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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    f-22 f22 raptor inherent resolve arabian sea

    After the US downed a Syrian jet making a bombing run on US-backed forces fighting ISIS, Russia threatened to target US and US-led coalition planes West of the Euphrates river in Syria.

    But while Russia has some advanced surface-to-air missile systems and very agile fighter aircraft in Syria, it wouldn't fare well in what would be a short, brutal air war against the US. 

    The US keeps an aircraft carrier with dozens of F/A-18E fighters aboard in the Mediterranean about all the time and hundreds of F-15s and F-16s scattered around Turkey, Qatar, and Jordan.

    According to Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis firm, Russia has "about 25 planes, only about ten of which are dedicated to air superiority (Su-35s and Su-30s), and against that they’ll have to face fifth-gen stealth fighters, dozens of strike fighters, F-15s, F-16s, as well as B-1 and B-52 bombers. And of course the vast US Navy and pretty much hundreds of Tomahawks."

    "Russians have a lot of air defenses, they’re not exactly defenseless by any means," Lamrani told Business Insider, "But the US has very heavy air superiority." Even though individual Russian platforms come close to matching, and in some ways exceed the capability of US jets, it comes down to numbers.

    So if Russia did follow through with its threat, and target a US aircraft that did not back down West of the Euphrates in Syria, and somehow managed to shoot it down, then what?

    "The US coalition is very cautious," said Lamrani. "The whole US coalition is  on edge for any moves from Russia at this point."

    Sukhoi_Su 35S_at_MAKS 2011_airshow

    Lamrani also said that while F/A-18Es are more visible and doing most of the work, the US keeps a buffer of F-22 stealth jets between its forces and Russia's. If Russia did somehow manage to shoot down a US or US-led coalition plane, a US stealth jet would probably return fire before it ever reached the base.

    At that point the Russians would have a moment to think very critically if they wanted to engage with the full might of the US Air Force after the eye-for-an-eye shoot downs. 

    If US surveillance detected a mass mobilization of Russian jets in response to the back-and-forth, the US wouldn't just wait politely for Russians to get their planes in the sky so they can fight back.

    Instead, a giant salvo of cruise missiles would pour in from the USS George H. W. Bush carrier strike group, much like the April 7 strike on Syria's Sharyat air base. But this time, the missiles would have to saturate and defeat Russia's missile defenses first, which they could do by sheer numbers if not using electronic attack craft. 

    FILE PHOTO - U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria  on April 7, 2017.  Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

    Then, after neutering Russia's defenses, the ships could target the air base, not only destroying planes on the ground but also tearing up the runways, so no planes could take off. At this point US and Coalition aircraft would have free reign to pass overhead and completely devastate Russian forces.

    Russia would likely manage to score a couple intercepts and even shoot down some US assets, but overall the Russian contingent in Syria cannot stand up to the US, let alone the entire coalition of nations fighting ISIS. 

    Russia also has a strong Navy that could target US air bases in the region, but that would require Russia to fire on Turkey, Jordan, and Qatar, which would be politically and technically difficult for them. 

    This scenario of a hypothetical air war is exceedingly unlikely. Russia knows the numbers are against them and it would "not [be] so easy for the Russians to decide to shoot down a US aircraft," according to Lamrani. 

    russia navy putin

    And Russia wouldn't risk so much over Syria, which is not an existential defense interest for them, but a foreign adventure to distract from Russia's stalled economy and social problems, according to Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert on Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    "Russia is not a great power by most measures, like GDP, population, living standard," Borshchevskaya told Business Insider. "Russia has steadily declined. It’s still a nuclear power, but not world power."

    In Syria, "a lot of what Putin is doing is about domestic policies," said Borshchevskaya, and to have many Russian servicemen killed in a battle with a US-led coalition fighting ISIS wouldn't serve his purposes domestically or abroad. 

    SEE ALSO: Here's how a US F/A-18 shot down the first manned enemy plane since 1999

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    BEURUT (Reuters) - Israel said on Saturday it had targeted Syrian military installations after shells landed in the occupied Golan Heights but a Syrian military source said the Israeli strikes killed some civilians. 

    Rebels including hardline Islamist factions fought the Syrian army on Saturday in Quneitra province, bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Syrian state media and a war monitor reported. 

    Israel's military said 10 projectiles from inside Syria had hit the Golan and it responded with air strikes on the position they were launched from and on two Syrian army tanks, one as it was preparing to fire.

    Aerial video footage released by the Israeli military purporting to show the strikes showed a machine gun and two tanks targeted and hit.

    The military described the shellfire into the Israeli-held territory as errant fire and called it an "unacceptable breach" of sovereignty. 

    The Syrian military source said Israeli rocket fire had hit a residential building, causing a number of deaths and damage. The source did not mention Syrian fire into Israel and said the Israeli strike was in support of jihadist rebels. 

    The war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rebel groups in Quneitra had launched an assault and were storming army positions near Baath City. 

    Syria rebel shelling mortar

    Israel has targeted Syria several times during the conflict, sometimes after projectiles have landed in the Golan Heights, but also to hit weapons supplies of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, which is fighting alongside the Syrian government. 

    Syria's civil war, between President Bashar al-Assad and rebels seeking to oust him, has lasted six years, killed hundreds of thousands and pushed millions to flee their homes. 

    SEE ALSO: Here's how an air war between Russia and the US in Syria would go down

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    Gaza Israel airstrikes

    The Israeli Defense Forces released video on Saturday purporting to show its jets taking out a Syrian heavy machine gun and two tanks after mortar fire hit parts of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

    Israel said 10 projectiles from inside Syria had hit the Golan, the border area between Syria and Israel. Israel said it responded with airstrikes on the position the mortars came from and took out two Syrian army tanks, including one as it was preparing to fire.

    Syria's military accused Israel of hitting a residential area and killing civilians in the strike, which it called an "unacceptable breach" of sovereignty, according to Reuters

    Israel released the following footage of the strike:

     

    SEE ALSO: Here's how an air war between Russia and the US in Syria would go down

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    f35a amanda

    In the last month, for the first time since the civil war in Syria began in 2011, the United States has directly attacked Syrian government forces or proxies — not just once, but at least four times. The urgent question now is less about Syria than Russia. In response to the latest of these incidents, in which a US fighter plane shot down a Syrian jet, Moscow has threatened to target any US-led coalition aircraft flying over Syria. That would mark a massive escalation, and potentially the first direct great-power conflict in recent memory.

    Can a war in the Middle East between Russia and the United States be averted? The answer is yes — but only if Washington clears up the massive confusion its own lack of strategy has caused.

    The present political dynamics in the Middle East are unsettled and kaleidoscopic. But in the interests of brevity, leaving aside smaller players, and before we think about the role of the United States and Russia, the basic configurations of power in the region since the 2011 Arab Spring can be simplified in terms of five loose groupings.

    First, a grouping of Sunni monarchies (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Bahrain); Arab secular nationalists (Egypt since President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi took over in 2013, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia); and Gen. Khalifa Haftar's faction in eastern Libya.

    Second, a grouping of Turkey; Qatar; and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates such as Hamas in Gaza, Egypt under President Morsi before 2013, and the internationally-recognized Libyan government based in the western part of that country.

    Third, a grouping of Iran and its Shiite allies, including Iraq (at least among key factions of the Baghdad government), the Assad regime in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    Fourth, the collection of various Sunni jihadi networks, including the Islamic State, various al Qaeda affiliates, and any number of smaller factions.

    Fifth, there is Israel, which does not fit into any of the above, but is most closely aligned with members of the first grouping.

    Three key stories since the 2011 Arab Spring broadly explain how the United States and Russia fit into these dynamics, and why these two great powers are being dragged into confrontation in the Middle East.

    The first story is the tension between human rights and stability. Initially motivated by humanitarian impulse, the United States and its Western allies achieved regime change in Libya and attempted it in Syria, by backing rebels in each case. These rebellions rapidly became infected by radical Islamists, giving Russia the opportunity, not unreasonably, to claim that, in the interest of preventing Islamist chaos, it was backing strongmen on the opposite side (Haftar in Libya and Assad in Syria).

    Muslim BrotherhoodEgypt is a similar case. Russia took advantage of the Obama administration's aversion to the Sisi regime's human rights abuses following the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood rule to increase Russian influence in Cairo, as exemplified by Egypt's current diplomatic support for the Russian intervention in Syria.

    The second story is the 2015 Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration, and reluctantly accepted by the Trump administration, whose advocates claimed that it was the best way to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon without the resort to force. Russia joined sanctions against Iran, but since they were lifted, Moscow has developed warmer relations with Tehran, as exemplified by the way it acted as a key broker between Saudi Arabia and Iran to set up the November 2016 OPEC agreement.

    By contrast with Moscow, the Trump administration has taken a hard-line stance toward Tehran. It has various motives for that shift: Iranian missile testing since the deal was signed; Iranian support for Shiite militia groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon; and a belief that traditional US allies such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel are in need of greater support (notwithstanding that many Israelis supported the nuclear deal).

    The third story is the role that radical Sunni Islamist networks now play in the region, enabled by social media and other online tools that facilitate networking. One simply cannot explain the speed and scale at which the Islamic State formed, for example, without that network effect. These fluid jihadi networks have proved effective in exploiting tears in the fabric of order in fragile states, and then governing captured ground, predominantly in areas with Sunni majority populations, above all in western Iraq, northern Syria, and southern Yemen.

    When one puts these three stories together, we see the nexus of the current US- Russia standoff in Syria.

    At the center of the nexus is the fact that while the US-led coalition has done a good job of beating back the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the policy goal under both the Obama and Trump administrations has only been negatively defined as the defeat of the Islamic State. Neither administration has set out a positive vision for who will govern territory cleared of the Islamic State. In other words, the US has a military strategy without a political counterpart — and the more the Islamic State's territorial control has been squeezed, the more evident the absence of US political strategy has become.

    Donald Trump James MattisEnter the Trump administration, which in keeping with its broader hard-line stance toward Iran, has been consistently clear about who it does not want to govern r-captured ground, namely, Iran-backed Shiite militias, who form a large part both of Assad's ground forces and indeed Baghdad's.

    Hence the Trump administration has taken the view that both Sunni jihadi groups and Shiite militias should be grouped under the same category of radical Islamic terrorism. Consistent with this, it has stepped up action against Shiite paramilitary groups in Syria. Furthermore, the administration's hard-line attitude, conveyed by Trump in his visit to Riyadh in May, encouraged the blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, on the basis of alleged Qatari support for Iranian proxies.

    But the glaring absence of a US positive political vision in the Middle East has left its negatively defined anti-Islamic State and anti-Iranian goals untethered, which has generated regional confusion. Imagine a sheepdog who is good at barking, but has little sense of direction: The Middle East is now in the position of its harried flock.

    Even the administration itself seemed confused about how to respond to the implications of its own strategy, as was clear from its plainly contradictory signals on the Qatar crisis: While President Trump initially enthusiastically endorsed the blockade of Qatar in public, his national security team sought to de-escalate it behind the scenes, and this calmer line seems to be prevailing. So, what does Washington positively want? Who knows.

    Although the most likely outcome of the Qatar crisis at this point is a US brokered de-escalation, it is likely that a jilted Doha will subsequently look to become less dependent on the United States by building up existing relations with Turkey, which already has a base in Doha; Russia, which already has strong commercial links with the emirate (Qatar owns a large stake in Rosneft, for example); and Iran, with whom it needs good relations given the need to cooperate over the shared exploitation of natural gas fields in the Persian Gulf.

    The limits of having no positive political strategy are also evident in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, the United States military has effectively helped clear ground for Iranian Shiite militias to backfill, which contradicts the administration's anti-Iranian position. The only real alternative is to support a greater governance role for Kurdish groups, potentially as part of an enlarged independent Kurdish state. But so far, the US position has been to support the unity of Iraq.

    kurds syria ypgIn Syria, the situation is more complex, because unlike the Iraqi Kurds, who have reasonably good relations with Ankara, the Turkish government is vehemently opposed to any kind of independent Kurdish state in northern Syria. But the US-led coalition overwhelmingly relies on Kurdish ground forces in Syria, and they hold most of the ground cleared from the Islamic State. Does the United States support a Kurdish state in northern Syria? We don't know. Has it provided any alternative to a Kurdish state in northern Syria? No. Is the territory still legally part of Syria? Yes. Unsurprisingly, there is serious confusion on the ground, which has produced the US-Russian escalation we see today.

    So back to the original question: Are we are headed toward a great-power conflict in the middle east?

    In my view, until the US presents a positive political strategy, we will continue to have direct clashes between Russian-supported Shiite militias and US forces, which may well produce an accident in which either Russia shoots down a US plane or vice versa. Even then, I think that neither Washington nor Moscow would rationally want a conventional fight. But conflict dynamics are never wholly rational; far from it. Violence can generate new emotional pressures in conflict and spin out of control in a direction nobody anticipated.

    Besides the risk of escalation with Russia, the more the United States starts directly attacking Shiite militias, the more likely the Iranian nuclear deal will completely break down. This would reopen the possibility of a US war with Iran. Even before that point, Iran would likely react to counter the United States in the region by exerting much more aggressive influence over Baghdad. The nightmare scenario would be an Iranian puppet like ex-Prime Minister Nouri alMaliki getting back into power, and issuing a demand for US forces to leave Iraq, which would put Washington in a vexed position of either accepting or returning to direct rule.

    To avoid escalations of this sort, the Trump administration should now lay out a positively defined political vision for the Middle East, which would accompany and tether its negatively defined anti-Islamic State and anti-Iranian goals. At this time, the fundamental part of this vision must be a clear US position on the future of Kurdish-held areas in Iraq and Syria.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how an air war between Russia and the US in Syria would go down

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    Bashar al Assad

    The White House on Monday night issued an ominous warning to Syria, saying it believed President Bashar Assad's government may be preparing a new chemical weapons attack.

    "The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children," a statement from the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said. "The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017, chemical weapons attack.

    "As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."

