US officials: Russia is maintaining most of its military aircraft and equipment in Syria

Taken at face value, most of Russia’s troops and aircraft were supposed to be out of Syria by now, but that’s not the case, as Russia has kept more than two dozen of its military aircraft in Syria and continues to send military equipment to that country, U.S. officials said.

 

The moves raise questions about what Russia may be planning for a longer-term presence in Syria.

 

At its peak, there were 42 Russian fighters and bombers based at the airbase outside of Latakia in western Syria, according to U.S. military officials. And it was estimated that Russian troops had grown to as many as 5,000 to support the air mission and to help Assad forces with helicopters, tanks and artillery to support Assad ground offensives.

 

Russian Defense Ministry video released shortly after the withdrawal announcement two weeks ago showed a mix of fighter, bomber and transport aircraft returning to bases in Russia from Syria. Officials at U.S. Central Command indicated at the time that it appeared the Russians were on track to keep their commitment of reducing their air force in Syria.

 

But visuals can be deceiving as two U.S. officials tell ABC News there have been no military aircraft departures since then. Possibly as many as 28 Russian aircraft continue operating from the base, meaning two-thirds of Russia’s military aircraft have remained in Syria. And the officials say there appear to be no preparations for their departure any time soon.

 

Another indicator of the growing Russian role, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed the death last week of a Russian special forces “Spetsnaz” commander calling in airstrikes in the battle for Palmyra.

 

Meanwhile, over the past two weeks, Russian Navy ships continued sending more military equipment to Syria than has been taken out during that timeframe. One U.S. official confirmed an analysis by the Reuters news agency that looked at Russian Navy ship movements to and from Syria.

 

The official told ABC News it remains unclear if Russia is moving in heavy materials to sustain a long-term presence in Syria or if new equipment is being sent to augment Russian forces.
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Report: US and Russia reach agreement to send Assad to a third country

The US and Russia have reached an understanding that Assad will seek refuge in a third country as part of the future peace process aiming to put an end to the conflict, reported the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Thursday.

 

An unnamed senior diplomatic source with knowledge of the agreement told al-Hayat newspaper that US Secretary of State John Kerry has already informed a number of his Arab counterparts on the understanding, but stressed that “the timing of the move and its political context is still not clear.”

 

The source added that the understanding was welcomed by members of the UN Security Council, Jerusalem Postreported.

 

Kerry added that “US and Russia are reaching agreements on the behind-the-scenes diplomatic channels involving military operations against ISIS – which also includes the departure of Assad to another country at some point.”

 

However, according to the report, based on a Security Council diplomat, a timetable was not set for Assad’s departure; “the timing of the move and its context in the political process is still not clear to everyone so far,” Ynet News reported.

 

The report was released a day after Assad was quoted by Russian media saying that it would not be difficult to agree on a new Syrian government including opposition figures, but his opponents responded on Wednesday that no administration would be legitimate while he remained in office.

 

Opposition negotiators immediately dismissed Assad’s remarks, saying that a political settlement could be reached only by establishing a transitional body with full powers, not another government under Assad.

 

The United States also rejected Assad’s comments. “I don’t know whether he envisioned himself being a part of that national unity government. Obviously that would be a nonstarter for us,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
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Let’s not forget that Assad has destroyed more of Syria’s ancient sites than ISIS

The recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra by forces loyal to the Assad regime is being celebrated by many as a good sign that some of Syria’s most treasured ruins might be saved. Units of Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Shi’ite foreign militias and what remains of the Syrian military took Palmyra with Russian air support on Sunday after a less than two months siege of the city. The so-called ISIS took control of the city last May, when Assad’s forces curiously retreated from it.

ISIS destroyed a number of important ancient objects, building and artefacts, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph, which has led to calls for archaeological experts to head out to the region to assess the damage and possibly restore the sites.

But while the thought of Palmyra being restored is encouraging, we should not forget that most of Syria’s treasured sites were either damaged or destroyed by the Assad regime and not by the ISIS.

Teams of American archaeologists using satellite images of 1, 450 ancient sites found that one in four have been damaged or looted since 2011. Half of these sites are located in opposition and Kurdish held areas, a quarter in ISIS controlled territory and the rest in areas loyal to the Assad regime.

Krak des Chevaliers (Qalat al Hosn) the famous crusader castle located a few miles from the city of Homs, which had been a favourite haunt for tourists due to how well preserved the castle was- often said to be the best castle in the region. It was severely damaged by Assad regime air strikes and mortar fire in 2013, the full extent of the damage is unknown, but videos of the castle engulfed by smoke are readily available.

Al-Madina Souq in Aleppo which was the largest covered historical market in the world and it was destroyed when it caught fire after being shelled by regime forces in 2012.

Archaeological sites in the ’Dead Cities’ region of northern Syria was severely damaged by regime forces in 2011 and 2012 during their attempts to root out opposition forces and army deserters. The former Roman city of Bosra with its many heritage sites was heavily destroyed or damaged by regime tanks and artillery fire.

There are many more examples like this that have come out of this conflict. Of course, this is without mentioning the fact that in 1982 the Assad regime destroyed most of the old city of Hama, which they did after they had defeated the Muslim brotherhood inspired insurrection against Assad the father regime.

The point here is that the Assad regime has a very long history of destroying Syria’s heritage sites. However with the ascent of ISIS, the crimes against heritage committed by the Assad regime go unnoticed and it creates questionable euphoria when places like Palmyra are captured. These heritage sites are important for both economic and spiritual reasons; the future Syrian economy will be greatly helped by tourism and trade that these sites attract. But more importantly it provides Syria with its unique identity, it gives it a past which is free from both the tyranny of ISIS and the Assad regime, it tells a series of stories about our human past and offers insight into what our future’s might be.

Crimes committed against it are not only crimes against the Syrian people but crimes against humanity too. Assad should not get a free pass just because he is not ISIS.

Orient Net

Russia, despite draw down, shipping more to Syria than removing

When Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of most of Russia’s military contingent from Syria there was an expectation that the Yauza, a Russian naval icebreaker and one of the mission’s main supply vessels, would return home to its Arctic Ocean port, NDTV reported.

Instead, three days after Putin’s March 14 declaration, the Yauza, part of the “Syrian Express”, the nickname given to the ships that have kept Russian forces supplied, left the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk for Tartous, Russia’s naval facility in Syria.

Its movements and those of other Russian ships in the two weeks since Putin’s announcement of a partial withdrawal suggest Moscow has in fact shipped more equipment and supplies to Syria than it has brought back in the same period, a Reuters analysis shows.

It is not known what the ships were carrying or how much equipment has been flown out in giant cargo planes accompanying returning war planes.

But the movements – while only a partial snapshot – suggest Russia is working intensively to maintain its military infrastructure in Syria and to supply Assad forces so that it can scale up again swiftly if need be.

Putin has not detailed what would prompt such a move, but any perceived threat to Russia’s bases in Syria or any sign that Assad, Moscow’s closest Middle East ally, was in peril would be likely to trigger a powerful return, Reuters reported.

Reuters has calculated that around half of Russia’s fixed-wing strike force based in Syria flew out of the country in the days after the partial draw down was made public. The precise number of planes Russia had was secret, but analysis suggested it had about 36 fixed-wing military jets there.

On Monday, state TV showed three heavy attack helicopters being flown out of Syria along with some support staff.

Orient Net

Let’s not forget that Assad has destroyed more of Syria’s ancient sites than ISIS

The recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra by forces loyal to the Assad regime is being celebrated by many as a good sign that some of Syria’s most treasured ruins might be saved. Units of Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Shi’ite foreign militias and what remains of the Syrian military took Palmyra with Russian air support on Sunday after a less than two months siege of the city. The so-called ISIS took control of the city last May, when Assad’s forces curiously retreated from it.

 

ISIS destroyed a number of important ancient objects, building and artefacts, including the Temple of Bel and the Arch of Triumph, which has led to calls for archaeological experts to head out to the region to assess the damage and possibly restore the sites.

 

But while the thought of Palmyra being restored is encouraging, we should not forget that most of Syria’s treasured sites were either damaged or destroyed by the Assad regime and not by the ISIS.

 

Teams of American archaeologists using satellite images of 1, 450 ancient sites found that one in four have been damaged or looted since 2011. Half of these sites are located in opposition and Kurdish held areas, a quarter in ISIS controlled territory and the rest in areas loyal to the Assad regime.

 

Krak des Chevaliers (Qalat al Hosn) the famous crusader castle located a few miles from the city of Homs, which had been a favourite haunt for tourists due to how well preserved the castle was- often said to be the best castle in the region. It was severely damaged by Assad regime air strikes and mortar fire in 2013, the full extent of the damage is unknown, but videos of the castle engulfed by smoke are readily available.

 

Al-Madina Souq in Aleppo which was the largest covered historical market in the world and it was destroyed when it caught fire after being shelled by regime forces in 2012.

 

Archaeological sites in the ’Dead Cities’ region of northern Syria was severely damaged by regime forces in 2011 and 2012 during their attempts to root out opposition forces and army deserters. The former Roman city of Bosra with its many heritage sites was heavily destroyed or damaged by regime tanks and artillery fire.

 

There are many more examples like this that have come out of this conflict. Of course, this is without mentioning the fact that in 1982 the Assad regime destroyed most of the old city of Hama, which they did after they had defeated the Muslim brotherhood inspired insurrection against Assad the father regime.

 

The point here is that the Assad regime has a very long history of destroying Syria’s heritage sites. However with the ascent of ISIS, the crimes against heritage committed by the Assad regime go unnoticed and it creates questionable euphoria when places like Palmyra are captured. These heritage sites are important for both economic and spiritual reasons; the future Syrian economy will be greatly helped by tourism and trade that these sites attract. But more importantly it provides Syria with its unique identity, it gives it a past which is free from both the tyranny of ISIS and the Assad regime, it tells a series of stories about our human past and offers insight into what our future’s might be.

 

Crimes committed against it are not only crimes against the Syrian people but crimes against humanity too. Assad should not get a free pass just because he is not ISIS.

Usman Butt in The Huffington Post UK

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Polish President: ’Russia violated international law many times’

Russia has violated international law many times over the last couple of years with its actions in Ukraine, Georgia, Syria, and more, and Polish President Andrzej Duda said that it would be hard for people in his country not to be concerned about the threat posed by the much-larger country.

“As far as Ukraine is concerned, I have no doubt that international law was violated decisively [by Moscow], Duda told Lally Weymouth, a senior associate editor for The Washington Post, in an interview held in Warsaw. “The territorial integrity of the country was infringed. It’s hard not to be worried by this situation.”

And when asked if Russia poses a threat to Poland, Duda replied that the question should be viewed from the perspective of the “broader international context” and not only from the Polish perspective, as Russia’s actions arouse “obvious uncertainty..”

Duda said he believes NATO should demonstrate that it will respond to the situation, and called on the alliance to “strengthen its defensive potential in this part of Europe to such a degree as to make it absolutely clear that it does not pay off to launch an attack against any member state. Only the increased presence of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe can ensure real deterrence.”

That means involvement by the United States as well, as “the biggest and strongest member of NATO,” Duda said, telling Weymouth that he would “like to see a significantly increased presence of U.S. troops on our territory.”

Duda, elected last May, is coming to Washington this week to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, and discussed several other key topics, including battles over Poland’s constitutional court.

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Islamic coalition holds inaugural meeting in Saudi Arabia

Military chiefs of staff from Muslim nations participating in the Counter-Terrorism Islamic Force alliance met in the Saudi capital on Sunday.

The inaugural meeting aimed to coordinate efforts of the 34 countries involved in the Islamic coalition, after its formation was announced in December by Saudi Defense Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The alliance will share information and train, equip and provide forces if necessary for the fight against militants such as Islamic State and al Qaeda, Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said at the time of its founding.

The coalition’s formation was welcomed by the United States, which had urged a greater regional involvement in the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) militants who control swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. IS has threatened to overthrow the monarchies of the Gulf and mounted a series of attacks on Shi’ite Muslim mosques and security forces in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The alliance includes Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, Palestine, Comoros, Qatar, Cote d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen.

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