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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    tu-142 syria russian

    The following video, allegedly filmed on Jun. 5, 2016, at Aleppo, Syria clearly shows a Russian Bear flying overhead.

    Based on the barely visible search radar underneath the fuselage and the characteristic tail with a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) boom, the aircraft seems to be a Tu-142M “Bear F”, a reconnaissance and ASW variant derived from the iconic Tu-95 Bear bomber.

    Whilst the “standard” Tu-95s have already been used to carry out air strikes against Syrian ground targets beginning in November last year, the one spotted over Aleppo would be (if confirmed) the first Tu-142 to take part in the air war over Syria.

    As said the Tu-142 was developed as a maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. However, it is believed to be able to carry different sensor packages and some believe the Bear F could be used as an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) platform, to pinpoint targets for tactical strike aircraft.

    However, as long-range naval reconnaissance plane, the Tu-142 could also have been tasked to keep an eye on the USS Truman CSG (Carrier Strike Group): a “response” of Moscow to the first air strikes launched by an aircraft carrier from the eastern Mediterranean Sea since 2003.

    SEE ALSO: Watch the first US aircraft-carrier-launched strikes on ISIS from the Mediterranean

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    NOW WATCH: The US Army is sending Apache attack helicopters to fight ISIS in Iraq

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    A-10 thunderbolt warthog cannon

    No matter how advanced smart bombs get, and no matter how stealthy and quick an aircraft can become, the A-10 has one factor that guarantees it can never truly be replaced: its gun.

    These days, pretty much any warplane can drop guided munitions with pinpoint accuracy, but what makes the A-10 so special is one of the only weapons used by the US Air Force that isn't precision-guided: the 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger gun with 1,150 incendiary rounds.

    In a recent press release, Air Force Col. Sean McCarthy, the 447th Air Expeditionary Group's commander, explained in a US Department of Defense release exactly why the A-10 can do missions no other plane can.

    McCarthy, who commands 550 airmen operating out of Turkey's Incirlik Air Base, revealed that deliberate targeting of ISIS assets in Syria accounts for only about 10% of airstrikes carried out from the base.

    The other 90% are dynamic strikes, or strikes where troops on the ground call in for airstrikes. This is where the Warthog shines.

    "A troops-in-contact [report] pops up or a target pops up at short notice, and we respond. It generally doesn't involve an integrated effort with the coalition. It's just usually a two-ship of A-10s that show up overhead and we conduct our mission," McCarthy said of the A-10's operation out of Incirlik.

    The A-10 actually operates in the field as an even more precise weapon than even the most advanced smart bombs.

    "The No. 1 thing when it comes to strikes is making sure we do as little damage as possible, especially killing civilians. We try very hard to keep that from happening," McCarthy said.

    a10 damage a 10 gau-8 avenger rotary cannon

    So when there is any reason to believe that civilians may be in the area, the A-10 is the best tool for the job. In a murky situation, where "there's no way to know whether they're civilian noncombatants or not, we don't take the chance" of using a bomb, McCarthy said.

    "That's a type of target we'll go after with the gun," he added. "It's a low-collateral-damage weapon, pinpoint accurate, and we employ high-explosive incendiary rounds so nothing's walking away from that if they get hit."

    Watch the A-10 rip its 30mm gun with pinpoint accuracy, and hear the legendary 'BRRRT' in the video below:

    SEE ALSO: How the US military trains to take any airbase, anywhere in the world, in just 18 hours

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    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russia's RIA new agency, in Damascus, Syria in this handout file picture provided by SANA on March 30, 2016. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters/Files

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad vowed on Tuesday to fight on in what he called Syria's war against terrorism, showing no sign of compromise in his first major address since peace talks broke down in April.

    Assad said he would win back "every inch" of Syria and said Aleppo would be a graveyard for the hopes and dreams of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a major sponsor of the insurgents battling to topple him.

    “Aleppo will be the grave where all the dreams and hopes of that butcher will be buried,” Assad said in a speech to parliament broadcast by state TV.

    "Our war against terrorism is continuing," he continued. "As we liberated Tadmur (Palmyra) and before it many areas, we will liberate every inch of Syria from their hands. Our only option is victory, otherwise Syria will not continue."

    The Syrian army and allied militia, aided by Russian air strikes, recovered control of Palmyra from Islamic State insurgents in March. In addition to the war with Islamic State, Assad is fighting rebels who include groups that have received support from his foreign enemies, Turkey included.

    The war has greatly diminished Assad's control of Syria, with Islamic State, an array of rebel groups, and a powerful Kurdish militia establishing authority over wide parts of the country.

    Aleppo, Syria's largest city and pre-war commercial hub, and the surrounding area at the border with Turkey have comprised a major theater in the war, divided between areas of government and rebel control. Escalating fighting there helped ruin the cessation of hostilities agreement agreed in February.

    Special forces from the Syria Democratic Forces gather in Haj Hussein village, after taking control of it from Islamic State fighters, in the southern rural area of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi SaidAssad accused Erdogan of recently sending thousands of militants to Aleppo. Russia, which has been bombing in support of Assad since September, said on Saturday more that 2,000 militants had mobilized in the Aleppo area.

    Russia said on Monday its air forces would provide "the most active" support to Syrian government troops so as not to let Aleppo and the surrounding area fall into the hands of fighters it called terrorists.

    The United States and Russia brokered the cessation of hostilities as part of an effort to get U.N.-backed peace talks moving earlier this year. The talks broke down in April when the main opposition alliance withdrew over what it described as a worsening situation on the ground.

    Assad said there had been no real talks in Geneva.

    He thanked Russia, Iran, China and the Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah for the support they had provided.

    Alluding to suggestions of divisions in the alliance, particularly between Iran and Russia, Assad said people should not listen to reports about "differences, struggles and divisions". He said the alliance was stronger than ever.

    He was speaking at the parliament that convened this week for the first time since it was elected in April. The election was held in government-controlled parts of Syria.

    Government supporters said the vote was a sign of support for Assad, while his opponents said it was illegitimate.

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    Syria refugee

    In addition to being a humanitarian nightmare, the on-going Syrian conflict has wreaked havoc on the country's economy.

    And the damage to both human capital and infrastructure could keep economic growth muted going forward — even if the conflict ends within a few years.

    Operating under the assumption that the conflict will continue on for "several more years," a BMI Research team forecasts that the Syrian economy will contract by an average of 3.9% annually from 2016 to 2019. This will drag down the beleaguered economy to its early-1990s size.

    "Large-scale destruction amid the protraction of the current civil war will continue to damage the Syrian economy over the coming decade," the BMI Research team argued in a recent report.

    "We project a return to growth only in 2020, mostly reflecting low base effects and the influx of external funding, including humanitarian aid, and investment from Russia and Iran," the team continued. "Syria will become increasingly reliant on external assistance, especially from Iran and Russia, amid the depletion of government resources."

    syria gdp growthSince 2011, all of the components of Syria's GDP have plunged — with serious drops in manufacturing and agriculture. The chart shows the stunning drops in Syria's GDP growth rates, including the estimated 25% contractions year-over-year in 2012 and 2013.

    Exports have lost 80% of their real value from 2010 to 2015, according to BMI's estimates.

    Plus, oil output has dropped significantly in recent years, given that many oil fields are under the control of ISIS — aka the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh. And that's significant because, although Syria was not one of the world's biggest oil producers, the commodity still accounted for about 50% of its exports and about 30% of the government's revenue in 2010.

    "We do not forecast a recovery in exports before 2021, as transportation infrastructure will take time to rebuild," the BMI team argued.

    Screen Shot 2016 06 08 at 12.45.49 PMAnother huge, long-run economic problem facing Syria is the demographic catastrophe caused by the war.

    The country's pre-war population was around 22 million, but an estimated 4.8 million refugees have left the country to date — a number that's equal to about 22% of that initial population.

    Moreover, about 6.6 million refugees have been displaced within Syria, according to an estimate by the International Displacement Monitoring Centre.

    Another extremely scary statistic for the long run is that an estimated 4 million Syrian children are not currently in school.

    Notably, there are also differences between different regions within the country, depending on whether they are controlled by the government, rebel groups, or the Islamic State. As the BMI research team explained in their report:

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that economic conditions have rapidly deteriorated in government-held areas, which were relatively insulated at the beginning of the conflict. Nevertheless, we still expect regional disparities to persist, with regime-controlled areas faring relatively better than rebel-held areas.

    [...] We expect greater economic devastation in territories controlled by rebel groups and IS. Since the beginning of Russian intervention in September 2015, frequent airstrikes have targeted rebel-held areas, resulting in large-scale destructions of infrastructure. According to UN estimates, almost 600,000 people live in besieged areas — mostly in regions controlled by opposition forces — translating into rapid impoverishment. Despite the proclamation of a caliphate and the provision of aid and electricity, IS will also fail to develop sustainable economic institutions. The elimination of any resistance will continue to alienate the local populations and cause an exodus. In addition, offensives against IS in the region of Raqqa will likely result in further damage to infrastructure.

    In sum, Syria's economy has been seriously damaged by the conflict — and it's highly unlikely that there will be a quick fix.

    SEE ALSO: This is Saudi Arabia's "Achilles' heel"

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    Syria Manbij Military Fighters Soldiers

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.S.-backed forces fighting against Islamic State near the Syrian-Turkish border have reached the "last main road" into the city of Manbij, which is held by the jihadists, a spokesman said on Thursday.

    "We have reached the road that links Manbij and Aleppo, from the west ... (it is) the last main road to the city," Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Syria Democratic Forces-allied Manbij Military Council, told Reuters.

    He appeared to be referring to the highway between Manbij and Islamic State-held al-Bab, further west. That highway also leads onto Aleppo city.

    The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance which includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia, has advanced to the outskirts of Manbij one week into a campaign aimed at driving Islamic State from territory along the Turkish border.

    The SDF, which is also fighting against Islamic State in neighboring Raqqa province, is backed by U.S.-led air strikes and assisted by U.S. special forces.

    A statement from the Manbij Military Council said its forces had taken control of other highways leading north, east and south from the city.

    It said its fighters were close enough to Manbij itself to be able to fire at Islamic State militants inside the city.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the SDF were in firing range of the main road leading west.

    (Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Alison Williams)

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Syria Manbij Military Fighters Soldiers

    PARIS (Reuters) - French special forces are advising rebels on the ground in northern Syria in an offensive against Islamic State fighters for control of the border town of Manbij, the military said on Thursday.

    An army spokesman said Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had confirmed that France was providing weapons, air support and advice in the campaign aimed at driving Islamic State from territory along the Syria-Turkey border.

    "We never go into details about anything to do with special forces, which are by their nature special. You won't get any details to protect these men's activities," army spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron told a regular news briefing.

    The French advisers are helping U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters of the Syria Democratic Forces that are trying to push IS militants out of their key stronghold between the Turkish border and the city of Raqqa, their headquarters in Syria.

    syria map june 2

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    staffan de mistura

    GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations will not hold another round of Syria peace talks in Geneva until officials on all sides agree the parameters for a political transition deal, which has an Aug. 1 deadline, the U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Thursday.

    In the meantime, a series of "low-profile" technical meetings will be held in various cities to discuss issues ranging from the role of the Syrian army and national institutions after any peace deal, de Mistura said.

    "I have informed the Security Council just a few days ago ... The time is not yet mature for the official third round of the intra-Syrian talks," de Mistura told reporters.

    "Why? Because we are aware that a third round needs to be a concrete one," he said, adding that this meant steps toward a political transition to end the five-year war.

    "The first of August is attainable, should be attainable and we should be aiming at that one," de Mistura said.

    De Mistura also said he had heard from Russia about the release of a "substantial number" of fighters detained by the Syrian government, but he wanted to get confirmation and more details, including on whether some were political prisoners.

    Syria Russia airstrikesMore than 100,000 people are believed to be languishing in government detention centers after five years of civil war. An unknown number are held by rebel and jihadi groups after being abducted.

    A former staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) joined de Mistura's team last month to tackle the issue of detainees, a move long sought by the opposition.

    "(The release of detainees) may coincide with the holy month of Ramadan or (may be) a unilateral decision and gesture by the government to want to show an intention of addressing ... what is a huge concern and a huge problem, we are talking about thousands and thousands (of people)," de Mistura said. Muslims around the world began observing Ramadan on Monday.

    The Syrian government has given its approval for U.N. land convoys to 19 besieged areas in June, but the proof will be concrete deliveries, de Mistura said, speaking after the weekly meeting of the humanitarian task force.

    In the meantime, the option of air drops by helicopters and air lifts to besieged areas - which require Damascus's approval to use its air space - remain on the table, although land convoys are cheaper and more efficient, he said.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Aggressors F 16

    Recently released footage from the Combined Joint Task Force's Operation Inherent Resolve shows US-led warplane taking out a variety of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. 

    Currently, the US leads 65 nations in a coalition that is attacking ISIS from the air and supporting regional allies who fight them on the ground.

    ISIS map

    On April 27, the coalition took out an ISIS fighting vehicle near Mar’a, Syria:

    On May 5, the target was an ISIS weapons storage facility near Qayyarah, Iraq:

    Then on May 22, coalition warplanes destroyed an ISIS communications center near their Iraqi capitol of Mosul:

    SEE ALSO: French special forces are advising rebels on the ground in northern Syria

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    A boy rides a bicycle near rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged town of Douma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria March 19, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

     AMMAN (Reuters) - Islamic State claimed responsibility for suicide and car bomb blasts that struck a Damascus suburb on Saturday near Syria's holiest Shi'ite Muslim shrine, and a monitoring group said at least 20 people were killed.

