The Middle East Wars – Syria
Syrian SITREP October 10th, 2015 by John Rambo
It’s been an active few days to say the least. Russian cruise missiles. Syrian ground offensives. Media blitz. Rebel TOWs. Airspace incursions. The war in Syria has definitely been turned up a notch.
It seems just as Russia fired those cruise missiles from the Caspian the West fired back with a media propaganda campaign. “Missiles fell in Iran” “Shoddy Soviet-era technology” “Russian airstrike targets do not match the picture locations”. It was endless. Russia countered, and countered even harder still. [Source] The gloves came off. [Source] The media war is in full swing and Russia wasn’t taking guff from anyone.
The range, accuracy, and flight path of these cruise missiles displayed the physical reach of Russia’s military projection capability. To the US, to the Middle East, and the world.
One can’t help but wonder if the emirs of the GCC didn’t pause for a moment and realize that they too might face the wrong end of a US-style Tomahawk strike like those experienced by Saddam and Gaddafi but from the Russians. After all America has already set precedent for such action in the past, why should Russia not be allowed the same privilege? Russia can do what the US can do… and its starting to appear that Russia might even do it better. [Source]
Even more frightening is the question of whether the US is willing to risk engaging a high-tech Russia. Fighting third and fourth world armies like the Saddam’s deserting military or the Taliban is one thing, fighting an enemy capable of firing all manners of missiles from air, sea, and land and who seems to have perfected electronic warfare is a whole other matter altogether. [Source]
But the question remains, what does Russia gain? Can all this be just to maintain a simple logistics naval base? Don’t they have converted cargo ships that can do that now?
Russia seems to have a plan. Its exact parameters still remain unclear. The survival of the Assad regime of course, but to what extent. Air strikes and cruise missiles is one thing, but is Russia prepared to commit troops on the ground if things turn for the worse? So far only a small ground contingent has been assigned to protect the Russian assets inside Syria. Russian marines and paratroopers augmented with a handful of T-90 tanks and autonomous weapon systems such as mobile anti-air and artillery systems are sufficient to maintain security at the airbase in Latakia, surrounded by two Russian outposts immediately defending the base.
All this seems to be preparation for future negotiations. Russia is trying to change the facts on the ground for better cards in the eventual talks.
The Russian entry has certainly rippled through the international scene. Everyone is watching closely. Many praising Russia’s control of the situation. The Russian cruise missiles were more than missile muscle flexing but also to shore up Syrian troops about to go on the offensive. [Source]
The Syrian Arab Army headed a massive offensive to seize the initiative given by the Russian air strikes. Resistance by the opposition forces was fierce. Near Hama, around the town of Morick the battles were costly. SAA tanks seem to have confronted TOW-armed rebels who have managed to stall a rapid sweeping assault for now. Although the SAA gained some territory, the causalities were not expected to be this high so early into the offensive. It’s yet to be known if these US-made TOW missiles have been recently supplied or have been stowed away in the opposition’s inventory for such an occasion. In the suburbs of Damascus captured rebel positions reveal complex tunnel networks under the city, stalling operations against the rebels in the city. [Source]
All sides right now are pressing the advantage and pushing on in full attack mode. The attrition will peak in a week time. The real battles will start to show in a week or two when supplies begin to dwindle and causalities mount up and reserves need to be called up. For Assad these reserves might very well be the Iranian ground force (pure speculation of course).
Iran is supposed to provide some sort of game changer on the ground. What that may be exactly is yet to be seen. More airplanes? Increased IRGC forces? Tanks? Maybe a 10,000 man division? Tactical ballistic missile forces? Special upgrade kits? Whatever it is it’s meant to augment the Russian air force, the Hezbollah irregulars, and the Syrian military to complete a victory in Syria once and for all.
Iranian involvement right now seems precarious. Having a small number of advisers and elite forces in Syria is acceptable but deploying a division of 10,000 men might warrant some concern, especially to Saudi Arabia. Not to mention the logistical effort of deploying such a unit in an expeditionary force inside Syria. Iran is also engaged in a semi-proxy war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen and to a lesser extent Bahrain.
Right now the war in Yemen is draining Saudi Arabia’s morale. Saudi Arabia is disgustingly wealthy so financing military operations, even with the drop of oil prices on the global market, is a non-issue. Currently Saudi Arabia is one of the wealthiest (if not THE wealthiest) Arab nation and has sucked itself in a fight against Shia Houthis in the poorest nation in the Arab world, Yemen. There is some evidence that Iran has provided some material and financial support to the Houthis though not at the ludicrous levels the Saudis would have you believe.
The support was most likely in the form of heavy weapons like mortars, machine guns, light arms, munitions, hard US cash, things of that nature. Nothing that draws attention like MANPADS.
For Saudi Arabia to see large Iranian formations in Syria would trigger hysteria amongst the House of Saud. The type of hysteria that tugs on the coat of Uncle Sam. The type that Uncle Sam doesn’t need to hear right now.
Russia continues to pound all opposition positions. Mi-24 gunships in the hands of skilled Russian pilots have managed to inflict masses of causalities. The Mi-24 is a heavily armored attack helicopter capable of withstanding light arms fire [Source] and fly low in consistent attack runs [Source]. Russian signals intelligence units meticulously intercepts Islamist communications followed up by air strikes in an unrelenting wave of destruction. The aviation hardware that isn’t advertised by the Kremlin for good reason.
An Iranian Brig. General was killed by ISIL in Syria, part of the IRGC Quds unit deployed as special advisers to the Syrian military. Apparently a man with many years of combat experience in the defense of Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and respected figure in the IRGC [Source]
The US might step up more support for the Kurds, isolating Turkey even more. There is real talk about providing more support to the rebels. The US has several actions going right now which paint a blurring picture of what’s brewing in the Pentagon.
It’s a mess right now. Wars are waged on all fronts. Online, on the battlefield, in the media, through technology, through militaries….
Let’s take a look at what happened these few days alone and what paths this opens up:
• Cruise missile strikes, air strikes, helicopter gunship attack runs. Russia is projecting its capabilities across a wide spectrum of military hardware and there might be even more yet to come. [Source]
• Russian signal intelligence is used to track opposition forces and follow up with air strikes. Cellphones, radio communication and other EM emissions are monitored [Source]
• More Russian naval ships will begin to enter the theater of war, including an Intelligence frigate [Source]
• Continuous destruction of opposition assets including 2 ISIL commanders and hundreds of militants [Source]
• Tajikistan has had an attack organized by a rogue Deputy Defense Minister who now hides in the mountains with a 150 men. These attacks have been considered ISIL-linked. [Source]
• A deployment of Hinds has been reported in Tajikistan, perhaps as part of an anti-ISIL campaign. [Source]
• Russian anti-terror police has killed three returning ISIS fighters from Syria in Chechnya. Three more have been captured earlier. Security domestically has been stepped up for sure. [Source]
• A counter media blitz against the Western narrative.
• It seems that the Russian air assets were ordered to show no mercy towards opposition units. Round-the-clock air assaults in the form of strike aircraft and gunship helicopters. Those fighting in Syria will die in Syria, accept no surrender. Which has also been the standing orders of the SAA for some time, especially towards Islamists.
• Just like the creation of two states in Georgia as a buffer, Russia may have similar designs to create a buffer state involving the Kurds in Turkey. Though I’d assume that would trigger red lines of its own in the Turkish military.
• Undertook a major offensive following the one week of Russian aerial bombing and cruise missile attacks.
• The SAA achieved operational victories but losses are high for the initial days of the offensives.
• Increased numbers of Russian advisers have organized the SAA into a more coherent force. Unlike the US which uses English-speaking advisers and translators in a sloppy arrangement, Russian advisers are seen speaking fluent Arabic. [Source]
• As previously mentioned Syria has undergone two major restructuring efforts. First from its initial Soviet-style model to a hybrid military incorporating regular military units (such as armor, artillery, and military engineers) with irregular military forces (militias, Hezbollah guerrillas, etc.). [Source]
• The second restructuring effort shifted the focus of the military from offensives to placing garrisons in strongholds in all corners of the country. These stronghold forces are designed to withstand month-long sieges, especially the forces in the east surrounded by ISIL, and most importantly to preserve manpower. [Source]
• Although the newest restructuring plan allowed Assad to maintain control over large areas of the country without investing manpower in large offensives, it allowed pockets of resistance to remain unchallenged. Rebels in these pockets would commit to hit-and-run style attacks on Syrian military convoys at the rear of the SAA. It was easier to bottle up an opposing group then to try to wipe them out in an offensive.
• The National Defense Force, an organization designed to absorb popular militias into reservists, has become an essential fighting force [Source]
• Currently the Syrian military has to seize the initiative provided by the Russian Air Force and make significant gains, which is not easy against forces that have had literally years to build defensive tunnels and stockpile weapons and munition.
• Primary objectives is military victory in Hama and Idlib, freeing up forces for the next front against ISIL in the east and in Aleppo.
• Offensives are still ongoing.
• Iranian involvement has been so far to provide weapons, materials, training, and intelligence to the regime.
• Two IRGC generals have already been killed in the Syrian conflict, one through an Israeli air strike much earlier in the conflict [Source] and one through an ISIL attack in the latest offensives. Hezbollah carried out the revenge for the first general against an IDF patrol. [Source] Something ISIL has yet to do.
• Rumors and innuendos about a massive Iranian ground offensive are abound. Iran, and particularly the IRGC, are no stranger to deception and this offensive will only be known when the rebels encounter it.
• Due to the need to maintain a low-profile both internationally and domestically it will most probably consist of a few elite IRGC battalions for special operations and high-risk missions.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other affiliates:
• Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab Coalition and GCC nations are plotting some form of retaliation against Russia for its involvement.
• The limited options available is to finance some sort of jihad and facilitate all necessary logistics to bring Islamist fighters onto Russian soil.
• Direct military confrontation against Russia is impossible unless the United States steps in.
• False flag operations pinned on Russia
GCC-Financed Rebel Forces (Army of Conquest, Et. Al.):
• It seems the rebels have more TOWs than previously estimated. SAA offensives have been stalled due to the heavy tank losses that occurred from the TOWs. [Source]
• Although some TOW attacks have been successful a lot show them falling short due to a lack of sufficient training. Rebels know how to use the TOW weapon system but seem to fire it too far out of range, fire it towards an obscured line of sight, or misalign the aim of the rocket. Regardless these weapons have been effective in creating a strong line of defense.
• TOW missile guidance relies on an unwinding wire to guide the missile to its target. This means the operator must continuously maintain line of sight with the target to properly guide the rocket to a tank. Should the wire get cut because of obstacles or because the missile was fired out of range than the guidance is lost.
• The TOW missiles used by the rebels come in two variants, the BGM-71F designed for top-down attack (generally the weaker part of the tank) and the BGM-71E designed to overcome explosive reactive armor with tandem charges. [Source] (secondary explosion after initial impact)
• These TOW missiles were given under specific orders to be filmed while in use. This can either be used to judge the effectiveness of these missiles, the effectiveness of the training provided, to maintain a count of outgoing TOWs and used TOWs to know how many are being stockpiled or simply as Western PR material. [Source]
• Qatar offers funding for any videos that show attacks on Syrian government forces; the majority of these videos are designed to attract more donations for the rebels.
• The rebels themselves have shifted their strategy a couple of times since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, being disorganized and managed by people relaxing in cozy hotels in Turkey or Dubai.
• The rebels first were a light infantry force which offered moderate resistance against the government. They quickly shifted to guerilla-style tactics such as roadside bombs, tunnel bombs under SAA field headquarters, low-level engagements and assassinations of Syrian party members including an attempt on Assad himself. [Source]
• Finally, thanks to the supplies provided by Western powers (such as heavy weapons) and the captured equipment from the Syrian military, the rebels have a somewhat similar hybrid force as the SAA did during 2013 mixing tanks and mobile weapon platforms, but considerably smaller and more dependent on asymmetrical means such as the media to shape the narrative.
• The Islamic State has lost some significant military hardware thanks to Russian airstrikes such as tanks, command centers, and munitions depots.
• The Syrian Arab Air Force has managed to destroy 2 of the three jet fighters that ISIL had within its inventory of captured equipment.
• Many ISIL members are slowly retreating out of Syria and Iraq.
• ISIL previously deployed US-style tactics which was super-effective due to the suicidal nature of ISIL members. A small initial recon force would engage the enemy (almost always superior in number), occupying their attention while a larger rear force comes around and flanks in force. [Source]
• The capture of US Humvees and Iraqi equipment such as tanks and artillery, allowed ISIL to execute this tactic flawlessly. As if trained by the US themselves. Of course one can also chalk it up to the fact the majority of ISIL units seem to be led by ex-Iraqi military officers of the Saddam days (who follow a hybrid Islamist-Ba’athist philosophy). These are the same men who didn’t oppose the US invasion hoping the US would actually bring some economic stability to the sanctioned country under Saddam.
United States of America:
• US still committing air strikes inside Syria [Source]
• The US strategy with ISIL has been centered around something called “funneling”
• Funneling involves bombing ISIL only when it starts to encroach on “friendly” forces such as the Kurds or other opposition factions. Thousands of precision bombs were dropped to literally funnel ISIL towards the direction of Assad forces and away from US assets on the ground.
• In a sense, instead of “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” it is an attempt to dictate their attack vectors with a heavy hand.
• It had some success as both the rebels and the Islamic State began to engage Assad forces on multiple fronts, stretching the already limited manpower.
• The US currently refuses to cooperate with Russia in providing its target list of ISIL positions. [Source]
• There is more talk about escalating the Ukrainian theater as punishment for Russian action in Syria. Some even comparing the escalation to that seen in Vietnam, gradually but with purpose. [Source]
• The $500 million rebel training program has been scrapped. [Source]
• There is real talk about upping the game in terms of supplying much more complex weapons to the rebels. [Source]
• A US Search and Rescue unit has been deployed on the edge of south eastern Turkey, just north of Syria. A unit such as that is deployed to recover downed pilots. It may be for Turkish jets or future US air operations in Syria and Iraq. [Source]
• The gamble in aiding the Kurds is the isolation of Turkey, but the benefit can be a more strengthen Kurdistan able to not only separate from Syria but potentially Iran. Iran currently fights a very low-level counter-insurgency war against a Kurdish secessionist group in the north east of the country [Source]
• Israel warns that Assad still maintains stockpiles of chemical weapons. Perhaps true or a pretext for future operations against Syria [Source].
• The arrival of the Russian intelligence vessel may irk the Israelis. What are the chances of a modern day Russian USS Liberty? [Source]
• Israel has minor skirmishes from time to time in the Golan Heights. Usually though whenever anything happens, Israel takes out retribution on Syrian military forces instead of those responsible. [Source]
I would have liked to cover the Yemen, Bahrain, Libyan, and Iraqi conflicts but it seems Syria has enough going for it so it’ll have to come in tidbits in these Syrian SITREPs.
[Scott: Since last night, when this SITREP was written there was some positive development for Syria.
North East Latakia 09.10.2015
Some positive news re coming from Syria. The offensive of the Syrian army with air support of the Russian Federation to the North-East of Lattakia resulted in the liberation of the city of al-Bahsa in the Northern province of Hama.
Syrian troops liberated the small city of al-Bahsa in the Northern Hama province, said the head of the political Department of the Syrian army General Samir Suleiman. “The Syrian army confronted a well-trained, experienced fighters who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, frightened by the Russian air force, they retreated from the Bakhsi”,— quotes “RIA Novosti” the words of Mr. Suleiman. He added that three days ago the Russian air force managed to strike at the arms depot of the militants. According to the General, it undermined their morale and the defense of the city. For more video, images and maps follow the link above. Use to translate.]