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Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria

Al Jazeera

United States officials believe Iran was behind a drone attack last week at a military outpost at al-Tanf in southern Syria where American troops are based. Officials said Monday the US believes that Iran provided resources and encouraged the attack, but that the drones were not launched from Iran, The Associated Press news service reported. The drones were Iranian, and Iran appears to have facilitated their use, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been made public. Officials said they believe the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges, and that they hit both the US side of al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces reside. There were no reported injuries or deaths as a result of the attack but it comes in a period of rising tensions between the US and Iran.


Trump Is Said to Be Preparing to Withdraw Troops From Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia

NYT > Middle East

But the president's aspirations have long run into resistance, as his own national security officials argued that abandonment of such troubled countries could have catastrophic consequences -- such as when the United States pulled out of Iraq at the end of 2011, leaving a vacuum that fostered the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Mr. Trump has also repeatedly pushed to withdraw from Syria, but several hundred U.S. troops remain stationed there, partly to protect coveted oil fields held by American-backed Syrian Kurdish allies from being seized by the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The current deliberations over withdrawals would not affect those in Syria, officials said. The plan under discussion to pull out of Somalia is said to not apply to U.S. forces stationed in nearby Kenya and Djibouti, where American drones that carry out airstrikes in Somalia are based, according to officials familiar with the internal deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Keeping those air bases would mean retaining the military's ability to use drones to attack militants with the Shabab, the Qaeda-linked terrorist group -- at least those deemed to pose a threat to American interests.


Putin visits Syria to meet Assad, a key Iran ally

The Japan Times

The visit to Syria, a key ally of Iran, came amid soaring tensions in the Middle East between Iran and the United States. On Friday, a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general who led forces supporting Assad in Syria's civil war. Iran has vowed revenge for the slaying, and with some 600 American troops deployed in Syria, the country is a potential site of conflict with Iran. While the official statements made no mention of the U.S. killing of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Friday, the timing was conspicuous. Soleimani had led Iran's armed support for Assad as armed rebels neared the capital, Damascus, and he helped seize key cities, preventing the collapse of Assad's state.


Airstrikes on Iran-backed groups in Syria apparently kill 18; Hezbollah claims downing of Israeli drone

The Japan Times

BEIRUT – Unknown warplanes targeted overnight an arms depot and posts of Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border, killing at least 18 fighters, Syrian opposition activists said Monday. The strikes come amid rising tensions in the Middle East and the crisis between Iran and the U.S. in the wake of the collapsing nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. An official with an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq blamed Israel for the airstrikes that hit in the eastern Syrian town of Boukamal. There was no immediate comment from Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that Iran has no immunity anywhere and that the Israeli military "will act -- and currently are acting -- against them."


Iran likely at 'inflection point,' launching attacks to change 'status quo,' Defense Intelligence Agency director tells Fox News

FOX News

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., director of Defense Intelligence Agency, gives insight on recent Iranian attacks on tankers and a surveillance drone. EXCLUSIVE – Iran is likely at "an inflection point," and the recent attacks on tankers and the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone appear to be part of an effort to change "the status quo," the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) told Fox News exclusively. "I'd say that they're probably at an inflection point right now," the director, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., explained in his first national TV interview as the leader of the nearly 17-thousand strong agency. Director Ashley said, based on their activity over the last several years, the Iranians would probably say they were in a "favorable" position with their influence over the Iraqi government and the likelihood their longtime regional ally -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- will remain in power. But, Director Ashley -- whose agency's mission is to understand foreign militaries and the operational environment -- said the United States' withdrawal from the Iran deal and subsequent sanctions made a major impact on the regime.


Armenia sends mine-clearing experts, doctors to Syria

FOX News

YEREVAN, Armenia – Armenia has sent a team of experts to Syria on a Russia-backed mission to help clear mines and provide medical assistance. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Saturday the team of 83 includes de-mining experts, medical personnel and security officers. He said it will defuse mines and provide medical help to residents of Aleppo, in northern Syria. Before the war, Aleppo was home to 110,000 ethnic Armenians, one of the world's largest Armenian diasporas. About 22,000 have since moved to Armenia.


Syria air defenses target suspected 'hostile' drones over Russia base

The Japan Times

DAMASCUS - Syria state media said Sunday the country's air defense systems intercepted and destroyed three "hostile" targets over a Russian air base in the country's coastal region. There were no more details about the suspected attack or who was behind it, but it comes amid rising violations of a cease-fire in Syria's west negotiated by Turkey and Russia and in place since September. On Sunday, Russia Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said on state television that the agreement with Turkey is not fully implemented, leaving the situation there as a matter of concern "first of all, by the Syrian authorities and also Moscow." He didn't address the suspected drone attack. The Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said explosions heard in the region were from air defense systems intercepting suspected attacking drones.


Probabilistic Blocking with An Application to the Syrian Conflict

arXiv.org Machine Learning

Entity resolution seeks to merge databases as to remove duplicate entries where unique identifiers are typically unknown. We review modern blocking approaches for entity resolution, focusing on those based upon locality sensitive hashing (LSH). First, we introduce k-means locality sensitive hashing (KLSH), which is based upon the information retrieval literature and clusters similar records into blocks using a vector-space representation and projections. Second, we introduce a subquadratic variant of LSH to the literature, known as Densified One Permutation Hashing (DOPH). Third, we propose a weighted variant of DOPH. We illustrate each method on an application to a subset of the ongoing Syrian conflict, giving a discussion of each method.


Report: Blast kills Syrian arms program researcher

FOX News

BEIRUT – A research director at a military agency linked to Syria's chemical weapons program was assassinated, a newspaper close to the Syrian government reported Sunday. The pro-government al-Watan newspaper reported on its website that Aziz Esber, of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, died in a blast targeting his car Saturday night, in Syria's Hama province. It said Israel was suspected of carrying out the attack. There was no comment from Israeli or Syrian government officials. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria war through local contacts, also reported Esber's death.


Member States Allow Chemical Arms Watchdog to Assign Blame for Attacks

U.S. News

From 2015 to 2017 a joint United Nations-OPCW team had been appointed to assign blame for chemical attacks in Syria. It found that Syrian government troops used nerve agent sarin and chorine barrel bombs on several occasions, while Islamic State militants were found to have used sulfur mustard.