Author: I.V. Șutea

A ‘Swift Response’ from the ‘Saber Guardian’: Recognizing the Strategic Importance of the Black Sea Region

Strategic Analysis – Saber Guardian 2017 (SG17) is an annual, multinational exercise held in the Black Sea region as pat of the U.S. European Command Joint Exercise Program. This year’s…

Strategic Analysis – Saber Guardian 2017 (SG17) is an annual, multinational exercise held in the Black Sea region as pat of the U.S. European Command Joint Exercise Program. This year’s iteration took place between July 11 – 20. The exercise’s aim was to assure allies and partners of the enduring U.S. commitment to the collective defense at the Black Sea region, to enable the Alliance’s command and control functions, and to reinforce deterrence measures agreed to by NATO  allies at the Warsaw Summit in 2016. The exercise was organized by the U.S. Army Europe and co-hosted by Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, that saw numerous drills and simulations taking place all over these countries.

Approximate 25,000 troops participated in the exercise, while 14,000 of them being U.S.forces; the rest coming from member or partners countries of NATO: Armenia, Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, FYRO Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Throughout this analysis we explore the Saber Guardian exercise through the ‘Swift Response’ mission that took place at the 71st ‘Emanoil Ionescu’ Air Base in the village of Luna, near Campia Turzii town, Cluj county (Romania), where Transylvania Intelligence was present obtain exclusive footage and information. Moreover, the massive military effort will later in this article be explained through the geopolitical lens as it relates to the Black Sea, as ‘Saber Guardian’ upholds its exclusive dedicated nature for this expanded region.

 

‘Swift Response’: a ‘Saber Guardian’ exercise

Swift Response is a series of airborne operations and joint force entries that functions within the framework of ‘Saber Guardian’ and took place in Papa Airbase (Hungary), Bezmer & Shabia (Bulgaria) and Campia Turzii-Luna & Cincu (Romania).

The mission that Transylvania Intelligence had the chance to assist to, took place from the 21st to the 22nd of July, 2017 in Luna, near Campia Turzii, Cluj county, Romania, at the 71st ‘Emanoil Ionescu’ Airbase of the Romanian Air Force. The employed scenario foresaw an Allied operation to attack and capture the airbase that was occupied by enemy forces. The operation involved 800 U.S. Troops from the 143rd Texas Regiment and the 2nd Cavarly Regiment, and it stretched on three main phases, the first two referring to the ‘Joint Forcible Entry’ while the last to the ‘Airfield Seizure’ objective:

1.For 3-minutes, eight AC-130’s parachuted  hardware, supplies and logistics at 11.00 A.M., July 21st on a plain-field near the Airbase. These resources were to be collected by units already on the ground and be used in the airfield seizure.

2.Later that day, a night airborne operation took place around 23.00 A.M, that saw 500 paratroopers insert the area previously used to deploy the supplies. These forces regrouped with friendly troops on the ground and used the collected logistics to prepare and later execute the main objective: ‘Airfield Seizure’

3.Around 4.00 AM, July 22nd, the joint Romanian-US force conducted a dawn raid on the airbase that lasted 4 hours and saw the capture of strategic 71st Base.

The exercise was deemed as a huge success in regards to accomplishing the planned timeline, maneuvers and tactics. This scenario was one of the vastly different and creative operations sketched throughout the ‘Saber Guardian’ framework. Other missions that enabled or took place within ‘Saber Guardian were:

  • Szentes Axe, Danube crossing in Gyor, Hungary, U.S. and Hungarian troops;
  • Olt crossing in Bordusani, Romania U.S. and Romanian troops;
  • Night crossing of Olt, Valcea, Romania, U.S. and Romanian troops;
  • Live Fire Exercise at Novo Selo training field, Bulgaria;
  • A Mass Casualty and Air Defense exercise at Mihail Kogalniceanul Airfield, Romania.

Other parallel exercises that enabled and supported ‘Saber Guardian’ as presented by the U.S. Army Europe – see the last map.

Black Sea Region: An emerging strategic vector? 

The Black Sea region has a unique tradition and history as a geopolitical entity. It was in the 18th Century when the Ottoman Empire lost its hegemony over this sea as a direct result of the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca (1774) that gave the Russian Empire access to its first warm water port in the Black Sea, and the status of protector of the Orthodox Christians living under the Sublime Porte. The Ottoman-Russian rivalry is directly linked to these area , and spilled-over to the Balkans and to the Caucasus, attracting external inputs that tried to maintain a balance of power in the region, or internal elements that marched to form their own states and movements. As it was the case of the Crimean War of 1853-1856, when France and the United Kingdom intervened in favor of the Ottoman Empire in order to defeat Russia and avoid a hegemony over the region by Sankt-Petersburg.

The Black Sea was also a significant front in the First World War when the Ottoman Navy engaged the Russian ships stationed in Sevastopol. But while witnessing a declining importance in the Second World War, the Black Sea region essentially vanished as a geopolitical entity in the Cold War. The traditional Turkish-Russian balance of power disappeared and instead, a Soviet and Warsaw Pact hegemony was installed. However, the situation changed when the URSS collapsed, despite the Russian Federation’s desperate attempts to conduct damage control over its ex-territories. One one hand, Moscow saw how its strategic territories as Crimea taken away, how ex-Soviet Republics, as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or ex-Warsaw Pact allies, notably Poland, Romania, became hardened Euro-Atlantists that integrated in NATO, the European Union and called for a significant increase of U.S. troops on the Eastern Flank.

The critical ‘belt’ that Moscow looked after was its ex-Soviet Republics. While enjoying a friendly government in Kiev and Minsk for most of the time, the Romanian sentiment swiftly grew in Moldova upon assuming its independence in 1991, which triggered an immediate Russian invasion. While not managing to fully subdue Chisinau, a breakaway region was created east of the Dnister that would hold a perpetual leverage over the country. The Republic of Transnistira still hosts today thousands of Russian troops from the 14th Army. Similar interventions also took place in Azerbaijan (much more indirectly) or Georgia, a conventional invasion that sought to cripple the small republic’s future of joining NATO. After the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, two breakaway republics were formed under Moscow’s direct military and political foothold: South Ossetia and Abkhazia; these regions still host a number of Russian basses and thousands of troops eyeing Tbilisi.  Then, came the 2007 cyber attacks on Estonia that crippled the country’s infrastructure.

However, the Black Sea began to fully resurface as a geopolitical battleground when Russia lost Ukraine. After the radical decision by the Yanukovitch government to go ahead with the E.U. association protocol, protests from Moscow made the government reverse the decision, but instead stirred massive street movements in Kiev and all over the country. The crisis of 2014 escalated when the government began shooting at the over 1 million demonstrators in the main square of the capital. In support of the ‘Euromaidan’ movement came opposition parties, the United States and the European Union. And as Yanukovitch flew to Russia in an attempt to escape the angry population, it became clear the Ukraine was now radically driving out of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence and into the Euro-Atlantic one.

Vladimir Putin ordered a seizure of Crimea in yet another attempt of damage control of it’s weakening influence. Under a strict political deniability complemented by an ambiguous informational campaign, topped by targeted cyber and electronic warfare, Russian forces stationed in Sevastopol alongside incoming troops from the mainland managed to encircle Ukraine bases in the peninsula. And under a mock-referendum guarded by the Russian troops and local separatist groups, the population of Crimea, indeed overwhelmingly ethnic Russian, voted in favor of uniting with the Russian Federation.

A similar strategy was applied in Eastern Ukraine, in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, but given the immense Euro-Atlantic support for the Ukrainian Army, and without a doubt, the fierce resistance put by the National Guard and Armed Forces at Mariupol, Ukraine managed to keep the Kremlin in check, and contain the malign separatist conflict. Through the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) and the LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic) Russian attempted to create a land bridge to Crimea. And from there, according the Vladirim Putin’s speech, to form a New Russia (Novorossyia) for all the Russian speaking people in Ukraine – from Harkov, through the Black Sea littoral (Prychornomoria) and that of the Azov Sea (Pryazovia), including Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts, all the way to Odessa Oblast.The two hybrid republics, LPR and DPR formally formed the Federation of Novorossyia in 2014; this ended in January 2015 after it failed to expand the project. Attempts of Russian separatist movements were made in Odessa (strategic to this plan) and all over the Russian-speaking regions, however, those have failed to escalate and evolve in armed uprisings similar to what caused the crisis and the de facto succession in Eastern Ukraine

The combination of international pressure and fierce resistance from Kiev, managed to cancel Novorossiya; at least for now. The self-declaration of ‘Little Russia’ (Malorossyia) as an independent state, made by the leader of DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, draw hostilities (at least publicly) from the LPR and Moscow, dully because it might have been a sign of abandonment of the larger, grand project for a patch of stable influence. Althought Kiev is still facing with a fragile and status quo-friendly treaty, the Minsk Agreement 2, and a potential volatile breakaway territory in the east, it’s maintaining its path of Euro-Atlantisism; with U.S. forces regularly conducting joint drills in the western region and on the seaboard, while cooperation with the E.U. is unprecedented.

The Black Sea region has recently emerged as a potential energy hub in regards to natural gas and even oil. The underwater deep shells have attracted interests from the biggest energy investors as Lukoil, OMV and Exxon Mobil to contract the licenses. After years of research and drilling, Romania’s maritime shell was confirmed and estimated at around 20 billion metric cubes of gas, enough to make the already energy sufficient country, a gas exporter. Together with Exxon Mobil, Bucharest will begin to exploit the deposit as of 2018. On the other side, Russian companies are already drilling into the shells near Crimea, and could have extended more if Odessa entered the separatist project, and would have changed the Black Sea’s exclusive economic zones in Moscow’s favor. Such a move would have offered Russia the opportunity to contest Romania’s maritime exclusivity and  claim the deep water gas deposits thanks to an island, the Snake’s Island, that sits within the Romanian EEZ and next to XXI Pelican shell, but belongs to Ukraine.

Additional military moves from Moscow are expected in NATO’s maritime perimeter. And as both Bulgaria and Romania suffer from an outdated, weakened and underwhelming military force, a stronger NATO presence is needed in the area. Romania’s sole objective at the 2016’s Warsaw Summit was to receive support for a Black Sea Fleet framework to be formed within the Alliance. Given Bulgaria’s opposition, skeptical of military build-ups in the area, Bucharest only received a multinational battlegroup in Craiova, formed by American, British, Polish and Bulgarian troops. But Washington’s aid had doubled in size in regards to military and political cooperation. Furthermore, the latest two National Security Strategies of Romania named as an objective for the country to become ‘a strategic vector of the Black Sea’.

Black Sea region exercises; source: U.S. Army Europe press kit

Saber Guardian, the largest exercise ever held in the Black Sea area was organized by U.S. Army Europe and co-hosted by Hungary (logistic hub for south-east Europe), Romania and Bulgaria. It massed 25,000 troops in additional to the already many ongoing exercises by NATO in the area. All the simulated scenarios tested,  subjected crisis situations and responsive actions to aggression emanating from the Black Sea. It simulated how logistics could be swiftly transferred from the main U.S. military hubs in Germany, to coordination centers in Hungary and then to the hypothetical frontlines of Romania and Bulgaria. It tested and exercised inter-operability and battle-space versatility, in critical and diverse missions as: air defense operations, mass casualty situations, seizures and counter-offensives; taking place in diverse regional realms, from the Hungarian Danube, to the Romanian plains or Carpathian mountains, to the Black Sea’s ports or waters.

Black Sea Area Support Team (ex- Joint Task Force-East), the operational unit within U.S. Army Europe, that deals with Romania and Bulgaria, had its most busy days from its founding in 2007. Together with local allies, it attempts to stop the maritime area from becoming a ‘Russian Lake’, as an ex-Romanian President once referred to Russia’s resurgent posture in the Black Sea. The region is one of the few that indeed resurfaced after decades of strategic ‘sterilization’ into a vital geopolitical vector.

 

 

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White House cancels CIA Covert Program aiding anti-Assad Syrian Rebels

Situation Report – Starting from the unconfirmed reports that have surfaced today that a month ago, the Trump administration has decided to cancel the CIA covert program through which various Syrian…

Situation Report – Starting from the unconfirmed reports that have surfaced today that a month ago, the Trump administration has decided to cancel the CIA covert program through which various Syrian Rebel groups were provided with weapons, ammo and aid in order to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Reportedly, the decision has been taken after President Donald Trump consulted with National Security Advisor MacMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The story is taken by the public as another piece of the ‘Russian collusion’ puzzle and creates additional pressure on the White House and the Campaign team that is now under scrutiny for its undeclared discussions with individuals from Russia. However, this memo will express the background and incentives of the covert program in order to clarify the situation from a technical point of view: retrospective summary, consequences/ benefits and it’s overall projection.

The first things which should be clarified through the complex and entangled U.S. covert plans in Syria is that there were three such initiatives, the early one, run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) included the transfer of weapons, ammo and aid to the Rebels fighting Assad, and two sanctioned by the Department of Defense (Pentagon) that foresaw an ambitious  but failed approach of training 5,000 vetted and hand-picked Rebel fighters per year, and the successful revamped version, through which the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were born, set exclusively in combating ISIS, benefiting from U.S. air support . The one reported to have been canceled by the Trump administration is the CIA-sanctioned one.

Summary

The program has been theorized by the Obama Administration in 2013 when aiding Syrian Rebels was a more practical, credible and efficient solution that would be now. The context of 2013-2014 Syria War is fully opposite to today’s situation. Just until mid-2015, the Assad government had yet to receive direct military support from the Kremlin while Iranian aid consisted mostly in weapons, ammo and a small contingency of Shi’a militias from Iraq, leaving the weary Syrian Arab Army opened to defections and an overwhelming assaults of various opposition forces. Following Washington’s policy throughout the Arab Spring and reflecting on its resolve to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s government in Libya through an extensive air campaign, the context was there for a regime change and state building option in Damascus. But as the situation in Syria grew intensively complex and given the commitment of ‘no boots on the ground’ from the Obama administration, the American strategists faced a difficult task ahead. Moreover, the configuration of the combatant forces was largely ambiguous, and their ideologies or allegiance were at least blurred, bringing an additional layer of difficulty in identifying a compatible native force.

In 2013 the White House authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to arm selected Syrian Rebel groups against the forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. The beginnings of the initative four years ago were officially a secret, authorized by President Barack Obama through a “finding” that permitted the C.I.A. to conduct a deniable program through-which opposition fighters received weapons, ammo and aid, fueling the war against Assad while not committing the U.S. politically against a single-handed overthrow of the dictatorial regime. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) identified friendly assets that would act as liaisons for the United States and which received a constant flow of logistics through Turkey and Jordan, both countries that supported such programs and had similar arrangements with own assets themselves. But given the rise of ISIS, that threatened Euro-Atlantic security interests, and the overall polarization of the opposition camp, that left merely a few ‘moderate’ Rebel groups in play in stark contrast to the powerful, well funded and armed Salafists or political islamists, Washington’s priorities changed.

In this context, the Department of Defense was authorized to develop a ‘train and equip’ program that would build a new opposition army from scratch that will focus on combating ISIS and other terrorist groups.

In 2014, Congress for the first time provided the President with authority and funds to overtly train and lethally equip vetted members of the Syrian opposition for select purposes. These objectives include supporting U.S. efforts to combat the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.  The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, P.L. 113-291) and FY2015 Consolidated and Further Continuing Apropriations Act, 2015 (P.L. 113-235) provided that up to $500 million could be transferred from the newly-established Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) to train and equip such native forces. Therefore, the covert program did not just refer to training and aiding indigenous elements, but also to undertake the human resources pre-selected, through a strict screening process that would eventually leave only the most ‘moderate’ fighters, in terms of ideology, to receive Washington’s ‘carepack’. This incentive produced two consequences: the recruitment of a small contingency of rebels, and a time-spawn until the force was operational and battle-ready. The training took place on the territory of two regional allies, Turkey and Jordan, which were also the staging areas of detachement of deployment until these new forces set-up forward operating bases (FOBs) in Syria by themselves.

The plan was to train 5,000 such troops, per year. On June 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s testimony in front of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee expressed that at that time, only 60 Syrian Rebel fighters have been trained. As expressed above, the vetting and screening process makes it extremely difficult to identify compatible peers.

On July 2015, the first batch of Syrian Rebels trained called ‘Division 30’ numbered around 200 fighters of Sunni Turkmen or Arabic background, were deployed over the Turkish border. As soon as they steeped in Syria they were violently ambushed by Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda. As a result, their weapons were stolen, some of them got killed and their field commander was kidnapped. As Asmed Shaheed, an Al-Nusra jihadi that posted a photo with his recently capture M-16, many boasted only about their ‘war spoils’ online. The U.S. air cover failed to protect the Rebels, as a retaliatory strike only came the day after. The operational disaster draw comparison between the ‘Divison 30’ episode the massacre of the ‘Bay of Pigs’, Cuba 1961.

Due to its complete failure and its inefficient spending of 500$ million of the taxpayer’s money, the program was suspended in October 2015. This was also regarded at that time as a sign of weakness towards the recent intervention of Russia’s aerospatial forces and expeditionary units in support of Bashar al-Assad. In reality, the suspension of the program was followed by a rational course of events.

In 2016, the White House asked Congress for an additional ‘train and equip’ program, enforced by the same Department of Defense.“This is part of our adjustments to the train and equip program built on prior lessons learned,” said Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Baghdad. Starting from early 2015, The United States managed to gain a major ally, the ‘Euphrates Volcano’ – a joint war room formed by Kurdish militias as YPG/ YPJ and several Sunni Arab groups in order to coordinate in their fight against ISIS in Tel Abyad after relieving the siege of Kobane. By late-2015, these groups united their efforts in a framework called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF). Both DoD and the White House believed that this was a group that deserved their support in order to combat ISIS, given their eficiency and numbers, already proven in previous battle in the region, so that in June 2016 the ‘Train and Equip’ Program was rebooted. U.S. Special Operators, present in Syria since 2015, continued their efforts to train and equip them from Jordan and northern Syria. These now embedded forces would also act as a compact outsourced infantry of the Pentagon’s air campaign.

 

Quality-test

Through this US-SDF partnership, ISIS has lost every battle against them in the past 2 years. The terrorist saw their caliphate shrink into a besieged enclave ‘capital’ of Raqqa, and sparsely spread in villages and towns around the Euphrates Valley. This cooperation has also given the US the chance to build military bases in northern Syria, the largest ones being in Sarrin, near Kobani and Rmelah, near Qamishli. But for reasons of operational secrecy, Transylvania Intelligence chose not to disclose their complete locations.

Just to clarify as an end note: the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the entire anti-ISIS effort has nothing to do with the CIA cover program that was canceled.

However, the Rebels have been sequentially losing ground in face of the Loyalist offensives, and became dominated by the Salafist segment, as the ex-al-Nusra, now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Islamic Turkistan Party, Ahrar ah-Sham or Jaysh al-Islam, that have share the Idlib governorate into sectors of influence, setting checkpoints, imposing their own social judiciary based on Sharia Law and even fighting each other – as the current Ahrar vs. HTS clash in east Idlib. Other small pockets of Rebels still survive around Damascus in East Ghouta, Da’ara and Quneitra, but are critically besieged and weakened under a constant rain of barrel bombs and mechanized attacks.

 

The Rebels that Matter:

1. The only part were Rebel fighters that bear a strategic importance to American security interests is the desert area around the tri-border of Syria-Iraq-Jordan, notably around the al-Tanf crossing. The area was seized in March 2017 by Sunni Arab Rebels from the Amman-based Meghawir al-Thawra group, trained, armed and assisted by U.S. forces in camps built in Jordan. The role of this American-Rebel contingency on the border is to block Iran’s geopolitical gamble and deny Tehran a ground supply line for Hezbollah and Shi’a militias operating in Syria. In early June, given the relative cease-fire produced by the Astana Agreements, Loyalist forces spearheaded an operation through the Syrian desert and captured the territory north of al-Tanf, therefor blocking the frontline that the al-Tanf based Rebels had with ISIS, consequently denying their official purpose of their presence. Some strategist could consider that the border territory is now lost to Iran, due to the blockade imposed north of al-Tanf and because the Syrian Democratic Forces firstly need to liberate Raqqa before commencing on the Euphrates Valley and on the border – which could take too long, time in which the Syrians and Iranians could have already secured the frontier. It is also publicly known that President Trump and Putin negotiated a truce, a cease-fire between Loyalist forces and Rebels in that area. Which could equal in an abandonment of support for the al-Tanf contingency, that just months ago, was defended by  bombing the Iraqi Shi’a militias backed by Iran, and that were threatening the local U.S. presence.

A contingent of Sunni Arab Rebels and U.S. forces at the al-Tanf border checkpoint to Iraq.

However, it is not clear whether the southern Rebels are  part of the ‘Train and Equip’-Pentagon sanctioned program, or of the CIA’s covert action?

(a) In the case of the later, and their presence or functionality are affected by the cancellation of the CIA’s covert program, than the White House is making a serious mistake, with potential strategic dangers.

(b) On the other hand, the Jordanian-based Rebels have been used to fight ISIS, notably on the Syrian-Iraqi border and hopefully through Abu Kamal, Mayadin the the Euphrates Valley, and benefited from a close coordination with the U.S. Special Operators. It is highly possible that given the level of support and the stated objectives, these Rebels were trained under the Pentagon-backed ‘Train and Equip’ Program, thus being sheltered from any potential damage that the recent decision could have projected. Whereas the CIA convert operation only provided weapons and ammo to Rebels notably fighting Assad.

2. The Rebels from Quneitra also have a distinctive feature. They act as buffer elements between Israel and Hezbollah, that operates near-by. A defeat for the Rebels based there could trigger an Israeli intervention in the conflict and could upper the demands of Jerusalem for ‘safe-zone’ in the area, similar to what Turkey did in northern Aleppo governorate, even through direct action. A weakening of the Rebels fighting in the area could expose Israel’s Golan Heights to Iran’s proxy’s. However, Israel unveiled it’s massive humanitarian operation, code-named Operation ‘Good Neighbor’ through which the IDF provides health care, food and fuel for the Syrians.

 

Key Judgement:

  • Decision to end CIA covert program was most likely taken from a technical point of view, but could have been capitalized in the Trump-Putin negotiations on Syria in Hamburg.
  • In a stark paradox, the Trump administration campaigned that it will renounce state building and regime change activities. Translated in Syria, this is a result to the fact that since 2013, there is no viable and legitimate alternative to Assad at the moment, nor there is one proposed by the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, not even as an interim figure; and as the Rebels are on the imminent brink of defeat, democratic elections are no longer a viable or possible option.
  • The impact of the decision to cancel the CIA covert program is currently difficult to asses. The framework has been loose in its technicalities and details, dully in order to arm Syrian Rebels wherever and whenever needed. Moreover, given the clandestine and potentially classified nature of the program, it is highly unlikely to perceive the effects on the short-term.
  • Syrian Rebels from Maghawir al-Thawra stationed in al-Tanf to guard the border crossing from Iranian elements and launch an offensive against ISIS, are most probably funded and protected under the Department of Defense framework.
  • Rebel factions from the radical ‘safe haven’ of Idlib, the de facto buffer zone of Quneitra, Da’ara, or the suburbs of Damascus as East Ghouta, could potentially face significant challenges given the cancellation. However, given Israel’s escalation of aid (even publicly) to Syrians (even under the auspice of humanitarian aid) and taking into consideration that most of these Rebel groups have been formed and initially funded by the rich Gulf States, it is also safe to assume that the financial gap could easily be filled by the other external backers.
  • On the other hand, the Rebels based in Jordan have been promoted as being
  • In contrast, the cease-fire in south-western Syria brokered between Trump and Putin is difficult to interpret as a strategic action. One significant fear is that the White House won’t fall for Moscow’s apparently but questionable good-will to appease its concerns in regards to Iranian activities on the border. Notably given the lack of leverage that Russia has above Iran in the first place.
  • Abandoning the support for anti-Assad efforts of the Syrian Rebels could make sense from a technical point of view given the current context, however, it does not hold significant benefits for the U.S., other than facilitating a closer cooperation with the Loyalist Coalition, and implicitly, with Russia.
  • The cancellation of this program also strips the White House from a low-to-medium leverage over the Assad regime, which should have been kept.

 

 

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Baklava, Kebab și Propagandă pro-Gulen la Cluj

Între 14 și 16 iulie 2017, la Cluj-Napoca a avut loc Festivalul Turcesc, organizat pe platoul Sălii Sporturilor „Horia Demian”. Organizatorii au adus la Cluj muzică, dansuri și tradiții de…

Între 14 și 16 iulie 2017, la Cluj-Napoca a avut loc Festivalul Turcesc, organizat pe platoul Sălii Sporturilor „Horia Demian”. Organizatorii au adus la Cluj muzică, dansuri și tradiții de pretutindeni, reprezentații artistice și standuri în care participanți din mai multe țări au expus costume, obiecte și mâncăruri tradiționale. Preparate tradiționale turcești precum Baklava, lokum (rahat), Gozleme și Kebab, Durum au fost la mare căutare, în compania dansurilor tradiționale din Anatolia. Doar că atașate acestora, cumpărătorii primeau grauit și un ziar al „Zaman – România”, pe care-l găsiți scanat în acest articol.

Despre Zaman

Ziarul Zaman (în traducere „Timpul”) a fost înființat în 1986 și este un cotidian de tradiție a presei din Turcia. În 2007, acesta nu doar că a fost cel mai citit și bine vândut ziar din țară, dar printre cele mai comercializate din întrega Europă, având 580,000 de abonați și o circulație luni-sămbătă de 681,000 de exemplare. Această ascensiune graduală și constantă a permis trustului să extindă aria de distribuție în alte țări din Balcani, Asia Centrală, Europa și chiar în Statele Unite ale Americii, cât și să sporească versiunile lingvistice în română, bulgară, kyrgâză, kazacă sau chiar turkmenă, vorbită în părți din nordul Siriei și a Irakului. Pentru limba engleză fiind dedicat un ziar separat al aceluiași trust, numit Today’s Zaman. Corespondenți și sedii importante ale publicație există în mai toate capitalele importante ale Europei și Asiei Centrale, cât și în SUA sau Rusia. Ziarul a fost și este o forță în societatea și mediul public puternic polarizat al Turciei, alături de Hurriyet, Daily Sabah și agenția Anadolu.

 

Turcia „profundă” și alianța, apoi divergența Hizmet-AKP

Cu toate că inițial, la începutul aniilor 2000, Zaman a susținut ascensiunea Partidului Justiției și Dezvoltării (AK Parti sau AKP), însă odată cu disesiunea dintre Hizmet (Serviciul)/ Mișcarea Gulen și nucleul dur al partidului, agravată de scandalul cu Serviciul de Informații (MiT) din 2012, procesele de corupție din 2013 cu Suleyman Aslan (directorul băncii Halkbank) și afaceriști iranieni, și implicit de demersul guvernului de a închide școlile afiliate cu Gulen . În consecință, redacția a adoptat o abordare de opoziție față de Erdogan, intrând imediat în vizorul guvernul și în planurile sale de suprimare a Mișcării Gulen.

În profunzime, rivalitate Erdogan și Gulen este puternic înrădăcinată în conceptul de stat în stat al Turciei („Deep state”), o dinamică infinit de complexă formată din zeci și sute de mecanisme informale și guvernamntale, legături dintre crima organizată, trafic de droguri, serviciile de securitate (inclusiv corpul JITEM) și politicieni, alianțe și trădări, evidențiată în urma scandalului din Șușurluk (1996). Jocurile politice din Turcia aflate la suprafață sunt insuficiente pentru a clarifica o situație și așa enigmatică, iar divergența Erdogan – Gulen este una paradoxală. Ambii au fost vânați în anii 90, când Erdogan a fost condamnat la închisoare pentru că a recitat un poem cu valențe islamice, încălcând legea, iar Gulen s-a autoexilat în SUA pe fondul presiunilor de atunci. Pentru mai mult de un deceniu, cei doi au fost aliați în mod natural tocmai pentru că ambii reprezintă fețe diferite ale aceleiași monezi, dar cu variații diferite ale islamului politic și prezentări contrastante; Erdogan continuă aplicația ideologiei Milii Goruș al mentorului său Erbakan, în timp ce Gulen preferă o abordare mistică și moderată, chiar asemănătoare sufii din prisma purificării interioare prin cultură, educație și tradiții – de unde și concentrarea resurselor sale spre școli și ONG-uri în susținerea culturii.

Intrarea în sediul ziarului Zaman din Istanbul, Turcia, 4 martie 2016, Stringer—Reuters

În 2016, guvernul de la Ankara a naționalizat ziarul Zaman în urma unei decizii judecătorești, condamnând legătura dintre redacție și Mișcarea Gulen, considerată teroristă în Turcia. Zaman a fost pus sub conducerea unor administratori ai statului, urmând un val de concedieri în rândul jurnaliștilor și înlocuirea acestora cu personal nou. La două zile după naționalizare, Zaman emite o nouă ediție fără nici o mențiune a evenimentelor petrecute și cu președintele Erdogan și noul pod peste Istanbul pe prima pagină. De atunci, tonul editorial al ziarului a devenit vizibil favorabil AKP.

Totuși, edițiile externe ale Zaman au fost ferite de influențele din Turcia devenind o mișcare de opoziție în exil fundamentate pe filiala din Germania. În Turcia, o parte a personalului concediat din Zaman după evenimentele din 27 iulie 2016, au înființat un alt ziar numit Yarina Bakis („Privire în Ziua de Mâine”), fiind și acesta închis în cadrul măsurilor luate în urma tentativei de lovitură de stat din 15/16 iulie 2016. Mișcarea Gulen a fost socotită de Ankara drept responsabilă pentru puciul eșuat din 2016, cauzând o serie fără precedent de epurări interne și dispute diplomatice cu SUA, ce refuză extrădarea acestuia.

 

Festivalul Turcesc din Cluj-Napoca

Primăria din Cluj-Napoca a amendat organizatorii Festivalului Turcesc cu 1,000 lei pentru distribuirea ziarului Zaman: „“Primaria Cluj-Napoca respinge orice implicare sau sustinere a activitatilor de distribuire de publicatii cu caracter politic de catre organizatorii Festivalului si le-a solicitat acestora pastrarea caracterului multicultural al manifestarii aprobate”, se arata in comunicat.

Evenimentul a fost organizat de Fundaţia Lumina, Fundaţia Tuna și Şcoala Internaţională Spectrum, entități non-guvernamentale asociate cu Mișcarea Gulen.  Conform România Liberă, aceștia au refuzat să spună de ce au distribuit ziarul. Cu toate că evenimentul s-a desfășurat perfect legal și s-a bucurat de o mare popularitate în rândul participanților, Mișcarea Gulen este o considerată ca fiind o organizație teroristă în Turcia, iar distribuția ziarelor putea declanșa o dispută diplomatică între cele două state, fără a minimaliza importantul aport împotriva măsurilor cu potențial autoritar ori anti-democratic ale guvernului de la Ankara.

Ziarul  conține 15 pagini integral în limba română și cu un evident croi anti-Erdogan și pro-Gulen; prima pagină, de exemplu, prezintă un interviu tradus al clericului Fetullah Gulen oferit ziarului The Washington Post și titrat „Turcia pe care nu o mai recunosc”, acompaniat de alte articole precum „În Turcia lui Erdogan, mai rău ca-n România lui Ceaușescu”, „Încălcarea drepturilor omului asupra Hizmet-ului după puciul eșuat” și „Fetullah Gulen și mișcarea socială Hizmet”.

Conform Adevărul, reprezentații diplomatici ai Turciei în Cluj-Napoca s-au pronunțat pe acest subiect: „Am luat cunoştinţă despre incident. Momentan nu avem o reacţie oficială. Pe măsură ce se mai clarifică situaţia vom reveni”, a declarat pentru „Adevărul” Eunice Cociorvan, de la Biroul de Presă al Ambasadei Turciei la Bucureşti. „Nu stiu despre ce incident vorbiţi. Nu am avut nicio legătură cu organizatorii. Probabil că Primăria a avut un temei legal pentru a-i amenda pe aceştia”, a susţinut Vasile-Andrei Vita, om de afaceri şi consulul onorific al Turciei la Cluj de 10 ani.
Transylvania Intelligence vă prezintă ziarul scanat în întregime:
Gulen

 

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Iraq after Mosul: Coping with a Difficult Diagnosis

Situation Report – After 3 years of ISIS occupation, Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, has been completely liberated. The 9-months long battle saw Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) alongside allies, Shi’a…

Situation Report – After 3 years of ISIS occupation, Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, has been completely liberated. The 9-months long battle saw Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) alongside allies, Shi’a PMU and the U.S.-led Coalition fighting their way block-to-block from the rigged, mined bridges of East Mosul, to the Euphrates river crossing of early 2017, liberation of the International Airport and the later fully encirclement of the remaining ISIS fighters in the Rafidyian, Sheik abu al Ula neighborhoods that form the city’s Old Town in the West.

With the city’s homecoming, inevitable strategic questions were raised in regards to the situation in Mosul, Niniveh and in whole of Iraq: Where is the state going? Can the society recover? And where to defeat ISIS next? Overall, the main questions is: What to expect next? I hope that this analysis can answer some of those questions.

 

Context: ISIS falls in Mosul

This was one of the largest urban battles in modern history, stretching from the ‘traditional’ urban guerrilla type of warfare to conventional, systemic tactics. Although asymmetric elements dominated the battlefront, such as the hostile informational environment perpetuated by ISIS, bomb drones or SVBIEDs, that slowed down and even halted at times the operations. I have extensively covered the tactics employed by ISIS in West Mosul in the anaylsis ‘The Day Will Come When You Won’t: Radiography of ISIS’s Desperate Tactics in Mosul’s Operational Playground’.

Between 400,000 and 1,000,000 civilians are estimated are believed to have been displaced by the battles, and lower than 400,000 to have been remained within the city. The dense urban setting used by the jihadists as fortifications and the many innocent people as human shields, made it impossible to fully contain collateral damage and minimize the destruction brought to the city itself, although in West Mosul and notably in the Old Town, few structures have remained in place, leaving just dust and rubble behind. The Governor of Niniveh said for Rudaw: “The damage in the right bank[west Mosul], compared to the left bank is 30 times more. […] I mean here the destruction of the city’s infrastructure, the houses of the people, and the government offices.” In addition, Mahdi al-Alaq, chief of staff at the Iraqi Prime Minister also told reporters that their estimates of rebuilding Mosul stands at 50$ billions.

The battle gathered around 100,000 anti-ISIS forces, stretching from Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Kurdish Pashmerga militiamen and Shi’a Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) fighters to form an unlikely but temporary alliance in order to combat the jihadists. They suffered at least 770 casualties (some say even above 1,000) in the whole battle while combating several thousands of ISIS fighters (reports indicate around 10-12,000) which are considered to have been entirely neutralized.

This truly was one of the largest urban battles in modern history.

Damage in Mosul’s Old Town (source: AFP)

 

Short Retrospective:

In 2014 ISIS was on the offensive, spearheading attacks as close as Baghdad’s airport, after consolidating control in cities as Ramadi, Fallujah, Haditah and almost completely controlling the border with Syria and Jordan, while also retaining a minimal foothold on the Saudi boundary as well.

On June 9th, 2014, around 75,000 Iraqi Security Forces and Federal Police mass deserted and abandoned their posts to the jihadist offensive in Mosul, leaving over 1,000,000 people under a brutal Salafist apparatus that self-proclaimed itself as a ‘Caliphate’. From the stronghold established in Mosul, the terrorists expanded through the multi-ethnic governorate of Niniveh, shared for hundreds of years by Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis and Turkmens, Sunni and Shi’a. With Anbar province already subdued, the fall of Mosul proceeded the capture of Tikrit (capital of Salah ad-Din) and parts of Kirkuk by ISIS, moving later south-east to Diyala; gradually surrounding Baghdad.

It should be acknowledged that Shi’a militias played a decisive role in protecting the capital and the ‘urban belt’ surrounding it, when the Iraqi Army either mass-deserted from cities, or were weakened, weary to be successful enough.

Both Iraq’s capital and KRG’s (Kurdistan Regional Government) capital (Erbil) were within a comfortable reach of ‘Islamic State’s’ fighters, whilst also establishing a foothold on the Iranian border. The United States faced a dramatically degraded security environment than it left that was quickly leveraged in regional geopolitical ambitions. First came Malaki’s demise, followed by the United States led-Coalition ‘Inherent Resolve’ and Iran’s own anti-ISIS campaign that got involved to cleanse Iraq from ISIS;  both powers competing to become the main backer of Baghdad’s new installed ‘compromise’ government of Abadi. While in the north, CENTCOM began exclusively coordinating with KRG’s Pashmerga militia and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).

First step was to relieve pressure on Baghdad through targeted campaigns that challenged the terror organization’s consolidated postures in Ramadi and Falluajh, but also against possible sleeper cells within the capital. Due to the continued sectarian tensions and tribal politics that catalyzed the rift in 2012 in the first place stirring anti-governmental protests and anti-Shi’a sentiments, this endeavor was a challenge for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) as well.  

Throughout 2015 and up to mid-2016, the ISF concentrated on (a) liberating the main cities of Anbar that could threaten the capital and (b) prevented the terrorist elements from keeping their ‘safe haven’ in the ‘Sunni Triangle’ (Baqubah-Ramadi-Tikrit). Aided by Shi’a militias they continued their path up north, through the multi-ethnic Niniveh region. Having the Kurdish Pashmerga already cut off the main supply route (via Sinjar) of Mosul with Raqqa in November 2015, by mid-2016, when ISFs and allies spearheaded their way to Mosul, ISIS was dramatically on the defensive not even managing to pull off counter-attacks. Therefore in late-October/ early-November ISF stormed East Mosul starting off the battle.

The United States refurbished and repaired the trashed Qayyarah West Air Base, just 60 km south of Mosul, so that air assets could be stationed there in order to provide sharp and around-the-clock air sorties. Throughout the fight, attack helicopters, drones and fighter jets have been employed by the US-led Coalition and by the Iraqi Air Force.

East Mosul was liberated by late-January 2017 so that on February-March 2017, ISF could cross the Tigris into the western banks, and managing to capture the International Airport. Within that time frame, they did not only manage to consolidate ground in the western districts, but also managed to close the last supply corridors and avenues of escape, through the countryside and suburbs of West Mosul. This encirclement came late, which also added to the slow progress registered by the ISF, only after did ISIS became increasingly entangled and asphyxiated, sheltering into the Old Town, which they transformed into ‘no man’s land’.

 

The Final Push for Victory

After a steadfast last push by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) that lasted for the past six weeks and basically crumbled their hideouts, ISIS had nowhere else to hide or flee. The remaining hundreds of fighters (200-300) have been mostly neutralized. On July 9th, 2017, ISF liberated the Old Town, and ISIS lost its last foothold in Mosul. Many fighters tried to escape by swimming through the Tigris River, but Prime-Minister Abadi assured us that his men had shot at them. He personally came by a helicopter to announce the end of the Caliphate while his soldiers planted the Iraqi flag on the western banks of the Tigris river through the dust of what only suggest was the Old Town.

Civilians and soldiers alike celebrated throughout the country, from Mosul to Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad. However, the most symbolic gesture was when ISIS blew up the al-Nuri mosque in an attempt to frame the Coalition for it and to disseminate propaganda. That was the exact place where on June 29th, 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the formation of the ‘Caliphate’. He was filmed, at that time, showing abandoned Iraqi army badges and vehicles left by fleeing soldiers, as he added: “There is no army in the world that can withstand the soldiers of Islam,”.

Defeat and move to Tel Afar

Now, ISIS acknowledged its defeat, while also suggesting that the Turkmen-Arab town of Tel Afar is their next HQ. In accordance to this policy, their online and social media propaganda focused on the ‘irrelevance of losing land’, which I can say from an empirical perspective by identifying a significant influx of ISIS propaganda on Twitter focusing on these kind of messages.

 

Diagnosis:

 (1) The liberation of Mosul does not guarantee peace in Mosul. For now, it is impossible to even estimate how many sleeper cells have remained in the city, posing an unpredictable and constant danger capable of taking several forms: from a trimmed and washed ex-‘mujahidin’ to an elderly woman holding a baby (recent case) or a radicalized wife of an ISIS fighter, deeming to commit attacks. The stabilization and pacification process will prove to be as difficult and tricky as the actual liberation was. In addition, the city is yet to be cleaned of mines or IED’s, which is a critical condition for the returning of refugees and internal displaced people back home, but also for the government to safely operate the reconstruction process. The population will face a housing problem, taking into consideration the level of damage inflicted throughout the whole city, a illiteracy one (being 3 years since schools have been closed) and ultimately, an economic issue; which could potentially spark a second wave of migration (internal or external).

(2) Iraq is still a fractured state with a divided society, fears and uncertainty will dominate. Iraq needs national-wide reconciliation process as its main strategic objective. As vaguely, cliché and ‘utopist’ as it sounds, that’s the only way Iraq can become ISIS-proof. Ultimately, Da’esh is simply a name, a placeholder, the ideology/ mentality is the real enemy that can shape-shift, as it did, from Al Qaeda in Iraq to ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ and later to ISIS. Such organizations emulate radical ideas as militant Salafism when they are given (unintentional) the chance to capitalize on the political-societal environment. For example (as June Cole competently points out), some of the Sunni press in Iraq has extensively focused on the damage that he ISF has done in Mosul, rather than on the victory achieved; collateral damage was the central theme for ISIS propaganda as well in the eve of Mosul’s liberation. For Baghdad, prevention and risk reduction is key, while for the Iraqis, societal resilience is the path. Easier said than done, especially since the local regional customs puts the family, the clan or tribe above the State. Subsequently, we can conceptualize the framework from a theoretical standpoint whereas the application remains under the volatile auspicious of the ‘trial and error’ methodology.

(3) There is still work to be done military-wise. The jihadists still have several strongholds in northern Iraq (Tel Afar and Hawja) and on the Euphrates River valley (al-Qa’im); the later still being directly linked with ‘safe havens’ in Syria, consolidated in Abu Kamal, Mayadin and Deir-Ezzor’s countryside. That effort will require a joint, synchronized venture with willing parties operating in Eastern Syria and Western Iraq, that even if executed by the book, still could not guarantee the prevention of a long-term ISIS insurgency around the border.

(4) Given the geopolitical value that the border area provides, it is expected that the race for the border to intensify, consequently creating additional friction between the U.S. and Iran around the Syrian Civil War and the War against ISIS in Iraq. Both external powers have already under control a border checkpoint each, the Washington backed-Rebels control al-Tanf crossing, on the Syrian side of al-Waleed, while Teheran coordinated the liberation of al-Jaris crossing, west of Sinjar which has access to the Syrian Democratic Forces (U.S. backed)-controlled Hasakha province of Syria. Let’s call it a draw, for now, but the region is gradually intensifying in this high-stakes strategic game.

(5) Northern Iraq is a heated intersection of stakeholders and their competing objectives. This could potentially errupt in the upcoming battle for Tel Afar. The Kurdish Pashmerga dreams of expanding Kurdistan Regional Government’s borders, even publicly admitting that it will not cede back to Baghdad some of the liberate villages in the area; the Shia’s militias & Iranian advisers aspire for the border while Baghdad wishes to expand and project its sovereignty throughout all of its  territory. Above this entanglement comes the aspirations of secondary players, such as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and its ally PKK, wishing to expand its own influence over mount Sinjar, replicating a ‘second Qandil’ (as Erdogan described it) and establishing a ‘safe haven’ stretching from north-west Iraq to its east; which inadvertently would trigger a larger Turkish involvement (Ankara is still sour over being sidelined for the battle for Mosul) via allied Kurdish factions, as Pashmerga, Turkmen or Sunni militias trained at Turkey’s camp Bashiqa in northern Iraq. Tensions have already boiled in Sinjar between the KDP Pashmerga and PUK/PKK, that were also fueled by Turkey.  Also, Niniveh governorate is one of the main oil-rich territories of Iraq, therefor being a prospected region of economy, energy and commerce. This situation has the potential to play out in regards to who liberates Tel Afar and how; beyond the official narrative. 

 

Further Prospects:

While the Islamic State’s four main wilayats in Iraq are regressing and shrinking, notably: Wilayat al-Furat (western Anbar), Wilayat al-Jazzira (north-west of Niniveh), Wilayat al-Karkuk (parts of Tamim governorate) and Wilayat Dijlah (western Tamim, around Hawija), the ISF, Pashmerga and PMU’s are expected to concentrate firstly on two main strongholds: Hawija and Tel Afar.

Hawija: a medium sized town of around 500,000 inhabitants, mostly Arab Sunnis, located in the Tamim Governorate’s plains south of the Zagros mountains, east of the Tigris river and northeast of Baghdad, is the Islamic State’s most eastern territory. Together with several rural locations south of the governorate’s capital, Kirkuk, this ISIS-held pocket is completely surrounded by ISF and Coalition forces. 

Military sources from the Joint Operations Command told Al-Monitor that Hawija will be next after the fall of Mosul, but due to continued disagreements between ISF and Kurdish Pashmerga on a timelines and territory-control, the assault has been postponed several times. Similar to the whole ‘Sunni Triangle’ Hawija was both a Saddam Hussein loyalist stronghold and later an ISIS bastion, being the scene of the violent and deadly clashes between protestors and government forces in 2013. The city and its rural pockets became isolated from the rest of ISIS-held territory in mid-2016, when ISF cut-through Salah ad-Din in their way to establish a corridor from Baghdad to besiege Mosul.

The Kurds have the primary interest to push for the offensive to happen sooner than later, due to Hawija’s strategic node linking Mosul and Kirkuk and directly affecting the security in the KRG’s limits. In early 2017, Iraqi Police arrested several ISIS sleeper cells planted in the liberated city of Kirkuk and coordinated from Hawija, plotting to retake the city.

Tel Afar: Just 63 km west of Mosul and 52 km east of Sinjar, Tel Afar is another isolated pocket of the jihadists. The city itself numbers 200,000 people of Sunni Arabs but also a significant Turkmen population, or Shias.  The city and its rural outskirts have been surrounded by Iraq’s 9th and 15th Divisions in partnership with Popular Mobilization Units and Katib Hezbollah for several months, awaiting the approval for an assault. The situation in Tel Afar is somewhat more complex politically as the local militants have a autonomous drive or even aspirations to succeed from ISIS, as a rumors puts it.

During the Department of Defense Press Briefing held on July 13th, attended by Colonel Ryan Dillon, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman; Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, Spokesperson for Joint Operations Command; Brigadier General Halgwrd Hikman Ali, Spokesperson for the Peshmerga Forces, and Brigadier General Saad Maan, Iraqi Ministry Of Interior Spokesman, the Iraqi officials avoided to name the exact next target.

However, Transylvania Intelligence has reasons to believe the Tel Afar will be the focus of whatever combined or centered mission will proceed the liberation of Mosul.

 

End Notes:

  • Iraq needs a national wide, versatile, top-to-bottom reconciliation process if it wants to survive and evolve as a prosperous nation and as a secure state.
  • Building societal resilience while managing crisis from expanding are main components in order to prevent new Salafist-Jihadist shape-shifters to form from local gangs or rogue tribes.
  • The outcomes of the battle for Mosul will still pose significant security problems for the inhabitants. Such issues are: ISIS sleeper cells, left-behind IED’s & mines, extreme poverty, housing problems (at least half of the city is destroyed) and a perpetual hostile informational environment.
  • The surgical-military component needs to continue in order to vanquish ISIS from northern Iraq, namely from Tal Afar and Hawja but also to,
  • fully degrade and annihilate the ‘safe haven’ from the Euphrates Valley acting on a transnational-operational approach that will liberate al-Qa’im (Iraq), in a joint effort with whoever clears the Syrian side of Abu Kamal, Mayadin, rural Deir-Ezzor and most importantly for now, Raqqa.
  • The geopolitical race for the border, which pits the United States against Iran for a struggle to control the major border outposts and crossings, posses a significant strategic risk for the Iraq, duly because it would accentuate ethnic and political discrepancies within the society; notably if used by these external parties as local proxies.
  • The strategic steak of northern Iraq raises mentionable worries over the stability of the region. ISF’s, PMU’s, Kurds and Turks have consistent motivations and plans for the Niniveh governorate, which could threaten to raise a certain alarming level of insecurity.
  • Prepare for the high-possibility – high-impact hypothesis that a long-term insurgency will reinstate in Anbar (Iraq) and Deir-Ezzor (Syria) perpetuating the anarchy of the border area and that will pose a chronic threat to Baghdad.

Commander of the US-led Coalition, Joseph Dunford, and two Iraqi officers hold an ISIS flag upside down, in a symbolic gesture signaling triumph.

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The Three Seas Initiative: Towards an ‘Intermarium’ under Anglo-Saxon protectorate?

‘I’m thrilled to join you today, and I want everyone to know that the United States supports your bold efforts. […] America will be your strongest ally and steadfast partner…

‘I’m thrilled to join you today, and I want everyone to know that the United States supports your bold efforts. […] America will be your strongest ally and steadfast partner in this truly historic initiative.’ Donald J. Trump, opening remarks at the Three Seas Initiative Summit, Warsaw, Poland on July 6th, 2017.

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Battle for Raqqa: Daily Journal (LIVE)

Transylvania Intelligence presents the daily journal for Raqqa. This space will contain (hopefully) daily entries regarding the developments in the battle for Raqqa, yet time gaps may very as this…

Transylvania Intelligence presents the daily journal for Raqqa. This space will contain (hopefully) daily entries regarding the developments in the battle for Raqqa, yet time gaps may very as this project depends not only on what happens in the field but also on what amount of data (quantity, quality, credibility) surfaces online.

Methodology and Objectives

From reasons of time efficiency, information privilege and empirical manners, this journal will not have a complete reference system. The methodology is based on OSINT (open-source intelligence) and crowdsourcing. Sources stretch from mainstream media, to local news posts in English or translated from Arabic or Turkish (Furat FM, Raqqa24, Rudaw, Rojava News etc.), individuals on social media (accounts of fighters, independent OSINT analysts), monitoring groups or primary sources (YPG Press Office, Amaq Agency, Inherent Resolve Coalition).  

While there are many other crowd sourced maps or pages, what this project also attempts is to provide a larger context and a comprehensive understanding of the situation and how it evolves  in an analytical intelligence-memo framework.

Please consult this page regularly, especially in the evening to catch the daily updates.

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For Dust and Rubble: Iranian Ambitions at the Syrian-Iraqi Border

General Considerations (a) In the remote, deserted and extremely sparsely populated area of the Syrian Desert, notably around the tri-border area with Republic of Iraq and the Kingdom of Jordan,…

General Considerations

(a) In the remote, deserted and extremely sparsely populated area of the Syrian Desert, notably around the tri-border area with Republic of Iraq and the Kingdom of Jordan, the impact of the civil war has been relatively moderate with rare high-intensity waves generated by intertwined moment or actions from other battlefronts. The area was sharply captured by ISIS since late 2014 in order to secure the supply lines from the loyal Iraqi region of Anbar in order to fuel military operations in Homs and Rural Damascus.

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The Day Will Come When You Won’t: Radiography of ISIS’s Desperate Tactics in Mosul’s Operational Playground

INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS  – The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have issued an updated battle war suggesting a finishing phase for the battle as the last western district neighborhoods occupied by ISIS…

INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS  – The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have issued an updated battle war suggesting a finishing phase for the battle as the last western district neighborhoods occupied by ISIS are equated by Bagdad’s estimates at 10% of the city. Continuing with the context, Operation “We Are Coming, Nineveh” (قادمون يا نينوى; Qadimun Ya Naynawais) is a joint ISF-Pashmerga effort supported by the US-led International Coalition ‘Inherent Resolve’ against Da’esh/ ISIS/ ISIL/ IS. The current developments where proceeded by Operation ‘Fatah’ that were a series of missions that took place in mid-2016 to open the way to Nineveh. The actual assault on the city came around October 2016 and only after key operational assets have been seized (as the Qayyarah West Air Base) in the Nineveh region, as well as having secured a southern supply line towards Baghdad. Co-extensively from late 2015 to late 2016 the Kurdish factions attributed to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, such as the Pashmerga have cut the main supply lines from Mosul to the self-declared capital of ISIS, Raqqa, through the border crossings but namely via Sinjar Mountain. Given these multilateral and key military achievements which are expanded and explained in-depth in the video below in this text, we have reached a crucial moment in the fight against ISIS.

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ISIS(K) in Afghanistan: Pentagon’s COIN throughout Far East Geopolitics and Taliban Resurgence

STRATEGIC ANALYSIS – The situation in the Far East is degrading in face of the volatile geopolitical context provided by the regional Far East rivalry and by being under a…

STRATEGIC ANALYSIS – The situation in the Far East is degrading in face of the volatile geopolitical context provided by the regional Far East rivalry and by being under a perpetual chronicle havoc by the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, topped by the “Islamic State’s” gamble to win land in the area. Given the current situation, the United States Armed Forces, as well as the Afghan Army are faced with rising threats that deem operational maturity and strategic action in order to contain and deconstruct the rising transnational instability. In order to comprehensively understand the issues facing the region we need to acknowledge that the war in Afghanistan has never ended, neither the internal turmoil based on tribal, clan and political leit-motives nor the more conventional one between the US, NATO and radical elements. The fugitive US pull-out has accelerated the Taliban’s resurgence and has fertilized the ground for other third parties to enter the stage. Some of these parties is the local franchise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), additionally named “Khorasan Province” or generally addressed in the Euro-Atlantic community as “ISIS-K”. Khorasan is the historical generic term that refers to the region of western Iran to Eastern Afghanistan and holds great value for the Islamic civilization both historical and dogmatic, as Khorasan is subjected in several Hadiths as where the “black flags rise” to establish the Calipath, a prophecy largely capitalized for PR purposes by many Salafist jihadists including ISIS. 

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Acordul de la Astana: Maculatură diplomatică sau „Peace for Syria”?

Câteva cuvinte despre Memorandumul de la Astana într-un cadru analitic dar infinit mai informal decât am obișnuit pe această platformă și pentru prima dată în limba română, tocmai pentru că…

Câteva cuvinte despre Memorandumul de la Astana într-un cadru analitic dar infinit mai informal decât am obișnuit pe această platformă și pentru prima dată în limba română, tocmai pentru că acest text l-am redactat original pentru o simplă postare de facebook:

Cei trei „garantori” și anume Rusia, Iran, respectiv Turcia, se angajează să implementeze un armistițiu în patru zone desemnate ca fiind de „de-escaladare” în teritorile vestice ale rebelilor, mai exact: Idlib (+ câteva fâșii din Alep, Latakia), nordul Homs (inclusiv Rastan), Ghouta de est (o zonă rurală a Damascului + cartierele estice din capitală) și sudul Siriei (cu referire la spațiul controlat de rebeli în Quneitra, Daraa și Suweida). În teritorile menționate, acordul prevede încetarea totală a ostilitățiilor dintre Guvernul Assad și opoziția rebelă, referindu-se inclusiv la forțe aeriene, pentru a permite (de aici începe partea amuzantă) acordarea de ajutor medical și implicit întoarcerea voluntară a refugiaților… Implementarea acestor măsuri revine în responsabilitatea țărilor garantoare ce prin comisii de observare și puncte de supraveghere comune vor monitoriza situația, concomitent cu asigurarea liberei circulații pentru populația civilă. Personalul militar însărcinat cu monitorizarea desfășurării prin procedura menționată, va proveni din țările garantoare sau dintr-o parte terță, în conformitate cu consensul semnatarilor. Totodată, acordul menționează importanța luptei împotriva terorismului numind ISIS și al-Qaeada (Hayrat Tahrir al-Sham sau HTS) ca fiind componente direct vizate, deci (goes without saying) nu intră sub incidența acestui acord; adițional se dorește separarea opoziției rebele de elementele radicale, anexate taberei. În două săptămâni de la semnare se vor înființa „Joint Working Group” prin care Turcia, Iran și Rusia vor coopera pentru implementarea acordului printr-un framework formal. Acestea au fost clauzele operative, cele „preambulatory” sunt tipicare unui draft resolution, deci teoretic nu total relevante, însă de menționat e referirea la „integritatea teritorială a Republicii Arabe Siriene” – sigur, o formulare croită pentru acomodarea părții guvernamentale.

