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Normandy Four: Putin plans to take part and talk for the first time in a year

BreakingNews @en/Defence di

Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin’s Spokesman, announced that Russian President, Vladimir Putin, will visit Berlin on 19th of October to take part in the meeting of the Normandy Four group. The official stressed that Putin’s decision to take part in the meeting was unrelated to the escalation of the situation in Ukraine.

The Kremlin believes that Kiev’s calls for forcing Moscow into compliance with the Minsk Accords indicate how complex the situation is. The press secretary stressed that Vladimir Putin is ready to do everything to push forward the Minsk process on the Ukrainian conflict settlement within the Normandy Four format.

SA’s retaliation: air strikes hit Sana’a

Defence/Middle East - Africa di

SAUDI-YEMEN-CONFLICT

On September 20, Saudi Arabian authorities authorised air strikes against Houthis rebel positions in the Yemen’s capital Sana’a. Around a dozen bombs or missiles hit the Headquarters of the National Security Bureau -it is the first time since the beginning of the conflict- the defence ministry, a checkpoint in the capital’s north-western suburbs and two rebel military camps in the southeast district of Sanhan.

This attack comes as a response to a missile fired by the rebels on Monday evening. According to Saudi Arabia (SA), the Qaher-1 missile was aimed at SA’s King Khalid Air Base, 60 km north of the Yemeni border, in the city of Khamees Mushait. SA reports the missile was intercepted by the kingdom’s air defence before it could cause any damage to the base and neighbourhood, though Houthis-run Saba News Agency discloses the missile actually hit the target.

Regardless, SA immediately responds to the attack, causing at least one civilian death and some wounded, witnesses said. It is not the first time that the hostilities cause civilian deaths, proving once again the heavy criticism for high civilian death toll since the beginning of the Saudi Arabia-led air campaign.

 

Houthis and government forces have battled on-and-off since 2004 but it was in 2014 that a civil war eventually broke out. Indeed, in September 2014, Houthis -a rebel group known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God) that adheres to the branch of Shia Islam called Zaidism- took control of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city, and forced President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Saudi-backed government to temporarily flee to Riyadh.

Security forces split in two groups, one supporting the international recognised government, the other backing rebels. The scenario was deeply worsen by the emergence of two other actors. On one hand, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which gained grip in the south and south-east region. On the other, a Yemen affiliate of the Islamic State, which was trying to overrun AQAP and claimed responsibility of some suicide bombings in Sana’a.

Conflict escalated in March 2015, when Saudi Arabia and her allies launched a massive air campaign in Yemen in order to restore Hadi’s government. Since then, more than 6,600 people have been killed, while the number of displaced people has risen to 3 million.

To date, fighting has not stopped and the situation in Yemen is still unstable. The United Nations often report alarming data on civilian deaths, recently accusing Saudi Arabia-led coalition to be responsible of 2/3 of those and Houthis to be involved in mass civilian casualties due to the siege of the city of Taiz.

In addition, several foreign countries have taken part -though with different means- in the fighting. The international coalition includes SA, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal. United States, United Kingdom and France are supporting the coalition providing supplies, with the US also carrying air strikes targeting ISIS and AQAP positions in Yemen. On the other side, Iran has been accused of arming Houthis rebels, though the country has always denied it.

It should be added that the conflict in Yemen cannot be reduced to a civil war or a terrorist battlefield, but it is the result of several and conflicting dynamics involving multiple actors and opposite interests. Indeed, despite the civil war and the terrorist threat, Yemen is the theatre of the proxy war between the two major powers in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran, thus dragging into the scene alliances and games of powers that escalate tensions and foster instability in the region.

 

Paola Fratantoni

 

 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi spotted inside Mosul

Defence/Far East di

Two huge pieces of news emerged from Iraq midway through last week, as the mission to free the surrounding areas of Mosul began to unfold.

First off, on the 20th of September a source within the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Iraq revealed to Iraqi broadcast company Al-Sumaria that IS’ current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been spotted inside the city of Mosul just a few days earlier.
Al-Baghdadi was reportedly seen in public gatherings and while driving a white car in the streets of Mosul, escorted by four armed men. According to international sources, IS’ most prominent figure reached the Iraqi capital city of the self-proclaimed “caliphate” to try and diminish discontent within the residents of the area, allegedly caused by the imminent offensive for the liberation of Mosul of the government forces and their allies.
Experts are still trying to understand whether the photograph provided to Al-Sumaria network, which portraits al-Baghdadi meeting people in a mosque or at a market, is authentic or not – and if it was actually taken in the recent past. Meanwhile, the government source asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.
The latest news on IS chemical weapons are equally worrying. The Pentagon held a press conference on Thursday and stated that laboratory tests and in-depth analysis carried out immediately after IS’ attack on Qayyara military base (which occurred two days earlier) confirmed the use of so-called “mustard gas”. This is a very powerful chemical weapon firstly exploited during World War I, which contains yprite.
Despite IS certainly hit with chemical weapons in the past, the US Department of Defense confirmation of the use of mustard gas is the first one coming from a very reliable and influential source, and it raised concerns among the international community.
Federico Trastulli

Turkey: Military Makes Second Syrian Incursion

Defence di

Turkey sent tanks over the Syrian border for the second time Sept. 3, crossing into al Rai, Kilis province, from Cobanbey, Dogan news reported.

The military also launched artillery strikes on the area, which has changed hands frequently between Islamic State and rebel forces. Turkey’s first incursion occurred Aug. 24 at the city of Jarabulus 55 kilometers (34 miles) northeast. Also on Sept. 3, Turkish-backed Hamza Brigade and Failaq al-Sham rebels took control of the Syrian villages of Arab Ezra, Fursan, Lilawa, Kino and Najma.

These communities are all west of Jarabulus. After clearing a path for its troops to enter Syria, Turkey is now fully involved in a military campaign in northern Aleppo province. Turkey is attempting to move the Islamic State away from the border and, at the same time, prevent Kurdish militants in the Syrian Democratic Forces from establishing a foothold.

 

Source STRATFOR

Iran: S-300 Missile System Deployed To Fordow Nuclear Site

Americas/Defence di

Iran has deployed the Russian-supplied S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system around its Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility, Iranian state media said Aug. 29, Reuters reported. A commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ air defense force said the priority of thedefense system was only to protect the nuclear site. Iran and six world powers reached a deal in 2015 aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions imposed on Tehran over its disputed nuclear work. Enrichment of uranium at the Fordow facility, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Tehran, has stopped since the implementation of the nuclear deal. Russia in 2010 canceled a contract to deliver S-300s to Iran, but Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted that self-imposed ban in April 2015, providing much-needed defense equipment to Iran’s military. In August, Iran said that Russia had delivered main parts of the system to the country, adding that it would be delivered in its entirety by the end of 2016.

Source STRATFOR.com

Afghanistan, NATO Resolute support mission status

Defence/South Asia di

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2016 — Afghan forces are performing better this year than last year, and are generally on track with their offensive campaign plan and are on a positive trajectory, the NATO Resolute Support Missiondeputy chief of staff for communications said today.

Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, briefing the Pentagon press corps live via video conference from Kabul, began by offering the deepest sympathies of the command to the families of Army Staff Sgt. Matthew V. Thompson, who died Aug. 23 in Helmand province, and to the families of 12 people — seven of them students — who died yesterday in an attack on American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Thompson was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated during dismounted operations with his patrol and Afghan counterparts near Lashkar Gah. Officials said the blast wounded another U.S. service member, who is in stable condition, and six Afghan soldiers.

Cleveland said an investigation is being conducted to determine the exact circumstances of the event.

Train, Advise, Assist

The NATO Resolute Support Mission is a train, advise and assist effort that trains Afghans on everything from how to fire a weapon to how to fly an airplane, embeds advisers at multiple levels in the ministries of Defense and Interior, and helps with financial, material, logistics and intelligence assistance.

Resolute Support also trains, advises and assists at the ministry, army, police and the special forces levels, Cleveland said, adding, “We do have the authority under NATO to be able to go out and provide very tactical-level train, advise and assist to our Afghan partners.”

In most cases that takes place on a compound or a forward operating base, and Resolute Support advisers have the authority to go outside the wire to train, advise and assist Afghan partners as they conduct operations, Cleveland said.

“Our role in that, of course, is that we don’t participate, we don’t go on the objective, but we provide the assistance they require,” he said.

On the overall status in Afghanistan, Cleveland said the NATO mission has seen an uptick in fighting over the last month, specifically in Helmand and Kunduz.

“This is the heart of the fighting season,” the general said, “and we have absolutely been expecting that this is really when the Taliban were going to try and make their large push.”

Helmand Operations

Briefly summarizing the 2016 Afghan forces campaign plan, Cleveland said that at the end of March they began in Kunduz, essentially moving to the offense and trying to engage the Taliban.

They had success there and then defended Kunduz City, subsequently turning south and moving their main effort into Helmand, where “again in our view they had success,” the general said.

In central Helmand a U.S.-led train, advise and assist group is based at Camp Shorab, Their focus is to train, advise and assist the 215th Afghan National Army Corps, also based there, Cleveland said.

“Helmand has always been the Taliban’s main effort. It is their prime focus. It is where they invest the most energy,” the general added, noting that the Taliban began the 2016 fighting season with an offensive called Operation Omari in which they said they wanted to hold and seize terrain so they could start developing a sanctuary in Helmand.

Campaign Strategy

Cleveland said: “I would tell you candidly, the fighting was slower than we anticipated in Helmand … we thought the Taliban would launch strikes and attacks earlier but they didn’t start until the end of July. And … really what we’ve seen is, I’d refer to these almost as raids.”

As Cleveland describes it, 15 to 20 Taliban would assault a checkpoint or a district center, a smaller group of Afghan forces at the location would withdraw, the Taliban would loot the place, then the Afghan forces would come back and move them out.

“What we see is the Taliban are not able to hold any specific terrain. Most important is, they are not able to hold any of the population centers and that’s really what the Afghans have built their entire strategy on for this campaign season, is being able to secure key population areas as well as key infrastructure,” the general said.

This is the Taliban’s main effort, he added. Historically, this is where they want to be and they announced it at the beginning of the fighting season. Cleveland noted.

Afghan Air Force

Cleveland acknowledged the NATO Resolute Support Mission probably started late with the Afghan Air Force, but said now they are developing as quickly as possible, with eight A-29 Super Tucano aircraft that they’re using around the country to conduct close-air support.

The Afghan Air Force also has 23 operational MD-530 helicopters and received five more today. Cleveland said they’re using the helicopters in Helmand.

The general added that for about two weeks in Helmand the U.S. forces, under authorities given by President Barack Obama in mid-June, were conducting “a lot of” strikes.

“But since then, what you’ve really seen is the bulk of the strikes and the bulk of the air support is coming from the Afghans,” the general said.

“When we think about these new authorities, in many ways they are also a bridge to an Afghan capability to get their air force further developed, further integrated, further having the ability to use what they refer to as their Afghan Tactical Air Controllers, or ATACs,” he said, “and then being able to plot deliberate targets.”

Cleveland added, “So in our view they are making progress. They absolutely have a way to go, but often times when you hear about air strikes in Helmand or in Kunduz, it’s going to be Afghan air strikes with us coming in and providing some additional assistance as needed.”

U.S. Airstrikes Hit ISIL Targets in Libya

Defence/Middle East - Africa di

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2016 — U.S. Africa Command officials today announced results of precision airstrikes conducted Aug. 16, against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant targets in Sirte, Libya.

Africom is conducting the strikes at the request of, and in coordination with, the Libyan Government of National Accord, officials said.

