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US forces have begun top withdraw from Syria

Multiple news outlets have reported the US has begun to draw down US military forces in Syria. Military people have been deployed to Kuwait and al-Asad AB in Iraq to support the drawdown. USN ships including the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge are on their way to the region. Normally the Kearsarge has the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) of perhaps 2,000 Marines embarked. The ship and MEU have been operating in the Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, fighter aircraft from the USS Stennis aircraft carrier located in the Persian Gulf have been flying attack sorties over Syria. Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the US coalition against ISIS said on January 11, 2019, "(The coalition) has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements." Colonel Ryan's desire to maintain operational security is important as most US forces are locted in small, outlying bases. Moving them must be done carefully. It is not yet clear how the US will deal with its Kurdish allies. This is an issue yet to be resolved. Turkey has said its forces will attack the Kurds as it sees fit. The photo shows and older photo of US troops on patrol between the Turks and the Kurds.No drop-dead date for the withdrawal has been set. Forces will move out as conditions on the ground dictate. Sources in Syria have said some armored vehicles and other equipment have already left the al-Rmelean area of al-Hasaka province in northeastern Syria. al-Rmelean has an airfield the US has been using to oppose ISIS forces operating in the province. The Kurds had controlled the field but turned it over to the US back in 2016. It appears military planning is still underway, but enough has begun to get support forces properly positioned. (011119)

US troops deploy to Gabon

President Trump said on January 4, 2019 that the US has deployed 80 military members to Libreville, Gabon. The perceived threat is said to be in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC held presidential elections on December 30, 2018. The concern centers on whether the public in the DRC might grow violent once the election results are released on January 6, 2019. The anticipated US mission is to rescue Americans at the US Embassy Kinshasa, DRC and other American citizens there. There is also a possibility the troops might deploy to Brazzaville in the neighboring Republic of the Congo, located across the Congo River from Kinshasa. Trump indicated more troops could be sent. The first troops arrived on January 2. They were combat equipped. US air will also support them, probably helicopters. Observers are worried the election results might rigged. The US has conducted military exercises in Gabon, primarily to test logistics capabilities and combined military operations with the Gabonese army should future deployments be required. (010519)

Withdrawal plan from Syria not yet clear

Addendum: Reports as of December 29, 2018 are that the DoD is preparing Syria withdrawal plans, which means they either did not have one, a horrible lapse in planning in may book, or the plan they had was no good, still a horrible lapse in planning. Brietbart says withdrawal could take months (122918) published a status report on President Trump's order to withdraw US forces from Syria. On the surface planning appears in its infancy and not publicly known. SecDef Mattis has signed a withdrawal order to withdraw all troops in the "coming weeks." I will continue to follow-up. employed several press and unofficial sources. Based on those, assessments at present are:

  • Some US forces have begun to withdraw from "isolated observation posts in northeastern Syria and re-supply trucks were turning around to head back into Iraq."
  • Reuters reported State Department officials were given 24 hours to leave (based on instructions of December 20, 2018).
  • France has indicated its 1,000 troops will remain.
  • The British say they will remain as well.
  • Both France and Britain intend to continue air attacks.

So that's not much information. said many open questions remain:

  • "Will U.S. airstrikes continue in support of the SDF and to protect SDF fighters from Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey?
  • "Will U.S. artillery units in Iraq continue cross-border fire in support of the SDF as they have for the past several months?
  • "Will the State Department continue with the long-range plan to help rebuild in areas taken from ISIS by the SDF at heavy cost, such as Raqqa, the former capital of the "caliphate"?
  • "What will happen to the estimated 3,000 ISIS prisoners now held by the SDF?
  • "And lastly, what will be the status going forward of Mattis, who has consistently backed Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve and U.S. Central Command in maintaining that the U.S. mission in Syria is far from over."

Other sources indicate US forces in Iraq, especially special forces, will remain ad could conduct cross-border attacks against high value targets.

Conjecture is that only US controllers are allowed to control US air attacks. They would have to be in Syria, which at present appears unlikely.

Given that President Trump's desire to withdraw from Syria has been well known publicly and privately, One would assume the Pentagon has plans on the shelf. If not, that would be a very serious planning failure. (122418)

Abrupt change: US to withdraw from Syria

The Wall Street Journal reported on December 19, 2018 that the US will withdraw its forces from Syria immediately. A US official apparently said, “The Pentagon has an order to move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible. This is stunning news.

President Trump tweeted on December 19, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Stars and Stripes has reported US forces have already started to withdraw.

The WSJ said, "Officially, the U.S. military has no authority to battle Iran in Syria. Their mission has been to defeat Islamic State and ensure the militant group that once controlled large swaths of Syria and Iraq is unable to regroup. That task is largely complete. Islamic State has been effectively cornered in a small stretch of Syrian territory along the Iraq border, where the U.S. military estimates about 2,000 fighters have managed to hold off complete defeat for months."

There has been a conflict of sorts between the US and Turkey. President Erdogan has threatened to move his forces across the Euphrates River to take on the Kurds, a US ally in the fighting in the northeast. That could have brought them in direct contact with American forces. It's too early to know whether that has been a factor.

President Trump said in the spring he would withdraw our forces from Syria "soon." But that did not seem to be in the cards. This is a marked break from what National Security Advisor Bolton said recently. Stars & Stripes reported on December 14, 2018 that the US intends to leave its forces in Syria indefinitely. The paper indicated ISIS had started to energize and regroup. US officials apparently felt they had to stand up to Iranian proxy forces in Syria.

Defense News
reported National Security Advisor Bolton, during a luncheon presentation, told his audience, "We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias."

However, initial readout indicates President Trump said our forces were there only to take on ISIS, not Iran. (121918)

US to leave troops in Syria indefinitely

Stars & Stripes reported on December 14, 2018 that the US intends to leave its forces in Syria indefinitely. We do not know how many US forces are currently there. The Pentagon has said 500, but the paper said, "an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000," mostly special forces. If the US remains in place, the paper said its will control about 33 percent of the country. Apparently ISIS is start to energize and regroup. The situation in Syria can get complex. US officials apparently feel they have to stand up to Iranian proxy forces in Syria. Defense News has said National Security Advisor Bolton, during a luncheon presentation, told his audience, "We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias." Defense News said there are 2,200 US troops in Syria now. Both Bolton and SecState Pompeo appear to see Iran posing a strategic threat to the US. SecDef Mattis has said, "As part of this overarching problem, we have to address Iran. Everywhere you go in the Middle East where there’s instability you will find Iran. So in terms of getting to the end state of the Geneva process, Iran, too, has a role to play, which is to stop fomenting trouble. Right now our troops inside Syria are there for one purpose, and that’s under the U.N. authorization about defeating ISIS.” In the background, there is the presence of Turkish forces in northern Syria. Their mission ought to be to help destroy ISIS, but many experts say they are really after the Kurds. One of those experts, Rick Francona, has written an informative article, "Turkey and the fight against ISIS - whose side are you on? I ask again... " That in turn poses problems for the US who is allied with the Kurds. Turkey's President Erdogan in the past few days has said he intends to move his forces east of the Euphrates, which would bring them into contact with the Kurds and Americans. Add in further Russia is allied with the Assad government and Iran is supporting it as well. President Trump had been saying he wants to bring all our forces home. It looks like Pompeo, Mattis and Bolton have changed his mind. (121518)

US-Australia to upgrade base in Papua New Guinea

Geopolitical Monitor reported on November 19, 2018 the Vice President Pence has announced the US and Australia will work together to upgrade the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. It was a major US naval base during WWII. I is currently operated by the Maritime Operations Element of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF). Papua New Guinea has emerged as a focus of competition between Western Pacific powers and China. It is a small facility that has supported constabulary missions by the PNG Navy but needs a lot of work. Improvements are likely to be step-by-step.

The PNGDF currently uses the base for its patrol boats. Australia is donating four new Guardian-class Pacific Patrol Boats (PPBs) to the PNG Navy as part of a program to upgrade capabilities and replace the older PPBs. (120318)

Pay attention to Black Sea naval operations

Ukraine President Poroshenko urged NATO on November 29, 2018 to send naval ships into the Sea of Azov as the result of the recent confrontation between Russian and Ukraine naval ships. Ukraine and Russia have a 2003 bilateral agreement that says the Sea of Azov and the Strait of Kerch are historically internal waters of the Russian Federation and the Ukraine. The agreement further stipulates mercantile vessels and other state non-commercial vessels flying the flags of the Russian Federation and the Ukraine have free navigation in the sea of Azov and the strait of Kerch. On November 25, 2018, Russian military forces fired upon three Ukrainian vessels attempting to pass through the Kerch Strait. Moscow seized the ships and captured about 23 sailors. It is not likely that NATO or the US would send naval ships into the Sea of Azov. NATO ships do however regularly sail throughout the Black Sea. The British have indicated they intend to send naval ships in soon. I do not know whether any USN ships are there now. The USNS Carson City departed the Black Sea on August 30, 2018. The USS Carney (DDG-64) was there in August 2018 but has returned to Spain. The USS Porter (DDG-8) was there in July but also have returned to Spain. The USS Mount Whitney was there in July as well but has returned to Gaeta, Italy. Ukraine has said recently the Russian military is building imp on the border with Ukraine. The photo of USN ships in the Black Sea is an old one shown as background. (113018)

Migrants arriving - Tensions escalating at US-Mexico border

Tension increased on November 23, 2018 at the Tijuana crossing from Mexico into the US-San Diego. Riot police stood firm. US military forces reportedly set off rockets that "exploded with a pungent-smelling white smoke" according to AFP. Border patrol agents have been exercising for riot control scenarios in the background as they expect the situation to deteriorate. For the moment, migrants are being held in Mexico in a plan named "Remain in Mexico." The San Diego Tribune reported a group of 6,219 Central American migrants are in Tijuana and some got within 500 ft. of the US border. Mexican federal police held them back. Mexican authorities say they are not equipped to handle this kind of crowd. President Trump has threatened to shut down the entire border, stopping all import traffic to the US and preventing Mexicans from crossing over to work as they normally do. Honduran gangs have infiltrated the migrant groups. They are armed. Tijuana has declared a humanitarian crisis and has asked for international help. (112318)

US border troops starting to withdraw

Northern Command Commander Army. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan has told reporters the first US troops on the US border will start coming home in a few days as several units have completed their mission. They have installed concertina wire and hardened ports of entry. Some 37,000 feet pf wire have been emplaced. The forces are about 75 percent complete placing obstacles at the border such as concertina wire, shipping containers and concrete batteries at ports of entry. At present there are 5,800 troops on the border, of which 2,800 are in Texas, 15,00 in Arizona, and 1,500 in California. The military is forecasting all forces withdrawing from the border area by December 15. The military is, however, prepared to close a port if the caravan assaults them and puts border police at risk. (112018)

Caravan update

Most of the lead caravan heading to the US border through Mexico remains about 1,100 miles away according to Time Magazine. Some are hitchhiking on trucks and buses and could arrive quickly, perhaps at the rate of 100 miles per day or so. However several hundred have arrived at the border with Tiujana. (111818)

EU prepares for European-only military - and NATO?

The European Union's (EU) Commission has reportedly prepared a preamble to building a European-only military. French PM Emmanuel Macron is leading the charge, criticizing the trans-Atlantic security ties, which are provided by NATO and mainly the US. He has also cited the US as a potential threat to European security. The Europeans tried this once before, setting up the Western European Union (WEU). It did not work. The Europeans could not afford it and had to borrow equipment from NATO. It now appears several EU countries, principally France and Germany, want a European only military again. The EU has already established a European Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) which has assigned two ships in the Gulf of Aden region mainly to stop piracy. That is in addition to the Combined Maritime Force (CMF) organized by US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVFORCENT) which patrols the Gulf of Aden and the Bab al Mandate Strait connecting the Gulf to the Red Sea. It patrols piracy and provides security for international shipping and naval forces operating there. CMF has over 30 countries participating, plus or minus a few depending on what can be spared. All of this raises even more the question as to whether the US ought to leave NATO, form a new partnership with those countries in Europe who prefer to join with the US, or organize a wholly new alliance, perhaps an ad hoc alliance primarily with Eastern European nations such as Poland. Clearly the Europeans cannot pay for membership of NATO and construction, maintenance and employment of a European-only military. They cannot or do not even pay NATO bills. That then begs the question as typo whether the US ought to continue footing the bill for defense of Europe while Europe build its own military. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has taken all this one step further and suggested building a European Empire that could stand up to the US and others. (111218)

Three new classified contingency operations in Africa

The D Brief reported on November 6, 2018, "On February 9, 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis designated three new classified contingency operations: Operation Yukon Journey, the Northwest Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation, and the East Africa Counterterrorism overseas contingency operation. These operations 'seek to degrade al Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated terrorists in the Middle East and specific regions of Africa.' " At the moment, not much is known publicly about the character of these operations. The DoD IG will provide oversight vice Congress. The IG has sent questions about the operations to the DoD, and DoD apparently provided some classified responses but did not provide the objectives of the operations, the metrics used to gauge progress, costs, number of US people involved and rationale for declaring these overseas contingency operations. (110618)

"Operation Faithful Patriot" at the border: 8,000 troops there within days

November 10, 2018 Addendum: General O'Shaughnessy, USAF, commander US Northern Command announced on October 26, 2018 that the border operations is no longer called "Operation Faithful Patriot." Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, USA, a Pentagon spokesman, said the operation will be referred to as "border support."

The Wall Street Journal reported on November 5, 2018 that the troop count on the US-Mexico border will be 8,000 within a few days: 2,700 in Texas, 1,200 in Arizona, and 1,100 in California, and 2,000 are due very soon. Most are support and we have been told they will not be armed. General Dunford, USMC, CJCS, has said, "There is no plan for U.S. military forces to be involved in the actual mission of denying people entry to the United States … There is no plan for soldiers to come into contact with immigrants or to reinforce Department of Homeland Security as they’re conducting their mission … We are providing enabling capabilities.” A lot of work thus far has been to set up concertina wire. Most of the newly arriving troops, those in addition to the 2,000 National Guard already deployed, are active duty. The lead caravan is now about 700 miles from the border. (110618)

"Operation Faithful Patriot" at the border: 5,200 now, could go to 14,000

October 30, 2018 Addendum: General Terrence O'Shaughnessy, USAF, commander Northern Command (NORTHCOM) said troops on the border is "just the start of this operation. We'll continue to adjust the numbers and inform you of those." A DoD official said the number could rise to 14,000. These numbers are in addition to the 2,092 National Guard already there. According to the official, there are 7,000 active duty troops on "standby," working with a 24-hour notice to deploy.

October 29, 2018 addendum: October 29, 2018 Addendum: A US official has now said the US will send 5,200 more troops to the US-Mexico border, up from earlier reports of 5,000. Some are to deploy on October 30. The USAF is to airlift 400 additional Border Patrol personnel as well. Lucas Tomlinson, reporting for Fox News, has said, "There are three planned staging areas: in South Texas, Arizona and California, for what's now been dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot. The mission's U.S. ground commander is Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, who was sent to Puerto Rico last year to lead Hurricane Maria relief efforts. The troops are coming from military posts including Fort Bragg, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Fort Stewart, Fort Campbell, Fort Riley and Fort Knox. Most of the forces will be active duty. Military Police will be in the deployments, not to enforce the law, but rather to provide force protection.

The increases come after it was determined there are now two migrant caravans, all together totaling 6,500 migrants. The first caravan formed in Honduras roughly two weeks ago. Caravans are reportedly forming in El Salvadore, south of Honduras, planning to head to the US starting on October 31, 2018.

The immigration caravan is about 1,000 miles away.

October 29, 2018: The Wall Street Journal has reported that the US will deploy as many as 5,000 military members to major ports of entry along the US-Mexico border in what is now being called "Operation Faithful Patriot." Some 2,100 National Guardsmen are already at the border, so this means as many as 2,900 vice the original estimate of 800 more troops. Some are already on their way. The mission remains support, no law enforcement work by the troops.The WSJ said, "Under the latest plans, about 1,800 troops will go to Texas, 1,700 to Arizona and 1,500 to California. The troops will be drawn from about 10 U.S. Army installations and consist largely of military police and engineers ... U.S. Marines also will be deployed." The WSJ said a troop level of 5,000 would exceed the forces already deployed to Iraq and Syria, and roughly half those in Afghanistan. This information apparently came from an unnamed US official. The Pentagon has called such numbers "premature." I find the addition of Marines to be interesting. While Marines too can be in support roles, one must always keep in mind that "all Marines are infantry." I continue to believe a quick reaction force (QRF) prepared to apply lethal force is bound to be in the cards someplace, even if held in reserve at a military installation away from the border, and not included in the 5,000 number. If the law enforcement people get overwhelmed, and are in danger, I believe such a QRF force would deploy quickly. Also keep in mind that the president has talked about closing the border, which implies those who legally come to the US to work might be closed out, which would add tensions at the border. (102918)

Possibly 3,000 US troops on border, soon

SecDef Mattis has approved a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) request for more US military forces on the US-Mexico border. The Commander Northern Command will be in charge of the military, in support of Custom and Border Protection (CBP). At present, there are about 2,100 National Guard troops there already, and estimates are about 800 active-duty members will be sent. Overall, SecDef has authorized a total of 4,000 if required. That said, planning is still underway. Expect to see rotary-wing aircraft, logistical and engineering support. The latter will probably erect border fencing, barriers and barricade. The rotary-wing aircraft will be used to transport CBP members. The military at present is not to engage immigrants, but is to only support CBP. However, they will be authorized to defend themselves which implies they will be armed. Most assuredly, the military must be planning for having to provide quick reaction forces (QRF) to support CBP officials if the going gets very rough and CBP lives are in danger. Military forces have trained for this kind of contingency, but if a QRF is called to help, it could get nasty.(101818)

US building up military infrastructure in Estonia

The US is building up the military infrastructure in Estonia, which borders on Russia. It is investing $11.2 to upgrade and Estonia NATO army base at Tapa, Estonia. US Army units have been training there. Furthermore, the US has invested about $14 million in projects for the Amari Air Base, west of Tallin. The project included a new aircraft maintenance hangar, a hazardous cargo pad, a squadron operations facility and a dormitory. Twelve F-16s and about 375 airmen from the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing deployed to Amari in January, planning to fly about 60 missions per week. USAF F-35As deployed there last year for a short time. They were there for familiarization training and did not participate in patrols of the Baltic States' airspace. The investments are designed to enable US forces to rapidly deploy to these bases and operate from them if the situation requires. (101918)

Pay attention to the Sea of Azov

The Sea of Azov is sea connected to the Black Sea by the Strait of Kerch. Ukraine and Russia border on it. Crimea also borders on it. Russia has incorporated Crimea as part of Russia. Ukraine continues to claim Crimea and most other countries agree. But Russia does not. The only water entry into and exit from the Sea of Azov is through the Strait of Kerch, which is between Crimea and Russia. Russia has built a bridge over the Strait. Russia now appears to be militarizing the Sea of Above and has been cutting off the flow of water-borne goods into Ukraine and the outflow of Ukrainian exports. Furthermore Russia has been preventing the free movement of Ukrainian vessels through the Sea to the Black Sea. Russia has cutoff the flow of goods to and from the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. The Russian-built bridge across the Strait of Kerch has been built such that many ships cannot fit under it to pass into the Sea of Azov. All of this has negatively impacted the Ukrainian economy. In addition, the Russian Navy has been practicing amphibious landing operations potentially targeted at southern. In effect, Russia is attempting to make the Sea of Above a Russian sea. In turn, Russia appears to be attempting to pressure Ukraine to "pledge fealty" to Russia. Ukraine has deployed two armored artillery boats to the port of Berdyansk. Ukrainian ground forces are to be beefed up in the area. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in early October in Brussels the Alliance is concerned over the situation in the Sea of Azov. Russia has warned NATO that it cannot operate its military ships in the Sea. Russia asserts NATO would first have to obtain Russian approval, which of course would not be forthcoming. NATO has been operating extensively in the Black Sea. Thus far, no NATO ships have attempted to go into the Sea. Ukraine plans to build a naval base on the Sea of Azov to US and NATO specifications. I believe it will be built at Berdyansk. The US has recently agreed to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, not permitted by the Obama administration. The US will also help finance the navy base. So there is a potential tinderbox bring in this region. See Stratfor report, "Ukraine and Russia take their conflict to sea." (101918)

F-22 and F-35 may face Russian S-300 in Syria

Both US premier 5th generation fighter aircraft are in the Mideast area, the USAF F-22, which is land-based, and the Marine Corps F-35B which is embarked on the USS Essex amphibious assault ship that recently arrived in the Northern Arabian Sea.
In addition, the Russians have deployed their advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system to Syria. That raises the possibility that these two fighter aircraft could get tested against the S-300. Observers at this point say it is not likely the US and Russia would tangle that way. Most US air operations over Syria have involved USAF F-16 and F-15 and Navy F/A-18 aircraft. The problem has to do with deconflicting US and Russian air operations, especially when a lot of aircraft are operating in the same areas or even adjacent areas.
The National Interest reported in April 2017, "(S-300) systems (are) designed to detect and track the presence of low observable (LO) aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35. That’s just a function of physics. The problem for Moscow is that while Russian early warning and acquisitions radars operating in the VHF, UHF, L and S bands can detect and even track a tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft, those systems don’t deliver a weapons quality track." General Joseph Votel, USA, commander Central Command, called the S-300 deployment unnecessary. He said the deployment “appears to be an effort to cover for Iranian and Syrian regime nefarious activities in Syria. So, again, I think this is a needless, needless escalation.” he told Pentagon reporters.He also told reporters the US was prepared to handle the deployment, asserting, “Our forces here have been operating under a latent anti-air threat for some time and we will continue to do so." This will be an evolution to watch. (100518)

A global US Navy show of force may be in the works: CNN

CNN reported on October 4, 2018 that several US defense officials have told it the US Navy is developing a secret plan to execute a naval show of force in the Pacific Ocean to demonstrate USN capabilities. Several recent events seem to be driving the idea: Near collision between US and Chinese destroyers; SecDef cancelled Beijing visit; China cancelled USS Wasp amphibious assault ship port visit to Hong Kong; USN publicized sailors aboard Wasp in live fire exercise in South China Sea; B-52 flights over South and East China Seas; US levied sanctions against the Chinese military for buying Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles; US-China tariffs; President Trump said US-China friendship has come to an end. There are obstacles: Change planned deployments; leave potential threats in Mideast uncovered; upcoming November US elections. (100418)

F-35 may see its first combat soon in Afghanistan, or even Somalia

CNN reported on September 25, 2018 that US defense officials have indicated a Marine Corps F-35 Lightning fighter could soon fly its first combat mission, perhaps over Afghanistan, maybe even Somalia. The USS Essex (LHD-2) amphibious assault ship has moved into the North Arabian Sea and may move into the Persian Gulf. The Essex is the lead ship of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). USMC F-35s are embarked. The photo shows one landing on the Essex. Marine F-35 pilots have been flying intelligence and surveillance missions over Somalia. (092518)

USAF to replace Hueys with Italian designed US-made MH-139 helicopter

The USAF has selected the Italian-designed, US-built Boeing-Leonardo MH-139 to replace the UH-1Ns "Huey." The USAF has only 59 Hueys left. The contract awards $375 million for the first four MH-139s. The USAF plans to buy 84-aircraft at $2.38 billion. The UH-60 Blackhawk made by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky was long considered the favorite. The MH-139 is a US-built variant of the AgustaWestland AW139. Boeing has said the MH-139 is perfect for the ‘behind-the-lines’ mission given. It has said it is faster and quieter than other platforms, can accommodate up to 15 passengers on crashworthy seats. It will use the twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67C turboshafts providing maximum take-off weight of 7,000 kg; a maximum payload of 2,540 kg; a hovering service ceiling of 15,360 ft in ground effect and 8,140 ft out of ground effect; a top speed of 167 kt; a range of 1,250 km (no reserves, with auxiliary fuel); and an endurance of 5 h and 12 min (with auxiliary fuel). (092518)

US forces to remain in Syria until Iran is out and ISIS destroyed

National Security Advisor Bolton said on September 24, 2018 that US military forces will remain in Syria until Iran and its proxies are out. That is a change from the military's statements that our forces were there until they defeat ISIS. Bolton said, "We're not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias. SecDef Mattis artistically worked his way around this, saying, "(U.S. troops remain inside Syria) for one purpose, and that's under the U.N. authorization about defeating ISIS." He acknowledged that this single purpose might have multiple other components to it. For example, Mattis said, "As part of this overarching problem, we have to address Iran. Everywhere you go in the Middle East where there's instability you will find Iran." Recall that President Trump said we would get out of Syria "relatively soon." That does not appear to be anywhere on the radar. Bolton's position strikes me as the usual American mission expansion over time. Pat Buchanan has said, "Deployment of US Troops in Syria is a de Facto Act of War." Syria wants the US out. (092518)

US considering permanent base in Poland

The Government of Poland suggested in May 2018 that the US build a permanent base in Poland, and reportedly offered $2 billion to help build it. US officials at that time were not hot on the idea. However, Polish President Andrzej Duda's recent visit to Washington may have changed that attitude. President Trump has said he is seriously considering the idea. In effect, setting up a permanent base in Poland would replicate strategies used in Western Europe during the Cold War and in South Korea: put American forces as far forward as possible to be a tripwire. Should the Russians attack, the first to engage would be US forces, which would commit the US to war and might give Russia pause before attacking. Furthermore, a permanent base would replace the current method of rotating forces in and out. There have been suggestions not to set up one permanent base, but to set up a host of smaller outposts spread around in Poland, to make Russian targeting and attack planning more difficult. (092118)

