Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Russia Unleashes First Wave of Airstrikes in Syria

Russian warplanes have conducted their first airstrikes in Syria, Russia’s defense ministry announced, saying that the fighter jets carried out 20 flights against ISIL positions.

“Today, Russia aerospace force jets delivered pinpoint strikes on eight Islamic State terror group targets in Syria. In total, 20 flights were made,” said Igor Konashenkov, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson. (AFP/AP, 30 September)

The United States disputed Moscow’s claims of hitting ISIL targets. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the strikes were in areas where there were no ISIL forces.

ISW reported that according to local sources, Russian airstrikes were conducted in northern Homs and the provinces of Hama and Latakia. Local militia forces and hardliners operate in these areas, but the nearest positions held by ISIL are over 55 km (34 miles) from the areas targeted by the Russians.

File photo (above): Russian Su-30MKI fighter jet (AP)

Map (bottom): Russian airstrikes in Syria: 30 September 2015 (ISW)

Arab Coalition Seize Iranian Boat Carrying Weapons

14 Sailors Arrested
The Saudi/UAE-led coalition announced today the capture of an Iranian dhow carrying weapons last Saturday near Oman’s southeastern coast of Salalah, seizing a number of rockets and missiles, anti-tank missiles, armor-piercing shells, and weapon guidance systems. 14 sailors aboard the ship were also arrested. The boat was registered under an Iranian citizen’s name for fishing purposes. (Al Arabiya, 30 September)

“The type of weapons that were recovered on Saturday confirms Iran’s desire and intention to interfere in the war in Yemen,” said Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the coalition’s spokesman. (Al Hadath, 30 September)

There were no immediate comments from the Iranians. Iran has in the past tried to ship weapons directly to the Houthis in Yemen, but was prevented by coalition forces from entering Yemeni ports. If the details of today’s report are accurate, it shows Iran is shipping arms to Oman for possible land transfer to Yemen.

Photo credit: An Iranian shipping dhow seized near Omani coast of Salalah (Al Arabiyah) 

Ceremony remembering military commanders lost in 1981 air tragedy

Above: banner showing image of IRIAF Major General Javad Fakoori

Iran's military on 29SEP15 remembered it's fallen commanders lost in an air crash thirty-four years ago to the day, during the Iran-Iraq War.

On 29SEP81, IRIAF Lockheed C-130H Hercules, serial 5-8552 en route from Ahvaz to Mehrabad crashed near Kahrizak, 20 kilometers south of Tehran, killing 80 on board including wounded from the front and the following Iranian top ranking military commanders:

- IRIA Major General Valiollah Fallahi, commander joint chief of staff

- IRIAF Major General Javad Fakouri, IRIAF commander and deputy commander joint chief of staff
(IRIAF Tactical Fighter Base 2 at Tabriz is named "Shahid Fakhouri" in his honor)

- IRIA Brigadier General Seyed Mousa Namjoo, minister of defense

- IRGC Brigadier General Yousef Kolahdouz, acting IRGC commander

- IRGC Major General Mohammad Ali Jahanara
(Hero during the Abadan siege and combat commander during Battles of Khoramshahr)

IRIAF Brigadier General 2C Hossein Khalili speaking at the commemoration ceremony

Seated in the audience, far right: IRIAF Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Alireza Barkhour

IRIAF Brigadier General 2C Farajollah Baratpour. An IRIAF F-4 Phantom pilot, Baratpour flew combat in the celebrated H-3 airstrike during the Iran-Iraq War.

Brig. Gen. Alireza Barkhour distributes honor plaques to family members of military commanders lost in the 1981 air tragedy.

Group of IRIAF colonels seated at the commemoration ceremony

IRGC brigadier general 2C breaks ground onsite of planned monument for those military servicemen lost in the 1981 air tragedy.

Photos: Mahdi Shamohammadi at Tasnim News Agency

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

U.S. Military Launches Strike on Kunduz

The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Kunduz today and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to take the northern city back from the Taliban, who pulled off a spectacular multi-pronged coordinated assault on Kunduz in the wee hours of Monday, capturing the strategically important town.

Afghan military launched a counter-offensive on Kunduz and there are reports today that they have retaken some areas, and reinforcements, including special operations and commandos, are arriving. The U.S. airstrikes against Taliban positions in Kunduz were carried out on Tuesday. U.S. military spokesman Col. Brian Tribus said the goal was “to eliminate threat to the (security) forces.” (AP, 29 September)

The insurgents had still the upper hand in the city on Tuesday, patrolling major streets, setting up checkpoints, searching for government loyalists and sealing off exit routes for anyone who wished to escape, AP reported. They emptied banks in the city of cash and seized vehicles.

Neither the U.S. nor NATO forces have an operational presence in the Kunduz region. German military control a base in the nearby Mazar-e Sharif.

Photo credit: Taliban prisoners walk on a street after their comrades released them from the main jail in Kunduz. Monday 28 September 2015 (Hekmat Aimaq/AP)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Taliban Capture Kunduz in Northern Afghanistan

The Taliban today captured the northern city of Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth largest town. The insurgents seized government buildings including the governor’s office, police compound, and the courthouse, despite heavy fighting in a series of battles with government forces. Hundreds of insurgents also broke into a main Kunduz prison and freed more than 600 prisoners, including 140 Taliban fighters. The military said the city’s airport is still under control of the security forces.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sadiq Sadiqqi told the Associated Press that “Kunduz city has collapsed into the hands of the Taliban.” (AP/FOX News, 28 September)

Sadiqqi added that the Taliban attacked the city from 10 different locations around 3 a.m. local time, overwhelming security forces.  Residents report the insurgents soon reached the town’s main square, tearing down photographs of President Ghani and other leaders and raising the flag of the Taliban movement.

“With capturing of police compound and governor’s office in Kunduz, the whole province fell to our hand,” the Taliban’s spokesman said Monday on his Twitter account.

The capture of the strategically located Kunduz, with a population of more than 300,000, marks the first time the Taliban have seized a major urban area since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The Taliban previously attacked the same city in April, in its first major advance into an urban area, but were pushed back by security forces. This is a huge loss for Afghanistan.
Kunduz, Afghanistan (Photo: Al Arabiya)
Nader's Note: I visited the city in 2012. 

P5+1, Iran FMs Meet on Implementation of JCPOA

Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted tonight that the meeting between foreign ministers of P5+1 and Iran on the sidelines of UNGA was good, discussing the implementation of the nuclear accord, JCPOA. 
Photo: @JohnKerry/Twitter

U.S. Willing to Work with Russia and Iran to Resolve Syrian Conflict - Obama

UN General Assembly opened today with a focus on the Syrian conflict. President Obama said the U.S. is willing to work with any nation – including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict in Syria. Obama added that the pre-war scenario in which Assad remains in power could not be part of the solution, emphasizing that we should not support “tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs on innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.” But Obama used the language of a compromise in describing leadership change in Syrian as a “managed transition” away from Assad.

“The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to pre-war status quo,” Obama told heads of states and governments and other officials present at the UNGA.

“Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL. But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild,” Obama said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who spoke at UNGA shortly after Obama, said no one but Assad and his armed forces are truly fighting the Islamic State. He did not elaborate on the assertion, especially given the fact that Assad and his military have rarely engaged against ISIL and instead have on opposition forces and other anti-regime groups.

Putin shared his concern that fighters recruited by ISIL, presumably Chechens and other Russians, may one day return home to Russia. Putin said, “We cannot allow these criminals who tasted blood to return home.” Putin called for a grand coalition of nations to fight ISIL.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who spoke after Obama and Putin, did not mention Assad by name. But he also called for a global coalition against terrorists, and proposed a “biding international document” against terrorism.

Rouhani’s remarks on the problems plaguing the region focused instead against the United States and its support for an “inhumane” Israel, saying current conflicts in the region are ultimately the product of American policy.

“If we did not have the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq… today the terrorists would not have an excuse or justification for their crimes,” Rouhani said.

It’s worthy to note that the Islamic Republic actively supported the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan after 9/11. It was not clear if Rouhani’s reference now to that war is a change in the official Iranian position.

Photo credit: Presidents Obama and Putin at the UN luncheon after their speeches to the General Assebly; Monday 28 September 2015 (Twitter)

Iraq Defends Intelligence Sharing with Russia, Syria, Iran

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Baghdad needs to share intelligence with other countries, including Russia, Syria and Iran, in order to defeat the Islamic State. He made the comments today in a televised speech aired before his departure to attend the UN General Assembly. Abadi added that Iraq welcomes Russia’s “recent interest” in battling ISIL. (AP, 28 September)

Abadi said he will continue to work closely with the U.S.-led coalition, saying Iraq needs “all the world’s intelligence” and efforts against the Islamic State.

File photo: Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (

Rouhani articulates Iran's position on Syria and the war against ISIL/Al-Qaeda

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, on 27SEP15 at the United Nations

According to Reuters:
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday fighting radical militants like Islamic State in Syria is the top priority and if they are to be defeated then President Bashar al-Assad's government "can't be weakened."
"This does not mean that the Syrian government does not need reform ... Of course it does," Rouhani told an audience of U.S. think-tanks and journalists on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, but he added that the removal of his ally Assad would turn Syria into an extremist safe haven.
Discussions of political reform in Syria should come after the threat of extremism in Syria has been removed.
Referring to air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition on Islamic State targets in Syria, Rouhani said defeating the militants was "not feasible through air operations only." He said Russia "is ready to fight terrorism" and shares the same desire to defeat the threat of Islamic State.
"If the priority is not to defeat terrorism, we are making a big mistake," Rouhani said.
He added that Russia's and Iran's positions on Syria were "almost identical."
Failing to address the problem of Islamic State properly and forcing out the government would result in the group taking control of Damascus, Rouhani said.
COMMENTARY: There is an unverified indication suggesting Iraq's Abadi government may have instituted denial of Russian supply aircraft traversing Iraqi airspace, bound for Syria.

The Rouhani administration perception of the American priority for the Syrian conflict remains regime change in Syria, rather than the defeat of ISIL and Al-Qaeda.

Iran's military and conservative establishment advance the perception still further, accusing the United States of outright support of ISIL and Al-Qaeda, which is something of a parallel track of accusation to that of United States charges levied against Iran for harboring and releasing five senior members of Al Qaeda earlier this year, including the man who stepped in to serve as the terrorist group’s interim leader immediately after Osama bin Laden’s death.

The beneficiaries to this lack of a unified international front remain ISIL and Al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, IRNA reports Rouhani will cut short his visit to New York and return to Tehran for the funeral of Iranians killed in the haj tragedy in Saudi Arabia.

Italian Prime Minister Mateo Renzi with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on 27SEP15 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on 27SEP15 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on 27SEP15 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

French President François Hollande with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on 27SEP15 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

Bolivian President Evo Morales with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on 27SEP15 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on 27SEP15 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

Senegalese President Macky Sall with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on 27SEP15 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on 27SEP15 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

Photos: Islamic Republic News Agency

Sunday, September 27, 2015

France Bombs ISIL Camp in Syria

France said today it had launched air strikes against an Islamic State training camp in eastern Syria, joining Russia as the newest countries planning military intervention against ISIL inside Syria.

A U.S.-led coalition of Western and Arab countries have been conducting airstrikes on ISIL positions in the country, and France will coordinate its combat activities in support of the coalition. Russia is also expected to start its own airstrikes in Syria soon and along with the Syrian air force, which has been conducting limited number of strikes against ISIL, could also coordinate or deconflict combat air missions with the coalition.

File photo: A French Rafale fighter jet above Iraq (AFP)


Skies over Syria getting crowded, via @Joyce_Karam/Twitter

Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi military cooperation against ISIL

RuAF Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan at at Bassel al-Assad Airport, near Latakia, Syria

According to Reuters:
Iraq said on Saturday that its military officials were engaged in intelligence and security cooperation in Baghdad with Russia, Iran and Syria to counter the threat from the Islamic State militant group, a pact that could raise concerns in Washington.
A statement from the Iraqi military's joint operations command said the cooperation had come "with increased Russian concern about the presence of thousands of terrorists from Russia undertaking criminal acts with Daesh (Islamic State)."
The move could give Moscow more sway in the Middle East. It has stepped up its military involvement in Syria in recent weeks while pressing for Damascus to be included in international efforts to fight Islamic State, a demand Washington rejects.
COMMENTARY: News of this was first indicated by an anonymous American official last Friday. The next day, Iraqi Joint Forces Command issued statement confirming Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi military cooperation against ISIL.

From an objective military standpoint, such cooperation is logical. It's also possible maintaining of the logistical air bridge over Iraq to Syria was discussed.

An advantage of the Russians and Iranians in the war against Al-Qaeda and ISIL is possession of a reliable partner inside Syria. That reliable partner is the Syrian Arab Republic, a sovereign state recognized by the United Nations. Unfortunately, the United States lacks a reliable partner at anywhere near such a level inside Syria, with attempts to compose one so far rendering unsatisfactory results.

This move comes not only at a time where Russia has landed a significant military force into Syria, but also at a time where Baghdad is experiencing political crisis and military stalemate.

The move further enhances Russia and Iran's peace process for Syria, which will be the subject of discussion on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session now in progress.

It is even being said the Iranians may be included in discussions aimed at resolving the conflict in Yemen, a development a number of European high ranking officials recently advocated while visiting Tehran, seeking post-JCPOA economic ties.

Sacred Defense Week- NEZAJA arms & equipment delivery ceremony

NEZAJA on 26SEP15 during Sacred Defense Week put on display military technology achievements of Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization of the Iranian Army," with claimed deliveries to operational units. Below are Iranian media imagery related to the event:

Teaser image of eight-wheeled AFV based on a modified BTR-60 armored personnel carrier with BMP-2 turret and main armament.

Sarir 4x4 armored personnel carrier (APC). This AFV type was originally unveiled in early 2012.

BTR-60 armored personnel carrier fitted with what appears to be Sedad type 23mm gun (ZU-23-2 with electro-optical sight and stabilizer). If so, this type originally unveiled at previous Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization ceremony in August 2012.

9M133 Kornet launcher produced locally under name of "Dehlavie." This type has been displayed since at least as far back as July 2012.

Displayed missile of the Dehlavie ATGM system

Bostan 122 mm and Karkhe 107 mm disposable rocket launchers, claimed manufactured with composite material

Howeizeh SPG. This type, essentially a refurbished M109, was originally unveiled at previous Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization ceremony in August 2012.

Two Howeizeh SPG units on tank transporters manufactured in Iran

NEZAJA Commander Brig. Gen. Pourdastan with a Shaher 14.5mm anti-material sniper rifle. This type was originally unveiled at previous Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization ceremony in August 2012.


Photos: Islamic Republic News Agency, Mehdi Bolourian at Fars News Agency, Abolfazi Arabjavadi at Mehr News Agency

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rising Death Toll From Hajj Stampede

As the hajj religious pilgrimage entered its final day Saturday, the death toll from Thursday’s stampede during the ritual of stoning of Satan at Jamarrat pillars in Mina has risen to 719 people, while 863 were injured, AP reported.

Iranian citizens comprised the largest number of fatalities confirmed so far. Iranian state TV said 134 Iranian pilgrims died and 85 injured, while 354 Iranian pilgrims remain missing. (IRIB, 26 September)

Photo credit: A day after the tragic stampede, Muslim pilgrims walk in a tunnel on their way to cast stones at Jamarrat pillars, a ritual symbolizing the stoning of Satan during the annual hajj pilgrimage, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia; Friday 25 September 2015 (AP)

Rouhani flown to JFK for UNGA session in newly acquired A343

Above: President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif aboard newly acquired IRIG (Meraj Air) Airbus A340-313, reg. EP-AJA (cn 257) on 24SEP15, departing THR on RWY 29L, bound for JFK.  [photo: Mehrad Watson]

Livery painting complete, EP-AJA takes the Iranian delegation to New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly session.

Flight details below, click to enlarge [source: Flightradar24]:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives at New York - John F. Kennedy International (Idlewild) (JFK / KJFK)

President Rouhani transfers to vehicle transport with assistance rendered by United States diplomatic security detail

At the United Nations General Assembly on 25SEP15: President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and UN Representative Gholamali Khoshroo.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on 25SEP15 at the United Nations

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on 25SEP15 at the United Nations.

Photos: Islamic Republic News Agency

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sacred Defense Week - IRIAF exhibit at Mehrabad Airport

Iran media imagery of the Sacred Defense Week exhibition held by Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) at Mehrabad International Airport, commemorating the onset of the Iran-Iraq War that took place 35 years ago.

Collection of IRIAF aircraft assembled for exhibition during Sacred Defense Week 2015

Newly unveiled Mohajem 92 ("Attacker 92") unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Claimed specifications include 6-hour flight endurance, 200 kph speed at the sea level, a weight of 80 kilograms and operating radius of 100 km. [source: Tasnim News Agency]

Displayed aircraft, in order:
- IRIAF Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer tandem-seat training aircraft
- IRIAF Bell 214C Isfahan medium-lift helicopter
- IRIAF Boeing (Elicotteri Meridionali) CH-47C Chinook (219) heavy-lift helicopter
- IRIAF Fokker F-27-400M Troopship transport aircraft
- IRIAF Lockheed C-130H Hercules (L-382) transport aircraft

Far left: IRIAF Dassault Mirage F1EQ, serial 3-6202

Detail of IRIAF Dassault Mirage F1EQ, serial 3-6202
Photo: Mehrad Watson

Foreground: IRIAF Grumman F-14A Tomcat, serial 3-6030 / 160328 (H-30) from Isfahan/Shahid Babaei TFB-8

Detail of IRIAF Grumman F-14A Tomcat, serial 3-6030 / 160328 (H-30)
Photo: Mehrad Watson

Foreground: IRIAF McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II fighter bomber of 91st TFS from Bandar Abbas/Shahid Abdulkarimimi TFB-9.

Detail of IRIAF McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II fighter bomber of 91st TFS from Bandar Abbas/Shahid Abdulkarimimi TFB-9.  [photo: Erfan Arabzadeh]

Pair of Owj JT2-2 Tazarve (“Pheasant”) prototype jet training aircraft

IRIAF Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 “Fulcrum” of 11th TFS from Tehran/Shahid Lashkari TFB-1

IRIAF Chengdu FT-7N Airguard, serial 3-7723 of 85th TFS from Isfahan/Shahid Babaei TFB-8

Detail of IRIAF Chengdu FT-7N Airguard, serial 3-7723 of 85th TFS from Isfahan/Shahid Babaei TFB-8
Photo: Erfan Arabzadeh

Foreground, left: IRIAF Northrop F-5F Tiger II, serial 3-7167 / 50694 (cn Z1014) of 21st TFS from Tabriz/Shahid Fakoori TFB-2.
Background, right: IRIAF Northrop (HESA) F-5F Saeghe II ("Thunderbolt II"), serial 3-7182 of 23rd TFS from Tabriz/Shahid Fakoori TFB-2.

Detail of IRIAF Northrop F-5F Tiger II, serial 3-7167 / 50694 (cn Z1014)
Photo: Mehrad Watson

IRIAF Boeing 747-131(SF) from Transport Wing at Tehran/Mehrabad

IRIAF Boeing (Elicotteri Meridionali) CH-47C Chinook (219), serial 5-9307

IRIAF Lockheed C-130H Hercules (L-382), possible serial 5-8501 (cn 382-4115) of 11th TAS from Transport Wing at Tehran/Mehrabad.

Saha Air Boeing 707-3J9C, reg. EP-SHV (cn 21125/912)
Note: vintage aircraft currently used for cabin crew training at Saha Air training center

IRIAF Lockheed L-1329 JetStar 8, serial 5-9001
Photo: Mehrad Watson

IRIAF display of air-launched weapons (1)

IRIAF display of air-launched weapons (2)

General Electric J79 axial-flow turbojet engine from F-4 Phantom II aircraft

IRIAF display of air crew flight gear

Left to right:
- Unidentified IRIAF major, TFB-1 base security
- Unidentified cleric
- IRIAF colonel, F-5 Tiger II pilot "Agressor Squadron" flight instructor
- IRIAF Deputy Commander Brigadier General Alireza Barkhour
- IRIAF Brigadier General 2C Mohammed Tasviyehchi, commander of TFB-1
- Unidentified IRIAF Brigadier General 2C

Photos: F. Samadi at Islamic Republic News Agency, Mehrad Watson and Erfan Arabzadeh