The Cable

Situation Report: Real talk about drones; U.S. and Japan talk defense, Generals talk about space; Iran doing lots of talking; and more

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson Sure shot. The blowback continues from the White House’s April 23rd admission that several U.S. drone strikes in January in the Afghan/Pakistan border region accidentally killed two American-born al Qaeda operatives, along with captive American and Italian civilians. While the national security and political consensus in Washington appears to ...

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson

Sure shot. The blowback continues from the White House’s April 23rd admission that several U.S. drone strikes in January in the Afghan/Pakistan border region accidentally killed two American-born al Qaeda operatives, along with captive American and Italian civilians.

While the national security and political consensus in Washington appears to have solidified around use of targeted killings to wage the counterterrorism fight, there are some cracks in the edifice. On CNN’s Sunday morning  “State of the Union” program, Sen. John McCain promised to “renew this discussion” on who should be running the drone program, which he said is “really not the job of the intelligence agency.”

So whose job is it?

Remember when President Barack Obama said it was going to be the Pentagon’s? The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo sure do, although neither CIA chief John Brennan nor the president appear ready to hand the operation over to the Pentagon. Adding to the din is the report Sunday night from the Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous that Obama “secretly approved a waiver” in 2013 giving the CIA more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else to hit suspected militants.

Also don’t miss FP’s Yochi Dreazen’s exclusive on how the family of missing U.S. aid worker Warren Weinstein worked with the government of Pakistan to funnel $250,000 to his captors in a failed bid to free him.

Nothing will be the same. Bet on some serious news being made during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to Washington this week. While people may be waiting for Abe’s address to Congress on April 29, those remarks will only come after an historic meeting in New York City today between top U.S. and Japanese officials that will rewrite the rules for how the two countries work together on a host of issues including missile defense, cyber, and collective self-defense.

The whole thing will be outlined later today after the huddle between Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Fumio Kishida and Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani. The update of the “Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation,” takes into account Japan’s recent reinterpretation of its constitution which allows the nation to more aggressively use its armed forces.

Remember however, this has nothing to do with China. Repeat as necessary.

This headline will not reference “Space Oddity.” Gen. John Hyten, who is in charge of the Air Force’s Space Command, is on a media tour this week, kicking it off Sunday on 60 Minutes, to be followed by a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington on Tuesday. Hyten is sounding the bell over the risk that American space assets face from hacks and other attacks from competitors like China, Russia, and North Korea. “There is no such thing as a day without space,” he said, deftly coming back around to a more newsy application, saying that “remotely piloted aircraft – all-weather guided munitions – didn’t exist before space.”

Another week, another Situation Report. Follow along for updates on our messy, interesting world and pass along anything you might have to pass along at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or @paulmcleary.

Iran

The Iranian naval commander warned over the weekend that Tehran is planning to send more ships to the Gulf of Aden, according to the official Fars news agency.

Fars also reports that the Iranian supreme leader’s adviser for international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, “rejected the Saudi claims that Tehran should receive permission from Riyadh for entering Yemen’s airspace, stressing that no country is allowed to interfere in Yemen’s internal affairs or show disrespect for its sovereignty.”

Syria

“A surge of rebel gains in Syria is overturning long-held assumptions about the durability of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which now appears in greater peril than at any time in the past three years,” reports the Washington Post’s Liz Sly.

Nepal

The 8.1 earthquake in Nepal, and subsequent aftershocks, have already claimed more than 3,200 lives, according to CNN. Despite the fact that “the country’s existing political discord is likely to hamper rescue and rebuilding efforts,” according to Thomas Fuller and Gardiner Harris for the New York Times, nations from across the globe are mobilizing to provide assistance.

Click here for details on the U.S. package, which left Dover Air Force Base on April 26.

China is doing its bit as well to address the disaster, sending 20 million yuan to Nepal and more than 95,000 items, including tents, sleeping bags, cots, and coats to Tibet, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Counterterrorism

Malaysian authorities arrested 12 individuals between the ages of 17 and 41 this weekend, whose plans “were in response to calls by Islamic State to launch terrorist attacks on secular Islamic countries seen as ‘enemies of IS.’” according to Reuters.


Meanwhile, in the Middle East, The Lebanon Daily Star reports that the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon is trying to “defuse tension with Hezbollah.” Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri will be delivering a speech to the Wilson Center on Monday, April 27.

Israel on the other hand, is having none of it, and has hit Hezbollah and Syrian targets near the Syria-Lebanon border early Monday, according to Jack Khoury of Haaretz.

Russia

Last week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin proclaimed “the Arctic is a Russian Mecca” says FP’s Reid Standish, just as the U.S. takes over the chair of the Arctic Council. Good times.

Russia’s own iconic biker gang the “Night Wolves” plans to “ride” through Poland and Germany to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Soviet Union. Their “Red Army” route is supposed to take them across Europe, The Guardian’s Alec Luhn writes.

Russia has also unveiled its new armored vehicle, the Armata, according to Nicholas de Larrinaga for IHS Jane’s 360. The new vehicles “represent the biggest change in Russia’s armoured fighting vehicle families since the 1960s and 1970s,” and include better armor and more wallop in its firepower.

The business of defense
So how is the U.S. Special Operations Command inching toward building its now-legendary $80 million Iron Man suit? Ariel Robinson, writing for National Defense Magazine, says it’s all about the service. The command says that it is bringing the same attributes to procurement as they do to operations: efficiency, effectiveness, and taking risks. They also are getting a bit of help from dozens of military and commercial contractors who want in on the potentially ground-breaking project.

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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