Good for Iran
Lifting sanctions in early 2016 was good to Iran, as they have seen oil exports increase to two million barrels a day, a level not seen since 2012. Overall oil production has increased to 3.8 million barrels a day and exports, in general, have doubled over 2015 levels. The government is making plans to soon achieve annual GDP growth of eight percent.
Many Western nations, and their banks and major suppliers, are still reluctant to do business with Iran because they fear sanctions will be restored and Western investments will be victims. In the meantime, Iran continues its ballistic missile program and the building of new nuclear power plants, plus Iran’s government policy still maintains that Israel must be destroyed and that the current guardian — Saudi Arabia — of the most holy Islamic shrines in Mecca and Medina are incompetent and should be replaced.
The U.S. Congress agreed to extend sanctions on Iran and approved new laws to impose more sanctions against the Iran-backed Assad government in Syria.
Change in leadership
Egypt long held the position as the leader of the Arab world, even before Islam appeared in the seventh century, but now Egypt is broke and is still dealing with Islamic terrorist violence. The Saudis are rich and have far fewer problems internally with Islamic terrorism, but for many Egyptians, it is humiliating to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia. One thing that the Egyptians and Saudis can agree on is better relationships with Israel and along those lines a growing number of Egyptians openly support more economic cooperation with Israel.
Battle for Mosul
By mid-November, the battle in Iraq for Mosul captured over a third of the city on the east side of the Tigris River, where about 60% of the city lies. In early November advancing troops entered or cleared about a dozen ISIL-held neighborhoods of which there were 40 to 50, depending on who is counting. The most difficult fighting is expected on the west side of the Tigris.
Israel accused Iran of smuggling weapons to Hezbollah and the Syrian military aboard commercial flights originating from Iran and going to Lebanon and Syria. Iran and Hezbollah control airport security on either end of those flights, so it’s easy enough to move the weapons in luggage or cargo containers.
ISIL loses control
West of Mosul, Iraq, ISIL has lost control of Tal Afar on the Syrian border. ISIL had occupied Tal Afar since late June 2014 and it was a key transit point for moving to or from Mosul and Syria. Until 2007 Tal Afar was mainly a Turkish town with large Sunni and Shia Arab minorities, but from 2003-07, al Qaeda terrorized the Turkmen population, murdered the Shia and used the town as a base for bringing in foreign recruits via Syria. Tal Afar is still important to Sunni Islamic terrorists in Iraq because the city controls the main road from Mosul to Raqqa, ISIL’s capital in eastern Syria.
In October 2016, China complained about how Japanese warplanes turned on their targeting radars when Chinese military aircraft approached Japanese air space, something the Chinese considered unfriendly and unnecessary. What China failed to mention was that their warplanes have been coming close to Japanese airspace about 65 times a month, which is 76% more times than in 2015. While Chinese warplanes are not the only ones coming too close to Japanese air space, over the last few years they have accounted for the majority of airspace intrusions.
Tensions on the rise
South Sudan is once again on the verge of reigniting its civil war. A UN official said that violence between ethnic groups is increasing and that a new civil war could quickly become a genocidal conflict.
Although Russian warplanes continue to be a nuisance off Japan’s coast, Japan considers the Russian aircraft activity much less threatening than that of the Chinese. The Russian aircraft are flying training missions in the Pacific and it is nearly impossible for Russian pilots to get out to sea without showing up on Japanese radar or passing close to Japanese air defense radars. China does not have this problem and is obviously getting close on purpose.
India is again invoking its emergency Fast Track Procurement (FTP) procedures which enables the immediate purchase of essential military items without the usual political and procurement delays that can add years, sometimes a decade or more, to obtaining needed items. In this case, the FTP is being invoked to purchase a billion dollars of ammunition, small arms and replacement parts for some weapons. The urgency was triggered by the increasing possibility of a border war with Pakistan.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab oil states in the Persian Gulf, declared its intervention in Yemen a success and that it should be the model for further joint efforts against Iranian aggression. While the Iran-backed Shia rebels in Yemen have not surrendered they are very much losing. Iran won’t admit that, but the fact that Iran calls for more ceasefires and peace talks in Yemen says otherwise. The GCC also points out that while Iran criticizes civilian casualties from GCC airstrikes in Yemen, it ignores the deliberate airstrikes on Sunni civilians in Syria by Russian and Syrian warplanes.
Cutting off access
Although the battle for Tal Afar on Syria’s border was largely fought by the Iran-backed Shia militia, they have been told that only Iraqi army troops will be allowed in the city itself. Meanwhile, the Shia militias are helping to seal the border and with the main road from Mosul to Raqqa blocked, it will be more difficult to travel. Most of the senior Islamic State personnel and their families have left Mosul, but those who remain face a longer and more dangerous journey if they decide to head for Raqqa.
In November, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the U.S. declared that the naval blockade around Yemen was successful and that four attempts by Iranians to smuggle weapons to Yemeni Shia rebels had been intercepted since early 2015. The blockade, maintained by GCC, U.S. and other foreign warships, includes joint patrols and information sharing, which adds to the safeguards against smugglers. The GCC wants to expand its efforts against Iran to Lebanon and Gaza, which would re-quire the cooperation of Egypt and Israel.
Prepared for Trump
The Mexican government says they are prepared to work with the incoming U.S. president, Donald Trump.
The current Turkish government is pro-Islam and is generally tolerant of Islamic terrorists who don’t attack Turks, but the Turks never got along well with the Assad government and they also have a hostile relationship with Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran. Because of the Russians, the Turks have to be careful how they use their warplanes in Syria for fear of attack by Russian warplanes or recently installed SAM systems.
Back in business
Iraqi forces retook Qayyarah Air Base from ISIL in early July ’16 and within two weeks, American logistics, maintenance and engineering personnel were assisting the Iraqis in restoring Qayyarah so it could serve as the main support facility for the 25,000 or so Iraqi troops, police and militia who would carry out the assault on Mosul from the south. Although many facilities had been destroyed and much equipment removed or inoperable, the long airstrip remained intact including many of the buildings. By August the base was back in operation and supposedly well protected from further ISIL attacks.
Anbar gets a break
Iraq’s Anbar Province has benefitted from the fighting in Mosul because now any reinforcements IS can send from Syria go to Mosul instead and the local population, mostly Sunni Arabs, is somewhat relieved. In October the government proclaimed IS defeated in Anbar, but that was not entirely true and still isn’t. The government was unable to provide September casualty data for Anbar because the security situation was still unsettled and although that situation improved in October, Iraqi media is now focused on Mosul and continued Islamic terrorist attacks in and around Baghdad.
A losing battle
ISIL has been forced to admit that they are losing ground in Mosul. Although ISIL doesn’t expect much useful propaganda to come out of that battle, they cannot ignore the extensive video coverage the Mosul battle gets from the other side. As the media plays up things that ISIL would prefer to keep quiet, it gets worse, such as uncovering the mass graves of ISIL’s victims. The media also dwells on ISIL’s extensive use of teenage fighters in what are basically suicide operations, and videos of failed suicide bomber attacks. These are not the images ISIL wants made known because it cuts into their recruitment and contributions.
Precise data on ISIL losses are hard to come by, but it’s less of a mystery as more ISIL territory is taken and more deserters and prisoners are questioned. The U.S. is also going after ISIL leaders in Iraq and Syria and grabbing documents that accompany these men. In August ’16, U.S. military intelligence revealed that since September 2015, ISIL has lost 25,000 fighters in combat mainly in Syria, Iraq and Libya. About 45,000 ISIL fighters have died since 2013, and it’s believed that ISIL currently has only about 20,000 fighters, mostly in Syria and Iraq, with a few thousand more in Libya, Afghanistan and Egypt.
Rounding up trouble
Security forces in northern Iraq rounded up the last of the 50 or so ISIL fighters who had managed to travel from Mosul or Syria without being detected and had seized part of a town near the Qayyarah Air Base. The local governor of Nineveh Province fired three senior officials for their failure to prevent ISIL movements like this.
No oil for you!
Saudi Arabia told Egypt that shipments of free oil would be halted indefinitely. In early October, Saudi Arabia halted these shipments “temporarily” because Egypt refused to vote against a Russian peace proposal in the UN that was favored by Iran and the Iran-backed Syrian government. All other Arab states opposed the peace proposal, in large part because the Gulf Arabs and Iran are at war with each other. The Saudis expect Muslim states they support financially to reciprocate by backing Saudi diplomacy and, in effect, recognize Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab world. Egypt faces growing economic problems, especially with the Saudi aid gone.
Good diplomatic relations
Israel has told Russia that they will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from having nukes or establishing military bases in Syria. Russian officials continue to be friendly toward Israel despite what is going on in Syria and their cooperation with Iran. Israel and Russia have maintained good diplomatic relations, in part, because nearly 20% of Israelis have Russian ancestors.
An Iranian general confirmed that Iran had set up a rocket factory in Syria more than a year before the 2006 Hezbollah war with Israel, which built short-range weapons and components for rockets to be built inside Lebanon. This admission came as Iran complained that American airstrikes had destroyed this facility.
Iran called for political settlements in Syria and Yemen where, in both countries, a Shia minority is trying to gain control of the entire country by force. In both cases, the local Shia are doing this with Iranian support but it has not proven sufficient enough to achieve Shia victory.
Israeli intelligence officials believe that Iran currently controls some 25,000 Shia foreign mercenaries and local Shia militias in Syria. Iran has been quite public about its Shia mercenary recruiting efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere for service in Syria and its mercenary force now numbers over 12,000 fighters, all trained by the Iranian Quds Force. In 2012 the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander bragged that members of the Quds Force were operating in Syria and also training and organizing local Shia into militias. These men, like the foreign Shia mercenaries, were recruited, trained, armed and led by Iranian officers and NCOs.
Whose side are you on?
The U.S. sides with the Syrian rebels who seek to take down the Assad government but are not hostile to the U.S. The Sunni Arab states, especially those in the Persian Gulf, are mainly opposed to Iran and the Iranian Arab allies. Because of all this confusion among the rebels, the Syrian government forces are on their way to regaining control of the southern and Iraqi borders by early 2017.
Not made in China
China has ordered 18 additional helicopters from Russia despite having their own helicopter industry, which includes the licensed manufacture of some European and Russian designs. China continues to buy Mi-17s from Russia because China needs more military transport helicopters right now. They also need other types of Russian helicopters, but because the quantity is few, it’s not practical to produce them in China.
Finger on the button
The Russians have refused to back off from using what the West considers barbaric and inhumane tactics in Syria. Russia is determined to see the Assad government regain control, a goal shared by Iran. Russia admits its air strikes have killed many people and that some were likely civilians, but also point out that their approach defeats the rebels as opposed to the more acceptable method, which merely prolongs the fighting and enables terrorists to expand. Russia has said that any American effort to interfere with their military operations would be forcefully opposed, something they admit might escalate to nuclear war, which Russia says it’s ready for.
The U.S. government confirmed it is working on a plan to deal with possible mass deportations of Mexican citizens who illegally entered the U.S.
Israel has become a tourist destination for Russians who can afford to travel and want to go somewhere that is not threatened by Islamic terror attacks and yet is hospitable to Russians. Since 2015, when most Russians stopped going to inexpensive Egyptian resorts because of the terror threat, many tried out the more costly Israeli resorts. Most have reported that the higher cost of vacationing in Israel is worth it because many Israelis speak Russian and are nostalgic for the Russian culture.
Sudan cuts ties
Sudan has terminated its military relationship and diplomatic cooperation with North Korea in response to a South Korean request after North Korea conducted a nuclear test that violated a UN Security Council resolution forbidding further nuclear tests.
U.S. security agencies in Texas and New York arrested six people involved in a people smuggling ring; three more suspects remain at large. The ring began operating in June 2015, taking cash from migrants with promises to bring them over the border and relocate them in the United States. The migrants came from numerous countries, but primarily Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
In November, 350 Japanese infantry arrived in Juba, South Sudan, for service with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UN-MISS), and this is the first time Japan has sent combat troops overseas on a peacekeeping mission, and they replaced a group of Japanese military engineers serving as peacekeepers. Being armed and trained, the Japanese infantry has the authority to use force to defend civilians while the earlier peacekeepers were support troops and only armed for self defense.
Syria’s Assads are trying to convince everyone that the rebels are doomed after losing over 40% of the territory they held in Aleppo. The rebels are dismayed at their setback and feel abandoned by Arab and Western allies. Yet not everyone fighting in Syria is there to support or remove the Assad government. Many outsiders are concerned with ISIL and Islamic terrorism. Had al Qaeda and ISIL not gotten involved, the Assads would likely have been defeated by now, but because they made so many enemies, regionally and internationally, the rebels got distracted and the Assads took advantage of the situation.
The Raqqa offensive
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has carefully advanced toward the ISIL capital of Raqqa since late 2015 and is preparing to make a big push to actually capture the city. At least 10,000 trained fighters are needed for this, in addition to air support, which the U.S.-led air coalition will deliver. Teams of U.S. air controllers will be provided to make sure the air strikes are as timely and accurate as possible. In addition, American Special Forces and technical experts such as bomb disposal, and air controllers with the SDF columns are operating around Raqqa.
Turkish troops in northern Syria are seeking to avoid conflict with the Russians while attempting to intimidate the Kurds who have long controlled much of that territory. What complicates this is that the Syrian rebels and their Western allies consider the Syrian Kurds the most effective rebel force and are key to driving ISIL out of Raqqa and the rest of eastern Syria. Although on paper the Turks are the strongest military force in the area, the Syrians — government and rebels — oppose Turkish intervention. The Turks are mainly doing this because of domestic politics.
The U.S. FBI and DEA reported that over 99.9% of the marijuana and 99.8% of the methamphetamine seized at U.S. borders comes from Mexico and 61% of the cocaine seizures are made along the U.S. West Coast. From 2012-15, 3,700 tons of marijuana and eight tons of methamphetamine were seized at U.S. borders by Customs agents, border patrol officers and police forces and 1,770 tons of marijuana were seized along the Arizona-Mexico border, in the Tucson sector, and 1,300 tons of the green weed was seized along the Texas-Mexico border, the Rio Grande Valley Sector, which runs between Brownsville and McAllen, Texas.
In October 2016, Russia sent its second “special operations” SSN, the Podmoskovie (BS64), to sea for trials. This sub was a Delta IV-class SSBN (nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine) that began its career in 1986 as K64 Podmoskovie, but since 1999, has undergone a conversion, which appears to be something similar to customized U.S. SSNs that have been in service since the 1970s.
Quality beats quantity
Russia has finally accepted the Western view that the quality of troops, not the quality and quantity of their weapons, is more important. This is something many Russian military personnel suspected, but until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 you could not propose going that way. Now that Russia has had over a decade of recruiting and training troops in the Western style there is ample proof that concentrating on the quality of troops is more important.
Russia’s show of force
For the third time since 2011, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetzov came south via the English Channel on its way to the Mediterranean. Having left northern Russia on 15 October, the Kuznetzov task force arrived off Syria which included seven escorts, three warships and four support vessels, not to mention that it was carrying 15 Su-33 and MiG-29K jet fighters, plus at least 10 Ka-52K, Ka-27 and Ka-31 helicopters. This Russian naval force is mainly a publicity stunt.
Air domination at risk
Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the USAF has been faced with a constant, and often losing, struggle to maintain pilot skill levels and it’s mostly been a money problem. Budgets shrank and, at least until 2013, fuel kept getting more expensive, resulting in less flight hours per year, reaching 120 hours for most pilots, about half of what it was after 2001. Although flying hours have increased, there are concerns that problems with fuel costs and several other factors will threaten the air domination held by the U.S. since WWII.
Many news items courtesy of strategypage.com & James Dunnigan. All material ©2017, StrategyWorld, Inc.