Russia quietly begins building third military base in Syria
Over the past few days, the Russian army has quietly started construction of a new military base in the countryside near Damascus, from scratch, tasked with manning and administering a “deconfliction zone” in the Syrian south, similar to four others agreed upon earlier in the year by Moscow, Ankara and Tehran.
The first zones applied to Homs, Idlib, and the suburbs of Damascus, while the new one will encompass territory extending from Daraa, 13 kilometers north of the Syrian-Jordanian border, to the border itself, including the strategic city of Quneitra on the Golan Heights and al-Suwayda, a mainly Druze city.
Whoever patrols it will also shoulder responsibility for purging the region of “non-Syrian” forces, in reference to al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS and Hezbollah.
The Jordanian government, a staunch and longtime ally of the United States, is keen on ridding the border region of these non-state players, asking that they are pushed back into Syrian territory by 30km to 50km.
The Russians had originally wanted to restore the Syrian army to the southern front, but this was vetoed by the Americans, Jordanians and Israelis, who argued that a return of government troops would mean the return of Iranian and Hezbollah forces as well.
One idea floating in thin air at present is to amend the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), whose troops have been stationed on the Syrian-Israeli border since the mid-1970s, charged with monitoring and recording ceasefire violations.
A more sensible idea, put forth by the Russians, is to let their troops do the dirty work, just like the 600 Russian military police who were deployed to the northern city of Aleppo earlier this year. The Russians have already agreed to restore a “Syrian civil authority” to administer the new deconfliction zone, meaning government schools and police stations in the city of Daraa but no soldiers, tanks, or warplanes.
The Russians insist that Damascus raise the Syrian flag in Daraa and reopen the Nasib border crossing between Syria and Jordan, which is vital for the two countries’ bilateral trade, while assuring stakeholders it will no longer bomb these territories nor arrest armed opposition groups who agreed to join forces in the war on terror.
The new Russian base, earmarked to supervise the new deconfliction zone, will be in the town of Khirbet Raes al-Waer, around 50km from the Syrian capital and 96km from the Syrian-Jordanian border. A stone’s throw from Damascus, it is strategically located 110km south of the Syrian Golan.
All three bases are only accessible to Russian military personnel, and their territory has been leased to the Russian government for a period of 49 years, renewable for an additional 25 years by “mutual consent” between Damascus and Moscow.
The sophisticated military infrastructure found in the first two bases will likely be copied in Khirbet Raes al-Waer; they include air-defense systems, radars, runways, missile launchers, bunkers, control towers, refueling stations, and housing units for 1,000 Russian soldiers each.
It appears that Trump has just officially scheduled his first kick-off planning session for the 2020 presidential elections as NBC News has confirmed that, after a bunch of back and forth, Trump and Putin will, in fact, meet next week at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg.
As Bloomberg notes, the meeting was confirmed by White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster though he declined to provide any details on the meeting's agenda.
President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putinwill hold their first meeting as heads of state during the Group of 20 summit next week in Hamburg.
White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who announced the meeting Thursday, declined to say whether Trump would raise the issue of Russian interference in last year’s U.S. election when the two leaders meet. He said there was no specific agenda yet set.
An official with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition of US-backed militants with the stated goal of creating a secular, democratic, federalized Syria, said that the SDF sees a "big possibility of open, fierce confrontation" with Turkish forces in northwestern Syria. This comes after the two sides exchanged fire on Wednesday.
The senior official, Naser Haj Mansour, told Reuters that the SDF would confront the Turks "if they try to go beyond the known lines." Turkish forces are there to support anti-government, primarily Islamist Syrian rebels.
Mansour went on to say that a Turkish attack against SDF-controlled areas would do "great harm" to the SDF's efforts against Daesh. The two factions are currently embroiled in a struggle over the city of Raqqa, Daesh's primary stronghold in Syria.
Raqqa may be encircled and Daesh on its way out, but the deterioration of the uneasy détente between the American and Turkish blocs may begin a new wave of violence in Syria. On Thursday, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the spearhead faction in the SDF, created a military blockade to impede Turkish progress towards the Afrin district in northern Aleppo.
Turkey's deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, reiterated Ankara's opposition to the US arming YPG combatants, calling it the "wrong path." He also vowed that Turkey would retaliate against any additional YPG attacks against the militant groups Ankara backs.
Pres. Donald Trump’s administration is considering many options, including military, on their response if North Korea carries out another nuclear test according to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster according to FOX News.
“The threat is much more immediate now and so it’s clear that we can’t repeat the same approach – failed approach of the past,” McMasters said at the Center for a New American Security conference Wednesday. "What we have to do is prepare all options because the President has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population."
Pres. Trump is set to meet the new South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House Thursday. Moon has said he will stand firm with Pres. Trump against North Korea but has favored engagement with the North. He has also suggested talks with Pyongyang in the hopes of getting them to freeze their nuclear tests.
China is also pushing talks but Pres. Trump has recently warned that he feels China has not done enough to rein in their neighbor.
The U.S. frustration with North Korea is on the rise after the dead last week of university student Otto Warmbier, who spent 17 months in a North Korean prison.
Colonel Richard Kemp is a former senior UK intelligence official and former chairman of the Cobra Intelligence Group who briefed the British government on secret intelligence.
Speaking with BBC Newsnight this week, Kemp said that the 23,000 jihadists MI5 officials have publicly admitted are living in the UK "may be the tip of the iceberg":
The 23,000 number was reported in the days following the Manchester arena attack last month that left 22 victims dead and 250 injured.
Intelligence officers have identified 23,000 jihadist extremists living in Britain as potential terrorist attackers, it emerged yesterday.
The scale of the challenge facing the police and security services was disclosed by Whitehall sources after criticism that multiple opportunities to stop the Manchester bomber had been missed.
About 3,000 people from the total group are judged to pose a threat and are under investigation or active monitoring in 500 operationsbeing run by police and intelligence services. The 20,000 others have featured in previous inquiries and are categorised as posing a “residual risk”.
But Kemp's stunning admission that these figures on the number of jihadists may be vastly understated lends evidence to the claim that the extent of the threat in the UK may exceed authorities' ability to deal with it.
After the London Bridge attack, London Mayor Sadiq Khan was evasive about where those 400 fighters who had returned from Syria were exactly and why they had been allowed to return:
The problem of jihadists returning home is not a new problem, but it had clearly grown unmanageable.
Exactly how bad the foreign fighter problem had become came to light when it was revealed that more Muslims had joined ISIS than the military in the UK over the same period:
And it was revealed this week that more than 40 known terrorists are living inside the UK but cannot be touched because of human rights laws: