Situation Report: Taliban leader dead?; Joint Chiefs hacked; Iranian nuke deal haters; U.S. stands with Kurds; big day on Capitol Hill; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Mullah Omar dead? There are breaking reports coming out of Afghanistan that the infamous leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, is dead. Thought to be in his mid-50’s, the reclusive leader has been in hiding since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 — saddled with a $10 million ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Mullah Omar dead? There are breaking reports coming out of Afghanistan that the infamous leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, is dead. Thought to be in his mid-50’s, the reclusive leader has been in hiding since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 — saddled with a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. As with most breaking stories, however, there’s a lot of uncertainty hanging over these initial reports. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy spokesman said on Wednesday that the government was in the process of assessing the reports.
Omar has only made the occasional brief statement since going into hiding 14 years ago, with the latest coming earlier this month, when he came out in support for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The message came as a written statement on a Taliban website, rather than an audio or video recording, which gave rise to rumors that he was dead or ill. Early reports have it that Afghan officials briefed on the matter said the Pakistani government informed Kabul that Omar died two years ago, and the Taliban says that it will issue a statement within the next several hours.
Hacked! (again). If you receive an email from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The Defense Department took an unclassified email network used by Dempsey — and hundreds of Joint Staff military and civilian personnel — offline over the weekend after suspicious activity was detected, spokeswoman Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson said late Tuesday. This isn’t the first time that some unclassified government networks have been breached, however — it isn’t even the first time this year. In April, Defense Secretary Ash Carter disclosed that Russian hackers had gained access to a Pentagon network earlier this year. “After learning valuable information about their tactics, we analyzed their network activity, associated it with Russia, and then quickly kicked them off the network,” he said. Russian hackers also gained access to some State Department and White House networks last year. No word yet who might be behind this latest attack.
Standing with the Kurds. A U.S. government official has confirmed to FP’s Dan De Luce that despite Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish targets in Iraq, Washington isn’t looking to break ties with some of the Kurdish groups who have been at forefront of the fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “We don’t want to see that complicated in any way,” the official said, adding “we are not going to forsake them.”
Haters. We can add Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to the list of people who don’t like the terms of the nuclear agreement that Tehran reached with a group of world powers earlier this month. At least that’s what Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, inviting lawmakers to “talk to the intel community about that, they will document it.” Kerry said that the IRGC opposes the deal because foreign powers may become less hesitant to confront it militarily after Tehran loses the nuclear deterrent, FP’s John Hudson writes. “One of the reasons they oppose this agreement,” said Kerry, “is that they see themselves losing the cover of the nuclear umbrella that they’d hoped to have for their nefarious activities.”
Death by a thousand cuts. Backing up Kerry’s assertion that some in Iran are less than thrilled with the deal, FP’s Colum Lynch reports that the country’s U.N. envoy, Gholamali Khoshroo, said Tehran “may reconsider its commitments” under the pact if U.S., European, and U.N. sanctions are not lifted, or if they are rolled back into place, even for non-nuclear issues. But up on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Kerry pressed that the United States would maintain a broad range of sanctions on Iran for an expansive set of non-nuclear issues.
Must see TV. Just before midnight, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that John Kerry would be a last-minute addition to what was already a pretty powerful lineup of U.S. officials on the Hill. He’ll join Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Iranian nuclear deal and “Military Balance in the Middle East.”
It’s Wednesday morning and the Situation Report is here. We’re always on the lookout for anything noteworthy or ahead of the news cycle to flag, so please pass any items along to email@example.com or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
You’ve just signed a historic nuclear deal with the United States and other major world powers, where do you go next? Baghdad! Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, is in the Iraqi capital to meet with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “We make the tour in the Gulf region immediately after the end of the nuclear talks to discuss the dangers that threaten all of us,” Zarif told reporters in the city of Najaf after meeting with Shiite cleric of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
The Department of “Pew!”
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has unveiled plans for the Navy to use laser and electromagnetic weapons in the next few years. Mabus said the service will build a 100-150 kilowatt laser for testing sometime in the next three years and is preparing to deploy an electromagnetic railgun that can toss shells over 100 miles sometime next year. Mabus spoke at the Directed Energy Summit on Tuesday, a conference organized by Booz Allen and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, both of which have been advocates for directed energy weapons.
The Army might also be looking to get in on the Navy’s fancy new electromagnetic railgun. Speaking at the same summit on Tuesday, the Army’s Missiles and Space program chief, Brig. Gen. Neil Thurgood, said the Army is working with the Navy to see if it can find a role for the long-range launcher in air defense.
Now that Turkey has taken to bombing Kurdish factions in northern Iraq against which it has fought a decades-long conflict, we’ve been inundated with the acronyms of the various intertwined Kurdish political parties and militia groups. If you’re confused by the alphabet soup, al Jazeera has a handy guide to who’s who.
The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah is claiming that an Israeli drone strike killed two of its fighters in Syria in Quneitra province. Israeli aircraft have struck inside Syria several times to disrupt significant arms transfers to Hezbollah, and an Israeli drone strike reportedly killed Jihad Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah commander, back in January. Nonetheless, no independent confirmation of a strike is available as of yet and Israeli officials have declined to comment.
Fresh satellite imagery suggests that North Korea may be gearing up for another missile launch. The North Korea analysis site 38North published a piece on Wednesday examining satellite snaps of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station dating back to the spring of 2015. The pictures show that the North has finished construction on the launchpad and preparations for a rocket test engine are evident. North Korea claims its launches are for the peaceful deployment of satellites in space but the United States and other countries in the region believe it to be a cover for ballistic missile development.
The relatively weak Ukrainian Army is looking for any help it can get in hitting back against the well-equipped, Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east. But in some cases, the deals that Kiev has made with small militia groups may come back to haunt it. Reuters has a story profiling some of the more worrisome groups fighting on the government’s behalf, ranging from dressed-up criminal gangs to right wing true believers who are using religious symbolism to call for a “crusade” against Moscow. President Petro Poroshenko is growing concerned, and has said that he’s considering legislation that would grant him emergency powers to deal with armed groups.
The New York Times‘ C.J. Chivers has new background on the relief of Lt. Col. Kate Germano from her command of the Marines’ all-female training battalion. Germano’s relief quickly proved controversial. Defenders praised her as a committed reformer but the Marine Corps cited her for the creation of a toxic command climate. Chivers reports that prior to her dismissal Germano was in the process of submitting an oped to the Marine Corps Gazette decrying the more relaxed standards in place for female Marines, labeling them an obstacle to the advancement of women in the Corps. In the wake of her removal, the Gazette declined to publish the piece. The magazine’s editor, John Keenan, denies that the Marine Corps played any part in his decision not to run the article.
Who’s where when
10:00 a.m. The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington is hosting a heavy lineup of diplomats Wednesday morning to discuss ways in which the European Union and the United States can work together in Southeast Asia. It will include:
Ambassador of the European Union to the U.S., David O’Sullivan; Ambassador of Vietnam to the U.S., Pham Quang Vinh; the Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Southeast Asia, Dr. Amy Searight; the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Michael H. Fuchs; and Director of Asia and Oceania, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Peter Potman.
11:00 a.m. The Stimson Center is hosting an event examining “Regional Implications of the Iran Deal,” featuring Colin Kahl, National Security Advisor for Vice President Joe Biden; Geneive Abdo, Fellow, Middle East Program, Stimson; Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, Former Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command; Ellen Laipson, President and CEO, Stimson.
The National Security Network has dropped a new policy brief arguing that if Congress votes down the nuclear agreement with Iran, it will not only hamper Washington’s ability to implement an effective foreign policy in the coming years, but that “rejecting the deal will alienate U.S. allies and diminish U.S. standing in future negotiations.”
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