Monthly Archives: July 2012

Breaking News: Fighting rages between regime forces and rebels in Syria’s largest city, Assad pulls army from Turkish border to attack Aleppo; Obama warns Syrians against using chemical weapons; Russian flotilla enters Mediterranean Sea

– Fighting Rages between Regime Forces and Rebels in Syria’s Largest City, Assad Pulls Army from Turkish Border to Attack Aleppo (source 1)

– Russian Navy’s Admiral Chabanenko Destroyer Enters Mediterranean Sea via Strait of Gibralter, Sails for Syrian Port of Tartus (source 2)

Pictured above: On Monday, July 23, 2012, a Syrian rebel in Aleppo takes aim at a military helicopter hovering over the city.

Meanwhile, as the civil war in Syria really heats up, our summer vacation begins tomorrow. We expect no further posts until after August 13.

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Breaking News: Terrorist attack in Denver suburb: Gunman storms theater during midnight premiere of new Batman movie, kills 12, injures 50, lobbed smoke bomb; suspect in custody, original reports claimed two gunmen

Breaking News: Huge explosion in Damascus, Internet down, Syrian regular troops in tanks and APCs launch counter-attack against rebels; civilians flee to Lebanon

Communist Bloc Military Updates: US, Russian strategic bombers to make “goodwill” visits to other’s country in 2013; Russia establishes joint air defense with Kazakhstan as CIS defense ministers meet; Russia, Belarusian, and Ukrainian airborne troops hold Slavic Commonwealth 2012 exercise in Ukraine

In keeping with the low-level treason fostered by the Treaty on Open Skies, which since 2002 has allowed Russian military personnel to regularly fly over North America, monitoring US and Canadian infrastructure, next year Russian and US strategic bombers will fly to the other country in goodwill gestures. This week, General Anatoly Zhikharev, Commander of the Russian Air Force, announced that in 2013 two Tu-95MS “Bear” bombers would fly to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Later, two US Air Force B-52 bombers would visit Engels airbase in Russia’s Saratov region.

Zhikharev opined that he believed that this form of cooperation between the US and Russian militaries “will develop further.” Responding to comments that the design of the Tu-95MS is obsolete, Zhikharev fired back that the still operational B-52 bomber was also designed in the 1950s. “The Americans believe that they will remain in service for another 30 years,” he said. The Russians expect to introduce their first stealth bomber, the PAK-DA, to combat duty in 2020. The Tu-95, Tu-22 Backfire, and Tu-160 Blackjack comprise the bulk of Russia’s fleet of long-range bombers.

Perhaps with this public relations gimmick, which has no doubt secured the blessing of the socialist administration in the White House, the Pentagon can forget about the two Russian bombers that made a rare run for the US West Coast this past July 4.

Post-Cold War military cooperation between Russia and NATO has also occurred in the form of the annual BALTOPS naval drills in the Baltic Sea, as well as in the form of Russian troops on US soil, in Kansas in 1995 and again in Colorado earlier this year. BALTOPS 2012 included air and naval assets and military personnel from Russia and seven NATO member states, five of which were once part of the Communist Bloc: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, (former East) Germany, the Netherlands, and USA.

The depth of communist penetration into NATO and the European Union, since the fake collapse of Soviet communism in 1991, is indeed severe. For example, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who personally observed the BALTOPS 2012 drill, is a “former” cadre of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and has held high posts on the European Commission.

In 1995, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) established a United Air Defense System over much of the former Soviet Union that currently consists of some air defense units from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. However, until now only Russia and Belarus have had a fully integrated network. This will change next year when Russia implements a bilateral agreement with Kazakhstan to set up a similar joint defense system.

On Wednesday, Major General Pavel Kurachenko, Deputy Commander of the Russian Air Force, speaking in Cholpon-ata, explained:  “We will discuss the relevant agreement with our Kazakh colleagues at a session of CIS Air Defense Coordinating Committee which opened in Cholpon-ata.” Kurachenko added that he hoped the agreement could be signed by the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013, leading to similar bilateral pacts with Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Shortly, Russia’s air defenses will be fortified by the delivery of a fifth S-400 Triumf regiment by the end of the year. There are currently two S-400 regiments in the Moscow region, one in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, and one in the Eastern Military District. By 2020, the Kremlin plans to have 28 S-400 regiments, each consisting of two battalions, mainly in maritime and border areas.

The S-400 medium- to long-range surface-to-air missile system can effectively engage any aerial target, including aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cruise and ballistic missiles, within a range of 400 kilometers and an altitude of up to 30 kilometers.

Earlier this month, CIS defense ministers converged in Kaliningrad to discuss 20 issues of cooperation, including drafting an action plan for the United Air Defense System, and collaborating on the radiation, chemical, and biological protection of member-state troops and facilities. The meeting was chaired by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, and included delegations from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.

The CIS Council of Defense Ministers and CIS United Air Defense System appear to duplicate some of the functions of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, while all three restore some of the integrated aspects of the old Soviet Armed Forces.

Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine, two former Soviet republics with pro-Moscow presidents, Alexander Lukashenko and Viktor Yanukovich, will hold a joint military exercise on the latter’s territory. The Slavic Commonwealth-2012 Tactical Exercises will take place between July 23 and 27. The war game’s scenario will be to combat “illegal armed formations.” About 100 airborne troops from each country will participate, jumping from an Il-76 military transport aircraft.

Breaking News: Terrorists bomb tour bus at popular Bulgarian resort, kill at least five Israelis; Prime Minister Netanyahu blames Iran, vows “firm response”

Middle East File: “Fierce” fighting in Damascus: Free Syrian Army downs helicopter gunship, infiltrates national security HQ, plants bomb, kills Assad’s DM, brother in law; Syria pulls troops from Golan Heights region to suppress rebellion; Syria’s ex-ambassador to Iraq: Assad may have used chemical weapons in Homs

– July 19, 2012 Update: New Clashes in Damascus as Rebels Attack Army Positions near Prime Minister’s Office, Council of Ministers Complex, Damascus University, and Iranian Embassy (source)

Yesterday, reports Reuters, Syrian government troops and rebel forces began the third day of some of the fiercest fighting to hit Syria’s capital since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. Security forces and armored vehicles surrounded rebellious areas such as the southern district of Midan, but were unable to rout opposition fighters.

Video uploaded to the Internet by anti-regime activists showed men in jeans hiding in sandbagged alleyways, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. Black columns of smoke billowed over the capital. Activists said artillery and rocket fire hit the opposition-controlled suburb of Tadamon. Residents in another district, Midan, said snipers were deployed on rooftops. “There are troops everywhere, I can hear ambulances,” said a resident near Midan. “It feels like a war in Damascus.” Not surprisingly, state television has said little about the pitched battles in the capital, referring only to security operations targeting “terrorist groups.”

Also on Tuesday, the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is based in southern Turkey, announced that is had shot down a helicopter gunship over Damascus. “Yes, we have shot down a helicopter over the district of Qaboon,” the FSA’s Joint Command spokesperson told the AFP news agency via Skype, without supplying details. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed  that “according to several witnesses, a helicopter fell after being hit by several rebel shots.” An activist who identified himself as Abu Omar said: “After pounding the districts of Qaboon, Barzeh and Harasta, the helicopter’s fuel tank was hit by a rocket. The helicopter then fell near Qaboon.”

In a more serious blow to the Ba’athist regime, FSA commander Riad al-Asaad stated that his forces carried out an attack in Damascus that killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha and his deputy, General Assef Shawkat, who was also Assad’s brother-in-law. General Hassan Turkmani, assistant to the Syrian vice president, also perished as a result of the bomb that exploded at national security HQ. The former Syrian Army general said, in a phone interview from his command center in Turkey, that his forces planted the bomb inside the room where senior government officials were meeting on Wednesday. He insisted the attack marked “the beginning of the end of the regime.” Rajha, Shawkat, and Turkmani are pictured above.

The latest eruption of violence in the Syrian capital comes as United Nations envoy Kofi Annan is visiting Moscow to promote a peace plan for Syria. He will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Russia still resists NATO’s demand for Assad’s resignation.

In a related story, Israel’s military intelligence chief, Major General Aviv Kochavi, revealed that the Syrian government had withdrawn troops from the region bordering the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since 1967, reportedly with the intent of redeploying the army to Damascus, to crush FSA guerrillas. In a security briefing to a Knesset committee, Kochavi estimated that Assad “will not survive the uprising, even if it takes some more time.” He said that 13,000 soldiers and officers had defected from the Syrian Army while, according to an Israeli Defense Forces spokesman, 60 to 70 senior officers had been killed by the opposition.

Israel is closely monitoring events in Syria, a country with which it has no relations and is technically in a state of war since 1973. Jerusalem has expressed concern about the fate of Syria’s stocks of chemical weapons, which consist of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas, and cyanide. Last Friday, US officials said that Syria had started moving its huge arsenal of chemical weapons, part of which was secretly inherited from Iraq’s Ba’athist regime prior to the US-led invasion in early 2003.

For its part, the White House has warned the Syrian government that Damascus will be held accountable for safeguarding any chemical weapons in its possession. US and Israeli officials are unsure whether the recent movement of Syria’s chemical weapons is merely a security precaution amid the country’s civil war or indicative of other plans. “There are certain responsibilities that go along with the handling and storage and security of those chemical weapons,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters while accompanying President Barack Hussein Obama aboard Air Force One.

Nawaf Fares, who was Syria’s ambassador to Iraq before his defection on July 11, told BBC News on Monday that Assad will not hesitate to use chemical weapons against opposition forces and may have already deployed them. From his refuge in Qatar, Fares said: “I am convinced that if Bashar Assad’s regime is further cornered by the people – he would use such weapons. There is information, unconfirmed information, that chemical weapons have been used in Homs. It is absolutely sure that this government will fall in a short time. We wish for this time to be short so that more sacrifices are reduced.”

Previously, Fares served as governor in several Syrian provinces and held senior posts in the ruling Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party and Syria’s security apparatus. Fares’ assertions concerning Assad bring to mind the nefarious activities of another Ba’athist dictator, namely Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who employed chemical weapons against his country’s Kurdish population in the late 1980s.

WW4 File: Kremlin sends destroyer, 5 amphibious landing ships to Syria, marines aboard several; two vessels enter E. Mediterranean on Wednesday; largest display of Russian naval power since Soviet era as NATO warships from Germany, France and Turkey conduct anti-terrorist drills near Syria

A superpower showdown appears to be looming over Syria this summer, one that may have prompted the Kremlin to send two strategic bombers on a rare and provocative flight to the US West Coast on July 4.

The first two ships of an 11-vessel flotilla dispatched by the Russian Navy to Syria entered the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday, raising tensions between Russia, which supports the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, and NATO, which favors the opposition. The flotilla includes a destroyer, two patrol frigates, five landing ships, tankers, and support vessels.

The Voice of America reports: “It is to be the largest display of Russian naval power in the Mediterranean since the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago. And in case the world misses the message, Russian television is broadcasting images of warship after warship steaming out of bases in the Arctic, Baltic and Black seas.”

Russia maintains a Soviet-era naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus and claims that the marines aboard its warships have been deployed to protect this facility. The Kremlin’s naval build-up in the Eastern Mediterranean coincides with the anti-terrorist drills of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, consisting of Turkish, German and French warships, not far from the Syrian waters.

In Moscow, Yevgeny Michenko, director of the International Institute for Policies Expertise, noted Russia’s opposition to NATO military intervention in Syria in the wake of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s demise last October. “Russia has a crystal clear position,” Michenko said in an interview. “It means that Russia does not want to support changes of the Syrian president, and Russia doesn’t support any kind of military operation like it was in Libya.”

Even as Russia deployed its warships to Syria, the head of Syria’s main opposition group visited Moscow in an effort to persuade Moscow to stop supporting Damascus with both arms and diplomacy. Following talks between Syrian National Council (SNC) chief Abdel Basset Sayda and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a spokesperson for the SNC said Russia “refused to shift its position.” In a communiqué on the exchange, the Russian Foreign Ministry retorted that dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition must proceed “without any pre-conditions.” For his part, Sayda said the SNC was not prepared for peace talks until Assad steps down.

Yesterday, in a major blow to the Assad regime, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq defected to the opposition and urged other senior Syrian politicians and members of the military to do likewise. Nawaf Fares (pictured above) is the first senior Syrian diplomat to abandon the Ba’athist regime.

In a related story, Lebanon has deployed the army to its northern frontier with Syria, where gun and mortar fire between Syrian troops and rebels has killed villagers on the Lebanese side of the border. Now Lebanon reports: “Two people were killed and 10 others wounded in northern Lebanon on Saturday [July 7] in rocket fire from Syrian territory, explosions and a gun battle, hospital and security sources said.”

WW4 File: Russian strategic bombers traverse North Pacific, enter air defense zone off West Coast of Continental USA, follows large war game that targeted missile base at Fort Greely, Alaska; Kremlin angry over US missile defense in Europe, posture on Syria; NORAD-NORTHCOM blasé over Russian bomber probes

– Turkish Foreign Minister Threatens Syria Will “Pay a Price” for Downing Fighter Jet, Killing Pilots; Syria Stages Multi-Branch War Game

Pictured here: Royal Air Force Tornados intercept Russian “Blackjack” bomber.

