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03 Jan 20. Iran draws parallels with Soleimani assassination and 1953 coup. President Rouhani vows US will pay ‘not only today but also in the years to come.’ Hassan Rouhani has warned that Iran’s response to the killing of the country’s most revered military commander would be long and drawn out, as he drew parallels with the US-engineered coup that reinstated the Shah in 1953. The assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ overseas forces, in a US drone strike on Baghdad airport this week, is the most significant confrontation between the US and Iran in years and has triggered a dramatic escalation of tension in the Middle East. “This crime that the US committed . . . is similar to the coup attempt . . . and similar to the downing of Airbus passenger flight in the Gulf [in 1988],” Mr Rouhani said on Saturday in a meeting with the family of Soleimani. “These crimes will never be forgotten.” Donald Trump said on Friday that the US did not want to start a war” with Iran. He said he ordered the killing of Soleimani as a pre-emptive strike to foil “imminent and sinister” attacks on US personnel. However it has heightened tensions across the region, with fears that it could trigger a conflict between Iran and its regional proxies and the US and its allies. Trump says US not seeking war with Iran Subtitles unavailable The dramatic deterioration in relations between Washington and Tehran was precipitated by Mr Trump’s decision in 2018 to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers and impose crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic. Iranian leaders have vowed to take revenge and continue their controversial policies in the Middle East. Mr Rouhani indicated on Saturday that Iran’s response could be a lengthy one. “Americans did not realise what a great mistake they made and that they will pay for the consequences of this crime not only today but also in the years to come.” Recommended Richard Haass Richard Haass: America must be ready for Iranian retaliation The 1953 coup against the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh marked the beginning of public hostility toward the US, although Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi maintained warm diplomatic relations until he was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iranian revolutionaries seized the US embassy and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days — a move intended to prevent Washington from interfering in the newly fledged Islamic republic.
For the US, this has remained an unforgivable act and diplomatic ties remain broken. Iranians have also not forgiven the US for shooting down a passenger flight over the Gulf that was wrongly identified as a fighter jet in 1988. Around 300 passengers and crew were killed. Soleimani, the 62-year-old commander of the elite Quds force, became the leading military figure in the Islamic world by confronting US and Israeli interests in the Middle East. He became a champion of Shia Muslims for helping defeat Isis in Iraq and Syria. Arab states considered Soleimani and the forces he commanded to be the leading destabilising force in the region. At home, he was hugely respected by supporters and critics of the Islamic republic alike for keeping the country largely immune from spillover effects of conflicts in the region. Soleimani’s four-day funeral, which began in Iraq on Saturday, is the biggest of any military figure in Iran’s history and second only to that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, in 1989. Footage of the funeral procession broadcast live by Iraq’s Al Sumaria channel and Iranian state television showed thousands of men marching in Baghdad’s central Jadriya neighbourhood, close to the so-called Green Zone where the US embassy is located. The crowds of mourners carried militia insignias, as well as black flags associated with Shia Muslim religious festivals. Some held up posters featuring Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi leader of Kata’ib Hizbollah who was killed alongside Soleimani, with slogans reading “We will never forget”. Many marchers appeared to be crying, and some wore military colours. The US blames Kata’ib Hizbollah for firing a barrage of rockets at an Iraqi base on December 27, killing an American contractor — the spark for the latest escalation.
The show of strength comes as lawmakers prepare for an emergency parliamentary session, with deputy speaker Hassan al-Kaabi calling for a focus on deciding the future of US troops in Iraq. There are roughly 5,000 US troops in Iraq. Washington has said it will send 3,500 additional troops to the region following the killing of Soleimani. Adel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, said yesterday that the double assassination was a violation of the conditions agreed for the anti-Isis US military mission in the country. Such a move would be strongly supported by pro-Iran politicians, who have agitated for the US to withdraw its soldiers for months but failed to push through a bill to that effect earlier this year largely through their disorganisation. Soleimani’s body will be transferred to Iran later on Saturday, but will be first taken to the holy city of Mashhad, where the eighth Imam of Shias is buried. On Monday, the funeral will continue in the capital city Tehran before he is buried on Tuesday in Kerman, where he was born. “His services for our country and for Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, Lebanese and Afghan people are unforgettable,” added Mr Rouhani. (Source: FT.com)
03 Jan 20. Iran vows ‘severe revenge’ for top general’s death. Iran’s supreme leader has vowed “severe revenge” on those responsible for the death of top military commander Qasem Soleimani.
