- 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., Adam RawnsleyAdam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring.
Rolling out. The Obama administration is sending U.S. troops in Afghanistan back into the fight. Word came late Thursday night that U.S. troops will be allowed to accompany Afghan units into the field once again, but only when the move will “enable strategic effects on the battlefield,” one official said. The decision to widen American involvement in the war will also likely mean more U.S. airstrikes on Taliban targets to support troops once they come under fire. (FP’s Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary weighed Obama’s options on the air war earlier this year.)
American commandos have been accompanying Afghan special forces on missions since the end of the NATO combat mission in January 2015, and have called in airstrikes on Taliban positions when they’ve come under fire. That plan was put on full display when a U.S. aircraft mistakenly killed 42 doctors and patients at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in October in Kunduz, after a team of U.S. Army Green Berets called in an airstrike after several days of hard fighting.
There’s still no word on Obama’s decision on whether to continue with the planned reduction in the numbers of U.S. troops from the current 9,800 to 5,500 by the start of 2017.
Staggering corruption in Helmand. Up to 50 percent of the Afghan police force in Helmand province doesn’t actually exist, Tolo News reports. And now the province’s former police chief, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, is being brought up on charges of corruption. The new police chief in the province told the news outlet that on paper, there are around 10,000 police personnel in Helmand, but up to half are “ghost soldiers” who draw pay but “did not exist physically.”
Diplo drones. The probe into then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s secret email server has shown that her aides forwarded emails to her personal account containing information about a secret program in which the State Department had some say over what targets in Pakistan that the CIA was planning to hit with its drones.
Tikrit rules. Can the U.S. control Iran’s militias in the fight for Fallujah? Washington wants Shiite fighters to stay out of the city, but Tehran has other plans, FP’s Dan De Luce and Henry Johnson report. Officials in Washington tell FP that like in the fight for Tikrit last year, where Shiite militias faltered in trying push ISIS out by themselves, American warplanes will stay away from supporting the Iranian-backed groups from the air.
“We said we can only do it if the Iranian-backed PMF stay out of the city,” a senior U.S. administration official told FP. In Fallujah, where thousands of Shiite militiamen are deployed around the city and appear eager to fight their way inside, the United States is laying down similar conditions said a senior U.S. official. “It’s a fairly similar rule set that’s being applied here,” the official said.
United Nations scandal makes everyone look bad. Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, confirmed Thursday he was essentially blackmailed into removing the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen from a U.N. blacklist of countries and rebel groups that have killed or abused children in conflict, FP’s Colum Lynch reports.
The move follows FP’s exclusive report Tuesday by Lynch that Saudi Arabia threatened to break relations with the U.N. “and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian and counterterrorism funds if it was not taken off the list. In response to the threat, Ban agreed Monday to remove Saudi Arabia and its allies from the blacklist, pending a joint review of the matter by the U.N. and representatives of the Saudi-led coalition.”
Who’s NatSec strategy? House Speaker Paul Ryan dropped a 23-page Republican national security document on Thursday, which was notable for the breaks it reveals with the policies vaguely outlined by his party’s presumptive nominee for president, Donald Trump.
FP’s John Hudson and Molly O’Toole break down the roll-out event and the doc, writing, “the tension at play is the latest example of Republican leaders attempting to put a leash on Trump as his heterodox policies, vulgarities, and racial incitement pose a growing threat to the party’s chances at taking the White House and retaining control of the Senate.”
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: email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
Russia is moving in to offer support to Syrian rebels who have soured on begging Washington for help, only to be met with delays or preconditions on support that they’re not interested in making. Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio met with some of these rebel leaders in southern Turkey, who told him that the money from Moscow is flowing, but many rebels are hesitate to get into bed with the Russians, given their support for the Assad regime in Damascus. Still, one leader said the Russians told him, “We will support you forever. We won’t leave you on your own like your old friends did,” while another offered this damning assessment: “The Americans just want to buy time…but the Russians are here to work.”
The Obama administration is trying to downplay reports of rivalry between the U.S. and Russia in the Arctic. National Defense magazine reports that the State Department’s Arctic envoy Adm. Robert J. Papp (ret.) characterized the uptick in Russian operations in the Arctic as “defensive in nature and in protection of their sovereignty.” Papp encouraged the U.S. to invest more in infrastructure to support its own interests in the region.
The Islamic State
As the noose tightens around the Islamic State’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria, Michael Lumpkin, the Obama administration’s top official for countering extremist messaging, is worried that the group might look for a second act by rebranding, Defense One reports. Lumpkin took over the Global Engagement Center (GEC), the latest in a series of the State Department’s own attempts to rebrand its efforts at countering violent extremism. To cope with the Islamic State’s messaging and that of its successors, the GEC is better funded than its predecessors, with triple the budget of previous State Department propaganda shops this year and quadruple next year.
On the move
Recently retired U.S. central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin has joined the board of United Technologies, a major U.S. defense contractor.
Two U.S. Army soldiers are in trouble after provoking an international incident between the U.S. and Qatar. The AP reports that Qatari authorities summoned U.S. ambassador Dana Shell Smith for an explanation of an online video in which two U.S. soldiers mugged and crack jokes in front of the Qatari flag. Both Ambassador Shell and Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook have issued apologies for the incident. Insulting the Qatari flag is against the law in the country. The soldiers in the video made a vague allusion to being at an undisclosed location while on camera in front of the Qatari flag.
We welcome another member to the growing list of countries using armed drones in conflict. IHS Jane’s reports that Myanmar, the proud owner of a Chinese CH-3A armed drone since 2013, has deployed the aircraft for operations fighting against insurgents in the country’s north. At least two other countries, Nigeria and Iraq, have carried out drone strikes for the first time this year with the help of imported Chinese unmanned aerial vehicles.
The bribery scandal that has swept through the top ranks of the U.S. Navy brass is about to claim its most senior officer yet. USNI News spoke with Rear Adm. Robert Gilbeau, who told the outlet he will plead guilty to a charge of lying to investigators. Gilbeau said he would not, however, plead guilty to corruption charges. Gilbeau has been caught up in the scandal surrounding Glenn Defense Marine Asia and its leader Leonard Francis. Francis, referred to as “Fat Leonard,” allegedly bribed a number of senior Navy officers to provide information to give his defense contracting firm an edge in bidding for lucrative contracts.
Business of defense
The iconic AK-47 assault rifle might soon be an American product if U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) gets its way. Tampa Bay Times reports that SOCOM is feeling out suppliers on the possibility of producing the AK-47 along with other Russian globally ubiquitous weapons like the PKM and DShK machine guns and Dragunov sniper rifles. Officials say they’d like to be able to source production for the weapons they use to train and equip partners around the world from the U.S. instead of buying abroad. Gunmakers contacted by the Times, however, are wondering whether Defense Department is willing to pay a premium to buy from more expensive American companies instead of low cost producers abroad.
Russia, China, and ships
Russia has sent its first Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate to the port of Sevastopol in Crimea, UPI reports. The Russian navy has ordered up six of the frigates and is currently working on cranking out the third in the class, Admiral Makarov. The next three ships Grigorovich class vessels are slated for delivery to India.
The small but devoted fanbase of Ronald O’Rourke’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports on China’s navy should rejoice. The lasted edition of “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress” has been liberated from Congress and is now available on the Federation of American Scientists’ website.
A number of senior defense officials have been quietly worrying about the prospect of serving under a President Donald Trump, but there’s one group of defense stakeholders that doesn’t seem to mind engaging with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s campaign. The Hill reports that the Aerospace Industries Association briefed the Trump campaign on Thursday. The organization represents big defense contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The group said it welcomed the opportunity to “educate” candidates on defense issues.
Photo credit: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images