    Specifics about what led to the US's suspicions were not immediately clear, and Spicer did not elaborate beyond the statement. Some US military officials were caught off guard by the White House statement Monday night, according to The New York Times. The newspaper noted that it was not clear how closely held the intelligence about a possible attack may have been.

    The Trump administration in April ordered missile strikes on an airfield in Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 80 civilians. The April missile strikes targeted the Shayrat airfield and nearby military infrastructure controlled by Assad.

    Trump received some positive reactions from US lawmakers for his decision to take military action against Syria. Several countries — including Turkey, Israel, France, Germany, Australia, Italy, and Saudi Arabia — also expressed support.

    But Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is a close ally of Assad, criticized the US, briefly ramping up tensions between Russia and the Trump administration. Russia sent additional warships to Syria as a result. Iran, another Syrian ally, called the strike "destructive and dangerous," while the Syrian government said it was "foolish and irresponsible."

    Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said in response to the White House's statement Monday night: "Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people."

    SEE ALSO: 3 CNN staffers are out over retracted Russia investigation story

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    Syrian Refugees

    China will step up economic aid to help countries deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, but Beijing has no plan to provide shelter for refugees from the war-torn region, diplomatic observers said.

    Their remarks came amid a contentious debate among mainland internet users over the past week about whether China should open its border to help handle the many thousands of people fleeing conflict in Syria and other Middle Eastern nations.

    Foreign Minister Wang Yi weighed into the highly-charged discussion, pledging to help find a political solution to end Syria’s civil war.

    "To solve the refugee problems in the Middle East, we must first and foremost accelerate the political settlement of the Syria conflict," he was quoted as saying by a Chinese foreign ministry statement released on late Saturday during a visit to Lebanon.

    "Refugees are not migrants. As the situation improves in Syria it is natural that the refugees will begin to return to their country."

    Noting that Lebanon, which sheltered some 1.5 million Syrian refugees – equal to about a third of the Mediterranean country’s total population of 4.5 million people – was under enormous pressure, Wang vowed increased Chinese assistance to help Lebanon deal with the refugee crisis.

    Analysts believed Wang’s comments showed Beijing was not ready to change its stance on the refugee issue.

    "China has been playing an increasingly active role in the Syrian conflict, but I don’t think China is considering to provide shelter to people fleeing Syria or other war-torn Middle East nations," said Hua Liming, a former Chinese ambassador to Iran.

    "To be fair, it is not that China has explicitly refused to shelter Syrian refugees or those displaced by war and conflicts in the region. More importantly, refugees from the Middle East usually choose Arab nations or developed countries, such as the US and Europe, instead of China."

    syrian refugees

    Li Guofu, a Middle East specialist with the China Institute of International Studies, also said China was not an ideal destination for Middle Eastern refugees due to religious, cultural and political considerations.

    "Wang’s remarks were in line with Beijing’s long-standing policy on the Middle East, which tried to stay away from domestic violence of other nations while trying to live up to its international obligation by providing financial and other humanitarian assistance," he said.

    Shen Jiru, of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also said it was not fair to expect China to "clean up the mess" in Syria left by the US-led coalition.

    "Despite China still being a developing nation with our own poverty, population and other development problems, it has done its job to help resolve the Syrian crisis. The US and its allies should take greater responsibility for the refugee issue because it was their interventionist policies that created the crisis in the first place," Shen said.

    Of the record number of 22.5 million refugees globally at the end of last year, 5.5 million were forced to flee Syria, according to United Nations statistics.

    On top of nearly 700 million yuan ($102 million) over the years, China pledged in January to invest another 200 million yuan to help Middle Eastern nations deal with the refugee crisis.

    SEE ALSO: China's Ai Weiwei demands Western action on refugees

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    SOUTHWEST ASIA — A U.S. Air Force general confirmed American pilots made the call to shoot down Syrian aircraft on three separate missions this month and defended their actions as self-defense.

    On June 18, an F/A-18E Super Hornet conducted the U.S. military's first air-to-air kill involving a manned aircraft in nearly two decades when it downed a hostile Su-22 Fitter south of Taqbah.

    Meanwhile, on June 8 and again on June 20, F-15E Strike Eagles shot down Iranian-made Shaheed drones over At Tanf as the unmanned aerial vehicles approached or dropped munitions near U.S.-backed forces on the ground.

    "We're trying to de-escalate," Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, told Military.com. "We're here to fight ISIS, but we're going to protect our forces from Syrian pro-regime entities."

    Military.com sat down with the commander at a base in an undisclosed location in the Middle East as part of a reporting trip to observe air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

    In each of the shoot-downs, which involved aircraft from other locations, the U.S. pilots made the call to shoot within the parameters of the rules of engagement, Corcoran said. In all three cases, "defenseless aircraft" such as tankers and airlift planes left the airspace because of the uncertainty of what the Syrians or Russians would do next, he said.

    Syria Iraq Raqqa al Tanf Tabqah map

    Corcoran oversees the wing, which flies the KC-10 Extender tanker, RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude drone, U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane and F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet to carry out missions such as air refueling; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; air battle management, control and reporting center; ground attack; air support and others.

    'ISIS Is a Sideshow'

    To abide by the rules of engagement, the unit works with the Combined Air Operations Center, which from another location would direct a pilot to shoot, but that process "didn't have to happen — in all three cases, it was self-defense," Corcoran said.

    "If you're shooting at U.S. forces, we'll self-defend," he said.

    Such calls may happen with more frequency as ISIS continues to lose ground in Syria, where a civil war has raged since 2011, and the U.S. finds itself operating in airspace increasingly congested by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and backed by Russia.

    US Marines Syria

    During an interview in his office, Corcoran underscored, "We're here to fight ISIS," but he also pointed to a map of Syria and Iraq to outline areas as "red," or controlled by the Islamic State.

    "It's pretty clear that at some point the 'red' is going to go away," he said, "and we're going to have state-on-state" forces fighting. "ISIS is a sideshow ... but what happens when the [other] two meet? Strategically, when ISIS goes away, that's the real issue."

    'The Kingpin'

    As aircraft fly any given approach as part of the 24-7 mission, personnel monitor the moves from a number of fronts — the CAOC; the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS); and the battle-management command and control center known as "The Kingpin," Corcoran said.

    Like moving chess pieces, "Kingpin has the [air tasking order] — they're talking to people on the ground, they're making sure these airplanes are provisionally controlled, getting them back and forth to tankers ... they're talking to the CAOC, they minimize the fog and friction for the entire [area of responsibility]" in U.S. Central Command, he said.

    A US F-15E fighter jet destroyed an Iran-made Shaheed-129 drone, operated by Syrian forces northeast of the Al-Tanaf garrison, which is close to the Jordanian border

    Sometimes, the communication is as simple as a "heads-up" call on the radio, Corcoran said.

    "We got agreements that when [a] Syrian airplane or the unidentified airplane gets within 'X number' of miles of our guys on the ground," a call is made on "the international emergency, the guard frequency, that all airplanes monitor," including Russian craft, he said.

    "Like an airplane flying around talking to air traffic control — talking on different [radio] frequencies," he said. "We have an agreement with the Russians, if we're getting close to something up there, we'll make a call on guard" and vice versa.