USS Truman CSG in the Mediterranean

The USS Harry Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) has entered the US 6th Fleet area of operations in the Mediterranean Sea. The Truman has nine squadrons of aircraft embarked and is accompanied by one guided missile cruiser, and two guided missile destroyers. There are four more guided missile destroyers steaming on their own in various locations that are considered part of the Truman CSG. This could be an important development as the US had no carriers in the Med when the Russian Navy arrived with a large scale naval force off-shore Syria. The last CSG in this region was led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt , which left in late March 2018. The US did have a few guided missile destroyers in the Med prior to the arrival of the Truman. I have assumed they would attack Syrian targets if the Syrians employed chemical weapons in Idlib. Be mindful that no information is available on whether US missile submarines are in the region. That said, it appears the situation in the northwest Idlib Province has, perhaps, quieted down a bit, at least temporarily. Russia and Turkey have agreed to set up a buffer zone in Idlib designed to separate Syrian from rebel forces. Just days ago it appeared Syria was prepared to enter the final stages of an all-out offensive against the province, home to 2.5-3.0 million people. (091918)

US ramping up forces in Somalia to fight al-Shabab

The US now is believed to have about 500 Army, Navy and Marine special forces deployed to Somalia, up from about 200. Officially they are on an advise and assist mission, but in truth they are out fighting with Somali special forces. The African Union (AU) has wound down its forces. Therefore the US has felt compelled to ramp up. The US is also conducting more air attacks against al-Shabab insurgents, some 28 air attacks this year, nine in September, according to The New York Times. The Long War Journal says only 22 air attacks in 2018 vs. 31 in 2017. Brigadier General Miguel Castellanos, USA, was sent to Mogadishu to take charge of the "Mogadishu Coordination Cell," which is another name for a command and control authority. His job is to manage the expanded operations. A member of SEAL Team 6 was killed on a mission in May 2018. More recently, an American special forces soldier was killed and four others wounded on June 7, 2018 on a mission in southwestern Somalia. Armed surveillance aircraft were on the scene but could not find the location of mortar fire against the force. US "advisors" frequently go out with the Somalis and experience insurgent attacks. Most recently, a US military aircraft struck suspect al-Shabab positions on September 11, 2018. The attack occurred about 37 miles west of Mogadishu. There have been attacks against suspected ISIS positions as well. (091318)

US, Britain, France ready to attack if chemical weapons used in Syria

The Wall Street Journal reported on September 10, 2018 that the US, Britain and France plan to launch a major air attack against Syria if chemical weapons are used in the Syrian offensive against Idlib Province, northwestern Syria. John Bolton, US National Security Advisor, told reporters, "We’ve been in consultation with the British and the French, who joined us in the second strike, and they also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response." Bolton further warned these attacks would be much strong than previous ones. In 2017, the Turkish Anadolu Agency published a graphic showing the US has 10 bases from which US forces are operating in northern Syria, two of which are said to be air bases to replace the base at Incirlik, Turkey. The USAF has removed its A-1 Warthogs from Incirlik, and is said to be thinking of curtailing other flight operations from the base as well due to a deteriorating relationship with Turkey. Flying from the base has become difficult for US aviators because of various Turkish restrictions. USAF fighters had been using the base to attack ISIS targets. (091118)

Russia threatens to attack US base in Syria


Defense One has reported the Russians threatened on September 1, 2018 to invade a "deconfliction zone" around the US base al-Tanf in southern Syria. The Pentagon said on September 6 the Russians threatened to fire missiles at the base because the US is harboring terrorists. In response, the US held an air-and-ground force exercise in eastern Syria on September 8. CENTCOM immediately issued a statement saying, "The exercise involved an aerial assault by a company-sized dismounted element, which will conduct a live fire rehearsal before departing the 55-kilometer de-confliction zone around the Coalition’s At Tanf Garrison. Our forces will demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces, and conduct a rapid exfiltration anywhere in the OIR combined joint operations area. Exercises like this bolster our defeat-ISIS capabilities and ensure we are ready to respond to any threat to our forces.” (091018)

CIA to expand UAV attacks against al-Qaeda and ISIS in northern Africa

The New York Times reported, "The CIA is poised to conduct secret drone strikes against Qaeda and Islamic State insurgents from a newly expanded air base deep in the Sahara, making aggressive use of powers that were scaled back during the Obama administration and restored by President Trump … But now the C.I.A. is broadening its drone operations, moving aircraft to northeastern Niger to hunt Islamist militants in southern Libya." I believe the base being address is a new one under construction close to Agadez, Niger. Some refer to the base as "Nigerian Air Base 201." USAF crews have been working feverishly to get it ready for operations as soon as this year. (091018)

Trump says US in Syria indefinitely: Russia-Syria-Iran ready to attack

President Trump had been saying the US will get out of Syria, and get out soon. Now the administration has changed its approach. The US will now be there indefinitely. Not only that, but the US insists on staying until all Iranian and proxy forces are out, which probably cannot be measured, and a stable and non-threatening government is installed, also not on the table. Part of the cause of the change is said to be a feeling in the White House that Russia appears unwilling to eject Iran and continues working with Iran. There are reports SecDef Mattis and President Trump were not on the same sheet of music with regard to Syria, and Mattis appears to have prevailed. This comes on the heels of an impending major Syrian-Russian-Iranian offensive against Idlib in the northwestern Syria, the last stronghold of rebels in that part of the country. Some 2.5 million people live there. Russia has deployed its largest ever naval combatant force to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and I believe some US warships are in the area should Syria employ chemical weapons. Thus far no reports of friction between the US and Russian navies. However, Russia has warned the US that the US has forces in an area in southern Syria that Russia and Syria intend to attack. That is the US base at Tanf, close to the border with Jordan and Iraq. The US has responded saying its forces have the right to self defense. (090718)

Russia has deployed largest ever naval force to Mediterranean

The Russian navy has deployed its largest-ever naval force, perhaps as many as 25 warships, to the Mediterranean Sea and is said to be conducting naval drills. The Russian Northern Fleet anti-submarine warfare ship Severomorsk, photo shown here, is said to be among them. It is unclear what level of USN forces is there. The Russians have claimed the USN has positioned ships in the Eastern Med to respond to a possible Syrian chemical attack as part of its offensive against a rebel stronghold in Idlib. Stars and Stripes reported on August 30, 2018 that the commanders of the US 6th and 2nd Fleets met in Naples to discuss how 2nd Fleet might support the 6th Fleet. Cmdr. John Perkins, USN, spokesman for Naval Forces Europe and Africa, sent out an e-mail saying, "The U.S. Navy has a routine presence in the Mediterranean Sea and throughout the world's waterways. We expect that Russian ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea would conduct themselves safely and professionally, in accordance with international laws and customs." The Stratfor Worldview, which does a good job watching USN ship movements, reflects no USN carrier strike groups in the Med as of September 6, 2018. So I assume the USN has guided missile destroyers in the area and possibly a submarine. (090618)

Assad plans major assault on Idlib, big problem for US?

Rick Francona, a Mideast expert who published "Middle East Perspectives" on the internet, has taken a map from a photo of Iranian and Syrian defense ministers meeting in Damascus held in late August 2018. It is a very telling map. Francona said, "While maps released to the public by Syrian state media have not always portrayed the true situation, this is a map intended for the two ministers of defense and is accurate based on my understanding and analysis."

If Francona is right, and he usually is, then the US could be in trouble in Syria. Note the northwestern corner of Syria, the section marked Idlib, and then the small section in southern Syria marked "US-backed rebels." Then also take note of the area in the northeast marked "SDF," which reflects holdings of the Syrian Democratic Front, mainly Syrian Kurds who have been supported by the US.

Syria is about to launch a major offensive against the rebels' last real stronghold in Idlib. It appears this will be an all-out fight, and there is concern Syria will employ chemical weapons if its advances stall. A Syrian buildup around Idlib has already taken place. There are about 2.5 million people living in the Idlib region.

It is likely that Syria will prevail given its Russian and Iranian help. That would mean the US ostensibly only has influence over the southern section. Francona has said, "It is uncertain what the United States will do to support its Kurdish allies, keeping in mind the NATO ally Turkey is also against any Kurdish autonomy anywhere."

I reported earlier that SecDef Mattis said at an August 28, 2018 press conference any US drawdown in Syria must await a diplomatic process, a UN Geneva process. He indicated such a peace process must depose Assad. Its is not obvious to me what the US situation might be once Idlib falls to Assad. In March 2018 I saw reports the US has about 2,000 military forces working with the SDF.

Russian naval forces have built up in the eastern Mediterranean Sea offshore Idlib. The US Sixth Fleet is always somewhere in the region. But President Trump has said he wants out of Syria. It is not clear how many US military forces are in Idlib supporting the rebels. This does not look good to me. (090318)