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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    Iraqi Security Forces is ready to fire at known ISIS locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border using an M109A6 Paladin Self-Propelled Howitzer, June 5, 2018

    About a mile from the Iraqi-Syrian border is a US military fire base where approximately 150 Marines and soldiers are still hammering ISIS in Syria with artillery. 

    "To get to the firebase, you fly by helicopter over Mosul," NPR's Jane Arraf reported on Monday.

    "And then just a little more than a mile from the Syrian border, there's a collection of tents and armored vehicles in the desert," Arraf said, adding that the US troops have been at the remote, temporary base for about a month.

    In early June, the US Army released a dozen photos showing the base and the troops firing M777 howitzers and M109 Paladins to support the Syrian Democratic Forces clearing ISIS from the Euphrates River Valley.

    Then a few weeks later, the Army released photos of the troops playing an improvised game of baseball as dusk sets in and smoke clouds billow in the background. 

    Check them out below:

    SEE ALSO: This is the huge M777 howitzer that US Marines burned out while fighting ISIS in Syria

    Here's part of the base, which appears to be surrounded by a sand barrier for protection.

    It's about 100 degrees at the camp, and is crawling with scorpions and biting spiders, NPR reported



    And US troops are firing M777 howitzers.

    Read more about the M777 here



    As well as M109 Paladins.

    Read more about the Paladin here, and watch a demo video of it firing from inside here



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    ISIS

    • The terrorist group ISIS has lost most of its territory and has few fighters left in Iraq and Syria, but it remains a threat in the region. 
    • A new report warns that ISIS is attempting to make a comeback by resorting to a tactic it employed back in 2013 when it was still known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) — the targeted assassinations of Iraqi security personnel. 
    • ISIS also continues to wage an effective propaganda campaign online, which helps it maintain a global footprint even as its presence in Iraq and Syria has become more faint. 

    Roughly four years ago, ISIS shocked the world when it took over a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria, declaring the establishment of a new Islamic caliphate in the process. 

    Fast forward to 2018 and the terrorist group is a shadow of what it was even a year ago. It has lost the vast majority of the territory it previously held and the number of fighters it counted among its ranks has dwindled exponentially to below 3,000.

    Nevertheless, ISIS remains a threat in the Middle East, and a new report from the Soufan Center warns it's attempting to make a comeback by resorting to a tactic it employed back in 2013 when it was still known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) — the targeted assassinations of Iraqi security personnel. 

    "To get back to its heyday of 2014, the Islamic State first needs to get back to 2013, a year in which the terrorist group concluded one very successful campaign to free thousands of its detained members from Iraqi jails and started another campaign to assassinate and intimidate Iraqi security personnel, particularly local police officers," the report stated. 

    In late June, Iraq executed 12 ISIS members, which the Soufan Center says was in response to the "high-profile assassination" of eight Iraqi security personnel. 

    'A weakened Islamic State is now trying to recreate that past'

    With fewer numbers, ISIS will be less inclined to focus on regaining territory and more likely to ramp up attacks on Iraqi police to sow the same brand of chaos it did back in 2013, according to the Soufan Center. 

    "A weakened Islamic State is now trying to recreate that past," the report noted."Targeted attacks on police and government officials have risen in several provinces as the group has stopped its military collapse and refocused on what is possible for the group now."

    The report added, "Assassinations require few people and are perfectly suited as a force multiplier for a group that has seen its forces decimated."

    'The social fabric of Iraq remains severely frayed'

    Peter Mandaville, a professor of international affairs at George Mason University who previously served as a top adviser to the State Department on ISIS, backed up the Soufan Center report. 

    "I think it would be difficult for ISIS to retake significant territory given the ongoing presence and vigilance of [US-led] coalition forces," Mandaville told Business Insider, adding, "They certainly have the capacity to engage in an extended insurgency campaign using the kinds of tactics highlighted in the Soufan Center report."

    Mandaville said the situation on the ground in Iraq — that led to the rise of ISIS in the first place — has not changed significantly even though ISIS has more or less been defeated militarily. 

    "The social fabric of Iraq remains severely frayed, with high levels of political polarization," Mandaville said. "Until the central government succeeds in advancing key political and security reforms, many areas of Iraq will continue to provide a permissive environment for low intensity ISIS operations."

    David Sterman of the New America Foundation, an expert on terrorism and violent extremism, expressed similar sentiments. 

    Sterman told Business Insider that the threat of ISIS returning to the strategy of breeding chaos on the local level by targeting Iraq security personal is "very serious." 

    "ISIS continues to show capability to conduct attacks in liberated areas, an issue seen also during the surge," Sterman added. "Bombings in Baghdad in January illustrate this as well as the assassinations and smaller attacks discussed" in the Soufan Center report. 

    In short, ISIS is still in a position to create havoc, albeit in a more limited capacity, in an already troubled country that really hasn't even begun to recover from years of conflict. 

    ISIS continues to operate underground across the world

    From a broader standpoint, this does not necessarily mean ISIS poses a significant threat to the US. 

    "Even at its height, ISIS did not demonstrate a capability to direct a strike on the US homeland (as opposed to Europe)," Sterman said. "So the threat [in the US] predominantly remains homegrown and inspired. Of course that doesn't mean the US should take its eye off of what is happening in Iraq and Syria. ISIS's bursting onto the global scene is proof of that."

    ISIS continues to wage an effective propaganda campaign online, which helps it maintain a global footprint even as its presence in Iraq and Syria has become more faint. 

    Moreover, ISIS is also turning to Bitcoin and encrypted communications as a means of rallying its followers worldwide.

    "If you look across the globe, the cohesive nature of the enterprise for ISIS has been maintained," Russell Travers, the acting head of the National Counterterrorism Center, recently told The New York Times. "The message continues to resonate with way too many people."

    The Trump administration says there's 'still hard fighting ahead' against ISIS

    Speaking with reporters in late June, Defense Secretary James Mattis lauded the success the US-led coalition has had against ISIS in Iraq and Syria but added that "there's still hard fighting ahead."

    "Bear with us; there's still hard fighting ahead," Mattis said. "It's been hard fighting, and again, we win every time our forces go up against them. We've lost no terrain to them once it's been taken."

    Meanwhile, US troops stationed near the Iraq-Syria border have been hammering ISIS in Syria with artillery in recent weeks.  

    SEE ALSO: These photos of US troops hammering ISIS in Syria and then playing baseball are straight outta 'Apocalypse Now'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: I spent a day with Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border


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    Russian Uran 9 UGV

    • Russia's new Uran-9 robot tank apparently had a terrible debut in Syria. 
    • The unmanned tank couldn't operate as far away from its controllers as expected, had problems firing its 30mm gun, and couldn't fire while moving.
    • The robot tank also could only acquire targets up to about 1.24 miles away, as opposed to four miles as was expected.

    Russia's new Uran-9 robot tank apparently had a terrible debut in Syria.

    The unmanned tank couldn't operate as far away from its controllers as expected, had problems firing its 30mm gun, and couldn't fire while moving, amid other problems, according to Popular Mechanics, citing the Defence Blog. 

    Unveiled in September 2016 and deployed to Syria in May, the Uran-9 is an unmanned tank that was supposed to be capable of operating up to 1.8 miles away from its controller.

    But in Syria, it could only be operated from about 984 to 1,640 feet from its operators around high-rise buildings, the Defence Blog reported, citing reports from the 10th all-Russian scientific conference "Actual problems of protection and security" in St. Petersburg. 

    The robot tank's controller also randomly lost control of it 17 times for up to one minute and two times for up to an hour and a half, Defence Blog reported. 

    Uran-9

    The Uran-9 is heavily armed with four 9M120-1 Ataka anti-tank guided missile launchers, six 93 millimeter-caliber rocket-propelled Shmel-M reactive flamethrowers, one 30-millimeter 2A72 automatic cannon, and one 7.62-millimeter coaxial machine gun.

    But its 30-millimeter 2A72 automatic cannon delayed six times and even failed once, Defence Blog reported, and it could only acquire targets up to about 1.24 miles away, as opposed to the expected four miles.

    Apparently the tank's optical station was seeing "multiple interferences on the ground and in the airspace in the surveillance sector," Defence Blog reported.

    The unmanned tank even had issues with its chassis and suspension system, and required repairs in the field, Defence Blog reported.

    "The Uran-9 seems to have proven to be more about novelty than capability, but that doesn't mean these tests are without value," SOFREP reported. "In time (and with funding) a successor to the Uran-9 may one day be a battlefield force to be reckoned with."

    SEE ALSO: Russia says it has deployed its Uran-9 robotic tank to Syria — here's what it can do

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: I spent a day with Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border


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    US troops in Syria

    • The Trump administration's plan to bring US troops in Syria back home is being complicated by renewed attacks from the terrorist group ISIS, according to The Wall Street Journal. 
    • Prior to retreating from its strongholds in cities like Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, ISIS reportedly dug tunnels and set up sleeper cells in the desert that stretches across Iraq and Syria. 
    • In late June, Defense Secretary James Mattis warned there would still be "hard fighting ahead" against ISIS. 
    • There are roughly 2,000 US troops stationed in Syria. 

    The Trump administration's plan to bring US troops in Syria back home is being complicated by renewed attacks from the terrorist group ISIS, according to The Wall Street Journal

    ISIS has lost the vast majority of its territory and fighters over the past year or so, but many of the fighters who remained fled to the desert and are using stashed weapons and ammunition to stage attacks in both Iraq and Syria. 

    Prior to retreating from its strongholds in cities like Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, ISIS reportedly dug tunnels and set up sleeper cells in the desert that stretches across Iraq and Syria. 

    According to the report, this is a sign ISIS was more prepared for a military collapse than the US may have anticipated. It also means US troops in Syria might have to stay longer than the Trump administration previously thought because removing them could create a big window of opportunity for ISIS. 

    As Defense Secretary James Mattis said in late in June, "Some of you are questioning whether ISIS was completely taken down. ... Just bear with us; there's still hard fighting ahead."

    Mattis added, "It's been hard fighting, and again, we win every time our forces go up against them. We've lost no terrain to them once it's been taken."

    The situation in Iraq and Syria is exceptionally convoluted as an array of players with competing interests, including Russia and Iran in addition to the US, fail to find common ground in terms of what should be prioritized moving forward.

    Moreover, the conflicting goals of foreign forces in Iraq in Syria often clash with the priorities of local forces, further compounding the already complex circumstances on the ground. 

    ISIS has seemingly taken advantage of the confusion by staging attacks on an "array of adversaries," according to The Journal, including US allies. 

    In early July, for example, ISIS staged its first attack in its former de facto capital, Raqqa, since it was driven from the city in October 2017. The group reportedly targeted US-backed Kurdish forces near a mosque in this attack.

    Meanwhile, a recent Soufan Center report warned ISIS is looking to make a comeback by targeting Iraqi law enforcement, a tactic it embraced in 2013 before it rose to power and established a caliphate. 

    The Iraqi government recently executed 12 ISIS members, which was reportedly in response to the "high-profile assassination" of eight Iraqi security personnel. 

    Accordingly, it seems the roughly 2,000 US troops stationed in Syria will not be leaving anytime soon. 

    SEE ALSO: ISIS is trying to make a comeback by creating chaos with assassinations — the same tactic it employed before it rose to power 5 years ago

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: I spent a day with Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border


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    Kim Jong-un North Korea nuclear bomb

    • A North Korean diplomat reportedly told an Israeli diplomat in 1999 that Pyongyang would provide ballistic missile technology to Iran unless it paid $1 billion.
    • North Korea has nuclear weapons, but it's deterred from using them because it would be nuked right back in a more massive response.
    • But if North Korea sells nuclear weapons and related technology, another rogue state or terror organization may feel less restrained to actually use them.
    • Even if North Korea doesn't sell weapons, it can still blackmail countries like Israel with its nuclear leverage. 

    A North Korean diplomat reportedly told an Israeli diplomat in 1999 that Pyongyang would provide ballistic missile technology to Iran, a state sworn to destroy Israel, unless it paid up to the tune of $1 billion.

    North Korea has a long and well documented history of providing weapons technology, including chemical and nuclear weapon infrastructure, to countries like Iran and Syria. 

    While Pyongyang commands a few dozen operational nuclear warheads, according to intelligence reports, its real threat to the world lies not in starting an outright nuclear war, but in selling nuclear weapons to states, or terrorists, that may use them.

    It's unclear if Israel ever paid North Korea's blackmail, though Israel would later destroy an Iranian nuclear reactor that North Korea was suspected of helping build.

    North Korea selling nukes is a bigger threat than just building them

    hwasong nuclear ballistic missile icbm test launch north korea kcna

    If North Korea launched a nuclear attack, it would swiftly find itself on the receiving end of more powerful, more precise nuclear weapons. North Korea's nuclear weapons serve mainly to deter attacks.

    But because of North Korea's decision to defy international law by testing and developing nuclear weapons, it finds itself under heavy sanctions and impoverished. 

    This leaves North Korea as a cash-hungry state with an excess of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. A terror group or fellow rogue state, seeing the legitimacy and national power nuclear weapons have bestowed upon North Korea, might seek to buy nuclear technology off Pyongyang.

    While many experts generally expect North Korea to maintain the status quo with its nuclear weapons by using them mainly to deter enemies, it's less clear that Iran, Syria, or especially a terror network would show such restraint. 

    “Depending on the demand, we certainly cannot exclude the possibility that North Korea will sell its nuclear weapons for cash,” said Nam Sung-wook, a former South Korean intelligence official told the Wall Street Journal, who first reported on North Korea's attempted blackmail. 

    The UN has concluded that North Korea has a long history of weapons cooperation with Iran and Syria, the US's two foremost nation-state enemies in the Middle East. Iran's stated goal is to destroy Israel, and while their conventional military offers them little hope of achieving that, nuclear weapons actually could do the job. 

    Trump isn't doing anything about this

    trump kim singapore

    The US under President Donald Trump has lowered the threat of outright nuclear war with North Korea following talks and a summit with Kim Jong Un, but no work towards denuclearization appears to have actually taken place. 

    North Korea has not shared with the US any details of its nuclear program, and the US has no specifics from the Kim regime on how many weapons it has or where it keeps them.

    So despite Trump's insistence that North Korea isn't a threat anymore, there's absolutely no way of knowing if Kim would provide nuclear weapons to aggressive states, or use that leverage to blackmail countries for fear of nuclear war. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: I spent a day with Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border


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    Vladimir Putin

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin deflected questions about Russia's involvement in Syria's civil war where, it's estimated, at least half a million people have been killed.
    • During an interview with with Fox News, Putin said victims are "inevitable."

    Russian President Vladimir deflected questions about Russia's involvement in Syria's civil war, in which at least half a million people are estimated to have been killed.

    During an interview with with Fox News Channel host Chris Wallace, Putin was asked about whether he had any "qualms" about civilians being killed in Russian bombings in both Aleppo and Ghouta.

    "You know, when there is a warfare going on — and this is the worst thing that can happen for the humankind — victims are inevitable," Putin told Wallace.

    "And there will always be a question of who’s to blame," he added, before shifting responsibility to terror groups in the region, like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, for "destabilizing" the country's political situation.

    Russia has supported the Assad regime in Syria since it formally entered the country's civil war in 2015.

    Putin also tried to deflect the issue of casualties by talking about the Syrian city of Raqqa, where Amnesty International says US-led coalition airstrikes killed and injured thousands of civilians last year and left the city in ruins. 

    On Monday, President Donald Trump met with Putin in Helsinki and discussed a number of issues including the humanitarian situation in Syria.

    "Cooperation between our two countries has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives," Trump said.

    SEE ALSO: Putin laughs and waves aside Mueller's indictment of Russian intelligence officers during Fox News interview

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: I spent a day with Border Patrol agents at the US-Mexico border


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    Iron Dome

    • Israel's military said on Tuesday that it fired two US-made Patriot missiles at a Syrian Sukhoi fighter that entered its airspace and "intercepted" the plane.
    • The plane crashed in Syria near the country's border zone with Israel, and the fate of the pilot is unknown.
    • For weeks, rockets fired from Syria and elsewhere outside Israel have peppered the country and activated its missile defenses on multiple occasions.

    Israel's military said on Tuesday that it fired two US-made Patriot missiles at and "intercepted" a Syrian Sukhoi fighter that entered its airspace.

    The plane crashed in Syria near the country's border zone with Israel, and the fate of the pilot is unknown, The New York Times reported. The Syrian jet is thought to be a Russian-made Su-24 or Su-22.

    For weeks, rockets fired from Syria and elsewhere outside Israel have peppered the country and activated its missile defenses on multiple occasions.

    Israel and Syria have a border dispute in the Golan Heights and have squared off in aerial combat before, with Israel earlier this year destroying much of Syria's anti-air batteries and losing one of its F-16s.

    The Israel Defense Forces said a Russian-made Syrian jet "infiltrated about 1 mile into Israeli airspace" before being intercepted.

    "Since this morning, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria and the Syrian Air Force's activity," the IDF added. "The IDF is in high alert and will continue to operate against the violation of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement," the UN resolution that ended the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Syria.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    F-35

    • On Jul. 23, an F-35 went fully visible on popular flight tracking website Flightradar24.com as it performed a mission out of Nevatim airbase.
    • The aircraft could be monitored for about 1 hour as it went “feet wet” (over the sea) north of Gaza then flew northbound to operate near Haifa.
    • They might have done this deliberately to threaten their enemies (probably in Syria), or they could have been a simple mistake in not turning the Mode-S transponder off. 

    On Jul. 23, an F-35 went fully visible on popular flight tracking website Flightradar24.com as it performed a mission out of Nevatim airbase. The aircraft could be monitored for about 1 hour as it went “feet wet” (over the sea) north of Gaza then flew northbound to operate near Haifa.

    Noteworthy, the F-35 used a US hex code (AF351F, first logged on Nov. 15, 2016 over at Live ModeS and since then regularly tracked in the US) even though it’s safe to believe it could be one of the Adir aircraft delivered to the Israeli Air Force in the last weeks. A hex code is a unique ICAO 24-bit address assigned to a Mode-S/ADS-B transponder.

    According to Mil ModeS logs possible tailcode was 13-5067, even though this should be an F-35A that last June, based on the photographs available online, was assigned to the 6th Weapons Squadron, assigned to the USAF Weapons School, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Anyway, the F-35 flying over Israel yesterday did not broadcast its position via ADS-B but it could be tracked by means of Multilateration (MLAT). Using Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) MLAT measures the difference in time to receive the signal from four different receivers, to geolocate and track an aircraft even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

    As we have widely explained here at The Aviationist (read here for a complete analysis):

    The ADS-B system uses a special transponder that autonomously broadcasts data from the aircraft’s on-board navigation systems about its GPS-calculated position, altitude and flight path. This information is transmitted on 1090 MHz frequency: ground stations, other nearby aircraft as well as commercial off-the-shelf receivers available on the market as well as home-built ones, tuned on the same frequency, can receive and process this data.

    Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder rely on a network of several hundred (if not thousand) feeders who receive and share Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders data and contribute growing the network and cover most of the planet.

    Obviously, only ADS-B equipped aircraft flying within the coverage area of the network are visible.

    Actually, in those areas where coverage is provided by several different ground stations, the position can be calculated also for those planes that do not broadcast their ADS-B data by means of Multilateration (MLAT). […]

    Although the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track using a browser (or smartphone’s app) using the above mentioned Web-based tracking services are civil airliners and business jets, military aircraft are also equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders: a 2010 Federal Aviation Administration rule requires all military aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B transponders by Jan. 1, 2020, as part of its program to modernize the air transportation system.

    As for the reasons why the aircraft could be tracked online, there are various theories. The first one is that it was a deliberate action: considered the F-35 went “live” few hours Israel made first operational use of David’s Sling missile defense system against two SS-21 Syrian ballistic missiles, there is someone who believes the mission was part of a PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies (Syria in particular). Our readers will probably remember the weird, most probably bogus claim of an IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Al-Jarida newspaper, a Kuwaiti outlet often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages.

    However the Israeli Air Force has already made public the fact that the F-35 has been used in air strikes in the Middle East (Syria and another unspecified “front”) lately.  On May 23, the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said during a IAF conference attended by 20 commander of air forces from around the world: “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity”. He also showed a photograph of an “Adir” flying at high altitude off Beirut (with radar reflectors, hence not in “stealthy mode”). In other words, there’s probably no need to remind Syria or Iran that the Israeli Air Force has the F-35 since they are already using it in combat.

    For this reason, there is also someone who believes that the first appearance of an Israeli Adir on Flightradar24 may have been a simple mistake: the Mode-S transponder was not turned off. A case of OPSEC fail in one of the most secretive air arms in the world.

    Indeed, transponders are usually turned off during real operations as well as when conducting missions that need to remain invisible (at least to public flight tracking websites and commercial off the shelf receivers). Unless the transponder is turned on for a specific purpose: to let the world know they are there. In fact, as reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether some aircraft that can be tracked online broadcast their position for everyone to see by accident or on purpose: increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them. Is it a way to show the flag? Or just a mistake?

    Here’s what we have been observing for some 7 years:

    […] during the opening stages of the Libya Air War in 2011 some of the combat aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net. And despite pilots all around the world know the above mentioned flight tracking websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations, making their aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection. As a consequence, we have been highlighting the the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions for years. In 2014 we discovered that a U.S. plane possibly supporting ground troops in Afghanistan acting as an advanced communication relay can be regularly tracked as it circled over the Ghazni Province. Back then we explained that the only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations. US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757 operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks), American and Russian “doomsday planes”tanker aircraft and even the Air Force One, along with several other combat planes can be tracked every now and then on both FR24.com and PF.net.

    So, what’s your take on this? The “F-35 visible over Israel” was a deliberate action or a mistake? Let us know in the comments section.

    SEE ALSO: The F-22's cockpit is off-limits and highly classified — but here are 11 glimpses inside the Raptor

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    yemen missile saudi arabia houthi riyadh

    Israel's military said on Tuesday that it fired two US-made Patriot missiles at and "intercepted" a Syrian Sukhoi fighter that entered its airspace.

    The plane crashed in Syria near the country's border zone with Israel, and the fate of the pilot is unknown, according to The New York Times. The Syrian jet is thought to be a Russian-made Su-24 or Su-22.

    Israel and Syria have a border dispute in the Golan Heights and have squared off in aerial combat before, with Israel earlier this year destroying much of Syria's anti-air batteries and losing one of its F-16s.

    We recently got a chance to see a Patriot system at Fort Bliss.

    Here's what we saw:

    SEE ALSO: This is the huge M777 howitzer that US Marines burned out while fighting ISIS in Syria

    SEE ALSO: 'Surf passage' is one of the most iconic and formidable parts of Navy SEAL training — here's what it looks like

    Developed by Raytheon, the MIM-104 Patriot became operational in 1985 and is now the US Army's main missile defense system.

    The missiles are fired from the M901 Launching station mounted on the back of the M983 Heavy Expanded Mobility Truck.

    Source: CSIS



    Each Patriot launcher holds four missile canisters.



    The Patriot fires two kinds of missiles: the Pac-2s and Pac-3s.

    The main difference between the Pac-2 and the Pac-3 is that the Pac-3 has a radar transmitter and guidance computer and uses hit-to-kill technology, directly hitting the targeted missile with a small warhead.

    The Pac-2s, on the other hand, explode near the target to either knock it off its course or explode it. 

    The Pac-2 replaced the older Pac-1.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Damages after a suicide bomb attack are seen in Sweida, Syria July 25, 2018.

    • Islamic State militants killed about 100 people in a series of attacks on government-held parts of southwestern Syria on Wednesday, including multiple suicide blasts in Sweida city.
    • In the city itself, at least two attackers blew themselves up, one near a marketplace and the second in another district, state television said.
    • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS jihadists also seized hostages from the other villages they had attacked.

    Islamic State militants killed about 100 people in a series of attacks on government-held parts of southwestern Syria on Wednesday, including multiple suicide blasts in Sweida city, the jihadist group and official sources said.

    The coordinated attacks were the deadliest to hit government territory in many months. Some 96 people were killed and 176 wounded in total, the head of the Sweida health authority told the pro-Damascus Sham FM radio.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitoring group, said 156 people were killed. Islamic State said in a statement that it had killed more than 100 people in the attacks.

    Northeast of Sweida city, the jihadists launched simultaneous attacks on several villages where they clashed with government forces, state media and the Observatory said.

    In the city itself, at least two attackers blew themselves up, one near a marketplace and the second in another district, state television said. State news agency SANA said two other IS militants were killed before they could detonate their bombs.

    The Observatory said jihadists seized hostages from the villages they had attacked. It said the dead included at least 41 civilians.

    Sweida Governor Amer al-Eshi said authorities also arrested another attacker. "The city of Sweida is secure and calm now," he told state-run Ikhbariyah TV.

    Islamic State was driven from nearly all the territory it once held in Syria last year in separate offensives by the Russian-backed army and a U.S.-backed militia alliance.

    Since then, President Bashar al-Assad has gone on to crush the last remaining rebel enclaves near the cities of Damascus and Homs and swept rebels from the southwest.

    After losing its strongholds in eastern Syria last year, Islamic State launched insurgency operations from pockets of territory in desert areas.

    The Observatory said government forces battled jihadists who stormed the villages from an Islamic State pocket northeast of the city.

    Government troops and allied forces hold all of Sweida province except for that enclave.

    The air force pounded militant hideouts northeast of the city after soldiers thwarted an attempt by Islamic State fighters to infiltrate Douma, Tima and al-Matouna villages, state media said.

    The army and villagers regained control of a hill and broke a brief siege of another nearby village after clashes, Ikhbariyah said.

    With the help of Russian air power, the Syrian army has been hitting Islamic State in a separate pocket further west, near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

    The Yarmouk Basin in southwest Syria remains in jihadist hands, after an army offensive defeated rebel factions in other parts of the southwest. The operation has focused on Deraa and Quneitra provinces.

    SEE ALSO: This is the Patriot missile defense system that Israel just used to shoot down a Syrian warplane

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Opinion banner

    Syrian war conflict Russia Putin Bashar Al assad US 3

    • The civil war in Syria has virtually ended — this month, Syrian regime forces hoisted their flag in victory above the town of Daraa, where uprising began in 2011. 
    • Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, has prevailed with the help of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. 
    • Now that the Syrian conflict has been decided, it's worth thinking about the purpose and place of the United States in the new Middle East.
    • US inaction in Syria contributed to regional instability, empowered Iran, spoiled relations with regional friends, and boosted transnational terrorist groups.

    Earlier this month, Syrian regime forces hoisted their flag above the southern town of Daraa and celebrated. Although there is more bloodletting to come, the symbolism was hard to miss. The uprising that began in that town on March 6, 2011, has finally been crushed, and the civil war that has engulfed the country and destabilized parts of the Middle East as well as Europe will be over sooner rather than later. Bashar al-Assad, the man who was supposed to fall in "a matter of time," has prevailed with the help of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah over his own people.

    Washington is too busy over the furor of the day to reflect on the fact that there are approximately 500,000 fewer Syrians today than there were when a group of boys spray-painted "The people demand the fall of the regime" on buildings in Daraa more than seven years ago. But now that the Syria conflict has been decided, it's worth thinking about the purpose and place of the United States in the new Middle East. The first order of business is to dispose of the shibboleths that have long been at the core of US foreign policy in the region and have contributed to its confusion and paralysis in Syria and beyond.

    Syrian war conflict Russia Putin Bashar Al assad US 2

    There probably isn't anyone inside the Beltway who hasn't been told at some point in their career about the dangers of reasoning by analogy. But that doesn't mean such lessons have been regularly heeded. The Syrian uprising came at a fantastical time in the Middle East when freedom, it seemed, was breaking out everywhere. The demonstration of people power that began in Daraa — coming so soon after the fall of longtime leaders in Tunisia and Egypt — was moving. It also clouded the judgment of diplomats, policymakers, analysts, and journalists, rendering them unable to discern the differences between the region's Assads and Ben Alis or between the structure of the Syrian regime and that of the Egyptian one.

    And because the policy community did not expect the Syrian leader to last very long, it was caught flat-footed when Assad pursued his most obvious and crudely effective strategy: a militarization of the uprising. In time, Syria's competing militias, jihadis, and regional powers, compounded by Russia's intervention, made it hard to identify US interests in the conflict. So, Washington condemned the bloodshed, sent aid to refugees, halfheartedly trained "vetted" rebels, and bombed the Islamic State, but it otherwise stayed out of Syria's civil conflict. Lest anyone believe that this was a policy particular to US President Barack Obama and his aim to get out of, not into Middle Eastern conflicts, his successor's policy is not substantially different, with the exception that President Donald Trump is explicit about leaving Syria to Moscow after destroying the Islamic State. While the bodies continued to pile up, all Washington could muster was expressions of concern over another problem from hell. Syria is, of course, different from Rwanda, Darfur, and Srebrenica — to suggest otherwise would be reasoning by analogy — but it is another case of killing on an industrial scale that paralyzed Washington. It seems that even those well versed in history cannot avoid repeating it.

    Syrian war conflict Russia Putin Bashar Al assad US Obama

    Many of the analysts and policymakers who preferred that the United States stay out or minimize its role in Syria came to that position honestly. They looked at the 2003 invasion of Iraq and decried how it destabilized the region, empowered Iran, damaged relations with Washington's allies, and fueled extremist violence, undermining the US position in the region. It seems lost on the same group that US inaction in Syria did the same: contributed to regional instability, empowered Iran, spoiled relations with regional friends, and boosted transnational terrorist groups. The decision to stay away may have nonetheless been good politics, but it came at a noticeable cost to Washington's position in the Middle East.

    The waning of US power and influence that Syria has both laid bare and hastened is a development that the policy community has given little thought to, because it was not supposed to happen. By every traditional measure of power, the United States, after all, has no peer. But power is only useful in its application, and Washington has proved either unable or unwilling to shape events in the Middle East as it had in the past — which is to say, it has abdicated its own influence. That may be a positive development. No one wants a repeat of Iraq. In Washington's place, Moscow has stepped in to offer itself as a better, more competent partner to Middle Eastern countries. There haven't been many takers yet beyond the Syrians, but there nevertheless seems to be a lot of interest, and the conflict in Syria is the principal reason why.

    Contrast the way in which Russian President Vladimir Putin came to the rescue of an ally in crisis — Assad — with the way US allies in the region perceive Obama to have helped push Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office after 30 years, much of it spent carrying Washington's water around in the region. The Egyptians, Saudis, Emiratis, Israelis, and others may not like Assad very much, but Russia's initial forceful response to prevent the Syrian dictator from falling and then Moscow's efforts to will Assad to apparent victory have made an impression on them. Syria is now the centerpiece and pivot of Russia's strategy to reassert itself as a global power, and its renewed influence in the Middle East stretches from Damascus eastward through the Kurdistan Regional Government to Iran and from the Syrian capital south to Egypt before arcing west to Libya.

    Syrian war conflict Russia Putin Bashar al-Assad US

    Israel, Turkey, and the Gulf States still look to Washington for leadership but have also begun seeking help securing their interests at the Kremlin. The Israeli prime minister has become a fixture at Putin's side; the Turkish president and his Russian counterpart are, along with Iran's leaders, partners in Syria; King Salman made the first ever visit by a Saudi monarch to Moscow in October 2017; and the Emiratis believe the Russians should be "at the table" for discussions of regional importance. The era when the United States determined the rules of the game in the Middle East and maintained a regional order that made it relatively easier and less expensive to exercise US power lasted 25 years. It is now over.

    Finally, the situation in Syria reveals the profound ambivalence of Americans toward the Middle East and the declining importance of what US officials have long considered Washington's interests there: oil, Israel, and US dominance of the area to ensure the other two. Americans wonder why US military bases dot the Persian Gulf if the United States is poised to become the world's largest producer of oil. After two inconclusive wars in 17 years, no one can offer Americans a compelling reason why the Assad regime is their problem. Israel remains popular, but over 70 years it has proved that it can handle itself. Obama and Trump ran on platforms of retrenchment, and they won. The immobility over Syria is a function of the policy community's impulse to just do something and the politics that make that impossible.

    trump announces syria strikes

    Perhaps now that the Assad-Putin-Khamenei side of the Syrian conflict has won, there will be an opportunity for Americans to debate what is important in the Middle East and why. It will not be easy, however. Congress is polarized and paralyzed. The Trump administration approach to the region is determined by the president's gut. He has continued Obama-era policies of fighting extremist groups, but then he broke with his predecessors and moved the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Trump breached the Iran nuclear deal, though he has done very little since about Iran other than talk tough. He wants to leave Syria "very soon," even as his national security advisor vows to stay as long as Iran remains.

    Despite and because of this incoherence, now is the time to have a debate about the Middle East. There is a compelling argument to be made that American interests demand an active US role in the region; there is an equally compelling argument that US goals can be secured without the wars, social engineering projects, peace processes, and sit-downs in Geneva. In between is what US policy in the Middle East looks like now: ambivalence and inertia. Under these circumstances, Syria, Russia, and Iran will continue to win.

    SEE ALSO: Regime change in Iran could be a nightmare for the US and Israel — here's why

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    • Russia has reportedly used a communications channel with America’s top general to propose a plan to rebuild Syria and repatriate refugees.
    • According to a US memo, the proposal was sent on July 19 by Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, to US Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
    • The memo received an icy reception in Washington.
    • The proposal illustrates how Russia, having helped turn the tide of the war in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is now pressing Washington and others to aid the reconstruction of areas under his control.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia has used a closely guarded communications channel with America’s top general to propose the two former Cold War foes cooperate to rebuild Syria and repatriate refugees to the war-torn country, according to a US government memo.

    The proposal was sent in a July 19 letter by Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, to US Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the memo which was seen by Reuters.

    Syria

    The Russian plan, which has not been previously reported, has received an icy reception in Washington. The memo said the US policy was only to support such efforts if there were a political solution to end Syria’s seven-year-old civil war, including steps like UN-supervised elections.

    The proposal illustrates how Russia, having helped turn the tide of the war in favor of President Bashar al-Assad, is now pressing Washington and others to aid the reconstruction of areas under his control. Such an effort would likely further cement Assad’s hold on power.

    “The proposal argues that the Syrian regime lacks the equipment, fuel, other material, and funding needed to rebuild the country in order to accept refugee returns,” according to the memo, which specified that the proposal related to Syrian government-held areas of the country.

    The United States in 2011 adopted a policy that Assad must leave power but then watched as his forces, backed by Iran and then Russia, clawed back territory and secure Assad’s position.

    The United States has drawn a line on reconstruction assistance, saying it should be tied to a process that includes UN-supervised elections and a political transition in Syria. It blames Assad for Syria’s devastation.

    Dunford’s office declined comment on communications with Gerasimov.

    Joseph Dunford

    “In accordance with past practice, both Generals have agreed to keep the details of their conversations private,” said spokeswoman Captain Paula Dunn.

    The Kremlin and Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The Syria conflict has killed an estimated half a million people, driven some 5.6 million people out of the country and displaced around 6.6 million within it.

    Most of those who have fled are from the Sunni Muslim majority, and it is unclear whether Assad’s Alawite-dominated government will allow all to return freely or whether they would want to. Sunnis made up the bulk of the armed opposition to Assad.

    “The United States will only support refugee returns when they are safe, voluntary and dignified,” said the memo, which is specifically about the Russian plan for Syria.

    Rebuilding Syria will also be a massive effort, costing at least $250 billion, according one UN estimate.

    Some US officials believe Syria’s dependence on the international community for reconstruction, along with the presence of US and US-backed forces in part of Syria, gives Washington leverage as diplomats push for a negotiated end to the war.

    Syrian war conflict Russia Putin Bashar al-Assad US

    Military channel

    The exchange offered a rare glimpse into the military communications channel between Moscow and Washington, one that Dunford himself has fiercely sought to keep private.

    Dunford, who speaks periodically with Gerasimov, has stressed that the two militaries need to be able to have candid, private communications to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to armed confrontation.

    But it was unclear how reconstruction and refugees fit into military-to-military communications. Gerasimov’s letter suggests that channel is also being used by Moscow to broach non-military matters.

    President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Syria, and the issue of refugees, at their July 16 summit in Helsinki. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the talks focused on “how we might get the refugees back.”

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    But US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week no policy changes came out of the summit. The US government memo explicitly said the Russian proposal was not “an outcome” of the Trump-Putin talks, but cautioned that Russian officials were trying to present it differently.

    “Russian diplomats and other officials have also been engaging in an aggressive campaign to describe the initiative in other capitals and to insinuate that it is an outcome of the US-Russia meeting in Helsinki, which it is not, repeat not,” the memo read.

    The Russian cover letter for the proposal sent to Dunford recommended the United States, Russia and Jordan repurpose a hub designed to monitor a 2017 ceasefire agreement “to form a joint committee to implement the reconstruction and refugee return plan,” the memo said. Jordan is hosting more than 650,000 Syrian refugees.

    The Russian letter also suggests that the United States and Russia form a joint group to finance infrastructure renovation in Syria, the US memo says.

    Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Moscow; Editing by Warren Strobel; Mary Milliken and Alistair Bell

    SEE ALSO: 'We don't trust Putin. We never will': Nikki Haley distances herself from Trump on Russia

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    • Alarming new reports indicate the Islamic State may still have a significant militant presence in Iraq and Syria despite the collapse of the caliphate.
    • The latest estimates suggest that the extremist organization may have anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 troops in the two war-torn countries.
    • Although the group has suffered significant losses in recent years, the most recent reports suggest that ISIS has replenished its force, potentially to numbers as high as those at the peak of the group's power.

    Tens of thousands of Islamic State jihadists are still waging war in Iraq and Syria, new reports reveal, suggesting that the global terrorist group may be far from defeated despite its battlefield losses. 

    There are still 28,600 to 31,600 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, Voice of America reported Monday, citing Defense Department data. A United Nations panel of experts report concluded the same, revealing that ISIS may have anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 troops in these countries despite the fall of the caliphate, the Associated Press reported Monday.

    At the height of its power in 2015, ISIS controlled large swaths of territory stretching from Aleppo to Baghdad and had around 33,000 fighters in its ranks in Iraq and Syria, according to US military and intelligence officials. The US military claimed last summer to have killed 60,000 to 70,000 ISIS militants since US-led strikes began four years ago. The accuracy of these figures have at times been called into question.

    The latest reports suggest that while ISIS has suffered significant losses in recent years, it has managed to maintain its strength, at least in terms of total troop numbers.

    "Taken at face value, the US government is saying ISIS has the same number of fighters in Iraq and Syria today as when the [coalition] bombing campaign began," Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explained to VOA, arguing that ISIS appears to have successfully replaced its entire force structure.

    The tens of thousands of ISIS jihadists operating in Iraq and Syria include "a significant component of the many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters," the UN report revealed. With many commanders killed and the terror group's once sprawling caliphate in shambles, ISIS is transitioning from a "proto-state" organization to a "reduced, covert version" of what it once was. This change is most evident in Iraq, where ISIS is suspected to have as many as 17,000 fighters under its command.

    A wave of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings attributed to or claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq have stoked fears that the organization, believed to have been largely wiped out over the past year, is making a comeback, The Washington Post noted in mid-July.

    Measuring troop numbers for ISIS in Iraq and Syria is difficult considering that there are no official records. In January, there were estimates suggesting that ISIS had as few as three thousand fighters in the two war-torn countries, while some observers argued that there were still as many as 10,000 loyalists in Iraq and Syria. While ISIS has taken a beating in Iraq and Syria, it still maintains a rather substantial presence in other countries and regions like Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.

    "There is hard fighting ahead. That's all there is to it," Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said recently.

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    HEMEIMEEM AIR BASE, Syria (AP) — Russian air defense assets in Syria have downed 45 drones targeting their main base in the country, its military said Thursday, after an attack by the Islamic State group on a Syrian army base a day earlier killed seven troops.

    The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that five of them were shot down in the last three days near the Hemeimeem air base. The base in the province of Latakia serves as the main hub for Russian operations in Syria.

    Konashenkov said that while the drones appear primitive, they use sophisticated technologies and have a range of up to 100 kilometers (60 miles). He charged that the militants wouldn't have been able to assemble the drones without outside help, but didn't specify who might have assisted them.

    The Russian general noted that the number of drone attacks have increased recently, adding that all of them were launched by militants based in the northern province of Idlib.

    russia syria

    Idlib has become the main base for President Bashar Assad's foes, which moved there after being forced out from other areas across Syria as part of surrender deals often negotiated with the Russians on behalf of the Syrian government.

    With Russia's support, Assad's forces have regained control over key cities, like Aleppo, Homs and Daraa, the southern city where the uprising against the government began in March 2011. The authorities also have restored control over key highways, allowing safe travel all the way form the Jordanian border in the south to the central province of Hama.

    In Homs, regional Gov. Talal Barazi told international reporters during a trip organized by the Russian Defense Ministry that a key bridge on a highway linking the Homs and Hama provinces that was destroyed in 2012 has been restored.

    Barazi said that later this year his administration plans to start restoring the old part of Homs that was ravaged by fierce fighting in 2014.

    He said that about 650 rebels who had left the province and moved to Idlib have come back to Homs and agreed to lay down their arms.

    Barazi said that the historic city of Palmyra, home to one of the Middle East's most spectacular archaeological sites, could be open for tourist visits by next summer. Many of the city's archaeological treasures were badly damaged by the Islamic State group in 2015. Palmyra is a world heritage site protected by the United Nation's cultural agency.

    In Aleppo, Hazem Ajan, the director of the city's industrial cluster, told reporters that about 500 companies have resumed operations in the area since the government reclaimed control in 2016.

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    Meanwhile, in eastern Syria, at least seven soldiers were killed with the Islamic State group attacked an army position near the city of Deir el-Zour, a monitoring group said Thursday.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack on Wednesday near the Taim oil field was the militants' closest approach to the Deir el-Zour air base since the government recaptured it from the group last year.

    Mohammad Hassan, a media coordinator for the activist-run Deir Ezzor 24, said at least 12 soldiers and five IS militants were killed in the clashes.

    A recent UN report warned that IS, which once boasted of commanding a caliphate stretching across northern Syria and Iraq, is adopting a guerrilla profile.

    The group may still have up to 30,000 members distributed between Syria and Iraq, according to the UN report.

    Also Thursday, Assad and his wife Asma visited one of the tunnels once used by rebels outside Damascus to move vehicles, weapons, and fighters while they were under siege, the president's office said. Government forces have uncovered a network of tunnels underneath the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital since they seized the area from opposition forces in a fierce campaign earlier this year.

    The tunnel visited by the Assads was decorated with reliefs sculpted by a team of artists supervised by the government showing soldiers fighting and triumphing over their opponents.

    ___

    Associated Press writer Philip Issa in Beirut contributed to this report.

    SEE ALSO: The Army thinks its next fight is underground, and DARPA's solution may be a horde of robot helpers straight out of sci-fi

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    US Marines fire a mortar during training in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria, July 23, 2018.

    “We’ve defeated ISIS," President Donald Trump told Reuters on Monday. "ISIS is essentially defeated."

    Despite Trump's triumphant statement, ISIS still has as many as 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to the Pentagon. 

    As such, US troops are still in Syria advising and providing fire support to SDF fighters, and sometimes reportedly at times even getting into direct fire fights (they're also in country to deter Russian and Iranian influence, which the US largely denies or neglects to mention).

    The US Air Force released some pretty incredible photos last month of US troops training for those missions. 

    Check them out below:

    SEE ALSO: These photos of US troops hammering ISIS in Syria and then playing baseball are straight outta 'Apocalypse Now'

    "We can confirm this picture is of U.S. Marines conducting training on a 120mm mortar system in Syria on or about July 23, 2018," Operation Inherent Resolve told Business Insider in an email.

    The 120mm mortar has a range of up to five miles and a blast radius of 250 feet when it lands on a target. US troops are using these indirect fire weapons to strike at ISIS positions and vehicles.



    "We do not discuss operational details such as locations or mission specifics, but we can emphasize that building and maintaining combat skills has been an important part of our success against ISIS," OIR said.



    Although OIR wouldn't reveal where these pictures of US troops were taken, this picture was also taken by the same Air Force photog a few days earlier near Dawr az Zawr.

    Dawr az Zawr is in eastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River, which has largely been a deconfliction line between US and Russian troops, and where US forces also killed about 200 Russian mercenaries in February that encroached into their area attempting to seize an oil field. 



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Shiite fighter clashes with Syrian Free Army rebels

    The defense ministers of Iran and Syria have signed an agreement on military cooperation in the war-torn country, Iranian media report.

    The "defense and technical agreement" provides for the continued "presence and participation" of Iran in Syria, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said in Damascus on August 27, according to the Tasnim news agency.

    It also quoted Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayub as praising Tehran for supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the seven-year Syrian conflict.

    Hatami was on the second day of a two-day visit to Syria’s capital, during which he also held talks with Assad, Tasnim reported.

    Iranian and Russian support for Assad throughout the war has helped turn the conflict in the Syrian leader’s favor.

    Iran, Turkey and Russian leaders, all backers of Syrian President Assad

    Rebel forces have been routed in many parts of the country. Syrian pro-government forces are preparing to launch an assault on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold.

    Israel and the United States, which supports rebels fighting against Assad’s government, have expressed concern over Iran's growing influence in Syria.

    But Hatami told reporters in Damascus on August 26, "No third party can affect the presence of Iranian advisers in Syria."

    The war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and uprooted millions since it began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.

    More than 1,000 Iranians, including senior members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), have been killed in the conflict since 2012, according to Reuters.

    UN-mediated peace talks in Geneva between Syrian government delegates and the opposition broke up earlier this year without significant progress.

    Meanwhile, Iran, Russia, and Turkey have sponsored a series of negotiations on the Syrian conflict in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, and cooperated to create "de-escalation zones" to reduce fighting while backing separate sides.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will travel to Iran on September 7, his office said on August 27, on a visit expected to include a summit with Russian and Iranian counterparts on Syria.

    The tripartite meeting will take place in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz on September 7, according to Turkish state television.

    The Kremlin has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin may take part in talks with Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rohani at the beginning of September.

    The last such meeting between the three leaders took place in Ankara in April.

    With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Tasmin

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    • Russia has positioned a considerable naval armada in the Mediterranean near Syria after accusing the US of plotting a false-flag chemical-weapons attack there.
    • International investigators have found that Syria's government, backed by Moscow, has carried out dozens of deadly chemical attacks on its civilians. But Russia is accusing US-linked forces of secretly conducting these same attacks.
    • But Russia's massive navy buildup in Syria can't actually stop the US from striking Syria in response to the Syrian government's chemical attacks, as it has twice in the past two years.
    • If Russia were to counterattack US Navy ships firing on Syria, the US would most likely crush it in short order.
    • Instead, Russia will probably just keep up its propaganda effort, which includes ship deployments.

    Russia has positioned a considerable naval armada in the Mediterranean near Syria after accusing the US of plotting a false-flag chemical-weapons attack in rebel-held areas — and it looks as if it's preparing for war with the US.

    A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, recently said the US had built up its naval forces in the Mediterranean and accused it of "once again preparing major provocations in Syria using poisonous substances to severely destabilize the situation and disrupt the steady dynamics of the ongoing peace process."

    But the Pentagon on Tuesday denied any such buildup, calling Russia's claims "nothing more than propaganda" and warning that the US military was not "unprepared to respond should the president direct such an action,"CNN's Ryan Browne reported. Business Insider reviewed monitors of Mediterranean maritime traffic and found only one US Navy destroyer reported in the area.

    The same naval monitors suggest Russia may have up to 13 ships in the region, with submarines on the way.

    International investigators have linked Syria's government to more than 100 chemical attacks since the beginning of Syria's civil war, and Russia has frequently made debunked claims about the existence or perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria.

    Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert on Russian foreign policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Business Insider that Moscow was alleging a US false flag possibly to help support a weak Syrian government in cracking down on one of the last rebel strongholds, crackdowns for which chemical attacks have become a weapon of choice.

    "Using chemical weapons terrorizes civilians, so raising fear serves one purpose: It is especially demoralizing those who oppose" Syrian President Bashar Assad, Borshchevskaya told Business Insider, adding that Assad may look to chemical weapons because his conventional military has weakened over seven years of conflict.

    Since President Donald Trump took office, the US has twice struck Syria in response to what it called incontrovertible evidence of chemical attacks on civilians. Trump's White House has warned that any further chemical attacks attributed to the Syrian government would be met with more strikes.

    Looks like war

    Russia Navy Day6

    This time, Russia looks as if it's up to more than simply conducting a public-relations battle with the US. Russia's navy buildup around Syria represents the biggest since Moscow kicked off its intervention in Syria with its sole aircraft carrier in 2015.

    But even with its massive naval presence, Moscow doesn't stand a chance of stopping any US attack in Syria, Omar Lamrani, a military analyst at the geopolitical-consulting firm Stratfor, told Business Insider.

    "Physically, the Russians really can't do anything to stop that strike," Lamrani said. "If the US comes in and launches cruise missiles"— as it has in past strikes — "the Russians have to be ideally positioned to defend against them, still won't shoot down all of them, and will risk being seen as engaging the US," which might cause US ships to attack them.

    Lamrani said that in all previous US strikes in Syria, the US has taken pains to avoid killing Russian forces and escalating a conflict with Syria to a conflict between the world's two greatest nuclear powers — "not because the US cannot wipe out the flotilla of vessels if they want to," he said, but because the US wouldn't risk sparking World War III with Russia over the Syrian government's gassing of its civilians.

    "To be frank," Lamrani said, "the US has absolute dominance" in the Mediterranean, and Russia's ships wouldn't matter.

    If Russian ships were to engage the US, "the US would use its overwhelming airpower in the region, and every single Russian vessel on the surface will turn into a hulk in a very short time," Lamrani said.

    So instead of an epic naval and aerial clash, expect Russia to stick to its real weapon for modern war: propaganda.

    The US would most likely avoid striking Syria's most important targets, as Russian forces integrated there raise the risk of escalation, and Russia would most likely then describe the limited US strike as a failure, as it has before.

    Russia has made dubious and false claims about its air defenses in Syria, and it could continue down that path as a way of saving face should the US once again strike in Syria as if Russia's forces inspired no fear.

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    • The Syrian regime is preparing to assault the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, although the attack is not yet certain.
    • The Russian Defense Ministry in at least the last week has pushed a narrative about possible upcoming staged chemical attacks in Idlib.
    • And it's a sign that the Syrian regime may use chemical weapons again. 

    As the Syrian regime sets its sights on the last remaining rebel stronghold of Idlib, the Russian Defense Ministry in at least the last week has pushed a narrative about possible upcoming staged chemical attacks in the rebel-held province. 

    "Russian MoD: White Helmets Preparing to Stage Chemical Attack in Idlib" read one headline by Sputnik, a Russian state-owned media outlet, on Tuesday.

    "US plans to use fake chemical weapons attack to strike Syria – Russian MoD," one headline by the Russian state-owned media outlet RT read on Monday. 

    The list goes on, and it's a sign chemical attacks may be launched again — but this time in Idlib, the last Syrian rebel stronghold fighting the Assad regime.

    In fact, it's the same rhetoric Moscow used before the deadly chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta in April

    "E Ghouta Militants Plan to Stage Chemical Attack to Blame Gov't - Damascus," read one Sputnik headline in mid-March, about a month before the Ghouta chemical attack that killed dozens. 

    "This is textbook," Jennifer Cafarella, a senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider. "They have done this consistently in the lead up to the use of chemical weapons. So I think it's a serious possibility that they will use it again."

    "It is incredibly conniving," Cafarella added. 

    In early May, The New York Times and Bellingcat virtually recreated the scene to convincingly show how Syrian helicopters dropped chlorine barrel bombs on Eastern Ghouta. 

