SitRep: Pentagon Wary of Dealing With Moscow in Syria; The Next War in Iraq
Cyberweapons and Russian Influence Ops; New Attack in France; And Lots More
Trust, but verify? How much do Pentagon leaders trust Russia to keep its word when it comes to the proposed new intel sharing agreement being negotiated over operations in Syria? Not a whole lot. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters Monday that “we’re not entering into a transaction that’s founded on trust. There will be specific procedures and processes in any transaction we might have with the Russians that would account for protecting our operational security.”
The plan, which Secretary of State John Kerry recently pitched to the Kremlin, would involve sharing some intelligence on the Islamic State and Nusra Front fighters, in return for grounding much of the Syrian air force to keep them from bombing moderate forces there. Speaking after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, Kerry said that if all goes well, he hopes to unveil the plan in August. The talks come on the heels of two incidents where Russian aircraft bombed a secret U.S. and British special operations base in southeast Syria, followed by another strike on a CIA-backed site that housed U.S.-backed rebels.
Well, then there’s the DNC hack. The Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday night, but there wasn’t a lot of national security talk. We’re waiting. The DNC is still wading through the implications over an alleged Russian hack of its servers, after which Wikileaks dumped some embarrassing documents online. FP’s Elias Groll, Paul McLeary and Molly O’Toole write that if Moscow is behind the attack, it would mark an escalation in a tactic long used by the Kremlin in Europe: using cyberweapons to try and manipulate elections and sway public opinion.
“They’re not just conducting cyber espionage to collect and analyze information,” said Justin Harvey, the chief security officer at Fidelis Cybersecurity. “This is collecting information to weaponize it or to affect a process within a country.”
The war after next. Not only are U.S. and Iraqi officials preparing for the humanitarian crisis expected to result from the coming fight for the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in northern Iraq, but there’s also increasing talk of a grinding insurgency as ISIS loses territory.
“Already, officials say, many Islamic State fighters who lost battles in Fallujah and Ramadi have blended back into the largely Sunni civilian populations there, and are biding their time to conduct future terrorist attacks,” the New York Times reports. “And with few signs that the beleaguered Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, can effectively forge an inclusive partnership with Sunnis, many senior American officials warn that a military victory in the last urban stronghold of Mosul, which they hope will be achieved by the end of the year, will not be sufficient to stave off a lethal insurgency.”
Trump and NATO. Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, doubled down on his threats to leave the NATO alliance Monday night. Speaking in North Carolina, Trump railed against allies who aren’t meeting the funding guidelines set forth by NATO. “I want them to pay,” he said. “They don’t pay us what they should be paying! We lose on everything. Folks, we lose on everything.”
“We have to walk,” he added. “Within two days they’re calling back — get back over here, we’ll pay you whatever the hell you want. They will pay us if the right person asks,” he concluded. “That’s the way it works, folks. That’s the way it works.”
New Attack in France. A Catholic priest has been killed after two armed assailants took hostages in the the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy, France. The attackers seized five people inside the church — eventually freeing three of them — gravely injuring another, and reportedly slitting the priest’s throat. Police killed the two attackers after they exited the church. French President Francois Hollande says the two claimed an affiliation with the Islamic State. France’s iTele is reporting that one of the attackers reportedly attempted to leave for Syria in 2015 but was turned away in Turkey and sent back to France where he was briefly jailed. France has been on edge in the wake of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice which killed 84 people.
Listen in. In this week’s episode of FP’s podcast, The E.R., David Rothkopf, Seyward Darby, Rosa Brooks, and Kori Schake debate the recent ruling from the International Court of Justice regarding China’s claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea.
Road show. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is on the road, heading to Boston Tuesday where he’ll talk about the East Coast HQ of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, which looks to partner with tech firms to inject some high-tech life into the Pentagon acquisition process. “We have to fish in more ponds, new ponds and ponds we haven’t been in for quite a while,” Carter told reporters at a press conference on Monday.
Hey there! Good morning and 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
Even China has an Islamic State problem. Two think tanks studying leaked registration forms from the self-styled caliphate have concluded that up to 100 Chinese citizens have joined the Islamic State, the Wall Street Journal reports. The studies, conducted by the New America Foundation and West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, show recruits coming from China’s Xinjiang region, which has seen an Islamist-inspired separatist movement taken up by some among the Uighur minority group. China has previously claimed that up to 300 Uighurs have migrated to the Islamic State to fight for the caliphate.
The man who blew himself up and injured 15 with a homemade bomb in Ansbach, Germany this weekend recorded a video in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The Local reports that Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann told reporters that authorities found a video recorded by the attacker, identified as Mohammed D., pledging his loyalty to Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and claiming that Germans “stand in the way of Islam.” Authorities also found multiple sim cards, bomb-making materials, and social media accounts used for disseminating militant Islamist propaganda.
Moscow is pushing back on claims that it has once again been violating NATO airspace, according to Reuters. Over the weekend, Bulgaria’s defense minister Nikolay Nenchev said Russian aircraft had veered into Bulgarian airspace after switching off their transponders in a series of “provocations.” Russia’s defense ministry, however, dismissed the claims, saying that their aircraft always follow safety rules, hadn’t crossed into Bulgarian airspace, and haven’t yet received any official complaints about violations from Bulgarian officials.
The Israeli military says it struck inside Syria after artillery fire from the Syrian side of the border crossed into Israeli territory. Reuters reports that Israeli jets struck back at the source of the fire with Assad regime media sources claiming that the aircraft struck a building in the town of Baath, held by regime troops and forces from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. Neither attack resulted in casualties for either side. Israeli warplanes have reportedly hit Syrian military and Hezbollah positions throughout the conflict in an attempt to prevent significant weapons transfers to the Iranian-backed terror group.
The Navy is signaling that there may be more delays to come for the forthcoming USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. Officials had originally expected the carrier to arrive in November of 2016. But now DOD Buzz reports that Navy officials are hinting that the date could slip into 2017 because of testing issues, even though the official delivery date is still set for November. A spokeswoman for the Navy noted that the inclusion of multiple new systems into the Ford has “compounded the inherent challenges of a first in class design.”
The Washington Post reports that the Army is taking another step to open up special operations positions to women as two female soldiers prepare to go through Army Special Forces’ demanding Special Forces Assessment Selection (SFAS) process. The two women have yet to be named, but must make it through both the SFAS process and the qualification or Q course, consisting of a simulated guerrilla war. One woman, Capt. Kathleen Wilder, has tried out for the Green Berets before, flunking an exercise but receiving a Special Forces certification after an appeal claiming she suffered sexual discrimination.
Photo Credit: by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary