Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Iran's military mastermind promises a 'surprise' in Syria - Business Insider

Meanwhile, a defected National Defense Force militiaman told Al-Quds al-Arabi that Soleimani’s trip aimed to formalize the “entry of Iranian officers to supervise and aid the battles in coastal Syria for the first time since the outbreak of Syrian uprising.”
“Prior aid was limited to only logistical aid,” the unnamed source said.

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A defected army officer from the region told Al-Jazeera Sunday that the regime was “working to gather members” for the Coastal Shield Brigade in Latakia through an “arrest campaign that [targets] all young men in the city, born after 1973.”
 “The number of young men arrested in one week reached 1,000. They were pulled out of the city’s mosques and [off] the streets.” 
Other than arresting young Alawite men avoiding conscription, the Syrian regime has sought to recruit women and Baath Party employees, according to recent reports in anti-Damascus news outlets.

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“Iran must send 50,000 soldiers from the infantry force to Syria to manage the war there and prevent the fall of the Assad regime, which has begun to collapse recently,” Al-Arabiya reported, citing a study on Iran’s management of the war in Syria conducted by Ansar e-Hezbollah.
According to the cited study, the mission of the 50,000 soldiers would be to ensure Syria’s coastal region is not cut off from Damascus.
“Iran must preserve the vital corridor [connecting] Damascus to Latakia, Tartous and the Lebanese border.”
“[Any] delay by Iran in [implementing] this pre-emptive action will cause the fall of Damascus airport, which in turn [means] the severing of the essential communication and supply line Iran [uses] to assist the Syrian regime.

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كتائب حزب الله وعمليات لبيك يا حسين لتحرير الانبار

IS closes Iraq dam gates, sparking humanitarian fears - AFP

Islamic State group jihadists have closed the gates of a dam in the Iraqi city of Ramadi which they seized last month, posing a humanitarian and security threat, officials said Tuesday.
IS fighters have repeatedly attempted to control dams in Iraq, in some cases reducing the flow of water to areas under government control or flooding swathes of land to impede military operations.
Anbar provincial council chief Sabah Karhout said IS "closed all the gates" at a dam in Ramadi, capital of Iraq's largest province.
The move lowered the level of the Euphrates River and cut water supplies to the areas of Khaldiyah and Habbaniyah to the east, which are some of the last held by pro-government forces in Anbar.
The lower water level has also made it easier for IS to carry out attacks, Karhout said.
He called for the dam to either be quickly retaken or targeted in an air strike.
"Cutting the water to Khaldiyah and Habbaniyah will lead to a major humanitarian crisis not only in these areas" but also farther south, said Sheikh Rafa al-Fahdawi, a leader in the Albu Fahad tribe, which is fighting against IS.
Aoun Dhiyab, a former head of the Iraqi water resources department and an expert in water issues, said "the goal of (IS) is not to cut the water, but to reduce the level, to take advantage of it for military purposes."
"When the water level is reduced, it allows them to infiltrate from Ramadi to Khaldiyah and then easily move to other areas," he said.
Iraqi forces have launched a counteroffensive to try to recapture Ramadi but have so far either stopped on the city's outskirts or focused efforts on severing jihadist supply lines.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

al-Muthanna facility, ISIS raids and chemical warfare

There was this week a multi-vehicle bomb attack and ISIS assault on an arms depot and former chemical weapons facility al-Muthanna chemical facility.  IS has gone after this target several times over the last year and at one point gained control in 2014.  Of further note in January 2015 a coalition airstrike targeted and killed a chemical weapons expert and former employee of the same chemical plant when it was run by Saddam who later went to AQI and then ISIS.

A couple of speculative guesses.
  • Is this part of a continuing push by ISIS for control of industrial infrastructure?
  • Is ISIS making a run at chemical weapons? Namely mustard and nerve agents formerly produced at al-Muthanna chemical facility

And then there is this from the Syrian government claiming that civilians are being repeatedly attacked with chlorine.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A fact-finding team with the global chemical weapons watchdog is going to Syria to look into recent allegations of attacks using toxic chemicals.
The latest monthly report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it received a letter from the Syrian government May 21 with the permission needed for the team to go to Damascus.
The team will look into allegations reported by the Syrian government as well as separate allegations by activists and doctors who say chlorine has been repeatedly used against civilians in recent weeks.

Another indication that IS is going for industrial infrastructure targets

Shafaq News / The federal police forces announced on Monday, foiling a terrorist attack by ISIS organization tried to target the security units
in al-Muthanna chemical facility north of Baghdad.
According to a statement issued by the Media of Federal police received by Shafaq News, the troops were able to destroy 4 car bombs and killed 10 terrorists during the enemy's attempt at dawn to attack the security forces in Muthanna facility in Salahuddin.

-bth: ISIS worked hard to get Baiji refinery and then destroyed it when it could not be held.  Here they are focusing on trying to take a chemical industrial facility.  I would imagine that dams are also on the list.

