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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    f-22 raptor

    • The top American and Russian fighter jets this week had their first run-in in the skies above Syria, and the incident favored the Russian jet if combat were to break out.
    • The US's F-22 doesn't visibly store weapons, and it relies on stealth, so coming face to face with an advanced Russian fighter puts it at a disadvantage.
    • Most incidents in the skies involving the US are communicated in advance and handled professionally, but the rules of engagement leave the US vulnerable to a first strike.

    Two US F-22 stealth fighter jets intercepted Russian Su-25 and Su-35 jets that crossed into the US's area of operation over Syria on Wednesday, and it highlights a downside to the US's top fighter jets.

    The F-22, with its incredible acrobatic abilities in air and all-aspect stealth cloaking it from enemies at a distance, is the US's most lethal combat plane.

    While the F-35 has been built as a flying quarterback that can dogfight, bomb ground targets, gather intelligence, or conduct surveillance, the F-22 specializes in one thing: air-to-air combat.

    But with today's rules of engagement, the F-22's huge advantages in stealth mean little.

    During an intercept, a jet pulls up next to the plane that has invaded its airspace and tells the plane via radio some version of "turn around or this will escalate."

    At this time, it's customary for the jet to tilt its wings and show the intruding adversary a wing full of missiles. But the F-22 can never do that. Because of its stealth design, the F-22 stores all missiles and bombs internally.

    A pilot intruding into US or US-protected airspace and meeting an F-22 really has no idea whether the jet is armed. And the Russian Su-35 holds more missiles than the F-22, and it holds them where everyone can see.

    On top of that, if a routine interception were to turn kinetic, the F-22 would start the battle at a huge disadvantage.

    Stealth advantage negated


    F-22s rely on stealth and establishing the battle on their own terms. When the enemy jet can't tell where the F-22 is, the F-22 pilot's preferred course of action is to dictate the battle and ideally to score a kill without ever being seen.

    If a fight were to start during an intercept like the one this week, the Russian pilot would start with the huge advantage of having the F-22 in sight. What's more, the Russian Su-35 can actually maneuver better than the F-22.

    Lt. Col. David "Chip" Berke, the only US Marine to fly both the F-22 and the F-35, previously told Business Insider that when flying the F-22, "my objective wouldn't be to get in a turning fight" with an adversary. Instead, Berke said he would use the F-22's natural advantages of stealth to avoid the dogfight.

    But just because Russia's Su-35 can turn better and has more missiles doesn't mean it would automatically win a dogfight that broke out from an interception. The capabilities of the F-22 and of its pilots, who stand among the Air Force's best, would surely give it a chance in such a fight.

    But because of the F-22's internal weapons stores and reliance on stealth, Justin Bronk, an expert on combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, previously told Business Insider that fifth-generation fighters like the F-22 and the F-35 were "not really necessary" for interceptions and that "other, cheaper interceptors can do the job."

    The real risk


    The prospect of dogfighting with advanced Russian fighters over Syria has only gotten less likely as both Russia and the US look to pull out of the country after the military defeat of the terrorist group ISIS.

    In reality, conflicts in the airspace above Syria between US and Russian jets are handled all the time, but not with jets. The US and Russia maintain a deconfliction line and call each other constantly to alert the other side to inbound jets.

    But the rules of engagement, as they stand, put the US's top fighter jet at a distinct disadvantage if the worst happened and a dogfight broke out between the world's top military powers over Syria.

    SEE ALSO: Here's who'd win in a dogfight between Russia's and the US's top fighter jets

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    • A new report sheds light on the origins of the weapons ISIS militants use in Iraq and Syria.
    • An investigation revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency may have purchased anti-tank missiles, which eventually fell into the hands of ISIS militants.

    Amid the chaos of the Syrian Civil War, it looks like armaments manufactured from around the globe and supplied to different factions eventually fell into the hand of Islamic State militants.

    A new report from Conflict Armament Research (CAR) sheds light on the amount and type of weapons and ammunition ISIS forces obtained in Syria and Iraq. From 2014 to 2017, CAR has documented the origins and supply chain of over 40,000 items, including rifles, missiles, and improvised explosive devices.

    Around 97% of weapons and 87% of ammunition used by ISIS is assumed to have originated primarily from China, Russia, and eastern European states, as evidenced by their 7.62mm caliber.

    According to the report, the US and Saudi Arabia purchased much of the arms from European Union countries in eastern Europe, which were distributed, without authorization, from the supplying country to Syrian rebel forces battling President Bashar al-Assad's army.

    "At the very least, the diversion of weapons documented in this report has eroded the trust that exporting authorities placed in the recipient governments," the report said. "At worst, the diversions occurred in violation of signed agreements that commit recipient governments not to retransfer materiel without the exporter’s prior consent."

    In one such case, CAR found that an advanced anti-tank guided weapon that was manufactured in the European Union was sold to the US, only to be given to a party involved in the Syrian conflict, which then found its way to ISIS militants in Iraq — a process that took two months.

    Judging by its serial number, the report stated, the anti-tank guided missile found in Iraq is believed to have been part of the same supply chain as the ones provided to a US-supported rebel group in Syria. In the same year, sources with knowledge of the Syrian conflict reportedly said that the CIA was establishing small rebel units capable of taking down tanks and had received anti-tank missiles, a BuzzFeed News report said.

    Although the exact process in which the militants obtained their arms from groups involved in the Syrian conflict remain unclear, it has been previously reported that members of rebel groups, such as the Free Syrian Army, were believed to have joined ISIS forces amid the sectarian violence in the country.

    "These findings are a stark reminder of the contradictions inherent in supplying weapons into armed conflicts in which multiple competing and overlapping non-state armed groups operate," the report said.

    SEE ALSO: This map shows the brewing proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia

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    F 22 Raptors

    International news media has been crackling with reports of intercept incidents between U.S. and Russian combat aircraft along the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) de-confliction line over Syria since late November.

    Two incidents, one on November 23 and another two days ago on December 13, made headlines in Russia and the U.S. with differing accounts of the incidents and the reasons they happened. We reported on the first one of these incidents here.

    With the war on ISIS in Syria reportedly reaching its final phase according to many analysts, especially Russian, are these last few months of Russian/U.S. close proximity operations a rare opportunity for both parties to gather a significant amount of intelligence about each other’s’ capabilities? The answer is likely “yes”.

    There are reportedly about 3,000 ISIS insurgents left in the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV) area according to intelligence reports, and it is possible those remaining insurgents may be purposely seeking refuge in this region because of the complex de-confliction requirements between U.S. and Russian air forces. These de-confliction requirements could compromise the response times of both sides to conduct effective air strikes against ISIS due to the risks of potentially unintentional conflict.

    The encounters between Russian and U.S. aircraft over Syria are not new.

    “We saw anywhere from six to eight incidents daily in late November, where Russian or Syrian aircraft crossed into our airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command told U.S. news outlet CNN on Saturday. “It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots are deliberately testing or baiting us into reacting, or if these are just honest mistakes.”

    Lt. Col. Pickart went on to tell news media, “The greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces.”


    There's a great opportunity to learn about the other's newest aircraft capabilities

    As the complex, multi-party proxy war over Syria appears to be winding down these final weeks provide what may be a last, great opportunity for a rich “intelligence grab” for both the U.S. and Russia about their newest aircraft’ capabilities when flying in controlled opposition to one another. Picture a “Red Flag” exercise where the “red air” element is actually “red”, albeit with live weapons and higher stakes.

    USAF Lt. Col. Pickart’s remarks about the Russians “deliberately testing or baiting us” are indicative of a force managing interactions to collect sensor, intelligence and capability “order of battle”.

    This intelligence is especially relevant from the current Syrian conflict as it affords both the Russians and the U.S. with the opportunity to operate their latest combat aircraft in close proximity to gauge their real-world sensor capabilities and tactical vulnerabilities, as well as learn doctrine. It is likely the incidents occurring now over Syria, and the intelligence gleaned from them, will be poured over in detail for years to come.

    For instance, we have often explained how Raptors act as “electronic warfare enabled sensor-rich multi-role aircraft” over Syria, providing escort to strike packages into and out of the target area while gathering details about the enemy systems and spreading intelligence to other “networked” assets supporting the mission to improve the overall situational awareness.

    In fact, the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy, performing ELINT-like missions and then sharing the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

    Moreover, as we have reported, it is well known that the U.S. has operated relatively current Russian aircraft photographed in air combat simulation training in the remote desert over Nevada. But those aircraft are at least an entire generation behind the current Russian aircraft flying over Syria in the final phase of the vigorous anti-ISIS Russian air operations.

    F 22 Raptor Fighter Jet

    The risks of Russian-U.S. shadow boxing matches

    The danger of these close-quarter Russian/U.S. shadow boxing matches is that one of them could accidentally “turn hot”. Since both sides are carrying live weapons the reliance on maintaining adherence to current Rules of Engagement (ROE) on both parties is critical.

    Another risk is air-to-air collision.

    New York Times reporter Eric Schmidt wrote about an incident in November when, “In one instance, two Air Force A-10 attack planes flying east of the Euphrates River nearly collided head-on with a Russian Su-24 Fencer just 300 feet away — a knife’s edge when all the planes were streaking at more than 350 miles per hour. The A-10s swerved to avoid the Russian aircraft, which was supposed to fly only west of the Euphrates.”

    The risks of this new-age cold war over Syria going hot are likely worth it in terms of the intelligence being collected on both sides though. It is reasonable to suggest that, with the recent media attention to the incidents, the pressure to keep this cold war from getting hot are greater than ever.

    Hopefully those pressures on both the Russian and the U.S. air forces will keep this new version of the cold war from boiling over.

    SEE ALSO: The F-22 came face to face with Russia's top fighter and was at a major disadvantage

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    Mosul ISIS Iraq

    • Even though ISIS has been declared defeated in Syria by Russia and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad the group's fighters still have a presence in the country.
    • Several convoys have been spotted traveling through Syrian regime territory in recent weeks.
    • Thousands of fighters escaped Raqqa in October as part of a secret deal between US-backed forces and ISIS, and an unknown number have snuck over the border into Turkey.
    • It is unclear whether fighters are aiming to regroup in Syria, survive while keeping a low profile, or head towards Europe.

    ISIS was supposedly defeated in Syria after US-backed forces captured Raqqa, the capital of its self-declared caliphate, last month — but recent reports suggest that there are still pockets of ISIS resistance in the country.

    Thousands of fighters have reportedly fled their former holdouts and are fanning out across the country, even flowing into neighboring Turkey.

    Army Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led operation in Syria, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters on Tuesday that pronouncements from Russia and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad about ISIS's defeat were premature.

    "Despite recent claims from Russia that Syria is free from ISIS terror, the SDF are still meeting resistance from ISIS fighters in the region," he said, using the acronym for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. "ISIS is putting up a stiff defense in remaining territories in the [Middle Euphrates River Valley], likely as a delaying action to allow other elements to displace to Southwest and Northwest Syria to seek sanctuary or continue to fight."

    ISIS fighters are slipping under the radar

    While ISIS's last major urban stronghold Raqqa fell in mid-November, elements of the terrorist group remain along the sparsely-populated Iraq-Syria border region, northeast of the city of Hama in west-central Syria, and in the southwestern corner of the country near the border with Israel, according to the Syrian Civil War map.

    US soldiers Syria

    Beyond these areas, there are reports that ISIS fighters remain at large even in areas controlled by the Syrian regime. A press release by the Combined Joint Task Force last week reported that ISIS members were fleeing fighting along the Euphrates River through territory controlled by Assad.

    "Despite the present of Russian-backed, pro-Syrian regime forces in the area, Daesh still finds ways to move freely through regime lines and pose a threat," Brigadier General Jonathan Braga said in the release, using the pejorative Arabic acronym for ISIS.

    The press release noted that this was the second times in less than a month that ISIS convoys had been intercepted after traveling throug regime territory.

    ISIS fighters had already begun fleeing the group's territory even before Raqqa was conquered, with many making their way north to Turkey, according to a BuzzFeed report. ISIS members reportedly found plenty of ways to blend in with the rising tide of civilians fleeing the battle against the group, and paid off smugglers at checkpoints that were designed to catch them before they could escape the area.

    Among these escapees were a number of senior members of the group, such as internal security officers and regional administrators.

    BuzzFeed reports that militants have been flowing out of Syria into Turkey under the noses of US allies for the better part of a year.

    Syria Police

    As Raqqa fell, ISIS left

    In early October, according to the BBC, a deal was negotiated between the SDF and ISIS for thousands of fighters and their families to be evacuated from Raqqa in secret, well before the city had been secured for the US-backed coalition.

    "We took out around 4,000 people including women and children," one of the truck drivers tasked with carrying fighters out of the city told the BBC. "Our vehicle and their vehicles combined. When we entered Raqqa, we thought there were 200 people to collect. In my vehicle alone, I took 112 people."

    The convoy, which also included foreign fighters, transported fighters out of the city eastward into territories then-controlled by ISIS.

    The fates and intentions of these fighters, along with the thousands who have now spread across Syria and fled into Turkey, remains unknown. A senior officer in the US Defense Department told BuzzFeed their fight against the group in the region is not over.

    "Their near-term goal is survival — to be able to endure and survive," the official said. "Did the idea of a caliphate die on the battlefield? I think the answer is self-evident. The loss of territory is not synonymous with defeat."

    A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the US-led coalition had declared ISIS defeated in Syria. Only Russia and the Syrian government have declared the group defeated. 

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    Marine Norway

    • The Marine Corps commandant sees a conflict on the horizon and predicts a reorientation of Marines away from the Middle East toward Russia and the Pacific.
    • US forces have moved around Europe in recent months to bolster allies there, and a Marine rotational force has been in Norway since January.
    • The Norway deployment has been particularly bothersome for Moscow.

    During a meeting this week with the Marine Corps rotational force stationed in Norway, the Corps' commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, told Marines that war could be looming and that his command may soon adjust its deployments to meet rising threats.

    Neller said he saw a "big-ass fight" in the future, telling members of the US force in the Nordic country to be ready at all times.

    "I hope I'm wrong, but there's a war coming," Neller said, according to "You're in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence."

    Marines have been in Norway since January, when a rotation from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines arrived. The rotation was extended during the summer, and a replacement from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines arrived in August. The rotation is the first time a foreign force had been stationed in Norway since World War II.

    Neller told Marines in Norway that he expects focus to shift from the Middle East to Russia and the Pacific — areas highlighted by President Donald Trump's National Security Strategy and home to three parts of the Defense Department's "4+1" framework: Russia, North Korea, and China (along with Iran and global terrorism).

    US Marines Norway

    Marines in Norway have trained with Norwegian and other partner forces for cold-weather operations. Earlier this year, the Marines carried out a timed strategic mobility exercise, organizing the vehicles and equipment that would be needed to outfit a ground combat force.

    Norway and the Marine Corps have jointly managed weapons and equipment stored in well-maintained caves in the central part of the country since the Cold War. The commander of Marine Corps Europe and Africa told this summer that Norway could become the service's hub in Europe.

    Places like Norway would become more of a focal point for the Marine Corps, according to Neller, deemphasizing the Middle East after two decades of combat operations there.

    "I think probably the focus, the intended focus is not on the Middle East," Neller said in Norway, when asked by a Marine about where the force saw itself fighting in the future. "The focus is more on the Pacific and Russia."

    A Marine artillery unit recently left Syria after several months supporting the fight against ISIS there (burning out two howitzers in the process), but Marines remain in the region — including 450 training and advising partner forces in Afghanistan and hundreds more in Iraq, where they recently returned to "old stomping grounds" in western Anbar province to support anti-ISIS efforts.

    Robert Neller

    While Neller admitted that US forces would remain in the Middle East for some time to come, he predicted "a slight pullback" from that region and a reorientation toward Russia and the Pacific.

    "So I believe we'll turn our attention there," he said, according to

    'We've got them right where we wanted'

    Countries throughout Europe have grown wary of an increasingly assertive Russia, especially the Baltic states and others in Eastern Europe.

    But Norway and others in Western Europe are concerned as well. Norway has publicly discussed ways to counter Russian armor and boosted its defense spending.

    Earlier this year, Oslo decided to buy five P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft — a move that tied it closer to the US and UK, with whom it maintained a surveillance network during the Cold War. In February, Norway decided to shift funds from cost-savings programs into military acquisitions. That same month, Norway teamed up with Germany to buy four new submarines — two for each. (None of Germany's subs are currently operational.)

    In November, Norway accepted the first three F-35A fighters to be permanently stationed in the country, joining the seven Norway has stationed in Arizona for training. This month, Norway signed a contract for 24 South Korean-made K9 self-propelled howitzers and ammunition resupply vehicles.

    US forces have also moved throughout Europe in recent months for training and deployments to bolster partners in the region, but the rotational force in Norway has been particularly irksome for Russia, which shares a 120-mile border with Norway.

    US Marines Norway

    US Marines in Norway have been hesitant to link their deployment directly to Russia — going as far as to avoid saying"Russia" in public — but Moscow has still expressed displeasure with their presence.

    A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said relations between Oslo and Moscow were "put to a test" when Marines arrived in January. Moscow warned its neighbor in June that the Marines' deployment could "escalate tensions and lead to destabilization" in the region.

    Norwegian officials themselves have also questioned their government about what the Marines are doing there, out of concern that the country's leadership could be shifting its defense policy without debate.

    For some of the Marines, Moscow's displeasure appears to be a point of pride.

    "They don't like the fact that we oppose them, and we like the fact that they don't like the fact that we oppose them," Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green told "Three hundred of us, surrounded by them. We've got them right where we wanted, right? We've done this before."

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    map of isis December 2017

    • ISIS's control in Syria as of December 13, 2017 is a tiny piece of what it once was in 2014 and 2015, according to a newly released State Department map.
    • The map shows ISIS's dramatic losses of territory in 2017.
    • While ISIS is on its way to losing all territory in Syria, many fighters have fled the fighting, either fanning out throughout the country by traveling through government-held territory or sneaking across the border to Turkey.

    A newly released map from the US State Department illustrates the huge losses the terrorist group ISIS has seen in 2017.

    While ISIS used to control land stretching from central Iraq to north-central Syria at the peak of its power, it's territorial holdings have shrunken considerably since then.

    The State Department map shows that the group is still dominant in three areas of Syria — in the far southwest on the border with Israel, around the town of Abu Kamal near Syria's eastern border with Iraq, and in the northwest near land controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.

    Even though it appears that the terrorist group is on its last legs in the country, recent reports from US commanders and others have indicated that the group has been moving through government-held territory, and that thousands of ISIS fighters have left the country entirely by sneaking past the border into Turkey, which lies north of Syria. It is unclear what these fighters' intentions are, but it is possible they are looking to either regroup or head to Europe to carry out attacks there.

    SEE ALSO: ISIS' loss of its caliphate signals the end of one type of ISIS — and the beginning of a new one

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    FILE PHOTO: Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov arrives for the opening ceremony of the International Army Games 2017 in Alabino, outside Moscow, Russia, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

    • A powerful Russian General has accused the US of using one of its bases in Iraq to train former ISIS fighters to destabilize Syria.
    • The US strongly denied this, and Russia has made similiar accusations before.

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - The chief of the Russian General Staff has accused the United States of training former Islamic State fighters in Syria to try to destabilize the country.

    General Valery Gerasimov's allegations, made in a newspaper interview, center on a U.S. military base at Tanf, a strategic Syrian highway border crossing with Iraq in the south of the country.

    Russia says the U.S. base is illegal and that it and the area around it have become "a black hole" where militants operate unhindered.

    Islamic State has this year lost almost all the territory it held in Syria and Iraq. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday the main part of the battle with Islamic State in Syria was over, according to the state-run RIA news agency.

    The United States says the Tanf facility is a temporary base used to train partner forces to fight Islamic State. It has rejected similar Russian allegations in the past, saying Washington remains committed to killing off Islamic State and denying it safe havens.

    But Gerasimov told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper on Wednesday that the United States was training up fighters who were former Islamic State militants but who now call themselves the New Syrian Army or use other names.

    He said Russia satellites and drones had spotted militant brigades at the U.S. base.

    "They are in reality being trained there," Gerasimov said, saying there were also a large number of militants and former Islamic State fighters at Shadadi, where he said there was also a U.S. base.

    "They are practically Islamic State," he said. "But after they are worked with, they change their spots and take on another name. Their task is to destabilize the situation."

    Russia has partially withdrawn from Syria, but Gerasimov said the fact that Moscow was keeping an air base and naval facility there meant it was well placed to deal with pockets of instability if and when they arose.


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    A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces calls his comrades during the fighting with Islamic State fighters in Raqqa, Syria, August 14, 2017.  REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

    • Fewer than 1,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, the international coalition said.
    • Iraq and Syria have both declared victory over Islamic State in recent weeks.
    • The United States has led an international coalition conducting air strikes against Islamic State since 2014.

    BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Fewer than 1,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, the United States-led international coalition fighting the hardline Sunni militant group said on Wednesday, a third of the estimated figure only three weeks ago.

    Iraq and Syria have both declared victory over Islamic State in recent weeks, after a year that saw the two countries' armies, a range of foreign allies and various local forces drive the fighters out of all the towns and villages that once made up their self-proclaimed caliphate.

    The United States has led an international coalition conducting air strikes against Islamic State since 2014 when the group swept across a third of Iraq. U.S. troops have served as advisers on the ground with Iraqi government forces and with Kurdish and Arab groups in Syria.

    "Due to the commitment of the Coalition and the demonstrated competence of our partners in Iraq and Syria, there are estimated to be less than 1,000 ISIS terrorists in our combined joint area of operations, most of whom are being hunted down in the desert regions in eastern Syria and Western Iraq," the U.S.-led coalition told Reuters in an emailed statement.

    ISIS is an acronym used for Islamic State.

    The figure excludes areas in western Syria under the control of President Bashar al-Assad's government and his allies.

    Assad's main ally Russia also said on Wednesday the main battle with Islamic State in Syria was over. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the key task in Syria was now destroying another Islamist group, the Nusra Front.

    The U.S.-led coalition had said on Dec. 5 that there were less than 3,000 fighters remaining. Iraq declared "final victory" over the group on Dec. 9.

    Most of the fighters had been killed or captured over the past three years, the coalition said on Wednesday. It would not respond to a question on whether some fighters could have escaped to other countries, saying it would not "engage in public speculation" but said it was working on preventing that.

    "We can tell you that we are working with our partners to kill or capture all remaining ISIS terrorists, to destroy their network and prevent their resurgence, and also to prevent them from escaping to bordering countries," it said.

    SEE ALSO: ISIS has been militarily defeated in Iraq and Syria

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    • Russia's defense minister said that Russia has started creating permanent naval and air force bases in Syria, according to RIA news agency.
    • Russia had previously said on three separate occasions it had withdrawn from the country.
    • The bases Russia will now maintain permanent bases at Tartus on the Mediterranean coast and at Hmeimim as per an agreement it signed in January.

    Russia has started establishing a permanent military presence at naval and air bases in Syria, the defense minister said on Tuesday as parliament ratified a deal with Damascus to cement Russian presence in the country, the RIA news agency reported.

    The announcement seemed to contradict previous statements that indicated that Russia was withdrawing from the country — it had indicated as much on threeseparateoccasions over the last two years.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin initially announced he would be withdrawing the "main part" of Russia's forces from Syria in March 2016, and then again announced the beginning of withdrawals in January and December of this year. 

    "In accordance with the decision of the supreme commander-in-chief of the Russian Armed Forces Vladimir Putin, the defense ministry is beginning to reduce its armed forces in Syria," said Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia's general staff in January.

    But the Russian air force continued to carry out airstrikes and offensives in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout 2016 and 2017, engaging Assad's enemies everywhere from Aleppo to eastern Syria. Russia had entered the fight in September 2015 in order to combat "terrorism"— which basically included anyone fighting against the Syrian regime. 

    "Anyone who is killed by a Russian bomb is a terrorist, by definition," Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst, told CBC.

    The latest Russia-Syria deal will give Russia a permanent foothold in the country

    The deal signed on January 18 will expand the Tartus naval facility, Russia’s only naval foothold in the Mediterranean, and grant Russian warships access to Syrian waters and ports, Viktor Bondarev, head of the upper house security and defense committee, told RIA.

    "Last week the Commander-in-Chief [Putin] approved the structure and the bases in Tartus and in Hmeimim (air base). We have begun forming a permanent presence there," Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, according to RIA.

    The Tartus naval facility, in use since the days of the Soviet Union, is too small to play host to larger warships.

    According to the RIA report, the agreement will allow Russia to keep 11 warships at Tartus, including nuclear vessels. The agreement will last for 49 years and could be prolonged further.

    The Hmeimim air base, from which Russia has launched numerous air strikes in support of Assad during his war with rebels, can now be used by Russia indefinitely, according to the deal.

    SEE ALSO: Russia just deployed the 'Terminator' to Syria, and you'll be shocked to see what it can do

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    FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis addresses a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Files

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that he expected to see a larger US civilian presence in Syria, including contractors and diplomats, as the fight against Islamic State militants nears its end and the focus turns toward rebuilding and ensuring the militants do not return.

    The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria fighting Islamic State. Mattis' comments are likely to anger Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has previously called US troops "illegal invader" forces.

    "What we will be doing is shifting from what I would call an offensive, shifting from an offensive terrain-seizing approach to a stabilizing... you'll see more US diplomats on the ground," Mattis said.

    He has previously stated that US forces will stay in Syria as long as Islamic State fighters want to fight and prevent the return of an "ISIS 2.0."

    This is the first time he has said that there would be an increase of diplomats in the parts of the country retaken from Islamic State militants.

    "Well when you bring in more diplomats, they are working that initial restoration of services, they bring in the contractors, that sort of thing," Mattis said. "There is international money that has got to be administered, so it actually does something, it doesn't go into the wrong people's pockets," he added.

    US soldiers Syria

    The contractors and diplomats would also be looking at training local forces to clear improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and holding territory to help ensure that Islamic State does not retake territory.

    "It is an attempt to move toward the normalcy and that takes a lot of support," said Mattis. It was not clear how many US diplomats would serve in Syria and when. The United States has suspended diplomatic relations with Syria due to the civil war.

    Assad’s forces, helped by Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, have managed to reestablish control over most of Syria over the past two years.

    The US-led coalition battling Islamic State in Syria has repeatedly said it does not seek to fight Assad’s forces, though Washington want the president to step down.

    When asked whether Syrian government forces could move to disrupt the US plans, Mattis said: "That would probably be a mistake."

    (Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Alistair Bell)

    SEE ALSO: Afghanistan wants the US to send the A-10 back to fight the Taliban

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    Russia Russian Sukhoi SU 35 Fighter Jet

    • The US and Russia have been in a war of words about unsafe maneuvers in the skies over Syria.
    • Most recently, a Russian pilot claimed they always found themselves on the 'tails' of US fighter jets in Syria, which means victory in a dogfight.
    • The claim may have been another example of Russia's multi-pronged propaganda campaign to spread false information.

    Close encounters between Russian and U.S. aircraft over Syria are nothing new. What’s new is the way this close-quarter Russian/U.S. shadow boxing incidents are reported from both sides: two incidents, one on November 23 and another one on December 13, made headlines in Russia and the U.S. with differing accounts of the nearly identical incidents and the reasons they happened.

    For instance, dealing with the first one, according to the Russian version, a Sukhoi Su-35S was scrambled after a U.S. F-22 interfered with two Su-25s that were bombing an Islamic State target and chased the Raptor away. The Russian account was denied by the U.S. Central Command, that in an email to The Aviationist explained that there was no truth in the allegation:

    “According to our flight logs for Nov 23, 2017, this alleged incident did not take place, nor has there been any instance where a Coalition aircraft crossed the river without first deconflicting with the Russians via the deconfliction phone line set up for this purpose. Of note, on Nov 23, 2017, there were approximately nine instances where Russian fighter aircraft crossed to the east side of the Euphrates River into Coalition airspace without first using the deconfliction phone. This random and unprofessional activity placed Coalition and Russian aircrew at risk, as well as jeopardizing Coalition ability to support partner ground forces in the area.”

    Dealing with the second incident, U.S. officials told Fox News that a USAF F-22 Raptor stealth fighter flew in front of a pair of Russian Air Force Su-25 Frogfoot attack jets near Al Mayadin, Syria, “an area off-limits to Russian jets based on a long-standing mutual agreement”. In an attempt to force the Russian aircraft to change course, the American stealth jet cut across the front of the Russian jets, and released flares (a tactic known as ‘head-butting,’ meant to send a strong warning to an opposing warplane).


    Needless to say, this time it was the Russians to deny the version of events: according to the Russian MoD the Su-25s were escorting a humanitarian convoy on the western side of the Eurphrates and it was the U.S. aircraft that crossed the deconfliction line. “A Russian Su-35 fighter jet, performing an air cover mission at an altitude of 10,000 meters, swiftly approached the F-22 from the rear, forcing the American aircraft to leave the area.”

    “We saw anywhere from six to eight incidents daily in late November, where Russian or Syrian aircraft crossed into our airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command told U.S. news outlet CNN recently. “It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots are deliberately testing or baiting us into reacting, or if these are just honest mistakes.”

    On Dec. 29, the state-run RT media outlet reported:

    Russian pilots always managed to get behind US-led coalition fighter jets they encountered in the skies over Syria, a Russian ace said after receiving a state award from President Putin at the Kremlin.

    When meeting our partners from the Western coalition in the air, we always found ourselves ‘on their tails’ as the pilots say, which means victory in a dogfight,” Russian Airspace Forces major, Maksim Makolin, said.

    The so-called ‘lag pursuit’ when the nose of an attacking plane points at the tail of the opponent’s aircraft is considered the optimum location in an aerial fight. It allows the plane at the back a range of options, from increasing or maintaining range without overshooting to freely attacking, all the while remaining concealed in the blind spot behind the defending aircraft.

    Makolin became one of the 14,000 Russian servicemen who received state decorations for their courage and professionalism during the two-year-long Russian campaign in Syria.


    We have already discussed these close encounters, the tactical value of supermaneuverability vs stealthiness, the ROE, etc. In this case it’s only worth noticing there is no attempt to ease tensions, quite the contrary, as if certain statements were part of a hybrid warfare made of actual aircraft, as well as cyber warfare, proxy forces and propaganda.

    In this respect, if you are willing to learn more about “Russia’s campaign to mislead the public and undermine democratic institutions around the world,” I suggest you reading this report here.  “It reveals how the Russian government is conducting a major multi-pronged propaganda campaign to spread false information… […]”

    SEE ALSO: Air Force says Russia made up an incident over Syria between an F-22 and an Su-35 in response to a critical NYT story

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    Every year, Eurasia Group puts out their Top Risks report, and the world pays attention – from Wall Street to Washington. Here is their ranking for the top risks facing the world in 2018. The following is a transcript of the video:

    The biggest risks facing the world in 2018

    Eurasia Group released its predictions for the biggest global risks in 2018

    Here’s what to watch for in the geopolitical landscape this year.

    10: Security in Africa

    Instability in less-developed countries like Somalia and Mali will spill over into Africa’s core countries. 

    Dangers from the terror groups like al-Shabab will intensify. Increased security costs will hurt countries like Kenya and Nigeria.

    9: Identity politics in Southern Asia

    Islamism, anti-Chinese sentiments, and intensifying nationalism in India are leading to a rise of populism. Persecution of Muslim Rohingya has triggered a humanitarian crisis. 

    Prime Minister Modi’s use of Hindu Nationalism in the 2019 election could give cover to radicalized elements of society.

    8: United Kingdom

    Brexit negotiations could lead to endless fights. It could also cost Prime Minister Theresa May her job. Her potential replacement could complicate Brexit talks even further. 

    7: Protectionism 2.0

    Anti-establishment movements have led to proposals of border walls and metaphorical walls in the global economy.

    Policy makers are now forced to work more on “behind-the-border” measures like bailouts, subsidies, and “buy local” requirements.

    Protectionism 2.0 creates barriers in the digital economy and in blue-collar industries as well.

    6: The erosion of institutions

    Institutions like governments, the courts, political parties, and the media continue to lose public credibility.

    Anti-establishment populism could lead to political turmoil and authoritarianism in some countries. 

    5: US-Iran relations

    Trump will support Saudi Arabia to contain Iran in other countries like Syria and Yemen. Iran will push back against more sanctions from the US.

    If the Iran Nuclear Deal can’t hold, Iran will ramp up its nuclear program, creating another threat to the US and Israel.

    4: Mexico

    Uncertainty over NAFTA could harm Mexico’s economy and play a major role in the country’s election. Voter frustration over corruption, drug gangs, and slow growth could lead to a new president. Obrador could break with previous investor-friendly economic policies. 

    3: Global tech cold war

    US and China will compete to master artificial intelligence and supercomputing. Both countries will struggle for market dominance all around the world. Fragmentation of the tech companies could lead to major market and security risks.

    2: Accidents

    While there hasn't been a major geopolitical crisis since 9/11, there are many places where a misstep could lead to serious conflict.

    The likeliest risks:

    Conflict in cyberspace, fighting over North Korea, battlefield accidents in Syria, US-Russia tension and dispersal of ISIS fighters.

    1: China loves a vacuum

    China has developed the most effective global trade and investment strategy.

    It uses Chinese tech companies to advance state interests and has extended its influence in other countries that are now more likely to align and imitate it. 

    A US-China conflict on trade will become more likely this year.

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    Russian SU-35S

    • At least seven Russian planes were destroyed and 10 service members were wounded by rebel shelling at a Syrian air base.
    • The attack would mark the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched air strikes in Syria in 2015.
    • "Radical Islamists" are said to be responsible for the attack.

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - At least seven Russian planes were destroyed by rebel shelling at the Hmeymim air base in Syria on Dec. 31, Russian daily Kommersant reported late on Wednesday, citing two sources.

    In the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched air strike in Syria in autumn 2015, more than 10 servicemen were wounded in the attack by "radical Islamists," the report said.

    At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two "military-diplomatic" sources.

    Kommersant said the Russian defense ministry had not commented. Reuters was not able to immediately reach the ministry.

    Earlier on Wednesday, the ministry said a Mi-24 helicopter had crash-landed in Syria on Dec. 31 due to a technical fault and two pilots died.

    Last month, Russia began establishing a permanent presence at Hmeymim and a naval base at Tartous although President Vladimir Putin has ordered a "significant" withdrawal of his military from Syria, declaring their work largely done.

    (Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

    SEE ALSO: A top Russian pilot took a big shot at US forces flying over Syria in ongoing war of words

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    su 24 frogfoot syria

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia denied a report in daily newspaper Kommersant that seven Russian planes had been destroyed by rebel shelling at Syria's Hmeymim air base on Dec. 31, the TASS news agency on Thursday quoted the defense ministry as saying.

    The ministry also said two Russian service personnel were killed in a mortar attack on the base by rebels, according to TASS.

    Kommersant report's late on Wednesday detailed the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched air strike in Syria in autumn 2015, with reportedly more than 10 servicemen wounded in the attack by "radical Islamists."

    Kommersant said at least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, citing two "military-diplomatic" sources.

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    Sukhoi Su 24 Bomber

    • The Russian Ministry of Defense said that a mortar attack on its airbase in Syria had killed two "military personnel," but said no jets were destroyed.
    • The admission comes after a report that seven Russian aircraft were destroyed by a rebel mortar attack.
    • If the attack did result in the loss of jets, it would be the greatest loss for the Russian Air Force since its campaign started in 2015.

    The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that two "military personnel" died in a mortar attack on its Khmeimim airbase in Syria's Latakia Province on December 31.

    The admission comes amid reports from Russian newspaper Kommersant that the attack destroyed at least seven Russian aircraft as well — four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters, and an An-72 transport plane. Kommersant also reported that an ammunition depot was destroyed as well.

    But the Russian MoD pushed back on those reports, according to the Russian government-funded news outlet RT.

    "Kommersant's report on the alleged 'destruction' of seven Russian military aircraft at Khmeimim Airbase is fake," the MoD said in a statement, according to RT.

    It would not be the first time Russian aircraft were destroyed in an artillery attack at an airbase in Syria.

    STRATFOR published satellite imagery last May that revealed an ISIS attack at the T4 air base in central Syria had resulted in the destruction of  four Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters and a supply depot. The attack also damaged a Syrian MiG-25 "that was likely already out of commission," according to STRATFOR.

    Other incidents have included a Russian jet being shot down and several reports of jets crashing due to mechanical failure.

    Widescale destruction of Russian jets from ground attacks has not been reported before, and would be a significantly larger loss.

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    • A top US Air Force general says Russia is incorporating lessons from operating alongside US aircraft in Syria into its training.
    • Russian jets and anti-air systems in Syria have been able to practice tracking US jets, including the F-22, possibly eroding its stealth advantage.
    • But the US has been watching Russia too, and the US's competitors still have a long way to go before negating its air supremacy.

    In the fight against the terrorist group ISIS in Iraq and Syria, US and US-led-coalition jets have flown thousands of sorties and dropped tons of munitions — but in doing so, they've tipped their hand to Russian fighter jets that have eagerly stalked them.

    "The skies over Iraq and specifically Syria have really just been a treasure trove for them to see how we operate," Lt. Gen. VeraLinn "Dash" Jamieson said at an Air Force Association briefing hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies on Thursday.

    "Our adversaries are watching us — they're learning from us," said Jamieson, adding that Russia's air force cycled most forces through Syria to give them real-world combat experience.

    During the air campaign in Syria, Russia got a look at the tactics, behaviors, radar, and thermal signatures of the US's top air-dominance fighter, the F-22.

    Russia is figuring the US out and gloating over it

    su 35

    In the skies over Syria, Russia's top fighter jets came face to face with the F-22 and appeared to show it little reverence.

    Russia's air force has gloated over its dominance in such encounters, though that should be taken with a grain of salt.

    "We always found ourselves 'on their tails,' as the pilots say, which means victory in a dogfight," said Maksim Makolin of Russian Aerospace Forces, according to state media.

    Though Russia often exaggerates or fabricates stories of its air force's prowess, there's reason to believe Russia gained valuable information that could help it in a fight with US jets.

    "Russia can learn more than just observing US/coalition tactics, techniques, and procedures," Justin Bronk, an expert on aerial combat at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. "They can also 'paint' Western fighters and other air assets with ground-based and aerial fire control and search radars."

    The F-22 relies on stealth for its major advantage against Russian jets, which perform similarly, if not better, in traditional confrontations like dogfights. If Russia gained experience tracking the F-22 with infrared-search-and-track radars, as Bronk suggested it might have, it would be "very useful stuff."

    Russia's operating close to the US most likely allowed it to tune its air- and land-based sensors to detect all varieties of US and coalition aircraft operating over Syria.

    Russia in Syria has been a double-edged sword

    US Navy aircraft carrier

    As a result, the advantages afforded to planes like the F-22 that utilize stealth — and all US fighter jets that use classified tactics in combat scenarios — may have been eroded.

    "Russia has gained invaluable insights and information with operating in a contested airspace alongside of us in Syria, and they're incorporating lessons learned of actually doing a first 'away' fight," Jamieson said.

    But as Bronk points out, the observation was most likely mutual — and most likely cut both ways.

    "Whilst Russia is certainly making every use that it can of the opportunity to learn about Western air operations and capabilities in the shared skies over Syria, that process goes both ways since whatever Russian military aircraft do is done within airspace heavily surveilled by Western assets," Bronk said.

    Still, as adversaries catch up, the future of US air supremacy becomes less clear.

    "The United States Air Force can and will maintain air supremacy today," Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland said at the briefing. "The question is the future."

    SEE ALSO: 2 Russian military personnel were killed in the mortar attack at a Syrian air base that reportedly destroyed 7 Russian jets

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    People take part in pro-government rallies, Iran, January 3, 2018. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

    • Anti-government protests have taken place across several major Iranian cities.
    • The protests were critical of Iran's Supreme Ayatollah, and were sparked by economic concerns.
    • Protestors were also motivated by ethnic issues and Iran's foreign policy.

    Roiling more than a dozen major cities, young Iranians are protesting against the country's government. They appear to be particularly angered by the country's funding of wars in Arab countries, such as Yemen and Syria, as Iranian citizens slide towards poverty.

    In the city of Kerman, demonstrators chanted that the "People are living like beggars, the Leader is behaving like a God", and in Khuzestan, protesters reportedly called out "death to Khamenei," Iran's supreme leader. Something profound is happening — and it could have major implications for the Middle East as a whole.

    The movement's roots

    On the face of it, this is reminiscent of the huge protests that followed the 2009 election, known as the Green Movement or Green Revolution. But these latest protests are all round very unlike the Green Movement in their implications, their size, and their demographics. In 2009, protesters mainly came from a young and educated middle class; this time, the protests started in the north-western city of Mashad, traditionally a religiously conservative place, and those taking to the streets come from a far wider variety of backgrounds.

    Iran Green Movement

    Alas, much as happened in 2009, the latest protests in Iran face a severe government crackdown. The first deaths at the hands of security forces were reported in Dorud, and more than 20 casualties have now been counted. And yet the protesters continue to stand up against the government's iron-fisted approach. So what's driving them?

    Besides the protesters' explicit antipathy toward Iranian foreign policy in the Arab world, the protests also have a distinctively Arab dimension. In Ahwazi, a majority Arab region in Iran's south-west, protests have been going on for weeks, with people taking to the streets to rail against the Iranian government's repression and its confiscation of Ahwazi land and water. Thousands of Arab Iranians took to the streets when an Iranian parliamentarian, Qassem al-Saeedi, slammed the Iranian government's discriminatory policies, even comparing the Iranian regime's anti-Arab policies to those of Israel.

    Iran's foreign affairs 

    Then there's the matter of Syria. Since the beginning of the Syrian uprisings in 2011, Ahwazi Arab Iranians have stood in solidarity with their counterparts on the Syrian streets, while Syrian pro-democracy protesters have waved the Ahwaz flag in their protests against Bashar al-Assad's regime. Small wonder then that today's Syrian anti-regime revolutionaries and activists are standing in solidarity with the Iranian protests.

    Bashar al-Assad

    Abdelaziz al-Hamza, a Syrian pro-democracy activist from Raqqa and active member of the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, advised the Iranian protesters not to reveal their identity, not to carry any ID documentation, and to use removable memory cards in the devices they use to document the protests. He also strongly advised them to use nicknames for their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts, and to communicate via encrypted apps.

    Many Syrian opposition activists hope that the Iranian protests will start a domino effect that eventually affects Iranian foreign policy towards Syria. In recent years, the Iranian government has spent billions of dollars annually supporting the repressive Syrian regime.

    Iran's powerful military chief, General Qasem Soleimani, has been leading the Iranian military operation inside Syria. If the current protests lead to some sort of revolutionary change, Iran's strong financial and military support to active actors in the Syrian war — among them Hezbollah and the Assad regime's army — could suddenly shrivel up. This will also have major implications for Arab countries where Iran is playing a military role, not least Yemen.

    If anything is to be learned from the Syrian uprisings, it's that protests such as these can take on a life of their own in ways no one anticipated. There is a significant chance that the Iranian regime will be every bit as brutal in its crackdown as the Assad regime. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has blamed the protests on a foreign conspiracy; hundreds of protesters have been arrested, and the head of Iran's Revolutionary Court warned that some will receive death sentences.

    The prospect of major bloodshed at the hands of the state looms large — and if that happens, the ensuing domino effect could create yet another volatile and explosive situation in an already stormy and dangerous region.

    SEE ALSO: After 21 killed in anti-government protests, Iran's army chief says he's ready to intervene

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    su 24 mortar damage

    • Russian media reported on Wednesday that "radical Islamists" destroyed seven aircraft late last month in a mortar attack.
    • Russia has confirmed the attack and the deaths of two service members but denied that aircraft were lost.

    Russian media reported on Wednesday that "radical Islamists" had destroyed six fighter aircraft and one transport plane with a mortar attack on December 31.

    More than 10 Russian service members were wounded in the attack, said the report, which cited defense sources but not Russia's Ministry of Defense.

    A day later, another Russian media outlet published a denial from the ministry, which said two service members had been killed but no planes destroyed.

    Unverified images circulating on social media, however, seem to fit the bill of destroyed Russian aircraft at Syria's Hmeymim air base.

    Joseph Dempsey, a research associate for defense analysis at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, posted the images and pointed out that the plane in them had been confirmed to be in Syria. He added that the rainy conditions captured in the photo matched the weather at the time the report said the attack happened.

    Dempsey's pictures show the shredded rear horizontal stabilizer of a Su-24. But for a mortar to do such serious damage to the stabilizer, it would have to explode nearby, most likely peppering the entire plane and anything around it with bits of shrapnel.

    If the images are genuine, it's safe to assume other nearby jets or assets suffered damage too.

    In short, though the damage looks limited, the plane is probably wrecked. One picture shows a fuel leak and a bomb underneath the jet.

    Taken together, the images depict a disaster or near-disaster where Russia bases most of its fleet in Syria.

    This spells trouble for Russia

    Whether the images are real or not — or whether seven or one or zero planes were destroyed — Russia has confirmed the attack and casualties.

    Google Earth satellite imagery of the air base shows that the mortar attackers had ample space and cover to launch on Russia's sitting-duck Sukhoi jets.

    Hmeynim air base russia syria mortar attack

    It appears Russia most likely fell victim to a guerrilla attack or insurgency — the same kind that has for decades kept the US's superior military and air power from completing missions in the Middle East.

    Charles Lister, the director of counterterrorism at the Middle East Institute, tweeted two theories about who could have attacked the base: a "localized, very small independent rebel unit active behind enemy lines," or "Ahrar al-Sham's 'special' unit operating covertly in Latakia (has a long track record)."

    Ahrar al-Sham is a coalition of Islamist fighters that came together to fight against Syria's government, which Russia supports. But an independent rebel unit behind enemy lines could prove just as troubling and hard to root out for Russia.

    SEE ALSO: Russia gained a 'treasure trove' of intelligence on the US's best fighter jets in Syria

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    Drone used in attack on Russian airbase

    • The Russian Ministry of Defense claims that 13 armed drones attacked its airbase in western Syria.
    • No casualties were reported during the attack, and the MoD claims that Russian forces were able to "overpower" and take control of some of the drones, while others were shot down.
    • The attack comes days after a mortar attack reportedly resulted in the deaths of two servicemen and the destruction of seven Russian Air Force jets.

    Russia says 13 armed drones have recently been used to attack its air base and its naval facility in western Syria.

    The Russian Defense Ministry said on January 8 that there were no casualties or damage as a result of the attacks on the Hmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility.

    Russian forces were able to overpower radio signals for some of the drones and gain control of them during the attacks overnight on January 5-6, a statement said.

    Other drones were destroyed with short-range Pantsir-S1 antiaircraft missile systems, it also said, adding that the unmanned aerial vehicles were carrying foreign, professionally manufactured explosives.

    "Engineering solutions used by the terrorists in the attack...could have been obtained only from a country possessing high-tech capabilities for providing satellite navigation and remote control," it added, without naming any country.

    A monitoring group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the attacks were carried out by an Islamist rebel faction that operates in Latakia Province, where the Hmeimim base is located, according to the Associated Press news agency.

    Russia has given President Bashar al-Assad's government crucial support throughout Syria's civil war and has long been at odds with U.S. support of certain rebel groups in the Syrian civil war.

    The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes since it began with a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011.

    Also on January 8, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that air strikes by Russian warplanes and shelling attacks by Syrian government forces on rebel-held parts of Idlib Province, northeast of Latakia, enabled the regime forces to advance into 14 villages.

    At least 21 people were killed in the aerial bombardment and shelling since January 7, the observatory said.

    russian military jets syria

    Idlib is the only province in Syria to be almost entirely controlled by antigovernment forces that are dominated by a coalition of Islamist factions called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

    The provincial capital, also called Idlib, was late on January 7 the scene of a deadly blast that hit the headquarters of the militant faction Ajnad al-Qawqaz. Many of its fighters are from the Caucasus and Russia.

    There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombing that claimed at least 25 lives.

    More than 40 Russian military personnel died in Syria since Moscow launched a campaign of air strikes in September 2015, in many cases using Hmeimim as a base.

    Russia's Defense Ministry said last week that two Russian service personnel were killed in a mortar attack on Hmeimim on New Year's Eve.

    It denied a report by the Kommersant business daily that seven military planes were destroyed in the attack.

    The ministry also said that one of its military helicopters crashed in Syria on December 31 due to a "technical malfunction," killing both pilots aboard.

    During a visit to the Hmeimim air base on December 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory over "the most combat-capable international terrorist group" -- a reference to the extremist group Islamic State (IS) -- and announced a partial withdrawal of Russian troops.

    Western officials say that the Russian campaign, particularly in its earlier stages, has focused heavily on targeting rebels seeking Assad's ouster rather than IS militants.

    Putin said on December 28 that more than 48,000 Russian military personnel had served in the operation in Syria, and that Russia's presence at Hmeimim and Tartus would be "permanent."

    On December 29, Putin signed a law ratifying an agreement enabling Russia to expand operations at its naval facility in Tartus.

    SEE ALSO: Photos reportedly show Russian jets wrecked by mortar fire — and it could be the start of Russia's nightmare in Syria

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    russian jet su 24 baltic donald cook

    MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has enough forces remaining in Syria to withstand possible attacks on its bases, a Kremlin spokesman said on Tuesday.

    "That contingent that remains, the military infrastructure that remains, at the Hmeimim and Tartus military bases, they are completely capable of fighting these occasional terrorist acts," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call.

    The Russian Defence Ministry said on Monday that militants had attacked its bases overnight on Jan. 6 using thirteen armed drones.

    SEE ALSO: Photos reportedly show Russian jets wrecked by mortar fire — and it could be the start of Russia's nightmare in Syria

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