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April 5, 2018
Notes from the Pentagon

Russia tests ASAT missile
Russia has conducted a flight test of a new anti-satellite missile in what Pentagon officials say is a step in advancing Moscow’s space warfare capabilities.

A U.S. defense official said American intelligence agencies monitored the missile test March 26 from Plesetsk, a test center located about 150 miles northwest of Moscow. The missile is designated the PL-19 and known as the Nudol.

The latest test was judged a success and is at least the sixth time the new missile was tested. Three earlier flight tests were gauged as successful.

The direct ascent missile is considered a significant threat to satellites in low-Earth orbit.

“Russia continues to tout advances in cyber and counterspace capabilities along with improvements in its strategic nuclear and general purpose forces,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the Strategic Command, told a March 20 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Gen. Hyten also urged the United States to step up preparations for space warfare in a future conflict.

“We must normalize space and cyberspace as war fighting domains,” he said. “There is no war in space, just as there is no war in cyberspace. There is only war, and war can extend into any domain.”

“To fight wars in these domains, we must develop the appropriate rules of engagement that allow for rapid response and delegate authority to the appropriate level to operate more quickly,” he said.

Todd Harrison, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Aerospace Security Project, testified at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month that Russia is relying on a wealth of space warfare expertise left over from the Soviet Union.

The knowledge base “degraded significantly after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Mr. Harrison said. “But in recent years, they have made a lot of efforts to regain a lot of their space capabilities, and they can still draw on that technical heritage that they had in the past, especially in terms of counter-space weapons that they had developed during the Cold War. They have that know-how. They have that expertise. It’s not that difficult for them to field it again, and to understand how to use it operationally.”

The threat posed by anti-satellite missiles will be addressed in the Pentagon’s major study called the Missile Defense Review, due to be made public in the coming weeks. The Nudol test was first reported by the online news outlet The Diplomat. Pavel Podvig, director of the online Russian Nuclear Forces Project, said the latest Nudol test might have involved a target unlike past tests that appeared to test only the missile.

“So, it seems that the tests still do not involve a kill vehicle,” he stated.

Iranian missiles in Yemen
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels are continuing to obtain surface-to-surface missiles covertly from Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions.

The missiles have been fired at targets in Saudi Arabia, most recently a salvo of seven missiles launched last week. At least one of the missiles was intercepted by U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile interceptors.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said the use of Iranian missile strikes against Saudi Arabia represents a dangerous escalation of the Yemen conflict.

“When this war started three years ago, much of the fighting was confined into the mountainous terrain of Yemen,” Mr. Cotton said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “And now, long-range missiles are being fired at King Khalid International Airport outside of Riyadh.”

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the Central Command, agreed that the use of missiles by the Houthis represents a significant increase in the Iran-backed conflict. The general declined to say whether the Iranian missiles in Yemen can reach the United Arab Emirates, where the U.S. Air Force is using the Al Dhafra air base for regional operations.

“But, certainly, we’ve seen threats that have gone as far as the international airport outside of Riyadh,” he said. “This is a dangerous threat.”

As for how the missiles are entering Yemen, Gen. Votel said: “Iran has a very sophisticated network of doing this. They can move them by components. They can move them by air. They can move them by maritime means. They can move them by land routes to get their stuff in there and then reassemble it and provide it to the Houthis.”

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has identified three types of missiles used by the Yemeni rebels — the Burkan-2H, Qaher-2M and Badr-1. The Burkan is the Houthi name given to Iran’s Qiam-1, an extended range version of the Shahab-2 short-range ballistic missile.

The Qaher-2M is a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile modified into a surface-to-surface missile. It has a range of up to 248 miles with a warhead weighing up to 772 pounds.

Both the Burkan and the Qaher missiles have been fired multiple times in recent weeks, but the Badr-1 was used for the first time in late March, targeting a Saudi Aramco oil facility.

While the Badr has been identified in Iranian reports as a short-range ballistic missile, the missile appears to be a long-range artillery rocket and appears similar to Iran’s Fajr-3 and Fajr-5, among the most widely proliferated Iranian rockets.

Key Taliban Agent in Pakistan
An intelligence source in Southwest Asia has identified a Taliban agent in Pakistan with links to Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service.

The facilitator was identified as Mossa Mengal and the source states that he is typical of the covert support being provided indirectly to the terrorists in Afghanistan by Islamabad’s spy service.

Mr. Mengal lives in the Qaziabad area of Nushki, a Pakistani town close to the Afghan border, in an ISI safe house and is protected by a security detail.

“Mossa Mengal is a very important asset of the ISI and he was involved in abduction and killing of pro-freedom Baloch activists,” the source said. “He also does kidnapping for ransom and he pays some of the money which he obtains from ransom to an ISI colonel.”

Mr. Mengal’s support for the Taliban was exposed after an attack on a jihadist residence in Quetta in December 2011.

According to the source, Mr. Mengal’s current residence and operating base is located close to an ISI regional office, and he is considered to be a trusted confident of ISI Col. Omar Jamal.

Col. Jamal is said to be involved in pressuring local small gangs, criminal groups and smugglers who are pressured by the ISI to join Mr. Mengal’s group. Among his main duties for the intelligence service is protecting and supporting Taliban in the Balochistan region along the Afghanistan border.

Mr. Mengal’s activities, including ISI-ordered assassinations in the border region, increased last year after tensions increased between Pakistan and Afghanistan after Islamabad began sealing some parts of the border.

President Trump announced a new strategy last August that calls on Pakistan to take decisive action against Taliban leaders.

Central Command commander Army Gen. Joseph Votel testified to the Senate last month that both leaders and members of the Taliban and the Islamic terrorist Haqqani network “continue to find sanctuary in Pakistan.” Pakistan’s recent anti-terrorist actions “have not yet translated into the definitive actions we require Pakistan to take against Afghan Taliban or Haqqani leader,” he added.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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