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?