Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov: Russia may have a military base in Syria. It will be sea, air, and ground .
October 16, 2015
Author Victor Baranets
Translated by Carpatho-Russian
Our military observer Victor Baranets talked with the Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff, who is directing the operation in Syria.
Nearly 90 years ago, the outstanding military theorist and practitioner, Marshal of the Soviet Union Boris Shaposhnikov , figuratively called the General Staff “the brain of the army”. And the Main Operations Directorate (GOU) of the General Staff has always been and remains the main center of this “brain”. Everything that occurs today in our army – from its construction until application, and also timely preparation, re-deployment of armies, training, firing, maritime campaigns, aircraft flights – all this is done at the will of the General Staff and under its vigilant control. This includes planning and carrying out strategic operations, and also those actions, which today our aerospace forces are conducting in Syria.
How were they prepared? What plan do they have? Why it was decided to involve only airplanes and helicopters? And what role is played by our fighting ships, which are carrying out their tasks in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea? I asked these and many other questions of the chief of the Main Operations Directorate — Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov.
The general talked with me in his private office. Our conversation was interrupted over and over again by phone calls — Andrey Valeryevich continually accepted reports on the course of execution of military tasks for our aircraft in Syria, listened to the directions of the Chief of the General Staff, and gave instructions to subordinates. To one, to urgently discuss an operational situation with the Syrian military leader; to another, to fly to Istanbul for negotiations with the Turkish military; to a third, to prepare for the next teleconference session with the Pentagon regarding “rules of behavior” for our and the American pilots in the Syrian sky. The continuous high-voltage tension of the operations occurring many thousands kilometers away from Moscow literally “sparks” in the general’s receiver. He answered my questions strictly in the manner of a General Staff, verifying each word with the precision of a sniper (operators do not like lyricism). He did not answer at all some of my questions – answers to them might reveal operational secrets, or else was beyond the scope of the chief of the Main Operations Administration. Allow me to present him.
Kartapolov Andrey Valeryevich. Born in 1963 in Weimar (GDR). Education: secondary school, Moscow Higher All-troops Command College, Frunze Military Academy, Military Academy of the General Staff. Commanded a platoon, a company, a battalion, a regiment, a division, and an army. Was the chief of a staff of a brigade, a division, and a military district; and head of the department in the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff.
Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov.
Since 2014, Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff. Awards: “For Service to the Fatherland” the, IV degree with crossed swords, Award of Courage, award “For Military Services”, many departmental medals.
INTEL KNOWS EVERYTHING
– When was the decision to begin a transfer of our military equipment to Syria actually made?
– Next question.
– With what did the General Staff’s work on the Syrian events begin?
– We did not stop work on the Syrian events for a minute. We constantly tracked the situation there. Because Syria is our longtime partner, an ally, and our advisors have been working there all the time. And from the beginning of these anti-government events, which then developed into the well-known situation, we tracked the situation in Syria practically round-the-clock. Also, we constantly know what is occurring there and how.
– And yet, what was the “first step” of the Russian General Staff even prior to the beginning of the use of our aircraft in Syria?
– We created a coordinating committee that is now working in Baghdad. Here we were engaged in solving this problem first of all. We needed to make this committee work.
– What brought about the decision to create this coordinating committee? What was the idea here?
– We understood that with the actions of the so-called international coalition led by the USA, which is engaged only in bombing objects from the air, it is impossible to crush ISIS (the terrorist organization forbidden in Russia — editor’s note ). This can only be done by executing tasks on the ground. And on the ground there is nobody to fight except the Army of the Syrian Arab Republic. Therefore, we specifically began with that. And to coordinate the actions, we must unite the efforts of those countries and those forces at war with ISIS on the ground.
After getting air support, the Syrian armies passed in separate sectors of the front to approach the positions of the terrorists . Photos: Alexander KOTZ, Dmitry STESHIN.
– Did you invite the American representatives to this coordinating committee?
– From the very beginning. Being in Baghdad, I practically waited for days when the American partners would contact us. But they did not, and so I departed from there.
– Why did they refuse to do this?
– They have a number of reasons why they do not wish to do this. They consider it humiliating to admit that without Russia they cannot solve the problem they declared a year ago. They do not want it to be said about them that they are somehow cooperating with Assad, whom they have been demonizing in recent years. And another thing. They actually hardly possess the necessary quantity of information on ISIS objects, which is, actually, evident from the results of their attacks. They have a vague idea of the real objects of the rebels, and probably, they were ashamed to admit this.
– With what did the Main Operations Directorate begin to prepare for actions in Syria?
– From an assessment of the situation and preparation of suggestions to our leadership to execute various tasks.
– To the Leadership of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff?
– And what main task faced the Main Operations Directorate during this period, on the eve of operations?
– We needed to utilize as fully as possible all the resources available for us to transfer equipment, arms, and other material to Syria in the shortest possible time.
– How was it possible to resolve this issue in a timely and concealed manner?
– We used an entire range of various approaches of technical, informational, and tactical nature. You know the result.
– But Obama claims that American reconnaissance “saw everything”…
– If it really “saw” this, then Obama would hardly be silent.
– And nevertheless: You received information that the USA got wind of the fact that we were starting to move?
– We certainly had this information. However, we saw that they did not understand the essence of our operations and did not imagine to what it is directed. Therefore, they did not bother us.
– Perhaps they simply got confused about your combinations and did not evaluate their essence?
– I would not wish to offend our American colleagues. What they thought – let that remain with them.
– In what ways did the General Staff receive information on the dislocation of ISIS formations?
– We have developed and constantly use an entire system of reconnaissance methods. Therefore there are practically no secrets for us on this account…
– Can you tell what exactly this system includes? There is space, there are airplanes, there are drones, there is electronic intel, and finally, on-ground reconnaissance?
– I have told you that an entire system of forces and means of reconnaissance has been activated …. In constant operational mode. With the exception of troop-unit reconnaissance, because we have not conducted troop-unit reconnaissance on site. Because we have no ground divisions there.
WHO ON THAT SIDE?
– How do you evaluate the tactics of the actions of ISIS groups and their arms? Do the terrorists have mobile surface-to-air missile systems (MANPADS)?
– We have information on the existence of MANPADS there, but have not yet seen their actual use. Therefore the appearance of such arms among the militants can now provide evidence of someone’s ill-advised approach to the resolution of this issue …
– Are you hinting at possible deliveries to fighters of the American Stinger-type MANPADS?
– This is possible. We go even further. As pertains to the tactics of the militants. In ISIS, there are many former officers who had served in the Iraq army under Saddam Hussein. And they left there only because the Americans, having smashed Iraq, occupied it; and they, as patriots of their country (as it is possible to call them) decided to fight against it. Certainly, it was a mistake that they decided to fight by entering ISIS groups, but that is their choice. These officers possess rather advanced skills and knowledge; they are capable both of organizing and of teaching people. Therefore, the individual groups are prepared rather well. Plus – they seized a mass of armament in the warehouses of the Iraq army and also from the units of the Syrian army. It is just those arms that our American partners had so energetically delivered to Iraq. And there are both Abrams M1 tanks, and armored troop carriers, and artillery systems, and many other things. Therefore, when speaking about ISIS, do not imagine that these are the garden variety bandits, a crowd armed only with machine guns and with long daggers, knowing nothing but how to cut off heads. They know how to fight; they have improved various tactical approaches, which they turned out during operations against the Iraq army and against the Syrian army. And at times they apply these approaches quite successfully.
– How many soldiers do the ISIS armed formations contain now?
– By various estimates, from 30,000 to 80,000. As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle, so let’s say 40-50,000.
– The coalition headed by the USA has been bombing ISIS positions for more than a year. But yet we saw that the Syrian territory controlled by ISIS has extended to almost 75%. How can you comment on this?
– The coalition headed by the United States conducts air strikes against objects of the ISIS infrastructure. These are bridges, overpasses, electrical substations, thermal grids, hydraulic pump systems, and water pump stations. This makes the people’ life intolerable. This does not so much hinder the ISIS actions, as it substantially complicates the actions of governmental armies of President Assad. By so doing, announcing one thing, they have, by and large, reduced the fighting potential of the armed forces of Syria. Due to which, these have surrendered more and more positions, because transport was made difficult, because there was no water, there was no heat, and there were no products. But ISIS does not need this, they just bought food in various adjacent countries, and this was delivered to them (we know who, but will not at this time speak about these organizations and states). Hence the result.
– How do you evaluate the fighting potential and arms of the so-called “moderate opposition”, and where did it receive weapons?
– The West speaks of a “moderate opposition”, but we do not see it in Syria. It could be named in different ways – moderate or immoderate opposition – but any person who takes up arms against legitimate authority, how moderate is he? … Various countries have delivered weapons to many groups of ISIS. After all, some groups are supported and supplied by one country, other groups are supported by another country, and the yet more groups are supported by a third country. And, therefore, they are all giving money and all giving weapons there. These lads are engaging in banditry, marauding, and dividing spheres of influence among themselves. When they need the next monetary tranche, they declare that are the most active fighters against the Assad regime. They are given this money, after which they begin to use it at their personal discretion. And we have asked, you know who – show us this “moderate opposition” …
– Why did the General Staff came to their conclusion about the necessity of using airforce?
– Because we saw that everything that the coalition headed by the United States does is window-dressing… It is an imitation of strikes …
– And are the military air forces of Syria, Iraq, and Iran participating in air operations together with us?
– They carry out tasks according to their own plan.
– But they are coordinating their own plans with us?
– How do you monitor the accuracy of our strikes on ISIS?
– From the moment that a target is chosen, we conduct a no less than threefold confirmation of the precise details, importance, and characteristics of the object.
– Using what facilities?
– The same things that I have already spoken of. An entire integrated system is employed — aerospace, air, radio, and electronic reconnaissance is employed.
– And drones?
– Drones, certainly. We, naturally, also use the information we receive within the framework of the information committee in Baghdad, from our partners, and from the intelligence services of Iraq, Syria, and Iran.
– Also – is there extensive data that is considered for bombardment by aircraft and missile?
– They have lots of information, but we verify all information. And the choice of the strike targets remains, naturally, with us.
– Why has the USA refused to provide to us data about the positions of the so-called Syrian Free Army and about ISIS positions? Are they now giving us this information or not?
– They are not providing us this information. We addressed them more than once directly, and more than once spoke about this even in the mass media. The reasons for this position are still not clear to us. Either they do not have these data, or if they do they are hiding it from us – which means that they do not want us to strike the actual positions of ISIS.
– How are the tactics of ISIS actions changing after our bombing attacks by aircraft and missile?
– Terrorists are abandoning their positions, departing into the interior, trying to hide in remote districts and in various caves and rocky formations. Second. They are trying to hide in mosques and in hospitals. By the way, we showed on TV a video, where this whole matter is made evident. They are also trying to blend in the civilian population.
– Did the Syrian army begin ground operations too early? Is it ready, and are there results?
– You know, it is difficult for me to judge how ready the Syrian army is for offensive operations. I can draw only one conclusion, that even in whatever condition the Syrian army is in, if it went over to the offensive it means that our strikes have significantly reduced the fighting potential of the opponent. In the first days of the offensive, more than ten settlements were liberated, and one large settlement named Achan has been taken today, after the militants had held it for a long time. In the first days, approximately 90 square kilometers were liberated during the offensive operation. Therefore, I think that the Syrian military leadership knows better but they concluded they could go over to the offensive.
STRIKE FROM THE CASPIAN SEA
– What caused the necessity of our missile attacks from the Caspian Sea? Was it coordinated with Iran and Iraq?
– Yes. I talked about this at the briefing. We coordinated the flight of our missiles beforehand with our partners in the coordinating committee, which includes not only Syria, but also Iran and Iraq. And the necessity was caused by that we discovered on October 5th and 6th some very important objects, which were subjected to pinpoint attack. Our aircraft were already assigned to other objects that had been reconnoitered earlier. Therefore, the decision had been made for cruise missiles attacks.
– T he Pentagon claims that 4 rockets either blew up or did not fall there. What do you think of this information?
– The Pentagon could claim anything and everything. Let them show something, though. All of our missiles hit their targets.
– And might the group of our ships in the Mediterranean Sea be involved in Syria too, if necessary?
– What is this group today?
– Our group in the Mediterranean Sea, first of all, provides transport facilities. To be unrestricted, the group was developed to include also attack ships. Plus, this group will guarantee the antiaircraft defense of our base. We are by no means directing this air defense against the coalition countries.
– And if the General Staff comes to the conclusion that it is immediately necessary for rocket strikes on ISIS from our ships, this can be done?
– It can.
– Can we speak today about the creation of two high-grade Russian bases in Syria – a ground base near Latakia and the Navy in Tartus?
– I think that, most likely, we should talk about the creation of one Russian military base. This will be one base, which will be composed of several components – sea, air, and ground.
-The Syrian armed “moderate” opposition is sending signals about its readiness to participate in fight against ISIS. What do you think of such signals?
– We are ready for joint operations with them. Let them come to Baghdad and participate in the coordinating committee.
– And if such an offer is accepted, will this seriously change the tactics of the coalition troops? Will this change the nature of the war with ISIS?
– If they cease to fight against the government troops and begin to fight against ISIS, then this can change. But if they, after declaring that they are at war with ISIS, continue wage war on the government troops, nothing will change.
– You just said that ISIS groups are changing tactics, and going into hospitals, mosques, and settlements, and dispersing. Do both the General Staff and the Syrian army understand that they also must change tactics, so as to more subtly root out the terrorists from there? What it is necessary to select new “tools”?
– We have a rather large set of methods and means to affect ISIS, taking into account this tactic, without impacting in any manner mosques, or hospitals, or the peaceful population.
THE PENTAGON THREATENS, BUT WE ARE NOT AFRAID
– The USA Secretary of Defense is threatening us that one of these days, the Russian group will suffer large losses. What is this – is he threatening us with what the Stingers can do? How do you read this statement, doe it sound like a threat?
– We have read this statement as a manifestation of non-professionalism of the highest order. A serious politician cannot permit himself such statements. All the more, as he is talking about allies victorious over Hitler in the Second World War (one would like to remind him of that). Well, whatever he meant, let that remain on his conscience. Remember how Lev Tolstoy answered Leonid Andreyev: “He tries to scare me me, but I am not afraid”.
– Might the situation develop in such a manner that we would after all need to transfer overland combat units to take part in the military operations?
– This is out of the question. Our overland combat units will under no circumstances take part in the land operations. This, by the way, was stated by our President.
– If you learn that ISIS or the so-called Free Syrian Army have American Stinger MANPADS, what will your reaction be?
– I think that it would be necessary to ask the question about this matter in the UN Security Council. So that it is examined there.
– Are our airplanes striking ISIS formations in Iraq?
– No. We are operating in Syria, because the President of Syria turned to us with a request that we assist the fight against ISIS on the territory of his country. If a similar request arrives from the Iraqi leadership, we will wait for the decision from the leaders of our country.
– It would seem the Iraq request has already arrived?
– I have already answered this question …
– How is interaction provided between our aerospace forces, our officers, and the Syrian army? Are our officers in the ranks of the Syrian army or not?
– No. Our group operates independently. But with our staff in Syria, there is a small operation group from the Syrian armed forces that provides coordination with flights of the Syrian Air Force and gives us exact data regarding the location of the front line of the government army.
– How is the situation at the moment on the Syrian front? What are we doing, and what are the Syrians doing?
– We continue to carry out our tasks. Since the operation began, we have completed more than 600 sorties.
– This is since September 30?
– Yes, since September 30. We have hit more than 380 ISIS objects. According to various data, ISIS rebel groups have suffered very serious losses. We have also noted cases of panic, and abandonment of positions. This, too, says something. Naturally, this also inspires the government armies, which have gone over to the offensive. As one of the Syrian generals said, the operations of the Air Forces of Russia have returned smiles to the faces of Syrian children.
THE GOAL – DEFEATING ISIS
– Are the Americans seeking contact with the Ministry of Defense of Russia and the General Staff?
– They are compelled to do this. They requested that we organize a videoconference with them.
– They will be in Washington and you will be in Moscow?
– We gave our consent. We are ready to work with them everywhere, at any level, in every spot on the globe. If it is more convenient for them to work from Washington, we will work from Moscow.
– How do you see the ultimate goal of our actions in Syria?
– This is, without a doubt, the defeat of ISIS formations and transferring the Syrian crisis to the political sphere.
– And if nevertheless the need arises to hit ISIS with bombing attacks on the territory of Iraq, will Russia accept such a request?
– This is the decision of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. But we have all the technical facilities for this purpose .
– At the moment, are the Americans and French striking ISIS positions?
– Americans are striking objects that are located on the territory that ISIS controls.
– A report came out that French planes took off several times on a bombing run. Do you have such data?
– We have such data, but we do not know, which objects specifically were attacked by the French planes.
– Did you not have an opportunity to see this using the means available to you?
– We did not set ourselves that task.
– Do you have a feeling that the Americans are beginning to understand that we need to strike ISIS with a joint “cooperative”? And consequently they are starting to hover in the waiting room?
– You know, the Americans are a very pragmatic people. But it is very difficult for them to admit their own miscalculations. When they mature to the point that they recognize that, after all, they miscalculated, then I hope they will make a reasonable decision.
– Let’s suppose they will after all agree to act with us in a unified coalition. What is necessary for this purpose?
– Their desire.
– Why did the USA react so spitefully to the launch of our “Calibers” from the Caspian Sea?
– Because they absolutely missed the sea-based cruise missile salvo.
– And why?
– Because all their capabilities, about which they speak as if they were limitless, are just a fairy tale for children.
– Two private matters. How many times during our air operation did you spend the night in a back room of the office? One of your assistants admitted that the days…
– Next question.
– There are many icons behind you. Why are they here?
– I am a believer. Some icons were gifts, others I acquired when I was in various places. Well, and I also believe in the correctness of what we are doing…