Strategic SitRep 8/21-8-27

8 U.S Marines Killed, US Military launches Airstrike, Genetics Confirm Prigozhins' death

Issue # 15

Death of Wagner Group's Yevgeny Prigozhin Confirmed by Russian Authorities

A portrait of Yevgeny Prigozhin lays at an informal memorial next to the former 'PMC Wagner Centre' in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo / AP

Russian officials have officially announced the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner Group, confirming speculations following a plane crash last week that killed all onboard. Genetic tests on the 10 bodies found at the crash site match the flight's manifest, which included Prigozhin and his top aides, as mentioned by Svetlana Petrenko of the Russian Investigative Committee.

The circumstances surrounding the crash between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Prigozhin's hometown, remain unclear. Given the timing, some suspect the Kremlin might be behind it, while others believe that Prigozhin, known for his elusive nature, might have escaped or was not on the flight.

Two months prior to the crash, Prigozhin led a mutiny against Russia's military, directing his mercenaries from Ukraine to Moscow. This action was deemed "treason" by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Surprisingly, Prigozhin was allowed to walk free after a deal with the Kremlin and was given permission to relocate to Belarus.

A preliminary report from US intelligence suggests that the plane was brought down by an intentional explosion, raising suspicions about Putin's involvement, which the Kremlin vehemently denies. Other key members of the Wagner Group, including Dmitry Utkin and Valery Chekalov, also perished in the crash.

The future of the Wagner Group, which had significant roles in Russia's military activities in Ukraine and other countries, remains uncertain. Post-mutiny, Prigozhin was supposed to be exiled to Belarus. Wagner mercenaries had three choices: join him, retire, or enlist in Russia's regular army. A sizable number of these mercenaries have since relocated to Belarus.

So, what does this mean?

The death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, marks a significant turning point in Russian military and political landscapes. Given the uncertainties surrounding his death and the plane crash, suspicions of the Kremlin's involvement are likely to persist. The Wagner Group's future is now up in the air, and the decisions made by its mercenaries in the aftermath could reshape the dynamics of military engagements in the regions they operate. The incident also underlines the risks and challenges faced by those who defy the Kremlin, given Prigozhin earlier confrontation with Putin.

US Military Launches Airstrike Against al Shabaab Fighters in Somalia

A Somali police officer looks from the broken windows of the Pearl Beach Restaurant following an attack by Al Shabaab militants at the Liido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Jun 10, 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Feisal Omar)

On Sunday, Aug 27, the US military reported that they believe an airstrike resulted in the deaths of 13 al Shabaab fighters in southern Somalia. The strike, described as a "collective self-defence airstrike", was executed at the behest of the Somali government.

This airstrike is part of a larger campaign initiated a year prior by the Somali government and its allies, targeting al Shabaab, a group linked to al Qaeda. The campaign has succeeded in expelling the group from certain central regions of the country. However, al Shabaab continues to orchestrate significant attacks.

The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) disclosed that the air assault was launched near Seiera, approximately 45km northwest of Kismayo. The operation aimed to assist the Somali National Army forces that were under attack by al Shabaab militants.

AFRICOM's statement emphasized their collaboration with the Somali National Army and their preliminary evaluation indicates that the airstrike resulted in the death of 13 al Shabaab combatants. Thankfully, there were no civilian casualties reported.

In another strategic move, the town of El Buur, a pivotal al Shabaab base in Somalia's central region, was seized by the Somali army and its allied forces on Friday. This signifies a major advancement in the campaign.

Nevertheless, some military experts and individuals engaged in the campaign have expressed skepticism regarding the government's assertions to eradicate al Shabaab completely.

So, what does this mean?

The US military's intervention and the recent victories of the Somali government and its allies highlight a determined effort to combat and diminish the influence of al Shabaab in the region. While the seizure of key locations such as El Buur represents progress, the skepticism of military experts underscores the complexity and resilience of extremist groups like al Shabaab. The ongoing efforts and collaboration between nations will be vital in determining the future stability and safety of Somalia.

Eight U.S. Marines Hospitalized After Osprey Crash in Australia; Three Fatalities Reported

In a tragic event near Darwin, Australia, an American Marine V-22 Osprey aircraft crashed on Melville Island during a multinational training drill named Exercise Predators Run. The crash, which occurred on Sunday at 9:30 a.m., led to the unfortunate death of three Marines while injuring several others.

The 20 survivors of the accident were quickly transported to the Royal Darwin Hospital; 12 of them were discharged by Monday. Among the first five survivors to reach the hospital, the conditions were critical with one undergoing immediate surgery. Out of respect for the survivors and their families, Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles did not elaborate on the current conditions of the eight Marines who remain hospitalized.

The Osprey, known for its unique hybrid capabilities – it takes off and lands like a helicopter but can tilt its propellers to fly as a plane – crashed into a tropical forest and was engulfed in flames. Previously, since 2012, five Marine Osprey crashes had occurred, taking a total of 16 lives. Notably, a crash in June 2022 was attributed to a mechanical failure connected to a clutch. A subsequent report found 16 similar clutch issues since 2012, but modifications in February seemed to have addressed the concern.

Northern Territory Police Commissioner Michael Murphy highlighted the enormity of the crash's impact, expressing amazement at the survival of 20 Marines from such a devastating accident. Defense Minister Richard Marles echoed the sentiment, acknowledging the significant loss while expressing gratitude for the survivors.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin paid his respects to the deceased Marines, emphasizing their dedicated service to the nation. The U.S. Embassy in Australia also extended its condolences and expressed gratitude to Australian first responders.

So, what does this mean?

The tragic crash serves as a somber reminder of the risks military personnel face even during routine training exercises. As investigations into the exact cause of the crash commence, questions about the Osprey's reliability and safety might resurface, especially considering previous incidents. The outpouring of support and condolences underscores the close ties and cooperation between the U.S. and Australian military forces. The incident will likely spark discussions and possible safety reviews on the use and maintenance of military hardware in both countries.

Stay tuned for more updates on global events and their implications in our next edition.