When Its Soldiers Were Killed In Syria, Turkey’s Air Force Went to War

Is more war in Syria imminent?

by Sebastien Roblin – March 2, 2020 

 

Key point: 

Just after midnight on December 3, a Turkish military convoy was rolling into a military outpost west of Saraqeb in Idlib province when at 1:13 AM deadly artillery fire came raining down from the sky.

The barrage, which originated from Syrian Arab Army forces, killed eight Turkish soldiers and supporting civilian personnel and wounded seven more.

Since an agreement in 2018, the Turkish Army has maintained several hundred personnel in twelve outposts in Idlib province to observe a ceasefire agreement brokered with Moscow and Damascus supposedly designating the province as a safe haven. These Turkish outposts are in addition to Turkish forces occupying a sizable chunk of Syrian territory in order to deny access to Kurdish YPG separatists.

But in reality, no one expected Assad to honor the agreement in the long term, as Idlib remains the last major stronghold of anti-Assad rebels in Syria following the fall of Aleppo and the eradication of resistance in the suburbs of eastern Damascus. By 2019 the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) was back on the offensive.

Despite Turkey’s warming relations with Moscow, Ankara had compelling reasons to be dismayed by the attacks on Idlib. Turkey had already taken in 3.6 million refugees due to the Syrian civil war. Since December 2019, indiscriminate shelling and bombing by Syrian forces and Russian aviation has caused a half-million more Syrians to flee their war-ravaged country.

Finally on January 29, 2020, Assadist forces captured the rebel city of Maarat-al-Numan. Its capture exposed a new line of rebel-held cities along the east-west M4 Highway to attack, including the city of Saraqeb. Syrian forces soon advanced northward up the perpendicular M5 Highway and were engaging rebels on the western outskirts of Saraqeb when they fired upon the Turkish convoy.

Ankara Strikes Back

Despite the fighting ongoing in the region, Ankara maintains that it had notified Russia at 4:13 and 10:27 PM that the convoy was inbound to one of its outposts in order to avoid precisely such an incident. Russia claimed it had not received the report.

In retaliation for the “martyrdom” of Turkish troops, hulking 56-ton Turkish T-155 Firtina self-propelled howitzers in Turkey and on Syrian soil began lobbing 155-millimeter shells at Syrian positions in the provinces of Hama, Idlib, and Latakia as well as Nubl in Aleppo province. The Firtina (“Storm”) is a Turkish derivative of the South Korean K9 Thunder artillery vehicle, and is capable of rapid-fire volleys on targets up to twenty-five miles away.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan stated in a speech that by 6:15 AM Turkey had struck forty-six Syrian targets with 122 artillery and 100 mortar shells, inflicting thirty to thirty-five casualties. The inclusion of mortars, which have a shorter range three to five miles, would imply strikes launched considerably closer to Syrian forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, was only able to confirm thirteen casualties to Turkish shelling: eight in Idlib, three in Latakia province, and two in Hama province. As SOHR also reported the bombardment wounded twenty, some seriously, those numbers may actually be consistent with the Turkish casualty claims.

The geographic dispersion reflects that the Turkish response was a wider-scale attack on targets across Syria, not just on the positions that opened fire in Idlib province.

Ankara also claimed its F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters struck SAA targets. Later, the Turkish defense minister claimed Turkey had launched a total of fifty-four strikes, supposedly inflicting seventy-six casualties.

However, Moscow claimed that no Turkish F-16s entered Syrian airspace. This denial appears to have been undercut by a Syrian-government SANA announcement that Turkish jets had attacked Syria but inflicted no casualties.

As Russian military air defense systems protect Syria, Moscow would have an incentive to deny that it allowed Turkish jets to attack Syrian targets without firing upon them—or worse, failed to detect them.

The clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces threaten to unravel a tense entente with Russia, which recently sold S-400 air defense missiles to Turkey. Ankara’s purchase of the missiles widened a growing rift with the United States and Western Europe, and resulted in Turkey being ejected from the F-35 stealth fighter program.

Turkey has further retaliated by openly considering purchases of Russian Su-35 fighters and (still somewhat buggy) Su-57 stealth fighters instead. Such sales would not only profit Russia financially, but also help further compromise Turkey’s status as a member of NATO.

But when Turkish forces bombard the forces of Moscow’s ally Assad, it places Russia in an awkward position with allies old and new. Nonetheless, this conflict was long foreseeable: Turkey had made clear its objection to an offensive on Idlib province, while it was obvious that Assad would eventually move to crush rebels in Idlib province, and receive Rusian military support while doing so.

If Ankara is sufficiently incensed, it could attempt to impede further attacks on Idlib—particularly Saraqeb—perhaps hoping to avert further swelling of the large population of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Alternatively, Ankara may calculate that it has adequately punished the attack on its forces in Idlib, and that it doesn’t want to risk being drawn into a larger-scale clash with Assad’s forces that might also threaten its overture with Moscow. (Click to Source)

Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter. This first appeared earlier this month.

Image: Reuters.

 

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ANALYSIS: Turkey announces war on pro-Assad coalition in Syria

February death toll in Syria the highest in nearly 2 years as Erdogan all but declares war on Assad’s forces.

Yochanan Visser, 01/03/20 22:42

Tulsi Gabbard, one the Democratic Party’s hopefuls in the race for the Presidency of the United States called him “one of the most dangerous dictators in the world”.

Gabbard was talking about Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan who’s just declared war on the regime of Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad after the latter’s forces killed 34 Turkish soldiers in the northern Syrian Province Idlib.

US President Donald J. Trump “needs to make it clear to NATO and Erdogan that the United States will not be dragged into a war with Russia by the aggressive, Islamist, expansionist dictator of Turkey, a so-called “NATO” ally,” Gabbard wrote on her Twitter account.

The 33 Turkish soldiers who died as a result of an airstrike by Assad’s air force caused Erdogan to lose his cool once again and prompted operation “Spring Shield” after the Turkish army had already lost 55 soldiers to fighting in Syria since the beginning of February.

The new Turkish offensive in Syria and the aggressive moves by the pro-Assad coalition which is trying to re-conquer the last major rebel hub in Idlib have created an unprecedented humanitarian disaster even by Syrian standards.

The violence has driven more than one million Syrians from their homes while hundreds, including many children and women, died in February.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 1,773 individuals were killed in February across the war-torn nation; most of them in the Idlib province. It was the highest single month death toll over the last 23 months of fighting.

The pro-Assad coalition also ‘took out’ 73 hospitals in Idlib by bombing them to smithereens in an old tactic to deprive the mostly Islamist rebels of medical assistance in case they got wounded.

Turkey first tried to stop the advances of the pro-Assad coalition in Idlib by using its local Syrian allies – all of them Islamist rebel groups – but this didn’t have a major impact on the battlefield.

After the Turkish axis seemed to be on the brink of defeat, Erdogan realized he would have to come up with a more powerful military move without risking a major confrontation with Assad’s patron Russia.

The Turkish regime now says it “doesn’t want a face-off with Russia” and that “Our only aim is to stop the Syrian regime’s massacres, radicalization and, migration.”

During the new operation Erdogan’s air force claims to have attacked 200 Syrian targets while his ground forces reportedly “neutralized” 2,200 targets belonging to the pro-Assad coalition which is a predominantly Iranian-Shiite fighting force.

“Some 2,200 Syrian regime troops, a drone, 8 helicopters, 103 tanks, tens of howitzers, 3 air defense systems were neutralized during the operation Spring Shield,” Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Among those ‘neutralized’ were at least “21 Iranian-affiliated terrorists” according to Turkish state-controlled media while 9 members of Lebanese Hezbollah were also killed.

On Monday afternoon, Turkey’s military downed two Syrian warplanes over Idlib after Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that Assad’s forces had downed a number of Turkish drones.

Earlier, Erdogan demanded that NATO, of which Turkey is still a member despite closing military deals with Russia, interfere in the escalating conflict on behalf of his country.

“We call on NATO to (start) consultations. This is not (an attack) on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” one of Erdogan’s spokesmen told media outlets.

After this call upon NATO apparently fell on deaf ears, the Turkish regime demanded that Russia “get out of Turkey’s way” and leave it “face to face” with the Assad regime.

When that didn’t help either, after the Kremlin pointed out to Turkey that Russian forces are there legally since Assad invited them, Erdogan reverted to other means of exerting pressure on Russia and arrested the editor-in-chief and two reporters of the Russian news site Sputnik.

The Russians subsequently responded by demanding that the detention of the three journalists be resolved “without further delay” and that Ankara safeguard the security of Russian journalists in the country.

The crisis between Russia and Turkey further exacerbated on Monday afternoon when the Turkish army shelled the headquarters of the Russian army command near the border town of Manbij which is controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Putin and Erdogan discussed the crisis over the telephone without reaching a solution. The two leaders are expected to meet in Moscow on March 5.

Turkey also upped the pressure on the European Union which Erdogan expects to choose sides with his country in the escalating conflict in Syria and finally made good on his threat to deport Syrian refugees to Europe.

According to the state-controlled Anadolu News Agency almost 81,000 of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey “voluntarily” traveled to the borders with Greece and other European countries over the past few days.

Reporters belonging to non-Turkish media, however, reported that the refugees were being transferred to the border on government chartered buses.

Most of the refugees are stuck on the border with Greece that refuses to let them in and that shot with tear gas on those who nevertheless attempted to make the crossing.

Greece together with Cyprus has now requested an emergency meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council to discuss the refugee crisis.

To futher complicate matters, Iran is now reportedly also threatening Turkey and warned the Erdogan regime to leave Syria or have its troops face a missile barrage.

The Islamic Republic’s proxies are, in fact, the ones conducting the ground offensive against the Turkey-backed rebels in Idlib on behalf of Assad. (Click to Source)

 

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Turkish military shoots down 2 Syrian jets as Syria fends off Turkey’s drone attack

1 Mar, 2020 13:41 / Updated 1 hour ago

Turkey has shot down two Syrian warplanes in Idlib as part of its offensive in the area. The Syrian Army destroyed several Turkish drones on the same day Turkey’s UAVs penetrated Syria’s airspace well beyond Idlib.

Turkish fighter jets intercepted two Syrian warplanes over Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib and shot them down, the state-run SANA news outlet reported, adding that both planes’ crews ejected and parachuted to safety.

The Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed it shot down two Syrian Su-24 bombers after one of its combat drones was destroyed by Syrian air defenses. SANA reported that several Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) violated Syrian airspace and were spotted not just in Idlib but near the city of Hama as well. There, air defense systems were engaged to deal with the hostile invasion.

According to SANA, the Syrian military shot down a total of three Turkish drones on Sunday. Meanwhile, some reports suggested that as many as six UAVs were destroyed. SANA posted a video of one Turkish UAV being brought down near the town of Saraqib, east of Idlib.

A military source told the outlet that the Syrian Army closed the airspace in the northwestern part of the country, including Idlib Province, and that any aircraft entering Syrian skies will be considered a hostile target.

Ankara launched Operation Spring Shield in Idlib on Sunday, describing its task as “self-defense” against the attacks by Syrian government troops on Turkish soldiers maintaining outposts in the area.

Tensions in Idlib flared-up again this week after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in a Syrian airstrike. Russia said it happened because the Turkish personnel were present alongside terrorist units being bombed by Damascus, and Ankara had failed to properly notify Moscow about its troop movements.

Idlib is the last-remaining stronghold of anti-government forces in Syria, with many belonging to jihadist groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an offshoot of Al-Qaeda. Ankara has long promised to separate the moderate groups it backs from the more radical elements, but Russia insists it has failed to do so. (Click to Source)

 

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Russian plane worth £7m shot down by Turkish-backed forces as military offensive launched

A RUSSIAN reconnaissance plane has been shot down above the war-torn Syrian province of Idlib as a Turkish-backed operation against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad gets underway.

By SIMON OSBORNE
Initial reports suggest the £7 million aircraft was brought down by Syria’s Turkish-backed National Army. There are also reports the revolutionary faction had destroyed two Syrian government tanks during violent clashes.  The latest developments bring NATO member Turkey and Russian-backed Syria close to the brink of direct confrontation a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the launch of a new military operation was imminent.

Russian warplanes have continued to bombard rebel-held towns in northwest Syria again as Turkish artillery supported insurgent attacks elsewhere across the region.

In Geneva, the United Nations refugee chief called for a halt to the fighting to allow hundreds of thousands of trapped civilians to move to places of safety.

Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in the nine-year-old conflict. The Kremlin, which has supported Mr al-Assad’s push with air strikes against the rebel militia, said a clash between Turkish and Syrian forces would be a “worst-case scenario” and Russia would work to prevent the situation from worsening.

Syrian troops supported by Russian warplanes and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the bloody civil war.

But has Turkish troops took up strategic positions across Idlib, Mr Erdogan said he would not leave the region “to the devices of the Assad regime”.

The Turkish leader told MPs: “Turkey has completed preparations for the implementation of its plan on Idlib, just like we did with previous operations.

“Frankly speaking, an operation in Idlib is only a matter of time.

“Turkey won’t leave Idlib to the devices of the Assad regime.”

Tensions in Idlib have escalated further since Turkey and Russia  failed to reach an agreement after two rounds of talks in the last two weeks.

Idlib

A convoy of Turkish military vehicles rolls into Idlib (Image: GETTY)

Idlib

A Turkish tank in Syria’s war-torn Idlib province (Image: GETTY)

 

Syrian opposition forces supported by Turkey have launched large-scale attacks on Syrian government troops last week, particularly on Saraqib and the Nayrab settlement.

The fighting also involved supporters of the Jabhat al-Nusra group which outlawed in Russia.

The Russian-backed Syrian government troops thwarted the attacks and Moscow said the militants suffered substantial losses.

A Syrian government offensive to eradicate the last rebel strongholds in northwest Syria has led to some of the most serious confrontations yet between NATO member Ankara and Damascus, and prompted Turkey to send thousands of troops and convoys of heavy weapons to the border area.

Turkey has taken in about 3.7 million Syrian refugees since the war started and says it cannot handle any more over its border, which is now closed.

The United Nations says more than 900,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled their homes in Idlib since early December.

A Turkish official said recent talks with Russia had not been “completely without a result” and that the discussions had moved forward without reaching a final decision.

The official said: “Russia has maintained its position that Turkey withdraws from Idlib and evacuates its observation posts since the beginning.

Idlib

Turkey had warned of fresh military operations in Idlib (Image: GETTY)

 

“Withdrawing from Idlib or evacuating the observation posts is not on the agenda.”

“Various exercises are being discussed. For example, ensuring security through Turkish and Russian security officials and holding joint patrols could be possible.”

The Turkish Defence Ministry said this afternoon: “As a result of an air attack on our elements in the Idlib region to provide a truce, two of our hero gunmates were martyred and five of our hero gunmen were injured.

“The determined targets have been put under fire and continue to be taken.” (Click to Source)

 

 

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Turkey Asks U.S. for Patriot Missiles to Deter Russia in Syria

 Updated on 

 

  • Revelation followed by more Turkish fatalities in Idlib
  •  Turkey is determined to halt Syrian offensive on rebel bastion

Turkey has asked the U.S. to deploy two Patriot missile-defense batteries on its southern border to free it to punish any future attacks by Russian-backed Syrian troops, according to a senior Turkish official in Ankara.

The disclosure was almost immediately followed on Thursday by a spasm of violence that left two Turkish troops dead and five wounded, and underscored the risks as two regional powerbrokers assert their influence in northwestern Syria.

The fighting increased the number of Turkish troops killed in the Idlib area over the last three weeks to at least 15 as pro-government forces, supported by Russian air power, seek to crush the last major pocket of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

The official, who’s familiar with Turkey’s policy in Syria, said Ankara could use F-16 warplanes to strike units loyal to Assad in Idlib if the Patriots were deployed in Hatay on Turkey’s border to provide protection.

‘Worst Scenario’

Turkey is yet to receive a U.S. response to the request, which was relayed last week to James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy for Syria engagement, the official said, asking not to be identified discussing sensitive information. The U.S. Embassy in Turkey declined to comment. Spokespeople for the White House and U.S. National Security Council didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said an airstrike was responsible for killing and wounding Thursday’s casualties, without pinning the blame on Russian or Syrian aircraft. Its counterpart in Moscow said in a statement that Russian Su-24 jets had carried out strikes to stop an offensive by Syrian rebels backed by Turkish artillery.

The escalating standoff in Idlib between Russia and Turkey is now developing “according to the worst scenario,” warned Elena Suponina, a Middle East expert based in Moscow.

By lending air support to the Syrian army “Russia has demonstrated it’s ready to respond harshly,” Suponina said by phone. “This signal should be understood correctly by Turkey. It would be good if it pushed the sides toward a compromise.”

Ankara, on the other hand, is also preparing for a possible showdown with Russia.

“Turkey can shut down the straits and its air space to Russia to block military shipments to the regime forces,” said Mesut Hakki Casin, a professor at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University and a member of the foreign affairs board that advises President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an interview with TRT television.

While Turkey is requesting the deployment of U.S.-operated Patriots, the two countries have wrangled for years over Turkish requests to buy the missiles. The Trump administration has refused to agree to a deal unless Turkey first scraps an advanced Russian missile-defense system it bought last year that Washington considers a threat to NATO’s capabilities.

Turkey doesn’t see the Patriot request — made to a NATO ally at a difficult time for the country — as requiring any concessions on its part, the official said.

Turkey is trying to halt the Syrian government advance because it’s threatening Ankara’s efforts to establish a zone of control in Idlib and could unleash and could unleash an exodus of as many as 2 million refugees toward the Turkish frontier.

It has sent thousands of troops to the area, and President Erdogan on Wednesday said his military had finished preparations for an offensive to protect its interests in Syria.

Trade Ties

Turkey is determined to push back Syrian forces before the end of this month even at the cost of straining ties with Russia in tourism and trade, said the official, adding that about 40,000 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels as well as 20,000 al-Qaeda linked extremists were holed up in Idlib.

Throughout the standoff, Ankara and Moscow have kept channels of communication open in an effort to keep alive their uneasy partnership in Syria, where they are backing opposing sides. But Moscow and Damascus haven’t been deterred by the Turkish troop buildup, and on Wednesday, the Kremlin retorted that a Turkish military operation would be “the worst option.”

The confrontation between the two is threatening a rupture in their relationship and prompting Turkey to reboot ties with the U.S. after years of tensions.

Turkey and Russia are also facing off through proxies in the Libyan conflict.

Turkey has sent thousands of Syrian rebels to shore up the United Nations-recognized administration of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Lined up against them are hundreds of mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner security contractor, which is controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They’ve been hired to support Khalifa Haftar’s now-stalled offensive on the capital, Tripoli, according to Western officials and people close to the organization. (Click to Source)

— With assistance by Ilya Arkhipov, Henry Meyer, and Mario Parker

 

 

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Turkey Edges Toward Direct Conflict With Russian-Backed Syria

Updated: 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday a military operation by his forces to push back a Syrian government offensive against rebels in northwest Syria was now “a matter of time” after talks with Russia failed to halt the assault.

Turkish troops have already massed inside the Idlib region and more were heading to the border area, bringing NATO member Turkey and Russian-backed Syria close to the brink of direct confrontation.

The Kremlin, which has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s push with air strikes, said a clash between Turkish and Syrian forces would be a “worst-case scenario” and Russia would work to prevent the situation from worsening.

Syrian troops supported by Russian warplanes and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year-old civil war.

Nearly 1 million civilians have fled from air strikes and artillery barrages towards the closed frontier, overwhelming relief agencies and alarming Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot handle more.

Speaking to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party on Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone even while talks with Moscow continued. Several rounds of diplomacy had failed to reach an agreement so far, he said.

“We are entering the last days for the regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings,” said Erdogan, whose country has the second-largest army in NATO.

“Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. I say that we can come at any point. In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.”

Erdogan on Saturday appeared to move forward his earlier end-of-February deadline for a Syrian withdrawal from Idlib.

Assad has showed no sign of doing so and has predicted the eventual defeat of his foes. They include Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist militants.

Turkish soldiers

An opposition military source told Reuters that 15,000 Turkish soldiers were now in northwest Syria after numerous convoys had poured into the territory in recent days.

“You can’t imagine the scale of Turkish reinforcements, half of Reyhanli is now full of Turkish commandoes ready to enter Syria,” he said, referring to a Turkish border town. “They are readying their forces for zero hour, operations are expected to start any time.”

Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib allowing both sides to set up observation posts. Since the escalation in the conflict, both sides have accused each other of flouting the agreement.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian forces were upholding previous agreements but also reacting to provocations.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “If we talk about an operation against legitimate Syrian authorities and armed forces, it is of course a worst-case scenario.”

In the past week the Syrian army has seized dozens of towns around Aleppo and the M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo.

It was unclear when Ankara and Moscow might resume talks.

Syrian military defector general Ahmad Rahhal said the talks in Moscow on Monday “were humiliating to Turkey” and had angered Ankara.

“The Russians have made a mistake,” he told Reuters. “We are heading towards a Turkish military operation in Syria but no one knows exactly when… It may start in waves and gradually build up on several fronts.” (Click to Source)

 

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TURKISH ARMY COMMENCES ARTILLERY ATTACKS AGAINST SYRIAN ARAB ARMY AND RUSSIAN BASE IN SYRIA

WORLD NEWS DESK

LATEST UPDATE 4:10 PM EST —  Yesterday, Turkish President Recypt Erdogan said Turkey will not allow Idlib, Syria to come back under control of the Syrian Government, and his Turkish Army would commence attacks to make certain of this.   This morning, RUSSIA warned Turkey that such an effort would result in the Russians DEFENDING Syria.

Eight minutes ago, at 2:52 PM eastern US time, Turkish artillery began shelling Syrian forces in and around Idlib, including Syrian forces which have RUSSIAN TROOPS embedded.

The Turks entered Syria UNINVEITED and WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION almost a year ago.  This new adventure by Turkey will get their forces stomped into the ground by Russian forces, and will likely mean actual HOT WAR between Turkey and Russia.

It has begun.   Multiple sources confirming heavy exchanges of artillery and gunfire.

 

UPDATE 3:21 PM EST —

BREAKING: The Syrian Army just RESPONDED to the Turkish attack and bombed the Turkish observation post, located in Ishtabraq, western countryside of Idlib.

 

 

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3:24 PM EST 

The Turkish Army is shelling the Syrian city of Latakia, Syria, AND the Russian Naval Base in that port city ! ! ! ! ! !

 

UPDATE 3:28 PM EST —

SYRIAN AIR DEFENSE ACTIVE IN LATAKIA REGION AMID TURKISH ARTILLERY SHELLING — LOCAL SOURCES

 

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3:41 PM EST

3 Russian generals, including the grandson of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, have been killed by the Turkish attacks against the Russian base at LatakiaSyria

 

MORE . . .

Turkish army is attacking positions of the Syrian Army (SAA) in Saraqib and Nairab in Northern Idlib with MLRS and heavy artillery.

 

UPDATE 4:02 PM EST —

Turkey informs NATO of Idlib operation, asks for enforcement of no fly zone.

 

UPDATE 4:10 PM EST —

Turkish warplanes heading to #Idlib

 

The fighting continues.   Further info via new stories when available. . . (Click to Source)

 

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This Might Be Where the Very First Total Nuclear War Starts

And where billions of people die.

by War Is Boring

May 24, 2019

Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It’s possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might — given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors — lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration. In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on “nuclear winter” on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension.

Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era.

(This article by Dilip Hiro originally appeared at War is Boring in 2016.)

When it comes to Pakistan’s strategic nuclear weapons, their parts are stored in different locations to be assembled only upon an order from the country’s leader. By contrast, tactical nukes are pre-assembled at a nuclear facility and shipped to a forward base for instant use. In addition to the perils inherent in this policy, such weapons would be vulnerable to misuse by a rogue base commander or theft by one of the many militant groups in the country.

In the nuclear standoff between the two neighbors, the stakes are constantly rising as Aizaz Chaudhry, the highest bureaucrat in Pakistan’s foreign ministry, recently made clear. The deployment of tactical nukes, he explained, was meant to act as a form of “deterrence,” given India’s “Cold Start” military doctrine — a reputed contingency plan aimed at punishing Pakistan in a major way for any unacceptable provocations like a mass-casualty terrorist strike against India.

New Delhi refuses to acknowledge the existence of Cold Start. Its denials are hollow. As early as 2004, it was discussing this doctrine, which involved the formation of eight division-size Integrated Battle Groups. These were to consist of infantry, artillery, armor and air support, and each would be able to operate independently on the battlefield. In the case of major terrorist attacks by any Pakistan-based group, these IBGs would evidently respond by rapidly penetrating Pakistani territory at unexpected points along the border and advancing no more than 30 miles inland, disrupting military command and control networks while endeavoring to stay away from locations likely to trigger nuclear retaliation.

In other words, India has long been planning to respond to major terror attacks with a swift and devastating conventional military action that would inflict only limited damage and so — in a best-case scenario — deny Pakistan justification for a nuclear response.

Islamabad, in turn, has been planning ways to deter the Indians from implementing a Cold-Start-style blitzkrieg on its territory. After much internal debate, its top officials opted for tactical nukes. In 2011, the Pakistanis tested one successfully. Since then, according to Rajesh Rajagopalan, the New Delhi-based co-author of Nuclear South Asia: Keywords and Concepts, Pakistan seems to have been assembling four to five of these annually.

All of this has been happening in the context of populations that view each other unfavorably. A typical survey in this period by the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Pakistanis had an unfavorable view of India, with 57 percent considering it as a serious threat, while on the other side 59 percent of Indians saw Pakistan in an unfavorable light.

 

This is the background against which Indian leaders have said that a tactical nuclear attack on their forces, even on Pakistani territory, would be treated as a full-scale nuclear attack on India, and that they reserved the right to respond accordingly. Since India does not have tactical nukes, it could only retaliate with far more devastating strategic nuclear arms, possibly targeting Pakistani cities.

According to a 2002 estimate by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, a worst-case scenario in an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war could result in eight to 12 million fatalities initially, followed by many millions later from radiation poisoning. More recent studies have shown that up to a billion people worldwide might be put in danger of famine and starvation by the smoke and soot thrown into the troposphere in a major nuclear exchange in South Asia. The resulting “nuclear winter” and ensuing crop loss would functionally add up to a slowly developing global nuclear holocaust.

 

Last November, to reduce the chances of such a catastrophic exchange happening, senior Obama administration officials met in Washington with Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif — the final arbiter of that country’s national security policies — and urged him to stop the production of tactical nuclear arms. In return, they offered a pledge to end Islamabad’s pariah status in the nuclear field by supporting its entry into the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group to which India already belongs. Although no formal communiqué was issued after Sharif’s trip, it became widely known that he had rejected the offer.

This failure was implicit in the testimony that DIA Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart gave to the Armed Services Committee this February. “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons continue to grow,” he said. “We are concerned that this growth, as well as the evolving doctrine associated with tactical [nuclear] weapons, increases the risk of an incident or accident.”

Strategic nuclear warheads

Since that DIA estimate of human fatalities in a South Asian nuclear war, the strategic nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan have continued to grow. In January 2016, according to a U.S. congressional report, Pakistan’s arsenal probably consisted of 110 to 130 nuclear warheads. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India has 90 to 110 of these.

China, the other regional actor, has approximately 260 warheads.

As the 1990s ended, with both India and Pakistan testing their new weaponry, their governments made public their nuclear doctrines. The National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine, for example, stated in August 1999 that “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.”

India’s foreign minister explained at the time that the “minimum credible deterrence” mentioned in the doctrine was a question of “adequacy,” not numbers of warheads. In subsequent years, however, that yardstick of “minimum credible deterrence” has been regularly recalibrated as India’s policymakers went on to commit themselves to upgrade the country’s nuclear arms program with a new generation of more powerful hydrogen bombs designed to be city-busters.

In Pakistan in February 2000, President General Pervez Musharraf, who was also the army chief, established the Strategic Plan Division in the National Command Authority, appointing Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai as its director general. In October 2001, Kidwai offered an outline of the country’s updated nuclear doctrine in relation to its far more militarily and economically powerful neighbor, saying, “It is well known that Pakistan does not have a ‘no-first-use policy.’”

He then laid out the “thresholds” for the use of nukes. The country’s nuclear weapons, he pointed out, were aimed solely at India and would be available for use not just in response to a nuclear attack from that country, but should it conquer a large part of Pakistan’s territory (the space threshold), or destroy a significant part of its land or air forces (the military threshold), or start to strangle Pakistan economically (the economic threshold), or politically destabilize the country through large-scale internal subversion (the domestic destabilization threshold).

Of these, the space threshold was the most likely trigger. New Delhi as well as Washington speculated as to where the red line for this threshold might lie, though there was no unanimity among defense experts. Many surmised that it would be the impending loss of Lahore, the capital of Punjab, only 15 miles from the Indian border. Others put the red line at Pakistan’s sprawling Indus River basin.

Within seven months of this debate, Indian-Pakistani tensions escalated steeply in the wake of an attack on an Indian military base in Kashmir by Pakistani terrorists in May 2002. At that time, Musharraf reiterated that he would not renounce his country’s right to use nuclear weapons first. The prospect of New Delhi being hit by an atom bomb became so plausible that U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill investigated building a hardened bunker in the embassy compound to survive a nuclear strike. Only when he and his staff realized that those in the bunker would be killed by the aftereffects of the nuclear blast did they abandon the idea.

Unsurprisingly, the leaders of the two countries found themselves staring into the nuclear abyss because of a violent act in Kashmir, a disputed territory which had led to three conventional wars between the South Asian neighbors since 1947, the founding year of an independent India and Pakistan. As a result of the first of these in 1947 and 1948, India acquired about half of Kashmir, with Pakistan getting a third and the rest occupied later by China.

Kashmir, the root cause of enduring enmity

The Kashmir dispute dates back to the time when the British-ruled Indian subcontinent was divided into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, and indirectly ruled princely states were given the option of joining either one. In October 1947, the Hindu maharaja of Muslim-majority Kashmir signed an “instrument of accession” with India after Muslim tribal raiders from Pakistan invaded his realm.

The speedy arrival of Indian troops deprived the invaders of the capital city, Srinagar. Later, they battled regular Pakistani troops until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire on Jan. 1, 1949. The accession document required that Kashmiris be given an opportunity to choose between India and Pakistan once peace was restored. This has not happened yet, and there is no credible prospect of it taking place.

Fearing a defeat in such a plebiscite, given the pro-Pakistani sentiments prevalent among the territory’s majority Muslims, India found several ways of blocking U.N. attempts to hold one. New Delhi then conferred a special status on the part of Kashmir it controlled and held elections for its legislature, while Pakistan watched with trepidation.

In September 1965, when its verbal protests proved futile, Pakistan attempted to change the status quo through military force. It launched a war that once again ended in stalemate and another U.N.-sponsored truce, which required the warring parties to return to the 1949 ceasefire line.

A third armed conflict between the two neighbors followed in December 1971, resulting in Pakistan’s loss of its eastern wing, which became an independent Bangladesh. Soon after, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi tried to convince Pakistani president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to agree to transform the 460-mile-long ceasefire line in Kashmir (renamed the “Line of Control”) into an international border. Unwilling to give up his country’s demand for a plebiscite in all of pre-1947 Kashmir, Bhutto refused. So the stalemate continued.

During the military rule of Gen. Zia al Haq from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan initiated a policy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts by sponsoring terrorist actions both inside Indian Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. Delhi responded by bolstering its military presence in Kashmir and brutally repressing those of its inhabitants demanding a plebiscite or advocating separation from India, committing in the process large-scale human rights violations.

In order to stop infiltration by militants from Pakistani Kashmir, India built a double barrier of fencing 12-feet high with the space between planted with hundreds of land mines. Later, that barrier would be equipped as well with thermal imaging devices and motion sensors to help detect infiltrators. By the late 1990s, on one side of the Line of Control were 400,000 Indian soldiers and on the other 300,000 Pakistani troops. No wonder Pres. Bill Clinton called that border “the most dangerous place in the world.”

 

Today, with the addition of tactical nuclear weapons to the mix, it is far more so.

Kashmir, the toxic bone of contention

Even before Pakistan’s introduction of tactical nukes, tensions between the two neighbors were perilously high. Then suddenly, at the end of 2015, a flicker of a chance for the normalization of relations appeared. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi had a cordial meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on the latter’s birthday, Dec. 25, in Lahore.

 

But that hope was dashed when, in the early hours of January 2nd, four heavily armed Pakistani terrorists managed to cross the international border in Punjab, wearing Indian army fatigues, and attacked an air force base in Pathankot. A daylong gun battle followed. By the time order was restored on Jan. 5, all the terrorists were dead, but so were seven Indian security personnel and one civilian.

The United Jihad Council, an umbrella organization of separatist militant groups in Kashmir, claimed credit for the attack. The Indian government, however, insisted that the operation had been masterminded by Masood Azhar, leader of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e Muhammad — the Army of Muhammad.

As before, Kashmir was the motivating drive for the anti-India militants. Mercifully, the attack in Pathankot turned out to be a minor event, insufficient to heighten the prospect of war, though it dissipated any goodwill generated by the Modi-Sharif meeting.

There is little doubt, however, that a repeat of the atrocity committed by Pakistani infiltrators in Mumbai in November 2008, leading to the death of 166 people and the burning of that city’s landmark Taj Mahal Hotel, could have consequences that would be dire indeed. The Indian doctrine calling for massive retaliation in response to a successful terrorist strike on that scale could mean the almost instantaneous implementation of its Cold Start strategy. That, in turn, would likely lead to Pakistan’s use of tactical nuclear weapons, thus opening up the real possibility of a full-blown nuclear holocaust with global consequences.

Beyond the long-running Kashmiri conundrum lies Pakistan’s primal fear of the much larger and more powerful India, and its loathing of India’s ambition to become the hegemonic power in South Asia. Irrespective of party labels, governments in New Delhi have pursued a muscular path on national security aimed at bolstering the country’s defense profile.

Overall, Indian leaders are resolved to prove that their country is entering what they fondly call “the age of aspiration.” When, in July 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh officially launched a domestically built nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the INS Arihant, it was hailed as a dramatic step in that direction. According to defense experts, that vessel was the first of its kind not to be built by one of the five recognized nuclear powers — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia.

India’s two secret nuclear sites

On the nuclear front in India, there was more to come. Last December, an investigation by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity revealed that the Indian government was investing $100 million to build a top secret nuclear city spread over 13 square miles near the village of Challakere, 160 miles north of the southern city of Mysore.

When completed, possibly as early as 2017, it will be “the subcontinent’s largest military-run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic-research laboratories, and weapons- and aircraft-testing facilities.” Among the project’s aims is to expand the government’s nuclear research, to produce fuel for the country’s nuclear reactors and to help power its expanding fleet of nuclear submarines. It will be protected by a ring of garrisons, making the site a virtual military facility.

Another secret project, the Indian Rare Materials Plant near Mysore, is already in operation. It is a new nuclear enrichment complex that is feeding the country’s nuclear weapons programs, while laying the foundation for an ambitious project to create an arsenal of hydrogen bombs.

