Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
January 12, 2020

Was The Shootdown Of The Ukrainian Airplane Near Tehran Intended, A Screw-Up Or A 'Mistake'?

After the shoot down of the Ukrainian flight PS752 the big question within Iran and within its military and political circles is what went wrong.

An analysis of the circumstances under which the incident took place unfortunately shows that nothing went wrong. The strategic and tactical decisions that were made were all rational and made sense. But unfortunately shit happens even when everything else works as it is supposed to work. 

The Iran Front Page has now published a full English language transcript of the press conference by IRGC Aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh. It also provides a video with English subtitles of the talk. The narration he gives is highly plausible and has no contradictions within it.


A detailed reading of his talk also clears up some misconceptions in the earlier reporting and comments:

Regarding the details of the incident, I should say; well, you know the region’s conditions remained tense and the risk of conflict was high for over a week. It was really unprecedented compared to what we saw in previous years, even since the 1979 Revolution. The risk of conflict was very high; both the Americans and the Iranian Armed Forces were on highest alert. The Americans had also threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran.

This is a main point one must keep in mind. There really was a threat from the U.S. and everyone thought that war would break out within the next minutes or hours. Decisions made under such stress are more prone to be wrong:

What we know from our investigations and from what our friends explained is that, well, at that night, for example from [Tuesday] evening, the level of preparedness was at wartime conditions; the highest alert level communicated by the integrated air defence to all systems. Under such circumstances, a number of air defence systems was added to Tehran’s air defence ring. The first system – which was behind the incident – was deployed in Bidganeh in western Tehran.
An integrated air defense system provides a full picture of the air situation to all connected units. Fixed radars, defense missile units and command and control centers are connected by secure landlines, not by radio.

But the mobile Tor M1 system responsible for shooting down the Ukrainian airliner was added as a stand alone system. It is an relatively old system. Its operators only had a voice radio connection to other parts of the network. If they had a data connection at all it was also via radio and with very little throughput. The system did not have the full picture of the air situation. Its own radar has a maximum detection range of 25 kilometer (16 miles). In most practical situations it will be a lot less than that. Bidganeh, where the system was deployed, is a strategic missile production and test facility some 30 kilometer away from Tehran airport. The Tor operator did not know that a civil airplane had just taken off:

At several stages, the Alert Level 3, which is the highest level, is communicated and emphasized to the entire network. So all air defence systems were at highest alert level. For several times, these systems including the one involved in the incident were notified by the integrated network that cruise missiles have been fired at the country. For a couple of times, they receive reports that ‘the cruise missiles are coming, be prepared’.

This is the normal 'fog of war' situation in which misinformation, or electronic interference, causes false alarms and where confusion sets in.

So you see the systems were at the highest alert level, where you should just press a button. They had been told cruise missiles were coming, and the air defence unit engaged in this incident and fired a missile. Now we have arranged an interview with this operator, which will be released soon as part of the plan to publicize the issue. He says in this interview that “we requested for several times that the country’s airspace be cleared of [civilian] flights.’ At the Alert Level 3, this is normal; such requests are made; well our dear brothers didn’t follow up the issue for certain considerations. So the planes fly despite the wartime situation.

This the major political issue, not a military one.

Iran's strategic intent after the U.S. assassination of its national hero Qassem Soleimani was to project defiance to the U.S. Its revenge missile barrage on the U.S. base in Iraq was fired despite harsh U.S. warnings and threats of war against Iran.

The pin point hits on the selected targets, mostly maintenance shacks, was a warning that demonstrated Iran's capabilities. I think it was necessary and worth the risk.

The political level decided that by leaving the airspace open and by showing normalcy it would further its strategic objective. Closing the airspace would have allowed the U.S. to claim that Iran is fearing its response and that it had shown weakness. The decision to not close the airspace was, I believe, strategically correct. But it had tactical costs which turned out to be high.

In those moments when the incident happens, this air defence unit realizes that there is a target – which it identified as a cruise missile – at a distance of 19 kilometres. [...] Given the information sent to this operator – that it is a wartime situation and a cruise missile has been fired – this poor guy identifies it as a cruise missile.

The Tor M1 was developed in 1991. The radar signals it generates are shown on an analog tube-screen. The radar's 'hits' on the screen are difficult to discriminate. At best one has speed, distance and direction of the target and must draw conclusion from that. The Boeing jet broadcast the usual civil ADS-B signal but one has to expect that a U.S. cruise missile can and would do the same. The speed of the still climbing Boeing 737 was about 250 knots or 460 kilometers per hour (286 mi/h). That is within the range of the speed of a typical cruise missile. The plane needed a bit less than 8 seconds to fly one kilometer. That left little time for the Tor operator to decide and react.

Well at such a situation, he was obliged to contact, get approval. This is where this operator makes the mistake; but at that moment, his communication system was apparently disrupted – whether because of jamming systems or the high traffic. For that reason, he fails to contact [his commanders]. He had 10 seconds to decide; he could hit or not hit [the target]. Under such circumstances, he decides to make that bad decision; he engages, the missile is fired, and the plane is hit at this place. Then it returns through this track, and here’s the point where it hits the ground.

Radio communication can be unreliable. The people at the other side of the operators call may have been talking to someone else or could  not react immediately. Air defense personal is trained to always presume electronic interference by enemy forces. The U.S. has publicly bragged about its cyber-attacks on IRGC systems. U.S. air attacks typically come behind a wave of electronic countermeasures.

Under these circumstances - highest possible alarm level, current warnings of hostile cruise missiles, unknown target flying towards a presumably military objective, lack of communication, little decision time - the operator of the Tor system did what he was trained to do.

As a former military officer I can not see any fault in what the man did. That is why I find this statement by Iran's President Rouhani to be wrong:

In a separate statement, Rouhani called the missile launch an “unforgivable mistake,” and he said officials must “address the weaknesses of the nation’s defense systems to make sure such a disaster is never repeated.”

Iran's strategic intent is to withstand U.S. pressure and to show defiance. Closing the airspace would have contradicted that objective. The shooting down of flight PS752 happened during a tactical engagement by a small mobile unit which did what it was supposed to do. Communication fuck-ups happen all the time during war like situations. They often cause casualties but are unavoidable.

The general in his press conference claimed that his organization is guilty:

Our dear brothers at the Aviation Organization categorically rejected the possibility of a missile hitting the plane; they acted based on what they knew. I must say they were not guilty and have nothing to do with this. All the blame is on us; they’re innocent. The plane was also on its track, it made no mistake. It did the right thing, as did the Aviation Organization. Everyone did the right thing. Only one of our forces made a mistake. Since he is under our command, we are responsible for that. We must be accountable.

It is the right thing to say public relation wise. But the incident itself is not a military error or mistake.

What one can and should criticize is the slow reaction of the Iranian military command after the incident happened. It launched an internal investigation and told everyone to be silent about it. It took the generals three days to look for an excuse that was impossible to find because everything that had happened did happen for rational reasons. The air defense systems have to be dispersed to make them less easy to attack. Communication failures are to be expected during a war. The soldiers are trained to act autonomously when comm-failures happen. They did what they had to do.

It is sad that this incident happened and that 176 lost their life. But if one wants to find a person guilty for it one must look for the person who caused the whole situation. That person is not the lowly sergeant who pressed the button. That person is U.S. President Donald Trump.

Posted by b on January 12, 2020 at 18:08 UTC | Permalink

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If we wonder why somebody would be filming the night sky we assume that the video is authentic and I think rightly so. Then we have to accept some further facts. It shows a missile, an explosion and the jolt. Within a very tight timeframe a MANPAD would be feasible while sneaking an explosive device into the airplane after the Iranian missile strike in Iraq is much less so. Neither does an onboard explosion account for both the disabling of the transponder and the sudden turn of the airplane while a MANPAD would.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 18:44 utc | 301

As far as I understand the technical discussion, the military radar would not react to a civilian transponder even if it is on. There is thus no point in turning it off except by accident. However, the radar would recognize which direction a plane is flying and supposing that the operator knows the designated path for the Kiev-bound flight, any deviation would set the alarm off. I don't even think it is quite fair to talk about mistake. That plane WAS posing a threat and it was losing altitude so it is quite reasonable to identify it as an incoming flying object. Again: MANPAD.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 19:08 utc | 302

ADKC @299:

As I understand it the Tor system ...has an optical system for identifying targets...

Yeah, but if a bad actor is going to take out the transponder, then they'll probably take out the lights on the aircraft too.

IIRC, in that video that showed the shoot-down, the plane was not visible.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 16 2020 19:36 utc | 303

@PavewayIV There were no non-Iranians on flight PS752, they were all Iranians except for the Ukrainian personnel. The Canadians and other "westerners" are ethnic Iranians with a foreign passport.

There is no political risk in provoking Iranian Air Defenses into making a mistake.It is after all Iranian blunder to put such a trigger-happy system near an airport and it is the Iranian government's fault that took the risk not closing their airspace. The Americans merely exploited Iranian weak points, after all this (downing of PS752) could also have happened if Americans attacked Iranian (IRGC) targets for real instead of just staging a mock cruise missile attack and jamming their communications. It is obvious the Americans preferred the lesser of the evils, that is provoking IRGC Air Defenses into shooting an airliner down.

It is not the first time an Iranian Tor-M1 shot down a friendly plane:

August 22, 2010
Shutdown of Iranian F-4 Phantom by Tor-M1

A mysterious incident has been reported just days before the launch of the first nuclear reactor in Iran, expected on Saturday August 21, with high-ranking Moscow officials present.
On Tuesday, August 17, an Iranian fighter crashed 6 kilometers north of the Bushehr nuclear reactor in southern Iran. According to Israeli military sources, the aircraft was shot down by the Russian-made TOR-M1 anti-aircraft system, which is deployed to guard the reactor.

The two-man crew of the plane managed to jump out of the cockpit and land. According to the same sources, the crew is hospitalized.

The F-4 Phantom penetrated 6 kilometers from the reactor, while the airspace for 20 kilometers around it is closed to all aircraft.

On Tuesday afternoon, after the fighter was shot down, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned that "any attack on the Bushehr nuclear power plant could cause serious reactions."

Posted by: dave | Jan 16 2020 19:51 utc | 304
"Five countries whose citizens died when Iran shot down an airliner last week said on Thursday that Tehran should pay compensation to families of the victims, and warned that the world is watching for its response."

These US poodles will try and steal or freeze any Iranian assets that are not in Iran. UN snapback may get some Iran assets, and this will try and clean up the rest.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 16 2020 20:08 utc | 305

dave@304 - I'm not splitting hairs about dual-nationality. The risk for the US *IF* we decided to perpetrate such an event is getting busted for it - somehow. Just like the Israelis and the Russian recon aircraft's destruction by Syrian AD. The risk is tiny, but it's there. And exposure can be a far greater possibility from a US whistleblower than it could be from some kind of forensic analysis (which the MSM would ignore anyway).

Trump wouldn't worry about the possibility of any actual punishment from Iran or anyone else. It's just really bad PR and would make him and the US look like evil, inhumane bullies [MoA: please stifle snickering - that's just how we roll].

How much marginally less 'humane' would killing 176 Iranians appear to the world vs. killing 176 'mostly' Iranians? Or 176 non-Iranian nationals? Sure, I could see him doing it anyway if that was the only possible option to temporarily defuse the tit-for-tat Iran/US escalation slugfest. If you think it was the most effective possible action and that's why they would choose it, then fine. I don't know otherwise. Maybe you're right. I'm just not buying the 'mostly Iranians' argument, but maybe I'm wrong about that, too. I can never underestimate the depravity of my psychopathic leaders, especially when some event they manufacture also serves Israel's interests.

The Iranians not closing their airspace contributed to the disaster, but I have yet to see anyone question the intentional ambiguity of American's actions regarding the NOTAM. Iran knows the US issued the prohibition to US carriers, none of which operate in or over Iran that anyone knows of. On the other hand, our UAE, Turkish, Qatar and other 'allies' didn't prohibit their aircraft from using Iranian airspace, nor did anyone else.

How should Iran have read that? Bluster by the US? If the US was planning on significant EW, aerial bombing and cruise missile ops over Iran that night, they would have made sure our 'allies' kept their aircraft out of Iranian airspace for their own protection, too. None of them did, even after the reports of mystery cruise missile detections. The cancellations and restrictions came after PS752 was downed.

Was Iran negligent in not closing its airspace if the AD systems were at the highest alert level? I don't know. The Saudis didn't close their airspace after the refinery missile attack, yet I assume their AD units were at the highest alert level. Iraq didn't close its airspace after the Iranian missile attack.

Iran's AD systems must have been at that level dozens(?) of times before, yet I don't remember their airspace being closed that much. They could have mitigated the risk of an accident with different, more restrictive engagement procedures. Don't fire on an unidentified, threatening target unless someone else on the network concurs. Maybe they had an exception when the AD unit itself was the target and comms were out. In any case, Iran's procededures inadequate, didn't cover a situation like they had or were not followed. The IRCG AD commander did make a request to the overall military command in Iran but never heard back. Maybe the top commanders and civilian leaders involved didn't understand the implications enough. Who knows. We're never going to hear the truth from anyone - the US or Iran - regarding this whole disaster.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 16 2020 20:49 utc | 306

dave @304

All that is really known is that an Iranian F4 crashed 6 miles North of Bushehr. Bushehr nuclear power plant is 17 miles south-east of the City of Bushehr. So the aircraft was outside of the 20 mile exclusion zone. There is no proof of anything else.

Posted by: ADKC | Jan 16 2020 20:58 utc | 307

Jackrabbit @303

The Tor system has night vision (thermal imaging).

Posted by: ADKC | Jan 16 2020 21:04 utc | 308

@PavewayIV Everything you said made me conclude this was a planned setup. Don't know if Trump knew about it, because jamming communications and staging mock cruise missile attacks is all part of "normal" military operations, nothing unusual, Iran will never be able to provide proof, NATO countries will ignore all evidence just like they did with Russian evidence of their innocence in downing MH17. NATO countries (and allies) are never ever going to point the finger to the US (thus to themselves) if Iranians mistakenly shoot down an airplane, even if they know Trump (hypothetically) had given the order for this "setup" operation. It is a case of plausible deniability.

Lets not forget Operation Northwood (staging false flags) which JFK rejected!

The Cyber Space Research Lab of the University of Tehran had started their own investigation:

On the matter of the Ukrainian plane accident in Iran, the role of human error has been ruled out [as it has been discovered that] deception operations were carried out on the air control & command system.

Posted by: dave | Jan 16 2020 21:18 utc | 309

Correction: correct twitter URL:

Posted by: dave | Jan 16 2020 21:21 utc | 310

Previous 2 URL were wrong, this is the correct URL:

Posted by: dave | Jan 16 2020 21:23 utc | 311

@PavewayIV Question: Are you a fighter pilot or a simulator fighter pilot?

Posted by: dave | Jan 16 2020 21:27 utc | 312

300 Paveway

Logic would tell me that what you can do to the receiver you can do to the transponder - throw noise at it.

I found a manual on what you can do to a ADSB-transponder - pick your poison.

14. The Firmware Update Process 2. iPad joins the unprotected wifi network created by the Stratus 1. Stratus sets up an unprotected wifi network 5. Foreflight App fetches a firmware update for the Stratus (usually via satellite link). 3. Foreflight App asks the Stratus about it’s current version 4. Stratus replies back with current version number 6. Foreflight App pushes the firmware update 15. Huge Attack Surface 16. Potential Attacks ● Our focus: - Replace legitimate firmware with malicious firmware ● Other attacks: - Spoof GPS data to Stratus traffic - Spoof ADS-B IN to Stratus traffic - Spoof Stratus to iPad traffic - Fuzzing the ADS-B device with bad GPS/ADS-B IN data - Physical Attacks (Swap iPad/Stratus) - Jamming/DoS (Throw noise at Stratus at 1090 MHz) - Bricking the device (Send bad data as part of firmware update process)

There is more.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 21:36 utc | 313

somebody@313 - "Logic would tell me that what you can do to the receiver you can do to the transponder - throw noise at it."

The aircraft transponder's usual (civilian) modes of operation are to listen for a ground-based radar interrogation and respond appropriately. Jamming prevents it from hearing the initial interrogation so it would just do nothing.

ADS-B is an entirely different mode of operation than the above. The aircraft transponder requires no interrogation to prompt the broadcast of ADS-B information - it simply broadcasts an ADS-B data packet (id, heading, speed, altitude, GPS, etc.) every second.

Aircraft transponders can operate in some modes simultaneously. It can reply to a ground radar's Mode-3A/C interrogation at the same time it broadcasts ADS-B data packets, and can listen for Mode C interrogations by a different radar. Depends on it's capabilities and the way the pilot sets it.

Here's an old, surplus F-4 transponder that I rigged up to track my autonomous riding lawn mower. I can use IFF to identify it and decide if I should take it out with a TOW missile, because sometimes it runs away.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 16 2020 22:14 utc | 314

Whatever it may be worth. Possibly in another area but the US no doubt identified cyber operations as a viable option.

"The United States carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran, two U.S. officials have told Reuters."

“You can do damage without killing people or blowing things up; it adds an option to the toolkit that we didn’t have before and our willingness to use it is important,” said James Lewis, a cyber expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Lewis added that it may not be possible to deter Iranian behavior with even conventional military strikes."

Posted by: E Mo Scel | Jan 16 2020 23:40 utc | 315

Posted by: E Mo Scel | Jan 16 2020 23:40 utc | 315

Of course, it is making us all so much more safe. Because, you know, Iran does not have excellent engineers who might be able to reverse engineer and improve. Especially, as it will make them answer on the same level.

US nuclear power stations are on the internet? Right.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 17 2020 5:32 utc | 316

It turns out that 11 US troops were injured after all, according to Defense One. In his grand speech after the attack, Trump said that since no Americans were injured, there was no cause for retaliation. Now that we know that Americans were injured, maybe there was.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 17 2020 8:03 utc | 317

@Jonathan W Injury is concussion; they hit their head, no flesh wound.

Posted by: dave | Jan 17 2020 8:36 utc | 318

dave, they have been taken to Germany and Kuwait for treatment. It is not me who is noting the discrepancy between what Trump said and what actually happened.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 17 2020 8:43 utc | 319

In chess, a sacrifice is a move giving up a piece with the objective of gaining tactical or positional compensation in other forms. A sacrifice could also be a deliberate exchange of a chess piece of higher value for an opponent's piece of lower value.

Any chess piece except the king may be sacrificed. Because players usually try to hold on to their own pieces, offering a sacrifice can come as an unpleasant surprise to one's opponent, putting him off balance and causing much precious time to be wasted trying to calculate whether the sacrifice is sound or not and whether to accept it. Sacrificing one's queen (the most valuable piece), or a string of pieces, adds to the surprise, and such games can be awarded brilliancy prizes.[2]

Iran sacrificed local military tactics (Tehranian air defense) for universal Iranian military strategy (fending-off Empire). I insist that the otherwise gifted commentators here begin to see the forest rather than the trees. Higher ground is necessary.

The fundamental art of war is deception. The Iranians are no less aware of Empire's covert tactics than we are; to think otherwise is to insult their intelligence. If Iran was playing it straight they would have shut down their commercial airspace as SOP - this should be obvious to anyone with two synapses to rub together.

Downing the airliner does not make Iran deranged anymore than it makes the chessmaster deranged to sacrifice a pawn or a queen as the case may be.

Real life is the realm in which needs supercede wants

Posted by: reant | Jan 17 2020 14:48 utc | 320

@Jonathan W There is no discrepancy even Iran said they were not targeting military personnel only military machinery to show off their high precision weapons which were precise enough to avoid any casualties.

A traumatic brain injury is just a concussion. quote "When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq following screening." --> no big deal

Posted by: dave | Jan 17 2020 15:19 utc | 321

Below is a recent Reuters posting that quotes Lavrov of Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Iran’s accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner last week occurred at a time when Tehran was spooked by reports of advanced U.S. stealth fighters in the area.

“There were at least six (U.S.) F-35 fighters in the air in the Iranian border area (at the time). This information has yet to be verified, but I’d like to underline the edginess that always accompanies such situations,” Lavrov said.

Iran’s downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, which killed all 176 people aboard, has created a crisis for the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers who have faced days of protests after the Iranian military admitted it had shot down the plane accidentally.

Lavrov, speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow, called the incident a human error and said he was not trying to excuse anyone for what happened.

But he said it was important to understand the context and that the incident had occurred hours after an Iranian missile attack on U.S. bases in Iraq, when Iranian forces were braced for some kind of U.S. military retaliation.

“There is information that the Iranians were expecting another attack from the United States after the strike but did not know what form it might take,” said Lavrov.

Posted by: psychohistorian | Jan 17 2020 16:46 utc | 322

@ did not know what form it might take,” said Lavrov.

see newsweek / arkin "With a New Weapon in Donald Trump's Hands, The Iran Crisis Risks Going Nuclear"

The speculation seems to be that the "weapon" will be W76-2 @ about 6 kt, from submarine on trident rocket... And then?

Right. I hope they got the ok for this from Comrade VVP...

And one does not make promises in vain...and Iran has promised what happens then...zionish place gets hit hard, and also their pals?

Posted by: Walter | Jan 17 2020 16:58 utc | 323

My apologies if this has been suggested already, what if the entire event was a setup opp by the US/Mossad:
Why this flight?
Because it was a Boeing which can be controlled by the US, there is ample info about this capability online. Which means that its communication, signal and flight can be controlled remotely.
So communications, fight and signal controlled remotely.

Next to conceal the US communication control/guidance/spoofing system being onboard, a remotely triggered bomb was placed beneath the Pilot and was detonated just as the plane cleared the mountain range. And a concealed bomb is why the Ukraine owners of the plane didn't "bother'(my guess is someone in the ground crew was bribed) to get Iranian inspection completed before the flight.
So communication,fight and signal control evidence erased.

Why a Ukraine flight?
To punish the new President for assisting with investigations and signing a deal with Russia to reopen Nordstream 1.

So, plane booby trapped now all they needed to do is guide the plane toward a Tor and wait.

Indication of pre-planning of this strike:
Canadian films
The Canadians had two shows on the murdered ready to go, the more detailed one was ready the SAME DAY as the deaths, with family history, bios, photos of all on board, interviews with families who seemed oddly ok, much like Sandy Hook families.

Strike videos
There are three very convenient films of the plane and the strike. One ne including video of a crash site that doesn't look like the actual crash site. Compare the two for yourself.

Standardized Story line
ALL US stories were that the Iranian govt shot down the plane. ALL now say there were two missiles. All stations had the names of the flight victims just like Sandy Hook, 9/11 and every other hit that ever happens.

My Conclusion
This strike on the Ukraine flight was set up early on, this was a reoccurring Ukraine flight after all. Ukraine may have been complicit in planting the bomb or just one person on the ground willing/bribed to bypass the Iranian inspection and the bomb was planted earlier in Ukraine.

That the Iranian scientists were onboard is interesting, haven't seen confirmation from Iran on that though.

Posted by: frances | Jan 17 2020 20:37 utc | 324

Sorry, one error in my 324 post
IMO the bomb that was placed beneath the pilot to destroy evidence of the US control system was detonated just prior to the crash, not as they cleared the mountain range.

Posted by: frances | Jan 17 2020 21:08 utc | 325

Laguerre - in response to your question about US air bases in Iran from several days ago. Still relatively accurate: [link] from a 2018 article Russia Dominates Syria's Skies by Charles Lister, Senior Fellow, The Middle East Institute.

The answer to 'biggest U.S. airbase' is a bit more complicated.

Technically, none of the air bases in Iraq belong to the U.S. - they've belonged to the Iraqi military since the handover in 2014. We're just irritating but nominally useful 'guests', supporting the intentionally-neutered Iraqi Army against ISIS. For the most part, these bases are a mix of 1) properly subservient Iraqi/Kurdish troops and 2) US/Coalition of Evil troops. No Iraqi Army PMU invited, sorry. I think it's the 'Shia'?

These are not considered U.S. Air Bases in another mil-speak way - there are no USAF nor fixed-wing aircraft deployed or assigned to these bases, and no large-scale regional air traffic control or air defense presence (that we know of). Even the drones are all Army that I can tell, not AF.

These bases all have large unit(s) of U.S. Army aviation present to support the anti-ISIS ops. Apaches, Blackhawks, Chinooks, etc. They do not need a 3500m runway, but the large transport aircraft that keeps these units supplied do like a lot of concrete. The Army aviation support and maintenance units, themselves, also require the infrastructure that these bases provide for sustained (years-long) operations.

Ain al Assad is probably the largest in area, but mostly because it's in a remote region with a lot of empty land around it. Everything they need had to be brought in (usually by truck) and stored, so its logistics, warehousing and depot capabilities are significant - on purpose. We use it as a distribution point for supplying most of the Iraqi (and US) forward bases in Anbar. It may have had the largest number of (combined) troops out of any of the 'U.S. air bases', but those are mostly Anbar ops ground forces. The presence of a lot of U.S. Army aviation there was a consequence of the number of troops and the remote Anbar areas they support, not the other way around. Likewise, the other 'air bases' on the graphic probably have fewer helicopters because they don't support nearly as many troops or anti-Isis ops. U.S. Marines and their aviation units also had a significant presence in Ain al Assad a while back - I'm not sure if or how big of a role they play at the base, today.

It should also be clear from the graphic that the bases also 'protect' two distinct, militarized corridors we use for supplying our anti-Iranian Yinon Arc: the northern Kurdish corridor from Erbil to Rmeilan, and the southern Kirkuk-Haifa Blood-for-Oil Pipeline (alt., the Baghdad-Damascus Highway) corridor. 'Clearing' ISIS or preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq is really of little importance to the U.S., but the Yinon Arc and its Iraqi corridors must stand. The corridors also provide convenient oil theft routes, but but I would have to think that's just a happy coincidence and secondary in purpose to the main, 'block Iran' goal.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 22 2020 18:33 utc | 326

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 22 2020 18:33 utc | 326

Thanks for that. Of course I'm aware that the US is not the owner of the bases it uses. Same in Britain.

I still don't have an idea of whether Ain al-Asad is the biggest US base in Iraq, which I thought it probably was. The point being, of course, that the Iranians were able to hit without retaliation the biggest and most important US base in Iraq.

It is not, by the way, located "in a remote region". It's just outside Ramadi, a major city on the Euphrates, but is placed on the desert plateau, rather than insensitively taking up fertile land which could be cultivated, as the old massive base at Balad did. It's the old British airfield of Habbaniyya, from where Churchill's RAF bombed recalcitrant tribes into submission (unsuccessfully), and where Imperial Airways flights in the 1930s landed on their way to the imperial domains in India.

Posted by: Laguerre | Jan 24 2020 11:58 utc | 327

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