On July 4, according to Free Beacon website founder Bill Gertz, citing US defense officials, two Russian strategic bombers “entered the US air defense zone near the Pacific coast on Wednesday and were met by U.S. interceptor jets.” An earlier intrusion by two Tu-95 Bear H bombers took place on June 18, near Alaska, as part of Arctic war games that Lt. Col. Vladimir Deryabin, a Russian Air Force spokesman, acknowledged were designed to simulate attacks on “enemy” air defenses and strategic facilities.

“The bomber flights near the Pacific and earlier flights near Alaska,” opines Gertz, “appear to be signs Moscow is practicing the targeting of its long-range air-launched cruise missiles on two strategic missile defense sites, one at Fort Greely, Alaska and a second site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.” The defense official Gertz interviewed called the latest incident near the West Coast “Putin’s Fourth of July Bear greeting to Obama.”

Although Gertz did not specify the Continental USA, or “Lower 48,” this is implied by the references to “Pacific coast” and Vandenberg AFB in California. Since the Russian bombers entered the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)–without permission–they would have been within 200 miles of the West Coast.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said that during the July 4 airspace intrusion, the Russian bombers “were visually identified by NORAD fighters,” but the Russians did not enter “sovereign airspace,” which extends 12 miles beyond the US coastline. He refused to identify precisely how far the Russian aircraft were from the West Coast, “due to operational security concerns.” Kirby also refused to identify the types of US warplanes used to intercept the Russians.

In summary, these airborne cruise missile platforms from the Kremlin could have been anywhere from 12 to 200 miles from the coast of California, Oregon, or Washington, but the Pentagon ain’t tellin’. Got CD anyone?

Since 2007, when Moscow resumed long-range bomber patrols, after a 15-year hiatus, Russian “Bear” and “Blackjack” bombers regularly skim the ADIZ around Alaska and northern Canada. However, to approach the West Coast of CONUS, Russian strategic aviation must traverse the North Pacific Ocean, bypassing southern Alaska and the Canadian province of British Columbia. In terms of reported cases, Russian bomber runs at the West Coast seem to be rare and, frankly, are difficult to characterize as peaceful gestures.

During the Cold War, attacking the US West Coast presented some technical challenges for the Soviet Air Force, especially refueling, prompting Moscow to construct the region’s longest runway at Punta Huete, in Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua. In 1990, Nicaragua’s Marxist dictator Daniel Ortega lost a democratic election and the following year the Soviet Union imploded. Cold War rivalries in Central America seemingly fizzled out and Punta Huete was forgotten

Five years ago, however, Ortega returned to power and, two years ago, the second Sandinista regime modernized and re-opened Punta Huete under the command of a special military brigade, a development that occurred with Moscow’s approval. On September 10, 2008, in a provocative move following Russia’s re-invasion and re-occupation of Georgia, the Russian Air Force dispatched two Tu-160 bombers to Communist Venezuela for a week-long drill over the southern Caribbean Sea. It is not inconceivable that one day Russian Bears or Blackjacks could materialize in Nicaragua, where Ortega has aggressively re-consolidated his communist dictatorship.

These little-noticed activities on the part of Russian strategic aviation reveal the Kremlin’s careful, incremental probing of North American air defenses, no doubt in support of its disapproval of US foreign policy and military posture in Europe and Syria. In May, Gertz reminds us, Nikolai Makarov, chief of the Russian General Staff, warned Washington against deploying more missile interceptors in Poland and new ones in Romania. “A decision on pre-emptive use of the attack weapons available will be made when the situation worsens,” Makarov rumbled.

Retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a former Alaska commander for NORAD, said the latest Russian bomber intrusion in the Arctic appears to be Kremlin “military testing.” “It’s becoming very obvious that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is testing [US counterpart Barack Hussein] Obama and his national security team,” McInerney told the Free Beacon. “These long-range aviation excursions are duplicating exercises I experienced during the height of the Cold War when I commanded the Alaska NORAD region.” He continued:

The [Tu-95] Bear H flights are an effort by the Russians to challenge U.S. resolve. This is somewhat surprising as Obama is about to make a unilateral reduction of our nuclear forces as well as major reductions in our air defense forces. Actions by Russia in Syria and Iran demonstrate that Cold War strategy may be resurrected. These are not good indications of future U.S. Russian relations.

In response to questions about the June intrusion, Marine Corps Col. Frank H. Simonds, Jr., deputy chief of staff for NORAD-US Northern Command, defended the Russian bomber probes as nonthreatening. “NORAD does not consider these flights a threat,” Simonds said, adding: “Russia and NORAD routinely exercise their capability to operate in the North.” He identified the Alaska intruders as Tu-95MS bombers and the interceptors as US Air Force F-15s and Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18s.

“Interaction between NORAD fighters with these types of aircraft are carried out routinely,” Simonds said. “As part of its responsibilities to identify all aircraft in its area of operation, which includes the ADIZ, NORAD has visually identified more than 50 Russian long range bomber aircraft over the last 5 years and NORAD fighters have been interacting with Russian aviation for over 50 years.” As if to shill for communist-scripted East-West convergence, Simonds pointed out that since 2010 NORAD and Russian aircraft have participated in an exercise called Vigilant Eagle, which is designed to foster “cooperation on identifying and intercepting hijacked aircraft that cross international boundaries.”

Incidentally, according to Russia’s acting deputy air force commander, Major General Alexander Chernyayev, the Kremlin intends to introduce its new stealth PAK-DA long-range bomber by 2020, not 2025 as initially planned.

Meanwhile, tensions between NATO member Turkey and Syria, where a 16-month-old civilian uprising-military rebellion is seeking to oust the Ba’athist regime of President Bashar al-Assad, continue to escalate. On June 22, Syrian air defense troops–possibly with the assistance of Russian technicians who, by the Russian defense minister’s admission, are known to be on the ground in Syria–downed a Turkish Air Force F-4 Phantom reconnaissance plane over the Mediterranean Sea, killing the two pilots.

Since then, Turkish F-16s have scrambled nine times to counter Syrian helicopters, since Ankara, which vehemently opposes Assad’s brutal crackdown on dissenters, changed its rules of engagement with the Syrian military. Now the Turkish government views any Syrian military movement near the common border as hostile. To bolster that policy, the Turkish army has deployed multiple anti-aircraft missiles along the Syrian border.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, according to Hürriyet Daily News, has “vowed that the Syrian leadership would pay a price for the hostile attack against an unarmed Turkish jet, sparking speculations about a potential Turkish military retaliation.”

This week, Damascus announced that the Syrian military had begun a “massive” exercise that includes its army, navy and air force, whose task is “to respond to a military attack from a foreign country.” In response, a Turkish foreign ministry official told Hürriyet: “If they [the Syrians] are trying to deliver a message to their neighboring countries, including Turkey, they should know that we’re not in a position to get that message. We are closely following every military move of Syria in the region, especially after they shot down our jet.”

In a related story, on July 4, near the northern city of Aleppo, the Syrian army ambushed a convoy of five trucks driven by Turks. The Syrian soldiers shot up the vehicles so badly the trucks were rendered “unusable.” However, guerrillas of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), whose commander in chief is based in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, escorted the Turks back to their homeland. Although the Turkish media made no such mention, it seems likely that the trucks were conveying weapons to the Syrian insurgents.

Last week, the Syrian military flung 100 armored vehicles, tanks, and missile launchers at Aleppo, in an attempt to crush the front that Saudi-backed rebels have opened in the north. “Rebels have inflicted major damage on Assad’s troops. But at the same time rebels have lost ground,” Abu Hamam, a resident of Khan Sheikhoun, another northern city, told Reuters. A second anti-regime activist, Abu al-Ghaith al-Khani, Skyped that Syrian regular troops had also entered Khan Sheikhoun, “burning houses and farms,” and forcing 80 percent of the city’s residents to flee.

In southern Syria, where Assad’s forces have besieged Homs for months, a resident of the battered Khalidiya district said that the city was “surrounded by artillery and troops.” “The regime has imposed a crippling siege in most of the anti-government areas ofHoms,” Saif al-Arabi, also communicating by Skype, told Reuters. “We can’t get the wounded out.”

Turkey now hosts some 250 Syrian military officers, including generals, who have defected to the FSA. Reportedly in cooperation with CIA agents stationed in southern Turkey, Ankara is helping the FSA with “logistical support,” but the Turkish government “denies providing them weapons.” More than 35,000 Syrian refugees live in camps set up by Turkish authorities.

Last month, the Russian General Staff announced that the navy was sending two amphibious landing ships toSyria, with the intent of securing its Soviet-era naval maintenance facility in Tartus. Together, the two Russian warships can transport up to 600 marines, raising the prospect of some kind of superpower showdown over Syria.