The Cable

SitRep: American Killed in Iraq, as Aircraft Carrier Pounds ISIS

U.S. officials worry about the day after Mosul falls; new day for Indian and American relations; and and lots more

AAATruman

 

Combat. A U.S. servicemember was killed in northern Iraq Tuesday morning, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters while traveling in Stuttgart, Germany. “It is a combat death, of course,” the secretary said. Details remain scarce, but a defense official who asked not to be named added that the servicemember was “killed by direct fire” about 9:30 a.m. local time when Islamic State fighters breached the Kurdish peshmerga’s front lines. The American was about three to five kilometers behind the front lines.

“We provided air support to help the [Peshmerga] counter this attack,” the official said, which amounted to a staggering 23 total airstrikes on the ISIS fighters, using F-15 fighters and drones.

Scale of the attack. Elsewhere along the front near Mosul, the head of a Christian militia told Reuters that insurgents overran their positions Tuesday morning, holding ground until they were pushed back with help of U.S. air strikes. “There were many suicide bombers and suicide car bombs,” said Safa Eliyas, the head of the Nineveh Protection Forces.

The loss is the third American to be killed by the Islamic State in ground combat. In late March, a U.S. Marine operating at a firebase near Mosul was killed in an ISIS rocket attack, and last October, a U.S. Delta Force operator was killed on a raid near Kirkuk, while storming an ISIS prison. When first deploying U.S. troops to Iraq to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish troops in 2014, President Barack Obama and Defense officials assured the public that troops would stay buttoned up on large bases well away from the fighting, but new plans call for American advisors to push closer to the fighting while embedding with Iraqi army battalions to help direct the fighting.

Messing up Mosul? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, is in Europe this week, and FP’s Dan De Luce is moving around the continent right with him. In an interview with FP, Dunford said it was too soon to say if the political feud among rival Shiite factions in Baghdad would derail plans for a long-awaited offensive to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State.

The general said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has made good on promises to refocus his attention on what is considered a potentially decisive battle in the war against Islamic State. The prime minister has held discussions with Kurdish leaders and commanders as well as U.S. officials about planned military operations to take back the city, Dunford said.

“It was moving in the right direction as of Friday, and we’ll have to see what happens this week,” he said. Key questions remain over political power-sharing arrangements in the ethnically-mixed city, he added. “So it’s less about the operation going forward and what’s going to happen the day after in Mosul. ” Recent operations near Mosul by Kurdish and Iraqi forces are “tightening the noose” on ISIS, he said.

Mosul all the time. While the push on Mosul heats up, however, Baghdad’s government has been paralyzed by protesters demanding wholesale reform. So while the world’s attention is focused on the military campaign against ISIS, “the most consequential fight for the country’s future may be playing out in Baghdad’s Green Zone, not with bullets and bombs, but amid an unanswered cry for political reform to a deeply dysfunctional and sectarian state,” FP’s John Hudson, Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary write.

Handoff. Dunford and defense Secretary Ash Carter are in Germany to attend a ceremony Tuesday marking a change of command for U.S. forces in Europe, with Gen. Curtis Scapparotti taking over from Gen. Philip Breedlove.

Mark it. Here’s a number that might surprise you. The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier has provided as much as 25 percent of all airstrikes in Iraq and Syria over the past several months. And that’s why the U.S. Navy has decided to extend its deployment to the Persian Gulf for another 30 days. The reveal came from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson Monday, when he made an impromptu visit to the press office in the Pentagon and took a few questions from reporters. The Navy announced last week that the Truman, which departed Naval Station Norfolk in Nov. 2015, would remain with the U.S. 5th Fleet in the Middle East for 30 more days to continue the fight against ISIS.

Richardson was also asked about recent Russian flybys of U.S. ships and aircraft in the Baltic Sea, saying, “I don’t think the Russians are trying to provoke an incident. I think they’re trying to send a signal. I think it’s pretty clear that they are wanting to let us know that they see that we are up there in the Baltic.”

Making waves. China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea — and increasingly in the Indian Ocean — is pushing Washington and New Delhi closer together, write FP’s Keith Johnson and Dan De Luce.

Thanks for clicking on through as we kick off 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

Korean Peninsula

South Korea has issued a warning to its citizens that North Korea may be looking to abduct them abroad or carry out terrorist attacks, Reuters reports. South Korea’s Unification Ministry warned that North Korea may retaliate after workers at a North Korean restaurant in China managed to defect to the South — an act which Pyongyang has labeled a “hideous abduction.”

Iraq

Iraq is doing a good job at diversifying the ethnic and religious background of its armed forces but it’s still not doing enough to curb human rights abuses by Shiite militias, according to a new joint report from the Defense and State Departments. Bloomberg got its hands on the document, which praises Iraqi military forces for “increasingly reflect[ing] the demographic make-up of their communities,” and doing better at providing arms for local Sunni forces. But the report also warns that Iraq has failed to stop its sectarian militias from targeting Sunni civilians and hasn’t held them accountable in for such abuses.

Afghanistan

Afghan security forces are turning their attention to Oruzgan Province, hoping to take back a highway that runs from the city of Tirin Kot to Kandahar, the New York Times reports. Security in Oruzgan has deteriorated as the Taliban has grown in neighboring Helmand Province, the scene of frequent clashes between the insurgent group and Afghan security forces. Security in Oruzgan has largely been provided by a militia run by Rahimullah Khan, who took over after his brother, General Khan, was killed in a suicide attack. Officials tell the Times that Khan has generally done a poorer job of securing the highway than his late brother. The fighting in Helmand Province has also increased, according to Tolo news.

NATO

Defense Secretary Ash Carter says NATO is weighing the possibility of sending up to four thousand troops to Poland and the Baltic states. Under the plan being discussed, Britain and Germany would each contribute a battalion to staff the eastward shift with the United States providing two.

U.K.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain will double its armed drone inventory with purchases of the new General Atomics Certifiable Predator B, a variant of the MQ-9 which the Royal Air Force (RAF) will dub “Protector.” The RAF plans to buy 20 of the drones, which will replace the service’s 10 Reapers. The Protector has greater endurance than the Reaper, extending its endurance from 25 to 40 hours. General Atomics has also designed the aircraft to be compliant with European aviation regulations, opening the possibility of surveillance missions on the continent.

Business of defense

Business is booming for the U.S. weapons business, with arms export on track to meet or exceed last year’s $43 billion total, according to an analysis by Roman Schweizer of Guggenheim Securities. The firm has tracked Foreign Military Sales announcements so far and calculated a total of around $29 billion through the end of April. That figure could increase significantly depending on the size of a planned U.S. aid package to Israel, which would include the sale of additional F-35s and and F-15s. Sales of fighter jets to Qatar and Kuwait, currently in discussion at the White House, could notch that total up even further if approved.

Intelligence

The National Security Agency’s (NSA) director of security Kemp Ensor would like to be able to track NSA employees web surfing habits at home, as well as work, in order to spot potential security problems among agency staff, NextGov reports. But it’s not just home computers where problems occur. Ensor said he’s found child pornography on NSA computers. Daniel Payne, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Service, told the news outlet that said “the amount of child porn I see is just unbelievable” in reference to material found on computers across the Department’s various agencies.

 

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy

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

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