    In July, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that chlorine gas was used in the Eastern Ghouta attack in April, but didn't assign blame to the attack. 

    However, Russian and Syrian regime forces blocked OPCW inspectors from the site of the attack for weeks after the attack

    Despite intense strikes by the US, the UK and France, the Syrian regime ultimately achieved its mission in Eastern Ghouta, driving the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam from the region.

    "Assad and Russia don't use chemical weapons simply for the sake of using chemical weapons," Cafarella said. "They intend to cause an effect with chemical weapons that they then can exploit by advancing on the ground." 

    Nevertheless, it's still an open question as to whether an attack on Idlib will actually happen. 

    "The Turks are blocking the offensive," Cafarella said. "The Turks and Russians continue to frame their discussion from the lens of cooperation, but that's not actually what's happening."

    Cafarella said that Turkey may allow a partial offensive in Idlib, but that Ankara can't afford "to have another massive Syrian refugee flow towards the Turkish border." 

    On Thursday, the United Nations called on Russia, Turkey, and Iran to hold off on the Idlib assault, fearing a humanitarian disaster for the province's nearly 3 million civilians, and that chemical weapons could be used by either the Syrian regime or militants themselves. 

    SEE ALSO: A compelling theory explains the latest chemical attack in Syria — and it looks like Assad got what he wanted

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    • President Donald Trump on Monday warned Syria, Russia, and Iran against "recklessly attacking" the last rebel stronghold in Syria, but Russia started airstrikes by the next morning.
    • Trump has ordered strikes on Syria in response to chemical-weapons use in the past.
    • But this time Russia looks to have forecast its use and made plans to fight back against a US strike.
    • The US can probably still attack Syria, and Russia wouldn't do anything about it, but hope for Syria's civilians has long gone.
    • Russia, Syria, and Iran seem close to ending the war on their terms.
    • The best the US can offer now is punitive strikes in response to chemical warfare, and thoughts and prayers for the families caught in the cross fire.

    President Donald Trump on Monday warned Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russia, and Iran not to make a "grave humanitarian mistake" by "recklessly attacking" the last rebel stronghold in Syria's seven-year war — but Russia started airstrikes by the next morning.

    Trump's warnings carried echoes of the past two Aprils, when the US acted with missile strikes against Assad in response to information that Syrian or Russian warplanes had used chemical weapons on civilians.

    While chemical attacks credibly linked to Assad have become common in Syria, this time Russia seems intent to fend off further US military intervention with an impressive mass of military assets.

    Russia has a small armada in the Mediterranean conducting military drills. In the air, Russia has long-range and naval aviation drilling to police the skies.

    At the same time, Syrian and Iranian ground forces are preparing to attack Idlib, the last foothold of rebel fighters in the country. Russia, Syria, and Iran hope to end the war with a decisive victory over the rebels in the town. But if history is any indication, the fighting will drag on, and civilians are in danger.

    Russian and Syrian jets have a reputation for carrying out airstrikes that bring many civilian casualties and look indiscriminate at best or like war crimes against hospitals and schools at worst.

    But the US has largely turned a blind eye to civilian suffering in Syria. The international community gave a muted response to Assad's lethal repression of pro-democracy protesters in 2011. By 2015, Russia and Iran had stepped in to back up Assad while killing off a significant share of the rebels considered moderate by the US.

    Today's Syrian conflict takes place mostly between Russian, Syrian, and Iranian forces and jihadist groups with some connection to Al Qaeda.

    But Assad still doesn't have the ground strength to beat the rebels outright, nor the political support to run them out of town after seven years of brutal attacks on his own people.

    So out of those weaknesses, Syria and its Russian backers have repeatedly turned to the horrors of chemical warfare to terrify the Syrian government's enemies.

    And it's there, with chemical weapons, that Trump has responded with missile strikes in the past.

    Russia trying to scare off the US

    Russia Navy Day8

    Russia says that it has knowledge of an impending chemical attack in Idlib but that it will take the form of a US false-flag attack used to justify military intervention in Syria.

    But Russia has made that claim before, and credible reports and inspections consistently link chemical weapons use to Russian or Syrian warplanes rather than anybody else.

    After telegraphing this flashpoint, the Russian navy deployed in impressive numbers to the Mediterranean, where the US has twice fired on Syria.

    By establishing dominance in the eastern Mediterranean, Russia may be trying to ward off another US attack, but this possibly mistakes the nature of US strikes on Syria.

    The US has never made a full-on effort to depose Assad or turn the tide of the war. At this point, seven years into the war, such an effort wouldn't make much sense.

    Instead, neither US strike had much of an impact on Syria's ability to conduct chemical warfare, much less its ability to bomb hospitals or other civilian targets.

    Even with Russia's ships in the Mediterranean, the US, with its impressive airpower in the region, could most likely land a few clean shots on some noncritical targets and again embarrass Syria and Russia, should Assad cross Trump's line.

    Would a humiliated Russia use its state-controlled media to simply try to spin the strikes as a failure, as it has before? Or would it use its unprecedented navy presence in the Mediterranean to attempt to strike back at the US?

    Russia has a worse bark than bite in military retaliation, and has backed down over Syria before, so a full-on war between the world's two biggest nuclear arsenals seems unlikely.

    But Trump is right. Civilian suffering at the hands of Russians, Assad, and Iranians looks inevitable.

    "The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy," Trump tweeted on Monday. "Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don't let that happen!"

    SEE ALSO: Putin made a telling blunder in a shouting match with Ukraine's president, France's Hollande says

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    A Sukhoi Su-30 fighter is seen on the tarmac

    • A new video from Zvezda, a Russian TV network run by the Ministry of Defense, shows Russian warplanes training in the Mediterranean, where Russia has built up its forces ahead of a potential major offensive in Syria.
    • Russia now has a significant naval presence in the Mediterranean ahead of a highly-anticipated assault on Idlib, the last stronghold of the Syrian rebels, by Syrian troops with Russian support.
    • The Russian navy is apparently supported by a number of air assets, including Tu-142 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, Su30SM Flankers, Il-78 Midas refueling aircraft, and at least one Il-20 Coot spy plane.

    An interesting video released by Zvezda shows most of the aircraft taking part in the drills in the Mediterranean sea the Russian Ministry of Defense announced last week in a move Moscow said was justified by a failure to deal with rebels opposed to Syrian President Assad in Idlib and surrounding areas in Syria.

    As a Russian-backed offensive on Idlib looms, the Russians have amassed a naval armada in the eastern Mediterranean Sea made of 26 warships (including 2 subs) and 34 aircraft. The air contingent involved in the drills include the Russian Air Force Tu-160 strategic bombers, the Russian Navy Tu-142 Bear-F long-range maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft (two of those were reportedly deployed to Syria a few days ago) and various Flanker variants, including the Su-30SM.

    The clip shows some armed Russian Navy Su-30SM taking off from Khmeimim Air Base along with Il-78 Midas and an Il-20 Coot spyplane. Then the Flanker-derivative 4++ Gen aircraft can be seen escorting a Tu-142M “Bear F”, a reconnaissance and ASW variant derived from the iconic Tu-95 Bear bomber, with the characteristic tail with a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) boom.

    You can count seven Su-30SMs and four Il-78 on the ground at the beginning of the video.

    Noteworthy, the footage also shows the Su-30SMs refuel from the Il-78 tankers: according to the Sputnik media outlets, Su-30 pilots of the Russian Navy’s fleet air have only recently practiced air-to-air refueling for the first time. That’s why you won’t find many videos online showing the type during AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) operations, including from inside the cockpit.

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