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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    special forces YPG

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Wednesday he did not think Turkey will come face-to-face with the United States as it carries out military operations in Syria, seeing only a small possibility of this happening in the Manbij area.

    In an interview with Reuters, Bozdag said Turkey would, if necessary, continue to use airspace over Syria's Afrin region as its incursion against the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia entered a fifth day.

    Bozdag, who is also the government spokesman, added that Turkey was ready for all kinds of cooperation with the United States and Russia if that would bring peace to the region.

    Turkey opened a new front in Syria's multi-sided civil war with its Afrin operation, which it has dubbed "Olive Branch". But it could also threaten U.S. plans to stabilize and rebuild a large area of northeast Syria.

    Manbij, to the east of Afrin, is part of a much larger area of northern Syria controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the YPG.

    SEE ALSO: Dozens of US nuclear weapons in Turkey could be in question as the NATO allies fight a proxy war in Syria

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    Turkish soldiers and tanks are pictured in a village on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it would not be right for Turkey and the United States to discuss a potential "safe zone" in Syria until trust issues between the NATO allies are resolved, the Hurriyet newspaper said on Thursday.

    On Wednesday, local media had quoted Cavusoglu as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had proposed a 30 km safe zone along Turkey's border with Syria.

    "There was a loss of trust with the United States during this period. Until trust is instilled again, it is not right for these issues to be discussed," Hurriyet quoted Cavusoglu as saying.

    Cavusoglu's comments appeared to be in line with those of a senior U.S. official this week, who had said that Turks had not been ready to engage in detail on such a proposal.

    SEE ALSO: Dozens of US nuclear weapons in Turkey could be in question as the NATO allies fight a proxy war in Syria

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    US Marines Syria bombing

    • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the US's new strategy in Syria, and he named combating Iran's influence and its threat to US interests as a main goal.
    • The US has just 2,000 troops in Syria while Iran has an estimated 70,000, but the US has plenty of assets — military, economic, and diplomatic — to deny Iran's dream of outsized influence in Syria.
    • The US may look to rally its allies in a full press against Iran's growing influence, and it could follow on Israel's military approach.


    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently laid out a new US approach to the conflict in Syria, and two things became immediately clear — the US is staying in Syria and conflict with Iran could be coming.

    Up until this point, the US presence in Syria has focused on fighting ISIS, the terror group that gained control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014. But with ISIS in rapid decline and its once UK-sized territory all but completely removed from their grasp, Tillerson described Iran as the new principal threat to US interests in Syria.

    "Continued strategic threats to the US from not just ISIS and Al Qaeda, but from others, persist," Tillerson said earlier this month. "And this threat I'm referring to is principally Iran."

    Tillerson said Iran "is positioning to continue attacking US interests, our allies, and personnel in the region" through its positioning in Syria.

    In no uncertain terms, Tillerson said Iran dreams of a land arch that would connect them to their ally, Lebanon, through Syria, where it can provide weapons support to anti-US and anti-Isreal terror groups. He noted that one of the US's desired end results is that "Iranian influence in Syria is diminished, their dreams of a northern arch are denied, and Syria's neighbors are secure from all threats emanating from Syria."

    While the new strategy does not guarantee outright fighting between the US and Iran, it puts the US's 2,000 or so troops in Syria in direct strategic competition with Iran's estimated 70,000.

    Numbers can be deceiving

    Iranian revolutionary guard irgc

    Despite an apparent 35 to 1 numbers advantage for Iranian and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria, Iran's forces are weak, overexposed, and certain to fare poorly in a direct competition with the US, according to Tony Badran, a Syria expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

    US and US-backed forces have already come into contact with Iranian and Iranian-backed forces in Syria, and the short engagements proved decisive victories for the US, which holds considerable advantages in air power and high-end warfighting.

    But those skirmishes only focused on getting Iranian forces off the backs of US-aligned forces while the US focused on defeating ISIS. In the US's new campaign to shut down Iran's hoped-for land bridge to Lebanon, the US will likely have to work with local allies, according to Badran.

    "The US is going to have to develop local Arab fighting forces," said Badran, "But you can do a lot more damage a lot quicker by expanding or amplifying the existing Israeli campaign by going after installations, mobile targets, or senior cadres."

    Israel, while it has stayed out of the majority of its neighbor Syria's civil war, has made no apologies for stepping in with airstrikes when it feels Iran getting to close to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah militia vows to wage war against the Jewish state. 

    With Israel potentially at its back, the US "has assets far beyond 2,000 guys out in the desert somewhere," said Badran. The US can call on naval power, aircraft carriers, nearby air bases, allied air power, standoff weapons like cruise missiles, and artillery.

    Iran sacrifices asymmetrical advantage

    f/a 18 uss george h w bush isis

    Meanwhile, Iran's forces are overextended and exposed, according to Badran.

    While Iran usually enjoys what military analysts call an "asymmetrical advantage" over US forces in the Middle East, or its ability to fight against US interests using proxy armies and less-than-lethal force, that advantage disappears in a direct confrontation. If Iran mounted a large-scale attack on US forces in Syria, the bases, depots, and planners involved in the attack would be quickly reduced to rubble, according to Badran.

    For that reason, Iran may look to avoid direct military engagement with the US, and simply continue to support the US's enemies while playing the long game of aggravating the US and hoping Washington's will breaks before Tehran's.

    But another prong of the US's strategy in Syria is to isolate the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

    "We're going to treat Syria like North Korea — an economic, not just a political pariah," said Badran.

    With the US pressuring allies not to do business with the Assad regime and providing no money for reconstruction, the Syrian government, Iran's ally, may weaken, making way for a less Iran-friendly administration in the future, thereby denying Tehran its land bridge without a shot fired.

    The US won't go it alone

    trump erdogan turkey

    Tehran has its own problems to worry about. Country-wide protests over the country's steep inequality and billions in spending on foreign adventurism have threatened the very fabric of its leadership. Local Syrians — a diverse, mainly Sunni bunch — also may prove resistant to Iran, the dominant Shiite Muslim power in the region.

    Though the US and Turkey frequently clash over differences in their vision for Syria, former US ambassador to Turkey and Washington Institute expert James Jeffrey says Washington and Ankara ultimately agree on the broad goals.

    "Right now, about 40% of Syria is under control of US or Turkey, and while US and Turkey are not all that well coordinated, both US and Turkey see the goal to a transition to a regime that will not do what [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has done," said Jeffrey.

    Jeffrey added that Turkey also would like to reduce the role of Iran in Syria, as Tehran has a "tendency to bully the Sunni Arab population" which could lead to another civil war.

    Badran does not question that the US could easily overwhelm or destroy Iranian forces in Syria, and instead believes the real challenge lies in determining who will establish control of southern Syria in the future.

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    A member of Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army police forces secures the road as they escort a convoy near Azaz, Syria January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

    • Turkey has detained 311 politicians, journalists, and activists for "spreading terrorist propaganda," or supporting anti-war movements as it bombs Syrian Kurds.
    • The Turkish Medical Association denounced the military campaign, saying "No to war, peace immediately," but Turkish Presdient Tayyip Erdogan denounced them as imperialists. 
    • Turkey has jailed 50,000 since the July 2016 coup that failed as Erdogan consolodates power.

    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has detained more than 300 people for social media posts criticizing its military offensive in Syria, the government said on Monday, a day after President Tayyip Erdogan accused doctors who opposed the campaign of betrayal.

    Since launching its 10-day-old air and ground offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria's northwestern region of Afrin, Turkish authorities have warned they would prosecute those opposing, criticizing or misrepresenting the incursion.

    The Interior Ministry said on Monday a total of 311 people had been held for "spreading terrorist propaganda" on social media in the last 10 days. Detainees have included politicians, journalists and activists.

    Turkey considers the U.S.-backed YPG, which controls Afrin, to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984.

    The military operation has been widely supported by Turkey's mainly pro-government media and by most political parties, with the exception of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). But there have been dissenting voices.

    Over the weekend, Turkish media reported that 170 artists had written an open letter to lawmakers from Erdogan's ruling AK Party calling for an immediate end to Turkey's incursion.

    Last week the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) denounced the cross-border operation, saying "No to war, peace immediately."

    On Sunday, Erdogan accused the union of treason. "Believe me, they are not intellectuals at all, they are a gang of slaves. They are the servants of imperialism," he told AK Party members in the northern province of Amasya.

    "This 'No to war' cry by this mob ... is nothing other than the outburst of the betrayal in their souls ... This is real filth, this is the honorless stance that should be said 'no' to," Erdogan said.

    Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Twitter on Saturday that the TTB and the Turkish Engineer and Architect Chambers Association (TMMOB), which has backed the medics, cannot use the word "Turkish" in their names, saying they did not represent Turkish medics, engineers and architects.

    In a statement on Friday, the TTB said it rejected the accusations directed at it, adding remarks by senior government officials had made it a target of attacks. The Interior Ministry said later it had started an investigation into the association's actions.

    Since a failed coup in 2016, Ankara has enforced a crackdown that saw more than 50,000 people jailed and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs, including members of the pro-Kurdish opposition party. The government says the moves were necessary given the security threats Turkey faces.

    Critics accuse the government of unjustly targeting pro-Kurdish politicians. Some lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) have been jailed on terrorism charges, which they deny.

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    • The US won't withdraw troops from a town in northern Syria where Turkey has threatened to attack as part of their campaign to push back Kurdish forces from their border.
    • The US has 2,000 troops in Syria supporting a range of fighters, including many Kurdish.
    • Turkey considers the fighting Kurdish factions as part of other Kurdish terror groups.

    American army vehicles drive north of Manbij city, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The United States has no plans to withdraw troops stationed near the town of Manbij in northern Syria despite warnings from Turkey to remove its forces immediately, CNN quoted the U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel as saying.

    Pulling U.S. forces from Manbij is "not something we are looking into", the channel's website reported Votel as saying on Sunday during a trip to the Middle East.

    Turkey, which is waging a military offensive against Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria's northwestern region of Afrin, has repeatedly said it will also drive the YPG militia from the mainly Arab town of Manbij, east of Afrin.

    The United States has around 2,000 military personnel in northern Syria supporting an umbrella group of fighters, dominated by the YPG, which drove Islamic State from its Syrian strongholds last year.

    Turkey, which considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization, has called on Washington to end its military support for the group and to pull back from the Manbij region where some of its troops are stationed.

    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday the United States "needs to break its link with (the) terrorist organization and make them drop their weapons completely. They need to collect the weapons they gave, they need to withdraw from Manbij immediately."

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    Jordanian army members participate in a hostage rescue drill during a Black Hawk helicopters handover ceremony to Jordan from the U.S. government, at a Jordanian military base near the town of Zarqa, Jordan, January 28, 2018.REUTERS/Stringer

    ZARQA, Jordan (Reuters) - The United States has delivered the last batch of Black Hawk helicopters for Jordan's rapid deployment force to bolster border defenses and engage in cross-border operations against Islamic militants.

    US officials say that military aid to Jordan, one of the largest recipients of its foreign military financing, helps to build the kingdom's military capabilities as part of a wider regional strategy.

    Washington has announced it plans to stay in Syria long after Islamic State has been defeated and has military bases in the northeastern part of the war-torn country.

    In a handover ceremony attended by US Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel and Jordan's chief of staff, the helicopters landed in a mock hostage rescue by special forces.

    "The United States remains committed to supporting the Jordanian air force efforts to protect Jordan's borders and deter counter acts of terror and contribute to defeat ISIS coalition operations," said Henry Wooster, Charge d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Jordan, during the ceremony at the King Abdullah air base 35 km northeast of the capital.

    Black hawk helicopter

    The Black Hawk helicopters are central to the US-funded quick reaction force set up by Jordan to counter Islamic State, which remains a threat despite having been driven out of large areas of neighboring Iraq and Syria.

    "The force is capable of moving troops and supplies anywhere in Jordan on short notice to reinforce border security and repel potential incursions," Wooster said.

    US Patriot missiles are stationed in the kingdom and the US army has hundreds of trainers in the country. Jordan's location makes it an ideal logistics and supply hub for the Unites States, including its Tanf garrison in the southeastern Syrian desert.

    "US Jordanian military cooperation is very strong and a key component in our joint effort to defeat Daesh," said Brig. Gen. Jaber al-Abbadi, Jordan's air force commander.

    Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Washington has spent millions of dollars to help Amman set up an elaborate surveillance system known as the Border Security Programme to stem infiltration by militants from Syria and Iraq.

    (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by David Goodman)

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    FILE PHOTO - Turkish forces wave a flag on Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria January 28, 2018. REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi

    ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Two rockets fired from the Syrian region of Afrin struck the Turkish border town of Reyhanli and killed one person, the state-run Anadolu agency said on Wednesday.

    Rockets hit two houses and killed one 17-year-old and wounded another person, Anadolu said. The missile attacks were believed to be carried out by members of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Syrian Kurdish fighters, it said.

    Since the start of Turkey's operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin, several rockets have hit the Turkish border towns of Kilis and Reyhanli.

    Turkey launched the air and ground offensive, dubbed "Operation Olive Branch", a little more than a week ago, opening a new front in Syria's seven-year, multi-sided civil war to target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

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    A member of Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army police forces secures the road as they escort a convoy near Azaz, Syria January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

    • French President Emmanuel Macron warned Turkey that its operation against Kurdish militias in northern Syria should not become an excuse to invade the country.
    • Turkey last week launched an air and ground offensive in northwest Syria, targeting the Kurdish YPG militia in the Afrin region.
    • Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast.

    PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron warned Turkey that its operation against Kurdish militias in northern Syria should not become an excuse to invade the country and said he wanted Ankara to coordinate its action with its allies.

    Turkey last week launched an air and ground offensive in northwest Syria, targeting the Kurdish YPG militia in the Afrin region. That has opened a new front in the seven-year-old civil war and strained ties with Turkey's NATO allies.

    "If it turns out that this operation takes a turn other than to fight a potential terrorist threat to the Turkish border and becomes an invasion operation, (then) this becomes a real problem for us," Macon said in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper published on Wednesday.

    Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast.

    The United States and France have armed and trained YPG-led militia in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

    Macron said he would bring the issue up again with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and that the nature of the operation meant there should be discussions between Europeans, but also more widely among allies.

     

    SEE ALSO: The US just changed course in Syria — and could now look to confront Iran

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    Syrian refugees

    • Around 7,000 Syrians to remain in the United States for at least another 18 months under temporary protected status.
    • They will now be allowed to stay in the US through September 30, 2019.
    • The administration stopped short of re-designating Syria’s status, which means that it will continue to benefit only Syrians who have been in the United States since 2016 or earlier.


    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration said on Wednesday it would allow some 7,000 Syrians to remain in the United States for at least another 18 months under protected status as civil war rages in their native country.

    The decision was a relief for the Syrians who would have faced the prospect of returning to a fractured country racked with violence if the administration had rescinded their temporary protected status (TPS) when it ran out in March.

    Instead, they are allowed to stay through September 30, 2019.

    “After carefully considering conditions on the ground, I have determined that it is necessary to extend the Temporary Protected Status designation for Syria,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a statement.

    “It is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute,” she added.

    The administration stopped short of re-designating Syria’s status, which means that it will continue to benefit only Syrians who have been in the United States since 2016 or earlier.

    “It fell short that they didn’t re-designate it but I think it’s a positive action nonetheless that should be praised,” said Monzer Shakally, 21, a Syrian student at the University of Iowa with the temporary status. “I‘m happy this decision came out now and I don’t have to worry about this for another 18 months at least.”

    Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Sandra Maler and Alistair Bell

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    Syria

    • The Trump administration is reportedly warning Syria that if reports of chemical weapon attacks continue, it will strike like it did in April.
    • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has been linked to multiple chemical weapons attacks, and the US suspects Russia is enabling it.
    • It will be hard for the US to prove Syria used the chemical weapons due to a change in the Assad regime's tactics, but it may look to send a message with a strike nonetheless.


    President Donald Trump's administration is warning Syria that further chemical attacks will be met with a strike like the salvo of 59 cruise missiles that lit up a Syrian air base in April.

    Syria would be "ill-advised to go back to violating the chemical convention," Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said on Friday, the Washington Examiner notes. 

    Two senior administration officials warned that the US could take military action against Syria following a new rash of reports of chemical weapons used against civilians supposedly carried out by the country's government, The Cipher Brief reported.

    But even bigger than another strike on Syria — which, while eye-catching, changed little geopolitically — the officials said the US was on to Syria's backer and enabler: Russia.

    "They're not trying to fool us. They know what we know," one of the officials said, meaning that Russia isn't even trying to hide its role in the chemical attacks. "They're trying to fool you."

    The official was referring to Russia's media offensive to deny its connection to chemical weapons use in Syria.

    An agreement between the US in Russia in 2013 bound Moscow to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, but as repeated instances of chemical weapons attacks show, that was simply not the case.

    The officials' statements to The Cipher Brief follow Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's statements that Russia "bears responsibility" for the chemical warfare still unfolding in Syria.

    Easier said than done

    syria chlorine

    But while the Trump administration has resolved to punish Syria's use of chemical weapons with military force, a change in tactics from Damascus may complicate things. Instead of the sarin gas used in April, which requires sophisticated assembly and deployment by an air force, the recent attacks have used chlorine gas, which can simply be dumped out of a truck.

    Former US ambassador to Turkey and Washington Institute fellow James Jeffrey told BI that there have been persistent reports of chlorine attacks in Syria since 2013, and it's not as clearly banned by international agreements as sarin.

    Additionally, Jeffrey pointed out that the attacks have not been independently verified by an international agency, meaning it would be harder to build an international consensus around a strike.

    "We are even more concerned about the possibility of sarin use," said Mattis. "We are looking for the evidence."

    But with Russian and Iranian influence growing in Syria and posing a direct threat to US foreign policy interests, it's possible that the Trump administration may look to make a statement that it's not buying Russia's excuses anymore.

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    North Korea

    • A confidential report reveals that North Korea violated UN sanctions and earned almost $200 million fom banned commodity exports.
    • North Korea is also believed to have supplied weapons to Syria and Myanmar.
    • Some cargo shipments included acid-resistant tiles, which may have been used to build "interior wall of a chemical factory."
    • Sanctions against the regime included banning coal, iron, lead, textiles, and seafood exports.


    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - North Korea violated United Nations sanctions to earn nearly $200 million in 2017 from banned commodity exports, according to a confidential report by independent U.N. monitors, which also accused Pyongyang of supplying weapons to Syria and Myanmar.

    The report to a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee, seen by Reuters on Friday, said North Korea had shipped coal to ports, including in Russia, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, mainly using false paperwork that showed countries such as Russia and China as the coal origin, instead of North Korea.

    The 15-member council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

    "The DPRK (North Korea) is already flouting the most recent resolutions by exploiting global oil supply chains, complicit foreign nationals, offshore company registries and the international banking system," the U.N. monitors wrote in the 213-page report.

    The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.N. report. Russia and China have repeatedly said they are implementing U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

    FILE PHOTO: A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abdullah/File Photo

    Syria, Myanmar

    The monitors said they had investigated ongoing ballistic missile cooperation between Syria and Myanmar, including more than 40 previously unreported North Korea shipments between 2012 and 2017 to Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Centre, which oversees the country's chemical weapons program.

    The investigation has shown "further evidence of arms embargo and other violations, including through the transfer of items with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs," the U.N. monitors wrote.

    They also inspected cargo from two North Korea shipments intercepted by unidentified countries en route to Syria. Both contained acid-resistant tiles that could cover an area equal to a large scale industrial project, the monitors reported.

    One country, which was not identified, told the monitors the seized shipments can "be used to build bricks for the interior wall of a chemical factory."

    Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.

    The Syrian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the U.N. report.

    The U.N. monitors also said one country, which they did not identify, reported it had evidence that Myanmar received ballistic missile systems from North Korea, along with conventional weapons, including multiple rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.

    The Myanmar mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

    UN

    Banned exports, imports

    Under a 2016 resolution, the U.N. Security Council capped coal exports and required countries to report any imports of North Korean coal to the council sanctions committee. It then banned all exports of coal by North Korea on Aug. 5.

    The U.N. monitors investigated 16 coal shipments between January and Aug. 5 to ports in Russia, China, Malaysia and Vietnam. They said Malaysia reported one shipment to the council committee and the remaining 15 shipments violated sanctions.

    After the coal ban was imposed on Aug. 5, the U.N. monitors investigated 23 coal shipments to ports in Russia, China, South Korea and Vietnam. The U.N. monitors said all those shipments "would constitute a violation of the resolution, if confirmed."

    "The DPRK combined deceptive navigation patterns, signals manipulation, transshipments as well as fraudulent documentation to obscure the origin of the coal," the monitors said.

    The U.N. monitors "also investigated cases of ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products in violation (of U.N. sanctions) ... and found that the network behind these vessels is primarily based in Taiwan province of China."

    The monitors said one country, which they did not name, told them North Korea had carried out such transfers off its ports of Wonsan and Nampo and in international waters between the Yellow Sea and East China Sea between October and January.

    The report said several multinational oil companies, which were not named, were also being investigated for roles in the supply chain of petroleum products transferred to North Korea.

    (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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    Russian Su-25 Syria

    • A Russian Su-25 was reportedly shot down in Syria on Saturday, and the pilot may have been killed by Syrian rebels.
    • Russia has increased bombing runs in Idlib in the last month, which has resulted in more than one hundred civilian deaths and displaced more than 100,000 people.

     

    Syrian rebels shot down a Russian Su-25 in Idlib province on Saturday, and then killed the pilot on the ground, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

    Jaish al-Nasr, a faction in the Free Syrian Army, released footage of the Su-25 getting shot down, and more video has appeared of the wreckage.

    The defense ministry said the Su-25 was shot down by a man-portable air-defense system, and that the pilot safely ejected before being killed by local forces.

    The rebels tried to capture the pilot, but they shot and killed him when he fired at them with his pistol, the Associated Press reported. Graphic videos and images appearing to be the pilot, who was reportedly found without a parachute, have since emerged.

    The Russian Defense Ministry later said it conducted airstrikes where the Su-25 was shot down, and killed at least 30 rebels, according to RT.

    Russia and the Syrian regime have increased airstrikes in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta in the last month, two of the Syrian rebels' last remaining strongholds.

    Scores of adults and children were killed and wounded in Idlib, and about 100,000 people were displaced in the first two weeks of January alone. At least 177 civilians were killed and more than 800 were also wounded in Eastern Ghouta in that same period.

    Russia's increase in bombing runs in Idlib may have been in response to the rebel drone attack on its Hmeymim air force base in December.

    Moscow later accused the US of helping the rebels target its air base, and even accused Ukraine of making the explosives.

    The US and Ukraine strongly denied the claims.

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    iran tehran uk embassy protest

    The Economist Intelligence Unit has released its latest Democracy Index this week, which ranks 167 countries according to political and civic freedom.

    Countries are given a score out of 10 based on five criteria. Above eight is a "full democracy," while below four is an "authoritarian regime."

    Scandinavian countries topped the list and the US remained a "flawed democracy" in this index.

    The study has five criteria: Whether elections are free and fair ("electoral process and pluralism"), whether governments have checks and balances ("functioning of government"), whether citizens are included in politics ("political participation"), the level of support for the government ("political culture"), and whether people have freedom of expression ("civil liberties").

    Below are the world's most authoritarian regimes:

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    21. United Arab Emirates — 2.69/10

    Electoral process and pluralism: 0.00

    Functioning of government: 3.57

    Political participation: 2.22

    Political culture: 5.00

    Civil liberties: 2.65



    20. Azerbaijan — 2.65

    Electoral process and pluralism: 0.50

    Functioning of government: 2.14

    Political participation: 3.33

    Political culture: 3.75

    Civil liberties: 3.53



    19. Afghanistan — 2.55

    Electoral process and pluralism: 2.50

    Functioning of government: 1.14

    Political participation: 2.78

    Political culture: 2.50

    Civil liberties: 3.82



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    operation inherent resolve

    • US troops have started to draw down from Baghdad following ISIS' defeat within the country.
    • Iraqi sources say 60% of US forces will leave with about 4,000 staying behind to train Iraq's military.
    • Many US troops are now headed to Afghanistan instead.

    AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq (AP) — American troops have started to draw down from Iraq following Baghdad's declaration of victory over the Islamic State group last year, according to Western contractors at a U.S.-led coalition base in Iraq.

    Dozens of American soldiers have been transported from Iraq to Afghanistan on daily flights over the past week, along with weapons and equipment, the contractors said.

    Two Iraqi officials confirmed to The Associated Press that the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government have reached an agreement to draw down troops in Iraq for the first time since the war against IS was launched over three years ago.

    The Iraqi officials said the process has not officially begun.

    However, an AP reporter at the Al-Asad base in western Iraq saw troop movements reflecting the contractors' account of a drawdown. The contractors and the Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations and declined to reveal the exact size of the drawdown.

    "Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq," coalition spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the AP when asked for comment.

    One senior Iraqi official close to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 60 percent of all American troops currently in country will be withdrawn, according to the initial agreement reached with the United States. The plan would leave a force of about 4,000 U.S. troops to continue training the Iraqi military.

    A Pentagon report released in November said there were 8,892 U.S. troops in Iraq as of late September.

    The U.S. first launched airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq in August 2014. At the time the military intervention was described as "limited," but as Iraq's military struggled to roll back the extremists, the U.S.-led coalition's footprint in the country steadily grew.

    "We've had a recent change of mission and soon we'll be supporting a different theater of operations in the coming month," U.S. Army 1st Lt. William John Raymond told the AP at Al-Asad.

    He spoke as he and a handful of soldiers from his unit conducted equipment inventory checks required before leaving Iraq. Raymond declined to specify where his unit was being redeployed, in line with regulations as the information has not yet been made public.

    The drawdown of U.S. forces comes just three months ahead of national elections in Iraq, where the indefinite presence of American troops continues to be a divisive issue.

    Al-Abadi, who is hoping to remain in office for another term, has long struggled to balance the often competing interests of Iraq's two key allies: Iran and the United States.

    While the U.S. has closely backed key Iraqi military victories over IS such as the retaking of the city of Mosul, Iraq's Shiite-led paramilitary forces with close ties to Iran have called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The prime minister has previously stated that Iraq's military will need American training for years to come.

    The Iraq drawdown also follows the release of the Pentagon's National Defense Strategy that cited China's rapidly expanding military and an increasingly aggressive Russia as the U.S. military's top national security priorities.

    "Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last month in remarks outlining the strategy.

    Iraq declared victory over IS in December after more than three years of grueling combat against the extremists in a war Iraqi forces fought with close U.S. support. In 2014, at the height of the Sunni militant group's power, IS controlled nearly a third of Iraqi territory.

    While IS' self-styled caliphate stretching across Iraq and Syria has crumbled and the militants no longer hold a contiguous stretch of territory, in Iraq, the group continues to pose a security risk, according to Iraqi and American officials.

    IS maintains a "cellular structure" of fighters who carry out attacks in Iraq aimed at disrupting local security, U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. James Glynn told reporters during a Pentagon briefing last month.

    Glynn pledged continued support for Iraq's security forces, but acknowledged U.S.-led coalition "capabilities" in Iraq would likely shift now that conventional combat operations against the group have largely ceased.

    There were some 170,000 American troops in Iraq in 2007 at the height of the surge of U.S. forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion of the country to oust dictator Saddam Hussein. U.S. troop numbers eventually wound down to 40,000 before the complete withdrawal in 2011.

    SEE ALSO: Former US intelligence chief says the US military has backed down North Korea before, and can do it again

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    syria russia su 25 jet crash

    • Syrian rebels shot down a Russian jet on Saturday and killed the pilot on the ground. 
    • Russia responded furiously with dozens of airstrikes which observers say hit hospitals and coincided with chlorine gas attacks.
    • Turkey also took heavy losses against the Kurds, who are backed by the US. 
    • The US has already said it would respond to future Syrian chemical weapons attacks with force.
    • It looks like Russia may blame a western source for the missile that took down its jet.


    Syrian rebels shot down a Russian jet on Saturday, and then killed the pilot on the ground, triggering a furious barrage of dozens of airstrikes that observers say hit hospitals and killed civilians.

    On Sunday, Turkish forces poured into Syria to fight US-backed Kurdish militias there, suffering their heaviest day of losses so far with a tank being destroyed and troops coming under attack.

    Now in Idlib — a stronghold of forces described by Russia and Syria as terrorists, but whom the US calls rebels — reports of yet another episode of chlorine gas attacks have surfaced. Children are said to be among the victims.

    In neighboring Afrin, Turkey targeted Kurdish forces inside Syria that they call terrorists, and the US calls friends who helped defeat it defeat ISIS.

    Caught in the crossfire are civilians, who will likely pay the price of a furious Russia, which looks to have picked up its bombing runs to levels unseen since the fall of 2016.

    Babies on stretchers, hospitals on fire

    On Monday morning, social media is replete with horrific footage from the ground in Syria.

    The White Helmets, a volunteer organization that regularly pulls civilians out of the rubble after Russian and Syrian bombing runs, posted pictures of babies in stretchers being taken from a burning hospital.

    Several videos show men being treated for attacks from chemical weapons, which Syria and Russia have vigorously denied using. 

    Russia vowed to find out who shot down its plane and where they got the weapon, which is said to be a man-portable air-defense missile (MANPAD). Russian lawmakers went as far as saying they had information that "western countries" had provided the system.

    Other Russian officials threatened to punish countries which may have provided the weapons to the Syrians who shot down their jet, an Su-25 attack plane. 

    The use of shoulder-launched missiles that can bring down jets have huge implications for Syria. Throughout the first six years of Syria's bloody civil war, the US considered providing MANPADS to Syrian rebels as a means of defending themselves against Syria's air force, which had been linked to chemical warfare. 

    Ultimately, as the war progressed and more and more hardline Islamist elements became entwined in with the Syrian rebels, the US declined to provide the rebels with MANPADs, which can also be used to take out commercial aircraft. Over the weekend, the Pentagon denied providing MANPADs to Syrian rebels. 

    A new phase in the Syrian war?

    Russian Su-25 Syria

    But now MANPADs have made their mark in Syria, possibly provided by powers that wish to erode Syria or Russia's air power, or possibly plundered from Assad's forces themselves.

    A soldier from the Free Syrian Army, which Turkey backs, was seen on video with a Russian-made MANPAD in late January. In response to the highlighted threat from MANPADs, Russia has ordered its jets to fly higher to avoid ground fire.

    On top of the brewing US-Turkish conflict over the fate of the Kurds in Afrin, the US has increasingly been discussing unverified reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

    Current US policy on the matter dictates that if Syria uses chemical weapons on its own people, the US will retaliate with force, as it did in April, 2017. So far, the Trump administration hasn't shied away from implicating Russia in its prosecution of chemical weapons violators in Syria

    Now Russia seems worried that the West may have provided plane-downing capability to Syrian rebels, as the US seriously ponders striking Syria over chemical weapons use, and Turkey and the Kurds mire themselves in bitter fighting.

    SEE ALSO: The US just changed course in Syria — and could now look to confront Iran

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    Su 25

    • Syrian rebels shot down a Russian Su-25, possibly with a Chinese MANPAD, over Syria's Idlib province on Saturday after it conducted air strikes in the region. 
    • The pilot, Maj. Roman Filipov, ejected but got into a gunfight with the rebels before getting killed, possibly blowing himself up with a grenade. 
    • It's the 11th Russian aircraft to be destroyed or damaged in Syria since they entered the conflict in 2015. 

     

    A RussianSukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft was shot down over the city of Maasran in Idlib, Syria, on Feb. 3, 2018. The aircraft, RF-95486/06 Blue (ex Red), was involved in airstrikes in region and had just fired rockets on a ground target.

    Video seen on social media shows what appears to be a person, claimed to be the Russian Su-25 pilot, descending by parachute after the aircraft was hit. The BBC reported that Russia’s defense ministry said: “The pilot had enough time to report that he had ejected in an area controlled by the militants of Jabhat al-Nusra.”

    Based on report and the above videos the aircraft was hit by a MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense System): most probably a Chinese FN-6 passive infrared homing (IR) man portable air defence system known to be in the hands of the Jidahists.

    According to reliable sources within the Russian military who spoke to TheAviationist.com, the pilot did reach the ground and then engaged unknown ground forces. Our Russian source tells TheAviationist.com that photos from the scene show the pilot’s personal firearm and that, “One store [ammunition magazine] is completely empty, the other two are consumed more than half. The pilot led the fight.” The source claimed the weapon shown in the photos is a Russian Stechkin automatic pistol or APS. This weapon is widely carried by Russian military and federal law enforcement.

    Stechkin automatic pistol and 3x 20-round detachable box magazine Su-25 killed in Syria

    Additional sources on Russian social media report that the pilot carried a grenade and may have detonated it close to himself as insurgent forces closed in on him. There is no official confirmation of this information.

    Anyway, the pilot was captured and killed. The Russia-based, independent Conflict Intelligence Team posted photographs they say showed the dead body of the pilot and a paper recommending a man named Major Roman Filipov for a state award that was allegedly filled out by Russian air group commander Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Aksyonov.

    Novaya Gazeta quoted an unidentified Defense Ministry source as confirming that the pilot was Filippov. According to the newspaper, he was a Ukrainian pilot from Crimea, the Ukrainian region that Russia annexed in 2014.

    Russian Su-25 jet shot down in Syria, paper found in the pilot’s pocket is an (unsigned) recommendation for state award for Major Roman Filipov, authored by Russia’s air group commander Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Aksenov pic.twitter.com/j0zmBSAD64

    Video from alleged to be from the crash scene clearly show the wing of an Su-25 with Russian markings along with a damaged engine and fire among debris.

    TheAviationist.com showed the Arabic language news broadcast to a translator in Dearborn, Michigan, who told us that the reporter in the video, identified as “Journalist Moazom Al-Chamie”, says the aircraft was shot down by a shoulder fired missile after being spotted by drivers in a truck. The reporter also goes on to say that another Russian Su-25 remained in the area after the incident, and that the men shown in the video hoped to shoot it down as well.

    According to Iranian journalist Babak Taghvaee the Su-25 shot down on Feb. 3 was one of six Su-25s of RuAF’s 368 ShAP recently deployed from Sevastopol, Crimea to Hmeymim Air Base, Syria.

    The loss of this Su-25 is the 11th Russian aircraft destroyed by enemy action or in accidents during the Russian involvement in the Syrian campaign. Considering the number of combat sorties flown by the Russians over Syria, and the increasing number of man portable air defense systems (MANPADS), these losses could be characterized as low for a campaign of this size.

    Russian observers remarked that an absence of infra-red decoy flares being ejected from the Su-25 shown in the videos is unusual. It is common to see a series of bright flares ejected from an aircraft as a countermeasure to heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles.

    Video seen on social media showed Su-25 attack aircraft over the same area being engaged by anti-aircraft guns. One video showed an Su-25 taking a near miss as a proximity fused anti-aircraft round detonates near its left wing root.

    Following the downing of the Su-25 reports began to appear on Twitter that numerous air strikes were occurring in the area where the aircraft was downed.

    SEE ALSO: 11 photos of the Su-25, Russia's answer to the legendary A-10 Warthog

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    Turkish-backed FSA rebel shoots into air in Afrin, Syria

    • Fighting between Turkish forces and US-backed SDF fighters in Syria's Afrin province is getting more dire.
    • Reports and videos have emerged of Turkish forces mutilating YPG fighters and shooting at fleeing civilians.
    • YPG fighters have also taken out multiple Turkish tanks and armored vehicles.

    The fight between Turkish forces and US-backed SDF fighters in northwest Syria's Afrin province appears to be in a tailspin.

    Turkish forces have reportedly killed more than a hundred civilians, mutilated US-backed SDF fighters, and even indiscriminately shot at displaced civilians attempting to flee into Turkey.

    Ankara launched a massive ground and air campaign, codenamed "Olive Branch," against the US-backed SDF forces in Afrin on January 20 in response to the US's announcement that it would train and maintain a 30,000-strong, predominately Kurdish force in the region.

    Turkey views the Kurdish YPG as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a deadly, decades-long insurgency in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.

    But in the last two weeks, Turkish forces have made only limited gains in Afrin, as SDF fighters, including the YPG and all-women YPJ, appear to have put up rather stiff resistance.

    At least 20 videos have surfaced showing YPG forces targeting, and in many instances destroying, invading Turkish tanks and armored vehicles with anti-tank guided missile systems. Freelance journalist Aris Roussinos compiled a Twitter thread of those videos here.

    Gains made by Turkish forces in Syria's Afrin in first two weeks of campaign.

    On Saturday, YPG fighters killed seven Turkish soldiers, including five in one attack on a tank, according to The Guardian.

    SDF fighters have also responded with occasional rocket fire across the border into Turkey, according to The Washington Post. Last week, one of those attacks killed a teenage girl and wounded another civilian in the Turkish town of Reyhanli.

    But these attacks appear to have only incensed Turkish forces.

    A number of graphic videos have appeared on social media showing Turkish-backed rebels mutilating dead YPG fighters.

    On Thursday, videos emerged showing Turkish-backed rebels kicking the dead corpse of a female YPG fighter named Barin Kobani and discussing whether she was attractive after stripping off her clothes and cutting off her breasts.

    A YPJ spokeswoman told AFP that Kobani and three other female fighters were battling Turkish-backed forces, refused to withdraw, and "fought until death."

    "I swear to God, we'll avenge you," Kobani's brother, 30-year-old Aref Mustafa Omar, cried out at her funeral on Saturday, AFP reported.

    Barin Kobane YPJ Syria

    Another incredibly graphic video appeared on Twitter on Monday apparently showing Turkish forces kicking and stepping on the body of a dead male YPG fighter.

    These disturbing instances have coincided with a Human Rights Watch report released on Saturday saying that Turkish border guards are indiscriminately shooting at civilians trying to flee Afrin and returning the asylum-seekers.

    Turkish border guards are also reportedly beating detained asylum-seekers and refusing them medical care, Human Rights Watch reported. Between December 15 and January 22, more than 247,000 Syrians in Afrin were displaced to the border, according to the UN.

    On Sunday, thousands of people reportedly gathered in the Afrin town of Kobane and are currently traveling to the city of Afrin in support.

    Kurds in other countries around the world, such as Lebanon and Germany, are also protesting Turkey's operations in Afrin.

    Turkey itself has even detained nearly 600 people for social-media posts criticizing the invasion, according to Reuters.

    SEE ALSO: Syrian rebels just shot down a Russian Su-25 and killed the pilot on the ground

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    Chlorine gas Idlib Syria

    • Rescue workers and doctors say at least nine people were injured after barrel bombs with chlorine gas were dropped in town of Saraqeb in Syria's Idlib province.
    • Rescue workers and medical groups have also accused government forces of using chlorine gas against the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta district near the capital, Damascus, three times over the last month.
    • The German government on Monday called for a thorough investigation into reports Syria had used chemical weapons in both Idlib and Eastern Ghouta.

    Chemicals dropped from the air caused at least nine people to suffer breathing problems in an attack in northwest Syria, rescue workers and doctors said on Monday.

    The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a charity which supports hospitals in Syria, said its doctors in Idlib reported 11 patients "with symptoms indicative to usage of chlorine," SAMS advocacy manager Mohamad Katoub said on his Twitter page.

    Radi Saad, from the chemical-weapons team of the White Helmets civil-defense group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria, told Reuters three of the nine people who suffered from "suffocation injuries" were rescuers responding to the incident.

    FILE PHOTO: A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah/ File Photo

    Two barrels containing chemical gasses had been dropped from helicopters on Sunday night, Saad said.

    The Syrian government has consistently denied using chlorine or other chemical weapons during Syria's conflict, now approaching its eighth year.

    Air raids intensified on rebel-held towns and cities in northwest Syria's Idlib province on Sunday night, a day after rebels shot down a Russian warplane and killed its pilot.

    Syrian President Bashar Assad, with the help of Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, has said he wants to take back control of all of Syria. The Syrian government and allied forces have advanced into rebel-held areas of northwest Syria in recent weeks.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a number of cases of suffocation were reported after helicopters targeted the town of Saraqeb on Sunday.

    Rescue workers and medical groups have also accused government forces of using chlorine gas against the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta district near the capital, Damascus, three times over the last month, most recently on Thursday.

    Children Chemical Weapons Khan Sheikhun Syria Idlib

    Syria agreed to give up its chemical-weapons arsenal in 2013. In the past two years, a joint inquiry by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin and has also several times used chlorine as a weapon. The inquiry also said the Islamic State group has used sulfur mustard.

    The German government called on Monday for a thorough investigation into reports Syria had used chemical weapons in both Idlib and Eastern Ghouta.

    "If it is confirmed that the Syrian government has once again used chemical weapons, that would be an abhorrent act and an egregious violation of the moral and legal obligation to avoid the use of chemical weapons," an official with the German foreign ministry said.

    US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that the Syrian government had repeatedly used chlorine as a weapon, and Washington was also concerned about the potential use of sarin gas.

    SEE ALSO: Fighting in northwest Syria is in a tailspin, as Turkish forces shoot at fleeing civilians and mutilate US-backed forces

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    A-10 Warthog

    • The downing of a Russian Su-25 on Saturday highlights the dangers facing American A-10s in Syria and Afghanistan. 
    • A-10s are at risk from MANPADs and other anti-aircraft systems larger than 23mm. 
    • The risk is greater in Syria than Afghanistan. 