Role of water barriers and Milan rockets in defending Kurds against suicide vehicles

The unit was defending a bridge at the Maryam Beg canal when ISIL launched a fierce attack on January 30, part of a probing offensive all along the front line that caught the Kurds off guard and was repelled only after heavy losses.
The defenders could not rely on anti-tank missiles that day, and a group of vehicles driven by suicide bombers had crossed the canal and breached the first line of defence by the time a coalition airstrike destroyed the bridge.
“They crossed with pickup trucks, bulldozers, everything they had was ready to explode,” says Salim Mohamed, the group’s commander.
Hunkered down in their trenches 200 metres behind the waterway, the Peshmerga were saved by the marksmanship of Hewan, their sniper. In spite of heavy fog, he managed to deflate the tyres of the heavily armoured vehicles, and then kill their drivers by shooting them through their vision slit. In all, Hewan was able to disable five of the vehicles.
The Peshmerga took one of the knocked-out vehicles back to their base. A truck heavy with protective sheets of metal and a machine gun turret to spray rounds at the defenders until it was close enough to detonate its enormous explosive charge. Its tyres deflated and the driver killed, the lumbering beast was a reminder of ISIL’s suicidal ingenuity.
Near disasters like Maryam Beg show that the Peshmerga urgently need more military aid from the West, says General Hewar Abdullah Ahmed, and more Milans are at the top of their wish list.
“Our weapons are the same ones we used to fight Saddam, we’ve been using them for 25 years or more. They are old. The enemy has modern weapons,” says the general, who commands the section of the front around the canal.
ISIL may be preoccupied with other battles now, but the group is known for suddenly shifting its forces to deliver concentrated blows elsewhere. With its vast oilfields and sizeable population, Kirkuk remains a coveted prize, and the Kurds may soon be fighting to keep control of the city, which their forces occupied in response to ISIL’s advance across Iraq last year.
“Kirkuk is a very strategic city, they want it as much as they want Beiji or any other place,” says Gen Ahmed.

-bth: it would appear to me that water barriers are going to be key territorial markers separating ISIS from Kurds and Shia going forward.  Lack of IS combat engineers means bridge construction is unlikely if destroyed.  Milan missile stand off plus channeling of forces with water would seem to be viable strategies.

On motivating Kurds and Shia to fight - Politico excerpt

...Kurdish fighters have a nationalistic passion for a nation that doesn’t even exist (yet) called Kurdistan that the Iraqi people and leaders have yet to show they’re capable of adopting. A Shiite soldier from southern Iraq simply will never fight for the mostly Sunni Ramadi, Tikrit, Bayji or Mosul in the way a peshmerga fighter does for his own land. If the peshmerga lines crumble, the families of the men on the line will be under direct threat. While that has kept much of the Kurdish autonomous region safe—at the cost of about 1,000 dead Kurdish fighters—these motivations go out the window the minute the Kurds are ordered to take the fight deep into Arab territory, such as Mosul.

Or as one Kurdish friend put it to me, “[Kurdish President Masoud] Barzani can tell the mother and father of a dead peshmerga their son died for Kurdistan and the family will send three more sons. But all four sons will go home if you tell them they have to fight and die for Iraq in an Arab city like Mosul. Let the Arabs worry about [ISIL], we’re protecting our land, not saving Iraq.”
So when presidential candidates such as Sen. Rand Paul argue that the U.S. should further support the Kurds because they’re the only one’s fighting the Islamic State, he’s at least partially correct, but everyone needs to face up to reality: The Kurds have pushed about as far out of Kurdistan as they’re willing to go—for now—to establish defensive lines. All the military support in the world won’t convince them that they should send their sons to die for a state, Iraq, that virtually every Kurd hates deep inside their heart.
That same paradox afflicts the Shiite dominated government as it looks out across Sunni Anbar and Salahdeen Provinces, the tribal and ancestral home of both Saddam’s Baath Party and the Islamic State itself. With those original 10,000 combat effective Iraqi soldiers likely reduced to an exhausted 5,000 or so men, the government has already admitted from here forward it will be forced to rely on the Popular Movement, a coalition of belligerent Shiite militias trained, armed and led by Iran, who report to their own sectarian leaders and even Iranian officers well before any consider taking orders from a Baghdad government. As these militias embark on what they say will be a series of operations to ‘liberate’ Ramadi, Bayji and even Mosul, operations that have already been openly given sectarian Shiite names that call for revenge on Sunnis over centuries old rivalries, the question is what does the liberation of Ramadi mean to a Shiite militia fighter from Najaf?
Certainly it means removing the ability of the Islamic State to mount attacks on Shiite targets in Baghdad, Najaf and other southern cities. And, to be frank, revenge for Saddam and payback for a decade of car bombs in Baghdad and sectarian massacres by the Islamic State and its predecessor, al Qaida in Iraq. That is far more likely to bind the fighters going forward than any sort of Iraqi national identity, even as the increasingly weak government of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi calls for reconciliation with Sunni tribes—the only coherent plan for addressing the situation over the long term—the men on the ground doing the fighting are less likely to see it that way. The destruction of Sunni Iraq is all that can save the Shiite from another decade of bloodshed, in this view, and the past ten years have proven these groups are more than ruthless enough to do it without a moment’s regard for international outcry....

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IS continues to move to control trucking routes this time in Syria near Azaz

The ISIS weekend offensive against the Aleppo Province continued today, with their forces moving against the city of Azaz, a strategically important city next to the major border crossing between Turkey and Syria.
Azaz has been the site of fighting off and on for years, with secular rebels seizing it way back in early 2012. It has changed hands several times since then among various rebel factions, with the Islamic Front dominating the area now.
This latest battle for Azaz could be a decisive defeat for the Islamic Front, as it is the last site of serious value they control in northern Syria, and its loss would effectively mean that, apart from Kurdish-held sites like Kobani, the Syria-Turkey border is virtually entirely under the control of ISIS or al-Qaeda.
Azaz itself is a city of only about 30,000 people, but is on the main north-south highway in Syria, north of its pre-war industrial and financial capital of Aleppo. That highway goes right into Syria, and into the trading city of Kilis.

bth: So ISIS has gained control of all routes between Iraq and Syria.  It has also gained control of most routes into Jordan.