Syrian Civil War - News & Discussions

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So much for the S-300...

Damascus accuses Israel of first Syria strikes since air defence upgrade

Damascus accuses Israel of first Syria strikes since air defence upgrade


AFPNovember 30, 2018


Beirut (AFP) - Damascus Friday accused Israel of striking Syria, in what a monitor said were the such first missiles to hit the country since an air defence upgrade after the downing of a Russian plane in September.

The Syrian regime claimed its air defence systems shot down all "hostile targets" late Thursday. Israel did not confirm carrying out raids but denied any losses.

The Syrian foreign ministry on Friday said it had complained to the United Nations about "the Israeli aggression yesterday on the area of Kisweh south of Damascus".

According to the Syria Observatory for Human Rights, the strikes hit two positions in the south of Damascus province, one an area where there are Iranian weapons depots in Kisweh.

"Israeli forces bombarded for an hour," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Two missiles hit "weapons depots belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah (militant group) as well as Iranian forces" in Kisweh.

Another missile hit the area of Harfa, where there is a Syrian military base, the Britain-based monitor said.

In Kisweh, "the depots that were targeted are used to temporarily store rockets until they are taken somewhere else," Abdel Rahman said.

"It appears the Israelis had intelligence that weapons had arrived there recently," he said.

The state news agency said the attack was foiled and did not admit to any losses.

"Our air defences fired on hostile targets over the Kisweh area and downed them," SANA said, citing a military source.

The pro-government Al-Watan daily, quoting a military source, said "the aggression, despite its intensity, was not able to implement any of its goals and all enemy bodies were downed".

Initial reports by the Observatory suggested there were no casualties.

The Israeli military denied any of its assets were hit but stopped short of denying it had conducted strikes at all.

- Air defence upgrade -

"Reports regarding an Older Forum (Israel Defence Forces) aircraft or an airborne Older Forum target having been hit are false," it said in an English-language statement.

It said a Syrian surface-to-air missile was fired in the direction of an open area of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights but it was unclear if it had hit Israeli-held territory.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in neighbouring Syria against what it says are Iranian targets, many of them in the area south of Damascus.

Iran and Russia are the government's key allies in the civil war that has raged Syria since 2011, and Moscow's intervention in 2015 dramatically turned the tables against the rebels.

The accidental downing of a Russian transport aircraft by Syrian ground batteries during an Israel air strike on September 17 killed 15 service personnel.

Moscow pinned responsibility for the downing on Israel, saying its fighter jet used the larger Russian one for cover, an allegation Israel disputed.

Russia subsequently upgraded Syrian air defences with the delivery of the advanced S-300 system, which Damascus had said last month would make Israel "think carefully" before carrying out further air raids.

The move raised fears in Israel that its ability to rein in its arch foe Iran's military presence in its northeastern neighbour would be sharply reduced.

There was no evidence however that the S-300 batteries were used to intercept Israeli missiles overnight.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told Moscow his government would continue to hit hostile targets in Syria to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence across the border.

He added that Israel would "continue security coordination" with Russia.
 

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/worl...a601226ff6b_story.html?utm_term=.22ead172b893

Kurds call for larger French role after US leaves Syria

Chair of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council Riad Darrar attend a press conference in Paris, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. Against the advice of many in his own administration, President Donald Trump is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

By Bassem Mroue | AP

December 21
BEIRUT — A senior Kurdish politician Friday called on France to play a larger role in Syria following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, warning that Kurdish fighters may have to withdraw from the front lines in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Ilham Ahmed also suggested that the main Kurdish militia may no longer be able to hold the hundreds of IS militants detained in its prisons in northeastern Syria in the case of a Turkish attack, noting they might head to Turkey or farther abroad from there.

The group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces is known to hold hundreds of militants from various nationalities, including Europeans, in detention centers across areas under their control in northern Syria, and their families have been rounded up in camps run by the group. The Kurds have not decided how to handle them, since their home countries don’t want them back and also don’t recognize Kurdish-run courts.

“We fear things will get out control and we would no longer be able to contain them (IS militants) in the area, and this would open the door to their renewed spread and movement toward the Turkish border and from there to the rest of the world,” Ahmed said. She was in Paris as part of a delegation attending talks on the planned U.S. military withdrawal from Syria and Turkey’s warnings that it may launch a military operation against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria.

The delegation met with French President Emanuel Macron’s representative to Syria, Francois Senemand.

In France, an official at Elysee Palace said that during the meeting with the Syrian visitors, Macron’s aides “provided a message of solidarity and support and explained exchanges that France was having with the U.S. to continue the fight against Daesh.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for not being authorized to speak publicly, used an Arabic acronym to refer to IS.

Ahmed said France as a NATO member has a moral obligation to prevent Turkey from attacking Kurds.

Her comments reflected the desperation and turmoil within the Kurdish forces following President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement that he would withdraw the 2,000 troops in Syria. The announcement came at a particularly tense moment in northern Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly warned of launching a new offensive against the Kurds and in recent days has stepped up the rhetoric, threatening that an assault could begin “at any moment.”

Turkey views the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a terrorist group and an extension of the insurgency within its borders. U.S. support for the group has strained ties between the two NATO allies.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the announcement from Washington about a pullout as well as “diplomatic and security contacts” forced Turkey to delay its plans for an operation against the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia east of the Euphrates river.

Speaking in Istanbul in an address to business groups, he said however, that the delay would “not be open-ended.”

Trump’s abrupt decision has been widely seen as an abandonment of a loyal ally, even though the U.S. partnership with the Kurds against the Islamic State group in Syria was always considered a temporary marriage of convenience. With U.S. air support, the Kurds drove IS out of much of northern and eastern Syria in a costly four-year campaign.

“The decision to pull out under these circumstances will lead to a state of instability and create a political and military void in the region and leave its people between the claws of enemy forces,” a statement by the Kurdish-led group and main U.S. ally in Syria said Thursday.

Underscoring the ongoing fight against IS, a Kurdish news agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor reported that IS launched a counteroffensive in the area on the outskirts of Hajin, the last town controlled by IS in Syria which the SDF recaptured a week ago.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said his country welcomed the decision by Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Cavusoglu spoke during a visit to Malta in comments that were broadcast on Turkish television. They marked the first official reaction to the U.S. decision to pull out its troops.

The minister spoke of a need to coordinate the withdrawal with the U.S. and said all countries need to be vigilant in the fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group.

Cavusoglu also warned that the withdrawal should not create a vacuum that could be filled by terrorist groups.

The German government, meanwhile, said it wasn’t consulted by Washington before the U.S. announced the troop withdrawal.

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters in Berlin on Friday that Germany would have appreciated prior consultations.

Demmer said the U.S. decision could affect the dynamics of the conflict, adding that “much remains to be done” for a final victory over the Islamic State group.

She said the United States is an “important ally” but declined to say whether Germany also considers it a “reliable” one.

German Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said the decision has no immediate impact on Germany’s aerial surveillance missions over Syria.
 

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Kurds are in big trouble now they are already in discussion with Damascus for reconciliation and Russian military deployment in Turkish border.

Kurds will come under Damacus umbrella with the US withdrawal
 

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Israel claims Syria air strike, says hunt for Hezbollah tunnels over

Israel claims Syria air strike, says hunt for Hezbollah tunnels over


By Dan Williams

,
ReutersJanuary 13, 2019



FILE PHOTO: Israeli drilling equipment is seen next to the border with Lebanon, near the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila, seen from the Israeli side December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

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By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel acknowledged on Sunday that it carried out a weekend air strike on what it called an Iranian arms cache in Syria, and that it also completed a hunt for cross-border tunnels dug by Tehran-allied Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.

Long wary of publicity around its operations against Iran-linked targets on its northern front, Israel has been lifting the veil in recent days - a sign of confidence in a campaign waged amid occasional tension with Syria's big-power backer, Russia.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may also be playing up his security credentials as he seeks re-election on April 9.

"We have been taking action with impressive success to arrest Iran's military entrenchment in Syria," Netanyahu told his cabinet in televised remarks, saying this entailed "hundreds" of attacks over the past several years of Syria's civil war, in which Iranian and Hezbollah forces have backed the Damascus government against rebels and Islamist insurgents.

"In just the last 36 hours, the air force struck Iran's warehouses, containing Iranian arms, in Damascus international airport," he added, referring to a Friday night sortie that Syria said it had answered with anti-aircraft fire.

Syrian state media said at the time of the attack that the damage was limited to a hit on a warehouse at Damascus airport.

Netanyahu also cited an Israeli search-and-dismantle mission against suspected Hezbollah attack tunnels along the border with Lebanon that was launched in December and deemed completed on Sunday.

The Israeli military said a sixth tunnel was found on Saturday, 55 meters (yards) deep and reaching "a few tens of meters" into Israeli territory from 800 meters within Lebanon.

"According to our assessments, there are no longer any tunnels crossing into Israel," military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said. He added that Hezbollah retained underground facilities on the Lebanese side.

Hezbollah has not commented on the tunnels, the existence of several of which was confirmed by U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon.

Hezbollah and Israel last fought a war in 2006. While they have at times traded blows within Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Israel-Lebanon border has mostly been quiet.

Citing intelligence assessments, Israel's outgoing armed forces chief, Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot, told a local TV station on Saturday that the tunnels were prepared in secret, over a period of years. He said this was part of a Hezbollah plan to send as many as 1,500 fighters to infiltrate Israeli border communities during any future war.
 

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Analyst Reveals Missile & Bomb Types Israel May Have Used in Latest Syria Attack

Analyst Reveals Missile & Bomb Types Israel May Have Used in Latest Syria Attack
CC BY 3.0 / KGyST / Rafael Spice

MILITARY & INTELLIGENCE
21:55 25.01.2019(updated 22:13 25.01.2019)Get short URL

11205

Israeli warplanes carried out two days-worth of precision strikes against targets at the Damascus International Airport last week, with the Russian military reporting that Syria's air defences brought down several dozen missiles before they could hit their targets.

The bulk of the projectiles launched against Syrian targets during last week's raids consisted of Delilah-type cruise missiles and Spice 1000 guided aerial bombs, Russian military observer Yuri Lyamin believes.

"Delilah seems to have been used against the Syrian anti-aircraft systems, including the Pantsir-S1 air defence missile system. The same missile, it's worth noting, was likely also involved in the destruction of a Syrian Pantsir during the Israeli attack in May 2018," Lyamin said, speaking to the Rossiyaskaya Gazeta newspaper.



© SPUTNIK / SPUTNIK

Damascus Threatens to Respond to Israeli Attack With Strike on Tel Aviv Airport

According to the specialist, while some sources have also listed the Harop 'kamikaze drone' as the possible weapon used against the air defences, "the picture from the live video and their homing heads look completely different."
The 'Spice 1000' 1,000 pound smart bomb, remnants of which were reportedly found around the Syrian capital after being shot down by Syria's air defences, were probably used against larger stationary targets, including the warehouse targets at Damascus International Airport, Lyamin noted.

"In general, it must be said that the use of cruise missiles and guided bombs allows the Israeli Air Force to strike the area in and around Damascus from outside the range of most modern Syrian air defense systems, including the Pantsir S1, the Buk M2E and the Pechora 2M systems."

As for the recently delivered S-300s, Lyamin speculated that these systems' operators were still busy training to master the advanced weapon, and that they have yet to enter combat duty.



© PHOTO : RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY

Syrian S-300 Systems Were 'Inactive' During Israeli Missile Attack – Iranian MP

Israel struck what it claimed were Iranian weapons storage facilities at the Damascus airport last week. Following the latest attack, the Russian military announced that Syrian air defences had destroyed over 30 Israeli missiles and guided bombs, with missiles said to have been launched from the Mediterranean Sea by four Israeli Air Force F-16 fighters. Later, an Israeli Earth observation satellite company published imagesof what it said was the extent of damage done to Damascus International Airport in the raids. The images indicated that three small warehouse buildings were destroyed, with two other buildings, including a large main warehouse building, receiving partial damage. The airport's main building remained untouched. The images also showed burn marks at coordinates where a JY-7 radar system and Pantsir air defence system were allegedly deployed.
Israel has claimed to have carried out over 200 attacks against targets in Syria over the last few years, justifying the aggression by claiming that it was targeting Iranian forces seeking to wage a proxy war against Israel from Syrian territory. Tehran has vocally denied the Israeli claims, insisting that its forces were limited to military advisors, provided at Damascus's request to help the country in its fight against terrorism.

Israel halted its operations in Syria for nearly three months after an incident involving the accidental destruction of a Russian reconnaissance plane with 15 servicemen on board prompted Moscow to deploy S-300 air defence batteries in Syria. Tel Aviv resumed its attacks on December 25, with the Russian military and Lebanese officials accusing the Israeli military of brazenly threatening passenger planes during strikes by launching attacks from Lebanese airspace, shielding IAF planes from an effective Syrian response.
 

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US-backed fighters squeezing IS gunmen in eastern Syria

US-backed fighters squeezing IS gunmen in eastern Syria


SARAH EL DEEB

,
Associated PressFebruary 16, 2019

1 / 3

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters sit atop a hill in the desert outside the village of Baghouz, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. U.S.-backed Syrian forces are clearing two villages in eastern Syria of remaining Islamic State militants who are hiding among the local population, and detaining others attempting to flee with the civilians, the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

BAGHOUZ, Syria (AP) — A U.S.-backed force in Syria is closing in on Islamic State militants in a tiny area less than a square kilometer (square mile) in eastern Syria, and will soon declare the defeat of the militant group, a commander with the group said Saturday.

The capture of the last pocket still held by IS fighters in the village of Baghouz would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the extremist group's hold on territory in Syria and Iraq — their so-called "caliphate" that at the height of the group's power in 2014 controlled nearly a third of both Iraq and Syria.

"We will very soon bring good news to the whole world," said Ciya Furat, a commander with the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, speaking at a news conference at the al-Omar Oil Field Base in the Deir el-Zour province.

President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria and the fight against IS by the end of Saturday.

"We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours," Trump told journalists at the White House on Friday.

An Associated Press team in Baghouz Saturday, hundreds of meters away from the last speck of land where IS militants were holed up, saw several aircraft overhead and two airstrikes hit the area. SDF fighters said were fired by the U.S.-led coalition.

The Syrian Democratic Forces declared the final push to capture the village a week ago after more than 20,000 civilians, many of them the wives and families of foreign fighters, were evacuated.

Since then, SDF commanders say they have been surprised to discover that there were hundreds more civilians in the enclave, after they were brought up by the militants from underground tunnels. Their presence has slowed down the SDF advance.

Furat, the SDF commander, said IS fighters are now besieged in an area that is about 700 square meters (840 square yards). He said that SDF fighters were able to liberate 10 of their colleagues that were held by IS.

Furat's comments were carried by Kurdish news agencies, including Hawar News.

"We are dealing with this small pocket with patience and caution. It is militarily fallen but civilians are used as human shields," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told The Associated Press. Bali added that the SDF believes that IS gunmen are also holding previously kidnapped Syrians in the area.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said SDF fighters are almost in full control of the area once controlled by extremists, adding that there might still be IS fighters hiding in a network of underground tunnels.

The Observatory said that some 200 IS gunmen surrendered Friday, days after about 240 others surrendered and were taken by SDF fighters and members of the U.S.-led coalition.

"The defeat of Daesh will come within days," Furat said, using the Arabic acronym to refer to the group. He added that after the physical defeat of IS, the SDF "will continue in its fight against Daesh sleepers cells."

Despite the expected defeat on the ground, activists and residents say IS still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency. The group has claimed responsibility in recent months for deadly attacks, mostly in Iraq, more than a year after the Iraqi government said the extremists have been defeated after losing the northern city of Mosul in 2017, the largest they held.
 

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The Army's killer drones: How a secretive special ops unit decimated ISIS

The Army's killer drones: How a secretive special ops unit decimated ISIS


Sean D. Naylor
National Security Correspondent

,
Yahoo NewsMarch 7, 2019



Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images

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As the Islamic State’s physical caliphate shrinks to nothing after an almost five-year campaign led by U.S. special operations forces, military insiders say one small unit has killed more of the extremists than any other: the company of Gray Eagle drones in the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Although the military has thrown a cloak of secrecy over its operations, the unit — officially called E (or “Echo”) Company of the regiment’s Second Battalion and established less than a decade ago — is increasingly being lauded in special operations and Army aviation circles.

“They are doing the most killing of anyone in the national mission force,” said a former 160th officer, referring to Joint Special Operations Command, which runs counterterrorism task forces in Afghanistan, and does battle against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and the Horn of Africa. “They’re out there doing the nation’s bidding in a ferocious way.”

Echo Company is credited with “well over 340 enemy killed in action” in Afghanistan and the Iraq-Syria theater between August 2014 and July 2015, according to a November 2015 Army write-up of an award for the unit. The company has also played a key role in a special operations task force established in Iraq in 2014 to roll back the Islamic State’s physical caliphate and hunt its leaders. Flying from a base in Iraq to attack targets in Syria, the drone company has launched “more than a thousand” Hellfire missiles in the last two to three years, the former 160th officer told Yahoo News. “That means to me they’ve been very busy in Syria.”

Echo Company’s achievements are remarkable, in part, because unlike the Air Force, whose drones are operated from air-conditioned trailers in Nevada and flown by officers, the pilots in this Army aviation company are mainly enlisted soldiers who are deployed in combat theaters.



The destroyed vehicle in which Taliban leader Mohammad Akhtar Mansour was traveling in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border, May 22, 2016. (Photo: Abdul Salam Khan/AP)

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The U.S. drone campaign against Islamist militants has been enmeshed in controversy since it began in 2001, with accusations that some attacks caused needless civilian casualties or hit the wrong target altogether. On Wednesday, President Trump rescinded an executive order that required the intelligence community to disclose information about U.S. drone strikes outside of declared war zones, including civilian casualties. The White House last year had already ignored the requirement, put in place by President Barack Obama. Trump’s order does not affect a law that requires the Defense Department to send Congress an annual report detailing civilian casualties.

“U.S. armed drones have played a key role in the fight against ISIS, with its Reapers and Predators contributing up to 7 percent of all strikes, according to official data released back in 2017,” Chris Woods, the director of Airwars, a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that tracks airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Libya, wrote in an email. “Thousands of civilians have locally been alleged killed in Coalition actions — with our own minimum estimate at more than 7,500 deaths. However, what proportion of these deaths resulted solely from drones we can’t say.”

It is even less clear if any of Echo Company’s strikes resulted in civilian casualties; no allegations have been directed at its operations, which have been kept under tight wrap by the Defense Department.



Former head of U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command Brig. Gen. John Evans. (Photo via YouTube)

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Citing the classified nature of Echo Company’s missions, U.S. Special Operations Command declined to provide any information about the unit, which, like its parent battalion and regiment, is based at Fort Campbell, Ky. But insights into the unit’s history can be found on the website of the Army Aviation Association of America, a nonprofit organization that supports the Army’s aviation branch. The association has awarded Echo Company its “Unmanned Aerial Systems Unit of the Year” award four times since 2011.

“Echo Company [is] the most lethal company in the Army, and it may very well be the most lethal company-size element in all of [the Defense Department],” Brig. Gen. John Evans, at the time the head of U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command, told attendees at the aviation association’s conference in April 2017.

The record still holds today, according to a retired senior Army aviation officer. “This is the most lethal Army unit this year,” he said. “The whole Army, including artillery, including everything.”

One of the few Army units that fly fixed-wing aircraft, the company apparently has been more lethal than its Army helicopter counterparts and all Air Force fixed-wing outfits, manned and unmanned. Even in Joint Special Operations Command, the secretive organization that includes special mission units like Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, Echo Company’s performance stands out, according to those familiar with its operations.



A U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter patrols Mogadishu, Somalia, in the wake of gun battles between militants and U.N. peacekeepers, June 8, 1993. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)

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When it was created in 2009, Echo Company represented something new for the 160th, an elite special operations helicopter unit established in the wake of the failed effort in 1980 to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran. The regiment’s distinctive black helicopters have featured in virtually every high-profile special operations mission since then, including the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia.

Since 2001, the 160th has been heavily engaged as part of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC, pronounced “jay-sock”) task forces in Afghanistan and, since 2003, in Iraq. The unit’s most prominent members have always been the warrant officers and commissioned officers who fly the regiment’s helicopters, from the small, nimble AH-6 “Little Bird” gunships to the twin-rotor MH-47 Chinook assault aircraft.

But unlike those Army pilots, or the pilots of the Air Force’s better-known Predator and Reaper drones, the soldiers who fly the Gray Eagles are mainly enlisted service members, according to the retired senior Army aviation officer. “They are lethal as all get-out,” he said.

Made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., the same firm that produces the MQ-1 Predator, which the Air Force retired in 2018, and its successor, the MQ-9 Reaper, the MQ-1C Gray Eagle is a derivative of the Predator and falls somewhere between the two in terms of capability. Armed with up to four Hellfire missiles or a mix of other munitions, the Gray Eagle also carries a suite of surveillance gear that includes signals intelligence equipment and high-resolution cameras that can read a license plate from 15,000 feet. The basic Gray Eagle can fly for up to 25 hours, while an extended range version has a maximum endurance of 42 hours.



For its first deployments to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, the unit consisted of little more than a platoon of four Gray Eagles manned by 17 soldiers and 35 contractors (As of late 2013, Echo Company had 12 Gray Eagles and about 165 soldiers, according to an article written by an Army public affairs officer).

Nonetheless, it immediately made an impact. In late 2010, an Echo Company Gray Eagle became the first Army unmanned aerial system to conduct an airstrike, when it provided close air support to coalition forces in Afghanistan, according to former Capt. Tae Kim, who commanded the company. He recalled the mission in matter-of-fact terms. “There were two or three different groups of enemy fighters in a firefight with our guys and we followed one particular group — I think it was only two or three guys — and then at some point they called in a fire mission and we got them,” he said. “We were more relieved at being able to support [the troops], more so than being aware of the significance of it.”

Within 18 months of that first airstrike, the unit was running 24-hour operations in Afghanistan and starting to make its mark as not just a surveillance and reconnaissance tool, but as a lethal attack aircraft. During the unit’s summer 2011 to summer 2012 deployment, it conducted 20 airstrikes with Hellfire missiles, “resulting in 32 enemy combatants killed in action,” according to a document that supported Echo Company’s nomination for its 2012 AAAA award. Representatives from the special operations units the company supported were frequently surprised to find that the drone pilots they heard on the radio were not “senior Air Force officers” but “Army enlisted soldiers that were actually in theater — not in Vegas,” the document states.

Echo Company has also seen extensive service in Africa, where JSOC has used its Gray Eagles “to go after high-value targets” in counterterrorism missions in East, North and West Africa, according to a former official at U.S. Africa Command. A small number of Gray Eagles also deployed to Garoua, Cameroon, to help other U.S. special operations forces and their partners in the region in their campaigns against Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, according to the former Africa Command official.



Echo Company has also seen extensive service in Africa, where JSOC has used its Gray Eagles “to go after high-value targets” in counterterrorism missions in East, North and West Africa. (Photo: Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems)

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Still others, flying from the East African nation of Djibouti, were used periodically to search for the Lord’s Resistance Army. But only the Gray Eagles hunting high-value targets for JSOC were armed. In the other missions, U.S. special operations forces just used the Gray Eagles for surveillance and signals intelligence. “They never pulled the trigger,” said a special operations officer with recent experience in the Middle East.

Sources were more reluctant to discuss specific missions for which the Gray Eagle has been used in Afghanistan, the Middle East or Africa, on the grounds that they were all classified. “It’s been involved in some pretty major things,” said the retired senior Army aviation officer.

The Gray Eagles aren’t the only armed drones used in the U.S. military campaigns against Islamist militants. The Predator and the Reaper enjoy a much higher media profile, but Echo Company’s Gray Eagles have surprised military leaders by how much more effective they have been on the battlefield, according to the retired senior Army aviation officer. “We were kind of used to watching how the Air Force operated first the Predator and then the Reaper,” he said. “They can be very effective, but this is a different mindset.”

There are several factors behind Echo Company’s success, according to sources familiar with its operations.

First, while the Air Force’s Predators and Reapers — and even the conventional Army divisions’ Gray Eagle companies — are used mostly for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and more occasionally for striking targets, Echo Company’s Gray Eagles are primarily used in either close air support or “hunter-killer” missions, according to sources familiar with Echo Company’s role. “They’re worried about killing targets and getting the next bad guy and basically going down the merit list of who needs to die,” said the special operations officer with recent experience in the Middle East.

The Echo Company pilots “have a very streamlined permission to execute, based upon [the fact] that they’ve already done target folders for these people and things like that,” said the retired senior Army aviation officer.



The Gray Eagle Extended Range is a next-generation advanced derivative of the battle-proven Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System. (Photo: Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems)

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A second factor, according to sources familiar with Echo Company’s operations, is that, unlike the Air Force’s armed drones, which are remotely piloted at Creech and Nellis Air Force Bases in Nevada, the Gray Eagle pilots are deployed in the combat theaters as part of the JSOC task forces that run counterterrorism campaigns and hunt high-value targets. Using Air Force drones “is like you’re leasing an aircraft for 12 hours from Creech Air Force Base,” said the retired senior Army aviation officer. “They’re operated by somebody who lives in Nevada and goes home to their wife at night, or their husband.”

With the Echo Company pilots, he said, “they’re deployed with you, you’re talking to them at the mess hall” and having “face-to-face meetings” to plan missions. “It’s a very different way of going about business.” An Air Force spokesman declined to comment.

But Tae Kim, who commanded Echo Company from 2009 to 2011, said the importance of having the pilots co-located with the task force was exaggerated. “If you have a Reaper or a Predator above you and you need fire support, it doesn’t really matter that they’re located on the other side of the globe,” said Kim, who is now the chief operating officer for Martin UAV. “For the guys on the ground, they don’t really care how they get it so long as they get that support.”

More important to Echo Company’s extraordinary record of lethality, according to Kim, is that it falls directly under the command of the task force. “What really matters,” he said, when explaining Echo Company’s success, “is do you have this asset under the task force control so that you have more access to it.”

In addition to close air support for troops in contact, the Gray Eagle’s range, ability to fly for many hours, and the fact that it can attack from an altitude that makes it virtually invisible to those on the ground, mean it can be used for missions that would not make sense for helicopters. The drones get the call when “a helicopter cannot get there or a helicopter would give up the gig with rotor noise,” said a former senior 160th official.

The Gray Eagles are ideal for missions in which the goal is not to capture someone or to seize materials of intelligence value, but to simply kill one or more individuals, according to a former 160th officer. “If you’re looking to whack somebody who needs whacking, then send the Gray Eagle,” he said.

The battlefield demand for Echo Company is so high that the 160th is getting a second Gray Eagle company, and despite all the secrecy, the word about the Gray Eagle’s battlefield effectiveness is starting to spread.

“It’s a phenomenal capability” that will continue to be in high demand, said retired Special Forces Col. Stu Bradin, president of the Global Special Operations Forces Foundation. “The requirements for it only grow. It’s a lifesaver.”



The Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System is a technologically advanced derivative of the combat-proven Predator. (Photo: Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems)
 

RISING SUN

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Christianity grows in Syrian town once besieged by Islamic State
A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month.

Though Islamic State’s ultra radical interpretation of Sunni Islam has been repudiated by the Islamic mainstream, the legacy of its violence has affected perceptions of faith.

Many in the mostly Kurdish areas of northern Syria, whose urban centers are often secular, say agnosticism has strengthened and in the case of Kobani, Christianity.

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from
Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.
The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.
“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church.

He said around 20 families, or around 80 to 100 people, in Kobani now worship there. They have not changed their names.

“We meet on Tuesdays and hold a service on Fridays. It is open to anyone who wants to join,” he said.
The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

“This was painted by IS as a religious conflict, using religious slogans. Because of this a lot of Kurds lost trust in religion generally, not just Islam,” he said.

