Situation Report: IEDs in Sinai; Army anthrax lockdown; China’s new military; getting Americans out of Turkey; reports of Russians fighting in Syria; and lots more
- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
More trouble. In a surprise attack, four U.S. soldiers and two Multinational Force and Observer peacekeepers were injured Thursday when two improvised explosive devices (IED) detonated in Northeast Sinai, the Pentagon announced Thursday night. The U.S. personnel were hit when responding to the first IED blast, a tactic used by militants in Iraq and Afghanistan for years.
In a usually quiet and relatively little known mission, U.S. Army units have been deploying to the Sinai since 1982, monitoring the terms of the 1979 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. The job is currently being conducted by about 650 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 112th Cavalry Regiment from the Texas Army National Guard. The Sinai peninsula has been the scene of increasingly violent attacks against Egyptian police and military personnel by Islamist insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State in recent months, and has seen some fierce fighting. In August, the U.S. was reportedly considering pulling its troops from the peacekeeping mission. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said on Thursday evening that the wounded soldiers were evacuated by air to a medical facility to receive treatment for non-life-threatening injuries.
Ticket to ride. The U.S. government is worried about the safety of American citizens in Turkey, so much so that it is offering to pay to fly the families of U.S. servicemembers and State Department employees stationed there back home. The move comes a few weeks after American F-16s began flying missions from the Incirlik Air Base against the Islamic State in Turkey, and in the wake of a wave of violence that has broken out across the country, including an Aug. 10 attack on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. No one was killed in that incident, but separate attacks left 9 dead. Officials at the Pentagon and State Department emphasized that the threats were longstanding and nonspecific, but there’s no denying the Islamic State has taken a harsher line against Turkey in recent months, conducting a suicide attack against Kurdish activists in the town of Suruç in July and threatening the country after Turkey’s subsequent decision to allow American fighter jets to operate from Turkish soil.
Faster, smaller, tougher. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is getting set to jettison 300,000 soldiers from its ranks in a bid to shed dead weight, reduce overhead, and use the savings to buy more high-tech ships, planes, and make its army leaner and more professional. But don’t worry, the Chinese military — which currently has more than 2 million troops — will remain the largest in the world (the United States, by comparison, has 1.4 million active duty forces). While the army might get a haircut, China’s ambitions in the region remain the same, and the move is being seen by observers as a way to move away from the burdensome Soviet-era command structure and make the overall force a bit more agile.
Better late than never. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman was supposed to come to Washington back in May, but the newly-crowned king snubbed President Barack Obama’s invitation to attend a summit of Gulf leaders because of Riyadh’s strong disapproval of Washington’s nuclear negotiations with Iran. But four months later, with congressional approval of the Iran nuclear deal looking increasingly solid, things appear to have cooled off a bit. The visit, and the grudging acceptance of the deal, has possibly been helped along by Washington’s promise to sell the kingdom what amounts to a new navy, along with more missiles, helicopters, and other new toys, reports FP’s Dan De Luce.
Paperback writer. Defense Secretary Ash Carter hasn’t held too many press conferences in his first six months on the job, but he does have a new op-ed running in USA Today. Carter extols the virtues of the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of some of the most crushing economic sanctions levied on the Tehran government, but reminds us that the U.S. military remains ready to whack Iran should the deal fall apart, or the Iranians get a little too aggressive in the region. “Nothing in the Iran deal constrains the U.S. Defense Department in any way or its ability to carry out such a mission,” he writes. “Indeed, the reality is that any prospective military option, if called for, will be more effective under this deal — not less. Iran will have a smaller and more concentrated civil nuclear program, and the deal’s verification provisions will give us more information with which to plan,” he says.
The last long weekend of the summer is here, and what better way to kick it off than with a stroll through today’s SitRep? As always, please pass along any tips, notes, or otherwise interesting bits of information that you may have at your disposal. Best way is to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
Who’s where when
The Pentagon press corps will receive another update of the air war in Iraq and Syria on Friday morning when Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, chief of staff, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, briefs from Southwest Asia at 11:30 a.m. in the Pentagon Briefing Room.
The U.S. Army’s anthrax scandal doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. On Thursday, Army Secretary John McHugh ordered a moratorium on activity at nine different biodefense labs after a recent investigation found anthrax bacteria on the floor of the lab at the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds. The Army has ordered a review of safety procedures at facilities handling deadly pathogens in the wake of revelations earlier this year that workers at Dugway had inadvertently been sending live anthrax spores to labs across the world for the better part of a decade. No one at Dugway has yet been held accountable for the accidental shipments to 194 labs in all 50 states and 9 countries.
Gen. Mark Milley, the newly-minted U.S. Army Chief of Staff, made a surprise visit to Iraq on Wednesday and dropped in on Iraqi defense minister Khaled al-Obeidi for a meeting alongside Lt. Gen. James Terry, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. Iraqi officials captured the meeting on video and posted it on their Facebook page, complete with a curiously epic-sounding score.
Reports out of Syria have increasingly pointed to the presence of Russian combat troops, vehicles, and fighter jets engaging in direct combat in support of the Assad regime. The Obama administration, however, has been fairly mum about the accounts. When asked about a possible Russian military footprint in Syria at Thursday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest dodged a direct answer, saying only that the administration is “monitoring those reports quite closely.”
Fox News reports that Navy officials have been tracking a Russian ship, the Yantar, as it loitered off the coast of a U.S. submarine base at Kings Bay in Georgia, where a half dozen American ballistic missile submarines are currently based. Russian officials claim the ship is merely an oceanographic research vessel but the U.S. believes the Yantar is an intelligence-gathering ship. Russian navy-watcher @7FBTK has been tracing the ship’s movements through the Atlantic since it first set sail from Russia on August 10.
Reports have emerged that the U.S. may have reached an agreement with Malaysia to let American P-8 Poseidon and P-3 Orion spy planes use airbases in the country to spy on China’s activities in the waters off Malaysia’s coast. China’s disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea and its willingness to assert those claims with a military buildup has rattled some countries in the region, pushing them towards greater military cooperation with the United States.
Quote of the day
“I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.” — Donald Trump