Israeli military exercise starting today will be the largest drill in nearly two decade
Israel’s Defense Forces will begin a massive exercise simulating conflict with Hezbollah in the country’s north today, military sources said, in what would be the largest drill in nearly two decades.
The drill will last 10 days and simulate “scenarios we’ll be facing in the next confrontation with Hezbollah,” a defence source said Monday.
Military sources said tens of thousands of soldiers, including reserves, would take part.
Aircraft, boats and submarines would be deployed, and the army’s canine unit would also participate, they said.
The army would set up two field hospitals and test unmanned trucks and helicopters to evacuate casualties.
Israel and the United States last month accused a UN peacekeeping mission of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah smuggling arms and amassing forces on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel in preparation for war.
Preparations for the drill, however, have been ongoing for more than a year and a half, the sources said.
The last time the Israeli army held a drill of this volume was in 1998, when it simulated a war with the Syrian army for a week.
Hezbollah has been involved in the Syrian civil war, where it has sent thousands of fighters to back government troops. But it says it is ready for war to defend Lebanon’s southern border from Israel.
The last major confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah was in 2006. It ended with heavy losses on both sides. The UN-backed ceasefire agreement, which ended the war, expanded the mission of UN peacekeeping troops in Lebanon.
UN Security Council resolution 1701 increased the number of UNIFIL troops from 2,000 to more than 10,000. The resolution also called for a buffer zone free of “any armed personnel” south of Lebanon’s Litani River, about 20km from the Israeli border.
The Security Council renewed the mandate of UN troops in Lebanon last week.
STUTTGART, Germany — Tens of thousands of troops will be on the move next month in Europe in a burst of Cold War-style war gaming as Russian and Western forces launch some of their largest drills in years, raising suspicions between old adversaries and sparking concerns about potential military miscalculation.
From Ukraine and Sweden to the Baltics, Kaliningrad and Belarus, troops will be maneuvering on both sides of the line that divides Russia from NATO and its partners.
“So it will be getting crowded, especially in the Baltic Sea area,” said Lukasz Kulesa, a security analyst with the European Leadership Network’s Warsaw office. “Plus, we will be watching each other’s exercises … so there’s always a risk of an incident or accident.”
The flurry of war games, combined with more NATO and Russian forces based near possible flashpoints, highlights the changed security environment in Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.
Russia says its Zapad (“West”) maneuvers will include 13,000 troops, but some NATO allies expect as many as 100,000 troops.
The main movements take place mostly in Belarus, but it’s suspected they will coincide with exercises stretching from Moscow’s fortified enclave of Kaliningrad back into contiguous Russia.
Every few years, Moscow moves forces into Belarus for Zapad, the Olympics of Russian war games, which traditionally has focused on rivals in the West. The 2013 iteration involved some 90,000 troops in one of the largest Russian exercises since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia has since annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, supported separatists in that country’s east and launched an intervention in Syria that propped up its ally, Bashar Assad.
Historically, Zapad has given Russian forces a chance to test new equipment and tactics, whether perfecting a tank invasion into NATO territory during the Cold War or doing dress rehearsals for more recent operations, such as the Ukraine invasion or the 2008 war with Georgia.
NATO has intensified its operations since the Ukraine invasion, particularly along the eastern flank in deployments the alliance previously avoided for fear of provoking Russia.
Strengthening the ‘trip wire’
The U.S. and its allies are moving forward with their own ambitious set of exercises. In September, the Army will kick off Rapid Trident, a long-planned exercise in western Ukraine involving 10 nations. In the Baltics, the 173rd Airborne Brigade will deploy 600 troops for the duration of Zapad, conducting drills and keeping watch.
In Sweden, about 20,000 troops will assemble in September. A U.S. Patriot battery and a National Guard tank unit are expected to join them.
Kulesa said that while chances of conflict remain remote, there are risks connected to the heightened activity.
Russia has gone to great lengths to track NATO activities, using small drones and aircraft flying without transponders to test alliance air defenses, Kulesa said. Russia also has flown close to U.S. reconnaissance aircraft flying in international space over the Baltic Sea.
“It is a big change from 2009, 2010, when NATO allies were pressuring not to have any contingency plans for the Baltics, let alone any troop presence,” said former Estonian President Toomas Ilves, an advocate for a more robust NATO presence in the region.
Yet deterring Russian aggression without provoking it requires a delicate balance. Some analysts warn that large war games raise the risks of miscalculations.
“I worry about the role that exercises such as Zapad play in fueling the action-reaction cycle of Russia-West confrontation,” Kulesa said. “If the Zapad scenario includes sending rapidly massive airborne and tank units to Belarus, or conducing precision strikes with weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads, then of course this will make (it) more likely that NATO will tailor its defenses accordingly.”
Meanwhile, Russia has moved some of its readiest units near the Baltics in recent years.
Russia has 22 battalions in its Western Military District, 13 of which are tank, wheeled or mechanized infantry units, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Baltic states combined have 11 infantry battalions and no heavy armor units.
NATO has moved to close the gap, adding reinforced battalions in all three Baltic countries and Poland, where a U.S. Stryker squadron is positioned.
“Let’s face it, a (NATO) battalion in each country is more of a trip wire,” Ilves said. ”But the troop levels — I think it is appropriate. It does show there is a commitment on the part of NATO (while) at the same time, a battalion doesn’t represent a threat to anybody.”
Reading Russia’s intentions
Russia maintains a decided advantage in firepower, with 10 artillery battalions in the Baltic region. It also has five surface-to-surface missile battalions.
“In comparison, NATO forces suffer from a serious deficit in tubed artillery, rocket launchers, and (submarine-launched missiles). In short, NATO’s lighter forces are outgunned by Russia,” a Carnegie Endowment report stated.
Russia also keeps 27 combat air squadrons in its Western Military District and six battalions of assault helicopters, which NATO would have to scramble to match in a crisis.
The firepower advantage, coupled with an anticipated surge in forces for upcoming war games, has NATO’s attention.
“It is a muscle-flexing exercise. On the other hand, I really don’t think Russia would risk doing anything more than that,” Ilves said. “I think it is a case of psychological pressure.”
Allies worry that Russia could use the Zapad drills to leave a large residual force in Belarus, which would pose a threat to Poland and Lithuania. Moscow has dismissed such suspicions as Western hysteria.
Some analysts think it is unlikely that Russia will seek to leave behind a major force in Belarus, given the country’s desire to strengthen economic ties with the West.
“The Belarusians are not so keen on getting into bed with them (the Russians),” said Pal Dunay, a security expert at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. “Belarusians are being fully transparent and really don’t want to be in a situation where they are put in a bad light.”
Philip Breedlove, NATO’s former supreme allied commander, said such suspicions stem from Russia’s lack of transparency.
“All nations have the right to exercise,” Breedlove said. “What we don’t have the right to do in Europe is to be irresponsible or overzealous in our exercises.”
Russia’s air force task group in Syria delivered strikes destroying a large convoy a terrorists’ vehicles, which were heading to the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on Monday.
“The Russian military aviation eliminated another large convoy of militants from the Islamic State (a terrorist organization outlawed in Russia), as they were heading to Deir ez-Sor, where international terrorists are trying to re-group and set up their last stronghold in Syria,” according to the ministry.
VIDEO: Khmeimim airbase, Syria, summer 2017
“Bombers and military aviation from the Russia Aerospace Forces destroyed over 20 off-road vehicles equipped with large-caliber weapons and grenade launches, as well as armored vehicles, including tanks, and heavy-load trucks carrying ammunition,” the ministry said.
“Over 200 militants were also eliminated.”
The Russian Defense Ministry added that throughout August militants had been trying to concentrate their forces in the province of Deir ez-Zor, while the Russian air forces and Syrian government troops were ousting them from the south of Raqqa province and the west of Homs province.
Officials reported details of yesterday’s strikes, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.
Strikes in Syria
In Syria, coalition military forces conducted six strikes consisting of six engagements against ISIS targets:
— Near Dayr Az Zawr, a strike destroyed 10 ISIS oil-storage barrels.
— Near Raqqa, five strikes engaged two ISIS tactical units and destroyed three fighting positions.
Strikes in Iraq
In Iraq, coalition military forces conducted nine strikes consisting of 18 engagements against ISIS targets:
— Near Qaim, a strike destroyed an ISIS supply cache.
— Near Beiji, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed a vehicle.
— Near Rawah, three strikes destroyed two ISIS headquarters, a weapons cache and a staging area.
— Near Tal Afar, four strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit and destroyed seven rocket systems, two command-and-control nodes, two mortar systems, a vehicle-borne-bomb factory, a supply cache and a front-end loader.
Other Recent Strikes
Additionally, officials today announced the results of 26 strikes consisting of 38 engagements conducted in Syria and Iraq on Aug. 17 and Aug. 18 for which the information was unavailable at the time of yesterday’s report:
— Near Raqqa on Aug. 17, three strikes engaged three ISIS tactical units and destroyed a fighting position.
— Near Raqqa on Aug. 18, 20 strikes engaged 14 ISIS tactical units, destroyed 14 fighting positions and damaged a tunnel entrance.
— Near Tal Afar on Aug. 18, three strikes destroyed 24 ISIS roadblocks, two vehicle-borne-bomb factories, an ISIS headquarters, an ISIS command-and-control node and a fighting position and suppressed three mortar teams.
Part of Operation Inherent Resolve
These strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The destruction of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria also further limits the group’s ability to project terror and conduct external operations throughout the region and the rest of the world, task force officials said.
The list above contains all strikes conducted by fighter, attack, bomber, rotary-wing or remotely piloted aircraft; rocket-propelled artillery; and some ground-based tactical artillery when fired on planned targets, officials noted.
Ground-based artillery fired in counterfire or in fire support to maneuver roles is not classified as a strike, they added. A strike, as defined by the coalition, refers to one or more kinetic engagements that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single or cumulative effect.
For example, task force officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIS vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of ISIS-held buildings and weapon systems in a compound, having the cumulative effect of making that facility harder or impossible to use. Strike assessments are based on initial reports and may be refined, officials said.
The task force does not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.
America used to be the nation to re-build a country after a war. Now Syria invites ‘friendly’ nations to re-build its towns, cities and infrastructure, with Russia and Iran poised to be the countries to invest in the reconstruction programme – with the United States nowhere to be seen.
In a sign of President Assad’s growing confidence that he has snatched back control of Syria, the first international trade fair in five years opens today in the capital, Damascus.
There has been little to draw visitors to the huge purpose-built fairground on the airport highway since the civil war broke out in 2011. The strategic road, running southeast of the city, has often been the focus of fierce battles, with the rebels coming close to capturing the airport itself in 2012.
More recently Israeli airstrikes have hit targets close to it, while last month it was struck by a double car bombing. Dignitaries from 42 “friendly countries” will arrive today, however, to pitch for investment and reconstruction contracts worth billions.
For the first time since the fair began in 1954, foreign companies will be allowed to sell the products they are exhibiting, bypassing Syria’s strict import rules.
Last week Imad Khamis, Syria’s prime minister, signalled that priority would be given to “friendly and brotherly countries that stood by Syria in its war against terrorism”.
Iran and Russia, Assad’s two staunchest allies, are already cashing in on their policies in Syria. This year Russia has won a series of oil and construction contracts in the war-ravaged country, while a free trade agreement signed last November opens the way for Syria to export its agricultural products.
Iran, which is hosting a photo exhibition at the fair documenting the years of warm relations between Tehran and Damascus, has also swelled its economic interests there. It has been granted a licence to operate a mobile phone network, as well as pumping credit into the country to keep its economy afloat.
Iranian individuals and companies have been buying huge tracts of land as well as businesses and residential properties across regime-held areas of the country.
Other countries have quietly continued their relations with Assad and are now winning contracts to help to rebuild the country. In 2014 India secured a $1 billion contract to rebuild and re-equip Syrian hospitals, while this year the regime discussed investment deals in the energy, pharmaceutical, telecommunications and construction sectors with China.
Japan suspended its grants to the country in 2011, but resumed them in 2013 with aid projects focusing on rebuilding infrastructure. Belarus, a country with close ties to Russia, is in talks to set up a carmaking factory inside Syria.
A number of European Union member states are also still trading with Syria, despite the bloc’s condemnation of Assad’s violent crackdown and sanctions on various regime figures.
The Czech Republic has maintained diplomatic relations with Damascus and has proposed a number of reconstruction projects.
Cyprus, which has historically hosted a high number of Syrian migrant workers, also maintains a warm relationship with Assad’s government although trade between the two has been halted.
Russia’s new diesel-electric submarine Krasnodar has arrived at its home base in Sevastopol (Crimea) for operation in the Black Sea Fleet after performing an inter-fleet passage and accomplishing missions in the Mediterranean Sea as part of the Russian Navy’s standing task force, TASS reports from the site.
“Today’s arrival of Krasnodar, a fourth submarine, in Sevastopol, is not only the arrival of a new submarine, but we can state now that a whole unit of submarines exists in Black Sea Fleet,” fleet’s Commander, Admiral Alexander Vitko, told reporters on Wednesday.
“Four submarines are in the Black Sea, two – in the Baltic Sea, and they will shortly start their passage to the home port,” he added.
Krasnodar’s passage has continued four months, which is a certain record for the Black Sea Fleet, the commander said, adding that in the future submarines will have longer passages.
As was reported in late June, the frigates Admiral Essen, Admiral Grigorovich and the submarine Krasnodar destroyed large arms depots of the Islamic State terrorist organization (outlawed in Russia) with six cruise missiles in Syria, delivering the strikes from the eastern portion of the Mediterranean Sea.
The submarine had worked on interaction assignments as part of a multiple-type tactical group with two frigates.
A keel-laying ceremony for Project 636.3 diesel-electric submarine (SSK) Krasnodar took place on February 20, 2014 at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg. The submarine was floated out on April 25, 2015.
The Project 636.3 (Varshavyanka-class) covers the third generation of diesel-electric submarines that are among the most noiseless underwater cruisers in the world.
They are capable of developing a surface speed of up to 20 knots and dive to a depth of 300 meters. They have a cruising capacity of 45 days and a crew of 52.
The Project 636.3 submarine displaces about 4,000 tonnes in its underwater position.
The first series of six such Project 636.3 Varshavyanka-class submarines have already been delivered to the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Six Varshavyanka-class submarines for the Pacific Fleet are planned to be built before 2022.
Russia’s newest helicopter Mi-28UB (with dual controls) will be tested in Syria, the CEO of the Helicopters of Russia company, Andrei Boginsky, has said.
“Currently the Mi-28N helicopter has a crew of two – the pilot and the operator. The task of the new project is to turn the helicopters into a combined combat and training aircraft, with the full set of controls in front of both seats. We would like these helicopters [Mi-28UB – TASS] to undergo tests here [in Syria],” Boginsky said in an interview on the Zvezda TV news channel recorded at the Hmeymim air base.
Earlier, the Helicopters of Russia general designer, Nikolai Pavlenko, said eight new Mi-28UB helicopters would be provided for the Aerospace Force later this year.
The chief of the Aerospace Force’s army aviation combat training, Nikolai Pavlenko, said that the first Mi-28UB helicopters would be delivered to the 344th center of combat training and retraining center in Torzhok.
Mi-28UB is a combined combat and training configuration of the attack helicopter Mi-28N Night Hunter. It began to be developed in 2010. The double control function is one of its key features. Although the helicopter is meant for training pilots, it retains all combat capabilities and can attack enemy targets and vehicles.
Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (SSO VS RF) (Russian: Силы специальных операций Вооружённых Сил Российской Федерации (ССО ВС РФ)) are components of the Russian General Staff Special Operations Command
This is a specially created unit of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, the formation of which began in 2009 during a large-scale reform of the Russian Federation Armed Forces (2008–2020).
The Forces are a highly mobile, well-trained and equipped, constant combat readiness special operations force of the Russian Ministry of Defense, designed to perform specific tasks in order to protect the interests of Russian Federation (with application of military force, by necessity), both within the country and abroad, in peacetime and in wartime.
Russian Ministry of Defense defines the term “special operation” as follows: “Special operation of troops (forces) is a complex of special actions of troops (forces), coordinated by objectives and tasks, time and place of execution, conducted according to a single concept and plan in order to achieve certain goals. Special actions of troops (forces) are activities carried out by specially designated, organized, trained and equipped forces, which apply methods and ways of fighting not typical for conventional forces (special reconnaissance, sabotage, counter-terrorist, counter-sabotage, counterintelligence, guerrilla, counter-guerrilla and other activities)”.
In 2009, as a part of the comprehensive reform of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces, Special Operations Directorate, directly subordinated to the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, was created on the basis of the military unit 92154 in the Moscow region. At the beginning of 2012 by the initiative of the Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov The Special Operations Directorate was reorganized as the Special Operations Command, which was followed by plans to upscale the Forces manpower up to 9 special purpose brigades.
In March 6, 2013 the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov announced the beginning of the Special Operations Forces creation. While speaking to foreign military attaches in Moscow, he said: “After reviewing the practice of the formation, training and the use of special operations forces in the leading countries of the world, Russia’s Defense Ministry has also begun to create them… A corresponding command was created, which is engaged in planning work and implements plan of training of the Armed Forces… A suit of documents was already developed to determine the direction of development, methods of training and application of these forces “.
In March 15, 2013, according to Russian media reports, creation of the Special Operations Center of the Ministry of Defense of Russia for around 500 professional soldiers has begun in the suburban village of Kubinka-2. Formation of the Center was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013. The center is directly subordinated to the Special Operations Forces Command of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
In March 23, 2013 during the meeting of the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, Valery Gerasimov said that Special Operations Forces have been created as a part the Armed Forces and that they are being trained for missions not only inside the country but also abroad.
In the end of April 2013 units of Special Operations Forces conducted a special tactics exercise at Elbrus mountains at the height of 4,5 kilometers. The exercise was dedicated to practice transportation of one of the SSO units by military transport aviation and army aviation, as well as air insertion of personnel and cargo into target area.
Colonel Oleg Martianov, currently a member of the board of the Military-Industrial Commission of the Russian Federation, was one of the founders and the first commander of the SSO.
The SSO personnel consists exclusively of officers and professional soldiers.
In 2014, unidentified men with military weapons began blockading Ukrainian bases in Crimea, and on February 27, around 50 men seized the Crimean parliament building. While claiming to be a local militia, this well-armed and highly professional unit turned out to be the first deployment of operators from the KSO.
Special Operations Forces of Russia are involved in Syria for target acquisition for Russian Air Force combat planes and for other purposes, such as the training of Syrian government troops, elimination of fighters and destroying critical enemy objects. During the liberation of Palmyra a Special Operations Forces officer has been killed.
Special Purpose Center “Senezh”;
Special Purpose Center “Kubinka-2”.
344th Army Aviation Combat Training Center, Torzhok air base.
British sailors who will serve on board HMS Queen Elizabeth are cutting their teeth on the crowded flight deck of a US Nimitz class aircraft carrier.
The USS George HW Bush has arrived in the Solent ahead of a joint exercise with the Royal Navy.
As the Queen Elizabeth continues sea trials ahead getting its first F35B stealth fighters in 2018, its a chance to gain crucial hands on experience on a flight deck of the same size.
5000 US Navy sailors call the USS George H W Bush home.
The ship entered service in 2009 and recently spent several months working on operation inherent resolve in the Mediterranean.
Bombing missions against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq being launched from her four-acre flight deck.
The ship is in the Solent ahead of Exercise Saxon Warrior – a multi-national exercise, all about operating as part of a carrier strike group.
There are more than 60 Royal Navy personnel on board which gives the personnel a superb chance to prepare for the Queen Elizabeth class carrier – the deck of which is the same size of the Bush.
Lt Cdr James Capps is one of them and says the experience is “awe inspiring”.
The USS George HW Bush is well used to working with the Royal Navy, the ships first ever deployment saw her join exercise Saxon Warrior for its 2011 iteration.
The ships will remain in the Solent for the next few days – many of the crew will enjoy up to 5 days shore leave, before heading back to be part of the exercise.
Special operations forces are relevant to most operations the U.S. military is involved with and are a good return on the investment, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado yesterday.
Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge interviewed Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III for the forum and he used the occasion to debunk some myths about the command, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
“We are not the world’s cop, we are not a panacea, we don’t do anything by ourselves and we aren’t doing things that aren’t highly supervised, there is no off the reservation activities,” Thomas said.
But special operations forces have been at the heart of most operations against violent extremism, he said, and have been key to turning the tide against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and al-Qaida wherever these groups raise the ugly heads.
“We are relevant to most if not all the national security challenges,” the general said.
The command consumes about 2 percent of the DoD budget and has about 2 percent of the personnel in the department. Some 8,000 special operators are in 80 countries around the world.
The question he gets most often — and Herridge asked a version of it — is whether special operations forces are being overused or overextended? “We are actively trying to work our way out of a job, whether that be in Afghanistan or against ISIS,” he said.
In Afghanistan, the general said, “we’re anxious to finish there. We’re anxious to win.”
Not the Time to Relax
That said, Socom is working with indigenous forces, proxies, allies and conventional U.S. forces to leverage special operations capabilities.
Thomas stressed that the force is having successes, but now is not the time to let up on the pressure being placed on enemy forces. He said the lesson from the Osama bin Laden operation in 2011 was, as good as it was to kill the al-Qaida leader, “if you don’t dismantle the whole network — if you don’t address the ideology — you’ve just killed one guy.”
The territory that ISIS controls is shrinking by the day and Syrian Democratic Forces are closing on Raqqa, the so-called capital of the ISIS caliphate. Thomas said he does not know if ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive, but if he is not dead “there is not a safe place for him on this Earth. We absolutely dismantled his network; everyone who worked for him initially is dead or gone. Everyone who stepped to the plate following [him] — dead or gone. Down through a network where we have killed, at a conservative estimate, 60,000 of his followers — his army.”
Baghdadi declared the caliphate and placed his army on the battlefield “and we went to war with it,” the general said.
Mosul has been liberated, but it is still “dicey” in the old city, he said. There are still pockets of ISIS fighters in Tal Afar and in western Iraq. “We are pursuing these people as hard as we can to affect the physical aspect of the caliphate while we deal with the harder part — the ideological basis of it,” he said.
Socom is the DoD coordinating authority for transregional terrorism and has been for going on two years, the general said. “This was a role and process that didn’t exist,” he said. “It tied together our disparate DoD efforts.”
Previously, Army Gen. Joe Votel would handle special operations in the Central Command region, and Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser would handle Africa Command and Navy Adm. Harry Harris would handle Pacific Command. “They were good, focused activities but without any synchronization at the DoD level,” Thomas said. “We were thrust into that role.”
He said he is not sitting at MacDill moving special operators around the globe, but the change enables the command “to agitate or drive an assessment at the senior DoD level of what are we trying to do, how well are we doing it, and what do we need to change in terms of strategy and resourcing.”
Previously, the only person in the department who could do such a thing was the defense secretary.
He said his mission objectives from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have changed. “It used to be ‘Defeat ISIS,’” he said. “It is now, ‘Annihilate ISIS.’ [Mattis] put a non-doctrinal term out there to amp up the volume a bit, and we all got the message.”
Thomas wants Socom to be more agile and more networked.
He said the command has its eyes on Iran and its stated goal of building a Shia crescent through Iraq and Syria into Lebanon. Iranian officials are all throughout that area now, the general said, adding that they bear special attention.
ISIS is trying to export its “brand” through the world and they seized on Libya as a failed state, which, with its gap in governance could serve as a foothold in the region. In fact, ISIS leaders declared Libya a province in the caliphate, he said, and at its high-water mark in the country had around 2,000 fighters in and around the seaside city of Sirte. “They don’t exist anymore,” Thomas noted.
Special operations forces worked through proxies and surrogates to eliminate the ISIS threat in that area, he said. Still, the general said, Libya is another place that bears watching as some of the fighters escaped to southern Libya and are looking for a time and place to return.
The command is also invested in deterring Russia and there are special operators working with all the nations bordering Russia, Thomas said. “The people [of those nations] enjoy their freedom and want to keep it,” he added.
Herridge asked about the command’s work on the Korean Peninsula. Thomas objected to the argument that there is no military option against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he continues to build a nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. “There is always a military option,” he said. “That’s why you pay $600 billion a year. It is an ugly, ugly option, but you cannot play elements of power and then discount that there is no option.”
“People say that Kim Jong Un can only put a warhead the size of the Hiroshima bomb on a missile,” he continued. “That’s not comforting to me. Everything I am hearing … is that he and the regime are inextricably tied to their nuclear program.”
For the future, the general wants Socom to be able to give decision-makers more options to choose from when a crisis develops. “My biggest concern is the need to transform,” Thomas said.
The general spoke of a senior private industry executive who visited the command and told him that though the command is getting the right people and prototyping new capabilities well, “you suck at deep learning.”
“We are still trying to digest terabytes of data, and this company is way beyond that,” Thomas said. “If we can master that, we become Socom on steroids in terms of Seeing threats, seeing opportunities [and] applying our special capabilities.”