Soleimani was killed by an air strike at Baghdad airport early on Friday ordered by US President Donald Trump.
The 62-year-old spearheaded Iranian operations in the Middle East as head of the elite Quds Force. Mr Trump said he caused millions of deaths.
The killing marks a major escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran.
US officials have said 3,000 additional troops will be sent to the Middle East as a precaution.
Soleimani was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported directly to the ayatollah and Soleimani was hailed as a heroic national figure.
Under his 21-year leadership of the Quds Force, Iran bolstered Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militant groups in Lebanon; expanded its military presence in Iraq and Syria; and orchestrated Syria’s offensive against rebel groups in that country’s long civil war.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US wanted to de-escalate the situation, but that the strike was “lawful” and “saved lives”. He told Fox News: “We do not seek war with Iran but we will not stand by and see American lives put at risk.”
Later Mr Pompeo thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Saudi Arabia’s “steadfast support” and “for recognising aggressive threats posed by Iran’s Quds force”, the state department said.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Iranians have been holding rallies in Tehran and other cities, denouncing what they call US crimes.
Global oil prices have soared by more than 4% in the wake of the attack.
What have the Iranians said?
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack. His death would double “resistance” against the US and Israel, he added.
He also announced three days of national mourning. The ayatollah would lead prayers at a funeral ceremony for the general in Tehran on Sunday, Iranian media quoted Soleimani’s family as saying. Later, the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s top security body, said the US would be held responsible for its “criminal adventurism”.
“This was the biggest US strategic blunder in the West Asia region, and America will not easily escape its consequences,” it said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the attack an “act of international terrorism”. (Source: BBC)
02 Jan 20. Statement by the Department of Defense. At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.
This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world. (Source: US DoD)
02 Jan 20. Esper: Kataeb Hezbollah Will ‘Likely Regret’ Further Provocative Behavior. U.S. forces in Iraq were attacked Dec. 27 near Kirkuk by Kataeb Hezbollah, a group with links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force. The attack, which involved 31 rockets fired, killed one American civilian contractor and injured four American service members as well as two partners in the Iraqi security forces, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.
“The U.S. military responded, and took defensive actions by striking KH bases in western Iraq and western Syria, striking a combination of the command and control [center] or weapons caches with considerable effect,” Esper said during a press gaggle in the Pentagon today. “The attacks were quite successful.”
In the wake of the KH attack, the defense department has deployed an infantry battalion — about 750 soldiers — from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division to the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Additional forces from the IRF prepared to deploy over the next several days, the defense secretary said.
“They are deploying to the region to on-order reinforce our facilities and to protect our personnel in the region as called upon, and obviously they have the capability to perform other missions as well, as need be,” Esper said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley described the forces from the 82nd Airborne as a “general-purpose unit,” on a defensive mission, adding that such a unit exists precisely for the types of situations it was called upon to respond to.
“It’s going over there, it’s going to be in Kuwait, and they may have follow-on missions in other places,” Milley said. “But their purpose is defensive in nature, to defend U.S. personnel, equipment and facilities.”
The chairman said other U.S. forces have been alerted, though no decision has yet been made to deploy those forces. “But there are a variety of forces that are alerted and prepared if necessary depending on the situation, as we move forward,” Milley said.
Esper said “provocative behavior” by Iranian-backed Shia militias has been ongoing for several months. The Dec. 27 attack was the latest, he said, adding that while he believes the attacks may continue, the U.S. is ready.
“They’ve been shooting rockets, indirect fire, any type of things, attacking our bases for months now,” the defense secretary said.
“In the last two [months] alone we’ve [had] nearly a dozen attacks against U.S. forces, against our coalition partners. So do I think they may do something [else?] Yes. And they will likely regret it. And we are prepared to exercise self-defense, and we are prepared to deter further bad behavior from these groups, all of which are sponsored, and directed and rescued by Iran,” Esper said. (Source: US DoD)
02 Jan 20. Iraq – Baghdad International Airport: Suspected US airstrikes target Iranian-linked vehicle convoy (UPDATE #1). Follow-on reporting indicates that on 2 January at approximately 2145Z, suspected US military airstrikes hit high value targets travelling in several vehicles near Baghdad International Airport (ORBI/BGW) serving the Iraqi capital. Flights operations at the airport have been disrupted as material damage and casualties have been reported. Iraqi state television has claimed that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Iranian-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMU) militia Kataib Hezbollah and Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF), were killed in the airstrikes. Of note, the US Secretary of Defense indicated on 2 January that US military would pre-emptively strike Iranian-linked targets in Iraq and/or Syria if there were indications militia groups were planning attacks against US bases and/or personnel in the Middle East region. On 29 December 2019, the US military confirmed its air assets had carried out a limited series of “defensive strikes” against Kataib Hezbollah facilities in Iraq’s al-Qaim in Anbar Province located along the Syrian border as well as within eastern Syria’s Dayr az Zawr Governorate. The strikes were reportedly in response to a recent indirect fire attack on Iraq’s K1 Air Base in Kirkuk Province which resulted in the death of a US civilian contractor on 27 December 2019. Media reporting indicates that Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militias have conducted 15 rocket attacks on bases in Iraq where US military advisers are present since October 2019, to include indirect fire events at Baghdad International Airport on 8 & 11 December 2019. EASA along with US, UK, French and German civil aviation authorities have each issued similar stringent guidance to operators in the past year regarding the persistent threat to flight operations within Iraq, mainly at altitudes below FL260.
The indirect attacks discussed above as well as the 29 December 2019 and 2 January reported airstrikes have occurred in wake of increased tensions between the US and Iran, which have been rising since May 2018. In wake of the US airstrikes targeting Kataib Hezbollah, Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militia supporters conducted a series of violent protests at the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone area of the capital Baghdad on 31 December 2019 & 1 January. The US military subsequently deployed over 100 Marine Crops personnel from Kuwait to the US Embassy complex in Baghdad and frequent US Army AH-64 Apache helicopter activity has been reported over the capital during the past 48 hours. In addition, the US military has deployed elements of the 82nd Airborne Division Alert Brigade along with US Marine Corps air assets to Kuwait due the increased tensions with Iran & Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militia groups. Aerial operations in Iraq by US forces against Iranian-linked targets increase the likelihood of attempted surface-to-air fire engagements against military-grade air assets below FL260, as well as armed attacks against fortified installations with aviation infrastructure, as a means of retaliation against the government or foreign interests. Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militias are assessed to be in possession of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS) capable of engaging aerial targets at altitudes up to FL260, to include Chinese-made QW-1 and/or Iranian-made Misagh-1/2 variants. On seven occasions since 21 August 2019, PMU militia forces have claimed engagements targeting military-grade drones in-flight operated by unidentified entities in the vicinity of its bases in Iraq near Baghdad as well as over Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Nineveh provinces. There are currently no indications that Iran has provided Iraqi PMU militias with radar-guided conventional surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems capable of engaging aerial targets at altitudes well above FL260. We assess that all Iraqi military air and air-defence assets, to include conventional SAM systems capable above FL260, are currently fully under the span of control of the state. We continue to assess Iraq to be a HIGH risk airspace environment at all altitudes.
Risk area recommendation: Comprehensive risk mitigation measures
- Flights below FL260 not advised; essential flights over FL260 via measures below
- Defer diverting from flight plan with the exception of life threatening situations
- Security and operational risk-based identification of pre-planned divert airports
- Reliable and redundant communications with an established communications plan
- Fully-coordinated and robust emergency response plan supplemented by asset tracking (Source: Osprey)
02 Jan 20. Taiwan’s military chief among eight dead in helicopter crash. Taiwan’s top military official was among eight people killed on Thursday, after a helicopter carrying them to visit soldiers crashed in a mountainous area near the capital Taipei, the defence ministry said.
The main portion of the helicopter lay in a northern forest wreathed in mist, its blades shattered, as dozens of rescuers combed the wreck for survivors, pictures released by emergency authorities showed.
The reasons for the crash, in the wake of a forced landing, were unknown, the military said in a statement, adding that the chief of general staff, Air Force General Shen Yi-ming, had died, while five of the 13 aboard survived.
Shen, who took up his post in July, was Taiwan’s highest-ranking general to die in the line of duty, President Tsai Ing-wen said, adding that she had asked the defence minister to launch an investigation.
“We must find out the reason for the incident,” she told reporters in the northeastern county of Yilan, where the helicopter had been heading after setting out from Taipei.
“Most importantly, (we) must ensure the stability of our military and national defence.”
The defence ministry said it had dispatched a rescue team following the Black Hawk helicopter’s crash in New Taipei City, after aviation authorities lost contact with the craft at 8:07 a.m.
“Eight of our colleagues were killed,” a military spokesman told a news conference broadcast live on television.
CAMPAIGN EVENTS CANCELLED
The incident, which comes a week before democratic Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 11, disrupted campaign events.
Tsai, who is seeking re-election, cancelled all campaign activities until Saturday, while opposition presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party called off campaigns until Friday.
“Kuomintang urges related authorities to probe the incident as soon as possible and make a thorough check on the same type of aircraft to prevent the tragedy from happening again,” the party said in a statement.
The helicopter involved in Thursday’s incident was one of 60 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters the United States sold to Taiwan in 2010, the official Central News Agency said.
Although the Unites States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is the island’s strongest international backer and main arms supplier.
The de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan expressed its condolences, saying it stood ready to assist in the aftermath of the tragedy, but without detailing what such help might entail.
The incident was the latest aviation accident in Taiwan, after the 2018 crash of a Black Hawk helicopter off its east coast killed six people aboard, and the crash of an F-16 fighter jet killed a pilot the same year.
In 2016, the navy fired a supersonic missile in error, hitting a fishing boat in waters that separate Taiwan from diplomatic rival China.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if necessary, regularly calls the island the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.
Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name. (Source: Reuters)
02 Jan 20. Faster rockets, more warheads: What North Korea could gain from new weapons development. If North Korea returns to long-range missile launches or other weapons tests in 2020, its military could make valuable technical advances and gain experience alongside whatever political message is sent to Washington.
This week North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that the world would soon see his country’s “new strategic weapon” and that there was no longer reason for Pyongyang to be bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests.
Kim’s comments were the strongest indication that the North could resume some of the major tests it had suspended more than two years ago in the run-up to summit diplomacy with the United States.
After years of development, the weapons programmes of North Korea are now advanced enough that it is hard to predict what it might test, said Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).
U.S. military officials have said they see a long-range missile launch as one of the most likely possibilities.
Other experts said North Korea could launch a satellite, deploy the new ballistic missile submarine it says it is developing, or field new domestically produced “transporter erector launcher” (TEL) vehicles for its largest missiles.
“Any tests or drills they run will not only allow them to develop weapons that are faster, longer-range, or more reliable, but they also give the people operating these systems more exposure to and practice using and deploying the weapons,” said Grace Liu, a research associate at CNS.
In December, North Korea said it had carried out two important tests at its Sohae satellite launch site, aimed at developing “another strategic weapon” to counter nuclear threats from the United States.
Although North Korean state media did not say exactly what was tested or what the new weapon might be, officials in Washington and Seoul said it appeared likely the North had tested rocket engines, possibly for ICBMs.
“They might work toward developing better liquid-propellant engines or revisit older engines that they’ve had trouble with in the past,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
Analysts also speculated that North Korea could be developing better solid rocket motors (SRMs), which can offer some benefits like easier storage and transportation.
SRMs would also be important for North Korea’s efforts to field an operational submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), similar to what was test-fired from a submerged barge in October.
“Every missile they’ve flight-tested in 2019 to date has used a solid rocket motor and they’re clearly becoming more adept at casting these motors in different diameters,” Panda said. “There are challenges associated with moving to ICBM-sized SRMs, but perhaps North Korea will demonstrate a breakthrough on that front.”
REENTRY VEHICLES AND NUCLEAR WARHEADS
A warhead launched by an ICBM needs a protective reentry vehicle to help it survive the fiery descent through the atmosphere to hit its target.
After the November 2017 launch of its largest ICBM to date, the Hwasong-15, state media said the test confirmed “the safety of a warhead in the atmospheric re-entry environment.”
U.S. military officials later said North Korea had not demonstrated a survivable re-entry vehicle, though they did not discount the possibility.
During North Korea’s last ICBM tests in 2017, its scientists may have gleaned useful data on how their reentry vehicles worked, Panda said.
However, the tests were conducted on a “lofted trajectory” high into space, potentially limiting the usefulness of some of the data, as the missile would take a much different trajectory during a war, he added.
A final card North Korea could play is an atmospheric test of a nuclear warhead, though many analysts say that is unlikely, as it could anger Pyongyang’s backers in Beijing and Moscow.
But North Korea is believed to have continued producing material for nuclear weapons, and analysts said it is likely to continue stockpiling additional warheads while seeking to make them even smaller.
Korea National Defense University’s Jeong Han-beom said North Korea could use computer simulations to develop smaller and lighter warheads without new nuclear tests.
EVADING MISSILE DEFENCES
In 2019, North Korea conducted several tests of new short-range missiles such as the KN-23, which experts said are designed to better evade missile defences.
This year, North Korea could seek to develop multiple reentry vehicles for large-diameter missiles like the Hwasong-15, Panda said.
“Adding more nuclear warheads to a single missile can better assure them of an ability to penetrate American missile defence and, if they’re worried that their warheads might have reliability issues, more warheads increases the odds that one warhead will successfully detonate,” he said.
North Korea often seems more focussed on making a splash with new weapons rather than pragmatically building more of the weapons it already has, said Markus Schiller, a missile expert based in Europe who focuses on the way North Korea has used outside help for its technology.
“This new stuff will again be something they have procured from somewhere else, or some publicity event that our political scientists will interpret as a huge leap toward new technology,” he said.
Schiller said one technology that could generate the buzz North Korea is looking for could be a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), which the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance defines as weapons that travel faster than Mach 5 (3,800mph/6,174kmh) and have the capability to manoeuvre during the entire flight.
“Perhaps they will display a design model of a HGV, or launch a KN-23 on top of a bigger missile and have it do some manoeuvring at reentry while claiming to have launched a HGV,” Schiller said. “This way, they can save their limited resources, and play the same game they had over the past years.” (Source: Reuters)
31 Dec 19. The Royal Air Force’s Number 12 Squadron has today flown RAF Typhoons alongside the Qatari Emiri Air Force as part of a large display over Qatar’s capital city Doha. The flypast is part of the Qatar National Day celebrations and represents a landmark moment. 12 Squadron was re-established on 24th July 2018 and will shortly become a joint Royal Air Force, Qatari Emiri Air Force squadron that will integrate personnel from both nations. This is the first time that the squadron has flown in Qatar since becoming a formed unit.
The squadron will prepare the QEAF for the standing up of its first purely Qatari operated Typhoon squadron by 2022. This will be done in time for the delivery of 24 state of the art aircraft that Qatar purchased from the UK last year.
12 Squadron’s participation in the event further cements the already strong ties between the UK and Qatar. It also provided an unrivalled first opportunity to fly side-by-side with some of QEAF’s most experienced pilots.
“We greatly enjoyed the privilege of participation in the Qatari National Day Flypast over Doha, witnessed by His Excellency the Emir of Qatar. The celebrations surrounding this day have been a sight to behold – the Qatari national pride is evident at literally every street corner. We have loved playing our small part and are already looking forward to next year when 12 Squadron will return to Qatar with our own Qatari pilots and ground crew.” Wing Commander Chris Wright, jhnOfficer Commanding Number 12 Squadron
Flight Lieutenant Helen Seaman, Junior Engineering Officer 12 Squadron said: “With the success of our co-operation here and the Qatari National Day Flypast, I hope our colleagues in the QEAF have enjoyed working with us. I am personally looking forward to our two countries working together and the learning opportunities the Joint Squadron presents.”
The next phase of joint training will take place in the UK at RAF Coningsby. (Source: Warfare.Today/RAF)
30 Dec 19. Top Iraq militia chief warns of tough response to U.S. air strikes. A top Iraqi militia leader warned of a strong response against U.S. forces in Iraq following air strikes in Iraq and Syria overnight that hit several bases of his Iranian-backed group and killed at least 25 people.
The U.S. military carried out air strikes on Sunday against the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group in response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said. Iraqi security and militia sources said at least 25 militia fighters were killed and at least 55 wounded following three U.S. air strikes in Iraq.
“The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq,” senior commander Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, said late on Sunday. Iran said it strongly condemned the raids as “terrorism”.
Mohandes is a senior commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of paramilitary groups mostly consisting of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias that was formally integrated into Iraq’s armed forces.
He is also one of Iran’s most powerful allies in Iraq and formerly headed Kataib Hezbollah, which he founded.
Iraqi security sources said on Monday that U.S. forces in Iraq’s northerly Nineveh province were ramping up security overnight, with U.S.-led coalition jets circling the perimeter of its military bases in Mosul and Qayarah.
Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington -Iraq’s two main allies – since last year when President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iranian-backed forces for a series of attacks on bases in Iraq and said any attacks by Tehran or proxies harming Americans or allies would be “answered with a decisive U.S. response.”
“We strongly deny any role in the attack on American forces. This claim without any evidence cannot justify bombing and killing people in violation of international law,” said Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei, quoted by the semi-official news agency Fars.
Iran’s foreign ministry called on the United States to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The air strikes come at a troubled time of protests in Iraq with thousands taking to the streets to condemn, among other things, militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and their Iranian backers. They also demand an overhaul of a political system they see as corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed in unrest as security forces have sought to quell anti-government demonstrations.
The PMF bolstered Iraq’s security forces during their battle to retake a third of the country from Islamic State, helping secure victory against the militants.
They were later formally integrated into Iraq’s official security structure and also wield large political influence.
There was no immediate comment from the Iraqi government on the air strikes. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who is backed by Iran and its allies, resigned last month as the protests continued but has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.
Iraq’s Fatih alliance, which holds the second-largest number of seats in parliament and largely consists of militia leaders, called the air strikes an attack on Iraq’s sovereignty.
“The insolent attack by American forces on security forces which targeted the 45th and 46th brigades of the Popular Moralization Forces in the Qaim area is an attack on national sovereignty and on Iraq’s dignity,” it said in a statement.
Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah, also backed by Iran, also condemned the air strikes, calling them a blatant attack on Iraqi sovereignty, security, and stability. (Source: Reuters)
08 Oct 20. ‘It Didn’t Have to Be This Way’: Just-Retired CENTCOM General. Trump’s decision “threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability,” writes Joseph Votel, who until March led America’s forces in the Mideast.
The abrupt policy decision to seemingly abandon our Kurdish partners could not come at a worse time. The decision was made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us.
In northeastern Syria, we had one of the most successful partnerships. The Islamic State was using Syria as a sanctuary to support its operations in Iraq and globally, including by hosting and training foreign fighters. We had to go after ISIS quickly and effectively. The answer came in the form of a small band of Kurdish forces pinned up against the Turkish border and fighting for their lives against ISIS militants in the Syrian town of Kobane in 2014.
We had tried many other options first. The U.S. initially worked to partner with moderate Syrian rebel groups, investing $500m in a train-and-equip program to build their capabilities to fight against ISIS in Syria. That endeavor failed, save for a small force in southeastern Syria near the American al-Tanf base, which began as a U.S. outpost to fight ISIS and remains today as a deterrent against Iran. So we turned to Turkey to identify alternative groups, but the Pentagon found that the force Turkey had trained was simply inadequate and would require tens of thousands of U.S. troops to bolster it in battle. With no public appetite for a full-scale U.S. ground invasion, we were forced to look elsewhere.
I (Joseph Votel) first met General Mazloum Abdi at a base in northern Syria in May 2016. From the start, it was obvious he was not only an impressive and thoughtful man, but a fighter who was clearly thinking about the strategic aspects of the campaign against ISIS and aware of the challenges of fighting a formidable enemy. He could see the long-term perils from the civil war, but recognized that the most immediate threat to his people was ISIS. After a fitful start in Syria, I concluded that we had finally found the right partner who could help us defeat ISIS without getting drawn into the murkier conflict against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
(SDF), initially composed of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), was then conceived: a fighting force that eventually grew to 60,000 battle-hardened and determined soldiers. The decision to partner with the YPG, beginning with the fight in Kobane, was made across two administrations and had required years of deliberation and planning, especially given the concerns of our NATO ally Turkey, who regards the SDF as an offshoot of the designated terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Eventually, the YPG became the backbone of the fighting force against ISIS in Syria. Without it, President Donald Trump could not have declared the complete defeat of ISIS.
With support from what grew to be the 80-member Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which included air power, advisers on the ground, and equipment, the SDF became a force to be reckoned with and led a string of victories. In August 2016, it liberated the Syrian town of Manbij, which once functioned as a hub for ISIS fighters to cross into Turkey and is believed to be where the attackers who carried out the November 2015 Paris attacks transited. Mindful of the need for credibility as it pushed to liberate Arab-dominated areas, the YPG had succeeded in incorporating Arab units into its structure as a united Arab-Kurd fighting force. That force, the SDF, went on to liberate the so-called capital of the caliphate, Raqqa, and towns in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, culminating in the territorial defeat of ISIS in Baghouz this past March.
Over four years, the SDF freed tens of thousands of square miles and millions of people from the grip of ISIS. Throughout the fight, it sustained nearly 11,000 casualties. By comparison, six U.S. service members, as well as two civilians, have been killed in the anti-ISIS campaign. Key to this effective relationship was mutual trust, constant communication, and clear expectations. The partnership was not without its difficulties. That included working through the December 2018 announcement of our sudden departure and our subsequent agreement with Turkey to pursue a security mechanism for the border areas. But each time, the strong mutual trust built on the ground between our military members and the SDF preserved our momentum. The sudden policy change this week breaks that trust at the most crucial juncture and leaves our partners with very limited options.
It didn’t have to be this way. The U.S. worked endlessly to placate our Turkish allies.
We engaged in countless rounds of negotiations, committing to establishing a security mechanism that included joint patrols in areas of concern to the Turks, and deploying 150 additional U.S. troops to help monitor and enforce the “safe zone.” Yet Ankara repeatedly reneged on its agreements with the U.S., deeming them inadequate and threatening to invade SDF-held areas, despite the presence of U.S. soldiers.
A possible invasion from Turkey against the Kurdish elements of the SDF, coupled with a hasty U.S. departure, now threaten to rapidly destabilize an already fragile security situation in Syria’s northeast, where ISIS’s physical caliphate was only recently defeated. Nearly 2,000 foreign fighters, about 9,000 Iraqi and Syrian fighters, and tens of thousands of ISIS family members are being held in detention facilities and displaced-persons camps in areas under SDF control. What happens if we leave? The SDF has already stated that it will have to fortify defense mechanisms along the Syrian-Turkish border, leaving ISIS detention facilities and encampments with little to no security. This is particularly troubling given the self-proclaimed caliph of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s recent sermon called on supporters to break fighters out of these facilities, and amid violent attacks in the al-Hol refugee camp, where tens of thousands of women and children are housed and where ISIS sympathy runs rampant.
The Pentagon and White House later clarified that the U.S. was not abandoning the Kurds and did not support a Turkish incursion into Syria. But the damage may already be done, because it appears the Turks have taken the shift to signal a green light for an attack in the northeast. This policy abandonment threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability in any future fights where we need strong allies. (Source: Defense One)
29 Dec 19. Iraq – US military airstrikes target Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militia Kataib Hezbollah on Iraq-Syria border. On 29 December, the US military confirmed its air assets had carried out a limited series of “defensive strikes” against Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMU) militia. The airstrikes reportedly targeted Kataib Hezbollah facilities in Iraq’s al-Qaim in Anbar Province located along the Syrian border as well as within eastern Syria’s Dayr az Zawr Governorate against sites linked to the group. The strikes are reportedly in response to a recent indirect fire attack on Iraq’s K1 Air Base in Kirkuk Province which resulted in the death of a US civilian contractor and the wound of four US military personnel on 27 December. In addition, the US Secretary of State blamed Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militias for rocket attacks targeting Baghdad International Airport (ORBI/BGW) serving the Iraqi capital on 9 & 11 December, where US military advisers are present. Of note, at least 15 rockets targeted Nineveh’s Qayyarah Airfield on 11 December and a previous indirect fire attack involving over 15 projectiles targeted the aviation installation on 9 November. Along these lines, Salah ad-Din’s Balad Air Base (ORBD/OR9) was targeted via indirect fire on 5 December and Anbar’s Ain al Asad Air Base (ORAA/IQA) was hit with rockets on 3 December. Additional indirect fire attacks in Baghdad occurred in 2019 on 8 occasions, when small numbers of rockets or mortars were launched at the Green Zone. The US has blamed previous mortar barrages on Basra Airport (ORMM/BSR) on 8 & 27 September 2018 as well as an additional indirect fire attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad on 6 September 2018 on Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militias. To date, no violent non-state actor (VNSA) group(s) has claimed responsibility for the indirect fire attacks. EASA along with US, UK, French and German civil aviation authorities have each issued similar stringent guidance to operators in the past year regarding the persistent threat to flight operations within Iraq, mainly at altitudes below FL260.
The indirect attacks discussed above as well as the 29 December reported airstrikes have occurred in wake of increased tensions between the US and Iran. Tensions have been rising since May 2018, when the US announced its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. International media reporting from early December 2019, July 2019 and August 2018 indicates that Iran continues to deliver short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to several Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militias in Iraq. Additional international media reporting indicates that suspected Israel Defecne Forces (IDF) airstrikes have taken place in Iraq on up to eight occasions since mid-July targeting PMU weapons storage facilities which may have housed SRBM and/or drone components delivered to the militias from Iran. Of note, suspected IDF strikes in Syria’s Dayr az Zawr Governorate, located along the border with Iraq, targeted sites linked to Iran and/or Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militia forces on over 13 occasions since 26 August. Iranian-backed Iraqi PMU militias are assessed to be in possession of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS) capable of engaging aerial targets at altitudes up to FL260, to include Chinese-made QW-1 and/or Iranian-made Misagh-1/2 variants. On seven occasions since 21 August, PMU militia forces have claimed engagements targeting military-grade drones in-flight operated by unidentified entities in the vicinity of its bases in Iraq near Baghdad as well as over Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Nineveh provinces. PMU militias in Iraq are expected to respond to incoming strikes in the future, likely via AAA fire and possibly via MANPADS employment. There are currently no indications that Iran has provided Iraqi PMU militias with radar-guided conventional surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems capable of engaging aerial targets at altitudes well above FL260. We assess that all Iraqi military air and air-defence assets, to include conventional SAM systems capable above FL260, are currently fully under the span of control of the state. We continue to assess Iraq to be a HIGH risk airspace environment at all altitudes.
Risk area recommendation: Comprehensive risk mitigation measures
- Flights below FL260 not advised; essential flights over FL260 via measures below
- Defer diverting from flight plan with the exception of life threatening situations
- Security and operational risk-based identification of pre-planned divert airports
- Reliable and redundant communications with an established communications plan
- Fully-coordinated and robust emergency response plan supplemented by asset tracking
Approvals: As a precaution, conduct operational risk-based identification of divert and alternate airports for flight schedules with planned stops at aerodromes in the country or with overflight of the airspace. Operators are advised to ensure flight plans are correctly filed, attain proper special approvals for flight operations to sensitive locations and obtain relevant overflight permits prior to departure. In addition, ensure crews scheduled to operate to or over the country in the near term are fully aware of the latest security situation.
Indirect Fire: Indirect fire attacks; via rockets, mortars or artillery, against airports and airbases within the country pose a latent threat to civil aviation. VNSA groups are assessed to have a variety of rockets, mortars, and potentially military grade artillery pieces within their inventory. Aircraft on the ground at installations face a credible risk of being damaged due to indirect fire attacks. Security forces face difficulty controlling the wide area surrounding most installations which creates a vulnerability which is difficult for operators to mitigate.
Weapons Trafficking: Poor provisions of security through porous borders and an influx of weapons; including anti-aircraft systems, has facilitated a resurgence in VNSA activity in recent years. The country has historically been a hub of VNSA activity and a key route for arms-smuggling given its remoteness and anti-government sentiment due to the lack of economic opportunities. The presence of large, relatively unpoliced areas of the country are also vulnerable to security and or terrorism threats due to instability and porous borders, where VNSA groups are present. (Source: Osprey)
29 Dec 19. Statement From Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Jonathan Hoffman. In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces, U.S. forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces.
The five targets include three KH locations in Iraq and two in Syria. These locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that KH uses to plan and execute attacks on OIR coalition forces.
Recent KH strikes included a 30-plus rocket attack on an Iraqi base near Kirkuk that resulted in the death of a U.S. citizen and injured four U.S. service members and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
KH has a strong linkage with Iran’s Quds Force and has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack OIR coalition forces.
The OIR coalition is in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS and provide advice and assistance to the ISF. The U.S. and its coalition partners fully respect Iraqi sovereignty, and support a strong and independent Iraq. The U.S., however, will not be deterred from exercising its right of self-defense.
It is important to note that KH attacks have also injured multiple members of the ISF. Secretary Esper and Prime Minister Mahdi have shared with each other their commitment to see these KH attacks on ISF and OIR forces cease once and for all.
Iran and their KH proxy forces must cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, and respect Iraq’s sovereignty, to prevent additional defensive actions by U.S. forces. (Source: US DoD)
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