The overarching aim of these projects is to give India an extra stockpile of enriched uranium fuel that could be used in such future bombs. As a military site, the project at Challakere will not be open to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency or by Washington, since India’s 2008 nuclear agreement with the U.S. excludes access to military-related facilities.

These enterprises are directed by the office of the prime minister, who is charged with overseeing all atomic energy projects. India’s Atomic Energy Act and its Official Secrets Act place everything connected to the country’s nuclear program under wraps. In the past, those who tried to obtain a fuller picture of the Indian arsenal and the facilities that feed it have been bludgeoned to silence.

Little wonder then that a senior White House official was recently quoted as saying, “Even for us, details of the Indian program are always sketchy and hard facts thin on the ground.” He added, “Mysore is being constantly monitored, and we are constantly monitoring progress in Challakere.”

However, according to Gary Samore, a former Obama administration coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, “India intends to build thermonuclear weapons as part of its strategic deterrent against China. It is unclear, when India will realize this goal of a larger and more powerful arsenal, but they will.”

Once manufactured, there is nothing to stop India from deploying such weapons against Pakistan. “India is now developing very big bombs, hydrogen bombs that are city-busters,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading Pakistani nuclear and national security analyst. “It is not interested in … nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield; it is developing nuclear weapons for eliminating population centers.”

In other words, as the Kashmir dispute continues to fester, inducing periodic terrorist attacks on India and fueling the competition between New Delhi and Islamabad to outpace each other in the variety and size of their nuclear arsenals, the peril to South Asia in particular and the world at large only grows. (Click to Source)

 

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Indian general warns Pakistan ‘dare not try’ any cross-border military actions near Kashmir

Published time: 20 May, 2019 14:46

Islamabad will inevitably face a “befitting reply” from New Delhi should Pakistani forces engage in any kind of ‘misadventure’ in the disputed Kashmir territory, a high-ranked Indian general said on Monday.

A tough message to the arch-rival came from Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, commander of Northern Indian Army as he was talking to the media in Kashmir. The official made it clear that any cross-border activity on behalf of the Pakistani military would be regarded as an affront on the Indian side.

“They dare not try and come anywhere across the Line of Control to carry out any kind of actions. Our deterrence, articulation of our military strategy has been absolutely clear. Should there be any misadventure by the Pakistan armed forces, they shall always be given a befitting reply.”

Kashmir is experiencing a lull in fighting since the latest skirmishes that occurred between the two nations in February. India, however, insists Pakistan is continuing its hostile activities, namely cross-border infiltrations, ceasefire violations, and drug trafficking. “All their actions are actually working towards ensuring that the proxy war by them against India is continuing,” the general said.

The official also shared his thoughts on the details of the February flare-up in Kashmir as two neighboring countries clashed in a series of aerial combats following an Indian air-raid on the Pakistani territory. The air strikes, which according to New Delhi targeted a terrorist camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group, were “indeed laudable,” the general said calling the operation “a major achievement.” The general, however, warned that ‘terrorist infrastructure’ on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control remains ‘intact.’

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of war rhetoric on the other side of the conflict as well. Earlier in May, a high-profile Pakistani military officer praised his country’s actions during the February encounter as local air forces launched several strikes and downed the Indian fighter jet. Labeling the maneuver ‘Operation Swift Retort’, he urged that any further Indian actions will receive a response that “would be even stronger than before.” (Click to Source)

 
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Brink Of War: Pakistan On High Alert, Indian Military Ready To Strike

The situation at the LoC (Line of Control) between India and Pakistan remains critical, as both countries are ready for an all-out conflict, reported Sputnik.

“There is a difficult situation with India. We wish for de-escalation and are taking steps for this. The situation like the prime minister [Imran Khan] said remains on alert”, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Muhammad Faisal said in a television report earlier this month.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held meetings with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and military commanders, over its “readiness to initiate war against Pakistan,” India TV News reported.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) discussed war planning strategies against Pakistan, wherein Doval told PM Modi that the Army, Air Force, and Navy are now ready for battle against the neighboring country

PM Modi reportedly told military chiefs to minimize collateral damage, and only use surgical strikes in the upcoming fight. 

Here are the four critical takeaways from the meeting:

  • The attacks will be target-specific
  • No non-military targets
  • Not only Pak-occupied Kashmir, the targets can also be inside Pakistan
  • The attacks will be pro-active, not reactive

Sputnik said besides India TV News, there was no direct confirmation of the war planning by the Modi government.

Tensions between the two countries soared when a deadly suicide bomb attack allegedly claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e Mohammad struck a convoy of Indian troops in Pulwama on February 14.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, however, maintained that Jaish is not associated with Islamabad.

In retaliation to the Pulwama attack, India launched an airstrike on Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26. Pakistan retaliated by bombing Indian military installations. The Indian Air Force thwarted the attempt.

Tensions have eased in the last few weeks. However, territorial disputes, Pakistan-based jihadist groups waging a hybrid war in India, increasing nuclear stockpiles, and the emergence of militant Hindu nationalism in India mean the next crisis is nearing. The question is when, not if. (Click to Source)

 

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