On October 7, Col. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov provided to Russian news agencies an initial briefing on the “results of usage of cruise missiles against militants in Syria.”  A summary is provided in a press release on the website of the Russian Ministry of Defense.  Several points stand out:

  • Iraq as a new “Russian partner”…Kartapolov states that “the cruise missile strikes had been agreed on with the Russian partners beforehand.” The “Russian partners” are unspecified, but presumably include Syria and Iran.  Is Iraq now on the list of “Russian partners,” given Iraq’s new participation in intelligence sharing with Russia, Iran and Syria?   Since the missiles’ flight path included Iraqi territory, Russia likely did clear the mission with Iraqi authorities.  And if Russia told Iraq, did Iraq bother to mention this bit of news to the U.S., Iraq’s main ally?  (Though Putin routinely refers to the United States as “our American partners,” with heavy irony of late, the Pentagon states that the U.S. was given no advance notice of the missile strikes. )
  • Al-Nusra mentioned as a target in the same breath as ISIS. Kartapolov reaffirmed “plans to build-up the intensiveness of strikes against the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra [the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria] objects.”  Russia continues to ignore U.S. demands that it limit any strikes solely to ISIS.
  • The missile strikes ranged over three northern provinces where ISIS is active. “The strikes engaged plants producing ammunition and explosives, command centres, storages of munitions, armament and POL  [i.e., “petroleum, oil and lubricants”] as well as  a training camp of terrorists on the territory of the Raqquah, Idlib and Aleppo.” In broad terms, these provinces have been identified on U.S. Department of Defense and other battle maps as areas under ISIS control or where ISIS is active.
  • Kartapolov describes the process of target acquisition. The following sources are identified:
    • Space and radio reconnaissance
    • Communications interception
    • Aerial reconnaisance by UAV [i.e., Unmanned Aerial Vehicle]
    • Data from Syrian, Iran, and Iraqi intelligence, “including human intelligence”
  • Russian “due diligence” is stressed. The following precautions and algorithms are described:
    • Strikes are only carried against against “verified targets” after “a long and thorough preparation.” [“Long and thorough” are of course relative terms, but this suggests that specific planning for these strikes may have been underway even prior to the initiation of air strikes, which began September 30.]
    • A “special file” is created for each potential target.
    • A “final decision” to eliminate a target is made “only after the analysis of all the data and computer simulation of the strikes.”
      • Kartopolov states that Russia had “repeatedly” cancelled strikes “just because [terrorists] left their bases and camps and sheltered as a rule in inhabited areas and in close proximity to religious institutions.” No doubt the emphasis on Russia’s meticulous attention to careful targetting, with a claim to err on the side of cancelling a strike if civilian casualties are likely, is partially designed to contrast with recent U.S. failures, such as the bombing of the MSF facility in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
    • Kartapolov adds in passing that the same algorithm applies to Russian air strikes.
  • Renewed request for intelligence cooperation from “Russia’s partners.” Here, the term “partners” is apparently used in the Putinesque sense to refer to America and its NATO allies.  Russia, Kartapolov explains, “suggested its partners to share locations of “Islamic State” objects but there was still no answer.”  Puzzled, Kartapolov concludes that “either the partners did not have the coordinates or they did not want us to make strikes against ISIS; the reason remained unclear.”Kartapolov

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