Many became atheist or agnostic. “But many others became Christian. Scores here and more in Afrin.”

MISSIONARIES AND CRITICS
One man, who lost an arm in an explosion in Kobani and fled to Turkey for medical treatment, said he met Kurdish and Turkish converts there and eventually decided to join them.

“They seemed happy and all talked about love. That’s when I decided to follow Jesus’s teachings,” Maxim Ahmed, 22, said, adding that several friends and family were now interested in coming to the new church.

Some in Kobani reject the growing Christian presence. They say Western Christian aid groups and missionaries have exploited the chaos and trauma of war to convert people and that local newcomers to the religion see an opportunity for personal gain.

“Many people think that they are somehow benefitting from this, maybe for material gain or because of the perception that Christians who seek asylum abroad get preferential treatment,” said Salih Naasan, a real estate worker and former Arabic teacher.

Thousands of Christians have fled the region over decades of sectarian strife. From Syria they have often headed for Lebanon and European countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to help minorities fleeing the region when he imposed a travel ban on Muslims in 2016, but many Christians were denied asylum.

“It might be a reaction to Daesh (Islamic State) but I don’t see the positives. It just adds another religious and sectarian dimension which in a community like this will lead to tension,” said Naasan, a practicing Muslim.
Naasan like the vast majority of Muslims rejects Islamic State’s narrow and brutal interpretation of Islam. The group enslaved and killed thousands of people from all faiths, reserving particular brutality for minorities such as the Yazidis of northern Iraq.

Most Christians preferred not to give their names or be interviewed, saying they fear reaction from conservative sectors of society.

The population of Kobani and its surroundings has neared its original 200,000 after people returned, although only 40,000 live in the town itself, much of which lies in ruins.
Christianity grows in Syrian town once besieged by Islamic State - Reuters
 

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SAA is making a move against Idlib from Norther Hama. More than 200 SAA and Russian airstrikes reported on Idlib in last 24 hours. Two villages reportedly captured. HTS (Former branch of al-qaeda) has deployed large forces in northern Hama.

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'Stray Syrian anti-aircraft missile' hits Cyprus

'Stray Syrian anti-aircraft missile' hits northern Cyprus



Media captionThe missile came down in wooded area north of the city of Nicosia
A stray Russian-made missile apparently launched by Syria hit the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus overnight, officials say.
 

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https://news.yahoo.com/turkey-carry-operation-northern-syria-145820814.html

Turkey will carry out operation in northern Syria: Erdogan
ReutersAugust 4, 2019



Turkish President Erdogan reviews a guard of honour at the airport in Bursa

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey will carry out an operation east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria, in an area controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

Turkey has been running out of patience with the United States, which made an agreement with Ankara to implement a safe zone in northeastern Syria. Erdogan said both Russia and the United States have been told of the operation.

Following U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement last year of a planned U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria, the two NATO allies agreed to create a safe zone inside Syria along its northeastern border with Turkey, that would be cleared of the YPG militia.
 

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'Jihadi Jack' lashes out at UK after it revokes his citizenship

'Jihadi Jack' lashes out at UK after it revokes his citizenship


AFPAugust 20, 2019



Briton Sally Lane (L) and Canadian John Letts (R), parents of Jack Letts the Muslim convert known as 'Jihadi Jack', were convicted in a UK court in June of funding terrorism by sending him a small amount of money during his time in Syria, but were spared jail (AFP Photo/Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)

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London (AFP) - The Muslim convert dubbed "Jihadi Jack", who is being held in northern Syria after joining the Islamic State group, on Monday said that Britain's decision to revoke his citizenship was "not something I recognise."

Jack Letts, 24, who was a dual UK-Canadian national, was captured by Kurdish forces in Syria in 2017 and is languishing in jail there, despite saying in a media interview earlier this year he would like to return to Britain.

But in a recent interview with ITV News Letts said that "stripping me of British citizenship and not stripping me is the same thing at the end of the day. It's not something I recognise."

"I never grew up being accepted as a British person anyway," he added.

"But, in the same way Britain hasn't helped me for two and a half years, Canada has done nothing. I always thought Canada was a better country, I had this illusion."

:LOL: