Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Afghanistan and U.S. Sign Bilateral Security Agreement

A day after the new Afghan government took office, Afghanistan and the United States signed a long-awaited Bilateral Security Agreement (B.S.A.), allowing nearly 10,000 American troops to remain in the country beyond the 31 December drawdown of U.S. combat forces. The force that will remain in Afghanistan will train and support local security forces, and a contingent of U.S. Special Operations forces will conduct counterterrorism missions in the country. Some 2,000 NATO troops will also join the Americans in their new mission.

Hanif Atmar, the new Afghan national security advisor, who signed the pact on behalf of his country, called it a “historic agreement,” and said it had the endorsement of Loya Jirga, the grand assembly of Afghan elders, who met and approved the pact in December.

“The people of Afghanistan placed a great steak in our enduring partnership,” said Atmar.

U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham signed for the United States. Witnessing the signing ceremonies at the presidential palace in Kabul were the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive (Prime Minister) Abdullah Abdullah.

In Washington, President Barack Obama praised the pact.

“The B.S.A. reflects our continued commitment to support the new Afghan Unity Government, and we look forward to working with this new government to cement an enduring partnership that strengthen Afghan sovereignty, stability, unity, and prosperity, and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates,” the president said in a statement released by the White House.

Photo credit: The B.S.A. signing ceremony at Arg, the Presidential Palace. Hanif Atmar, the new Afghan national security advisor (r.), and U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham signed the B.S.A. on behalf of their respective countries. Kabul, 30 September 2014 (NYT)

Emirates A380 at Imam Khomeini International Airport!

Celebration at Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA / OIIE) upon landing of Emirates Airbus A380-861. reg. A6-EDX (cn 105).

Emirates pilot displays flag of the Islamic Republic from outside open cabin window, upon landing of first A380 to Iran

Passengers disembark from Flight EK980, a special one-off A380 flight to Tehran to celebrate the launch of the airline's fourth daily service between Tehran and Dubai.

Emirates A380-861, A6-EDX as seen from terminal window at Imam Khomeini International Airport

Photos: Hamzeh Mohammad Hosseini at Tasnim News Agencuy

Caspian Summit Ends with No Legal Status Treaty

Division of Seabed Resources, Rich in Oil and Gas, Remains Contentious
Leaders of the Caspian Sea littoral states (Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan) held the 4th Caspian Summit in the Russian city of Astrakhan. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and creation of independent states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, the five countries have been unable to strike a deal on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, and on Monday failed again to reach an agreement. Discoveries of vast underwater oil and gas deposits in Caspian, however, have made the division of seabed resources the key element in any treaty defining its legal status, but there is no consensus on a convention. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the end of the summit that considerable progress had been made on the convention on the Caspian legal status, but offered no details. The summiteers, however, said they agreed to study a number of Caspian-centric projects, high among them constructing railways to connect the key Caspian ports.

“The work on preparing the convention on the Caspian Sea legal status is to be completed. I’m confident that we’ll be able to agree on the provisions that have not been coordinated yet and adopt the convention at the next summit,” Putin said. The Next meeting will be held in Kazakhstan at an unspecified date. (ITAR-TASS, 29 September) 

The Russo-Persian treaty of 1921 and Soviet-Iranian treaty of 1940 accept equality between the two countries. Equal right of navigation was granted to Persia in 1921, and the 1940 treaty regulates fishery, navigation, and commerce in the Caspian. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the absence of a treaty, Russia has signed bilateral agreements with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan dividing the seabed in northern Caspian Sea on the basis of modified median line (MML). If the MML principle were to be applied to all five littoral states, Kazakhstan, which has the longest coastline, gets 30 percent of seabed resources, which also contains more than half the Caspian Sea’s oil and gas deposits. Russia and Azerbaijan get almost 20 percent each, Turkmenistan gets 17 percent, and Iran ends up with only 13 percent. It is believe that Iranian section would contain the least amount of oil and gas.

Iran has opposed such division and instead has called for equality of all five countries surrounding a geographic lake, not a sea; hence it has proposed that the seabed resources be divided in five equal shares of 20 percent each.

Top: Map of the Caspian Sea region

Bottom photo: The 4th Caspian Summit: Presidents Ibrahim Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan. (ITAR-TASS/Radio Farda)

Basij light infantry battalion training, Qom

Basij light infantry battalion instruction on AK-type assault rifle

Instruction on field stripping AK-type assault rifle

What appears to be light intensity physical exercise training

Basij light infantry battalion physical training drill

Company from Basij light infantry battalion at Qom 

Company from Basij light infantry battalion, parade ground

IRGC field grade officers salute company from Basij light infantry battalion

Basij training on the firing of AK-type assault rifle, in prone and sitting positions

Basij light infantry PK-type light machine gun (LMG) position

Basij light infantry chemical defense drill in the field

Interesting study of Basij light infantry kit, with depiction of Basij-attached Shia cleric outfitted in Basij-issue, MARPAT-inspired BDUs.

Basij light infantry riflemen outfitted in steel helmet with camouflage cover

Entrenched Basij light infantrymen outfitted in three mismatched types of camouflage

Basij light infantrymen making use of entrenching tools

Basij light infantry field camp, Qom reaction zone

Basij light infantry religious drill in the field

Religion-based ideological indoctrination in a Basij classroom

Religion-based ideological education in a Basij classroom

Smartphone employed as personal computing device in a Basij classroom

Photos: Fars News Agency

Monday, September 29, 2014

Syria ‘Satisfied’ with U.S.-led Air Campaign against ISIL

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said today his government is “satisfied” with the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State. He made the remarks during an interview with the Associated Press.

Moallem said that the U.S. does not inform Syria of every strike before it happens. He added, “But it’s OK.” He said that Syria heard from the United States 24 hours before it led the initial airstrikes last week.

Moallem continued that the fight against ISIL has “aligned” Damascus with Western and Arab opponents of the Syrian regime in “fighting the same enemy.” (AP, 29 September)

Moallem’s remarks contradicted the Iranian and Russian opposition to the U.S. air campaign in Syria. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the airstrikes illegal during a speech at the UN General Assembly earlier this week. The Iranians could be concerned about a possible warming up of relations between Assad’s government and the U.S. at their own expense.

Moallem suggested that al-Nusra and other extremist Islamist groups should also be hit.  

Photo credit: Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem addressing the UN General assembly; 29 September 2014 (UN.org)

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan

Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated as president of Afghanistan today. He quickly appointed his rival in the bitterly contested runoff election, Abdullah Abdullah, as government’s chief executive officer, a Prime Minister-type position created as part of a compromise brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

President Ghani declared a halt to the degeneration of relations with the United States under the departing president, Hamid Karzai, who refused to sign a long-term deal to keep American troops in Afghanistan.

“Now it’s time that we enter a new era of our relationship with the United States, Europe and other countries of the world,” Ghani said.

Ghani, 65, is an anthropologist by training, and has worked for the World Bank for many years. He is the co-author, along with Ms. Claire Lockhart, of a book on problems facing the developing countries, “Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World.”

“Within these countries, vicious networks of criminality, violence and drugs feed on disenfranchised populations and uncontrolled territory,” Ghani and Lockhart wrote, describing how the people in countries from Latin America to Africa and Central Asia are “locked into lives of misery, without a stake in their countries or any certainty about or control over their own futures.” (The New York Times, 29 September)

Photo credit: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (center) and Government’s Chief Executive (Prime Minister) Abdullah Abdullah at inauguration ceremony. Kabul; 29 September 2014 (NYT)

New Iranian tactical weapons unveiled and tested by IRGC-GF

Mashregh News Agency reports new Iranian-built tactical weapons tested by IRGC-GF. Above: Asefeh 23x115 mm three-barrelled, Gatling-style cannon intended as a CIWS.

Asefeh CIWS with sense of scale provided by gunner

Truck-mounted Asefeh CIWS; claimed rate of fire is 900 rounds per minute

Fateh ("Conqueror") 5.56 mm carbine, assault rifle

Opposing view of Fateh ("Conqueror") 5.56 mm carbine, assault rifle

Fateh carbine, assault rifle handled by IRGC colonel

"Project Nasr" multi-barrel machine gun

"Project Nasr" multi-barrel machine gun mounted on Safir "jeep" type tactical vehicle

A 4x4 tactical vehicle resembling Iranian type predating mass production of Safir "jeep" type tactical vehicle

No photo provided by Iranian media but publicly disclosed is Remit AT mine system. Remit claims to be remotely activated and "capable of destroying an armored column within a radius of 100-150 meters."


Photos: Mohsen Ataei at Fars News Agency

IRIAF Su-24 overhauls at Shiraz/Shahid Dowran TAB 7 - video

Iranian media reporting IRIAF technicians recent efforts at overhauling several Sukhoi Su-24MK "Fencer-D" attack aircraft, reportedly requiring 35,000 man-hours per aircraft at Shiraz/Shahid Dowran TAB 7. [Source: Tasnim News Agency]

Note: IRIAF Su-24 aircraft known recently overhauled include serials 3-6851, 3-6801 and 3-6805, with the latter known to be overhauled by Iranian Aircraft Industries (IACI) Company at Tehran/Mehrabad TAB 1.

Below, Iranian television on-location report (Persian) from IRIAF Shiraz/Shahid Dowran TAB 7:


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hong Kong Protests Spread

Opposing Plans to Create Committee to Screen Out Candidates for City Leadership
Thousands have taken to the streets in Hong Kong, with clashes between pro-democracy protesters and the authorities escalating. The police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds that have besieged the city government headquarters since Friday. The protesters oppose the planned electoral changes introduced by Beijing, which would set up a committee dominated by functionaries loyal to the Chinese government to screen out candidates for the post the city’s chief executive. Pro-democracy groups call the proposal a mockery of the election.

The South China Morning Post reported today that the authorities were struggling to cope with sheer number of protesters, with some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares paralyzed. The Occupy Central, the most prominent groups fighting against the planned electoral changes, said additional protesters are pushing their way to join the main protest site at Tamar Park. The police have arrested nearly 100 protesters since Friday.

Occupy organizer Benny Tai Yiu-ting told the Morning Post “no one would be able to stop the campaign now… It would only end when the current chief executive steps down and the Beijing government retracts it decision.” (South China Morning Post, 28 September)

Photo credit: Protesters rally against planned electoral changes in Hong Kong; 28 September 2014 (Top photo: The South China Morning Post; Bottom photo: Getty Images)

Beijing Coverage of Hong Kong today:
China News reports: "Hong Kong people enjoy green space and sunshine."
 Photo credit: China News/Twitter/ianbremmer, 28 September 2014

Artesh Joint Command 'Morning Ceremony' - Sacred Defense Week

Contingent from Iran Army 65th Airborne Special Forces Brigade equipped with MPT-9S SMGs

Demonstration by members of Iran Army 65th Airborne Special Forces Brigade

Contingent of possibly Iran Army 58th "Zolfighar" Commando Division

Contingent of IRIAF security personnel likely from Tehran/Mehrabad TAB 1

Identified by attached signage as Iran Army "Zolfaghar-E" main battle tank

Iran Army T-72S main battle tank with attached mine plow 

Left to right: T-72S MBT, BTR-60PB APC (possibly "BTR-82"), M114 howitzer and ZSU-57-2 SPAAG

Vehicles, left to right: BMP-2 IFV, T-55 med. tank, M60A1 MBT, Neynava truck and Safir "jeep" variants

Iran Army deminers issued with personal protective equipment (PPE)

Performance of Varzesh-e Pahlavani ("Heroic Sport") by elite members of Iran Army 

Photos: Islamic Republic of Iran News Agency and Hossein Zohrevand at Tasnim News Agency