The Cable

SitRep: Saudi Blocks U.N. on Yemen; Pentagon to Tip Moscow on U.S. Commandos in Syria

Pentagon to tell Moscow where its commandos in Syria are; Japan intercepts record number of Chinese planes; North Korea readies another missile; and lots more

Yemenis check the ruins of buildings destroyed in an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition on February 25, 2016 in the capital Sanaa.  / AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS        (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemenis check the ruins of buildings destroyed in an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition on February 25, 2016 in the capital Sanaa. / AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Influence games. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have been punching above their weight when it comes to pressuring the world community to turn a blind eye to the excesses of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. FP’s Colum Lynch delivers the important story of how Saudi and Gulf diplomats have squashed a series of critical United Nations reports over the past year that have called the coalition out on some of its worst excesses, including bombing civilian targets, and helping create a massive humanitarian disaster.

Over the past year, more than 10,000 children under the age of 5 have died from preventable diseases, according to estimates by UNICEF, and 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes. And the war couldn’t be fought the way it is without Washington’s help. American military planes have flown hundreds of refueling missions over the past year to top off Saudi and Emirati bombers, and U.S. and British military analysts are deeply involved in helping the Saudis sift through intelligence about who, and what, to strike next. Whether or not the Saudis take that advice is another matter.

We’re here! Please don’t bomb us. As the Pentagon prepares to send another 250 special operators and their support forces to Syria, military planners are putting together plans to share their locations with the Russians. “In the past, we have identified, we did identify, a specific geographic area where we asked the Russians not to strike,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters Monday. “We’re not talking publicly with you all about where they’re going,” he cautioned the Pentagon press corps, while refusing to discuss what the state of interaction is between U.S. and Russian military forces.

Not enough. Arizona Republican, Sen. John McCain, isn’t pleased with the new plan, issuing a statement saying the “deployment of 250 additional U.S. military forces to Syria is a welcome development, but one that is long overdue and ultimately insufficient. Another reluctant step down the dangerous road of gradual escalation will not undo the damage in Syria to which this Administration has borne passive witness.”

Battle for Fallujah, part…Iraqi Shiite militias and army units continue to lay siege to the Islamic State held city of Fallujah, effectively starving the Sunni residents as the spotlight remains on the fighting further north near Mosul. In a potential sign of things to come in other parts of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, Shiite militias supported by Iran have been kidnapping locals and putting real restrictions on the movement of Sunni Arab civilians, American and Iraqi officials say.

The New York Times notes: “a growing number of critics are warning that American-backed military victories need to be backed up with political reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Arabs, something Iran is working against, and with determined efforts to rebuild cities so that civilians can return. In Anbar, they note, the situation is bleak: Shiite militias have worsened sectarian animosities, and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been unable to return home.”

Can’t stop, won’t stop. An ongoing exercise between U.S. and South Korean forces has, again, spooked the North. This year’s joint exercise, which kicked off on March 7 and is scheduled to continue through early May, includes some 17,000 Americans and 300,000 South Koreans, making it the largest iteration of this annual exercise since Washington started military cooperation with Seoul in 1954. On Saturday, North Korea even offered to stop testing nuclear weapons in return for an end to the maneuvers just south of its borders. Not going to happen, of course, but FP’s Henry Johnson went ahead and gathered a bunch of cool pictures from the exercise. They can be found here.

Thanks for clicking on through as we crank through another week of SitRep. As always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national  security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

North Korea

North Korea may be preparing to launch yet another missile, Yonhap News reports. An anonymous official source tells the paper that North Korea may attempt to test their Musudan mobile intermediate range missile. The North tested a Musudan on April 15 in honor of the Kim dynasty founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday but the test was reportedly a failure. South Korean officials believe that Pyongyang may be looking to stage another test in order to redeem the April 15 failure on Grandpa Kim’s big anniversary.

Japan

Japanese fighter jets intercepted Chinese military aircraft 571 times in 2015, the Japan Times reports. The number, released by the Japanese ministry of defense, represents a 23 percent increase from last year’s figure of 464 intercepts. The figures highlight the growing regional tension between the countries, locked in a series of disputes over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Japanese fighter jets also scrambled an additional 288 times last year in order meet Russian aircraft. Japan and Russia have a running dispute over ownership of the  Kuril Islands.

Europe

The U.S. Air Force took two stealth F-22 Raptors out for a spin over Europe, flying from the U.K. to Romania in an outing designed to reassure allies on the continent. The air superiority fighters, the most advanced fighter jets in America’s arsenal, stopped off at Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania on the Black Sea, shadowed by KC-135 refueling tankers. The Raptor Squadron commander told Reuters that the trip is meant to “demonstrate our capability to take the F-22 anywhere needed in NATO or across Europe.” The move follows two incidents in which Russian jets reportedly harassed an American ship and spy plane in the Baltics.

Russia

In an interview with CBS, President Obama says that Russian President Vladimir Putin views European institutions designed to unify the continent “as a threat to Russian power.” Obama, currently on a trip to Europe, said that Putin is exploiting the political turmoil there caused by the arrival of thousands of refugees from Syria, as far right anti-immigration groups have sprung up to challenge Europe’s mainstream political parties. Obama says he’s tried to convince Putin that European unity is actually in Russia’s interest but laments, “so far, he has not been entirely persuaded.”

Syria

More U.S. special operations troops are heading to Syria and the Washington Post takes a look at the gear they’re bringing with them, using a handful photos taken of them in Syria. In images posted to Twitter, a handful of American special operations personnel can be seen fighting alongside the anti-Islamic State Syrian Democratic Forces in the town of Shadadi, on the Iraqi border. The troops are holding a Leupold Mk.4 spotting scope and LA-16U handheld laser marker, used to guide bombs to targets on the ground, and a Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER), which lets them see video feeds from aircraft flying overhead.

Yemen

About 2,000 Yemeni government forces and troops from the United Arab Emirates recaptured Yemen’s largest oil export terminal at Ash Shihr from al Qaeda on Monday, about a day after pushing the militants out of the nearby town of Al Mukalla. Locals said the forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are being backed up by air support from the Saudi-led coalition, which until now has primarily targeted the Houthi rebels.

Gulf

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that the Kingdom is now looking to direct half of its spending towards domestic producers, rather than from the global market, in a move designed to spur the growth of a domestic defense industry. The deputy crown prince said that Saudi Arabia, which spends a hefty $87 billion a year on defense, is unique in that it has had relatively anemic local production for a country that spends so much on weapons. At the moment, only two percent of Saudi defense spending is tied to local industry.

Somalia

The competition for jihadist preeminence in Somalia has just heated up as the Islamic State releases a video showing off its first training camp in the country. The Long War Journal reports that the video shows the “Commander Sheikh Abu Numan training camp,” named after Bashir Abu Numan, a former member of the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group who was killed by the terror group after he jumped ship to the Islamic State. Shabaab has fought to keep the rival Islamic State out of Somalia.

Budget bill
The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is looking to axe the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the mandated strategic review document produced by the Defense Department every four years, Defense News reports. HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Tx.) introduced a bill to axe the QDR as part of the committee’s authorization of the Pentagon budget, aiming to replace it with a standing commission to provide strategic guidance to the rest of the Department and a classified National Military Strategy written by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The QDR has been criticized by a number of observers, both inside and outside the Pentagon, as a watered-down periodic exercise more reflective of the status quo than strategic decision-making by senior leaders.

 

Photo Credit MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

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

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