    State television showed debris, mangled cars and wrecked shops in a main commercial thoroughfare near the Sayeda Zeinab shrine, in an area where at least three bomb attacks claimed by Islamic State have killed and wounded scores of people this year.

    The ultra-hardline Sunni militants of IS, whose many foes are advancing on a number of fronts in both Syria and Iraq, are avowed enemies of Shi'ites, whom they consider a heretical group within Islam.

    State media said at least eight people were killed. But the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll had risen to at least 20, including at least 13 civilians, with the other victims coming from pro-government militias. It said the number was expected to rise because many of the scores of wounded people were in critical condition.

    Islamic State said two of its suicide bombers had blown themselves up and operatives had detonated an explosives-laden car, according to the IS-affiliated Amaq news agency.

    The Sayeda Zeinab shrine is a magnet for thousands of Iraqi and Afghan Shi'ite militia recruits who go there before being assigned to front lines, where they fight against the Sunni rebel groups trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Almost every Shi'ite militia fighter bears insignia on his combat fatigues with the words "For your sake, Sayeda Zeinab".


     Sectarian split

    The heavily garrisoned area near the shrine is also a well known stronghold of Lebanon's powerful Shi'ite Hezbollah group, an Iranian-backed movement that is one of Assad's chief allies.

    Non-jihadist rebels say Iran's strong military intervention on the side of Assad, alongside its backing of other Shi'ite militias, is fuelling the sectarian dimension of the nearly six-year Syrian civil war by drawing even more radical foreign Sunni jihadists into the country.

    Separately, U.S.-backed Syrian forces made new territorial gains against Islamic State on Saturday, moving closer to another of its major strongholds in northern Syria, according to the monitoring group.

    The Observatory said the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), bringing together Kurdish and Arab fighters, were now almost 17 km (10 miles) from the city of al-Bab, an Islamic State stronghold north east of Aleppo.

    The SDF on Friday cut off the last route into the encircled town of Manbij from al-Bab after over a week of advances around that area, allowing it to lay siege to the large town from all directions, the monitor said..

    In other frontlines in northern Syria, two rebel sources said Russian and Syrian jets stepped up their relentless aerial bombing of their positions in the northern city of Aleppo.


    (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

    SEE ALSO: There's an unconfirmed report that ISIS leader Baghdadi has been wounded in an air strike

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    putin military russia

    On Thursday, Russia grounded it's entire fleet of Su-27s, believed to be more than 300 planes, after a jet from the Russian acrobatic team crashed and killed the pilot.

    The latest incident follows a string of deadly accidents which continues to underscore Russia's military maintenance and modernization woes.

    In March, Russia withdrew the majority of their best pilots from Syria even though they had "left some important military tasks unfinished," like encirclement of Aleppo, as Jeff White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Business Insider previously.

    Since Russian President Vladimir Putin's withdrawal from Syria, Russian planes have carried out a number of high profile stunts, including simulating an attack on the USS Donald Cook and pulling "top gun stunts" over a US recon plane that was performing a routine patrol over the Baltic sea in international airspace. 

    russian jet su 24 baltic donald cook

    What's more, Russia's new T-50 (aka PAK FA) was seen flying over Crimea for Aviadarts, the Russian version of Red Flag, a US-led air force exercise that trains fighters in realistic scenarios. 

    The flight of the T-50 over Crimea came off as especially brazen due to Russia's illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. And while the tactic was perfect for propaganda purposes, the jet doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny. 

    The fact is that the T-50, the first truly new airframe designed in Russia for some time, has been plagued by difficulties in its development. Russia routinely touts the plane as being a "fifth generation fighter," but as IHS Jane's notes, it's a fifth generation fighter in name only.

    The design fails to adequately integrate the avionics and integrated stealth characteristics that typify true fifth generation platforms like America's F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II.

    Sukhoi PAK FA

    The T-50 failed to impress at a Singapore air show, and India was so unimpressed with the T-50 that they decided to shelve their version of the fighter, citing failing engines and high costs.

    Instead, it is likely that the T-50 flying over Crimea was another flashy move done for propaganda purposes, to show that Russia has an advanced and powerful air force, despite evidence of the contrary. 

    SEE ALSO: The strangest things in the cockpit of a Russian Su-34

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    ISIS Islamic State Fighter Flag Mosul

    Despite territorial losses last year and declining oil revenues, ISIS remains financially strong, primarily because it has borrowed a page from the Mafia and stepped up one of its money-makers: extortion.

    new report on ISIS finances from a European think tank, the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism (CAT), says extortion is now the primary revenue generator for what it calls “one of the most powerful groups in the recent history of terrorism,” with some 8 million people under its control in Syria and Iraq.

    “ISIS exerts its authority over a wide range of industrial and commercial activities, natural resources and raw materials, from oil to agricultural products, including minerals,” the report says. “While the exploitation of these natural reserves constitutes one of its primary sources of financing, the majority of its funds currently comes from widespread extortion from the population under its control, mainly in the form of taxes, confiscations and fees.”

    CAT says that the radical Islamic terror group uses these resources to finance its military efforts and fund its expansion, especially into Libya, while remaining self-sufficient.

    Like the mob groups Camorra and ‘Ndarangheta in Italy and drug cartels in Mexico, ISIS relies on a diversified set of criminal activities, but extortion has become all-important to its survival.

    What ISIS calls taxes and fees go beyond normal government levies. In addition to a tax on all economic activity and revenues and zakat, a tax on income and wealth observant Muslims must pay, ISIS raises funds with other levies. They include: a tax of from 10 percent to 50 percent on the salaries of Syrian or Iraqi government employees living in areas controlled by the Islamic State; a tax for protecting religious minorities; multiples taxes on agricultural products at various points in the value chain; custom duties on trucks crossing into ISIS-controlled territory; and fees for water, electricity and phones. Homes of dignitaries and people fleeing are confiscated and looted, the report says.

    defund isis protest

    ISIS also uses its strict interpretation of sharia law to squeeze the populace it controls through fines and penalties for “transgressions,” according to CAT.

    CAT estimates that ISIS oil revenue for 2015 was about $600 million, compared with more than $1 billion in 2014. It attributed the drop to air strikes by coalition and Russian forces on refining, storage and transport facilities.

    To compensate for that loss, ISIS has stepped up extortion, earning about $800 million in 2015, compared to $360 million in 2014, the CAT report says.

    Including money made from other criminal behavior such as kidnapping and ransoms and trafficking in antiquities and humans, CAT estimates that the total revenues of the Islamic State dropped from $2.9 billion in 2014 to $2.4 billion in 2015. Despite setbacks, it said the economic collapse of ISIS is far off and its military defeat is not “imminent.”

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    Smoke rises from Manbij city, Aleppo province, Syria June 8, 2016.

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian government said on Wednesday that German special forces were present, alongside French and American military personnel, in northern Syria, an accusation denied by Germany.

    Syrian state media said the government strongly condemned the presence of French and German forces in Ain al-Arab, also known as Kobani, and Manbij.

    "Syria ... considers it explicit and unjustified aggression towards (Syria's) sovereignty and independence," state news agency SANA quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

    The U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) are staging an offensive against Islamic State near Manbij, while Kobani is under the control of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, part of the SDF.

    Germany's defense ministry said repeated claims by the Syrian government that German special forces were in northern Syria were not and had never been true.

    "There are no German special forces in Syria. The accusation is false," a ministry spokesman said.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian civil war now in its sixth year, said French special forces were building a base for themselves near Kobani.

    France's defense minister said last week that there were special forces operating in Syria helping the SDF advance towards Manbij.

    The Observatory also said German, French and American military advisers, and French and American special forces, were assisting the SDF in its fight against Islamic State but had so far remained in a support role and not fought on front lines.

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    People inspect the damage at a site hit by airstrikes, in the rebel-held area of Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr, Syria April 28, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail/File Photo

    In Syria, Bashar Al-Assad's regime has a new terrifying weapon: exploding pipes. 

    The weapon has reportedly been tested in recent weeks as the battle for Aleppo rages on, French newspaper Le Monde reports

    According to locals who spoke to Le Monde, the weapon has been used at least five times in the parts of the city that are still controlled by rebel groups.

    The weapon looks like a fire hose, but instead of water, it is filled with shrapnel and explosives.

    The pipes are then dropped from helicopters, much like barrel bombs, which the Assad government has been launching onto its population for years.

    This kind of weapon is normally used to secure minefields before sending in troops, but in those cases, they are fired from the ground. According to Le Monde, it can be fired from a UR 77 Meteorit, a type of Russian tank.

    One of those tanks had been spotted in Damascus in 2014, but already then it was being used to destroy enemy positions, not to clear minefields. 

    Since a cease-fire broke down at the end of April, a fierce battle for the control of Aleppo has opposed the Syrian government forces, helped by the Russians, and different insurgent groups. 

    Aid has recently been cut from rebel-held areas of the city for the longest period since the war began due to an escalation in air strikes and bombardments. This, in turn, has driven up food prices and made life for people in Aleppo worse than before, Reuters reports

    Assad recently said he would win back "every inch" of Syria and that Aleppo would be "the grave where all the dreams and hopes" of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would "be buried," after he accused the Turkish President of sending thousands of militants to the city, according to Reuters

    Syria's bloody civil war, now in its fifth year, has claimed the lives of over 250,0000 people and displaced an estimated 9 million people.

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    At least 51 "mid-to-high-level State Department officials" have signed a dissent channel cable breaking with President Barack Obama's policy on Syria and calling for US airstrikes on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

    The cable was provided to several news outlets on Thursday, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

    "Failure to stem Assad's flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh, even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield," the cable reads, according to The Journal.

    Daesh is an alternate name for ISIS, aka the Islamic State or ISIL.

    "We are aware of a dissent channel cable written by a group of State Department employees regarding the situation in Syria," State Department spokesman John Kirby told The Wall Street Journal.

    "We are reviewing the cable now, which came up very recently, and I am not going to comment on the contents," he said.

    The officials who signed the document "range from a Syria desk officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to a former deputy to the American ambassador in Damascus," and have all been involved in formulating or carrying out the administration's Syria policy.

    That policy has largely emphasized defeating the Islamic State over bolstering Syria's anti-Assad rebel groups.

    According to the American Foreign Service Association, the dissent channel is "a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels and procedures."

    It is available to all "regular or re-employed annuitant employees" of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

    The number of officials — at least 50 — who have signed the internal document calling for military action against Assad is unusual, a former State Department official who worked on Middle East policy told The Journal.

    "It's embarrassing for the administration to have so many rank-and-file members break on Syria," they said.

    Fighters of the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) sit in a look out position in the western rural area of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    The cable calls for the Obama administration to place more emphasis on defeating Assad — whose brutality is seen by many experts as the driver of Syria's jihadist problem — by arming and regaining the trust of Syria's moderate opposition.

    That, in turn, will "turn the tide of the conflict against the regime [to] increase the chances for peace by sending a clear signal to the regime and its backers that there will be no military solution to the conflict," the cable reportedly says.

    The CIA-backed factions of the Free Syrian Army — the majority of which are Arab and battling forces loyal to Assad — have at times clashed with Pentagon-trained fighters associated with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are predominantly Kurdish and focused on defeating the Islamic State.

    Their divergent military objectives and ethnicities have bred mistrust and fighting that is ultimately counterproductive to the cause of the revolution.

    Several high-ranking government officials, moreover — including Robert S. Ford, a former ambassador to Syria, and Obama's former defense secretary, Chuck Hagel — have left their positions over Obama's failure to act decisively against Assad, whose brutality continues to fuel a bloody revolution that has left over 400,000 people dead and millions displaced.

    "Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government," Ford told The New York Times on Thursday.

    Free Syrian Army Idlib

    "The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable," the cable said. "The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges."

    Assad crossed Obama's now infamous "red line" for airstrikes in 2013, when he used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 people in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Obama backed away from that red line when Assad agreed to a Russia-brokered deal to destroy his chemical-weapons stockpile.

    Some experts say, however, that the entire stockpile has not been destroyed as promised.

    The administration insists that it has maintained throughout the nearly five-year civil war that Assad "must go." But that stance has been muddled as the administration continues to soften its position on Assad's future.

    "The US' Syria policy has always been in the head of one man, and one man only: Barack Obama. No one else has ever really had a say in what happens in Syria," Tony Badran, a Middle East expert and researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider in a previous interview.

    "Obama has owned it since day one — and from day one, he never intended to remove Assad," he said.

    The cable addresses Russia's bombing campaign in Syria as well, asserting that Moscow and Assad have not taken past ceasefires and "consequential negotiations" seriously.

    Russia entered the war in late September 2015 on behalf of Assad under the guise of fighting ISIS. Russian warplanes have primarily targeted non-jihadist, anti-Assad rebel groups, however, many of which are backed by the US, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

    Government warplanes bombarded the besieged Syrian town of Darayya with barrel bombs last weekend, shortly after food aid was delivered to the town for the first time in nearly four years.

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    MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin complained on Friday that the mingling of so-called moderate rebels with Nusra Front fighters on the ground in Syria made it hard to distinguish between the two when it came to targeting air strikes.

    Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, made the remarks when asked to comment on allegations from a senior unnamed U.S. defense official who accused Russian forces in Syria of bombing U.S.-backed rebels.

    "Our air force operation is continuing in Syria," Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

    "It is not a secret for anyone that the continuing mingling in places of the so-called moderate opposition with Al-Nusra is a really serious problem.

    "It really is complicating anti-terrorist action," he said, referring to Russia's campaign of air strikes in Syria.

    (Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Vladimir Soldatkin)

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    operation inherent resolve coalition air forces isis

    Recent footage released from the Combined Joint Task Force's Operation Inherent Resolve shows precise airstrikes obliterating ISIS vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, assault vehicles, and munitions depots.

