The Cable

SitRep: Paris Eyes South China Sea Role

Saudi Sinks U.N. Report; the Kurds and Raqqa; and lots more

French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle sets sail from the southern French port of Toulon on January 13, 2015 before taking part in military operations in the Gulf.   AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT        (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)
French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle sets sail from the southern French port of Toulon on January 13, 2015 before taking part in military operations in the Gulf. AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Paris eyeing South China Sea role. France is looking to take a more active role in the contested waters of the South China Sea, calling for more European naval patrols there. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking Sunday at a three-day security conference in Singapore, called on European navies to have a “regular and visible” presence in the region to uphold the law of the sea and freedom of navigation.

FP’s Keith Johnson and Dan De Luce point out that France’s involvement in the Asia-Pacific region is hardly new. Paris inked a $40 billion deal this year to sell advanced submarines to Australia, “citing increased fears over the region’s security, and called for a greater French presence around its colonial possessions in the Southern Pacific. Le Drian’s words over the weekend also offer a reminder that while China is trying to parlay its growing economic might in Europe into diplomatic dividends, some European heavyweights are still ready to push back against Beijing.”

China has a say, too. Chinese officials warned the United States on Tuesday that it needs to  play more a constructive role in securing the critical waterway. Speaking at the end of high-level talks in Beijing, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, said Beijing reserves the right to protect its maritime rights. “China respects and protects the right that all countries enjoy under international law to freedom of navigation and overflight,” Yang told reporters. Except when it doesn’t.

Saudi sinks U.N. report. The United Nations very publicly backpedaled from its decision to add Saudi Arabia to a list of countries and rebel groups that are violating children’s rights, and human rights groups are furious. FP’s Colum Lynch explains that the U.N. initially placed the Saudi-led coalition on the blacklist, citing it as responsible for 60 percent of the children killed in the conflict in Yemen where Saudi is leading a bombing campaign to oust Houthi rebels from power.

But after pressure from Saudi Arabia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reversed course and said the organization would remove the Saudis while it conducted a review of the listing. The report found that the number of attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen had doubled between 2014 and 2015, “linked to the increasing use of airstrikes and explosive weapons in populated areas.” Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, however, is claiming that the removal is “irreversible.”

War within the war for Raqqa. “The people live in fear. You cannot say anything, and you could be killed easily,” Hazem Hamidi, an Arab engineer and former Raqqa resident, tells FP contributor Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who files a penetrating report from Syria. Those still stuck in the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa will welcome either the Kurd-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces, or the Kurdish YPG “to release us from [the Islamic State]. There is no difference between us: We all want to fight ISIS and kick it out.” But plenty of tensions within the SDF remain over Kurd-Arab relations, and what comes the day after Raqqa falls.

Damascus calling. In an address to the newly elected Parliament in Damascus on Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad  vowed to “liberate” every inch of the country, essentially saying he wants to restore his country to it’s pre-2011 boundaries. He said that the situation on the ground is much better than it was months ago, thanks to incessant Russian airstrikes and Iranian help on the ground.

Good morning again from the Sitrep crew, thanks for clicking on through for the summer 2016 edition 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

Canada. Yes, Canada

The Ottawa government wants to bridge its fighter jet “gap” by buying F/A-18E Super Hornets before it makes up its mind once and for all whether to buy the F-35, the National Post reports. Canada’s Liberal party campaigned on a pledge not to purchase the chronically-troubled, Lockheed Martin-made F-35. In the meantime, Canada’s fleet of CF-18s are aging and Canadian officials are itching to move on. One anonymous defense official tells the Post that the ministry fears that setting up a competition for a replacement could lead to lawsuits and so buying F/A-18s on an interim basis could allow Canada to restock its fleet while punting on the tricky question of whether to commit to the F-35.

Iranian Train and Equip

Here’s a video of an Iranian advisor embedded with the Iraqi army on the outskirts of Fallujah, courtesy of Twitter, and picked up by the Long War Journal. In the clip, the Iranian says in Farsi: “In the name of God, the compassionate the merciful. Friday afternoon, the operation to liberate Fallujah. I am Iranian. [Crowd in Arabic] We are Iraqis. We are at your service, O Hussain!” The Long War Journal points out that the Iranian’s bandana bears the inscription, “313 Ansar al Hojjat.” Ansar al Hojjat was “formed by Iraqi Shiites in June 2014 following the Islamic State’s takeover of nearly one third of Iraq. The number 313 alludes to scripture: when the Mahdi first arrives, he will only have 313 supporters.”

NATO

It’s another first for NATO as the Atlantic alliance engages in its largest exercise in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. The war games, dubbed Anakonda, are taking place in Poland and will feature over 25,000 NATO troops from 24 countries. The massive 20-day exercise will feature air assaults by the 82nd Airborne Division, long road movements by the 2nd Calvary Regiment, electronic warfare attacks, and everything else you might find in a large-scale conventional warfare environment. Not many hearts and minds will hang in the balance in these exercises.

Syria

Despite calls to airdrop aid supplies into starving, besieged cities, the United Nations says it’s going to continue trying to deliver humanitarian relief through ground convoys, according to the AP. Forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria have previously blocked ground convoys from entering besieged cities or removed food aid as a condition of their entrance. Anonymous U.N. officials tell the wire service that they’ve requested permission from the Assad regime to airdrop aid supplies, but there doesn’t appear to be much appetite for dropping aid from the sky among western powers currently bombing ISIS. Nonetheless, a U.N. spokesman said that the focus will remain on attempts at delivery by land.

Today’s Trump

On CNN Monday, former Defense Secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta didn’t hold much back when talking about presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, calling him an “embarrassment” and “irresponsible” when it comes to national security issues. Panetta’s comments took aim at statements by Trump indicating that he thought American allies Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea should cast aside nonproliferation rules and develop their own nuclear weapons. Panetta called Trump overly sensitive and that he’s “not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes.”

Innovation!

Defense Secretary Ash Carter will sit down with SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Wednesday to discuss innovation, and….innovation. That’s all Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook would say on Monday to describe the meeting, but a little background is in order. Musk has had a love/hate relationship with the Defense Department in recent years, accusing the Air Force of dragging its heels in 2014 in certifying a SpaceX rocket to launch satellites. SpaceX actually sued the Air Force over its $11 billion contract with United Launch Alliance — a joint venture by Lockheed Martin and Boeing — arguing that the Defense Department failed to put the contract up for competition. The two sides have since mostly made up, and earlier this year SpaceX won an $82.7 million deal with the Air Force to launch a satellite in 2018.

Army

The U.S. Army’s retired OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters will get a new lease on life as hand-me-downs to Croatia and Tunisia. The Army recently retired its 340 Kiowas and will be making them available to the two countries through the Excess Defense Articles program. In Tunisia, the armed reconnaissance choppers are likely to see action against the Islamic State and other extremists. The jihadist group’s presence has been growing in neighboring Libya since the ouster of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and Tunisia has been beefing up its security forces and building a wall in order to cope with the threat.

Navy

The U.S. has been pounding Islamic State targets from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. Reuters reports that the USS Harry S. Truman hit 16 targets from the jihadist group on Monday, using between 10 to 20 munitions in the attacks. Navy officials didn’t specify individual targets but said the Truman’s airstrikes would fit the pattern of past air operations over the group’s territory. The Truman is scheduled to head back to Norfolk in July and the USS Dwight Eisenhower will take over its work, but from the Persian Gulf.

Business of defense
Small arms are big business in the Middle East, according to a new study by Small Arms Service. The non-profit weapons monitoring group took a look at small arms sales from 2012 through 2013 and found that Arab countries in the region increased imports of the weapons 84 percent for a total of $630 million worth of purchases in 2013. Big spenders included Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which tripled and doubled their small arms imports, respectively. Some of the weapons purchased in that period have been exported abroad, as well. Small Arms Survey notes that ammunition found in Libya has come from Qatar, which pledged not to export it as part of its purchase agreement.

 

Photo Credit: BORIS HORVAT/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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