    "Plenty of calls were made" over the hostilities in recent weeks, Corcoran said. "Back at the CAOC, they're probably [also] on the hotline with the Russians — all this connectivity is hugely important to prevent a miscalculation."

    'SAMS Turn On'

    After the U.S. downing of the Syrian Su-22, the Russian Ministry of Defense said it would target with surface-to-air missiles any U.S. aircraft in the area.

    Corcoran acknowledged that SAM batteries track U.S. warplanes.

    "SAMs turn on, but as far as feeling threatened — I don't think our forces have felt threatened by Russians or Syrians in the surface-to-air missile perspective," he said. The military-to-military relationship "has been maintained, and it's in good shape — it's very cordial, professional. We haven't seen or heard any of that from them."

    A Russian Su-25 ground attack aircraft lands at an airbase in the southern Russia's Krasnodar region, on March 16, 2016, after arriving from Syria

    Even so, the deconfliction zone — the area in which U.S. and Russian forces have agreed not to operate — is "constantly in flux" due to the complex nature of the fight and moving ground forces, Corcoran said.

    Unlike Iraq, a sovereign state where leaders "asked us to come help them ... we don't have exclusive control of the skies above the ground" in Syria, he said. "We have it above the ground where our guys are, but not an inch beyond — it's surreal."

    Corcoran said, "We're fighting an enemy — ISIS — in another country — Syria — where there's also an insurgency going on, but we're not really invited to be" a part of that, he said. "But we can't leave it to the Syrians to get rid of ISIS, because that wasn't working, right? So it's really an odd place to be."

    He added, "We know ... we're going to defeat ISIS. Their days are numbered. What next?"

    SEE ALSO: US shoots down a pro-regime drone in another escalation of its involvement in Syria

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    Airstrikes Syria Idlib

    Several military officials were caught off guard by a White House statement Monday night that said Syria was suspected of planning a new chemical attack, The New York Times reported on Monday.

    The statement issued by the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said Syria's military would "pay a heavy price" if it launched a new chemical attack.

    The apparent lack of communication among military channels appeared to be corroborated by a BuzzFeed News report that cited five defense officials who said they did not know of the details regarding a potential chemical attack and were not aware of the White House's plans to release a statement.

    The White House disputed this characterization in a statement on Tuesday morning.

    "In response to several inquiries regarding the Syria statement issued last night, we want to clarify that all relevant agencies," including the State Department, the Defense Department, the CIA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, "were involved in the process from the beginning," a White House official said in a statement. "Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false."

    Shortly after the White House statement was released on Monday night, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said on Twitter: "Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people."

    In April, President Donald Trump authorized the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield from which the US said a chemical weapons attack originated that killed scores of civilians.

    Though the US strike temporarily disabled several air assets in the area, Syrian forces quickly began redistributing jets back to the airfield.

    SEE ALSO: White House accuses Syria of preparing another chemical attack, issues ominous warning to Assad

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    Relatives hug children of Sudanese Islamic State members who operated in Libya, as they arrive at Khartoum airport, Sudan June 20,2017 . REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah.

    Not since the end of the Cold War has Russia carried so much weight.

    Deeply involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, doggedly safeguarding Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime in Syria, and alleged to have meddled in the US presidential elections, the Kremlin is a force for all the world to reckon with.

    And now it has a new playing field, one of the various areas where the West has failed to shepherd a state from dictatorship to democracy: Libya.

    While it has started to take an explicit interest in negotiations between the country’s two warring government’s, Russia’s moves in Libya have been mainly symbolic. In 2016, its only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetzov, stopped there on its way back from Syria.

    In January 2017, eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar was given a tour of the carrier in the Mediterranean, with talk of Russian support for his regime (which doesn’t enjoy UN backing); come the summer, Moscow tested its new Kalibr and X-35 missiles off the Libyan coast.

    On the face of it, this looks like a clear attempt to exploit strategic gaps left by the US and the EU. The West has been unwilling and unable to push forward a solution that would bring together Libya’s rival factions, a failure very much in line with an old Russian narrative that deplores Western intervention in sovereign countries’ affairs.

    As Russia sees it, the main lesson of Libya’s descent into chaos since 2011 is that that the West greatly overestimated its grasp of the complexities of North African politics. There’s an obvious parallel with Ukraine, where Moscow’s primary goal since the 2014 "Maidan revolution" has been to show that where the West tries to impose liberalism upon sovereign countries, it is doomed to fail.

    But for all that Russia is using Libya to thumb its nose at the West, it has a different audience in mind, too. While highlighting the mistakes of Western intervention clearly flatters its own image, Moscow is more immediately interested in importing ever more arms into North Africa and the Middle East; whereas the Soviet Union once enjoyed a commanding market share, Russia’s revenues from weapons sales in the region have run low since the 2011 Arab Awakening.

    libya flag

    Still, this is very much a political PR project. As far as Russia’s image is concerned Libya is a gamble, but the risks are low and the potential returns very high.

    If the Kremlin can play a decisive role in some sort of settlement, that would certainly improve its international profile – and further shore up Vladimir Putin’s popularity with the Russian electorate.

    Trouble at home

    With the 2018 presidential elections fast approaching, voters’ enthusiasm for Putin seems to be on the wane. For all the political capital he’s earned via the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, he faces a major liability: ordinary Russians see little to no improvement in their day-to-day lives. Their main concerns are now the poor state of the economy and state corruption, the latter of which has lately sparked conspicuously large protests.

    Making some headway towards a solution in Libya will further deflect public opinion from domestic concerns, and fuel the narrative of an assertive, strong and global Russia. Helpfully, the Libyan arena is much less complicated than the Syrian one; while finding a solution to the stalemate will hardly be easy, it will involve far fewer powerful actors with directly competing interests.

    As things stand, Russia doesn’t seem motivated to play as big a role in Libya as it does in Syria, and the Kremlin’s appetite for further large-scale military operations is far from ravenous. But the Syrian missions have helpfully deflected attention from the situation in Ukraine, where Russia is looking to further extend its influence in Crimea and the Donbas region.

    If Russia can play a central role in a Libyan resolution, it might deliver further concessions from the West, including badly needed sanctions relief.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to journalists following a live nationwide broadcast call-in in Moscow, Russia June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    Russia is a deeply opportunistic geopolitical player. It will eagerly exploit any gap or flaw in the strategies of its "perceived opponents."

    Very often its foreign ventures are designed to test the waters and see how other states react, rather than going all-in on one specific goal.

    This partly explains its Libyan maneuvers: it’s trying to get a feel of how far it can go in North Africa without meeting serious resistance from other Arab states or the West.

    The most unpredictable variable here is President Trump’s baffling foreign policy style, marked by sudden about-turns and open contradictions of his own diplomats.

    Tentative ventures in places such as Libya can help Russia get a better grasp of the new parameters of the US’s behavior abroad, to the extent they can be identified. If it encounters only weak opposition, Russia will probably feel emboldened to act elsewhere – ideally to Putin’s political benefit.

    SEE ALSO: Why Russia is so involved with Libya

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    James Mattis

    Munich (Germany) (AFP) - The United States will not be drawn into Syria's civil war, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said, despite an increasingly complicated battle space that has seen US warplanes down pro-regime aircraft.

    Speaking to reporters on a military plane late Monday as he headed for meetings in Europe, Mattis said the US-led coalition was determined to keep a strict focus on fighting the Islamic State group.

    We won't fire "unless they are the enemy, unless they are ISIS," he said, using an acronym for the jihadist group.

    "We just refuse to get drawn into a fight there in the Syria civil war, we try to end that one through diplomatic engagement."

    His comments came shortly before White House spokesman Sean Spicer issued a statement saying President Bashar al-Assad's regime may be preparing for a chemical attack against civilians, warning that the Syrian military would pay a "heavy price" if it took such action.

    Coalition forces on the ground have accused pro-regime fighters of targeting them in recent weeks, as they shot down two Iran-made attack drones and a Syrian fighter jet.

    "If somebody comes after us, bombs us or takes a heading on us or fires on us, then under legitimate self-defence we'll do whatever we have to do to stop it," Mattis said.

    The coalition has been active in Syria since late 2014, bombing IS targets and training local fighters to conduct ground assaults against the group.

    But gains for Assad, who is being supported by Russia, have allowed regime forces and Iran-backed militias to head towards areas where the coalition is operating.

    Syria US Marines

    The Pentagon chief underscored the importance of maintaining communication with Russia as it conducts its campaign for Assad.

    So-called "deconfliction" hotlines are used regularly by the two sides to notify each other where they are operating and avoid accidents.

    Such hotlines will only grow in importance as the coalition pursues IS fighters into the Euphrates River Valley following their assumed defeat in their stronghold Raqa, as pro-regime forces also move toward the same region.

    "You've got to really play this thing very carefully," Mattis said. 

    "The closer we get, the more complex it gets."

    SEE ALSO: The US just attacked Assad for the first time — here’s how Syria's six-year civil war has unfolded

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    US Syria missile strike

    Beirut (AFP) - US-led coalition air strikes killed nearly 60 people at a Syrian prison run by the Islamic State group, a monitor said Tuesday, as Washington insisted the jihadists remain its only target.

    The coalition has been hitting IS in Syria and Iraq since mid-2014 but has also been involved in recent confrontations with President Bashar al-Assad's forces, raising fears of the United States being drawn into Syria's civil war.

    The White House on Monday accused Assad's regime of preparing a potential chemical attack and warned it would pay a "heavy price", but Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Washington was determined to keep a strict focus on fighting IS.

    Monday's strikes hit an IS-run jail in Syria's Mayadeen at dawn, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.

    Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP the strikes killed 42 prisoners and 15 jihadists in Mayadeen, a large town in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. 

    Most of Deir Ezzor province is controlled by the jihadists and it has been the target of air strikes by both the coalition and the Syrian army and its Russian ally.

    The US-led coalition said last week that it had killed IS's top cleric Turki Binali in a May 31 strike on Mayadeen.

    The jihadists, who seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq three years ago, are under pressure in both countries.

    US-backed forces are pushing to oust them from their last major urban strongholds, Raqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

    But Washington's involvement in Syria has also become increasingly complex.

    On Monday the White House said preparations were underway by the regime for a chemical weapons attack, similar to those undertaken ahead of an apparent chemical attack on a rebel-held town in April.

    "The United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement.

    "If, however, Mr Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."

    Kremlin slams US 'threats'

    putin assadApril's attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun was reported to have killed at least 87 people, including many children, and images of the dead and of suffering victims provoked global outrage.

    The regime denied any use of chemical weapons.

    Washington launched a retaliatory cruise missile strike days later against a Syrian airbase from where it said the chemical attack was launched, the first direct US action against the Syrian regime.

    Monday's White House statement drew condemnation from Moscow, a key Assad ally, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling journalists: "We consider such threats against the Syrian leadership to be unacceptable."

    Mattis, speaking to reporters on a military plane late Monday as he headed for meetings in Europe, insisted Washington was not taking sides in Syria's civil war.

    US forces will not fire on targets "unless they are the enemy, unless they are ISIS," he said, using another acronym for IS.

    "We just refuse to get drawn into a fight there in the Syria civil war," Mattis said. "We try to end that one through diplomatic engagement."

    Coalition forces on the ground have accused pro-regime fighters of targeting them in recent weeks, as they shot down two Iran-made attack drones and a Syrian fighter jet.

    The Pentagon chief highlighted the importance of maintaining communication with Russia, which is also backing Assad's forces with air strikes.

    So-called "deconfliction" hotlines are used regularly by the two sides to notify each other where they are operating and avoid accidents.

    Such hotlines will only grow in importance if the coalition pursues IS fighters into the Euphrates Valley following their assumed defeat in Raqa, as pro-regime forces also move toward the same region.

    "You've got to really play this thing very carefully," Mattis said. "The closer we get, the more complex it gets."

    Syria's war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests and after a regime crackdown evolved into a complicated, multi-front war that has killed more than 320,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

    SEE ALSO: MATTIS: The US wants to steer clear of Syria's civil war

    DON'T MISS: White House accuses Syria of preparing another chemical attack, issues ominous warning to Assad

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    A Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units (YPG) carries ammunition in Raqqa, Syria June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

    MUNICH (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Tuesday left open the possibility of longer-term assistance to Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, saying the U.S. may need to supply them weapons and equipment even after the capture of Raqqa from Islamic State.

    NATO ally Turkey, which views the YPG as a threat, has said Mattis assured it in a letter that the United States would eventually take back the weapons it was giving them once Islamic State was defeated.

    Mattis, in his first public remarks on the issue, did not directly dispute that account.

    "We'll do what we can," Mattis told reporters during his flight to Germany, when asked about weapons recovery.

    But Mattis also noted that YPG fighters were well-armed even before the U.S. last month decided to offer more specialized equipment for its urban assault on Islamic State-held city of Raqqa.

    Mattis also said the battle against Islamic State would continue even after Raqqa was captured and focused his answers about U.S. weapons' recovery on items he believed the YPG would no longer need in battle.

    Asked if Kurdish militia would revert to their pre-Raqqa level of armaments once the fight was over, Mattis responded: "Well, we'll see. It depends what the next mission is. I mean, it's not like the fight's over when Raqqa's over."

    FILE PHOTO: Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters walk with their weapons at the eastern entrances to the town of Tal Abyad in the northern Raqqa countryside, Syria, June 14, 2015, after taking control of nearby Suluk town from Islamic State fighters.   REUTERS/Rodi Said

    Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdish PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in the country's southeast since the mid-1980s. It has said supplies to the YPG have in the past ended up in PKK hands, describing any weapons given to the force as a threat to its security.

    The U.S., however, sees the YPG as an essential ally in the campaign to defeat Islamic State in Raqqa, the jihadists' main urban base in Syria.

    Mattis will meet his Turkish counterpart, Defence Minister Fikri Isik, on Thursday in Brussels.

    The U.S., Mattis said, in the near-term would be recovering weapons that the group does not need anymore as the battle advances.

    "We'll be recovering (the weapons) during the battle, repairing them. When they don't need certain things anymore, we'll replace those with something they do need," Mattis said.

    (By Phil Stewart; editing by Ed Osmond)

    SEE ALSO: US shoots down a pro-regime drone in another escalation of its involvement in Syria

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    Obama Trump

    The White House said in a statement on Monday night that the US had learned of possible plans by Syrian President Bashar Assad to carry out a new chemical weapons attack on civilians, and it warned that Assad and his military would "pay a heavy price" if they followed through.

    The unilateral statement issued by the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, initially caught some defense, military, and intelligence officials off guard, NBC News and BuzzFeed reported late Monday, and struck many as President Donald Trump's attempt to draw a red line for US military intervention in Syria — something he had criticized President Barack Obama for doing in the past.

    (The White House on Tuesday said: "All relevant agencies — including State, DOD, CIA, and ODNI — were involved in the process from the beginning. Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false.")

    But Fred Hof, the State Department's former special adviser for transition in Syria, said there was a difference between the warnings issued to Assad nearly five years apart by Obama and Trump. Namely, that "Trump's is real."

    In August 2012, Obama explicitly used the term "red line" to describe the point at which Damascus would be faced with an American intervention: "We have been very clear to the Assad regime — but also to other players on the ground — that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."

    When Assad used chemical weapons a year later to kill 1,500 people outside Damascus, however, Obama wavered, saying he wanted to get approval from Congress before getting mired in another Middle East war. At that point, Russia stepped in and brokered a deal to eliminate Assad's chemical weapons stockpile in exchange for the US backing down.

    Obama's failure to follow through on his own red line "cost" the US "significantly" in the Middle East, then-US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged in December. Kerry insisted that the US ultimately "got a better result" from not bombing Assad but said "the lack of doing it perception-wise cost us significantly in the region."

    Syria Idlib gas attack Assad civil war victim

    In that respect, the Trump administration may be learning from Obama's mistakes.

    The White House's statement on Monday carried an explicit warning that Assad would "pay a heavy price" if he launched a chemical attack, and, unlike Obama's, Trump's red line had teeth: When Assad's forces killed civilians with chemical weapons in April, Trump ordered the Navy to launch dozens of cruise missiles at the airfield where the attack originated.

    The Tomahawk missiles, launched from the USS Ross and the USS Porter, did not do much damage and were largely symbolic. But they were the first US strikes on the Assad regime since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.

    "The warning will probably suffice in dissuading the Assad regime from conducting another mass terror, mass casualty attack on civilians using chemical weapons," Hof wrote on Tuesday. "This is no Obama 'red line.' If the regime goes forward with a chemical assault it will assuredly pay a steep price."

    But the question for Trump will then become: How deeply does the US want to get involved in the most complex situation in the Middle East? The civil war in Syria has been raging for more than six years as rebels fight to oust Assad, a brutal authoritarian who has terrorized Syrians for years. Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are also involved in the war, but even as terrorist groups' grip on certain areas of the country fades, the war between the rebels and Assad doesn't seem likely to stop anytime soon.

    And Russia's entry into the war on Assad's behalf in September 2015 has severely complicated the US's calculus for a meaningful military intervention. The Kremlin condemned the US's "aggression against a foreign state" when Trump ordered the missile strikes in April, saying it broke international law. Moscow then redirected a ship armed with cruise missiles to the eastern Mediterranean and vowed to bolster its air defenses at Syrian air bases.

    More recently, Russia threatened that American aircraft, manned and unmanned, operating west of the Euphrates River would be tracked by antiaircraft radar and possibly "engaged." The administration has sought to improve ties with Russia, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has given no indication that he will abandon Assad, and he still denies that Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack in April.

    As Hof noted, "for Bashar al-Assad there is no downside to Russian-American armed confrontation."

    "Any worries he might have about Moscow's dedication to his own political survival are lessened considerably when American-Russian tension over Syria runs high," he wrote.

    Having weathered its previous spat with Russia over Syria in April, the White House may now be betting on Assad simply backing down. But there are other ways Assad can kill hundreds of civilians at once, as he's been doing for years with virtual impunity: barrel bombs.

    "A regime steeped in cynicism and criminal opportunism may seek to exploit to its advantage the elephantine loophole explicit in the White House statement," Hof said. "Instead of using chemicals, the designated target may well be plastered with barrel bombs, gravity bombs, and anything else the regime can bring to bear."

    The message to Syrians living in opposition-controlled areas, Hof added, would be the same as it always has been: "So long as we kill you, maim you, terrorize you, and drive you from your homes with ordnance that is not chemical in nature, that which is left of a hollowed-out West will do nothing to protect you. Whatever Western politicians may say about 'Never Again,' it applies not to you."

    SEE ALSO: Military officials reportedly caught off guard by White House's warning to Syria

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    US Navy aircraft carrier

    The White House announced in a statement on Monday night that US intelligence services had spotted Syrian President Bashar Assad's government potentially preparing for another chemical attack.

    "As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," the statement said. "If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."

    With the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier and its accompanying strike group in the Mediterranean; US Air Force presences in Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey; and forces on the ground, the US has a multitude of options for carrying out a strike in Syria, despite a heavy Russian presence and advanced missile defenses.

    Take a look at the US's firepower in the region:

    SEE ALSO: Here's how an air war between Russia and the US in Syria would go down

    Here's the USS George H.W. Bush, complete with aircraft for logistics, air-to-air, air-to-ground, intelligence and surveillance, early-warning, and antisubmarine warfare.



    Here's a loaded F/A-18E. This one has an air-to-ground heavy load out but still carries air-to-air missiles in case an enemy aircraft attacks the US or US-backed forces, as was the case when an F/A-18E had to shoot down a Syrian Su-22.



    The crew can launch one of these every two minutes or so. F/A-18Es off the Bush have flown over 4,000 sorties against ISIS since the start of the campaign.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    F-22

    SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The U.S. Air Force's F-22 Raptor stealth fighter is playing a crucial yet evolving role in air operations over Syria and Iraq.

    With advanced stealth technology and powerful sensors, the aircraft is the first coalition plane back in Syrian airspace after a major incident. Such was the case after the U.S. downings of Syrian aircraft this month, as well as the U.S. Navy's Tomahawk missile strike on al Shayrat air base in April.

    Notably missing from the high-profile shoot-downs, the fifth-generation aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Corp. isn't necessarily showcasing its role as an air-to-air fighter in the conflict. Instead, the twin-engine jet is doing more deconflicting of airspace than dog-fighting, officials said.

    "This is a counter-ISIS fight," said Lt. Col. "Shell," an F-22 pilot and commander of the 27th Squadron on rotation at a base in an undisclosed location here, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. He spoke to Military.com on the condition that he be identified by his callsign.

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    "ISIS doesn't have advanced surface-to-air missiles, they don't have an air force ... but we are deconflicting the air space," Shell said. "Not everyone is on the same frequencies," he said, referring to the U.S., Russian, Syrian and coalition aircraft operating over Syria. "Deconfliction with the Russian air force -- that is one of the big things that we do."

    F-22

    The pilot said the F-22's ability to identify other aircraft -- down to the airframe -- and detect surface-to-air missiles and relay their existence to other friendly forces while remaining a low-observable radar profile makes it critical for the fight.

    The Raptor is typically flying above other aircraft, though not as high as drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper and other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, Shell said.

    The F-22, along with the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), "has really high fidelity sensors that we can detect when non-coalition aircraft are getting close," he said, "and we can move the coalition aircraft around at altitude laterally, so that, for example, if a Russian formation or Syrian formation going into the same battlespace to counter ISIS, [they are] not at conflict with our fighters."

    Weapon of Choice: Small Diameter Bomb

    Even so, to defend itself in the air and strike targets on the ground, "we carry a mixed load out," Shell said.

    The F-22 wields the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM); the laser-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) and the GPS-guided GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM).

    F 22 dropping small diameter bomb

    The Small Diameter Bomb is more likely to be used, especially in the counter-ISIS fight in urban areas where the Raptor is conducting precision strikes, Shell said.

    "We carry the low collateral damage weapon, the Small Diameter Bomb GBU-39, to precisely strike enemy combatants while protecting the civilian population," he said. "We also can carry the 1,000-pound JDAM GBU-32 used for targets where there is less-to-little collateral damage concern," meaning a larger blast for attack.

    Location Isn't 'Scramble-able'

    f-22 f22 raptor inherent resolve arabian seaThe Combined Air Operations Center, or CAOC, based in another location, develop the F-22's mission tasking typically three days out, Shell said. For logistical purposes, all aircraft in theater don't fly unless the mission is deemed critical, he said.

    "Typical maintenance practices will not have every airplane airborne at once," he said.

    In addition, "We're not in a scramble-able location," he said. "We're not [a dozen or so] miles away from the OIR fight -- we have to drive."

    Between flying in Iraq and Syria, "there are different rules based on where we're flying," Shell said, stopping short of detailing each country's rules of engagement and flight restrictions. "They're minor in the technical details."

    'The Only Thing That Can Survive'

    FILE PHOTO - U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria  on April 7, 2017.  Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

    During the Navy's TLAM strike, "serendipitously," there were more F-22s in the area of responsibility because some were getting ready to fly home while others were coming in, according to Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Expeditionary Wing, which houses the F-22 mission in an undisclosed location for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon's name for the anti-ISIS campaign.

    After incidents like that, "We kind of go to F-22s only -- fifth gen only" because "it's the only thing that can survive in there," he said, referring to the plane's ability to fly in contested airspace despite the presence of anti-access aerial denial (A2AD) weapons.

    Should Russia paint coalition aircraft with surface-to-air missile systems, "the only thing we'll put in there is F-22s," Corcoran said. Leaders will then decide which types of fourth-generation fighter -- like an F-16 Fighting Falcon with capable radars -- and/or drone can return to the fight, he said. Only later would they allow "defenseless aircraft" such as tankers to circle back through taskings, he said.

    "If an F-15 or an F-18 -- which is really more of a ground-attack airplane -- is busy doing this, they're not available to do the close air support stuff, so if we [have] got to keep this up, we're probably going to need some more forces over here that can do their dedicated jobs," Corcoran said. That includes more "defensive counter air" assets like F-22s so the tactical fighters can drop more bombs "and get after ISIS," he said.

    'We Can Bring More'

    F-22 raptor south korea

    Given the nature of how the U.S. air operation against ISIS has evolved in recent months, Shell acknowledged the possibility that commanders may decide to deploy more F-22s to the area of responsibility.

    "The airplanes that we have here, it's not the maximum we can bring, we can bring more if directed," he said. With more Raptors in theater, "they would obviously task us more," he said.

    Shell said, "People often call us the quarterback [in the air]. I don't like that because we're not always in charge -- there is a mission hierarchy ... and most of the time it is not the F-22. We enhance the mission commander's situational awareness by feeding him information based on off our sensors for him or her to make a decision."

    When asked if that meant the stealth fighter works as a "silent partner" gathering intel, he said, "We're not really silent. We're pretty vocal."

    SEE ALSO: The US may be on the verge of striking Syria — here's a look at its firepower in the region

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    trump

    The White House's warning to the Syrian regime about chemical weapons on Monday night was part of a concerted effort between the White House and defense officials, according to a Washington Post report published Tuesday that described the preparations as a "fast-moving train."

    Pentagon spokesmen said the US received news that aircraft stationed in Shayrat air base — the same base that was struck by the US with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in April — were being outfitted with chemical weapons, The Post reported.

    The White House sought to issue the warning amid reports that personnel from a special Syrian unit that deals with chemical weapons were allegedly seen visiting known and suspected facilities that produce chemical weapons.

    President Donald Trump's warning came Monday evening, after hasty talks with top level officials took place in between meetings with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Politico reported. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and National security adviser H.R. McMaster were briefed on the developments, tweaking the White House's statement between meetings with Modi.

    The "fast moving" plan to issue the statement — cleared by several key agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department, and the Defense Department, according to sources cited by Politico — was met with little opposition among the top military officials.

    The process; however, appeared to move so quickly that only a handful of the most senior officials had knowledge of the developments. Others, according to some reports, were caught off guard by the statement.

    The White House took issue with the assertion that some people were kept out of the loop, according to Politico:

    "In response to several inquiries regarding the Syria statement issued last night, we want to clarify that all relevant agencies — including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI — were involved in the process from the beginning," a statement from the White House read. "Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false," the White House said.

    U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (L) and Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, brief the media at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

    Tom Donilon, former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, also played down the apparently limited communication between top military channels.

    "There's a broader issue here of effective coordination and communication — sometimes the president contradicts his own people," Donilon said. "But I don't think that's the most important issue here. If, in fact, the United States has evidence that they're preparing a chemical attack, laying down a warning that you intend to follow through on is an appropriate thing to do."

    However, Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow and director at the Center for a New American Security, indicated that the lack of broad communication across the US government on direct warnings to an enemy state "hurts American credibility."

    "When the Syrian regime sees a report that [government officials] have no idea, the message to them is that these guys don’t have their act together," said Goldenberg. "And if nobody at State knows, it hurts your ability to follow up and have a diplomatic game-plan."

    SEE ALSO: White House accuses Syria of preparing another chemical attack, issues ominous warning to Assad

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    FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S. June 21, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

    While the White House issued a surprise warning to Syria on Monday alleging the regime of Bashar Assad was preparing a "potential" chemical-weapons attack, President Donald Trump was tweeting about the Russia investigation and the travel ban.

    "From @FoxNews "Bombshell: In 2016, Obama dismissed idea that anyone could rig an American election." Check out his statement - Witch Hunt," Trump tweeted, shortly after the White House released its statement on Syria.

    Trump appeared to be referencing a Washington Post report that painted a timeline of Obama's actions surrounding Russia's interference in the 2016 US election.

    Minutes after his first tweet, Trump sent another to tout the US Supreme Court's decision to lift several injunctions on his travel ban: "Great day for America's future Security and Safety, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court. I will keep fighting for the American people, & WIN!"

    Critics said Trump's off-topic musings, sent as the White House and defense officials coordinated an ominous public warning to an enemy state, were seen as poorly timed.

