SitRep: FP Exclusive, NATO Chief on Turkey; Erdogan Taking Control of Military
Next Steps in ISIS Fight; North Korea Practices for Strikes on U.S. Troops; and Lots More
NATO on Turkey. In his first interview since Friday’s failed military coup in Turkey, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for “a swift return to calm and full respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions,” in the country.
Speaking exclusively with Foreign Policy Tuesday evening, Stoltenberg said that he spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, “and expressed my support and welcomed the courage of the Turkish people, going into the streets to protect their democratic institutions” in the face of helicopters, tanks, and hundreds of armed soldiers over the weekend.
NATO allies have been troubled by the massive government crackdown in the wake of the violence however, which has seen 50,000 people either arrested or fired from their positions. That includes the arrest of 6,000 military personnel — among their ranks over 100 generals and admirals — hundreds of police, and thousands of judges and academics. While events are moving quickly, Stoltenberg said that Turkish military officers working directly with NATO “are safe and secure,” and that the confusion “has not hampered our operations.”
FP’s Dan De Luce also flags President Barack Obama’s call with Erdogan Tuesday where he delivered a similar message, appealing to Turkey to uphold the “rule of law” as it investigates suspected plotters.
When it comes to the military, Erdogan looks to be taking control. A Turkish government official told the Washington Post that “an outline” of a new military restructuring plan could be floated as early as Wednesday. Speaking on a conference call on Tuesday, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook said that in the wake of the crackdown, “the military is now Erdogan, …it is now in chaos and subject to the control of President Erdogan.”
Anti-ISIS meeting. The NATO chief landed in Washington Tuesday for two days of meetings with representatives from over 30 countries to discuss the counter-ISIS fight. Wednesday includes a full slate of meetings at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, followed by a Thursday session at the State Department. Turkey is sending an official to act as an observer to the proceedings but Turkish Defense Minister Minister Fikri Isık will not attend the summit. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel will brief reporters Wednesday afternoon. FP will be there, so look for more later. The presser will be livestreamed here at 1:45 p.m.
Iraq ops. Looming on the horizon is the fight for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which has been held by ISIS since 2014. Earlier this month, Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air strikes retook the Qayyarah Air Base south of the city — also known as Q-West during the U.S. occupation — which will serve as a main logistics hub in the coming push. The base will also likely house many of the 560 new U.S. soldiers currently being sent to Iraq.
“We’re looking ahead to Mosul, which will be the most significant challenge yet,” Brett McGurk, U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy in the fight against Islamic State, said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he wants to move on Mosul by the end of the year, with some defense officials hinting that the operation could kick off by October. McGurk said that troops in the Mosul operation will include Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, the Iraqi military, and up to 15,000 local Sunni fighters.
French soldiers killed in Libya. French President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday that three French soldiers were killed in a “helicopter accident” in Libya during an intelligence gathering mission. “At this moment we are carrying out dangerous intelligence operations” in Libya, he said, during which “three of our soldiers, who were involved in these operations, have been killed.” Earlier, the Defending Benghazi Brigade, a militia based in Benghazi, claimed it shot down the helicopter.
When asked about the incident, NATO’s Stoltenberg told FP that the alliance is “not looking into combat operations” in Libya. “This is more about institution building and support.” He also revealed that in early fall, he expects a Libyan “team of experts” to visit NATO headquarters to begin working through some of these issues.
More on Turkey. The Washington Post’s Souad Mekhennet and Thomas Gibbons-Neff sat down with Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday at his offices in Ankara, where the leader defended the widespread crackdown over the past several days, claiming that while the plotters are “a very closed circle of people” who are “not that easy to identify,” so many have been sacked and arrested “because we knew they had affiliations or belonged to this group. Therefore, we have to take these actions.”
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Oh, that missile test the other day? Practice. That’s the explanation North Korea is offering for firing three missiles — two short range Scuds and one medium range No Dong — off its east coast on Monday. The state-run Korean Central News Agency said the tests were a dress rehearsal for a preemptive nuclear strike on “ports and airfields in the operational theater in South Korea.” So nothing to worry about there. North Korean military officials also released a statement saying that U.S. forces would be targeted first in the event of a strike, followed by their South Korean allies.
Two of Russia’s security agencies are at loggerheads after one raided the other and arrested three of its employees. The New York Times reports that officials from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B., raided Moscow’s Investigative Committee and arrested three of its prosecutors. The two agencies had previously cooperated in cracking down on Russian dissidents but it appears that the cordial relationship is over, as local media report that the FSB suspects an Investigative Committee official of being bribed by the Russian mafia.
The Islamic State
A new tranche of Islamic State documents on foreign fighters is helping German intelligence identify returning members of the jihadist group. Der Spiegel has obtained exit paperwork smuggled out of Syria and passed to German authorities detailing 400 Islamic State fighters who left the caliphate. Most of those leaving Islamic State territory listed family and medical reasons for their departure. Around 20 of those identified in the documents are German but prosecutors face numerous legal obstacles in prosecuting them based on the smuggled information alone.
The State Department just greenlit the sale of $785 million worth of bombs to the United Arab Emirates. Reuters reports that the sale includes bombs and munition guidance kits. America’s supply of munitions has been running low lately as the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and transfers to Gulf allies for use in their war against the Houthi movement in Yemen have cut down on global inventories.
Business of defense
The Justice Department says defense contractor DynCorp defrauded the State Department when a subcontractor it hired inflated charges on a contract to train Iraqi police, the Guardian reports. The department didn’t specify how much the alleged fraud amounted to but the contract in question ran from 2004 through 2008 and led to $135 million for the defense contractor. According to the complaint, DynCorp allegedly billed the State Department for vacant hotel rooms and inflated labor rights for its subcontractors’ services. DynCorp denies the charges and says the U.S. government recommended it do business with the company.
Another senior Pentagon official has been caught behaving badly in public. The Hill reports that Navy deputy assistant secretary Karnig Ohannessian has been charged after video surfaced of him aiming a gun at two people leaving a party near his Virginia home. In the video, Ohannessian complains that the party is loud and that he is thus legally entitled to shoot and kill the departing partygoers. Fairfax County authorities disagreed and on Tuesday charged him brandishing a firearm, a misdemeanor charge. Ohannessian is currently on paid administrative leave. The charges follow another bizarre incident involving a senior Pentagon official in which spokesman Bryan Whitman was charged with stealing a neighbor’s nanny’s license plates after a parking dispute.
Photo Credit: KAYHAN OZER/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary