The following is the Russia Analyst's first attempt at producing a shorter, more easily read SITREP about the fast-developing military situation in Syria and Iraq. As we announced earlier this week, we also plan to introduce SITREPs on the upcoming Brexit vote, the ongoing immivasion/socio-economic destabilization of the European Union, the build-up of NATO forces near Russia's borders, and the escalation of hostilities along the contact line between the Ukrainian Army and the breakaway Donbass republics.
1) Ozymandias Drowning in the Sandbox:
The Saga of Growing Saudi Desperation Continues...
First, as V the Guerrilla Economist indicated this week in his article "Kings of the Sandbox" the position of the Saudi government continues to deteriorate, both financially and in terms of public relations. Having attempted to smother U.S. domestic shale output and damage the Russian economy beyond repair through an artificial suppression of the oil price, the Saudis are now desperately touting their plans to create a non-hydrocarbon based economy in their desert country in barely four years.
It would seem however, that few investors are buying this cheery story, and the interest in Saudi Aramco's prospective privatization is not as high as the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has indicated, to put it mildly.
Meanwhile, renewed political and negative PR pressure on the Saudis is coming from multiple (post)Western, rather than Eurasian directions. Last month, the Obama Administration announced with some fanfare that it was suspending sales of cluster munitions to the Saudi Kingdom. In an additional sign of the team 'WahhabiZioCon' axis (as one New York City-based Trotskyite Daily Beast reporter refers to it) against the Shi'a crescent alignment of Iran and Hezbollah coming under pressure, Haaretz, The New York Times of Israel and CNN gave prominent coverage to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's ugly diplomatic spat with the Saudis. It would seem not everyone in Israel thinks Jerusalem's alliance with Saudi Arabia to overthrow Assad at any cost is either eternal or convenient for the Jewish State's hasbara about 'fighting Islamist terrorism' -- especially as more revelations about KSA's role in 9/11 and co-creation of ISIS come out.
Riyadh is apparently furious that the United Nations, as feckless an organization as it is, was about to place the Kingdom on a list of human rights violators because its cluster bombs have killed so many children in the Saudis' devastating aggressive war against Yemen:
2) After Putin-Bibi Meeting, Russia's Defense Minister Holds a War Council in Tehran
The second major Mideast development this week besides the talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin in Moscow was the conclave of Syrian, Russian and Iranian defense ministers in Tehran. The purpose of the conference between the Eurasian coalition in Syria was to step up Iranian troop levels and close air/artillery support coordination between Iran's ground forces and the Russian Air Force, and to establish areas of operations for a summer offensive.
There are unconfirmed reports that Iran has finally mustered up to 16 ground attack jets to support its soldiers fighting near Aleppo and that the recently added additional runway at the Russians' Khmeimim airbase outside Latakia city will host the Persian close air support planes.
What's clear from the Bibi-Putin meetings is that the coming surge of Iranian troops will not be going anywhere near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, nor will Russia be giving Hezbollah any advanced arms beyond the Kornet anti-tank missiles they used to devastating effect during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. The Iranians' operations will be focused on the Aleppo area where the Turkish and Saudi backed jihadists have made some tactical gains in recent days, including the capture of a damaged T-90 main battle tank. The T-90 trophy has proven to be a propaganda coup for the likes of Al-Nusra and Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, a supposedly independent force which from time to time waves a different flag than Nusra or the Turkish-backed Army of Conquest and Qatari-sponsored Ahrar al Sham.
Despite the lies of 'Free Syrian Army' jihadi fanboys on Twitter like 'Shamil Rebel' or 'Mr. Ghostly', all of these terror gangs share the same Taliban-like sharia imposing ideology as ISIS, and the (Al)CIA(eda)-backed 'FSA' cooperates with them all in a cynical if not Langley terror-sponsoring via middlemen arrangement. The Daily Beast's article from this week (see below) more or less admits as much, that many (treasonous, fanatically Russophobic) CIA hardliners simply don't give a damn if their pet rebels immediately hand over U.S.-made TOW missiles to the Al-Qaeda loyalists.
Regardless of what flag the jihadists are flying around Aleppo, it's become clear that Russia's patience with the shell game of various rebels changing flags, and the U.S. complaint that the rebels are inseparable from the Al-Qaeda aligned Nusra but that the Russians use Nusra as an excuse to bomb their beloved 'moderate rebels', is at an end. However, this does not mean that we will necessarily see a large scale offensive in Aleppo next week. Nor can the SAA given its scarce manpower completely cut the Castillo road just yet -- the highway which is the last lifeline to the jihadists that the Pentagon admits are al-Nusra inside the city.
