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NightWatch 20140824

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For the night of 24 August 2014

Iraq-Iran: Al Jazeera reported Iranian soldiers executed a joint operation with the Kurdish peshmerga militia in Diyala Governate and succeeded in retaking the town of Jalawla from fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Iran denied the report. and that any Iranian soldiers operated in Iraq.

Comment: This action took place close to the Iranian border in Diyala. The Iranian soldiers returned to Iran after helping recover the town. Despite official denials, the Kurds have not shown the capability to retake any towns without outside support, air or infantry.

Iranians have been reported to serve as senior advisors, as tactical advisors and as providers of air support on occasion.

This appears to be the first time Iranian soldiers have participated in ground fighting. This most likely was an operation that involved the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Syria: Syrian state television confirmed that government troops had lost control of Tabqa air force base near Raqqa.

"After heavy fighting by the forces defending the Tabqa airbase, our forces implemented a regrouping operation after the evacuation of the airbase."

Government forces were conducting airstrikes on the base after the troops evacuated, state television reported.

Comment: The most significant point is that such a base survived for three years in the heartland of ISIL, not that it fell. The story of Tabqa base is worth retelling. It means that ISIL's control is overstated and the area it claims is riddled with armed opposition. The Caliphate is far from cohesive or consolidated. That explains its appetite for savagery. The weaker its control, the more it resorts to barbarism.

Loss of Tabqa base deprives the government of a secure base from which it could stage a counter-offensive against the ISIL headquarters at Raqqa. It is a setback. On the other hand, the loss makes operational planning easier. The Syrian air force can now bomb Raqqa to rubble with no qualms or concerns about loyalists in the region. Moreover, the logisticians in Damascus have one less base to try to resupply.

Recovering eastern Syria becomes marginally more difficult, but as long as the Syrian Kurds continue to hold their ground in the northeast, the government will have a base area from which to operate.

Israel-Gaza Strip: Israeli officials reported that Palestinian mortar fire killed a four year old boy in a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip on Friday. Israel said the mortar round was back-tracked to a UN compound in Gaza. That is now a target. The death of the child has prompted another escalation of Operation Protective Edge and more operational changes.

As of Friday Operation Protective Edge has lasted 46 days. During that period, the Palestinians have fired 4,000 rockets, which represent 40% of their estimated missile inventory. Usually conventional forces fight to 50% of ammunition stocks, which would translate into another ten days of rocket attacks. The Palestinians will run out of rockets long before Israel runs out of ways to kill Palestinians.

Israeli military sources reported that the Palestinians launched 82 rockets on Saturday. Israeli combat aircraft attacked 55 targets.

Israeli military sources reported that the Palestinians launched 118 rockets on Sunday. Israeli combat aircraft attacked 50 targets. Israeli attacks have destroyed at least two high- rise buildings in Gaza that were used by Hamas.

Palestinian casualties are more than 2,090 killed. The Israelis have sustained 68 killed, of which only four were civilians.

Comment: Israeli targeting practices have changed. Israel continues to target and kill Hamas leaders with precision attacks on persons. Since Friday, it has added precision attacks on buildings used by Hamas. Israel is slowly reducing Gaza to rubble, a place that is unlivable. Since Friday, Foreign Minister Lieberman has said that the new goal of Israeli operations is to force Hamas to surrender. If so, there will be many more attacks.

One Israeli target was Mohamed al-Oul, a terrorist who handled Hamas' financial transactions. The armed forces confirmed a direct hit.

Comment: This attack is significant because finance agents are more vulnerable than decision makers. They have less security and are less well known. However, their elimination is a permanent termination of a key node that always depends on personal recognizance. Military leaders are always expendable and replaceable. Finance men in the grey money market are neither expendable nor easily replaced.

Talks. Palestinian sources said today there is progress in ceasefire talks in Cairo. They said "zero hour" will occur shortly. The Israelis have no commented.

Comment: The Palestinians are playing the same old propaganda games with Israel. Their territory is being reduced to rubble, but their negotiators seem unaware that no one is coming to their aid. For one thing, the Palestinians have shown the world that they do not keep their promises and cannot enforce a ceasefire. Hamas has no credibility as a negotiating entity.

Internal affairs. Israel closed a border crossing into Gaza that has been used to move the injured out because Palestinians attacked it with mortar fire, injuring three people.

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee authorized the government's request call up of 10,000 reservists. It also extended the "special situation on the home front" until 2 September.

Ukraine: The Russian aid convoy delivered its cargo and returned to Russia today. Ukraine could not stop it from entering or leaving the rebel territory.

Comment: Western media coverage suggests that the eastern Ukrainian rebellion has nearly collapsed. However, the Russians moved 130 or so large trucks in convoy into eastern Ukraine with impunity. That is not consistent with the pro-Kyiv narrative.

The pro-Russian narrative is that the eastern Ukrainian rebels have mounted an offensive southward to link up with Crimea. That narrative also claims that Luhansk is still in rebel hands, that the rebels have surrounded 4,000 Ukrainian army soldiers and that Ukraine has no more soldiers. If forces committed to battle fail to break the rebellion, the fight is over because there are none left.

What the conflicting narratives mean for analyst is that the Russian narrative must be carefully considered. The Russians only move when they are certain of winning. The dispatch of the aid convoy was a move to win.

End of NightWatch for 2 August.

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