WorldTo Find Clues in Saudi Oil Attacks, U.S. Examines Missile and Drone Parts

01:05  18 september  2019
01:05  18 september  2019 Source:   nytimes.com

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WASHINGTON — American investigators are examining missile circuit boards recovered after strikes against Saudi oil facilities to determine the trajectory of the attack — and whether it Perhaps most important, forensic analysis is underway of missile and drone parts from the attack sites.

To Find Clues in Saudi Oil Attacks , U . S . Examines Missile and Drone Parts . American investigators are gathering evidence to bolster their claim that Iran was responsible for attacking oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. By Eric Schmitt, Julian E. Barnes and David D. Kirkpatrick.

WASHINGTON — American investigators are examining missile circuit boards recovered after strikes against Saudi oil facilities to determine the trajectory of the attack — and whether it originated from Iran — as the Trump administration debates how, and whether, to retaliate.

To Find Clues in Saudi Oil Attacks, U.S. Examines Missile and Drone Parts © Planet Labs, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images A satellite image shows damage to oil and gas infrastructure in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. American intelligence analysts are poring over satellite imagery of the attacks.

Analysts are poring over satellite imagery of the damage sites, and assessing radar tracks of at least some of the low-flying cruise missiles that were used. Communication intercepts from before and after the attacks are being reviewed to see if they implicate Iranian officials.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran for Saturday' s drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities. He dismissed a claim by Yemen' s Iran-backed Houthi rebels that they had attacked the two facilities, run by state-owned company Aramco. Iran' s foreign minister accused Mr Pompeo of "deceit".

An unnamed senior US official told ABC News the attacks on the Abqaiq refinery had involved a dozen cruise missiles and more than 20 drones . Abqaiq is the world' s largest oil processing facility, and about two-thirds of Saudi Arabia' s total output is refined there. Some seven million barrels of oil are

Perhaps most important, forensic analysis is underway of missile and drone parts from the attack sites. The Saudis have recovered pristine circuit boards from one of the cruise missiles that fell short of its target, providing forensics specialists the possibility of tracing the missile’s point of origin, according to a senior American official briefed on the intelligence.

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One theory gaining traction among American officials is that the cruise missiles were launched from Iran and programmed to fly around the northern Persian Gulf through Iraqi air space instead of directly across the gulf where the United States has much better surveillance, one senior official said. In the hours before the attacks, American intelligence detected unusual activity at military bases in southwest Iran that would be consistent with preparations for strikes, another senior American official said.

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Iran dismisses US allegation it was behind Saudi oil attacks Iran denied on Sunday it was involved in Yemen rebel drone attacks the previous day targeting the world's biggest oil processing facility and an oil field in Saudi Arabia, just hours after America's top diplomat alleged that Tehran was behind the "unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply." © Provided by The Associated Press This Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi oil drone attack . Image copyright US government / Digital Globe. Saudi Arabia is fighting against the rebel Houthi movement in neighbouring Yemen, in part to stem perceived Iranian The Houthis have repeatedly launched rockets, missiles and drones at populated areas in Saudi Arabia.

On 14 September 2019, drones were used to attack the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq (Biqayq in Arabic) and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Within the administration, there is much discussion over what retaliatory action to take, if any, and whether such a response would appear to be doing the Saudis’ bidding. The question is a challenging one for President Trump, who first declared after the attacks that the United States was “locked and loaded,” but then softened his tone and said he would like to avoid conflict.

The attack is viewed as the most destructive strike to Saudi Arabia since it opened an offensive in Yemen more than four years ago. The strikes at the Abqaiq processing facility and Khurais oil field initially cut by more than 50 percent the oil produced by the kingdom, which supplies about a tenth of the worldwide total. By Tuesday, Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, said it would fully restore oil production by the end of September at facilities that were attacked by air on Saturday.

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Saudi Arabia in 2018 spent an estimated .6 billion on arms — second only to the U . S . and China. Saturday' s attacks on Saudi Aramco' s Abqaiq and Khurais facilities cut off roughly half the kingdom' s oil production in one day. The low-flying drones and cruise missiles said to have been used in the

“ Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked ,” he said in a tweet on Sunday evening. “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting Mr. Trump’ s warning echoed one he made in June after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone .

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have presented Mr. Trump with an array of military options — presumably both bombing targets such as the missile-launching sites and storage areas as well as covert cyberoperations that could disable or disrupt Iran’s oil infrastructure.

A big concern is to ensure that any strikes be proportional and not escalate the conflict, particularly with world leaders gathering next week in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Officials also voiced worry about the cost of doing nothing, at least openly, in response to attacks that have cut in half the oil production of one of Washington’s main allies in the Middle East.

If Iran is proved to be behind the attacks, it may be because it is looking for increased diplomatic and economic leverage, said current and former officials. Tehran has been pressed by the tough economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Although an attack by Iran would represent a sharp escalation, Iranian officials may be counting that Mr. Trump’s reluctance to start a war in the Middle East will restrain the American response. Only by committing a dramatic strike, the current and former officials said, can Tehran improve its negotiating position before the United Nations meeting.

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14, a major Saudi oil processing plant was rocked by a series of explosions. The facility, and another oil field to the south , had been attacked from the air. This annotated image released Sunday by the U . S . government and DigitalGlobe shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco' s Abqaiq oil

Twenty-five drones and missiles were used in the attack that forced the kingdom to shut down half of its oil production, Saudi Arabia has said. Repair work is underway at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities after predawn attacks on Saturday forced the kingdom to shut down half its total oil production.

American officials say they have no doubt that the drones and missiles used in the attacks were Iranian technology and components. But they have not yet released information on whether the strikes were planned and directed by Iran, and launched by Iran’s proxies in the region — or whether they were actually launched from Iranian territory.

Some officials said they have come to believe the cruise missiles were launched from Iran, but others familiar with the intelligence noted that the evidence is not yet irrefutable, and Tehran has taken steps to obscure the origin of the strike.

The United States has prepared a document laying out the current understanding of the facts of the strike on Saudi Arabia in which the American government has “high confidence,” according to multiple American officials. The intelligence assessment is ready to be declassified, but it will not be released until Saudi Arabia has had a chance to make its own conclusions and release information it wants, officials said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was scheduled on Wednesday to meet with officials in Saudi Arabia, a visit that could result in the release of the American report.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia appear in no rush to pinpoint the source of the attack or call for any specific response.

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A Saudi military spokesman said Monday that the kingdom’s initial investigation had indicated that the weapons were Iranian-made and that the attack was not launched from Yemen. But so far the Saudis have lagged American officials in their willingness to openly blame Iran for carrying out the attack.

Underscoring its go-slow approach, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it intended to invite the United Nations and other international experts to visit the site of the attacks and participate in the investigations. “The kingdom will take appropriate measures based on the results of the investigation,” the statement said, suggesting that the Saudis would wait a prolonged period before taking action.

Analysts said Saudi Arabia might be reluctant to engage in a military confrontation before confirming the American response. The rulers of the kingdom may also be worried because the attack demonstrated ominous vulnerabilities in their air defense systems. Although Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest spenders in the world on military hardware, the damage from Saturday’s airstrike suggested scant preparation for a full-fledged air war.

Saudi rulers have at least once actively covered up an Iranian attack inside the kingdom to avoid making accusations that could lead to a clash. After a terrorist bombing at the Khobar Towers complex killed 19 United States Air Force personnel in 1996, scholars say, the Saudis deliberately sought to obfuscate Iran’s responsibility in an attempt to avoid a military conflict. (The United States still ultimately concluded that Iran was responsible.)

Yemen's Houthi rebels announce halt in attacks on Saudi Arabia

  Yemen's Houthi rebels announce halt in attacks on Saudi Arabia Yemen's Houthi rebels said Friday they are halting all drone and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, six days after claiming responsibility for a strike that crippled a key oil facility in the kingdom. A damaged installation in Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq oil processing plant is pictured on September 20, 2019. - Saudi Arabia said on September 17 its oil output will return to normal by the end of September, seeking to soothe rattled energy markets after attacks on two instillations that slashed its production by half.

Michael J. Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., said during a speech on Monday night in Northern Virginia that if Iran was found responsible for directing or carrying out the attacks, that would amount to an act of war and the United States would “need to respond.”

Mr. Morell, who said he had no inside information, said he favored some kind of proportional military strike, perhaps against Iranian missile sites and storage areas but not against Iranian oil infrastructure.

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who retired from the military after serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted the danger of the situation because there was little effective way to communicate with the Iranians to avoid escalation and misjudgment.

“It’s a situation ripe with the possibility of miscalculation,” he said. “We have not had a good line of communication with Iran since 1979, so if something happens, the odds of us getting it right are pretty small.”

Mr. Morell said it would be important to have allies such as Britain and France join any retaliation so the United States was not going it alone.

France has no evidence showing where drones that attacked the Saudi oil facilities came from, the French foreign minister said on Tuesday.

“Up to now France doesn’t have evidence to say that these drones came from one place or another, and I don’t know if anyone has evidence,” the minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told reporters in Cairo.

Several top administration and military officials said they remained keenly aware of Mr. Trump’s reluctance to carry out military strikes that could pull the United States into a larger, longer conflict in the Middle East.

Eric Schmitt and Julian Barnes reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Istanbul. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington, and Stanley Reed from London.

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Pentagon to send radar, Patriot missiles to bolster Saudi defenses .
The Pentagon said on Thursday it plans to send four radar systems, a battery of Patriot missiles and about two hundred support personnel to bolster Saudi Arabia's defenses after the largest-ever attack on the kingdom's oil facilities this month.The deployment details clarify the Pentagon's Friday announcement about U.S. plans to deploy more forces to Saudi Arabia after the Sept. 14 attack on the world's biggest crude oil processing facility, which Washington has blamed on Iran.

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