3) The Aleppo Campaign is Not Going Well for Combined Syrian/Iranian Auxiliary Forces -- and Turkish Advisers On the Ground Are Managing Al-Nusra's Counteroffensive
This inability of the undermanned SAA and poorly equipped Shi'a militias to secure the south Aleppo suburbs around jihadi-held Khan Touman in no small part because, as ITAR-TASS reported on Friday, Turkish advisers are operating out of uniform among the Nusra/Zinki/AlSham terrorists. Ironically, many of the same neocons like Michael D. Weiss and think tankers in Washington who insist that every battlefield success of the Donbass armed forces against the Ukrainian Army from July 2014 to February 2015 was due to Russian military 'regulars' or 'vacationers' deny that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have their own boots on the ground inside Syria. These denials continue even as the Saudis have demonstrated a rather pathetic combat performance in Yemen to date, in no small part due to so much of Riyadh's military talent already being engaged on the ground in Syria as members of ISIS or al-Nusra!
The T90 capture was very likely executed by a group under direct Turkish supervision on the battlefield. Its executors, just like the Turkish MIT assets who carried out the murder of a parachuting Russian pilot after Turkey's Air Force ambushed a SU24 last November, aren't likely to live too long or escape winding up as SAA/Hezollah POWs.
Russia's response in the short run is easy to predict -- the GRU will try to triangulate Turkish language transmissions on the battlefield as well as use Damascus' spies among the jihadis to identify any groups of 'ex' Saudi intelligence officers or soldiers near Aleppo -- and light them up at night with cluster or incendiary munitions.
If the neo-Ottoman Sultan Erdogan wants to prop up his pet jihadis to prevent them from being encircled at Aleppo this summer, Moscow is going to make it clear to Ankara that Turkish MIT agents and truck drivers hauling arms through the border can be incinerated by cluster bombs the moment they drive into Syria. If the Turks want to defend their proxies in Syria then Turkish citizens, and not just a seemingly limitless supply of Sunni Arab cannon fodder from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and other countries besides Syria will keep dying for this policy.
This brings us to the other method Russia can use to apply pressure on the Turks is to do what Erdogan has already accused them of doing -- sending more explosives, anti-tank weapons like the Konkurs or Kornet ATGM and perhaps even MANPADs to the PKK militants who have killed or wounded hundreds of Turkish soldiers or policemen over the last several months inside Turkey. But the greatest weapon Moscow has against the neo-Ottoman Empire backed by the worst and most hawkish and pro-Islamist elements of the CIA and NATO remains the truth about Ankara and Riyadh's support for ISIS.
4) Moscow is Using the Syrian Arab Army's Rapid Advance Towards the Outskirts of Raqqa to Put Pressure on the U.S. Led-Anti ISIS Coalition -- and Daesh's Not So Hidden Sponsors
By prioritizing a rapid SAA advance through the desert towards Raqqa rather than slugging it out in the urban terrain around Aleppo, Moscow is forcing the Turks, Saudis and their American 'allies' to choose whether to rapidly fold up ISIS or back them. One can of course question the military logic of a 'thunder run' along a narrow axis of advance through open desert terrain that is difficult to defend from Daesh' hit and run attacks on SAA logistics. The Daeshbags managed to temporarily close a major highway to Aleppo twice this spring before Russian and SyAF airstrikes helped the SAA and National Defense Forces home guard units to re-open the road.
However, war is a continuation of politics by other means and as a political move that embarasses Washington by forcing politicians and the still mostly compliant mainstream media to ask why the Russians and their clients are getting closer to Raqqa than the vaunted U.S. Special Forces, it's brilliant. In one advance the combined SAA/Russian forces supplemented by Hezbollah have the potential to cut the highway from Raqqa to the south that ISIS uses to besiege Deirezzor, while also driving to the Taqba airbase to the southwest of the 'Caliphate's capitol.
Seizing the al-Tabqa air base would allow Russian and Syrian gunships to forward deploy to Raqqa governate or at least refuel there to increase the combat tempo of flight operations from bases east of Homs. Moreover, the Daeshbags rely on ambush and guerrilla tactics which are harder to use in the open desert without hills nearby for concealment like what the Islamic State had near Palmyra. Fighting in open desert where there are few villages or underground tunnels to use for concealment from air or artillery plays to the SAA and the Russian Air Force's strengths in vastly superior firepower and maneuver, unlike meatgrinder combat for heavily built up Aleppo.
Ultimately if Turkey and Saudi Arabia are going to save their Daeshbag charges they had better either commit more 'vacationing' bearded soldiers or hardened Nusra fighters from the Aleppo front to the defense of Raqqa under the IS flag, or they can alternatively try to evacuate the ISIS leadership to Libya, Yemen or Central Asia under U.S. auspices.
Either way suits Moscow fine -- a rapid ISIS collapse bolsters Putin's Mideast and global prestige at having accomplished what the supposedly mighty Americans on their own could not. In the other case, the sudden stiffening of the Daesh defenses near Taqba will require a degree of support from the Turks or U.S. paradrops of arms to rebels in contact with ISIS that the Russian security services can capture on radar and night vision cameras alike.
Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi'a miltiias notably claimed to have caught U.S. Chinook helicopters on video this past week operating suspiciously close to Daesh lines at Fallujah. Whether the U.S. Army was fighting Daesh or actually evacuating them in an 'USIS' moment, remains to be seen. The growing alarm among the fanatically anti-Russian and pro-Saudi/Turkish elements of the U.S. Deep State demonstrates that the spectacle of Russian spetsnaz and their Syrian comrades raising their flags over Raqqa would truly be a PR nightmare for the neocons, dwarfing the fallout from Russia's liberation of ancient Palmyra.
5) The U.S. 'Deep State' Fight Between the CIA and Pentagon Over Langley's Support for Jihadist Terrorists in Syria is Out in the Open
All of which brings us to the last two items of this SITREP. Our fifth item is the neocon Daily Beast's admission by CIA operatives that they support Syrian jihadist factions that operate alongside Al-Nusra out of tactical necessity rather than ideological alignment.
Above: Pentagon backed Kurds ambush some (al)CIA(eda) backed Ahrar al Sham jihadis Below: France is setting up a 'training' base for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria/Rojava
It seems nearly fifteen years after 9/11 pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden's heir Ayman-al-Zawahiri is simply no big deal at Langley, so long as that someone is fighting Assad.
The anger at Langley has apparently been building over the Russian Air Force returning to the fight in force this month as well as the Pentagon supported SDF/YPG Kurdish forces killing many of the CIA's pet jihadis this spring. Whether former colleagues of Donald J. Trump for President adviser and ex-DIA chief Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn are quietly preparing their leaked response to the pro-Saudi/Turkish jihadi line the Langley boys the Daily Beast cited put out remains to be seen. But we seriously doubt everyone in the Pentagon is going to take the allegation that they're repeating 'Russian propaganda' against Syrian freedumb fighters from alleged Saudi asset and Muslim convert John Brennan's cronies lying down.
Expect some leaks this summer and retired spooks and generals using the 't' word -- treason -- to describe Brennan's aid to known Al-Qaeda loyalists in Syria.
As if to underscore the insane Jekyll and Hyde hypocrisy of Washington's approach to the so-called 'war on terror' and the war against Assad that takes precedence, the U.S. Justice Department announced this past week that a Syrian American man was convicted of lending material support to Ahrar al Sham. That's right, a man is going to prison for supporting the same jihadi terror group that the Daily Beast's (al)CIA(eda) sources want the U.S. to back and whose spokesman according to McClatchy was hosted by Washington think tanks with the State Department's blessing last November! Apparently it's terror support for me Uncle Sam/Langley but not for thee, peasant!
6) The Surge in U.S. Carrier Battle Groups Hints at a Possible Incident Involving Either Russia or China This Summer -- and More of the Fleet Down for Maintenance This Fall/Winter
After cutting the Turkish supply route via Manbij U.S. carrier-based strikes from the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean are likely to be redirected to support additional SDF/YPG or Iraqi advances against Daesh.
Washington Post Mideast reporter Liz Sly, among others, considers the presence of an American carrier battle group off the coast of Syria a message to the Russians not to push too hard in favor of their client Assad and against the jihadists Washington has supported around Aleppo. But as we stated above short of directly attacking the SAA even in 'friendly fire' incidents or a major influx of jihadi and Turkish/KSA manpower into the Caliphate, it's difficult to see how anyone can prevent combined SAA/Russian forces from besieging Raqqa by September.
With no fewer than four carrier battle groups currently surged either in the Middle East AO or the Western Pacific/South China Sea zone of contention, what's also clear is that the US Navy muscles Washington is flexing now will need some rest and downtime by autumn and winter. Thus the very gestures intended to demonstrate U.S. strength and allow Washington to claim at the eleventh hour that it and not the Assad forces routed Daesh may instead prove to be another sign of the Empire's diminishing clout in the Middle East.