    "He's very undisciplined," said Jim Jeffrey, former US ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, in a Politico report. "He does this all the time."

    SEE ALSO: The White House scrambled to issue its new chemical-weapons warning to Syria

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    Secretary of Defense James Mattis

    BRUSSELS (AP) — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says Syria's government has taken seriously the U.S. warning against launching another chemical weapons attack.

    Mattis noted there has been no such attack since the White House issued a surprise statement Monday night that threatened President Bashar Assad's government with "a heavy price" if it used chemical weapons.

    The U.S. says it saw active preparations at Syria's Shayrat airfield for using such weapons. Mattis wouldn't say what specifically triggered U.S. concerns that an attack might be imminent. He said President Donald Trump has showed "how seriously we took them."

    Asked if other activity has been seen, Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Brussels: "I think that Assad's chemical program goes far beyond one airfield."

    SEE ALSO: The US may be on the verge of striking Syria — here's a look at its firepower in the region

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    Kurdish sniper almost shot

    A video of a Kurdish YPJ (Women’s Protection Unit) sniper almost getting shot the face while fighting in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa is going viral and not because it’s like two centimeters away from being featured in Faces of Death Vol. 2, but because of her reaction, which is basically: “Oh, hey, so this funny thing just happened.”

    This is probably not the first time this young woman has nearly been shot in the head.

    The YPJ is the all-female wing of the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Unit), a guerrilla army based in northern Syria that has been fighting ISIS since the terrorist group’s formation, while also occasionally duking it out with Turkey. The group is backed by the U.S.-led coalition and is currently taking part in the bloody campaign to wrest Raqqa from ISIS control.

    In the video, the YPJ sniper takes aim at a target — human, presumably — and pulls the trigger. Less than a second later, a round cracks into the wall right over her head, appearing to have come from right outside her sector of fire. And that’s when we see that million watt smile. According to BBC, the sniper then tells whoever is filming her to stop, saying: “Enough, enough filming.”

    Of course, people are already calling the legitimacy of the video into question, and rightfully so. The battlefields of Iraq and Syria have yielded no shortage of doctored footage. Propaganda from both sides has played a big role in this war. But Maximilian Uriarte, better known as Terminal Lance, whipped up a quick illustrated diagram to show how this totally could have happened:

    Seems legit. Now we just need to find out who this sniper is so we can send her a camouflage headscarf. Or maybe a helmet.

    SEE ALSO: 7 crazy photos of US Marines in Syria shelling ISIS with artillery

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    Vladimir Putin

    WASHINGTON — Kremlin leaders are convinced America is intent on regime change in Russia, a fear that is feeding rising tension and military competition between the former Cold War foes, the Pentagon's intelligence arm has assessed.

    The unclassified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which will be publicly released later Wednesday, portrays Russia as increasingly wary of the United States. It cites Moscow's "deep and abiding distrust of U.S. efforts to promote democracy around the world and what it perceives as a U.S. campaign to impose a single set of global values."

    "The Kremlin is convinced the United States is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia, a conviction further reinforced by the events in Ukraine," the report says, referencing the claims by President Vladimir Putin's government that the U.S. engineered the popular uprising that ousted Ukraine's Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich, in 2014. Russia responded by annexing Ukraine's Crimea region and supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

    "Moscow worries that U.S. attempts to dictate a set of acceptable international norms threatens the foundations of Kremlin power by giving license for foreign meddling in Russia's internal affairs," the report says. Titled "Russia Military Power," it is the agency's first such unclassified assessment in more than two decades.

    The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report in advance of its public release. It harkens to Cold War days when the intelligence agency published a series of "Soviet Military Power" studies that defined the contours of the superpower rivalry. Those reports ended with the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union. Now they return, DIA's director, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, says, with an eye on the future of U.S.-Russian relations.

    "Within the next decade, an even more confident and capable Russia could emerge," Stewart wrote in a preface to the report. No new, global ideological struggle akin to the Cold War is forecast, but the report cautions that Moscow "intends to use its military to promote stability on its own terms."

    Obama putin

    During President Barack Obama's eight years in office, the U.S.-Russian relationship deteriorated from an initial "reset" to American allegations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election to aid Donald Trump's victory.

    In between, were intense disagreements over Ukraine and Syria, where Russia has provided military help to President Bashar Assad's government and the U.S. has backed anti-Assad rebels.

    While Trump's campaign rhetoric was widely seen as sympathetic to Russia, ties have not improved in his first six months of his presidency. In April, Trump said U.S.-Russian relations "may be at an all-time low." Trump is expected to meet Putin for the first time at an international summit in Germany next week.

    Thursday's report, prepared long before Trump's election, reflects the Pentagon's view of the global security picture shifting after nearly two decades of heavy American focus on countering terrorism and fighting relatively small-scale wars across the Middle East. Russia, in particular, is now at the center of the national security debate in Congress, fed by political divisions over how to deal with Putin and whether his military buildup, perceived threats against NATO and alleged election interference call for a new U.S. approach.

    Rep. Adam Smith, the House Armed Services Committee's top Democrat, issued Wednesday a "national security manifesto" on Russia. He and a group of lawmakers writing in Time magazine cited the threat of "Putinism," which they termed "a philosophy of dictatorship" that seeks to extinguish democratic ideals such as government transparency by exploiting "discontented facets of democratic polities worldwide."

    At a Senate intelligence committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel's ranking Democrat, said Russia is becoming more brazen.

    mark warner

    "Russia's goal is to sow chaos and confusion — to fuel internal disagreements and to undermine democracies whenever possible, and to cast doubt on the democratic process wherever it exists," Warner said.

    Jim Kudla, a DIA spokesman, said his agency's report is unconnected to any recent events. It wasn't requested by Congress.

    The 116-page document offers a deep assessment of every dimension of Russian military power. It contains no new disclosures of military capability but portrays Russia as methodically and successfully rebuilding an army, navy and air force that weakened after the Soviet Union collapsed.

    "The Russian military today is on the rise — not as the same Soviet force that faced the West in the Cold War, dependent on large units with heavy equipment," the report says. It describes Russia's new military "as a smaller, more mobile, balanced force rapidly becoming capable of conducting the full range of modern warfare."

    It cites the example of Moscow's 2015 military intervention in Syria. The Kremlin cast the effort as designed to combat Islamic State fighters. Washington saw Moscow largely propping up Assad by providing air support for the Syrian army's offensive against opposition forces.

    The report says the Syria intervention is intended also to eliminate jihadist elements that originated on the former Soviet Union's territory to prevent them from returning home and threatening Russia.

    In any case, the report credits the intervention for having "changed the entire dynamic of the conflict, bolstering the Assad regime and ensuring that no resolution to the conflict is possible without Moscow's agreement."

    "Nevertheless, these actions also belie a deeply entrenched sense of insecurity regarding a United States that Moscow believes is intent on undermining Russia at home and abroad," the report says.

    SEE ALSO: 'They sow chaos wherever they can': A familiar actor may be behind the massive cyberattack that swept Europe

    DON'T MISS: Evidence is mounting that Russia took 4 clear paths to meddle in the US election

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