The Cable

Situation Report: U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan; Russian smart bombs not what they seem; U.S. troops and their drones to Cameroon; Ash Carter repeats himself; Turkey unhappy with U.S. and Russian relationships with Kurds; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Blockbuster war news. President Barack Obama is set to abandon his plan to have almost all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of his second term, senior administration officials confirmed Thursday. The president will go public with a new plan to keep thousands of troops in the ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Blockbuster war news. President Barack Obama is set to abandon his plan to have almost all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of his second term, senior administration officials confirmed Thursday. The president will go public with a new plan to keep thousands of troops in the country at least through the end of his term in 2017, a move that prolongs what has already been the United States’ longest war.

There are currently 9,800 U.S. troops in the country, most of which were due to leave by the end of 2016, save for an embassy security force in Kabul. But that number will now remain constant before falling to about 5,500 troops in early 2017 under the new plan. The forces who remain will continue training and advising Afghan troops, while a Special Ops contingent will focus on the counterterrorism fight against al Qaeda. A senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity on Thursday said that after 2016, U.S. troops will remain “at a small number bases, including at Bagram, Jalalabad in the east, and Kandahar in the south.”

Numbers. There are about 4,000 NATO troops also advising Afghan forces in the country at the moment. Defense Secretary Ash Carter returned late last week from a NATO meeting in Brussels, where the commitment to the effort in Afghanistan was high on the agenda, through no announcements have yet been made about European plans.

The decision comes at a heady time for the Kabul government, with Afghan forces suffering record casualties, and the United Nations recently announcing that the Taliban has spread through more areas of the country than at any point since 2001. Just last month, the militants seized the city of Kunduz, before being pushed out by a major government offensive backed up by U.S. air power — with the tragic result of the American strafing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 22 staffers.

In response to the incident, FP’s Siobhan O’Grady has the story of the difficulties the aid group is experiencing in trying to get an international investigation off the ground, since the probe can’t begin “unless both Washington and Kabul sign off — a step the two governments may hesitate to take because of the potential political and legal fallout.”

Are you smarter than a Russian bomb? Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly sophisticated public relations and propaganda machine has gone into overdrive since the start of Moscow’s air war in Syria. State-supported media outlets have made sure to publish plenty of photos of Russian precision munitions strapped to the underbellies of Russian aircraft in Syria, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of airstrikes are being carried out by old-school “dumb” bombs. FP’s Paul McLeary reports that when it comes to Russian military prowess, however, perception is reality, and Moscow has worked hard to showcase some of his newest and most advanced equipment, even if the Russian military only possess them in limited numbers.

The New York Times is also on the Russia / Syria military gear beat, with Steven Lee Myers and Eric Schmitt writing that Russia is making the most of the conflict in Syria to stretch out and test many of its newest weapons.

Drones over Africa. President Barack Obama notified Congress Wednesday that he is sending roughly 300 American troops to the West African nation of Cameroon to “conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region,” as the country struggles to contain the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. Ninety American troops have already left, along with at least one unarmed Predator surveillance drone.

Boko Haram militants were once largely confined to Nigeria, FP’s Siobhan O’Grady writes, but over the past year have launched a series of bloody cross-border raids into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The U.S. force will help gather intel for a multi-regional task force made up of those countries, and may also begin training Cameroonian troops, according to the White House.

Friends helping enemies of friends. The Turkish government is unhappy with just about everyone, and has summoned the U.S. and Russian ambassadors to warn against providing too much military aid for Kurdish forces fighting in northern Syria. The Wednesday meetings came just days after the U.S. dropped 50 tons of supplies to Syrian rebels in northern Syria, and Russian envoys began reaching out to Kurdish militants that Turkey accuses of being allied with Kurdish terrorist groups involved in a decades-long fight with Turkey. “Turkey will not accept any cooperation with terror groups fighting against Turkey,” Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, said at a Wednesday news conference. “We have shared this with the U.S. and Russia.”

Sticking with it. Defense Secretary Ash Carter appears to have found a phrase he likes, and hasn’t been shy about deploying it. At the Association of the United States Army annual conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Carter said “from the Kamchatka Peninsula through South Asia, into the Caucasus and around to the Baltics, Russia has continued to wrap itself in a shroud of isolation,” repeating the “shroud of isolation” bit he first rolled out last week during a speech in Brussels. The Pentagon chief also continued to hammer Russia, adding that U.S. defense officials have been forced to start “thinking about a different kind of campaign to deter Russian aggression,” after a post 25 year, post- Cold War pause. “It’s now obviously an unwelcomed development that I wish would change but I frankly don’t expect to change any time soon.”

Good morning yet again from the SitRep team. It’s been a little quiet lately on reader feedback — seriously, how’s it going? The power of the crowd is real, so 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 paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Stop by iTunes or Stitcher today and catch the latest two FP podcast episodes – The Editor’s Roundtable (The E.R.) and Global Thinkers. The E.R. sizes up how America is doing facing the cyber warfare challenges of today. Global Thinkers dives into culture and identity, focusing on Africa. Listen and subscribe today: http://atfp.co/1K7nhrI

Syria

American and Russian defense officials say both sides are close to inking a deal to deconflict the airspace over Syria to make sure neither country’s jets get too close to each other. The deal comes after Russian and U.S. jets came within an uncomfortably close visual range of each other — two miles, Pentagon officials have admitted — and follows tense earlier deconfliction talks, which the Russian side secretly recorded and dumped on the Internet.

The tech company Recorded Future has made a neat, handy map showing the locations, organizational affiliations and dates for incidents involving TOW missiles from the CIA’s program supplying the anti-tank missiles to Syrian rebels.

Turkey

We’re learning more about the suicide attack that struck a peace rally in Ankara on Saturday. Turkish officials have identified the bombers to the BBC, saying the two men, Yunus Emre Alagoz and Omer Deniz Dundar, have ties to the Islamic State. In an act of bitter historical symmetry, Yunus Emre Alagoz is reportedly the brother of Seyh Abdurrahman Alagoz, another Islamic State-linked bomber who carried out the last suicide attack on Turkish territory, hitting Kurdish activists in the town of Suruc back in July.

Iraq

There are new reports that Iraqi forces are gearing up to try and take back Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, from the Islamic State. In a humiliating loss for the Baghdad government, Ramadi fell to the jihadist group back in May after communications between the Iraqi forces in the city and their commanders broke down, leading units to flee, thinking they had been abandoned. But Iraq’s Joint Operations Command for Anbar announced that it’s closing in on the city from the north and preparing for a direct assault. A new offensive by Shia militias is also underway to retake the city of Baiji, which Iraqi forces have struggled for months to pry from the grip of the Islamic State.

Yemen

Reuters got its hands on a U.S. Navy report that says the Saudi-led war in Yemen to oust the Houthi movement from power is slowing down the delivery of aid, making a dire humanitarian crisis in the country even worse. The friction is happening at sea, where Yemeni officials are trying to welcome the arrival of foreign aid shipments but Arab coalition officials are warning ships to steer clear of port cities where it is carrying out military operations. The coalition is reportedly concerned about Iranian covert weapons shipments to Houthi fighters in Yemen. In late September, the coalition intercepted a dhow carrying weapons it believed were sent by Iran for use against Arab coalition troops fighting in Yemen. FP recently reported that over the past six months, American tankers have flown over 340 refueling sorties while pumping  more than 12 million lbs. of fuel into coalition aircraft from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

NATO

The Atlantic alliance may be about to get just a tiny bit bigger, the Washington Post reports. Montenegro, with a population of just over 600,000, is interested in joining NATO, according to Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Igor Luksic. The feeling is at least tentatively mutual, with NATO officials in town this week for a visit to assess the country’s progress in meeting the conditions for membership. However, public opinion towards NATO membership remains sharply divided in the country, once the subject of a NATO bombing campaign as part of the Kosovo War, with 46 percent favoring membership and 42 percent against.

Valor

Army Captain Florent Groberg will receive the Medal of Honor for tackling a suicide bomber during a 2012 deployment in Afghanistan. Capt. Groberg tackled the bomber during a patrol in Asadabad, Afghanistan, knocking him to the ground and forcing him to detonate his bomb farther away from Groberg’s unit. A second suicide bomber, confused by the events, detonated his device early. The attack killed three servicemembers, two soldiers and one airman, as well as a USAID employee and severely injured Capt. Groberg, but his initiative saved the lives of others in his unit, earning him the nation’s highest military award. He will be the 10th living service member to receive the nation’s highest award for valor from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, seven of which have been awarded posthumously.

China

China is placing HQ-6 surface-to-air missiles at the People’s Liberation Army Shek Kong Airfield in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Free Press reports. The short range missiles won’t project power very far from Hong Kong, barely reaching to the shorelines of Hong Kong’s New Territories

 

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

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