U.S. special forces take over air base in Syria

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Editor’s Note…

The long-planned and envisaged Balkanization of Syria between the US and Russia is finally taking shape these very days. The new airbase in Rimelan is located not far from the area where Syrian government targets were bombed by the US a while ago ( outside the effective operational radius of the Russian S-400 battery and the Electronic jamming systems). The division of the fertile crescent between the US (Iraq) and Russia (Syria) could have dire consequences for the Turks who bomb any Kurdish force trying to cross the Euphrates river and operate in its west bank near the Turkish border. Hence the not so covert Turkish support for ISIS, which remains essentially unscathed after thousands of bombing raids supposedly meant to decimate it by both the US and Russia.

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(The following is from Debka net weekly, December 11, 2015,  made public in January 22)

DEBKA Weekly’s exclusive military and intelligence sources reveal that an American military engineering unit under US Central Command, CENTCOM is hard at work building the first US air base in Syria at the Abu Hajar airport, disused since 2010 outside the oil-rich northern Syrian town of Rimelan. The new facility is embedded in the enclave controlled by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG).

It is located just 339 km by air from Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and even less, 155 km by road or 84 km by plane or helicopter, from Mosul, the ISIS stronghold in Iraq.

The new US air base is a reversal of Obama’s longstanding position on the war on ISIS and augurs seven major repercussions:
1. It is a major step toward implementing the Euphrates Pact (first revealed in the last DEBKA Weekly) secretly concluded between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That pact shares out the front against ISIS between the US, for operations east of the biblical river, and Russia, in the west.
2. It is the first air base the US has ever established on Syrian soil.
3. Although the officers of the US unit building the base were told that it was a supply an logistical facility, the runways under construction – 2,500m long and 250m wide – are clearly designed to serve American fighter jets,
4. CENTCOM will on no account rely just on the local Kurdish militia to defend the new base. Infantry, tanks, artillery units and other military personnel will have to be brought over for this purpose.
The unfolding of stages in the US military buildup in Syria is reminiscent of the phased development by the Russian army and air force of their two bases at Khmeimim near Latakia and Al-Shayarat east of Homs.
5. Adjacent to Rimelan are about 2,000 oil wells which had a pre-war capacity of 400,000 barrels of crude per day, or 60 percent of Syria’s oil production.
Once the air base is up and running, American oil companies will no doubt be pressed into service to repair the oil wells and put them back in production.
6. Just as the Russians are acting to stabilize the Kurds’ military hold in the northwestern Syrian strongholds of Kobane and Afran, the Americans are boosting Kurdish dominance in the northeast.
Both powers are in head-on clash with Turkish President Tayyp Erdogan
7. The Rimelan air base will be the second military site in the Syrian-Iraqi arena established by the Americans for fighting ISIS. US military personnel are already operating at Irbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, 204 km east of Rimelan and 110 km by air.

The Obama administration is thus quietly and without any formal announcement establishing two strong military bases in close proximity to the Islamic caliphate’s main power centers, without the US president giving the game away.

How ISIS Evades Air Strikes – and Keeps on Advancing 

Many Western analysts puzzle over the fact that some of the world’s most powerful air forces are pummeling Islamic State targets, month after month – with hardly any effect.

DEBKA Weekly’s military experts have taken a close look at this strange phenomenon and found some answers. One relates to the inadequate, misconceived tactics of this aerial campaign.

  • American warplanes setting out to bomb ISIS regularly return to base with two-thirds of their ordnance unused and intact.
  • Russia directs no more than one-third of its bombs and missiles against ISIS targets, reserving the lion’s share for rebel groups threatening the Assad regime. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, Moscow did finally bring in a big gun, the Rostov-on-Don submarine, which straight off began shooting Kalibr cruise missiles at Islamic State headquarters in Raqqa.
  • The French are too sparing with ordnance. Since their first air strikes over Syria, after the Nov. 13 multiple terror assault on Paris, their jets have not dropped more than 20 bombs per sortie and, in one attack this week, only ten. None destroyed their targets.
    In modern air force practice, bombers are supposed to check on how many targets they managed to destroy and then conduct repeat sorties or missile strikes against the ones they missed. The French pilots, however, conducted single sorties and then returned to base on the decks of the Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.
  • British RAF pilots alone make a real effort to take out targets, but their sorties are too few and far between for an impact on ISIS.

All in all, in the past year, the US Air Force dropped about 28,000 bombs and missiles on Islamic State facilities and forces. Even so, the jihadis’ territorial gains were not much reduced; neither were their military capabilities seriously degraded.
Strange as it may seem, there has been no effort to determine why the US, French and British air forces so consistently miss the mark, or account for the ISIS’s exceptional resilience in the face of a concerted air blitz.

DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources offer three further explanations:

1. ISIS has adapted to living and fighting under constant air assault.
In the early stage of the bombing campaign in late 2014, the terrorists sustained substantial losses.
They bounced back by devising a range of evasive tactics. One is the use of decoy targets, such as dummy tanks, artillery, open SUVs, long supply convoys and bases, all made of cardboard or barrels painted in military colors. Real convoys of ISIS fighters no longer travel in daylight. They move by night, taking advantage of the moon, cloud cover and weather conditions in which the aerial bombers find it hard to operate.
2. Iraqi officers are hired for their camouflaging expertise.
The Iraqi army became adept in camouflaging its military assets during the Iraqi-Iranian war in the 1990s, making them invisible to the Iranian air force. Those Iraqi experts have taught the Islamic State how to use ground conditions to mask its troop movements.
After dark, hundreds of small boats move ISIS forces on the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers between Iraq and Syria. At the first light of dawn, they vanish into the riverside vegetation and are collected by comrades who hide the boats and provide the arrivals with food and drink.
3. New roads replace routes bombed out in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS is building an alternative road network to replace the highways bombed out by US, Russian, British and French fighter jets. Unmapped winding, unpaved side roads run through mountains and hills and cross through dense vegetation and agricultural fields. In recent weeks, intelligence surveillance has discovered ISIS building tunnels along these roads for the convoys to take cover under air attack.

For smuggling looted oil out to market, the Islamist terrorists don’t bother with camouflage. Western reports of the bombing of hundreds of ISIS oil tankers are correct as far as they go. The trucks don’t belong to the Islamic State and their drivers are usually Kurds, Iraqis, Syrians or Jordanians employed for the job by the Turkish and Kurdish contractors involved in oil smuggling.
When those tankers are destroyed, ISIS is not out of pocket because it is paid up front even before the convoys set out on their journey.