Sunday, February 25, 2018
News Roundup

Russian, Iranian tech boosts Syrian government forces

RAMTHA, Jordan — Sophisticated technology from Russia and Iran has given Syrian government troops new advantages in tracking and destroying their foes, helping them solidify battlefield gains against rebels, according to Middle Eastern intelligence officials and analysts.

The new systems include increased numbers of Iranian-made surveillance drones and, in some areas, antimortar systems similar to those used by U.S. forces to trace the source of mortar fire, the officials and experts said. Syrian military units also are making greater use of monitoring equipment to gather intelligence about rebel positions and jamming devices to block rebel communications, they said.

At the same time, Syrian military leaders are adapting new tactics that some experts also attribute to foreign advisers and training.

There has been turning point in the past couple of months, and it has a lot to do with the quality and type of weapons and other systems coming from Iran and Russia, said a Middle Eastern intelligence official whose government closely monitors the fighting. The official, who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition that his name and nationality be withheld in discussing sensitive intelligence, said the new gear is cementing an advantage recently gained by Syrian forces with the arrival of hundreds of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.

The Syrian forces have a much better view of the battlefield, and they're better able to respond to incoming fire, sometimes even before the other side can land a blow, the official said.

Rebel commanders confirmed a sharp increase in the number of surveillance drones they have seen. Opposition leaders claimed to have brought down two Iranian-made drones in the past four months, including one three weeks ago in al-Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus.

Rebel spokesmen have described the drones as Iranian-made, citing Farsi script on one that was downed near the Lebanese border. Iran is known to be a significant manufacturer of unmanned aircraft and has previously provided drones to Hezbollah, its ally.

"We are seeing unmanned aircraft much more frequently," Louay al-Mokdad, the political and media coordinator for the Free Syria Army, said in a phone interview.

U.S. officials and independent experts also have noted an increased use of drones, and some said Syria is getting better at using them to direct artillery fire at rebel positions. "It's all about how to put bombs onto targets," said Jeffrey White, a former analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency and a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.

Analysts say the presence of other technically advanced weapons, including mortar-tracking systems, has been inferred from reports by rebel fighters and intelligence operatives inside Syria, as well as military observers in neighboring countries. From their scattered observation posts along the border, Jordanian military officials described seeing direct and indirect evidence of new weapons and equipment tipping the balance in favor of Syrian troops and allies supporting President Bashar Assad's government.

"We're seeing many things we haven't seen before," said Brig. Gen. Hussein al-Zyoud, commander of Jordanian border security forces. "We've seen new kinds of armored vehicles, and other vehicles used for jamming communications. We're seeing night-vision and thermal devices that we haven't seen in the past."

The new hardware, much of it from Russia and Iran, has added to a sense of momentum that pro-government forces have been enjoying since mid spring.

The longtime Syrian allies have acknowledged providing Syria with a wide range of military equipment, from tanks and helicopters to small arms and ammunition. Moscow's apparent decision to supply S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Syria drew stern warnings this past week from the Obama administration and Israeli officials, who say the missiles pose a threat to Israel's security.

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