- 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.
Marine pilots, drones hit Libya. Libyan militia fighters are providing targets to American special operations forces on the ground in Libya near the embattled Islamic State stronghold of Sirte, who then analyze the targets and pass them on to U.S. warplanes and drones flying overhead, U.S. officials tell the New York Times.
The planes — Harrier jets flying from the USS Wasp stationed in the Mediterranean — struck seven targets on Monday and Tuesday. The attacks also mark “the first time that the United States has flown armed drone missions from Jordan,” the Times reports. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Tuesday that the U.S. strikes are focused solely on ISIS positions in Sirte, and he expects the mission to last “weeks, not months.”
Now it’s serious. Before we forget, the name of the LIbyan operation, the Pentagon says, is “Operation Odyssey Lightning.”
More fighting. Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord still faces a dicey situation, however. Rival militias dominate the social landscape, and on Tuesday ISIS detonated a car bomb in Benghazi, killing 22 people and wounding another 20. The strike took place in the Guwarsha district, the scene of continued clashes between security forces loyal to the GNA and an alliance of Islamists and others.
What they said, Pt. 1. The Russians aren’t so sure about the American strikes. Moscow’s ambassador in Libya, Ivan Molotkov, criticized the action, saying they “lack legal grounds.” He added that the strikes “require a decision from the U.N. Security Council.” The State Department rejected the criticisms.
What they said, Pt. 2. During his Senate confirmation hearing in June to take over the U.S. Africa Command, Marine Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser decried the lack of a viable U.S. strategy in Libya, telling a panel, “I am not aware of any overall grand strategy at this point.” He also pushed back against the Obama administration’s resistance to carrying out more airstrikes on the Libyan branch of ISIS.
Spies [allegedly] like us. The U.S. Navy has set a trial date of Oct. 26 for Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin at Naval Station Norfolk, the service confirms to SitRep. Lin is accused of five counts of espionage and attempted espionage, making false official statements, and five counts of communicating defense information to a foreign national. Lin and his team will also be in court Aug. 8-9 for an article 39a hearing, which will review all the charges against him. Lin’s legal team has already strenuously pushed back against the charges, FP’s Paul McLeary wrote this spring, and his civilian lawyer has charged that “the government has engaged in a nefarious scheme to entrap Lt. Cmdr. Lin.”
ISIS intel. Worse than you thought. An Islamic State militant sitting in a German jail cell spills to the New York Times that when he traveled to Syria to join the terrorist group, he was told to go home, as the organization needed cells in Europe to wreak havoc on command. “The operatives belonged to an intelligence unit of the Islamic State known in Arabic as the Emni, which has become a combination of an internal police force and an external operations branch, dedicated to exporting terror abroad, according to thousands of pages of French, Belgian, German and Austrian intelligence and interrogation documents obtained by The Times.”
Yemen fights at the U.N. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came under withering criticism earlier this year after bowing to threats by Saudi Arabia to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in U.N. funding unless it removed Riyadh from a blacklist of armies, rebels, and terrorists that maim or kill children in conflict zones. But on Tuesday Ban pushed back, FP’s Colum Lynch reports, “telling delegates at a special U.N. Security Council session on the plight of children in armed conflict that he has ongoing concerns about abuses of children in Yemen. The United Nations, he added, stands behind its claim that the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen was responsible for some 60 percent of the 1,953 child deaths and injuries there during the past year.” The Saudis, predictably, were not happy.
Forward deployed. Of the 102 military veterans currently serving in Congress, there are four female combat veterans — two Democrats and two Republicans. And while they share little in common ideologically, they’re united in trying to pass a bill that would open up the draft to women.
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
China is looking to turn its assertions of sovereignty over the South China Sea into a legal reality by prosecuting those it says are trespassing on Chinese territory. CNN reports that the Chinese Supreme People’s Court handed down a decision on Tuesday that the country’s officials have the authority to exercise “integrated management” over the disputed maritime territory it claims. Experts say it could lead to China arresting, prosecuting and punishing foreign fishermen who sail into the disputed areas.
It feels like North Korea is lighting off ballistic missiles on a weekly basis now. Late Tuesday, Pyongyang launched two Nodong medium range ballistic missiles from a base in the country’s southwest. South Korea’s military says the first missile blew up shortly after launch while the second ditched in the Sea of Japan. It’s the second Nodong launch in the past month, following a late July test in which the North tested a Nodong and Scud. Pentagon spokesman, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross said in a statement that the United States intends “to raise our concerns at the UN to bolster international resolve in holding the DPRK accountable for these actions.”
Turn out the lights
What’s it like to ride out a coup and the subsequent backlash at an American air base in Turkey? Nerve-wracking and pretty sweaty. The New York Times caught up with senior U.S. officers serving at Incirlik Air Base during the failed coup attempt against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. American officials were worried that the upheaval — and the fact that some of the Turkish military plotters were based at Incirlik — could lead to disruption in the war against the Islamic State in Syria being wage from the air base. The fact that Turkey cut off power to the base, including air conditioning, didn’t help either. But Turkey allowed U.S. flights from Incirlik to resume a day after the coup. A visit to Turkey by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford on Monday also appears to have smoothed things over, with Turkish officials emphasizing that they’re committed to allowing American troops to continue using Incirlik for the war in Syria.
Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab have traced an attempt to hack a Syrian dissident to Iran. Hackers sent a fake email to a Syrian opposition activist Noura Al-Ameer offering information on Iran’s involvement on behalf of the Assad regime. When Citizen Lab traced website for the group behind the email, they discovered it was a fake — one based in Iran, complete with an Iranian IP address and Farsi language email service.
The F-35 is ready for its combat closeup. Defense News reports that the Air Force has officially declared the F-35A ready for service, following the Marine Corps’ similar declaration of initial operational capability for the stealth jet’s F-35B variant in July of 2015. The F-35s of the Air Force’s 34th Fighter Squadron are the first combat ready unit and the service is hoping two more will follow the 34th at Hill Air Force Base. The Air Force currently plans to buy over 1,700 F-35s.
Der Spiegel takes a look at the horrifying process the Islamic State uses to turn children into soldiers. The paper tells the story of Ahmed and Amir whom the jihadist group coerced into becoming “lion cubs of the caliphate.” In Ahmed and Amir’s case, the Islamic State forced the two kids, members of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, to convert to Islam after kidnapping them and beheading another Yazidi man in front of them. The group desensitizes children to violence by plying them with drugs, exposing them to graphic propaganda, and having them practice beheading on toy dolls.
Bots o’ war
U.S. Africom is outsourcing some of its perimeter security work to robots. Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa now has the Mobile Detection Assessment Response System or MDARS to keep watch around the U.S. base in Djibouti. The unarmed vehicles look like a golf cart souped up with a range of sensors, patrolling around the outskirts of the base looking for intruders. When MDARS spots an intruder, it can shine a spotlight on him, beam back video, and allow human soldiers to communicate with suspects via a microphone and loudspeaker.
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy