Winter is Coming, and So is the Expanded Russian/Iranian Offensive in Syria and Iraq

A month and nearly 1,400 combat missions have passed since Russia began its aerial intervention in Syria. While the jihadists have not been routed by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies, they have been slowly beaten back -- and their supporters have been forced to negotiate with Damascus, Tehran and Moscow in Vienna, Austria.

Writing about the negotiations in the old Hapsburg capitol, retired U.S. Army Green Berets officer W. Patrick Lang had this to say last week:

Adil Jubair, now sitting in the Saudi FM's chair has made it clear.  SA wants to defeat Iran and Shiism in Syria so that its long term project of re-Sunnifying the Levant can be fulfilled.

The Obama Administration meekly follows that line so as to please its real masters in the region.  Can one doubt that these are Israel and Saudi Arabia?

At Vienna the US is busy testing Russian and Iranian willingness to surrender Syria to the Israelis and SA.  My guess is that this will be a saddening experience for Kerry, and yet another frustrated hope for a Nobel.  Ah, well he might still get it for the Iran nuclear deal.

Word from the field indicates that pro-government forces have cleared the LOC [line of control - key supply highway - JWS] to Aleppo.  Irony of ironies, a Palestinian militia unit is said to have participated in this operation.

As my friend ex-NATO military analyst The Saker says, considering the complexity of the battlefield in Syria and the relatively small number of Russian personnel and aircraft that have been committed to the fight, the Russian combat effort has been impressive. After weeks of insisting the Russians weren't hitting ISIS targets and indeed, couldn't accurately target anything while their faulty cruise missiles were falling into Iran, Washington's propaganda machine insults against the Russian military's competence have cooled off somewhat. U.S. Navy officers writing for the Brookings Institute and The New York Times no less have recognized the professionalism and technological prowess of the Russian expeditionary force.

Gloating about ISIS 'successes' that quickly end in scores of Daesh corpses and Toyota pick up trucks bombed out by the Russian Air Force around contested villages has exposed the propagandists like Brookings Doha center Qatar shill @Charles_Lister and Bild's obnoxious NATO/AlNusra cheerleader "Jihad" Julian Roepcke for what they are.

So too has a Britain-based Huffington Post columnist calling ISIS tactical advances on a few villages acts of 'liberation' let the cat out of the bag. There is now for all practical purposes a neocon/AlNusra/ISIS grand coalition based on common adversaries (Russia, Assad, Iran) if not common ideology.


The use of enslaved Allawite women as human shields against Russian bombing by the jihadists Lister and Roepcke said were the 'good guys' in Syria at East Ghouta has further destroyed any sympathies Westerners may've had for the rebels as underdogs. Instead, we're likely to see even more expressions of sentiment like this at a weekend Donald Trump campaign rally, exposing the reality that hating Putin and the Russians is a media and elitist preoccupation:

Reception for Trump's jokes about getting on fine with Putin and earning the Russian leader's respect shows plenty of Americans -- and at least Trump voters -- don't give a damn about Washington's obsession with taking down Russia and the Kremlin

While most Americans according to public opinion polls might not like or trust the Kremlin's paramount leader, they are hardly as obsessed with Putin or the Russians 'punking' them as America's bipartisan, warmongering political class.

Southfront military review November 1, 2015 -- after failing to fully cut Syrian Arab Army supply lines to Aleppo, ISIS own logistics from east to west are under threat from the Syrian advance on the Kuweires military airport northeast of Aleppo

Despite all the boasting about TOW missiles as wunderwaffen and various jihadist groups including ISIS announcing their counteroffensives on social media (the better to have Russian drones, jets, and gunships anticipating their movements), the SAA/Hezbollah/IRGC operation grinds on around Aleppo. To the west, the position of the jihadis guarding the Latakia borderland approaches to the rebels' supply lines from Turkey through Idlib province grows more desperate by the day. As it turns out TOW missiles, RPGs and small arms alone won't hold the line for much longer if the SAA are blasting away at every hilltop the jihadis have left with artillery and Russian air strikes. And the position of the jihadis to the south and east of Damascus is also threatened. W. Patrick Lang describes the gathering storm for the anti-Assad jihadists and their sponsors in Ankara, Riyadh and Doha well:

While most of the recent military action has taken place in the north-western corner of the country, with both government and rebel forces (ISIS included) making some moves, the "Southern Front" has remained largely calm in comparison. This could change dramatically very soon. The trend has been there for a few days already, with Russian airstrikes having substantially increased, SAA and allied troops being positioned and a number of rebel strongholds in Eastern Ghouta (Damascus) as well as in Quneitra (close to Israeli occupied Golan) coming under attack.

The dynamics of the current campaign are still the same. The R+5 remains in the driving seat all over the "battlefield" and is basically free to pick the areas it wants to target. Rebel groups have to adjust to the tempo and initiative being seized by their opponents. So far, they were able to withstand the pressure they have been put under, even though they lost substantial territory South-West of Aleppo, as well as in Gbab plain (south-west of Idlib) and in their strategic positions in Jabal al-Akrad.

They managed however to stage small counter-attacks in the Hama salient, and more importantly along the government LOC into Aleppo. This second operation seems to have been at least coordinated with ISIS, as there was a simultaneous push onto various points of this road coming from JaN (which controls areas west of this line of communication) and from ISIS (attacking from the East). The disruptions caused by these attacks were only temporary however, and it is highly unlikely that either group expected to take over this LOC for more than a few hours or days.

Last but not least, ISIS also counter-attacked East of Aleppo, where R+5 units made substantial gains towards Kuweires airbase in recent days. The scale of the ISIS counter-attack, for which they took significant casualties, is not linked to interdicting access to this airport. More importantly, ISIS' main supply line – the highway linking Mosul to Aleppo and then to the Turkish border – runs right through this area. That is why the most obvious reason for this ISIS operation was to loosen the grip of the R+5 on their main LOC.

And while the area involved is small in size, any development there has potentially serious implications for the "Islamic State". The predicted outcome of the ongoing operation remains unchanged: R+5 should be able to seize Kuweires airbase, thereby possibly cutting off or disrupting ISIS' LOC. To achieve this operational goal however, a steady Russian air support will be necessary, even once the airbase is reached. In other words, the announced uptake in RuAF sorties has to materialize on the ground.

In the east, ISIS has been forced to pull fighters off its front lines with the Iraqi Army in order to reinforce failing assaults on the SAA's elite Tiger formation advancing on the Kuweires military airport. The thinning ISIS lines in Anbar province have allowed the Iraqis to take their critical oil refinery at Baiji, then advance on the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi. If Ramadi falls to the Iraqi army in the next few weeks, the road to Mosul will be open and Daesh's ability to keep motivating young recruits to die in holding actions against massed Iraqi army firepower provided by Russia will falter. The tactics Daesh likes to use -- suicide bomb VBIEDs against checkpoints, followed by swiftly executed Toyota pickup jihadi assaults -- tend not to work as well when the opposition has steady drone coverage overhead to spot the ambushers and call arty down on them first. ISIS hit and run tactics also work less well in the open desert without the cover of buildings to hide among civilians from Russian bombs.


The prospect of winning 72 virgins may still draw some to ISIS ranks, but their recruitment was going far better when Daesh was winning and its young men were promised quickie marriages if not teenage and pre-teen 'concubines' from captured towns.

ISIS under pressure from SAA advance towards the symbolic ancient city of Palmyra

As we reported Friday one Department of Defense analyst pegged the Islamic State's hardcore combatant count at barely 20,000 men -- a sharp contrast to estimates as high as 100,000 to cover a vast territory stretching from northeast and central Syria to western Iraq. Contrary to the aura of invincibility that has built up around the Islamic State, they have their manpower problems just like Assad has his own. Speaking of manpower, as we've written here before, if the SAA can take that airport and expand the perimeter around it, we will likely see Iranian attack helicopters and jets operating out of the previously besieged facility, as well as more IRGC reinforcements airlifted into the fight within miles of Aleppo. This will allow more rapid daily gains to take advantage of the disarray and poor communication between various jihadi militias. That in turn will steadily force the Al-Nusra front and 'Free Syrian Army' fighters into more compressed urban enclaves that can be bombed or hit with heavy Russian-supplied Smerch/GRAD MLRS fire. This is the Russian model of 'cauldron' warfare updated from WWII that has already been used by the Novorossiya Armed Forces (NAF) to destroy numerically superior Ukrainian units at Saur Mogila and Debaltsevo. Despite the 'force multiplier' of Russian signals intelligence and firepower, any additional 'boots on the ground' for SAA and Damascus allied advances will come from the Iranians and Iraqi Shi'a militias.

Rather than declare its Persian Gulf Arab allies proxies' to be unbeatable, a proposition their CIA/State Department handlers know will get exposed as false over the next several weeks, U.S. propagandists have shifted to more plausible arguments. There are after all only so many times where you can insist a few dead commanders will stop Hezbollah in their tracks -- or tout ISIS propaganda bullshit as fact if you're the neocon-connected 'Institute for the Study of War'.

Putin compares Russian military and intelligence spending combined -- about $60 billion a year factoring in a few billion for Syria annually-- to America's which is easily ten times as large ($500 billion for DoD/Defense Authorization Acts plus CIA/NSA/DIA/Natl Geospatial Intelligence Agency's spiffy new HQ in St. Louis, MO area, black budgets/sites etc etc etc)

Washington think tank official-dom now presents a softer version of the White House/Pentagon party line that Russia's operations in Syria will not be successful, but more over the long haul than short term. They point to the alleged costs of the operation running into the billions of dollars every year and wonder how Russia will sustain high defense spending levels and operations tempo for its modern and upgraded Soviet-design aircraft. That such costs are mounting is not disputable, but Moscow's defense and foreign intel budget prior to the Syria operation stood at about $60 billion per year, compared to over ten times that number spent by the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.

According to pro-Damascus journalist Elijah J. Magnier, the Russian air force has already accounted for many of the costs from flight operations through deploying new pilots to Syria to 'train' in actual combat:

What happens behind the walls at the military airport used by the Russian air force to hit targets inside Syria in Latakia-Humaimam?

Observers believed Moscow would not be able to maintain the pace required for the airstrikes in Syria because it is expensive and would drain the Russian treasury. In fact, the Russian air force carries annually more than 20.000 training flights to maintain its readiness and to graduate new pilots. When President Vladimir Putin said “the military effort in Syria, mainly the air strikes, falls within the ceiling of the Russian Defense Ministry”, he meant that the Kremlin war Ministry have allocated a basic 10.000 sorties for the first year over Syria only, subject to increase the number of sorties, depending on the necessity of the battle field. A large part of the Russian pilots’ training and graduation were converted to Hamymeem in Syria. A number of 100 sorties and 25 air strikes were allocated to each pilot to be completed before retuning home and being replaced by other fresh pilots.

According to sources from within the Hamymeem airport in connection with the main operation room in Damascus, “a team of Russian experts are working on reviewing the daily strikes carried by the Russian Air Force to study the effectiveness, the precision of the bombs, the skill of pilots, and the destructive power of the bombs used. Another team collects the intelligence date gathered by drones and air jets to identify targets before and after the air strikes, update the bank of objectives, estimate the enemy losses, and the impact of these strikes on the battlefield. One of many conclusions is that Russia needs to develop its aerial photography quality during raids to transfer the image more clearly and to increase the sorties and the strikes due to the wide geographic area of operation.”

“Russia is gaining precious experience in the sky of Syria. It is also developing a coordinated sea and air logistics supply to feed its own air force and provide the allies, who are not only in the air, like the Syrian Air Force, but also fighting battles on the ground who are in regular need of military supply of all kind. The flow of supply is fed by air and sea almost on daily basis from thousands of kilometers in Russia. Moscow’s North Sea Fleet and the Department of Defense coordinate between the Kremlin and Operation rooms in Damascus and Baghdad to follow the development and draw possible future plans, including for Iraq”, said the source.

If any empire is hitting the red line in terms of sustainability, that would be Uncle Sam's. In no small part because Washington's allies are now less reliable and trustworthy than Moscow's. Lurking in the historic background of such arguments that Russia is doomed to overexertion in Syria is the Soviet Afghanistan debacle. Yet there are a myriad of differences between the mountainous Pashtunistan of the 1980s and the shattered Syrian polity today. Moscow's proxies in Damascus and Latakia are far more determined to achieve victory and more capable of doing so than the pro-Soviet Kabul regime of that decade. Furthermore, many of the same D.C. think tankers advancing the claim that the Syrian war will prove to be Russia's 2nd Afghanistan see no problem with Washington continuing America's own failure in the Hindu Kush into its 16th year.


No military solution to the problems that plague Iraq and Syria -- but what the hell, we're sending less than 50 troops and put their lives at risk inside Syria to appear to be 'doing something' anyway

This week President Barack Obama is sending less than 50 U.S. special operators to northeastern Syria, supposedly to assist the Kurdish YPG in the fight against Daesh. It's noteworthy that Obama was so enthusiastic about this announcement (and making himself into a liar) that he delegated the unenviable task of the announcement to his White House spokesman Josh Earnest and State Department flack John Kirby. What that implies about the degree of Obama's commitment to putting 'boots on the ground' inside Syria to officially fight ISIS but unofficially grab another chip for Uncle Sam at the bargaining table game is self-evident.

As any military professional will tell you, it is difficult if not impossible to achieve victory over any competent, determined adversary without a unified command and coordination of efforts. As we and others have stated, there is clearly a gap between the unitary chain of command and degree of commitment on the Russian/Iranian/Syrian side and Washington's own fractious alliance. In Ukraine the use of the phrase 'escalation dominance' to describe the battlefield supremacy of Russian proxies was a euphemism for the fact that at least some Russians were willing to bleed and die on the NAF side whereas hardly anyone from the U.S. or other NATO armies wanted to fight for the Kiev regime.

While in Syria Russia is reluctant to commit ground troops, there are rumors and reports that Moscow's crack Vladikavkaz-based 58th Army's staff has already deployed to the country, as well as an unknown number of spetsnaz. According to Ft. Russ:

“Al-Rai” learned that “Special Elite Russian combat forces arrived to Hama, Aleppo, Homs, Damascus, as well as Zabadani to monitor, participate and study the military map on the field and suggest future workflow Combat plans. These Special Forces submit to the operating room suggestions to determine the full plan to start the flow of further Russian special combat forces and troops on the battlefield all over the Syrian map where it is necessary”.
This development will be the largest Russian external military intervention since Afghanistan in 1979.
A very senior field commander around Zabadani city said that “there are small Russian combat units, mostly sniper unit that we call the “Ivan unit”, another reconnaissance unit, a unit of urban warfare, and advanced missiles unit in the area of operations run by the Syrian Army. ”
Ivan and Yulia belong to a Russian sniper unit that came recently to Zabadani. At the end of the day, the team left after shooting 4 deadly bullets. “I return to Aleppo where there is more action than Zabadani. Here there isn’t much left”, said Yulia before leaving Zabadani, according to the source.
“Russia is beginning with what we define as a” quiet support ” supplying advanced technology and preparing a spearhead force before reaching a further level we call the” stormy Support “. We expect a large presence of troops that will be supported by Russian Air Force. There are around 2500 Russian fighters, military expert and consultant in Syria. The number is expected to go much higher in the near future “, confirm the source that is in contact with the Russian units on the Syrian ground.
“There are two aspects for the Russian intervention in Syria: In the first, the front line should be reinforced, maintained and is expected later to recover more lands and lost cities. The second is to hunt and bomb the Islamic State (ISIS) group leaders as well as other extremist groups in Syria, without exception. There are no red lines for the Russian operational tactics against terrorism that may extend to Iraq if necessary. The Kremlin has decided to face and fight terrorism by all means and is determine to eliminate, not to contain, ISIS. The Russians are aware of the necessity of cooperation with the U.S. led coalition over the sky of Syria to prevent unnecessarily accidents “, the source said.

So once again, it seems while the U.S. is sending a half-assed contigent of 50 JSOC guys who won't even know what the hell they're supposed to be doing in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), Moscow's spetsnaz mission is more straightforward: seek out the jihadist enemy, call in air strikes and destroy.

“We in the YPG have a strategic goal, to link Afrin with Kobani,” said Polat Can, a senior militia official, referring to two Kurdish enclaves in Rojava that are separated by 60 miles of territory controlled by the Islamic State. “We will do everything we can to achieve it.” Other areas, such as Raqqa, “are not so important,” he said in an interview in Suleimaniyah, Iraq.

American military officials say the U.S. won’t back any such operation, and officials in Ankara say Turkey would block it, by force if necessary. Turkey fears that if the YPG seizes the corridor, millions more Syrian Arabs and Turkmans will flee to Turkey. [from the McClatchy story, "New allies in northern Syria don't seem to share U.S. goals", October 27, 2015]

While a lot of people have been discussing the risks of an inadvertent Russian strike on American Green Berets near the ISIS front lines, if we were Obama we'd be more worried about Turkish bombs hitting Americans since Russia isn't bombing the ISIS front lines with the Kurds. Given the level of 'respect' for Obama even among allies much less adversaries, can the White House be sure newly 'reelected' Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won't bomb the YPG units that American advisers have embedded with?

Reuters: Russia warns no country can deploy in Syrian ground and air space without Damascus permission

That was the question W. Patrick Lang asked, observing the evidence that the Russians are 'in it to win it' in Syria, led by the 58th army that has defeated American proxies before in Georgia (and possibly coordinated the successful NAF counteroffensive of August 2014 in Donbass):

The Iraqi government has now made it clear that it wants no more US military people in the territory it more or less "controls."  SECDEF Carter and General Dunford, CJCS, may be agonized by the reproach implied but that is the truth.  The Iraqis and many others are  unimpressed by the failures that have occurred in the application of US strategery in the Bush and Obama Administrations.  The willingness of the US government to cooperate with the Pesh Merga in field operations probably contributes to the Baghdad government's attitude.  The Baghdad government does not want to see Kurdish and Sunni Arab factions in the population of Iraq further strengthened.

In Syria, the Carter/Dunford/WH "team" proposes to insert US Green Berets into YPG Kurdish controlled areas northeast of Aleppo as instructors, coordinators, advisers and air controllers.  The Turkish Air Force has been busy bombing these same Kurds the last few days to prevent them moving west along the border to seal it against IS transit of the border from Turkey.  Erdogan's desire to look tough and anti-Kurdish in the context of elections also contributes to Turkey's willingness to bomb these Kurds.  Question - what will happen when Turkey kills some US soldiers?

In the larger war in Syria, it is now quite clear that Russian 58th Army is the senior echelon in command of their effort.  Soldiers from 7th Guards Airborne Division have been seen in the mountains NE of Latakia.  This division is normally headquartered at Novorossisk in the North Caucasus Military District.  Seven Russian naval landing ships are presently in transit between Russian ports in the Black Sea and the Syrian coast.  These are further reinforcing and supplying the Russian military effort in Syria.  Stories are being spread in the Borg of the failure of Russia's campaign in Syria.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  In fact Russian air sortie rates are rising and the R+5 coalition offensive has re-taken 50 villages SW of Aleppo.

If the neocon plan is to put American troops into harms way and then deliberately get them bombed by the Russian Air Force as many in the alternative media fear, then seeing Americans sent home in body bags by Turkish bombs instead would be yet another insane plan to back fire on Washington's war mongers.

"Calculated to put American troops in danger: why U.S. wants escalation in Syria" RT interview with USAF Lt. Col. (ret) Karen Kwiatkowski Finian Cunningham: "U.S. Special Forces deployed as 'human shields' to salvage terror assets in Syria"

In the meantime, all indications are that Russia's military effort in Syria is far from its peak, with the first month only marking the proving and probing stage before the real offensive hits ISIS and the now openly acknowledged Al-Qaeda in Syria Al-Nusra/Islamic State alliance this winter. And in the most decisive parts of the front and areas where Daesh commanders thought they were 'safe' in their bunkers, expect the 58th Army and its attached spetsnaz units to strike.


No Geneva Conventions for Daesh, only #Brutalistan tactics: A Russian 'double tap' air strike kills ISIS who come to rescue fellow jihadis after the first bomb

1944 British newsreel about the Soviet steamroller crushing the Wehrmacht in that summer...