Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Italian Human Torpedo

Photo taken by the British of the first Italian human torpedo recovered after a failed attack on Gibraltar in 1940.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Turkey's brash behavior riles Iraq

Turkey has been officially uninvited — in no uncertain terms — to the liberation of Mosul, Iraq.
An Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks through binoculars on the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of Mosul, Oct. 6, 2016.  (photo by GETTY/Safin Hamed)

When rumors began piling up recently that Turkey — after launching Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria — also has plans to intervene on the Iraqi front with Operation Tigris Shield, diplomatic channels between Ankara and Baghdad caught fire.

Baghdad was already unhappy with Turkey, believing Ankara is more interested in the post-Islamic State (IS) future of Mosul rather than helping to liberate it. Baghdad was also concerned about Turkey training Sunni-dominated Al-Hashd al-Watani forces at Bashiqa training camp 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Mosul.

So when Turkey's parliament decided Oct. 1 to extend for a year its military operations in Iraq and Syria, the Iraqi parliament responded with a blunt, unfriendly warning.

The warning called for summoning the Turkish ambassador, branding Turkish forces in Iraq as occupiers, prosecuting those responsible and denouncing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pronouncements. It also called for reviewing trade and economic relations with Turkey and initiating immediate action with the United Nations to expel Turkish troops.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry responded in similarly harsh language: “We denounce the decision of the Iraqi parliament. We strongly condemn the ugly accusations directed to our president.”

Tension between Ankara and Baghdad escalated after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned that the presence of Turkish soldiers in Iraq could lead to a regional war.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus contributed to the squabble. “Where was the Iraqi government when [IS] occupied Mosul in one day?” he asked, referring to the takeover in June 2014.

Many people wondered what had prompted the Iraqi parliament's bad-tempered action. A political adviser who was in the Iraqi parliament's lobby when the issue was being discussed told Al-Monitor, “The interview of Erdogan with Rotana TV was discussed a lot here. Shiite parties and minority representatives were upset. There were calls for expulsion of the Turkish ambassador. Erdogan’s words that Mosul should be left to Sunnis annoyed the Turkmens. There is concern here that after Syria, Turkey might [focus on] Iraq. Turkey seems to be determined — at least Iraqis think so."

The Turkish public heard a censored version of the statement Erdogan made on Dubai-based Rotana TV. Turkey’s state-controlled media Anadolu Agency quoted Erdogan as saying, “Mosul belongs to the people of Mosul, and Tal Afar belongs to the people of Tal Afar. Nobody else has the right to come and enter these places. After liberating Mosul from [IS], only Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and Sunni Kurds should stay there.”

But according to Arabic and English translations, interviewer Jamal Khashoggi asked, “Do you think Mosul can be liberated without the intervention of Turkey and Saudi Arabia?”

Erdogan replied, “I want to make it clear that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Western coalition will not allow sectarian domination. … But there is a major question: Who will then control the city? Of course, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Turkmens and Sunni Kurds. "

Iraq's Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also called Hashid Shaabi, "must not be allowed to enter Mosul," Erdogan continued.

"Turkey and Saudi Arabia especially must cooperate to prevent them from entering. When we set up the camp at Bashiqa and our soldiers were training peshmerga, Baghdad's government was not uncomfortable with Turkey. We will not abandon our brethren who requested our support. We will not allow Mosul to be dominated by another terror group after [IS]. I believe Iran, too, will be careful about Mosul. Mosul belongs to people of Mosul and Tal Afar to the people of Tal Afar. Nobody else should enter these areas,” he said.

Naturally, that statement did not sit well with Shiite Turkmens, Shiite Arabs, Shabaks, Kakais, Yazidis and Christians who live in Mosul. Even the Sunnis in the PMU were upset. It was reported on all Iraqi channels. Erdogan’s stand on Mosul disappointed the Turkmens who saw Turkey as a guaranteeing power for them and embarrassed the Turkmens regarding other Iraqi sects.

A Turkmen representative who requested anonymity told Al-Monitor, “When Turkey makes a mistake, the bill is made out to Turkmens. This kind of utterance becomes a problem for us because here, people see Turkmens as one and the same with Turkey. It is best if Erdogan goes ahead and does what he says he will do instead of firing off such controversial statements."

He continued, "Look, nowadays there is a debate going on about allotting one [Iraqi] ministerial post to Turkmens. Now, because of the tension with Turkey, that seat will probably be given to someone who has no true connection with the Turkmens. For some time now, Turkey has been telling Turkmens to work together with Kurds. Because of this new policy, Turkey kept mum when the Kurdistan administration settled 600,000 Kurds in Kirkuk and revamped its demographic structure. When [IS] was expelling Shiite Turkmens from Mosul and Tal Afar, Turkey did not react. This is how Turkey is losing the Turkmens. Sure, the Turkmens still love Turkey, but they also see what the AKP [Justice and Development Party] rule is doing.”

In 2015, when Turkey sent 1,000 soldiers and 20 tanks to the Bashiqa base, Ankara said that was done with the knowledge of the Iraqi government. When Baghdad reacted by saying that the military force went beyond training needs and should be withdrawn, Ankara responded with the justification that they were there at the invitation Atheel al-Nujaifi, the former governor of Ninevah province. Then, Turkey said it will participate in the Mosul operation upon the invitation of Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani.

Al-Monitor spoke with Turhan Mufti, the chairman of the Nationalist Turkmen Peoples’ Party, about Turkey’s involvement. Mufti said the party doesn't want Turkey to intervene in Mosul and added, “What is important is for Iraq to solve its own problems. This is not something you can do with invitations sent by the former governor of Ninevah or Barzani, but [only] with the invitation of the Iraqi government. How can anyone else invite a foreign force to the country? … Some say, ‘If there are US soldiers, why not Turks?’ This means nothing. It is the Iraqi government that will decide which country can send its soldiers to Iraq.”

Mufti was also critical of Erdogan’s warning to Hashid Shaabi not to enter Mosul. He said, “Hashid Shaabi is not made up of exclusively Shiites. Mosul’s own Hashid Shaabi will of course take part. These are people who had fled from Mosul and Tal Afar. They are people of Mosul. Also, Iraq must be accepted as a whole. Why shouldn’t an Iraqi from Basra not fight at Mosul? We are in an all-out war against IS. Why can’t [Turkey] understand this? Nobody can impose conditions on who can fight or not.”

Mufti is among those who think the Iraqi parliament's decision was influenced by allegations that Turkey is supporting IS and that Ankara was responsible for the fall of Mosul. Ankara may dismiss the reaction of Shiite Arabs by saying they are influenced by Iran, but can Ankara ignore the reactions of Turkmens who love Turkey?

A Mosul Turkmen who was part of an unofficial diplomatic effort to improve relations between Turkey and Iraq in the first years of AKP rule in the early 2000s now feels devastated. He answered Al-Monitor’s questions with his own:

“Why did Turkey wait for two years doing nothing against [IS]? Now it says [the Shiite] Hashid Shaabi should not enter Mosul. Fine, then why didn’t you let [the Sunni] Hashd al-Watani, which you claimed to have trained, fight? What were you waiting for? Others marched from Baghdad to Mosul, fighting their way and paying the price for it. Now you are telling them, ‘Stop.’ Who is going to listen to you? You say only Sunni Arabs, Sunni Turkmens and Sunni Kurds will remain in Mosul. Why are you talking only of Sunnis? There are at least 12,000 Shiite Turkmens in the Iraqi army, police and Hashid [forces] fighting IS. Why didn’t you help Turkmens until today? You gripe about Iran, but Iran was on board to help from day one. Why weren't you? Even Ersad Salih, the chairman of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, openly said, ‘Turkey is not coming for us.’ This is what Turkmens feel.”

Many in Iraq believe Turkey intends to split the country, even though Erdogan keeps saying Turkey supports the territorial integrity of Iraq. Two days before calling for an end to Turkey’s military presence in Iraq, the Iraqi parliament rejected the request of some Sunni parties to create new federal zones and declared that Mosul’s administrative boundaries will not change. Of course, this example is just another omen of what is in store for Mosul after its liberation.

Iranian commander breaks silence on wartime arms imports

Mohsen Rafiqdoost (R) attends the inauguration ceremony for the new chairman of the Foundation for the Disinherited and War Disabled in Tehran, July 28, 1999. (photo by REUTER/JDP)

Prominent Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohsen Rafiqdoost went into unprecedented detail in a interview about his time as minister of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the IRGC had its own ministry within the administration that took care of its logistical affairs. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense was responsible for the logistics of the army.

In an interview with the Reformist Shargh Daily, Rafiqdoost said, “Although at the beginning of the revolution and during the early days of the war, the East and the West were coordinated [against Iran], we still built the defense capabilities of the IRGC with ‘Eastern weapons.’ My first time buying weapons, I bought 2,000 Kalashnikovs and 500 RPG-7s. Later, I would get weapons from Syria and Libya and eventually I connected with North Korea.”

Rafiqdoost spoke about the deep collaboration between Iran and the Eastern Bloc countries during the Iran-Iraq War, explaining, “After North Korea, I also connected with Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia and the Eastern bloc, in that order. … Of course, we would buy ammunition for Western-manufactured cannons from Switzerland. … We needed surface-to-air missiles, which were more tactical, and therefore we went and negotiated and brought them to Tehran. In exchange, we gave them a Hague system. That is all. The goods we received from Libya, for free, were worth more than $800 million.”

Rafiqdoost finally spoke about the IRGC’s connections with Beijing and Moscow. “At a certain point we connected ourselves to Communist China, and when that happened, we were connected to the source. We halted our relations with other [weapons] suppliers almost completely. China sold weapons to us directly and did it in high volume. Gradually, it started selling us strategic weapons such as coast-to-sea missiles and other types of strategic missiles as well. Gradually, and because of our connection to China, the Russians started to sell us weapons too.”

Rafiqdoost’s comments break the tradition of the past three decades, when Iranian commanders claimed that Iran did not receive military backing from any country during its war with Iraq. Emphasizing their commitment to the Islamic Revolution, these commanders had always reiterated the revolutionary slogan of “Neither West nor East.”

The reality is that after the Cold War, the relationship between the IRGC and the Eastern bloc, which had began near the end of the Iran-Iraq War, had grown so much that almost all weapons used by the IRGC today are either produced by countries such as Russia, China, Ukraine, North Korea and Belarus, or are the result of reverse engineering those products or produced under license from one of these countries.

After the end of the Cold War, the IRGC bought hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers from Russia. It also purchased Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground support aircraft and other items such as speed boats, cruise and ballistic missiles — from China and North Korea — increasingly steering its defense organization toward that of Eastern countries.

However, while the weapons system of the IRGC is based on the Eastern model, the IRGC has adopted the US model pursued by the General Staff of the Armed Forces since before the revolution as far as defense strategy and deployment are concerned. Here, it is important to bear in mind the criticism leveled at the army during the Iran-Iraq War, when IRGC commanders constantly accused it of being incapable of holding territory seized from Iraqi forces. But what is the real story behind this criticism?

The Iraqi deployment during the Iran-Iraq War was completely Eastern: The front line had limited combat capabilities while the main military power was behind. In Iran, on the other hand, the deployment was Western: The massive volume of human resources and equipment at the IRGC’s disposal was deployed on the front lines. Therefore, the IRGC could successfully break Iraq’s relatively weak defense lines and then hand over the conquered territories to the army. Due to the counterattacks initiated by Saddam’s powerful army, Iran's — which suffered from a shortage of motivated and organized forces as well as inadequate supplies of equipment and spare parts — would quickly lose ground. As a result, the perception was that the IRGC was better at fighting the war than the army. The reality, however, was different.

Rafiqdoost’s comments are important as they clarify the reasons the army was ineffective compared to the IRGC during the war.

After the revolution, the modernization of Iran's army was halted by the obstruction of foreign governments and Western arms suppliers. As a result, suspicion of Western powers continues to dominate the policies of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, while it is an unwritten rule that the Ministry of Defense will not pursue imports of Western-manufactured weapons.

The unilateral suspension of deliveries of Western-manufactured weapons to Iran’s army has left the regular navy, ground forces and the air force with worn-out, inefficient and old weapons and facilities. The IRGC, however, has had the option of buying weapons from the Eastern bloc countries and thus has continuously upgraded its defense systems with the latest missile systems, armor, personnel equipment, marine capabilities and signal systems. Therefore, although the combat organization of the IRGC is much smaller compared to that of the army, the combat power of the IRGC has in practice advanced much further.

Lastly, it should be noted that although the UN Security Council arms embargo imposed on Iran will be lifted in eight years, according to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran will for legal and political reasons continue to expand its military relations with the Eastern bloc. Naturally, the bulk of these military purchases will go to the IRGC. Considering the growing needs of the IRGC and the fact that the budget allocated to it is much greater than the funds allocated to the army, in the future the IRGC will be able to purchase the newest Russian, Chinese and North Korean equipment. This resource will push the defense policies of the IRGC more toward alignment with Eastern interests in the region, as military trade relations are a strong motivation for deepening security and diplomatic relations between the buyer and the seller.

AFP: Syrian government 'take back control' of rebel held areas in Aleppo

Syrian government have retaken control of rebel held areas in the Southern provinces of Aleppo city according to a monitor.

The Syrian observatory of Human Rights told AFP that the Syrian government had "retook full control of the Ramussa district after ferocious clashes with [Syrian] rebels".
The Syrian Arab Air Defence Force, once a proud independent service of the Syrian Armed Forces, has suffered tremendously under the five-year long Civil War. While losing dozens of surface-to-air (SAM) and radar sites to the various factions fighting for control over Syria was already a serious blow to its capabilities, Syria's poor financial situation and the transfer of large numbers of personnel from the Syrian Arab Air Defence Force (SyAADF) to the Syrian Arab Army and National Defence Force effectively gave the killing blow to the SyAADF.

The following images were taken during a large-scale exercise involving all branches of the Syrian Armed Forces in 2012. This exercise was carried out amid an increasingly deteriorating security situation in Syria, leading to calls from the international world for an intervention similar to the one seen in Libya. In response, the Syrian Armed Forces launched a several day long exercise to show its strenght to the outside world.

The 9K317E Buk-M2E, which together with the Pantsir-S1 is the pride of what once was the Syrian Air Defence Force. The 9A317 transporter-erector-launcher and radar (TELAR), seen below, is capable of independent operations thanks to its 9S36 radar. Several of these systems are deployed around Damascus and Syria's coastal region. Although the arrival of highly modern air defence equipment from Russia was much anticipated after an Israeli airstrike on a suspected nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor in 2007, the newly arrived Buk-M2Es, Pantsir-S1s and Pechora-2Ms proved just as incapable of shooting down Israeli aircraft as the systems they replaced.

A 9M317 missile speeds off after having been launched from a 9A316 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). The 9A316 carries four reloads instead of a radar, which means it's incapable of operating independently. Under normal circumstances, a Buk battalion consists of six TELARs and three TELs, which can be further divided into three batteries with two TELARs and one TEL each. Every battalion also included a target acquisition radar, a command vehicle and trucks carrying more reloads.

A Pantsir-S1 fires off one of its twelve 57E6 surface-to-air missiles. As with the Buk-M2E and Pechora-2M, these systems are mainly concentrated around Damascus and Syria's coastal region. In order to better blend in with their surroundings along the coast, many Pantsir-S1s have traded in their desert-environment finish for locally applied camouflage patterns.

The 2012 exercise provided the first visual confirmation of Syria operating the 9K35 Strela-10. Opposed to many other Strela-10 operators, Syria placed these systems around airbases instead of providing ground forces with a mobile SAM system. Although most 9K31 Strela-1s were placed into storage, all of Syria's 9K35 Strela-10s are still believed to be in active service.

Having never retired any SAM system, Syria continues to operate both the dual and quadruple S-125 launchers. The more modern quadruple variant is more common, and can be found located  throughout Syria. The dual launchers were mainly concentrated around Damascus, where one site was overrun by Jaish al-Islam in 2012.

In addition to operating both the dual and quadruple S-125 launchers, Syria also acquired several Pechora-2M surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia at the turn of the decade. This system combines a quadruple S-125 launcher (albeit with two missiles) on a Belarusian MZKT-8022 chassis, with greatly improved performance against enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. Several sites housing the Pechora-2M have been identified around Damascus and in Syria's coastal region, where they frequently relocate to different sites in order to keep an element of suprise.

Smoke rises as two 9M33 missiles are fired from a 9K33 Osa SAM system. While Syria already fielded the 9K33 in Lebanon during the eighties, the system was thrown into the spotlight after Jaish al-Islam captured several launchers in Eastern Ghouta in 2012. These 9K33s were then, and are still being used, to engage SyAAF helicopters flying over Jaish al-Islam held territory.

The 2K12 surface-to-air missile system gained legendary status while in service with Egypt during the 1973 October War (Yom Kippur War), which used them against the Israeli Air Force with great success. In fact, the system was so feared it quickly earned itself the nickname 'Three Fingers of Death'. The system was less successful in Syrian service however, and was completely outplayed along with the rest of the SyAADF and SyAAF during during Operation Mole Cricket 19 over Lebanon's Bekaa valley in 1982 and during Israeli Air Force raids into Syria over the past years.