SitRep: Kurds Retreat, Turks Staying in Syria; Assad’s New Chemical Weapons
Kerry Hashing Out Russia Deal; Peace in Colombia; And Lots More
Assad’s chemical weapons. A U.N.-authorized investigation has concluded that both the Assad regime in Syria and the Islamic State have used chemical weapons in Syria in recent years, “the first time that the United Nations has officially assigned blame for the use of outlawed weapons in Syria’s five-and-a-half year conflict,” FP’s Colum Lynch reports. The Syrian government carried out at least two chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015, while ISIS shelled a Syrian village with mustard gas in the summer of 2015, according to the report. A copy of the report, which is confidential, was obtained by Foreign Policy.
Turkey increases Syria ops. After its lightning strike into Syria Wednesday morning, it looks like Turkish forces may be planning to stay awhile. On Thursday, Turkey drove nine more tanks over the border into the Syrian town of Jarablus, increasing the number to about 20, while more gear looks to be on the way. “We need construction machinery to open up roads” a Turkish official said Thursday, “and we may need more in the days ahead. We also have armored personnel carriers that could be used on the Syrian side. We may put them into service as needed.”
Kurds in the crosshairs. Soon after Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army rebels — some of whom are graduates of last year’s failed Pentagon program to train “vetted” Syrian fighters — took Jarablus from the Islamic State on Wednesday, it became clear who the real target of the op was: U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels. FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce write that after the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces took the Syrian town of Manbij last week, Turkey felt it needed to stop them from pushing north. And given the need for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to flex some muscle after the failed military coup in July, it was “strategically opportune and politically opportune to launch this now,” Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, told FP.
Kurds pull back. The Turks demanded the Kurds leave Manbij and pull east of the Euphrates River, and spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad, Col. John Dorrian tweeted Thursday that they did just that. The “main element of SDF Manbij liberation force has gone east; some forces remain to finish clearing, IED removal as planned,” he wrote, and they have “moved east across the Euphrates to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa, Syria.”
Defense officials told the Washington Post that the Turkey-based Syrian forces had been conducting small scale operations in Syria for months, and in keeping with an FP report this past spring, U.S. and Turkish special operations forces had continued recruiting Syrian fighters even after the original American train and equip program flamed out late last year.
Russia to Turkey: Thanks but no thanks. One thing that might make the whole situation just a bit less complicated is that Russian officials tell the Air Force Times that despite recent reports, they have no plans to start flying missions into Syria from Incirlik air base in Turkey, which the Turks had suggested earlier this month. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week to make one last effort to hammer out an agreement between the two countries, the AP reports, but before talks can begin, “U.S. officials say it is imperative that Russia use its influence with Syrian President Bashar Assad to halt attacks on moderate opposition forces, open humanitarian aid corridors, and concentrate any offensive action on the Islamic State group and other extremists not covered by what has become a largely ignored truce.”
Ludicrous speed! The U.S. Navy’s guided missile destroyer USS Nitze had a close call Wednesday when four Iranian small boats — with guns uncovered — approached at high speed while ignoring warnings to back off. The boats only held up once they were within about 300 yards, U.S. officials say. The incident occurred in international waters in the crowded Strait of Hormuz, (video here) and follows several other incidents in recent months. Last December, Iranian ships popped off several rockets near a U.S. warship, and a month later Tehran flew an unarmed drone over the USS Harry S. Truman in the Persian Gulf. The most serious event came in January, when the Iranians seized U.S. Navy sailors piloting two small patrol boats, holding them for several hours before letting them go after they strayed into Iranian waters. FP’s Dan De Luce had the details here.
Toll rises. The U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday it may have killed civilians in an air strike near the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. In a statement, the command said, “a non-military vehicle drove into the target area after the weapon was released from the aircraft,” and “the vehicle’s occupants may have perished as a result of the strike.” It is continuing the investigation. Last month, Centcom announced that between July 2015 and April, it had inadvertently killed 14 civilians in Iraq and Syria.
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In a historic deal, Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC rebels have finally reached a deal to end the 50-year war which has claimed the lives of 220,000 people. Under the agreement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will lay down arms and begin the process of reintegrating its fighters into civilian life. The agreement will now go to a plebiscite vote on Oct. 2. “Today I can say – from the bottom of my heart – that I have fulfilled the mandate that you gave me,” said President Juan Manuel Santos, who was re-elected in 2014 on the promise of a peace deal.
Bots o’ war
The Army wants to turn its counter battery radar into a drone killer. IHS Jane’s reports that the service wants to use its AN/TPQ-53 radar system, which pinpoints the location of incoming small artillery, to spot small drones. The “urgent operational requirement” would add the capability to differentiate between targets, allowing operators to track and characterize drones in addition to its traditional responsibility identifying the origin of rocket and mortar fire.
The Germans are willing participants in the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but they might not be tenants of Turkey’s Incirlik air base much longer. Berlin is looking for ways to reposition its six Tornado reconnaissance jets from the base given Ankara’s continued refusal to allow German lawmakers to visit the facility. The scrap stems from Ankara’s objection to a resolution passed by the German parliament in June that branded the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a “genocide.” That, apparently, didn’t go over well in Ankara.
The Government Accountability Office dropped a new report Wednesday declaring that the U.S. Air Force doesn’t have enough information to support its decision to scrap its fleet of A-10 Warthogs. Flight Global writes that the news “will likely fuel support on Capitol Hill, where US lawmakers have already fought the USAF to keep the A-10 in its inventory. The Air Force and Congress have sparred for years over whether to retire the aircraft and language in the Fiscal 2017 National Defence Authorization Act prohibits the A-10 divestment.”
Photo Credit: Ensar Ozdemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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