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September 21, 2015

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Just to add to the fun. The Russians are adding more outposts if not bases.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-expands-military-its-presence-in-syria-satellite-photos-show-1442937150

What would that indicate for your analysis?

Doug Muir: “Both sides have been very parsimonious with committing trained manpower to assaults (while being absolutely callous about civilian casualties, of course). Assad’s operating off a very small population base, while any rebel group that takes major casualties without a commensurate win is likely to just disappear. So in theory a smallish well-armed force, suitably aggressive, could make a difference.”

My perspective is that this is more about intimidating Turkey and Israel from further air adventures into Syria (land in the case of Turkey)

I doubt Russia has the financial resources to do real assistance, and they have no intention of being baited by cheaply brave irregulars. To me the real alternative to a very careful pick-your-shots approach is Grozny Down the Euphrates sort of war-crimey total war approach. Not that this hasn't been done by Assad to the best of his abilities, but the Russians can concentrate and do more, I'd bet. In any event, the chief aim is probably weapons and supply interdiction (some factual boots on the ground assisting diplomatic pressure, not fighting), and let the candottieri try to fight on, unpaid.

The number of plans has grown as well as the number bases. It looks at though Putin is working bit by bit to help secure Assad's coastal region.

The originally reported Su-34s are confirmed. There are at least 4 of them. Possibly more. The fighter and bomber aircraft keep flying in with the transports to minimize their detection by radar.

Irony is calling: it is *EXACTLY* what the Russians claimed the Ukrainians were doing with MH17.

Some bits.

1. The Russians conducted their first airstrike. It was NOT against IS.

2. They have told the West to stay out of Assad's airspace. That's what the SAMs were for. IS doesn't have an air force.

3. Russian Aerospace Force aircraft continue to fly into Syria. The fighters and bombers are flying in a VERY tight formation as noted above to preclude telling how many are arriving. The ground units are also continuing to flow in as well.


Its 1 or 2, but not 3.

Probably not 1, either. Hopefully they have thought this through; an Operation Linebacker rather than a Rolling Thunder.

The Russians conducted their first aistrike. It was CLAIMED that it was not against IS. Given how muddled Syria is, I wouldn't take claims by any side as the gospel truth until backed up with overwhelming evidence. I'd much prefer to wait and see how it unfolds before making pronouncements on this.

Even with as muddled as it is, the strikes have been geolocated and its not where IS has been.

Given how muddled it is, I don't ascribe much faith in any claim as to exactly where IS is or is not at a given point in time. Especially as it begs the question as to why over 90 rounds airstrikes by the US, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in over a year's worth of air operations haven't had a much better effect on crippling IS if their intelligence is actually that reliable that they know exactly where IS is and where IS is not.

Sorry, but after the Iraqi WMD fiasco (and later the US intelligence failures in Georgia in 2008 when they bought the Georgian government's claims hook, line and sinker until it became painful obvious to the embassy that they shouldn't have been doing that), I'm going to need more than mere media claims and even US intelligence claims about something that is or is NOT happening in the Middle East to believe it.

The fact that the strikes have been geolocated and are not where IS is currently believed to be, does not establish beyond a doubt that there was absolutely zero IS presence in the area. The very nature of IS and insurgency warfare would in fact suggest that IS is present all over Syria but that it is only in certain areas where they have absolute control and the current ability to mount something between conventional and guerrilla operations against their enemies (Syrian government and some of the Syrian opposition) and their "frenemies" (some in the Syrian opposition who may be allies today or at least weapons dealers and then opponents tomorrow).

The Free Syrian Army has come forward saying they were hit.

The Russians have stated they will not be joining the US led anti IS coalition.

The Russians have come out in the Russophonic TV and internet stating anyone not Assad is IS.

Its highly likely with the above the Russians are hitting the non IS rebels.

PS. Not going to debate the WMD in Iraq. It was a fiasco. Hopefully one learned from given it was over ten years ago.

1. The FSA saying they were hit does not mean IS was not also hit.

2. Even Ash Carter himself said of the strikes that they "were in areas where there probably were not Isis forces"

3. No need to debate WMD in Iraq. I was merely pointing out that between that and Georgia 2008 (everyone should read the embassy cables from that time), claims that the Russians definitively were NOT trying to bomb IS is pretty much hard to prove and that the language used to describe said strikes would be more accurate if it reflected that (as Ash Carter himself was careful to do with the use of the qualifer word "probably" in his statement). At best one could say that "The Russians are also intending to hit the non IS rebels" (but whoever really doubted that to begin with?) and that "The Russians conducted their first airstrike and it seems that IS forces may not have been hit in it".

The first day seems to have been non IS targets.

Today was IS and non IS targets.

The Russians have simply picked Assad to back and are hitting anyone not Assad. This is in line with their propaganda that everyone not Assad is either IS or will be shortly.

If "fairness and accuracy in reporting" is correct then the first day was likely targets in which non-IS targets were present and where IS was apparently present recently (Rastan):

http://fair.org/home/no-isis-where-russia-is-bombing-except-last-week-when-isis-was-killing-gay-men-there/

As I said, Syria is extremely muddled, so making any definitive statements on what is supposedly happening is pointless and futile. IS were allegedly not present in any of the targets of the first Russian airstrikes, except we have earlier news reports from AFP (published on Yahoo) which claimed IS had been in Rastan killing people at least up to a week before the Russian strikes. When did IS disappear from Rastan?

A question for those better informed: how do Putin's actions play in Iraq? Especially the Sunnis there?

And here's a map of Russia's airstrikes so far:

http://theaviationist.com/2015/10/02/heres-an-interactive-map-of-all-the-russian-airstrikes-in-syria/

Presumably the next moves will be a ground offensive to destroy rebel enclaves between Homs and Hama and stabilize the Idlib front.

If that's successful, it buys Assad a lot of breathing room. He could redirect military efforts to the south. He might even be able to afford giving up on Aleppo, although I would doubt it.

There's also Iran. The Lebanese press reported 15,000 regulars in Syria, but I have doubts about that. Could Iran sustain such a presence? What do we know about Iran's ability to project conventional force into Syria?

I wonder what sort of troops you'd need, Noel, for the Russians to make an offensive. Perhaps a couple motorized rifle brigades and a tank brigade? That's approximately your 10.7k troops (a modern Russian brigade is roughly 3k troops, iirc).

A better US-equivalent number for that would be 12,300: two armored or infantry BCTs and one aviation brigade. My guess, though, is you'd probably want more if you were going to take on an offensive yourself rather than support the SAA.

Disturbing rumor I've come across. Something about all the non IS, nonAssad factions coming together? Any word on what this is?

Conspiracy theories, most likely.

There is remarkably little about the rebels' capacity in the public domain. What worries me is that there also may be remarkably little in government intelligence offices.

It is increasingly looking like the Russians will limit their actions to airstrikes. I have some doubts as to whether that will change the correlation of forces in any substantive way.

"It is likely that groups of Russian volunteers will appear in the ranks of the Syrian army as combat participants," Komoyedov [head of the Duma's Defense Committee] told the Interfax-AVN news agency.

http://news.yahoo.com/russian-volunteers-likely-fight-syria-says-senior-lawmaker-110900253.html

Rumors are the Russian flotilla is there to help protect the airbase at Latakia. Doesn't make sense unless the defense isn't against the rebels.

http://news.usni.org/2015/10/05/russian-warships-in-eastern-mediterranean-to-protect-russian-strike-fighters-in-syria

And this might get REAL ugly.

http://theaviationist.com/2015/10/05/russian-su-30sm-su-24-violate-turkish-airspace-flanker-locks-on-tuaf-f-16-for-5-minutes/

Well, now we've got the arrival of "volunteers." (Actually, I suspect they are volunteers, just volunteers from within the Russian regular military.) Some ground action may be likely.

I wish we knew more about the operational capabilities of the rebels.

I don't think the Russians want a war with NATO, Will. On the other hand, I think it's a risk Putin is willing to run. If it looks like NATO started it -- and he's doing a good job of limiting Russian provocations -- then losing the resulting war might be good for him.

Consider: the Argentine junta lost support because they picked a fight and lost. If the Argentine people had believed that Britain had somehow started the war, then the reaction to the defeat would have been very different ... and rather better for General Galtieri.

Again, I don't think Putin wants a war. I do think that he considers the cost of one to be rather less than many assume.

Multiple sources are now saying a ground offensive by the Russians is just around the corner, ie within days. I've seen Hakoura several times. Take that with a grain of salt though.

I do NOT believe Putin wants a war wit the West/NATO. I think he wants to "demonstrate" their weakness and ineffectiveness. He honestly believes the West *IS* weak.

He "just" wants to upend the Post Cold War order. He doesn't want a catastrophic war. However, he's more than willing to push things right up to the edge. Its classically Russian, as I've said before: push right up to where you can get away with things, even a little past, and stop there. Now he's going to see what he can get away with in Syria.

Oh, and the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Duma has explicitly stated anyone against Assad is on the Russian hit list.

The offensive is underway but it looks like its supported by the Russians, but largely an Assad ground force.

The Russians just hit an FSA Division 13 base. Those are the ones we trained as I recall.

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