Acordul a intrat în vigoare de ieri și se desfășoară pe o perioadă de șase luni, cu posibilitatea de extindere la discreția părților semnatare. Dacă s-ar fi respectat și precedentele zeci de acorduri, războiul era într-o pauză continuă, HTS ar fi fost complet separat de rebeli, iar energia forțelor combatante ar fi concentrată pe ISIS. Acordul deși are un context diferit, în fond este tot un „sweet-talk” cu puține prezumții realiste de implementare. Răspunsul U.S. Department of State ironizează aspectele de bază, sancționând rolul de garator al Iranului (o perpetuă sursă de violență sectantă) și modul necenzurat, prin care Turcia susține toți rebelii (referire și la Tahrir). Iar deși Washington este în principiu de acord cu memorandumul, rămâne sceptic cu privire la materializarea sa și nu și-a asumat vreun angajament, cu toate că propaganda rusă tinde să exagereze „convergența” internațională cu privire la acordul propus de Kremlin… În aceeași idee, nici kurzii prin Partidul Uniunii Democratice (PYD) nu aderă la acord considerând că propunerea e o partiție pe criterii sectante, (puțin ironic) însă marea lor grijă este că s-ar putea să fie trași de mânecă pentru a-i preda lui Bashar al-Asssad auto-proclamata Federație din Nordul Siriei (Rojava).

De menționat este stagnarea taberei loialiste în zonele rebele, cu precădere pe Idlib, Hama sau chiar vestul Alepului și progresul kurzilor susținuți de SUA spre Raqqa, implicit asediul Deir-Ezzorului de către forțele ISIS, tot mai coagulate pe coridorul inferior al Eufratului, sau consolidarea prezenței rebeliilor antrenați în Iordania asupra deșertului estic și zona vamală cu Irak. Notabil este și faptul că opoziția rebelă nu a acceptat formal acordul, tocmai pe fondul rolului de „garantor” deținut de Teheran, doar că Turcia are – practic – responsabilitatea de a-i obliga să adere la condiții.Revenind la Statele Unite, neparticiparea acestei părți la acord slăbește șansele de implementare dar și de solidificare a acestui tratat ca și fundament pentru pace în întregul teritoriu sirian, tocmai pentru că nu acomodează doleanțele unei tabere ce conduce lupta împotriva ISIS și deține un însemnat teritoriu geografic și demografic. Iar pe deasupra, sugestile indirect ale Kremlinului cum că un „no-fly zone” axiomatic asupra zonelor de „de-escaladare” ar restricționat până și campania Coaliției Inherent Resolve condusă de SUA împotriva ISIS, este un exemplu compatibil cu privire la unilateralismul Kremlinului în acord. Implicit, Pentangonul a confirmat că nu va sista eventuale misiuni  împotriva facțiunilor teroriste în spațiul convenit; cu toate că ISIS are o prezență slabă în respectivele zone însă HTS domină porțiuni menționabile, iar împotriva lor operează SUA o campanie discretă de drone.


Scuzați chirilicele, dar am ales harta prezentată de MApN-ul rusesc, tocmai pentru că este varianta oficială a zonelor de „de-escaladare” sub acordul de la Astana, pe baza căreia am operat o serie de modificări: am adăugat teritoriul SDF/YPG, ES+Turcia și cel al rebelilor din deșert (New Syrian Army). În sfârșit, am creionat ipotetice, posibile, speculative căi de acțiune ale loialiștiilor pornind de la anunțul făcut de MApN-ul rus, prin care anunțau operațiuni militare în centrul și estul Siriei.

Să trecem la partea prospectivă:

i. Tendențial, astfel de acorduri au fost creionate în situații de stagnare a luptei Guvern-Opoziție prin care forțele loialiste beneficiau de un repaus tactic dar totuși păstrând un tir de artilerie și bombardamente asupra „buzunarelor” rebele; cei din urmă, primeau o doză continuă de legitimizare prin participarea la astfel de conferințe internaționale, plus că deseori respectau înțelegerea – spre nenorocul lor. Astfel că pe bază istorică suntem îndreptățiți să credem că și în acest caz este vorba de un „time-out” tactic fără intenție și mici șanse de implementare pe termen mediu sau lung.

ii. Contextual, observăm o serie de evoluții în alte teatre de operațiuni, precum guvernoratele Raqqa și Deir-Ezzor, care deși nu sunt la îndemâna logistică sau militară a taberei loialiste, fragmentează ideea de integritate și „atotsuveranitate” a Siriei sub guvernul Assad. Anume, Federația din Nordul Sirie se maturizează politic iar SDF-ul susținut de SUA înregistrează o serie de victorii succesive, ce în puține luni îi va aduce în poziția de a lua cu asalt Raqqa. Pe urmă, retragerea tactică a ISIS în Deir-Ezzor este condiționată de cucerirea orașului cu același nume, aflat sub control assadist încă de la izbucnirea conflictului. Totodată, expansiunea rebeliilor pe granița iordaniană și irakiană este sursa unei noi îngrijorări pentru Damasc-Moscova-Teheran. În consecință, loialiștii ar putea respecta parțial armistițiul pentru a-și comasa forțele în operațiuni îndreptate împotriva ISIS – scenariu de servit cu multă sare – sau împotriva rebelilor din sud-est, a căror izolare de zona vamală spre Iordania ar genera o criză logistică ce inevitabil va slăbi și degrada capacitatea de operare militară.

iii. Acordul poate fi un catalizator pentru alimentarea tensiunilor interne din tabăra rebelă aflate la un nou punct de fierbere în urma ciocnirilor cu Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, de această dată Jaysh al-Islam, în trecut Ahrar ash-Sham. Continua diviziune a rebelilor e marcată de două consecințe: (1) excluderea segmentului militant salafist, anume jihadiștii, care este (nu întâmplător) și cel mai puternic – fapt ce ar legitimiza și curăța imaginea opoziție – dar pe de altă parte (2) ar slăbi per total capacitatea lor de a ține piept regimului.

Nu este necesar ca ipotezele creionate să se respingă reciproc sau să se afle într-un raport competitiv. Principalul marker de prognoză cu privire la o posibilă ofensivă spre Deir-Ezzor, deșertul sud-estic sau spre centrul țării, este comasarea unor forțe semnificative în Palmyra – un realment „cap de pod” în interes operațional. Primele indicii le avem deja, astăzi s-a constatat faptul că rușii au mutat lansatoare de rachete-multiple (sisteme mobil) TOS în Palmyra. Ipoteza s-ar solidifica dacă vedem mai multe divizii mecanizate sau unități ale Tiger Force detașate în zonă. Un astfel de demers alternativ chiar și în fondul unei reale intenții depinde de stabilitatea zonelor convenite în acord, iar observând re-intensificarea luptelor în estul Damascului și în coridorul Hama-Homs, avem un „input” adițional de scepticism. De urmărit…

Cu toate acestea nu avem motive solide să credem că memorandumul de la Astana va fi mai însemnat decât precedentele colecții de maculatură semnate la Geneva sau Viena, poate nici nu merita efortul unei postări atât de lungi, însă contextul enunțat la paragraful „ii” generează posibilitatea unei însemnate schimbări de direcție. Totuși, bombardamentele continuă în regiunile controlate de rebeli, chiar și în acele „de-escalation zones” și mă îndoiesc că toate sunt îndreptate împotriva Hayat Tahrir al-Sham… În sfârșit, nu avem motive nici pentru a ne încredere în „buna-inteție” a demersurilor diplomatice rusești, deci inevitabil războiul își va urma cursul natural din teren.

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