid's stated plan ultimately to take their battle with Islamic State into Syria....
"Now we are 25 km (15 miles) from the Tal Afar air base," said Kareem Alewi, a commander of one of Hashid Shaabi brigades and a member of the Badr Organisation, the most powerful force within the paramilitary alliance.
"Tal Afar air base has strategic importance for us considering that it's on the Iraq-Syrian border, so it will be a general base for all factions of the Hashid Shaabi and it will be the launch pad for these forces to protect the Syrian-Iraqi borders," he told Reuters.
He said it would be the first military base controlled by the Hashid, who could take their fight across the frontier once Mosul is taken. "If Iraq is liberated, no doubt our second goal will be to pursue Daesh (Islamic State) inside Syria," he said....

bth: so this article is interesting in that it shwos the real objective of Badr Organization to be the air base near Tal Afar and not Tal Afar itself. This base would give Hashid Shaabi its first airbase and it would be a critical link for Iran to gain a land route from Iran through Baghdad to northern Syria and its oil fields.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Territorial Map of Iraq and Syria with approximate lines of control Nov 8 2016

Saudi oil shipments to Egypt halted indefinitely, Egyptian officials say - Reuters

Saudi Arabia has informed Egypt that shipments of oil products expected under a $23 billion aid deal have been halted indefinitely, suggesting a deepening rift between the Arab world's richest country and its most populous.
Saudi Arabia has been a major donor to Egypt since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power in mid-2013 but Riyadh has become frustrated with Sisi's lack of economic reforms and his reluctance to be drawn into the conflict in Yemen....

bth: I think this explains a lot of the odd machinations over the last month; currency collapse, commodity riots on price increases, Egyptian officers in Syria, rumored meetings with Iran on oil. Does anyone benefit from instability in Egypt? Are the Saudi's going to blackmail the Egyptian army to fighting in Yemen?