    Together, these explosives and vehicles represent some of ISIS' deadliest weapons, which they've used to terrorize civilians and governments alike.  

    The precision airstrikes shown in the clips below show just one of the multiple ways that the US-led coalition against ISIS is taking the fight to the terror group from the air and land in Iraq and Syria.

    Here an airstrike destroys an ISIS bulldozer VBIED near Fallujah, Iraq:

    Here an airstrike destroys an ISIS "technical" or an improvised fighting vehicle near Hit, Iraq:

    Here an airstrike destroys an ISIS rocket depot near Mar'a Syria:

    SEE ALSO: Iraqi forces have entered Falluja — and are encountering little resistance from ISIS

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    Syria's president Bashar al-Assad speaks to Parliament members in Damascus, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on June 7, 2016. SANA/Handout via

    Syrian President Bashar al Assad met Russia's defense minister during a visit to the Syrian capital and discussed military cooperation, state television said on Saturday.

    State media did not disclose any details of the previously unannounced visit by Sergei Shoigu, who said he was sent to Damascus by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Russia's Defence Ministry confirmed the visit and said Shoigu discussed military-technical cooperation between the two countries and the fight against insurgents.

    Russia's military intervention in Syria in September helped to turn the tide of war in Assad's favor after months of gains in western Syria by rebel fighters, who were aided by foreign military supplies including U.S.-made anti-tank missiles.

    Russia, which has been intensively bombing opposition-held areas in Syria since the intervention, is blamed by the opposition and rights activists for causing hundreds of civilian deaths and targeting hospitals, schools and infrastructure in what they say are indiscriminate attacks.

    Washington and some other Western countries that have called on Assad to step down accuse Russia of focusing mostly on strikes against the moderate so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) and less on attacking hardline Islamic State militants.

    Russian airstrikes Syria

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    The US Navy scrambled fighter jets last Thursday in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Russian jets from bombing American-backed rebels in Syria, a development that will likely contribute to increasingly frosty relations between Washington and Moscow.

    The close encounter occurred on June 16 near Syria’s southern border with Jordan when multiple Russian Su-34 aircraft struck the At Tanf garrison, which housed roughly 200 US-backed rebels fighting ISIS, the Daily Beast reported.

    The strike, which occurred in an area where Russian jets had not previously been active, led the Navy to scramble F/A-18 fighter jets from one of the two US aircraft carriers currently stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to support operations against ISIS.

    Russia, an ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, began its air campaign in Syria last September with the goal of fighting ISIS. However, Russian air strikes have appeared to target rebels fighting the Assad regime.

    The Daily Beast reported:

    "Arriving over At Tanf, the American pilots apparently spoke directly to the Russian aviators. “Pilots CAN communicate with one another on a communications channel set up to avoid air accidents,” Central Command confirmed in a statement to The Daily Beast. … With the American jets flying close enough to visually identify the Su-34s, the Russians departed the air space over At Tanf. Some time shortly thereafter, the F/A-18s ran low on fuel and left the area in order to link up with an aerial tanker. That’s when the Su-34s reportedly returned to At Tanf —and bombed the rebels again."

    The second bombing killed several Syrian rebels trying to deliver medical aid to individuals wounded in the initial strike, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

    Pentagon officials expressed strong concerns over the Russian airstrikes during a video conference with their Russian Defense Ministry counterparts on Saturday, the Defense Department said in a release over the weekend.

    Syria map

    “Department officials expressed strong concerns about the attack on the coalition-supported counter-ISIL forces at the At-Tanf garrison, which included forces that are participants in the cessation of hostilities in Syria, and emphasized that those concerns would be addressed through ongoing diplomatic discussions on the cessation of hostilities,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

    “Regarding safety, department officials conveyed that Russia’s continued strikes at At-Tanf, even after US attempts to inform Russian forces through proper channels of on-going coalition air support to the counter-ISIL forces, created safety concerns for US and coalition forces.”

    “The two sides reiterated the need to adhere to measures to enhance operational safety and avoid accidents and misunderstandings in the air space over Syria,” Cook added.

    The hotline used by American pilots to communicate with the Russians was established under the “Safety of Flight Memorandum of Understanding,” an air safety pact agreed upon by Russia and the United States in October in order to avoid confrontations in the airspace over Syria.

    Meanwhile, Russia’s defense ministry claimed in a statement over the weekend that Russian jets did not bomb US-backed rebels near the border with Jordan.

    “The object which had suffered bombardment was located more than 300 km far from borders of territories claimed by the American party as ones controlled by the opposition joined the ceasefire regime,” the ministry said in a statement Sunday, according to CNN.

    The Kremlin also said that Russian forces “forewarned member states of the US-led coalition about the ground targets to strike on.”

    SEE ALSO: Assad discusses military cooperation with Russian defense minister

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    su 34 dropping bombs russia air strike syria

    Russia said on Sunday it had reached an agreement with the United States to improve coordination between their military operations in Syria, where they are backing opposing sides of a civil war and launching air strikes.

    Russia's defense ministry said it was pushing Washington to help produce a shared map of the positions of fighting forces to avoid incidents, a day after Washington accused Moscow of attacking US-backed insurgents there.

    Moscow's intervention on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, alongside Western backing for rebel groups opposing him, has raised fears of a wider international confrontation in the war.

    Russia's defense ministry said military officials from both countries had agreed on the need to improve coordination during a video conference. There was no immediate confirmation from Washington.

    "The exchange of views about the incident was carried out in a constructive way with the both sides aiming to improve the coordination on fighting the terrorist organizations in Syria and in order to avert any incidents during military operations in this country," Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

    The Pentagon said on Saturday it had questioned Moscow over Russian air strikes conducted against US-backed Syrian opposition forces last week, accusing Moscow of failing to heed US warnings.

    Konashenkov dismissed the allegation, saying the Russian strikes hit about 300 km (190 miles) away from territory where the United States had said opposition forces were operating.

    He said Russia had notified the US-led coalition about the targets it was planning to strike.

    isis syria iraq map

    "The Russian defense ministry for the past few months has been proposing to its American colleagues to draw a unified map, which would containing information about the location of the forces which were active in Syria. However, no material progress has been made on this issue," the spokesman said.

    Russia, which has been bombing opposition-held areas, is blamed by the opposition and rights activists for causing hundreds of civilian deaths and targeting hospitals, schools and infrastructure in what they say are indiscriminate attacks.

    Moscow has repeatedly dismissed the allegations.

    SEE ALSO: Russian and US jets had a worrying confrontation above Syria

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    Car airstrikes Syria

    More than 50 State Department diplomats signed a dissent memo recently that blasted US policy on Syria, but a former ambassador to the country cautioned Monday that there are no easy options left to end the civil war that has dragged on for five years.

    The memo, obtained by The New York Times last week, called for increased use of "military force" to enforce a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and the opposition, in the hopes that it would lead to a political solution.

    But ramping up US military action in Syria could come with its own set of problems.

    "I just wouldn't go first to the US military," Robert Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute who was the US ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014, told Business Insider. "I'd like to see if we can’t get the Syrians themselves to put the pressure on the Assad government."

    The Syrian civil war started in 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Since then, extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra have taken control of large swaths of the country.

    The US has been aiding rebels who are fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda, but so far the Obama administration has been more reluctant to militarily challenge Assad directly.

    The dissent memo stated that "initiating targeted military strikes in response to egregious regime violations" of the ceasefire "would raise the cost for the regime and bolster the prospects for a real ceasefire."

    But it could also escalate tensions between the US and Russia, which is intervening in the Syrian civil war to support the Assad regime.

    "If we start undertaking US military actions against the Syrian government, the Russians will counter-escalate and it spirals up," Ford said. "That sometimes can be hard to control. So military action is not my first choice."

    syriaThe memo addresses this somewhat.

    "We are not advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia," the memo stated. "Rather, we are calling for the credible threat of targeted US military responses to regime violations to preserve the [ceasefire] and the political track, which we worked so hard to build."

    President Barack Obama famously backed away from his "red line" in Syria in 2012 when he declined to strike the Assad regime despite evidence that the regime had used chemical weapons against civilians. Obama had previously said Assad using chemical weapons would provoke a response from the US military, but he ultimately allowed the regime to cut a deal brokered by Russia to avoid US airstrikes.

    But Assad's atrocities against civilians continued.

    Assad's brutality has led some to question whether he'd be willing to negotiate with the opposition he's spent years trying to crush.

    Ford still thinks it's a preferable alternative to more military intervention.

    "Some very good analysts … have told me that I’m nuts thinking Bashar al-Assad will ever negotiate," Ford said. "And they may be right. It is a tough, tough, regime."

    He also warned that getting too deeply involved in Syria militarily could lead to another Iraq.

    "I spent so long in Iraq trying to get the US military out of Iraq and to turn the problems in Iraqi over to Iraqis," Ford said. "I don’t want to see the US military substituting for actions that should be undertaken by Syrians."

    Ultimately, the US is short on good options.

    "There is no quick fix," Ford said. "There is no surefire solution. Everything we think about doing going forward has potential downsides. And we just have to live with that. There's no risk-free, cost-free way forward in Syria."

    SEE ALSO: The Orlando attack exposes the biggest blind spot in the US strategy against ISIS

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