    The downing of a Russian Su-25 over the weekend highlights the dangers facing the US' beloved A-10 Warthog in Syria, and possibly even Afghanistan.

    An Su-25 was shot down over Syria's Idlib province on Saturday by rebels using what Russian authorities say was a MANPAD. The pilot safely ejected, but got into a firefight with rebels on the ground before blowing himself up with a grenade to avoid being captured.

    Su-25s are the Russian counterpart to the American A-10s.

    They're both heavily-armored aircrafts capable of delivering a variety of bombs and missiles. Both are also armed with a 30mm Gatling gun and often used for supporting ground troops at low-altitudes.

    It's at these times when they're most at danger, as MANPADs are not effective at altitudes above 15,000 feet.

    Warthogs have been operation in Syria since 2015, and last month, the US announced it was sending them back to Afghanistan. 

    Su-25 crash Syria

    "It is entirely plausible that an A-10 could get hit," Justin Bronk, an airpower and technology research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider, adding that it's "something Western militaries have been worried about for some time."

    Neither A-10s nor Su-25s are equipped with radars that can detect heat-seeking missiles from MANPADs, Bronk said. They're only equipped with radar warning receivers.

    As such, the only defensive measures an A-10 pilot can take are to constantly scour the ground for any fired missiles and then launch countermeasures and try to maneuver away. 

    Luckily for the US, A-10s have two distinct advantages over Su-25s: thicker armor, and an exhaust system mounted above the tail to stymie any incoming heat-seekers.

    But it's no guarantee, Bronk said. 

    It's not just MANPADs that Warthogs need to fear, Bronk said. Any anti-aircraft system larger than 23mm could possibly take out A-10s, such as the Russian-made ZU-23-2 twin-barreled autocannon.

    Bronk said that MANPADs, ZU-23-2s, and other such systems are widely used by ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria.

    But the situation in Afghanistan is less clear. In 2010, images surfaced suggesting that the Taliban possessed either ZPU-1s (only 14.5mm) or ZU-23-2s.

    Experts disagreed as to whether these weapons systems were in Afghanistan. Bronk said that ISIS and the Taliban had these weapons, while Javid Ahmad, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider the groups did not.

    ZU-23-2

    "But that could change," Ahmad said, adding that the Taliban could acquire them from Pakistan, Iran, or Russia as the US ramps up its forces in the country.

    When Business Insider asked Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan if the Taliban or ISIS have these systems, Capt. Tom Gresback, a spokesman at Resolute Support headquarters, said in an emailed statement that "We are not going to comment on matters of intelligence."

    "We are always concerned for the safety of aircrews and as such, we ensure appropriate measures are taken to ensure the exposure to threats like this are minimized," Gresback said.

    Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

    SEE ALSO: 15 photos of the legendary A-10 Warthog, which Congress wants to keep flying for years to come

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    US Marines Syria artillery howitzer

    • Marines supporting US-backed forces against ISIS in Syria fired more rounds than any artillery battalion since Vietnam.
    • The intensity of their fire support also knocked out two of their own howitzers.
    • ISIS in Iraq and Syria has rapidly waned in recent months, and its fighters only hold a few isolated pockets.

    A Marine artillery battalion assisting Syrian Democratic Forces against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, with 24-hour support fired with intensity not seen more than 40 years — and burned out two howitzers in the process.

    "They fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam war," Army Sgt. Major. John Wayne Troxell, senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Marine Corps Times at the end of January.

    "In five months they fired 35,000 artillery rounds on ISIS targets, killing ISIS fighters by the dozens," Troxell said.

    An artillery battalion, which consists of up to 18 guns, from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in northern Syria to support the SDF in March 2017. That unit, firing 155 mm M777 howitzers, was replaced in April by another contingent of Marines.

    That unit topped the roughly 34,000 rounds fired in support of the invasion of Iraq, and it fired a little over half of the more than 60,000 rounds fired by the over 730 howitzers the Army and Marines used to support Operation Desert Storm, according to historical records seen by Marine Corps Times.

    US Marines Syria

    Troxell told reporters in November that howitzers fired so many consecutive rounds in support of operations against Raqqa the barrels of two of them burned out, making them unsafe to use.

    The M-777 Howitzer is 7,500 pounds and highly maneuverable. Its sustained rate of fire is two rounds a minute, but it can fire four rounds a minute for up to two minutes, according to its manufacturer, BAE Systems.

    A former Army artillery officer told Military Times in November that the number of rounds it takes to burn out a howitzer depends on the range to target and the level of charge, the latter of which can vary based on the weight of the shell.

    "I've never heard of it ― normally your gun goes back to depot for full reset well before that happens," the former Army artillery officer said. "That's a s---load of rounds though."

    "Because of all these rounds they were firing, we had to continue to recycle new artillery pieces in there because they were firing so much ammunition," Troxell told Marine Corps Times in January.

    US Marine artillery syria

    The M-777's maximum range is 18.6 miles. Video emerged in summer 2017 showing Marines firing 155 mm artillery shells with XM1156 Precision Guidance Kits, according to The Washington Post.

    That kit turns the shell in to a semi-precision-guided munition that, on average, will hit within 100 feet of the target when fired from the M-777's maximum range. The XM1156 has only appeared in combat a few times.

    The US military is currently working on two systems to increase the accuracy of artillery — the handheld Joint Effects Targeting System, which an Army official said could turn a howitzer "into a giant sniper rifle," and Precision Guidance Kit Munitions that could be used with 155 mm rounds like those fired on Raqqa.

    The Marines supporting the SDF in Raqqa withdrew shortly after the city was recaptured. Syria declared victory over ISIS in the final weeks of the year. US troops supporting the fight against ISIS in Iraq have also started to draw down in the wake of Baghdad's declaration of victory over the terrorist group at the end of 2017.

    While ISIS has lost nearly all of its territory in Iraq and Syria, some of its fighters have hung on in remote pockets along the Euphrates River and in the surrounding desert in Syria.

    SEE ALSO: Artillery strikes against ISIS in Syria were so intense they burned out 2 Marine howitzers

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    NOW WATCH: We went inside the giant desert base where Marines are trained in artillery warfare


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