The following targets were struck by U.S. forces:

— Seven enemy fighting positions.

— Four vehicle-borne bombs.

— One pickup truck with a mounted recoilless rifle.

— Twelve enemy fighting positions.

— One command-and-control vehicle.

These airstrikes bring the total number to 57, in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, which began Aug. 1.

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Officials said the U.S. stands with the international community in supporting the GNA as it strives to restore stability and security to Libya. These actions and those taken previously will help deny ISIL a safe haven in Libya from which it could attack the United States and its allies, officials said.

 

Source: DoD Defense Media Activity

OIR Campaign Reached Turning Point in Ramadi, Commander Says

Defence di

By Terri Moon Cronk, US Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2016 — The Iraqi security forces’ liberation of Ramadi from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant control marked the turning point in Operation Inherent Resolve’s fight against ISIL, OIR Commander Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland told reporters today.

In his final Pentagon press briefing via Skype from Baghdad, MacFarland shared his counter-ISIL campaign observations from the past 11 months while he was commander. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of 18th Airborne Corps, soon takes the OIR reins.

MacFarland said the campaign to defeat ISIL was in a stalemate a year ago and some wondered if the U.S.-led coalition should take a more direct role than training, equipping, advising and assisting indigenous forces. “Others questioned whether the Kurds would cooperate with Arab forces to fight [ISIL] beyond their own traditional region,” he said.

Deeds Versus Words

And since then, the questions were answered by deeds rather than words, McFarland said, adding, “In some ways, the progress against [ISIL] in Iraq and Syria has been remarkable. We modified the type and level of support we provided over the course of the past year, but we have not fundamentally altered the paradigm of train and equip, advise and assist.”

That approach is paying off as ISIL is in retreat on all fronts, he said, noting, “The ISF proved that they can conduct complex and decisive operations.”

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, McFarland said, “The liberation of Ramadi was the end of the beginning of the campaign against [ISIL]. The beginning of the end will be the liberation of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Once it is recaptured, the enemy in Iraq will be reduced to scattered pockets of resistance and that is now our focus.”

Lessons Learned

And it was the recapture of Ramadi by the ISF that taught important lessons about “how to train and equip the ISF for urban combat, which will pay dividends as we prepare for the battle of Mosul,” the general said. “We’ve shifted away from counterinsurgency toward combined arms maneuver training, teaching the Iraqis how to integrate infantry, armor, artillery, engineers, aviation and other combat multipliers to achieve an overwhelming advantage at the right place and time on the battlefield.”

MacFarland outlined statistics. He said, individually, the coalition has trained more than 13,500 Iraqi security forces including more than 4,000 Iraqi soldiers, 1,500 counterterrorism service soldiers, 6,000 Peshmerga, nearly 1,000 federal police and 300 border guards.

The ISF has subsequently liberated almost a quarter of a million civilians in Iraq, he said, noting that stepped-up training was added to police training and recruiting travel forces, which added 5,000 trained local police and more than 20,000 tribal fighters enrolled.

“These men will be key to holding the gains and we’ve already achieved in protecting these newly liberated Iraqis, soon to be joined by over a million additional citizens of Mosul,” MacFarland said. “While the forces on the Mara line have indeed held against [ISIL] advances, they’ve even made some progress south of the Turkish border.

Syrian Progress

160810-D-ZZ999-666In Syria, the general said, the Syrian Democratic Forces have made significant progress by pushing ISIL out of the numerous towns such as Shaddadi, Hasakah and Tishreen. “And soon [the SDF] will finish the fight in the important city of Manbij,” he said.

Retaking Manbij will set the stage for the eventual attack to seize Raqqah, McFarland said, adding retaking ISIL-controlled Raqqah will “mark the beginning of the end for [ISIL] in Syria.”

“During these operations, coalition aircraft have conducted about 50,000 sorties against [ISIL] in the past year,” he said. “During those sorties we’ve dropped more than 30,000 munitions on the enemy with approximately two-thirds of those in Iraq and about one-third in Syria. Our artillery has conducted more than 700 fire missions.”

MacFarland estimated that in the past 11 months, 25,000 enemy fighters have been killed, and when added to the 20,000 estimated killed prior to his arrival. That’s 45,000 enemies taken off the battlefield.

“There’s no question that our strikes have enabled the liberation of more than 25,000 total square kilometers from [ISIL],” he said. “That’s nearly half of what the enemy once controlled in Iraq and 20 percent of what they once controlled in Syria.”

In Syria, the U.S.-led coalition has also conducted “more than 200 strikes against oil and natural gas activities of the enemy, destroying more than 640 of their tanker trucks, but more importantly, a number of critical facilities such as gas oil separation plan critical nodes, which reduce their oil revenue stream by perhaps 50 percent,” MacFarland said, noting vigorous attacks on enemy leadership, command and control and weapons manufacturing capability.

“Military success in Iraq and Syria will not necessarily mean the end of [ISIL],” McFarland said. “We can expect the enemy to adapt, to morph into a true insurgent force and terrorist organization capable of horrific attacks like the one here on July 3 in Baghdad and those others we’ve seen around the world.”

Military Strikes Continue Against ISIL Terrorists in Syria, Iraq

Defence di

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Aug. 9, 2016 — U.S. and coalition military forces continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq yesterday, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.

Officials reported details of yesterday’s strikes, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.

 

Strikes in Syria

Attack and remotely piloted aircraft conducted seven strikes in Syria:

— Near Dayr Az Zawr, a strike destroyed nine ISIL oil tankers.

— Near Manbij, four strikes struck three separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL fighting position, an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL tactical vehicle.

— Near Mara, a strike destroyed an ISIL front-end loader.

— Near Palmyra, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL vehicle.

 

Strikes in Iraq

Attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft and rocket artillery conducted eight strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of Iraq’s government:

— Near Baghdadi, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

— Near Hit, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position.

— Near Kisik, two strikes destroyed 30 ISIL rocket rails and 10 ISIL rockets and suppressed an ISIL mortar position.

— Near Mosul, two strikes struck a large ISIL tactical unit and destroyed three ISIL vehicles, an ISIL mortar system and an ISIL assembly area and denied ISIL access to terrain.

— Near Qayyarah, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

— Near Sultan Abdallah, a strike struck a large ISIL tactical unit and destroyed eight ISIL assembly areas, an ISIL weapons cache and an ISIL vehicle.

Task force officials define a strike as one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative, effect. Therefore, officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against buildings, vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making those targets harder or impossible for ISIL to use. Accordingly, officials said, they do not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target. Ground-based artillery fired in counterfire or in fire support to maneuver roles is not classified as a strike.

 

Part of Operation Inherent Resolve

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group’s ability to project terror and conduct operations, officials said.

Coalition nations that have conducted strikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations that have conducted strikes in Syria include the United States, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

U.S. Airstrikes Support Government of National Accord in Libya

Defence di

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2016 — U.S. Africa Command officials today announced results of the recent precision airstrikes conducted against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant targets in Sirte, Libya.

Africom is conducting the strikes at the request of, and in coordination with, the Libyan Government of National Accord, officials said.

Airstrikes Aug. 1-3

On Aug. 1, airstrikes hit a T-72 tank, two military support vehicles, an enemy fighting position, a T-55 tank and two pieces of heavy engineering equipment

Airstrikes on Aug. 2 hit a rocket launcher, an excavator and a pickup truck with a mounted recoilless rifle.

Yesterday, Africom struck a pickup truck with a mounted recoilless rifle.

These airstrikes bring the total number of airstrikes in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning to nine over the first three days of August, Africom officials said. “The U.S. stands with the international community in supporting the GNA as it strives to restore stability and security to Libya,” they added in a news release announcing the results of the airstrikes.

These and previous actions will help to deny ISIL a safe haven in Libya from which it could attack the United States and its allies, officials said in the release.

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